One tries to hang on to hope, in spite of the onslaught. Poetry, art, music, dance, theatre, and even sometimes film, can offer us someting in that direction, give us a glimpse of that blue star.
This year has been filled with changes in our political landscapes, fear and trauma among many who have been scapegoated as migrants/racialized/ colonized peoples, and more and more signs of irreversible destruction to the planet and its most vulnerable inhabitants— humans.
I swear if I see one more ad about the extinction of such and such a species, it will need to be matched by a thousand more pleading for help to save the human race.
This year seven million people were directly displaced and lost everything due to climate disaster. The excessive droughts and wildfires of some zones are being met by flooding and crop and home destruction in other areas. These seven million people have one thing in common— they are economically vulnerable. Without savings, and networks of people with access to goods like cars and services like credit cards, shelters, etc. emergency planning appears ad-hoc for the majority of low income, and especially disabled, people. For those flooded during hurricane Katrina and those flooded during typhoon season in Bangladesh, the problem only grows with the evacuation. Lives are uprooted after all, not only mangroves.
The other issues that involve resettling have grave problems. Remediating damaged land as in Katrina, has left thousands outside their home state since 2005. Hurricane Maria saw an outflux of Puerto Ricans as water, electricty, building, and infrastructure issues continue to plague the island since 2017. Bangladeshi coastal dwellers are retreating against the ocean on one hand and the steadily deforested jungles and mangroves on the other. Generational livelihoods in fishing are being lost at rapid rates.
In Mexico, frequent tropical storms and hurricanes are creating flash flooding, landslides, and other chaos while toxic runoff from agriculture has killed coastal waters attractive to tourists and fishermen through massive blooms of toxic blue-green algae.
In Puerto Vallarta, the red tide season is more frequent and more intense. Growth without development has resulted in massive and unaffordable housing booms completely ignoring aging and inadequate municipal sanitation and electrical infrastructure. The dispossession of indigenous communities and fisherfolk to make room for ex-pat condos and winter homes for Mexican millionaires is proceeding with gusto, while landslides and flash flooding have become ever more frequent.
The famous Blue Flag beach certification is implicated in new imperialisms as fisher people and local residents are pushed out of coastal homes to make way for tourist beaches.
In the Siberian arctic, climate crisis has brought the adaptation of new economic survival strategies, as the melting of the permafrost and the shifting of the ground has already forced evacuations and retreats from areas inhabited for hundreds if not thousands of years.
In Canada, where I live, the effects of climate crisis are proceeding apace. Years ago I remember reading that animals’ breeding seasons were being disrupted by low-level military testing over Labrador and now, glacial melt, and the thawing of the permafrost. The salmon are fewer and feed fewer bears and birds, leading to the trickle-down of death, that specialty of capitalism.
In short, the intersection between capitalism, fossil fuel reliance, overfishing, multinational cattle ranching and tourism is crucial. The reliance on war and nuclear power bolstered by an arms race whose impact on the biosphere cannot be underestimated as well.
When I met Cuban doctors and nurses who had served hospitals during the the first and second Gulf wars, they told me of the effects of depleted uranium and and other bio-hazards used in war, on children and infants. Many worked in pediatrics, and the horror stories were legion. I think some of those health care professionals were traumatized by what they saw during those postings.
It is surprising that not as much is written about the ways in which war degrades the environment. But as governments unleash chemicals and bullets on their peoples, the natural world that sustains us is also affected. I end with a poem that reminds us how we are all interconnected, even when we look away.
We Lived Happily During the War, Ilya Kaminsky
And when they bombed other people’s houses, we
but not enough, we opposed them but not
enough. I was
in my bed, around my bed America
was falling: invisible house by invisible house by invisible house.
I took a chair outside and watched the sun.
In the sixth month
of a disastrous reign in the house of money
in the street of money in the city of money in the country of money,
our great country of money, we (forgive us)
lived happily during the war.
“We Lived Happily During the War” from the Poetry International website. Copyright © 2013 by Ilya Kaminsky.