Editor’s Note: Civilization is destructive. It endangers everyone in its quest for development, including vulnerable human communities. We stand in solidarity with all efforts by communities to protect themselves and the natural communities they live in. The following is a press release by Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network International (WECAN). You can find the original statement here.
USA, May 25, 2023 — Today, Indigenous women leaders from the Indigenous Women’s Treaty Alliance, joined by over 150 organizations, representing millions nationwide, submitted a letter to the Biden Administration with an emergency request to decommission Enbridge Line 5 pipeline due to imminent threats of oil spills impacting the Bad River Watershed and the Great Lakes.
Enbridge’s Line 5 pipeline was originally built in 1953, and continues to operate nearly 20 years past its engineered lifespan, transporting crude oil through northern Wisconsin, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, and under the Straits of Mackinac. The letter to President Biden and representatives of the Environmental Protection Agency follows the advocacy of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa who submitted a court filing in May calling for the shutdown of Line 5 after showing evidence that record snowfalls, and heavy rains and winds have further compromised the integrity of the pipeline.
Due to recent flooding, erosion of a local riverbank has led to Line 5’s centerline to be within 11 feet or less of the river waters, creating an immediate threat. The letter notes that erosion from receding waters or the next rainfall could cause a “guillotine rupture” – a vertical break causing oil to gush from both sides, poisoning the Bad River watershed and Lake Superior, impacting the Great Lakes region which holds one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water, and provides drinking water for 40 million people in North America.
The letter points to the significant harms an oil spill would have on waterways, ecosystems, wild rice beds, and clarifies how it directly undermines Indigenous rights and Indigenous Sovereignty:
“Imminent pipeline ruptures at the Bad River in Wisconsin and into the Straits of Mackinac threaten our drinking water, fisheries, manoomin and cultural survival…Our sovereignty and treaty-protected rights to hunt, fish, and gather food and medicine are all at risk.”
The signatories urge President Biden to revoke the Presidential Permit and force Enbridge to cease Line 5’s operations, pointing to the Administration’s climate directives and goals.
The letter comes from Indigenous women who are advocating to stop Line 5, and is endorsed by local and national groups representing Indigenous groups, environmental organizations, faith groups, and more. Please see quotes from the initiating signatories of the letter below:
Aurora Conley, Bad River Ojibwe, Anishinaabe Environmental Protection Alliance:
“As a Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe member, I am calling on the Biden Administration to shut down Line 5 immediately. Our territories and water are in imminent danger, and we do not want to see irreversible damage to our land, water, and wild rice. We do not want our lifeways destroyed. The Ojibwe people are here in Bad River because of the wild rice. A rupture from this oil spill will irreversibly harm the Great Lakes and wild rice beds. This is unacceptable. We will not stand for this. Shut down Line 5 now.”
Jannan J. Cornstalk, Citizen of Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, and Director of the Water is Life Festival:
“Our very lifeways and cultures hang in the balance as Line 5 continues to operate illegally in Indigenous territories and water. These are our lifeways– when that water is healthy enough that rice is growing– that not only benefits our communities, but that benefits everybody up and down stream. Allowing Line 5 to continue to operate is cultural genocide, and the Biden Administration must listen and shut down Line 5. That water is our relative, and we will do whatever it takes to protect our water, our sacred relative.”
Jaime Arsenault, White Earth Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer:
“We are urging the Biden Administration to revoke its Presidential Permit and shut down Line 5. We saw a multitude of preventable environmental tragedies occur in Minnesota with the destruction brought by Line 3. As a result – wild rice, watersheds, traditional lifeways and the wellbeing of Indigenous communities are still under constant threat. Right now, the Biden Administration has the opportunity to protect waterways, rice watersheds and lands threatened by a rupture of Line 5. Honor the treaties and the leadership of Tribes, and shut down Line 5.”
Rene Ann Goodrich, Bad River Tribal Elder, Native Lives Matter Coalition and Wisconsin Department of Justice MMIW Task Force Member:
“Line 5 crosses over tribal treaty territory and one of those ceded territories is my own reservation of Bad River. So the age of the pipeline, the danger that it brings to the environment is our biggest concern here. We have that need, we have that responsibility, we have that duty to protect our life givers. Our life givers are the earth, the aquifers underneath the earth, the women that are sacred water carriers, and water itself that brings life. As sacred water carriers we stand with the water, and urge the Biden Administration to take action and shut down Line 5 immediately.”
Carrie Chesnik, Oneida Nation Wisconsin, Founder of the Treaty Land Trust:
“We have an opportunity here to shut down the Line 5 pipeline, and protect what we all hold dear. We all have the responsibility and agency to act in a good way, to care for the land and waters. What our communities have known for a long time is that the water is hurting, Mother Earth is hurting, and pretty soon we won’t have clean water for our kids, for future generations. As a Haudenosunee woman, an auntie, daughter, and sister, I have an inherent responsibility to the water and our children. Every single one of us has agency and a responsibility to take action, honor the treaties, and protect Mother Earth. It is the time to be brave and courageous.”
Gaagigeyaashiik – Dawn Goodwin, Gaawaabaabiganigaag, White Earth-Ojibwe, Co-founder of R.I.S.E. Coalition, Representative of Indigenous Environmental Network:
“As a member of the Wolf Clan I have an inherent responsibility to protect the environment and the people. I want us to imagine a world where we are working as one team as we should be working together. The government has failed to protect the water in the past, yet there is an opportunity now to protect the water before irreparable damage occurs. Our treaties are being ignored and yet, treaties are the SUPREME LAW of the land. It is time to honor and respect the treaties as the supreme law of the land, as they were written and intended, and to listen to Tribes and Indigenous leaders calling for an immediate shut down to the Line 5 pipeline. We are the women of the Indigenous Women’s Treaty Alliance calling upon you to rise and to protect all that is sacred – shut down Line 5!”
Nookomis Debra Topping, Nagajiiwanong, 1854 Treaty Fond du Lac, Co-founder of R.I.S.E. Coalition:
“Nibi (water) is sacred, Manoomin is sacred, that is our life blood, that is us, that is why we are here. We will not allow any further destruction to our sacred ecosystems and water. Everyday the threat increases, allowing Canadian Corporation Enbridge’s Line 5 to continue operating is genocide! We’ve followed every process, Tribes and the Governor of Michigan have called for a shut down of Line 5. The science is there, the evidence is there. Deny Enbridge any further allowance to destroy Mama Aki (Earth), and shut down Line 5.”
Since 2022, the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) has been honored to facilitate the Indigenous Women’s Treaty Alliance. In response to the call for action, Osprey Orielle Lake, Executive Director of the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) stated: “The Bad River Band continues to sound the alarm, and the Biden administration must listen and immediately shut down Line 5. The imminent danger of a rupture to Line 5 due to increased erosion on the Bad River threatens Indigenous Peoples existence and rights, biodiverse ecosystems, and the Great Lakes, which holds one-fifth of the world’s freshwater. The Administration has the necessary tools to cease operations, and must take action before it’s too late. The Great Lakes and local communities cannot be the next sacrifice zone.”
Editor’s Note: The brief piece reflects on the consumer-, expansion- and tech-centered world and calls for shifting our allegiance to the natural world. We thank the author for both the article and the poem.
By Mankh (Walter E. Harris III)
“Each and every new product is supposed to offer a dramatic shortcut to the long-awaited promised land of total consumption.”
“… consumer can only get his hands on a succession of fragments of this commodity heaven.”
– Guy Debord, from his book The Society of the Spectacle
The commodified society represents the abandonment of the promise of a religious heaven afterlife for the manifesting of that heaven on earth, a one-click materialized paradise replete with all the right appliances and just the right look, you know, the ones seen in television and magazine ads or glimpses of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. To paraphrase Nietzsche, “Heaven is dead” . . . but we’re gonna do our best to get a damned-close facsimile to you with same-day free delivery. But wait, read the fine print, it’s not “free.”
What’s also at risk is dead earth. Already agricultural practices have depleted the soil’s nutrients. Mining continues to wreak havoc:
“Ramshackle slums and makeshift villages spread out from the city center into the ever-decreasing habitable space. Mines occupy at least 80 percent of the developed land in Kolwezi. The green is gone. Arable earth is extinct … Kolwezi is the mangled face of progress in Africa. The hunt for cobalt is all”.
The once actual promised land is being sacrificed for a consumer promised land of shiny gadgets and electric vehicles whose batteries require cobalt. And as the one example of Kolwezi shows, we may actually be on the road to “total consumption,” literally destroying what’s left of the earth so as to be able to send a photo of that destruction via smartphone. What that phone can do may be smart, but the way the phone, laptop and car batteries are being made is cruel and stupid.
A brief look at history shows that the promised land was never really promised, rather stolen land. The God of the Old Testament promised the land of Canaan to His people but the problem there was that, the land “was already inhabited by indigenous peoples…” And, “The first task was to extirpate or “uproot” the non-Hebrew Canaanites from the “promised” land. The second task was to “replant” (repopulate) the promised land with the seed (offspring) of Abraham.”
This then became the template for the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and its patterns of domination and dehumanization spread globally, as explained by Steven T. Newcomb in his book Pagans in the Promised Land:
“During the fifteenth, sixteenth, and the later centuries, the monarchies and nations of Christendom lifted the Old Testament narrative of the chosen people and the promised land from the geographical context of the Middle East and began carrying it over to the rest of the globe. Genesis 1:28’s directive to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over all living things, for example, and Psalms 2:8’s mention of the ‘uttermost parts of the earth’ provided a cognitive basis for the globalization of the Chosen People–Promised Land model during the Age of Discovery.”
As the amount of actual land lessens, nowadays the promised land colonizers have already started planting chips, as in microchip implants, into human beings. The next level is brain chips, the what-could-go-wrong brainchild of Elon Musk’s company Neuralink. But “could” has already gone wrong: “The experiments involved 23 monkeys in all. At least 15 of them died or were euthanized by 2020…”
Meanwhile, the Bezos-owned Whole Foods chain is a land flowing with organic milk and local honey. You might as well call the supermarket Promised Land, since it is mostly the cho$en ones who can afford it.
You don’t need to sign a petition or write your congressman or senator (though maybe that will help), simply make a promise to care for the land (and while you’re at it, the water), and see what that promise does to your lifestyle.
Instead of just looking for what the best deals can “promise” you, turn the tables on the approximately 2,000 year old religio-business model and promise to care for the land.
Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Zone Books, 1995, p.45 and p.43.
Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives – Siddharth Kara, St. Martin’s Press, 2023, p.158.
Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery – Steven T. Newcomb, Fulcrum Publishing, 2008, p.38 and p.43 and p.43. Also, the documentary film, The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code.
When The Powers That Bank want to raise hell,
i lower heaven.
When the Corporations want to commodify water
i raise rivers.
When the Environmentalists think solar panels are THE solution
i burn with truth and beauty
making their eyelids open to the Sunrise
as if for the very first time.
When the Developers want to destroy just another patch of trees
for just another warehouse,
i make money grow on their genitals
because it damn sure shouldn’t grow
from cutting down trees.
When the People fail to raise their voices
i rewrite the Origin Story.
How can we begin again
when the ends still justify the mean-spiritedness?
How do we change the trajectory
that wants the hardware
to run roughshod tax free
over the lands of the Burrowing Owl,
the Sagebrush and Sagebrush Sparrow,
the Pygmy Rabbit, the Jackrabbit?
When hearts go cold as Winter ice
i make The Powers That Bank weep
until there is no more need for me to raise the rivers
The word “sustain” is from the root:
—to support from below—
so who else but Earth does that?
In the end that is just another beginning
i will even the score
so that the birds sing again,
the trees stay put again,
and the wind move through again
as when they inspired
my first Origin Story.
Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is a verbiage experiencer, in other words, he’s into etymology, writes about his experiences and to encourage people to learn from direct experiences, not just head knowledge; you know, actions and feelings speak louder than words. He’s also a publisher and enjoys gardening, talking, listening, looking… His recent book is Moving Through The Empty Gate Forest: inside looking out. Find out more at his website: www.allbook-books.com
Editor’s Note: Unquestioned beliefs are the real authorities of any culture, and one of the central authorities in the dominant, globalizing culture is that technological progress is an unmitigated good. We call this “the lie of the techno-fix.”
The lie of the techno-fix is extremely convincing, with good reason. The propaganda promoting this idea is incessant and nearly subliminal, with billions of dollars pouring out of non-profit offices, New York PR firms, and Hollywood production companies annually to inculcate young people into the cult of technology. In policy, technology is rarely (if ever) subjected to any democratic controls; if it can be profitably made, it will be. And damn the consequences. There is money to be made.
Critics of technology and the techno-elite, such as Lewis Mumford, Rachel Carson, Langdon Winner, Derrick Jensen, and many others, have spoken out for decades on these issues. Technological “development,” they warn us, is perhaps better understood as technological “escalation,” since modern industrial technologies typically represent a war on the planet and the poor.
In this article, Helena Norberg-Hodge asks us to consider what values are important to us: progress, or well-being? Breakneck speed, or balance? She articulates a vision of technology as subordinate to ecology and non-human and human communities alike based on her experiences in the remote Himalayan region of Ladakh.
The most recent topic explored by the thinkers and activists who make up the Great Transition Network was “Technology and the Future”. As writer after writer posted their thoughts, it was heartening to see that almost all recognize that technology cannot provide real solutions to the many crises we face. I was also happy that Professor William Robinson, author of a number of books on the global economy, highlighted the clear connection between computer technologies and the further entrenchment of globalization today.
As anyone who has followed my work will know, globalization is of particular interest to me: for more than 40 years I’ve been studying its impacts on different cultures and societies around the world. From Ladakh and Bhutan to Sweden and Australia, a clear pattern has emerged: as people are pushed into deepening dependence on large-scale, technological systems, ecological and social crises escalate.
I’m not the only one to have seen this. In the International Forum on Globalization – a network I co-founded in 1992 – I worked with forty writers, journalists, academics and social and environmental leaders from around the world to inform the public about the ways in which “free-trade” treaties, the principal drivers of globalization, have eroded democracy, destroyed livelihoods, and accelerated resource extraction. In countries as disparate as Sweden and India, I have seen how globalization intensifies competition for jobs and resources, leading to dramatic social breakdown – including not only ethnic and religious conflict, but also depression, alcoholism and suicide.
Professor Robinson wrote that we are “at the brink of another round of restructuring and transformation based on a much more advanced digitalization of entire global economy”. This is true, but the link between globalization and technological expansion began well before the computer era. Large-scale, technological apparatuses can be understood as the arms and legs of centralized profit-making. And while 5G networks, satellites, mass data-harvesting, artificial intelligence and virtual reality will allow the colonization of still more physical, economic and mental space by multinational corporations, technologies like fossil fuels, global trading infrastructures, and television have already helped to impose a corporate-run consumer-based economy in almost every corner of the globe.
For reasons that are increasingly evident, an acceleration of this process is the last thing we need in a time of serious social and environmental crises. What’s more, the technologies themselves – from the sensors to the satellites – all rely heavily on scarce resources, not least rare earth minerals. Some of the world’s richest corporations are now racing each other to extract these minerals from the deepest seabeds and from the surface of Mars. It has been estimated that the internet alone – with its largely invisible data warehouses (much of it manned by exploited labor in the “developing” world) – will use up a fifth of global electricity consumption by 2025.
And for what? So that we can all spend more time immersed in and addicted to virtual worlds? So that we can automate agriculture, and drive more communities off the land into swelling urban slums? So that drones can deliver our online purchases without an iota of face-to-face contact?
When thinking about technology from within an already high-tech, urban context, we can easily forget that nearly half the global population still lives in villages, still connected to the land. This is not to say that their way of life is not under threat – far from it. Ladakh, the Himalayan region where I lived and worked for several decades, was unconnected to the outside world by even a road until the 1960s. But today you can find processed corporate food, smartphones, mountains of plastic waste, traffic jams and other signs of ‘modernity’ in the capital, Leh. The first steps on this path were taken in the mid-1970s when, in the name of ‘development’, massive resources went into building up the energy, communications and transport infrastructures needed to tie Ladakh to the global economy. Another step involved pulling Ladakhi children out of their villages into western-style schools, where they learned none of the place-based skills that supported Ladakh’s culture for centuries, and instead were trained into the technological-modernist paradigm. Together, these forces are pushing the traditional way of life to the brink of extinction.
While that process began relatively recently in Ladakh, in the west it has been going on far longer, with deeper impacts. But even here, more and more people are becoming aware that the technologization of their personal lives has led to increasing stress, isolation, and mental health struggles. During the pandemic people have been forced to do more online than ever before – from classes to conversations with friends and family – and most have discovered how limited and empty online life can be. There is a clear cultural turning, visible now even in the mainstream, that goes beyond a desire to spend less time on screens. People are also beginning to reject the posturing of the consumer culture and its work-and-spend treadmill, wanting instead to slow down, to cultivate deeper relationships and to engage in more community-oriented and nature-based activities.
I see young people all over the world choosing to leave their screen-based jobs to become farmers. (This return to the land is happening in Ladakh, as well, which I find truly inspiring.) Informal networks of mutual aid are arising. Friends are gardening, cooking and baking bread together; families are choosing to live on the land and developing relationships with the animals and plants around them. We are seeing increased respect for indigenous wisdom, for women and for the feminine, and a growing appreciation for wild nature and for all things vernacular, handmade, artisanal and local. There is also an emergence of alternative, ecological practices in every discipline: from natural medicine to natural building, from eco-psychology to ecological agriculture. Although these disciplines have often been the target of corporate co-optation and greenwashing, they have invariably emerged from bottom-up efforts to restore a healthier relationship with the Earth.
All of these are positive, meaningful trends that have been largely ignored by the media, and given no support by policymakers. At the moment, they are running uphill in a system that favors corporate-led technological development at every turn. They testify to enduring goodwill, to a deep human desire for connection.
When viewed from a big-picture perspective, the expansion of digital technologies – which are inherently centralized and centralizing – runs contrary to the emergence of a more humane, sustainable and genuinely connected future. Why should we accept an energy-and mineral-intensive technological infrastructure that is fundamentally about speeding life up, increasing our screen-time, automating our jobs, and tightening the grip of the 1%?
For a better future, we need to put technology back in its place, and favor democratically determined, diverse forms of development that are shaped by human and ecological priorities – not by the gimmicky fetishes of a handful of billionaires.
Helena Norberg-Hodge is founder and director of Local Futures. A pioneer of the “new economy” movement, she has been promoting an economics of personal, social and ecological well-being for over 40 years. She is the producer and co-director of the award-winning documentary The Economics of Happiness, and is the author of Local is Our Future and Ancient Futures: Learning from Ladakh. She was honored with the Right Livelihood Award for her groundbreaking work in Ladakh, and received the 2012 Goi Peace Prize for contributing to “the revitalization of cultural and biological diversity, and the strengthening of local communities and economies worldwide.”
The following is an extract from Derrick Jensen’s 2016 book The Myth of Human Supremacy. From the book jacket: “In this impassioned polemic, radical environmental philosopher Derrick Jensen debunks the near-universal belief in a hierarchy of nature and the superiority of humans. Vast and underappreciated complexities of nonhuman life are explored in detail—from the cultures of pigs and prairie dogs, to the creative use of tools by elephants and fish, to the acumen of caterpillars and fungi. The paralysis of the scientific establishment on moral and ethical issues is confronted and a radical new framework for assessing the intelligence and sentience of nonhuman life is put forth.” Visit Derrick’s website to buy the book.
By Derrick Jensen
You’ve probably noticed I haven’t talked about the origins of human supremacism. Some say it began with the domestication of nonhuman animals, as we came to think of these as our dependent inferiors, as our slaves, our beasts of burden. Some say it began with agriculture, where the entire landbase was converted to human use. Some say the model for human supremacism is male supremacism: women are physically differentiable from men, and some men decided that differentiability meant inferiority, and validated their own superiority by repeatedly violating and controlling women; this model was then applied across racial, cultural, and species differences. Some say human supremacism really got its start with the creation of a monotheistic sky god and the consequent removal of meaning from the material earth.
These questions of origins, while interesting and on some levels important, are not vital to the current discussion. Right now this narcissistic, sociopathic human supremacist culture is killing the planet, and we need to stop it. Asking where it started feels a bit to me like wondering about the childhood traumas of the axe murderer who is tearing apart your loved ones. Sure, it’s a discussion to be had, but can we please stop the murderer first?
Because human supremacism—like other supremacisms—is not based on fact, but rather on pre-existing bigotry (and the narcissism and tangible self-interest on which all bigotries are based), I don’t expect this book will cause many human supremacists to reconsider their supremacism, just as books on male or white supremacism don’t generally cause male or white supremacists to reconsider theirs. The book isn’t written for them. This book is written to give support to the people—and there are a lot of us—who are not human supremacists, and who are disgusted with the attitudes and behaviors of the supremacists, who are attempting to stop the supremacists from killing all that lives. It is written for those who are appalled by nonhumans being tortured, displaced, destroyed, exterminated by supremacists in service to authoritarian technics. It is written for those who are tired of the incessant—I would say obsessive—propaganda required to prop up human supremacism. It is written for those who recognize the self-serving stupidity and selective blindness of the supremacist position.
It is written for those who prefer a living planet to authoritarian technics. It is written for those who prefer democratic decision-making processes to authoritarian technics. It is written for those who prefer life to machines.
I’m sitting again by the pond. The wind still plays gently among the reeds, plays also with the surface of the water.
This time I do not hear the sound of a family of jays softly talking amongst themselves. This time I hear the sound of chainsaws.
The forests on both sides of where I live are being clearcut. I don’t know why. Or rather, on a superficial level I do. The people who “own” both pieces of land had a “problem” they needed to “solve.” “Problem”? They needed money. Or they wanted money. Or they craved money. It doesn’t matter. “Solution”? Cut the trees and sell them.
Never mind those who live there.
So for weeks now I’ve been hearing the whine of chainsaws and the screams of trees as they fall. For weeks now I’ve been feeling the shock waves when the trees hit the ground.
Such is life at the end of the world.
We end on the plains of eastern Colorado, where as I write this a friend is trying desperately to protect prairie dogs. A “developer” wants to put in a mall on top of one of the largest extant prairie dog villages along Colorado’s Front Range. The village has 3,000 to 8,000 burrows.
Prior to this human supremacist culture moving into the Great Plains, the largest prairie dog community in the world, which was in Texas, covered 25,000 square miles, and was home to perhaps 400 million prairie dogs. The total range for prairie dogs was about 150,000 to 200,000 square miles, and population was well over a billion.
Now, prairie dogs have been reduced to about five percent of their range and two percent of their population.
Yet because yet another rich person wants to build yet another mall (in this economy, with so many empty stores already?), much of this prairie dog community will be poisoned. That community includes the twenty or more other species who live with and depend upon prairie dogs. The prairie dogs (and some others) who are not poisoned will be buried alive by the bulldozers, then covered with concrete. This includes the pregnant females, who prefer not to leave their dens.
If you recall, prairie dogs have complex languages, with words for many threats. They have language to describe hawks, and to describe snakes, and to describe coyotes. They have language to describe a woman wearing a yellow shirt, and different language for a woman wearing a blue shirt. They have had to come up with language to describe a man with a gun.
Do they, I wonder, have language to describe a bulldozer? Do they have language to describe the pregnant females of their community being buried alive?
And do they have language to describe the murderous insatiability of human supremacists? And do others? Do blue whales and the few remaining tigers? Do the last three northern white rhinos, all that’s left because some human supremacists believe their horns are aphrodisiacs? Do elephants? Did the black-skinned pink-tusked elephants of China? Did the Mesopotamian elephants? And what about others? What about the disappearing fireflies? What about the dammed and re-dammed and re-dammed Mississippi? What about the once-mighty Columbia? What about the once-free Amazon? Do they have language to describe this murderous insatiability?
And perhaps more to the point, do we?
By the time you read this, the prairie dogs my friend is fighting to protect will probably be dead, killed so someone can build yet another cathedral to human supremacism. And by the time you read this, yet another dam will have been built on the Mekong, on the upper reaches of the Amazon, on the upper Nile. By the time you read this there will be 7,000 to 10,000 more dams in the world. By the time you read this there will be more dead zones in the oceans. By the time you read this there will be another 100,000 species driven extinct.
And all for what?
To serve authoritarian technics, to serve an obsession to validate and re-validate a self-perceived superiority that is so fragile that each new other we encounter must be violated, and then violated, and then violated, till there is nothing left and we move on to violate another.
This is not the future I want. This is not the future I will accept.
What I want from this book is for readers to begin to remember what it is to be human, to begin to remember what it is to be a member of a larger biotic community. What I want is for you—and me, and all of us—to fall back into the world into which you—and me, and all of us—were born, before you, too, like all of us were taught to become a bigot, before you, too, like all of us were taught to become a human supremacist, before you, too, like all of us were turned into a servant of this machine culture like your and my parents and their parents before them. I want for you—and me, and all of us—to fall into a world where you—like all of us—are one among many, a world of speaking subjects, a world of infinite complexity, a world where we each depend on the others, all of us understanding that the health of the real world is primary.
The world is being murdered. It is being murdered by actions that are perpetrated to support and perpetuate a worldview. Those actions must be stopped. Given what is at stake, failure is no longer an option. The truth is that it never was an option.
So where do we begin? We begin by questioning the unquestioned beliefs that are the real authorities of this culture, and then we move out from there. And once you’ve begun that questioning, my job is done, because once those questions start they never stop. From that point on, what you do is up to you.
Editor’s note: The oceans have absorbed more than 90% of the excess heat trapped on planet earth due to global warming. Greenhouse gases are also absorbed into the ocean which has increased the acidity of ocean water significantly. Increased heat and acidity makes reproduction and survival more difficult for calcifying organisms such as corals and other marine life. It should be no surprise to anyone that we see coral reefs dying globally. So are plankton populations, fish populations, and countless other species. What is surprising is that efforts to halt and reverse greenhouse gas emissions have thus far been so tepid and ineffective. We must change that.
In 2003, a marine heat wave devastated coral reef communities in the Mediterranean Sea, including the reefs in the Scandola Marine Reserve, a protected region off the coast of Corsica.
More than 15 years later, the coral reef communities in Scandola still have not recovered.
Researchers determined that persistent marine heat waves, which are now happening every year in the Mediterranean, are preventing Scandola’s slow-growing coral reefs from recuperating.
Human-induced climate change is the culprit; persistent rising temperatures in the ocean have normalized marine heat waves, not only in the Mediterranean, but in the global oceans.
For years, Joaquim Garrabou donned scuba gear and dove into the waters of the Scandola Marine Reserve in Corsica to find a paradise. Twenty meters (66 feet) beneath the surface, there were reef walls draped with soft red coral (Corallium rubrum) and red gorgonian sea-whips (Paramuricea clavata), all swarming with fish and other sea creatures. But in 2003, a marine heat wave hit Scandola, leading to the death of many coral reefs. More than 15 years later, the reefs have still not recovered.
Now when Garrabou dives at Scandola, he’s greeted by the skeletons of once-thriving corals.
“It’s like seeing someone who is ill, who has a disease that you cannot find the solution for,” Garrabou told Mongabay in a video interview. “You hope that someday there will be a [solution] but you see that there’s not much hope.”
After the 2003 marine heat wave, Garrabou and colleagues began monitoring Scandola’s coral reefs to track their recovery. But after accumulating reef survey data and temperature data over many years, they eventually realized they were actually tracking the reefs’ collapse. The results of their long-term study were recently published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“We knew something bad was happening to the corals around the world, but we weren’t expecting a collapse in all of the populations that we studied,” study lead author Daniel Gómez-Gras, a marine ecologist at the Institut de Ciències del Mar in Barcelona, told Mongabay in a video interview. “The point of tracking these populations for such a long time was to show recovery in the long term because we expected that the populations — maybe not in five years, but in 15, 20 years — [would be] able to recover. However, we saw a collapse.”
‘We don’t call it bleaching’
The data showed that marine heat waves were happening every year in different parts of the Mediterranean between 2003 and 2018. For 12 of those years, the water temperature at a depth of 20 m reached more than 23° Celsius (73.4° Fahrenheit), which is considered a sublethal threshold for corals. And for four of those years — 2009, 2016, 2017 and 2018 — temperatures at that depth breached the lethal threshold for corals at 25°C (77°F).
The researchers found that the ceaseless heat wasn’t allowing these slow-growing coral reefs to recover.
“Frankly, I never thought that I would be seeing it,” Garrabou said. “And it’s happening really fast.”
Soft coral species in the Mediterranean don’t “bleach” the way that tropical corals do, Gómez-Gras said. That’s because Mediterranean corals don’t have a symbiotic relationship with zooxanthellae, the algae that tropical corals expel when they experience heat stress.
“We don’t call it bleaching here in the Mediterranean for these coral species, since they don’t bleach,” he said. “They directly die with a loss of tissue and skeletons being exposed.”
While the results of the study are relevant to many coral communities across the Mediterranean, the researchers chose to focus their study on Scandola because the area had been established as a marine protected area (MPA) in 1975, and had been relatively free from other human pressures such as fishing and pollution. This helped them eliminate other possibilities for the coral reef population collapses and to pinpoint marine heat waves as the reason for their demise.
Researchers used to think that deeper reef communities might shelter coral species from heat stress. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that this isn’t the case, not only in the Mediterranean, but in other parts of the world, including coral reef sites in the Pacific.
“We are witnessing that if you go deeper, [there is still] impact,” Garrabou said.
Human-induced climate change is responsible for the heating of the oceans — and it’s becoming hotter and hotter in the water. According to another study, the global oceans have broken a heat record for the sixth year in a row. As the oceans warm, heat penetrates downward — and this heating trend will continue even if emissions stop tomorrow, Kevin Trenberth, co-author of this separate study, told Mongabay in January.
A related study also found that marine heat waves have become the new normal for the global oceans as climate change rapidly transforms our world.
The Mediterranean may be feeling the impacts of climate change even more intensely than other parts of the world. A report published last year by WWF found that the Mediterranean was warming 20% faster than the rest of the world’s oceans.
Gómez-Gras said the accelerated warming in the Mediterranean has partly to do with its semi-enclosed shape. While this is unique to the region, he added that the Mediterranean shows what will happen in other parts of the ocean due to climate change.
“Marine heat waves are becoming the new normal in the Mediterranean Sea,” Gómez-Gras said. “So you can guess that in the future, it can become the new normal [elsewhere] in the world.”
Georgios Tsounis, a marine biologist at California State University, whose work was based in the Mediterranean for 11 years, but who was not involved in this research, praised the new study in Proceedings of the Royal Society B for its “valuable approach.”
“We need more long-term demographic studies such as this one to better understand where our environment is heading in the future,” Tsounis told Mongabay in an email.
While the study is focused on the soft coral communities of the Mediterranean, Tsounis said the research can help us understand how other coral communities “may or may not recover from repeated stress over a period of 15 years.”
“We are seeing coral mortality in other parts of the world as well,” he said. “The tropical coral reefs make sad headlines every year. But in the tropics we are mainly concerned with reef-building hard corals (as opposed to the soft corals in this Mediterranean study). The temperature range and entire cause-effect mechanism differ between these two examples. What is common to most of these scenarios is that the corals have adapted to a narrow set of environmental conditions, such as temperature, over a long period of time, and are sensitive to changing climate.”
The researchers said they are searching the Mediterranean for “refugia,” places that offer coral reefs protection from thermal stress. One possible place could be the waters off the coast of the Calanques near Marseille, France, which seems to get enough cold water to protect its corals, Garrabou said. That said, the coral reef communities here experienced mass die-offs during marine heat waves in both 1999 and 2003. But since then, the region hasn’t had any major warming, and the corals have been able to slowly recover, he said.
While there are currently many places of refugia for coral communities across the world, a new study found that most of these places will disappear once the world reaches 1.5°C (2.7°F) of warming above pre-industrial levels, which is likely to happen within the next decade.
But it’s not just climate change placing pressure on the Mediterranean — fishing and pollution are additional stressors to the region. Because of this, Garrabou said it’s important to establish MPAs with strict protective measures to enhance the resilience of coral reef communities.
Currently, there are more than 1,200 MPAs in the Mediterranean, but only about 0.02% of the area they cover is closed to fishing year-round.
While the future looks grim for coral reefs, Garrabou said he feels hopeful about the momentum that’s building for the establishment of MPAs, especially with global efforts to protect 30% of the world’s oceans by 2030.
“When we provide the right conditions and the right tools, nature can be really generous and nature has demonstrated that it can bounce back,” he said.
But he said that MPAs need to be urgently established for the oceans to reap their benefits. “It has to happen,” he said, “and it has to happen fast.”
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Cheng, L., Abraham, J., Trenberth, K. E., Fasullo, J., Boyer, T., Mann, M. E., … Reagan, J. (2022). Another record: Ocean warming continues through 2021 despite La Niña conditions. Advances in Atmospheric Sciences. doi:10.1007/s00376-022-1461-3
Dixon, A. M., Forster, P. M., Heron, S. F., Stoner, A. M., & Beger, M. (2022). Future loss of local-scale thermal refugia in coral reef ecosystems. PLOS Climate, 1(2), e0000004. doi:10.1371/journal.pclm.0000004
Gómez-Gras, D., Linares, C., López-Sanz, A., Amate, R., Ledoux, J. B., Bensoussan, N., … Garrabou, J. (2021). Population collapse of habitat-forming species in the Mediterranean: A long-term study of gorgonian populations affected by recurrent marine heatwaves. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 288(1965). doi:10.1098/rspb.2021.2384
Tanaka, K. R., & Van Houtan, K. S. (2022). The recent normalization of historical marine heat extremes. PLOS CLIMATE. doi:10.1371/journal.pclm.0000007
Banner image: A red gorgonian coral (Paramuricea clavata) partially dead due to a marine heatwave. The lefthand side is still alive, while the righthand side is dead and the skeleton is exposed. Image by Eneko Aspillaga.