SOAPBOX

★ ★ ★ ★

By Mike Hembury

Earth.

Don’t you love Earth?

A glittering, pulsating speck of life in the blasted desert of the Universe. A living, breathing organism. A planet so densely coated in a crust of life that life itself has become its mountains, its bedrock, its soil, the air we breathe. Teeming blue oceans, rich verdant forests. The wonder that is a flower. The dizzy spectacle of a bee in flight. The twinkling joy in the eye of a dolphin. The majesty of an elephant. The sheer fucking wonderment of the whole magically interconnected biosphere. The absolute privilege of being born into this stupendous example of the overwhelming beauty and complexity of nature.

Yeah, well kiss that shit goodbye.

Because we’re not there anymore.

According to Bill McKibben, one of the world’s leading environmental campaigners, there’s not one single part of the planet that we as a species haven’t changed. After so many billions of years of existence, after so many geological eras, we have introduced the Anthropocene, a man-made era characterised mainly by shit, trash, destruction, pollution, extinction and fire.

We have turned Earth into Eaarth[1]. An unpredictable, mutant place.

A place increasingly inhospitable to life.

A poisoned chalice that we are bequeathing to those that come after us.

I say “we”, and I mean, obviously, that everyone has a responsibility for making sure that these planetary environmental developments that are so clearly happening, stop.

But what is that responsibility?

I bet you know all this stuff already. I bet you’ve reduced your emissions, bought the eco-friendly light bulbs, recycle your trash, ride a bike when you can, eat less meat, maybe even make the occasional donation to save the rainforest.

But let me tell you, all that is just pissing in the wind.

Green lifestyle choices are a fine thing. Of course every single one of us has a responsibility to do everything in our power to stop the madness. But as long as industrial-scale carbon extraction and the resulting pollution continues, lifestyle choices won’t make the slightest bit of difference.

It’s twenty fucking sixteen, and emissions of greenhouse gases are still increasing.

Not only that, but the rate at which they are being emitted is itself increasing.

Which means that not only are we continuing to poison the planet, but we are doing it more quickly and efficiently than previous generations.

But who exactly is we here?

Last time I looked, I didn’t seem to have too many oil fields, gas wells or coal mines lying around. Nor an Amazon logging business, come to that.

At this critical juncture in the entire future development of the planet, I think it is fair enough to point out who is primarily responsible for all this poisonous life-endangering shit.

It’s no secret. It’s Big Carbon, and the governments that are in their pockets.

Let’s face it, if you are acting in a way that wilfully endangers the lives of untold millions of people, now and forevermore, then that is not just acting irresponsibly, that is plain fucking criminal.

Not just criminal, but full-on sociopathic batshit criminally insane.

Even the head of the European coal lobby, Euracoal, expects that his industry will be “hated and vilified in the same way that slave-traders were once hated and vilified”.[2]

I think it’s a good analogy: back then, exploiting and killing people in a completely wanton and hideous way was an accepted way of producing commodities and making a buck. Until the pressure for change in society forced it to stop. Nowadays, destroying the planet is seen as a perfectly viable economic model, and will continue to be so, until we force it stop.

Hmm, no shit, Sherlock.

There’s a wee problem here. A tiny little matter that may have slipped your notice.

These sociopathic criminals, these crazies with all of the money and zero interest in what happens to Earth, they are the ones who are running the show.

There’s hardly a government on the planet that is not in some way in thrall to Big Carbon.

So questions of climate change quickly become questions of system change.[3]

And for those of you thinking that’s it then, we’re fucked, I would offer this little glimmer of hope.

I live in Berlin. A city where, 30 years ago, nobody could have imagined the Wall coming down. The Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact countries of Eastern Europe were an immutable block. A seemingly permanent system. There was absolutely no way anybody could envisage any of that changing.

But it happened. People defied authority, went out onto the streets, faced down the police and the military. And won.

Now we are at a point in time when the shit is really starting to hit the fan. Where we still have some say in the future development of the Earth. Even if this Earth is already Eaarth.

And all we can really say is: enough is enough!

So if you ask me what is our responsibility, what is it that we can do, beyond eco-friendly lifestyle choices, I would say that there is only one thing.

And that is: all that it takes.

There’s no one-size-fits-all here. Start from where you are. Say to yourselves three times “Capitalism is Killing the Planet” and click your glittering red heels together.

This will be the struggle that defines not just our generation, but all the generations to come.

So organise. Resist. Inform yourselves and others. Don’t take a seat, take a stand. And if you want, and feel able, to put your body on the line where the ecocidal action is, then more power to you my friend.

And to those of you, dear sceptical readers, who are maybe somehow dependent on Big Carbon to earn your living, I would say: You can be part of something and still be against it. Start by finding out the truth. Don’t bury your head in the tar sands. Just because it’s paying the bills doesn’t make it right.

To be honest, it’s a bit ironic for me, as someone who spent a year seriously involved in the 1984 UK miners’ strike—and whose grandfather was a miner—to be arguing for the end of coal.

But for me the arguments around carbon jobs are a bit like the arguments around armaments jobs, or tobacco jobs. It’s a poisonous product, being produced solely for profit.

The issues are the same as back in the miners’ strike—who is the production for, and what is more important, people or profits? Except that the stakes have become massively higher.

Like the saying goes: you can either be part of the problem or part of the solution.

After all that, I’ll leave you with a quote[4] by James Hoffa, President of the US Teamsters Union and of the Change to Win[5] trade union federation:

“Global warming is for real. Air pollution is killing people and making our children sick. And you know what? We share some of the blame. In the past, we were forced to make a false choice. The choice was: Good Jobs or a Clean Environment. We were told no pollution meant no jobs. If we wanted clean air, the economy would suffer and jobs would be sent overseas. Well guess what? We let the big corporations pollute and the jobs went overseas anyway. We didn’t enforce environmental regulations and the economy still went in the toilet. The middle class got decimated[6] and the environment is on the brink of disaster. Well I say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! No more false divides. The future, if we are to prosper as a nation[7], will lie in a green economy.”

[1] http://www.billmckibben.com/eaarth/pdf/eaarthexcerpt.pdf

[2] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/dec/15/coal-lobby-boss-says-industry-will-be-hated-like-slave-traders-after-cop21

[3] Naomi Klein: System Change not Climate Change: https://youtu.be/oy-xDFZPmAk

[4] http://www.labor4sustainability.org/articles/pipeline-climate-disaster-the-keystone-xl-pipeline-and-labor/

[5] http://changetowin.org/

[6] For “the middle class got decimated” read: “the working class got shafted”.

[7] For “nation”, read “planet” 🙂

Mike Hembury is an Anglo-Berliner originally from Portland, England.  He’s a writer, translator, musician, coder, sailor, environmentalist and guitar nerd in no particular order.  You can check out some of Mike’s music projects here:
www.miserlou.de
www.balkonians.de
www.skarabaeus-berlin.de