RDLS 2018: invitation to participate

Drawing by Matt Stanfield

Remembrance Day for Lost Species (RDLS), November 30th, is a chance each year to explore the stories of extinct species. These naturally lead to the stories of critically endangered species, ways of life, and ecological communities. Set up in 2011 in response to species extinctions resulting from human activity, RDLS is an opportunity to make or renew commitments to all who remain and to collaborate on creative and practical solutions. The primary intention of the day is to create spaces for grieving and reflection. Previous activities have included art, processions, tree planting, building Life Cairns, bell casting and ringing, Regenerative Memorials and more. Explore this website for examples of past events.

For 2018, RDLS invites events on or around November 30th to mark the extinction and endangerment of marine mammals and/or the ongoing threats to seas. The focal lost species for 2018 is Steller’s sea cow. Alternatively, RDLS participants are welcome to focus on any lost or disappearing species or ecological community. Please see the list of suggested activities below.

Steller’s sea cow

Steller’s sea cow (Hydrodamalis gigas) was a large marine mammal whose living relatives are the dugong and the manatee. Steller’s sea cow was last seen in 1768 in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia, just a few years after it was first observed and named by Europeans. 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of its extinction. The story of Steller’s sea cow story has much to teach about how species can be extinguished with shocking speed.

Steller’s sea cow was named by Georg Wilhelm Steller, a German naturalist who noticed the creatures whilst shipwrecked on Bering Island during a scientific mapping expedition of the Arctic. Much of what is known about the sea cow comes from Steller’s 1741 observations. Fur hunters, who then set up a trading post on the island, subsisted on sea cows, which were easy to hunt as they were slow moving and rarely submerged. All the sea cows were gone by 1768.

Growing up to nine metres in length and weighing up to ten tonnes, Steller’s sea cows provided refuge for many species, including fish, several species of crustaceans now extinct, and resting birds. They communicated with sighs and snorts, fed mainly on kelp, and were monogamous and sociable. Mothers nursed and raised one baby at a time.

Illustration by by F. John

Suggested RDLS activities:

  • Respond to the story of Steller’s sea cow or focus on the story of another marine species, community or issue you’re passionate about. Other examples include grey whales, orcas, vaquita, eels, krill, otters, salmon and many more.
  • Focus on local stories of extinction or endangerment, and on ways to restore relationships with one or more species of your ecological community.
  • Explore links between human-induced extinctions and other forms of structural violence.
  • On days before or after RDLS, organise or participate in personally and collectively restorative activities (e.g. beach and waterway cleans, tree planting, gardening with pollinators and soil in mind).

How to join RDLS 2018

 

Decolonizing against extinction part II – by Audra Mitchell

Essay reproduced from https://worldlyir.wordpress.com/ with the permission of the author 

Extinction is not a metaphor – it is literally genocide

Extinction has become an emblem of Western, and white-dominated, fears about ‘the end of the(ir) world’. This scientific term is saturated with emotional potency, stretched and contorted to embody almost any nightmare, from climate change to asteroid strikes. In academic and public contexts alike, it is regularly interchanged with other terms and concepts – for instance, ‘species death’, global warming or ecological collapse. Diffused into sublime scales – mass extinctions measured in millions of (Gregorian calendar) years, a planet totalized by the threat of nuclear destruction – ‘extinction’ has become an empty superlative, one that that gestures to an abstract form of unthinkabilityIt teases Western subjects with images of generalized demise that might, if it gets bad enough, even threaten us, or the figure of ‘humanity’ that we enshrine as a universal. This figure of ‘humanity’, derived from Western European enlightenment ideals, emphasizes individual, autonomous actors who are fully integrated into the global market system; who are responsible citizens of nation-states; who conform to Western ideas of health and well-being; who partake of ‘culture’; who participate in democratic state-based politics; who refrain from physical violence; and who manage their ‘resources’ responsibly (Mitchell 2014).

Oddly, exposure to the fear of extinction contributes to the formation and bolstering of contemporary Western subjects. Contemplating the sublime destruction of ‘humanity’ offers the thrill of abjection: the perverse pleasure derived from exposure to something by which one is revolted. Claire Colebrook detects this thrill-seeking impulse in the profusion of Western blockbuster films and TV shows that imagine and envision the destruction of earth, or at least of ‘humanity’. It also throbs through a flurry of recent best-selling books – both fiction and speculative non-fiction (see Oreskes and Conway 2014; Newitz 2013Weisman 2008). In a forthcoming intervention, Noah Theriault and I (2018) argue that these imaginaries are a form of porn that normalizes the profound violences driving extinction, while cocooning its viewers in the secure space of the voyeur. Certainly, there are many Western scientists, conservationists and policy-makers who are genuinely committed to stopping the extinction of others, perhaps out of fear for their own futures. Yet extinction is not quite real for Western, and especially white, subjects; it is a fantasy of negation that evokes thrill, melancholy, anger and existential purpose. It is a metaphor that expresses the destructive desires of these beings, and the negativity against which we define our subjectivity.

But extinction is not a metaphor: it is a very real expression of violence that systematically destroys particular beings, worlds, life forms and the relations that enable them to flourish. These are real, unique beings, worlds and relations – as well as somebody’s family, Ancestors, siblings, future generations – who are violently destroyed. Extinction can only be used unironically as a metaphor by people who have never been threatened with it, told it is their inevitable fate, or lost their relatives and Ancestors to it – and who assume that they probably never will.

This argument is directly inspired by the call to arms issued in 2012 by Eve Tuck and Wayne K. Yang and more recently by Cutcha Risling-Baldy. The first, seminal piece demonstrates how settler cultures use the violence of metaphorical abstraction to excuse themselves from the real work of decolonization: ensuring that land and power is in Indigenous hands. Risling-Baldy’s brilliant follow-up extends this logic to explain how First People like Coyote have been reduced to metaphors through settler appropriation. In both cases, engagement with Indigenous peoples and their relations masks moves to innocence: acts that make it appear as if settlers are engaging in decolonization, while in fact we are consolidating the power structures that privilege us.

In this series, want to show how Western, and white-dominated, discourses on ‘extinction’ appear to address the systematic destruction of peoples and other beings while enacting moves to innocence that mask their culpability and perpetuate structures of violence. As I argued in Part I of this series, extinction is an expression of colonial violence. As such, it needs to be addressed through direct decolonization, including the dismantling of settler colonial structures of violence, and the resurgence of Indigenous worlds. Following Tuck, Yang and Risling-Baldy’s lead,  I want to show how and why the violences that drive extinction have come to be invisible within mainstream discourses. Salient amongst these is the practice of genocide against Indigenous peoples other than humans.

…it is literally genocide.

What Western science calls ‘extinction’ is not an unfortunate, unintended consequence of desirable ‘human’ activities. It is an embodiment of particular patterns of  structural violence that disproportionately affect specific racialized groups.  In some cases, ‘extinction’ is directly, deliberately and systematically inflicted in order to create space for aggressors, including settler states. For this reason, it has rightly been framed as an aspect or tool of colonial genocides against Indigenous human peoples. Indeed, many theorists have shown that the ‘extirpation’ of life forms (their total removal from a particular place) is an instrument for enacting genocide upon Indigenous humans (see Mazis 2008;Laduke 1999Stannard 1994). Specifically, the removal of key sources of food, clothing and other basic materials makes survival on the land impossible for the people targeted.

Nehiyaw thinker Tasha Hubbard (2014) makes a qualitatively distinct argument. She points out that the Buffalo are First People, the elder brothers of the Nehiyaw people (and other Indigenous nations – see Benton-Banai 2010). Starting in the mid-1800s, the tens of millions of buffalo that ranged across Turtle Island were nearly eliminated through strategic patterns of killing carried out by settler-state-sponsored military and commercial forces. Their killing was linked to governmental imperatives to clear and territorially annex the Great Plains by removing its Indigenous peoples. As Hubbard points out, methods of destroying buffalo herds included large-scale killing, but also the disruption of their social structures, the destruction of the ecosystems on which they rely, and the removal of calves. These acts involve each of the components of the definition of genocide enshrined in the UN Genocide Convention: 

(a) Killing members of the group;
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

From Hubbard’s viewpoint, rooted in Nehiyaw philosophy and ethical-legal principles, the  systematic destruction of the buffalo is not like genocide, nor is it exclusively a tool for carrying out genocide against human peoples. It isgenocide in its own right: an attempt to destroy a particular First People and the possibilities of its continuity. In other words, the deliberate and systematic attempt to eliminate the buffalo, enacted by settler states, simultaneouslyenacted genocide against Indigenous peoples and their nonhuman relatives.

Genocides of Indigenous peoples (human and otherwise) continue apace in contemporary settler states, transformed into multiple manifestations. For instance, they are integral to ‘biosecurity’ strategies designed to police the biological boundaries of these states and their citizens. Laced with racializing and xenophobic rhetoric (Subramaniam 2001), strategies such as culling or planned eradications are intended to remove ‘invasive’ or ‘foreign’ life forms in order to protect ‘Native’ ones. Many of the ‘invasive’ life forms targeted for destruction were transported to unfamiliar lands through colonial patterns of settlement and global trade flows.

However, this logic of elimination (Wolfe 2006) is often perverted, turned against Indigenous* beings whose flourishing impedes the expansion or consolidation of the colonial state. For instance, Deborah Bird Rose (2011 a, 2011 b) shows how this form of violence is continually waged against flying foxes, who are framed by the settler state as “pest[s] whose extinction is [deliberately] sought”. This act of elimination involves explicit genocidal ideation, or the imagination of the destruction of a people. Rose characterizes it as a “matter of imagining a world without [dingoes or flying foxes], then setting out to create it” (Rose 2011a). The Australian settler state has used multiple tactics to induce terror and preclude flourishing amongst flying foxes, from the emission of high-pitched electronic signals to smearing trees with python excrement (Rose 2011b). Indeed, in 2014, I lived near to the roosting site of a group of flying foxes in Turrbal and Jagera Country (suburban Brisbane to settlers). Such nesting places are called ‘colonies’ , reflecting a Western scientific rhetoric that frames Indigenous peoples as ‘invaders’ of the settler state. The trees that housed the nesting site backed onto a municipal facility, whose fence had been covered with barbed wire, in which many of the bats snared their wings and starved to death.  This ‘security’ measure – designed to protect the facilities relied upon by urban settlers from the intrusion of flying foxes – is a powerful weapon for precluding ongoing flourishing of Indigenous other-than-human peoples. I learned from neighbours that this ‘colony’ had previously been ‘moved’ from several other sites around the city, suffering significant declines in population each time. Indeed, despite reported declines of 95% in flying fox communities in Queensland and neighbouring New South Wales, the Queensland settler state legalized the shooting of the bats in 2012 by fruitgrowers.

Of course, in some cases, the elimination of life forms is not as targeted or intentional – it may take the form of land-based extractive violence, the creep of ocean acidification, the decimation of rainforests by climate change. Proponents of a Eurocentric definition of genocide could argue that these events lack intention. Indeed, within international law, intention to commit genocide is a necessary criteria for conviction. However, theorists of critical genocide studies have long argued that this definition is inadequate: it brackets out a great many of the acts, logics and structures that produce the destruction of unique peoples. According to Tony Barta, definitions of genocide that focus on ‘purposeful annihilation’, and in particular on physical killing, have “devalu[ed] all other concepts of less planned destruction, even if the effects are the same” (Barta 2000, 238). For this reason, he shifts the focus from ‘genocidal intention’ to ‘genocidal outcome’ – that is, from the abstract assignation of genocidal agency to the felt and embodied effects of eliminative violence. It is the focus on intent, he contends, that allows white Australians to imagine that their relationship with Aboriginal people is non-genocidal despite overwhelming evidence of systematic and deliberate racialized destruction over several centuries. In contrast, an approach based on ‘genocidal outcomes’ makes it possible to account for complex causality and weak intentionality – that is, for myriad acts mediated by subtle, normalized structures that, together, work to eliminate a people. I want to argue that the same logic applies to nonhuman peoples: the destruction of a life form, its relations with other beings and its possible futures is a genocidal outcome, whether or not intention can be identified.

Similarly, Christopher Powell (2007) argues that, since a ‘genos’ is a

“network of practical social relations, destruction of a genos means the forcible breaking down of those relationships…these effects could be produced without a coherent intent to destroy. They could result from sporadic and uncoordinated actions whose underlying connection is the production of a new society in which there is simply no room for the genos in question to exist. They might even result from well-meaning attempts to do good” (Powell 2007, 538)

As I have argued elsewhere, extinction is defined by the breaking of relations and the systematic destruction of the conditions of plurality that nurture co-flourishing worlds. Whether inflicted out as a deliberate act of extirpation, or as the convergent effect of eliminative logics expressed over centuries and enormous spatial scales, extinction is the destruction of relations and the heterogenous societies they nurture.

Understood in this way, ‘extinction’ is not a metaphor for genocide or other forms of large-scale violence: it is a distinct manifestation of genocide. Masking the genocidal logics that drive extinction involves several moves to innocence (Tuck and Yang 2012). Treating extinction as something short of genocide entrenches Eurocentric understandings of personhood that are limited to homo sapiens, which is itself an act of violence against these peoples. Ironically, the entrenchment of this dichotomy also enables the logic of ‘dehumanization’, in which human communities are likened to reviled nonhumans (for instance, cockroaches) in order to motivate violence against them. As I have argued elsewhere (Mitchell 2014), the logic of generalised ‘dehumanisation’ is uniquely effective in Western frameworks in which the lack of ethical status for beings other than humans removes obstacles to their mass destruction. Within worlds in which human and nonhuman persons are linked through complex systems of law, treaties, protocols and long-standing relations, this claim is illogical. Within Western settler states, however, it functions as a means of justifying ongoing violence against Indigenous peoples and their relations.

In addition, by framing extinction as a problem for a universal figure of ‘humanity’ (more on this to follow…) mainstream discourses of extinction obscure its profound entwinement with race and racializing structures.  These examples make it clear that eliminative violence is targeted on specific groups of people and their other-than-human relations, as defined by the aggressors. Indeed, patterns of genocidal violence extend racializing categories, hierarchies and eliminative impulses to other-than-human peoples. Just as approaching gender violence separately from race effaces their intersection, understanding extinction as distinct from race is deeply misleading. This is not only because racialized people are more likely to suffer from the effects of ‘extinction’ and other forms of environmental racism (which they are). It is also because the eliminative violence that drives extinction extend and enact race beyond the category of homo sapiens by defining particular groups against white settler norms and as threats to the settler society. To approach extinction separately from issues of race is, therefore, to miss one of its most defining features.

Extinction is not a metaphor – in many cases, it is quite literally genocide enacted against Indigenous peoples and their other-than-human relations. To treat it as a metaphor is to obscure and participate in the structures of violence that drive it. From this perspective, in addition to active decolonisation efforts, and the resurgence of Indigenous peoples, addressing extinction also requires attacking the genocidal, racializing,  eliminative logics that are diffused throughout settler (and other) states. It also requires honouring the unique relations, worlds and peoples that are targeted by these discourses and practices.

*In this context (referring to flying foxes and other non-human peoples), I use the term ‘Indigenous’ to refer to the historical inhabitation and co-constitution of a particular place, and enmeshment in meaningful relationships with the other beings that co-constitute that place. Within this perspective, life forms deemed ‘exotic’ or even ‘invasive’ in Western science could potentially become part of that place if accepted by, and in mutually beneficial relations with, existing communities. I use the term in contrast to narratives of ‘native’ or, sometimes ‘Indigenous’ species, which make dichotomous distinctions between those beings deemed to be ‘endogenous’ and ‘exogenous’.

 

Featured image: Buffalo Calf by Mark Spearman licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic.

The Role of Art in Ecological Transformation – by Rosamond Portus

Extinction is not a formulaic process that abides to a singular set of rules and experiences. Rather, ‘extinction is experienced, resisted, measured, enunciated, performed, and narrated in a variety of ways to which we must attend’ (De Vos, 2007; van Doreen, 2014 cited in Rose, van Doreen and Chrulew, 2017). Explorations of loss manifest themselves differently across varying disciplines, sites and individuals. Therefore, to approach the study of extinction we must be prepared to engage with the varying range of disciplines, sites and narratives that are actively participating in dialogues of loss and extinction. One such way I am seeking to do this in my own research is by looking beyond the boundaries of academia, and asking how both art as a discipline and artists as individuals are responding to matters of extinction. This focus point led me to the gallery ONCA , based in Brighton. ONCA is bringing together a diverse and global range of artists to engage with the ‘Remembrance Day  for Lost Species 2017’ (RDLS). ONCA has been observing Remembrance Day for Lost Species for around six years now, and this year’s theme is specifically upon lost pollinators. ONCA’s aim is to offer a space or site in which people can begin to, or further, engage with the feelings of loss and grief that are so closely intertwined with experiences of extinction. The reach of RDLS has been global, with artists from all walks of life observing the day, and creating art in response to it. It is written on their website that:  

Remembrance Day for Lost Species, November 30th, is a chance each year to explore the stories of species, cultures, lifeways and habitats driven extinct by unjust power structures and exploitation, past and ongoing.

 It emphasises that these losses are rooted in violent, racist and discriminatory economic and political practices. It provides an opportunity for people to renew commitments to all that remains, and supports the development of creative and practical tools of resistance.

I joined ONCA for a workshop meeting to discuss the upcoming RDLS, as well as to visit the artists that are using their creative skills to open up a space in which to think about and explore feelings of environmental grief. Specifically, the grief we feel for many of the species that are being lost in the modern world. What became evident to me was that the topic of extinction has reached far beyond the realms of natural sciences, to which it was traditionally confined, and has begun to trigger responses from individuals from an extensive range of backgrounds, interests and cultures.

But what is the role of art in helping us question the current ecological state, and shaping the future of ecology? As Robert Macfarlane (2016) recently asked: ‘How might a novel or a poem possibly account for our authorship of global-scale environmental change across millennia – let alone shape the nature of that change?’. Yet, artistic interest in ecological matters is a core way in which individuals outside of the environmental or academic spheres have begun to question the assumptions about humans’ place on Earth, and grapple with the uncertainties of our impacts upon ecosystems, environments and non-human others. From speaking to those involved in RDLS it is clear that artistic expression, whether it be fine art, performance art or sculptural art, has the ability to reach out to a diverse range of audiences and evoke powerful questions regarding the state of the world around us.

In answer to Macfarlane, I would contend that art has a powerful role in both representing and influencing the perceptions and assumptions of the society within which it is being created and practiced. Art performs, but it also challenges, questions, engages and creates new forms of knowledge. As the global involvement in RDLS has shown, it can reach out across the world and capture the attention of people of many different cultures and backgrounds, engaging us in the key questions that need to be addressed about the future of all living creatures on Earth. 

 

References: 

De Vos, R. (2007). “Extinction Stories: Performing Abscence(s).” In: Knowing Animals. Edited by: Laurence Simmons and Philip Armstrong. Leiden: Brill. pp. 183-195. 

MacFarlane, R. (2016). Generation Anthropocene: How Humans Have Altered the Plant Forever. Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2016/apr/01/generation-anthropocene-altered-planet-for-ever. Last Accessed 14th November, 2017. 

Rose, D.B., Van Doreen, T. and Chrulew, M. (2017). Introduction: Telling Extinction Stories. In: Extinction Studies: Stories of Time, Death and Generation. Edited by: Deborah Bird Rose, Thom van Doreen, and Matthew Chrulew. New York: Columbia University Press. pp. 1-17.

Van Doreen, T. (2014). Flight Ways: Life and Loss at the Edge of Extinction. New York: Coumbia University Press. 

Article shared with the permission of the author. See more at https://www.extinction-network.com

Bugonia – by Nessa Darcy

Admiranda tibi levium spectacula rerum.
I’ll tell of tiny things that make a show well worth your admiration. 

– Virgil

Bugonia is an exhibition of prints, paintings and sound art by creative entomologist Nessa Darcy. Nessa aims to reintroduce humans to their natural habitat through colourful encounters with insects. Much of the work was created during the Bee Time artists’ residency, where a hive of diverse artists engaged with the themes of natural beekeeping and the bee’s relationship with its environment, through discussion, meditation, movement, skill sharing, storytelling, art making, shamanic practices, farm visits and simply “asking the bees”.

Bugonia is an ancient ritual based on the belief that bees could be spontaneously generated from the carcass of an ox, as described in Virgil’s Georgics. To the artist, it represents our tangled relationship with nature. Humans feel, simultaneously:

  • a detachment from factual ecological knowledge;
  • wonder and fear at the forces of nature;
  • and a longing to restore that which we need but have destroyed.

The word also sounds like an appropriate name for an insects’ utopia, which we have the power to preserve and create. Both wonder and knowledge are key to rescuing insects from the rapid decline they are currently suffering “because we don’t love them enough” (Roger Druitt). To love insects requires understanding who they are and what they need.

Nessa’s work draws people in to familiarise themselves intimately with insects. For more information on Nessa’s work, visit her website. 

Franklin’s Bumblebee: Already Too Late? – by Matt Stanfield

Humans are inquisitive and acquisitive, predisposed to hanker after novelty. Throughout history, the rare and obscure have enticed us. Those insect species associated with multitudinous swarms struggle to appeal to this psychological trait of ours. If they do get our attention, it is generally for other reasons.

Bees, for instance, have recently been making news for their precipitous declines. The anxious coverage of this phenomenon is very much linked to immediate human concerns. It is estimated that one-third of our kind’s food is pollination-dependent. Thus the conservation of bees is widely seen as of direct interest to our own species, in a way that the conservation of many other organisms is not. Even if the motive is a self-interested one, humans would do well to work on arresting and reversing bee declines, given we are far from the only species in need of their continued presence on the planet.

Though bees are often considered only en masse, as a homogenous force, this piece will look at just one bee species: Franklin’s bumblebee (Bombus franklini). This insect has not been seen alive since 2006 and may already be extinct. Absent any further confirmed sightings, it will likely be some time before Franklin’s bumblebee is declared gone forever. This is quite standard, as far larger and more conspicuous species have occasionally been known to vanish from record for decades or more. Still, for this small creature the signs are not promising.

B. franklini has had a highly restricted range ever since it was first described in 1922, possibly the smallest of any bumblebee on Earth. So far as we know, they only ever lived within a limited tract from southern Oregon to northern California. Specifically, these bees were found in the Klamath Mountains, an extremely picturesque area incorporating a substantial amount of officially protected land.

Example of potential B. franklini habitat. Siskiyou Wilderness near Preston Peak, California. Image public domain

Between 1998 and 2006, the bees’ home range was examined thoroughly by Dr Robbin W. Thorp. Thorp’s initial findings showed that Franklin’s bumblebee was slightly more widespread than previously assumed. Each year, his surveys included at least five potential new sites where the bees might exist. Up to the year 2000, Franklin’s bumblebee was indeed found at seven of these new sites.

From 2001 onwards, no new locations yielded any B. franklini sightings. Worse, the insects started disappearing from areas which they had previously occupied. The 2004 and 2005 surveys failed to turn up a single Franklin’s bumblebee anywhere within their known range. In 2006, the situation differed, inasmuch as precisely one member of the species was seen during an entire year’s searching. Without Dr Thorp’s work, the fading of this insect might never have been noticed at all.

It is fitting that B. franklini vanished before our eyes so near the western edge of North America, where the ever-shifting frontier of colonial mythology finally came up against the Pacific and an insurmountable obstacle to further expansion. In the end, nothing is inexhaustible, whether it be the “Wild West” or the Earth’s legions of invertebrates.

A female Franklin’s bumblebee. Image public domain

So, whatever happened to Franklin’s bumblebee over the first few years of the new millennium?

The IUCN identifies two main agents of the species’ possible demise. First, it notes that our species’ commercial interest in bumblebees may imperil them. Commercial usage of bumblebee colonies to pollinate crops both indoors and out has brought wild populations into contact with new pathogens. In recent decades, bumblebees have become commercialised, with colonies transported across nations. Tracheal mites, intestinal protozoa and others have travelled far and wide with these bees.

Even where pathogens do not kill bumblebees directly, the sophisticated nature of bee behaviour renders it easily disrupted. The capacity of bumblebees to learn to handle or feed on newly-encountered flower types may be reduced by infection. In turn, this shrinks the amount of food which forager bees bring into the colony, diminishing its size and ability to produce offspring. Thus, the colony may collapse entirely.

The second culprit which the IUCN puts forward in the case of the vanished B. franklini is agricultural intensification, most importantly regarding pesticide usage. Pesticides can prove immediately deadly to bumblebees, or eat away at the health of their colonies as foragers unwittingly bring poisonous chemicals into their homes.

Recently, a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids has been identified as especially dangerous to bees, a discovery picked up on by some sections of the media. Whether such attention might dissuade humanity from gambling with the future of a crucial pollinator genus is yet to be seen.

 

She Will Bury Them – by Megan Hollingsworth

she will bury them from Extinction Witness on Vimeo.

 

She counts

about 50,000 dead

 

That is,

about 300 colonies

 

And she will bury them

 

Numbers she counts

so many

 

That is,

more than enough

 

And she will bury them all

 

In numbers

many hands gather

 

so she can bury them

 

Begging,

 

Who will love the flowers?

 

Author’s note: The poem voiced in SHE WILL BURY THEM counts the cost in one spraying of neonicotinoids, a class of neuro-active insecticides that killed about 50,000 bees in Wilsonville, Oregon summer 2013. The poem closes with an honest question asked by someone uncertain of who she is becoming.

On Thylacine Day 2017 – by Matt Stanfield

The last captive thylacine died on September 7th, 1936

There’s nothing else like the thylacine. Nearly twenty years on, the memory of first discovering these bewitching animals remains vivid. As a child, my mum gave me her old collection of nature magazines from the mid-seventies. One particular article stood out.

‘Is the Thylacine Really Gone?’ the title asked. The piece was about five pages long, lavishly illustrated with grisly images of grim-faced men in Victorian agricultural dress posing with the corpses of one of the most captivating animals I had ever seen. Arguably the thylacine is a strange species for me to be so drawn to. Due to some negative experiences in the past, I’m not especially keen on dogs, to which thylacines are often likened. To my mind though, they’re at most akin to a highly experimental take on the dog.

Besides the tale of these animals’ persecution at the hands of a miserably myopic sheep lobby, the article also focused heavily on continued reports of sightings from Tasmania. Even for a piece written forty years ago, the notion of surviving thylacines was extremely optimistic. Whilst I am fairly certain that “Benjamin” was not truly the last thylacine, the notion of the species holding out until even the late nineteen-fifties seems highly improbable. Like most people with an interest in the thylacine, I would dearly love for a miraculous rediscovery to occur, but the odds on that are so tiny as to be insignificant.

However, believing that the thylacine is forever lost to the world does little to diminish what has proven an enduring obsession. Reading the story of these scandalously vilified marsupials not only awoke an interest which occasionally induces an adrenaline rush on glimpsing a mangy urban fox in southern England, but was the beginning of a sense of profound anger at human stupidity and greed.

This anger, aimed at the craven irresponsibility of so many in positions of influence, who play to the basest of human emotions and are so quick to find a convenient scapegoat to let themselves off the hook, drives my involvement in environmental concerns. This frustration at the deep and malignant injustices which are perpetrated every day, to the detriment of life itself, began with the thylacine’s tale.

After reading that first article, I started seeking out anything and everything thylacine-related. Books, TV shows, newspaper articles, I devoured them all. Sometimes I would draw thylacines, which is an excellent way to get a sense of how singular these animals truly were. The highlight was always natural history museums. No longer was it just about the dinosaurs – the unfashionable corners of the mammal exhibits held a new allure. Perhaps I hadn’t fully grasped the concept of taxidermy, or maybe I was caught up in the magical thinking of childhood, but on staring at the faded skins I half-felt if I wished hard enough, the scraps of creature behind the glass might reanimate.

A little later, I pinned my hopes on cloning. Sadly, even the wonders of genetic science are not yet equal to the task of returning this iconic ghost to the mortal realm. They may well never be: thylacines were behaviourally complex enough that even if one were to shamble stiffly out of a laboratory, it would not and could not know how to actually be what it supposedly was. The thylacine’s closest living relative is the numbat, an insectivore whose adult size is barely bigger than that of a thylacine joey.

Adult male thylacine skull. Skulls are the most common relics, perhaps owing to the Tasmanian government’s extermination bounty being paid per head.

Thylacines today might be no more than memories and relics, but I believe that these matter immensely, and not only for their scientific value. The importance of seeing extinct animals’ remains first-hand was never clearer to me than at the French national museum of natural history. Within a darkened hall dedicated to extinct and threatened species, skin and bone testify to human vandalism.

Each skeleton, skin and pickled corpse of a species lost because of us is a vital reminder of our place as increasingly unchecked global superpredators. If extinction is a spectrum, the terminal phase may be for an organism to be altogether forgotten. As long as pictures, photographs, footage and the physical remains of our victims endure, it is that much harder to downplay the cost of humanity’s ways. Seeing so many vanished creatures in a single room in central Paris sparked a sense of coming reckoning for all that we have done, and do.

Possibly the only photograph of a live thylacine in the wild. Image public domain.

The above photograph, though grainy, small, and of uncertain origin, is thought to show a sight which no-one will ever see again. Thylacines walk Tasmania’s woodland no more, for the small and stupid reason of panic over the safety of sheep. By the time the slaughter of these animals was recognised for the abomination it was, the hour was too late.

There are other “thylacines” though. They are those similarly unique species who are approaching extinction right now. Lots can be found at http://www.edgeofexistence.org/

Should the thylacine’s demise move you, spare a thought for the elusive saola, the mighty Philippine eagle, or the gorgeous Malagasy rainbow frog. Without effective action, all these and innumerable others could be following the thylacine into oblivion soon enough.

Visualized Bird Song – by Elisabeth Pellathy

Voice of the New Caledonian Owlet-Nightjar, visualised by Pellathy

“First, it should be stated that the single most significant threat to bird populations is habitat destruction, in all of its forms and with all of its causes.” – Sibley Guide Book

“Sounds, once generated, never die; they fade but continue to reverberate as sound waves across the universe” – Guglielmo Marconi, radio pioneer.

So many things are disappearing at such an alarming rate that perhaps we will only have a catalogue of objects to remember what they were and how they existed in our environment. How can we begin the conversation to preserve?

Using the dense audio resources found at the Macaulay Library at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the voices of the top ten most endangered birds of the world are cataloged, collected and charted becoming objects and prints representing the voices of these birds. The bird songs are mapped in sound editing so ware and then traced in 3D modelling soft ware and 3D printed. Digital drawings, made by removing the router bit from a CNC machine and replacing it with a ball- point pen, and following the tool path of a stereo-lithograph, accompany the 3D prints.

The bird calls become more than just records – instead an encounter with a frozen instant of time. A visualized model charts the intangible and elicits reaction on the fleeting nature of what is here now, but may not last. A moment of reflection with individual species from endangered bird species possesses a poetic quality. I think of the objects and prints as a catalogue of the disappearing, much like an 18th century wonder-cabinet.

The display serves to rarify the object, contain it and isolate it. The bell jars reference a specimen that has been collected and displayed which also becomes a commodity to be owned. Perhaps the viewers will contemplate the collective idea of objectifying the experience of the natural world.

Elisabeth Pellathy is an artist and academic based at University of Alabama, Birmingham.

Extinction Grieving Prayer – by Terri MacKenzie

Shrine at Camden Lock, London for murdered indigenous Honduran environmental protector Berta Caceres, killed in 2016 for successfully organising resistance to ecocidal corporate interests in Honduras. Dozens of environmental activists are assassinated each year. 

 

There is no single ‘right’ way to hold an event to mark extinction. So how are we to do it? There are as many ways to grieve for disappearing diversity as there are people. Processions, tree climbing, shadow puppets, cairn building, singing, writing poetry, baking bread, dinner parties, glittery cabarets, pub quiz, direct action, street theatre, meditation, walking, environmental restoration work, die-ins, ceilidhs, sabotage, making the extinction symbol, bell ringing

Take your pick. Claim space. This is pluralistic, exploratory, inventive work that urgently needs doing by as many people as possible in as many ways as possible.

The ritual structure here has been put together by Chicago-based Christian elder and minister Terri MacKenzie who welcomes anyone to use or adapt any part of it for Lost Species Day. We will share more structures and suggestions for approaches here in coming days.

Extinction Grieving Prayer

Use two candles; prepare suggested (or other) music and video.  Directions are starred. Adapt in any way that facilitates use.

Call to Prayer

“Today, the dusky seaside sparrow became extinct. It may never be as famous as the pterodactyl or the dodo, but the last one died today… ”  – An excerpt from “Science” by Alison Hawthorne Deming

What you call resources, we call our relatives.  – Source unknown.

* Light the first candle. It honours all the species that have gone extinct in our lifetimes.

Great Giver of Life, we pause to remember our place at the beginning of the Sixth Great Extinction on Planet Earth. For 13.8 billion years creation has been groaning: bringing to birth, becoming more complex, more organised, more conscious. The other great extinctions during the past 450 million years happened by forces beyond anyone’s control. Now, for the first time, our species is ruining whole ecosystems, aborting entire groups of interdependent species.

We acknowledge that we play a part in this dying by our carelessness, ignorance, and indifference. Forgive us our part in the death of healthy ecosystems and the resulting extinction of creatures in whom we believe divinity lives and acts.

Litany of Affirmation

We affirm the Sacred Mystery that caused and continues Creation.

We affirm the 13.8 billion years of our Universe.

We affirm the billions of galaxies, each with its billions of solar systems and stars.

We affirm the multiple transformations during the 4.5 billion years of Mother Earth’s life so far, and the relentless evolution towards ever-greater consciousness in the future.

We affirm the millions of species that have inhabited our planet in beautifully-webbed communities: microorganisms, plants, fish, birds, mammals . . .

We affirm that we came from Earth and exist, like all species, in a communion of subjects.

Litany of Grief

We grieve humans’ lack of awareness of, and concern about, the destruction of interdependent communities that have taken billions of years to develop.

We grieve the climate disaster that is extinguishing habitats and the multiple species within them.

We grieve the more than one-in-four flowering plants, the one-in-five mammals, the nearly one – in-three amphibians, and the one-in-eight birds that are vulnerable to being wiped out completely. (International Union for the Conservation of Nature)

We grieve the Golden Toad, native to Costa Rica. It has not been seen since 1989, when a single male was found, the last of its species.

We grieve the Pyrenean Ibex. The last of this species naturally born was a female, Celia, who died in 2000.

We grieve the St. Helena Olive, a small spreading tree, the last of which perished in 2003 primarily due to deforestation and invasive plants.

We grieve all our extinct brother and sister species, the amphibians, fish, birds, mammals, plants and trees, and their diminished habitats.

We grieve the humans whose sustenance and livelihoods are threatened by this disruption in the food web.

We grieve the deaths of ecological martyrs: Sister Dorothy Stang, Dian Fossey, Chico Mendes, and the over 900 other activists slain since 2004. (Global Witness)

* Listen to and/or Sing: “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” Perhaps for v. 2 and 3: species, workers. (If needed, Joan Baez’ version)

* Extinguish first candle.  Light second candle. It honours the threatened species that remain and our desire to protect them.

* Quiet reflection: For believers, our faith is tested by our concern and care for creation. U. S. Catholic Bishops: “Renewing the Earth” 1991

* Watch How wolves renewed Yellowstone Park

Litany of Gratitude and Hope

We are grateful that 90% of species under the protection of the Endangered Species Act (U.S.) are recovering at the rate specified by their federal recovery plan.

We are grateful that British oil company Soco International agreed (June 2014) to suspend exploration in a national park in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), home to half the world’s critically endangered mountain gorillas (pictured here) and thousands of other species. We thank the over 750,000 people who signed a petition to stop the oil drilling.

We are grateful that the Zoological Society of London released its list of birds most at risk of extinction based on evolutionary distinctness and global endangerment (EDGE) in April 2014. This information will help conservationists decide where efforts should focus first.

We are grateful that the population of the California Least Tern, listed as endangered in 1970, grew from 225 recorded then to 6,568 recorded in 2010.

We are grateful for all of the habitats that have been saved so the interdependent species within them can escape extinction.

We are grateful for the many people throughout the world who dedicate their time and efforts to keeping habitats and species alive so they can give praise to their creator by their distinct lineages, attributes, and contributions to the web of life.

Action Suggestions

Let us not leave in our wake a swath of destruction and death which will affect our own lives and those of future generations.  – Pope Francis

To save species, we must save ecosystems. To save ecosystems, we must reduce climate change, pollution, poaching, invasive species, and over-consumption. Mentally check the things on p. 4 that you already do for this. There might be something else there that you would want to do.

* Read quietly:  Consciously deepen appreciation of the glory of creation, its long story, the place of Divine Mystery in it, and humans’ dependence upon it.

  • Pray for the healing of creation.
  • Reduce all energy use.
  • Transition to renewable energy sources (for electricity).
  • Encourage institutions to invest in renewable energy and to divest from fossil fuels.
  • Drive less and/or reduce gas use by not exceeding 60 mph on the highways (and other ways).
  • Avoid produce, meat, and poultry from factory farms.
  • Buy recycled products.
  • Reduced use of plastic.
  • Carry water in a thermos (not bottled water).
  • Buy local.
  • Avoid genetically modified foods (GMOs).
  • Lobby for laws to protect habitats and species.
  • Include Earth-care concerns when choosing legislators.
  • Join (or cooperate with) a group working to conserve, restore and protect habitats and species.

* Discuss:  Einstein said Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge points to all that is. Imagination points to all that could be.  What kind of Earth “could be”? How can we contribute to co-creating it?

Sending Forth

Great Giver of Life, we come from, and we dwell in, the magnificent world in which you live and act. Our species is causing extinctions; our species can prevent them. Let us not be thwarted by the immensity of the challenge, for the Power working within us can do more than we could ask or imagine. May the flame of this candle continue burning in our hearts, reminding us to help our threatened relatives.

* Extinguish second candle.

Enlighten us to find you in all Creation; empower us to treat it accordingly. Through Jesus Christ, whose respect for Earth inspires us to live as he did. Amen.

* Sing: “The Heavens Are Telling the Glory of God” or “Touch the Earth” (Kathy Sherman, C.S.J.) or another appropriate song

* Share a sign of hope with one another (or a sign of peace)