These Times – by Bridget McKenzie

Image: DARK BIRDFISH, sculpture by Jan Harrison

I don’t know about you.

My days are filled with warmth, food and loved ones, with creative work, with the beauties of a slowly turning mild Autumn.

But my nights are running with the blood of children, with flood waters, with tears. My dreams are filled with running, with searching for home, with people who will never go back home. In the night, we leave home in a rush, but I insist on carrying our pond above our heads because the frogs are spawning. I dream of fishing boats heading down the Thames, in front of the Houses of Parliament, piled with dead people like so much compost in a wheelbarrow. I dream I am trying to buy farmhouses in France to house all the children from the Calais jungle. 

I’ve absorbed the stories of the day and they play back repeatedly in the dark. But truly, my nightmares contain less pain, less torn flesh, than the reality behind these stories. 

Terror is abroad. Each day a new toll, like a clock of cities, already struck or waiting. But terror has truly made itself at home in Syria. Despite truces, the bombs keep falling on the hospitals and remaining civilians. It’s a Gordian knot, a hell ball of fighting. Hundreds of children bloodied, forever traumatised and killed in Aleppo, and Russians poised to inflict more crude damage.

Thousands of lone children wandering, clustering in places that are unsafe and cold. The questions run through our heads constantly: How can we bear it? How can our own lives be so beautiful while this happens? How can we do something, some action, that will be enough, without breaking up the beauty of our own life and facing this darkness, enough? 

Everyone in the world, however far from the US, has tinnitus from the ticking time bomb that is the orange fascist Trump running for President and leading in the polls. Trump who has 75 legal battles about his personal conduct, including a trial for child rape.

In the UK, a nation is cleft by the EU referendum and our PM insists on bypassing all our nation’s parliaments to press ahead with a hard Brexit. Despite the High Court ruling today that the Royal Prerogative cannot be used to trigger Article 50, Theresa May immediately appealed the ruling. Hard-right Brexiteers have immediately begun calling for blood, the most extreme petitioning HM Forces to take over the Government and suggesting that Jo Cox’s fate will come to all MPs they disagree with.

Brexiteers seem to misunderstand time, thinking that Brexit has already happened, saying ‘see, the economy hasn’t crashed yet’. But Brexit hasn’t happened yet. And anyway the pound is falling, to a 168 year low, and is still falling. It will surely be an unfolding story of crashes and losses over many years, and potentially leading to the crashing of the EU itself. 


And this also is happening: It has been 56C in Kuwait and Iraq on some days this summer, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Western Hemisphere, hotter than is possible for many animals to be outside. American and Russian forests have been burning. Louisiana, India and China have seen historic flooding. Warnings of more and more species on the brink of extinction. The maths on climate change have had to be entirely recalibrated. 2C of warming is already baked in. 

And there are small pieces of good news – a cancelled dam in the Amazon, millions of trees planted in India, cities pledging to divest from fossil fuels, small or even grand acts of heroism and design – but at the rate of the bad things happening, there have to be some good things. 

I am seeking explanations, and solutions. I spend inordinate hours reading articles and trying to come up with logical disentanglements of the situation. The explanations I sit with for longest are the ones that admit complexity, that go to root causes, and therefore do not have easy solutions. When confusion kicks in those of us who ask questions lose the will or the consensus to act, while those who have simple answers step in and mount campaigns. 

Here’s my latest inadequate and pompous-sounding attempt at an explanation.

Human exploitation of the planet’s resources, in particular fossil fuels, is causing catastrophic collapse of the biosphere. The 1%’s exploitation of the poor, in the process of extracting and processing these resources, and selling stuff to people that makes them sick and addicted to consumption, is causing unmanageable inequality and social dis-ease. This is the spirit of wetiko, humans cannibalising their own life-world as if they are separately alive from it. With this spirit rampant, we have overshot our global ecological limits and are now experiencing what military risk analysts call ‘resource insecurity’. These analysts have long warned that resource insecurity risks stirring conflict as people migrate and fight over territories and resources, and have to migrate again. Most states have not heeded warnings and not yet transitioned enough to renewable energy or local ecological agriculture, or to deliberative democracy. The powerful states prioritise controlling the supply of fossil fuels that are at the root of their capacity to provide for their citizens and accumulate wealth for a few. The Middle East is the crucible of conflict, catalysed by drought and food prices, and interventions by oil hungry nations. From this crucible come the victims, the displaced, and they are seen as terrorists by the xenophobes of the so-far protected states. Individuals who seek the most power in this state of chaos play off different interest groups against each other. They have no values other than the desire for power. The people supporting these demagogues feel liberated – they see the potential for licence to be as bad as they can be. Their self-enhancing, self-protecting tendencies are reflected back at them in these populist leaders. Power is promoted as a good. Therefore violence to protect self-interests is seen as a good. It is a vicious downward spiral – like the Ant Spiral of Death – people following each other into a mill of entropy.

But, the complex and clumsy explanations like these are not in the news, at least not at the forefront of the big channels, because big media channels are owned or influenced by the corporate and political elites upholding the system that is causing collapse. The only thing we can do is to try to explain and share what we think.

That’s why I started a Facebook group called Everyday Ecocide. It highlights how our everyday thinking and communications are blind to the environment. Our culture does not have an ecological way of knowing. By neglecting to include and value what is other-than-human, we not only fail to notice its damage and depletion, we contribute to it. Ecocide means the destruction of the natural environment. This group aims to highlight incidents in media, institutions or everyday society, of forgetting or obscuring of ecosystems, biodiversity, non-human persons, the importance of climate change, or ecological solutions. Do go to Facebook and request to join. 

Another way of exploring what is really happening is to pay attention to the members of our community who cannot speak, many of whom are not only losing their habitats but losing their entire line of inheritance. These are the species losing their entire existence. They can be honoured, celebrated and mourned – in creative ways – on the Remembrance Day for Lost Species on 30th November.

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