Industrial capitalism is driving a collapse in biodiversity and in numbers of wild animals. Many scientists agree that Earth is in the early stages of a sixth mass extinction. Lost Species Day (or Remembrance Day for Lost Species, or RDLS) was set up in 2011 in response to the speed with which extinct species disappear from collective memory. It is a chance to learn and think about extinctions, as well to do restoration work.
Over the past decade, participants have held events on Lost Species Day, November 30th, to learn about and remember extinct species, and collectively acknowledge emotions such as grief and anxiety around ecological destruction. It is now vital that Lost Species Day be an actively anti-racist project, grounded in awareness that harms due to colonialism and resource extraction have been happening for centuries, and that communities around the world continue to endure conditions that many in the global north have tended to assume are in the future. Wretched of the Earth explain:
‘[F]or many, the bleakness is not something of “the future”. For those of us who are indigenous, working class, black, brown, queer, trans or disabled, the experience of structural violence became part of our birthright. Greta Thunberg calls world leaders to act by reminding them that “Our house is on fire”. For many of us, the house has been on fire for a long time: whenever the tide of ecological violence rises, our communities, especially in the Global South are always first hit. We are the first to face poor air quality, hunger, public health crises, drought, floods and displacement.’
As some of the co-founders and long-term supporters of Lost Species Day, we are writing this statement to build on last year’s essay which asserted that Lost Species Day must be an anti-racist project. Here, we add that to be anti-racist, Lost Species Day must also be anti-capitalist. Modern species extinctions are driven by capitalism with its racist foundations. Wherever possible, environmental projects must address the uneven, unfair human impacts of environmental change. The original aims of Lost Species Day were politically inadequate in this regard.
The growth of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 is an opportunity for transformation and justice. As people of colour and Black people across the globe have been saying for decades, environmental damage and climate change harm Black, Indigenous, POC and working class communities disproportionately. Any environmental initiative that fails to centre justice makes this problem worse. As Johnathan S Perkins puts it,
“It’s long been time to reframe ‘racism’ more broadly. Knowingly or unknowingly accepting the ‘benefits’ of white supremacy, which are fueled exclusively by harm to non-white people = racism.”
The white-dominated environmental movement in the global north, from which RDLS emerged, has a bad record of harm to Black, Indigenous and POC-led and economically marginalised communities and movements. The misanthropy and racism close to the surface for many interested in environmental and animal rights issues readily leads to ecofascist sentiments. As long term supporters of Lost Species Day, we acknowledge this history, and strive to move beyond it. In response to the deepening consciousness of the role of white supremacy and colonialism in human relations with the more-than-human, Lost Species Day commits to supporting the work and amplifying the leadership of environmental defenders of colour and to being active in the anti-racist, anti-capitalist environmental movement that works for a world beyond white supremacy.
Grief for the Earth versus white tears
People everywhere, consciously or otherwise, are suffering psychic pain in varying degrees arising from the widespread fracturing of relations between the human and the more-than-human. Over and above this, Black, Indigenous and people of colour suffer additional trauma and injustice from historical and systemic abuses, inequities and erasures.
Part of Lost Species Day’s value lies in its ability to interrupt the routines of consumerism and capitalism. By acknowledging emotions around ecological loss, and making collective spaces for them to be explored and grounded, the project can help strengthen resistance to capitalism and support the development of alternatives. The storytelling and remembering at Lost Species Day events and projects must therefore challenge the white (and class, and body, and gender) supremacy driving consumer capitalist culture. Capitalism, which is destroying the Earth, emerged from colonialism and slavery. Slavery has evolved into a global system based on inequality, where some lives are considered valuable and some are not. Projects that do not make the links between capitalism, ecological harms and social injustice are inadequate and uphold white supremacy.
Environmental racism and pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic – driven by the ecological harms such as deforestation – has led to some emissions reductions because privileged behaviours like flying have been reduced. Overall, however, social and environmental harms continue to escalate, entrenching capitalism’s unfairness even as the system fails.
Across the board, Black, Indigenous and people of colour are much more likely to be on the receiving end of structural violence than white people. A chaotic emergency economic slow-down has come at a heavy cost to millions of vulnerable people who have been forced (further) into poverty. Poor housing, bad air quality and inadequate sanitation worsen exposure to COVID-19 and other diseases. Combined with malnutrition, a lack of healthcare, environmental pollution and front-line jobs falling on people of colour, these unfair conditions have led to elevated COVID-related death rates in communities of colour. Environmental racism leads to, for example, increased asthma rates in Black and POC communities in cities. Heart and lung health are key factors in COVID-19 survival.
Black Lives Matter
We are not suggesting a specific species/ ecological story for Lost Species Day events in 2020. Instead, we invite organisers, if they wish, to use this year’s RDLS as an opportunity to explore the ways in which white supremacy has shaped their organising spaces and thinking, and to consider how their work can or does contribute to and strengthen the growth of the intersectional environmental movement. We will host an online event in November on this topic with the specific intention of spending time learning together and moving forward in clear and energised ways that help embed anti-racism in all Lost Species Day activities going forward.
Lost Species Day is an artist-led project, with many events held by artists telling stories, and making space for stories to be heard, in ways that affect people deeply. As co-founders and advocates of Lost Species Day, we recognise the need for these cultural tools and practices, and we aim to support event organisers to tell fuller stories around extinction. So here is a brief guide to the kinds of activities and processes we encourage for Lost Species Day. We offer these suggestions in a spirit of collaboration and learning, reflecting on mistakes and moving beyond fragility and defensiveness, in service of a fundamental shift away from white supremacy in people’s bodies and minds.
We encourage Lost Species Day event organisers to do the following:
Talk about species in their relevant cultural, ecological, historical and political contexts. E.g. if discussing extinction/ endangerment due to deforestation, think also about forest communities facing increased danger due to COVID-19 and persecution. Or, if your event marks the disappearance of a local bird, research the processes that drove this. Recognise and discuss how they harm some people and benefit others. Isolating animals from their context risks de-politicising extinctions and obscuring the webs of relationships that underpin biodiversity.
Consider accessibility and inclusion. Work actively to amplify the perspectives of people affected by the drivers of extinction. Simplistic storytelling that reinforces frames that ‘other’ and exclude can be a kind of violence. Can you make the event feel safe and accessible for all prospective participants? Think about:
Who is organising the event?
Who is invited?
How is the event being promoted?
Whose voices and stories will be heard?
Whose memories will be shared?
Think carefully if you are planning to use practices from cultures other than your own. If you are interested in a specific cultural practice, consider inviting someone grounded in that culture to lead or explore it with you. We recognise that this is a complex area, and that cultures emerge from many influences.
Acknowledge and learn about colonial atrocities, past and ongoing, that underpin white supremacy. Structural racism is a foundational part of people’s contemporary lived experience in the UK and the global north, often unrecognised by white people. Events where white people grieve ecological loss may not feel like safe places for Black people and people of colour, who often face microaggressions and other harms when issues of racial violence are being addressed (or not) in mixed spaces. The attendance of non-white participants is not necessarily a marker of the success or inclusivity of an event.
Build solidarity: listen to and amplify the voices of people on the front lines of ecological harm. Indigenous and place-based communities are the stewards of 80% of Earth’s intact biodiversity. Celebrate peoples who have been caring for biodiversity and resisting climate change and colonialism for centuries.
Support, amplify and donate to Black and indigenous environmental activists and environmental organisations. Read, follow – and where relevant offer platforms to – Black and indigenous scientists, scholars, artists and thinkers (see resource list below for further inspiration).
Whilst recognising and feeling the brokenness of the system that centres whiteness, we encourage organisers to avoid simplistic storytelling by celebrating resilience, resistance and emergence. In the face of grievous harms, incorporate care into your practices. The work of Donna Haraway and Anna Tsing offers inspiration here, along with elements of queer and disability studies. Confronting and working to dismantle white supremacy is a messy and difficult process with no end in sight. We hope that Lost Species Day offers opportunities to explore ways of working creatively with grief in the service of equity and justice. We offer these thoughts and suggestions on Lost Species Day as ideas rather than answers, in a spirit of shared learning. Please share your experiences and feedback with us – we value your efforts, and we invite dialogue, critique and compassion.
Persephone Pearl Bridget McKenzie Emily Laurens Rebecca Leach McDonald Rachel Porter Laura Coleman Camilla Schofield Nigel Rayment Azul Thome Ben Mali Macfadyen
Can I ask you a question? Smooth ancient bone, dry fur encased for a century, gelatinous bodies suspended, glowing in the darkness, a legacy of enquiry.
Naming is a way of containing something, of putting it in its box, as a known entity. A clean line to separate it from the messiness of existence. There are myths of true names, essential words that when spoken can bind the owner of the name. Without clear lines of control, how are we to navigate the world? All life is bound together, intertwined, united in the earth, the coal, the oil, layers of sediment in time. I am not of faith. And in my life I have felt like an ant finding my way about in the mud. I had no feeling of fate. But everything seems to be building. We are all so different, but I can’t shake the feeling that we have been brought together, and that is a very foreign thought to me. Are we building something? I have started to forget what it’s like to be without you people. But do you choose not to act, knowing what you know? Or do you act, knowing that you may fail entirely? What’s our next move?
Viewing the natural world as separated from humans is not only ethically problematic but empirically false. Microorganisms in our gut aid digestion, while others compose part of our skin. Pollinators such as bees and wasps help produce the food we eat, while photosynthetic organisms such as trees and phytoplankton provide the oxygen that we need in order to live, in turn taking up the carbon dioxide we expel.
In biology, taxonomy (from the Ancient Greek (taxis), meaning ‘arrangement’, and (-nomia), meaning ‘method’) is the science of naming, defining and classifying groups of biological organisms on the basis of shared characteristics. The urge to collect is overwhelming, to catch them all. Each specimen is a step closer to omniscience. A small step away from oblivion. I saw one with alternate colours, and now I understand. “A dagger symbol placed next to the name of a species or other taxon normally indicates its status as extinct.”
Mass extinctions—when at least half of all species die out in a relatively short time—have happened a handful of times over the course of our planet’s history. The largest mass extinction event occurred around 250 million years ago, when perhaps 95 percent of all species went extinct. We’re in the midst of a great extinction now. And it is what we do now that will define if we humans join that list.
They’ve been talking about change for decades but that’s all they do – talk. We hang suspended, looking through eons, at who we were, who we could have become. Life, just a brief moment in the transformation of matter. Entropy gets you in the end.
Nature doesn’t go backwards. We have to embrace this new world of hybrids, form kinship from the common cause of survival.
This is your inheritance. A wealth of knowledge build on misconceptions and bias, a thousand thoughts about better worlds. But it’s your time now. We’ve been holding this gift for you, clumsily, packaged with useless baggage from history. These constructions, these clean lines cutting through geography, separating bodies, ignoring the physical and digital reality of flow. Gene flow. Data flow. All sunk beneath the rising tides. You laugh now, but we used to have to prove ourselves to be human- with papers, numbers and words.
This repository of flawed knowledge. The last specimen of an extinct species. That fur will never again glow with breath. But we know it lived. Once. But from these bones, from all this life and sacrifice, you will forge a new world. A world without lines.
Artist statement by Blandy & Barrett:
“Cthuluscene” (7 minutes, 4K Video) addresses the climate crisis and our collective future, through a close examination of our relationship to the concept of “nature”. Blandy & Barrett’s finely crafted film uses essayist voiceover, folk tales and poetry to create a meditation on the history of scientific inquiry and the parallel evolution of ideas, and what we do now that the paradigms of the post-industrial world are breaking down. Filmed at University College London’s Grant Museum of Zoology, the film “Cthuluscene” gazes at a history of enquiry, of classification and dissection made while some of the subjects of the investigation were falling extinct from colonial activity and the acceleration of climate change.
Through this process, “Cthuluscene” thinks about humanity’s place in the universe, the desire to order the chaos around us, and the myth of objectivity. The word Cthuluscene is a neologism combining a number of concepts; Encompassing Donna Haraway’s concept of the Chthulucene, where the philosopher proposed an epoch where refugees from environmental disaster (both human and non-human) will come together; fandoms that emerge around myths, such as H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu, a terrible racist who created a persistent collective mythos; and the idea of the “scene” where people find common space from a shared situation, as sung about by Dinosaur Jr in “Freak Scene”.
Made with the generous support of Arts Council England. With thanks to University College London’s Grant Museum of Zoology Hanna Drummond: Voiceover
“Cthuluscene” was shown at The Big Screen, Focal Point Gallery, Southend-On-Sea until Jan 26th as part of the associate programme for ‘The World After’ by David Blandy. It was also shown in an installation at ONCA Gallery, Brighton: 23rd January to 15th February 2020.
“The world tells a big story: living arrangements that took millions of years to put into place are being undone in the blink of an eye.”
In 2015, a team of biologists, zoologists and ecologists published a paper that examined whether human activities are causing a mass extinction. Using “conservative assumptions”, they compared base rates of animal and species loss with previous extinction periods. Their analysis indicated that the current extinction rates of mammal and vertebrate species vastly exceed natural average background rates, their conclusion stating that the sixth extinction, the “biological annihilation” of species, was well on its way. The opening quote, drawn from Tsing et al.’s edited collection ‘Arts of Living on A Damaged Planet’, refers to this death as the “undoing of living arrangements”, and while this ruin may not be even, or equally distributed, it does affect us all. For instance, pollinator communities critically impact agricultural systems, their decline disproportionately affecting the livelihood of subsistence farmers and local producers, whose goods sustain global food supplies.
Whether one chooses to consciously pay attention to such loss or not, what I would like to put forward in this short paper relates not just to the registration of this death as a statistic or number, but as a particular form of grief that is intuited at levels that go beyond the measurable and tangible.
Grief and mourning are considered as ‘natural’, legitimate processes through which loss becomes graspable. If we are to make the assumption that all life on earth is interconnected, and the loss of species through extinction is ‘felt’ on a human level, then the question arises, how do we legitimise the sorrow that accompanies such passing, without further complicating or pathologising such grief?
As homo sapiens we practise a myriad of funeral rituals that help us to come to terms with human kin death; we have developed complex post-death rituals, burial behaviours and remembrance symbols that can last generations. We have approaches, treatments and performances that dictate how we manage corpses that are governed and protected. We have developed theories on the impact of human bereavement, including models and coping mechanisms to recognise and guide us through it. If we are moving towards or returning to a more-than-human position, how then do we treat the loss of our fellow creatures with the same compassion? How do we begin to accept, cope with and understand the mourning that accompanies the loss of companion species and landscapes?
Situating Grief and Mourning
“So do I grieve for my lovely dogwoods, or not? Reducing uncertainty and disbelief is important in getting grief off to a good start. For that reason, many hospitals and religious groups stress seeing the body. In fact, this step is considered so important to coping with grief that it is built into certain hospitals’ sudden-death protocols. With the dogwoods, however, it is unclear whether I should look for bodies or cultivate hope. Even if I decided to grieve, how would I go about doing it?” 
The above quote is taken from the writing of environmentalist, hospital chaplain and grief counsellor Phyllis Windle. Situating her work within the field of ecopsychology, that is the study and practices associated with human emotional relation to the natural world,, Windle suggests that mourning for environmental losses has no simple or predictable path, as our external and internal worlds may make such losses difficult to mourn. Writing in 1995, Windle observes, “we have almost no social support for expressing this grief”. Yet our understanding of human grief has a rich history, including theories of attachment and loss that have been instrumental in understanding how one of our most primary human motivations is to seek, through our attachments to each other, a safe haven. Attachment, experienced in childhood as an embodied form of care and its associated loss, termination or closure, can leave life-long marks. When the ‘affectional bond’ is broken, grief is a natural response.
Extending on and working with Bowlby, Colin Murray Parkes, whose research into bereavement provided some of the first empirical studies of grief, identified the four stages: shock and numbness—the immediate first stage, which allows one to survive the immediate loss; yearning and searching—the pining for the deceased’s return, during which many emotions, including weeping, anger, anxiety, preoccupation and confusion are expressed; despair and disorganisation—characterised by withdrawal, disengagement, depression, apathy and other low feelings, as the transition to living without a loved one has come to terms with; reorganisation and recovery—the return to the ‘normal’ state. While the loss is not forgotten, grief is now managed; positive memories and associations are preserved as new orderings emerge. Similarly, Kübler-Ross refers to five stages of grief including denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Although criticised for its lack of clinical evidence, his research continues to influence therapeutic intervention and has been foundational in raising awareness about the mourning process. Models of mourning additionally add to such analysis and include, for example, Worden’s Four Tasks: Task 1) to accept the reality of the loss; Task 2) to work through the pain and grief; Task 3) to adjust to the new environment; and Task 4) to find an enduring connection to the deceased while moving forward with life. Likewise, Rando’s Six Processes, or Six Rs, acknowledge the necessity to:
recognise the loss—that is acknowledge and understand the death;
react to separation—experience the pain;
recollect and re-experience—develop a realistic review of the relationship with the deceased;
relinquish and re-experience;
readjust—adapt to the new world, not forgetting the old; and
reinvest—in new relationships.
The point in naming these theories, models and stages is not to provide an extensive review or critique, but to illustrate that alongside deeply rooted rituals and customs we have well-established models of the significance that loss, grief and mourning have to a human life. Bonanno, who runs the Loss, Trauma and Emotion Lab at Columbia University, also extends the thinking in the field by focusing on natural resilience as a key factor in determining how people manage grief. While this cannot be taught, his lab looks towards ways in which it can be designed into programmes and highlights how other responses, such as laughter and humour, can also act as legitimate ways to mourn. Research has also emphasised that the grieving process also depends on a number of individual socio-emotional factors such as the mode of loss, personal vulnerability, personal character and social support.
In light of this research, and returning to Windle’s example of the loss of the flowering woody tree, the dogwood, while Windle recognises the loss, she also acknowledges there is no clear way to process it. As there are no accepted social norms this adds further to a sense of dislocation. Such grief could be described as disenfranchised grief, in that the anguish or sorrow cannot be openly acknowledged for reasons such as lack of social acceptance and appropriate social norms through which to process the grief, personal angst, fear of embarrassment, or appearing as foolish or weak. Such feelings in turn distort one’s reality, further complicating the mourning process and in the worst cases pathologising the loss. One field that has begun to recognise the ‘realness’ of the grief associated with non-human death is the veterinary sciences. Findings from this discipline and other disciplines dealing with this matter are explored in the following section.
Understanding Companion Loss
Over the last two decades, within the fields of veterinary science and human environment studies, there has been a growing number of reports of the awareness of end-of-life care, grief and bereavement of “companion animals”. Additionally, as development psychologist Gail Melson notes, studies of children’s development have “largely… been limited to children’s relationships with other humans”, resulting in our relation to companion animals being largely ignored—and this can be extended to adult development and how we conceptualise the notion of affectional bonds in the first place. For clarity, “companion animal” typically refers to a domestic pet that we have a meaningful relationship with, but this can and does extend to animal relations in other contexts, such as farm, zoo and sanctuary settings. What is necessary to flag here is that the term “companion animal” (from now on referred to as companion/pet) tends to refer to domesticated or captivated species relationships. Intentionally here, and in relation to the conversation on extinction, similar to Haraway, the use of the term “companion species” within this paper refers to all creatures (domestic and wild), as well as companion landscapes (soil, rivers, lakes, mountains, seas) with which we share the earth.
Returning to the research, the surge in pet animal relationships and their associated care is in line with increases in the global growth in pet ownership, with over half of people internationally having a least one pet. As a result, it is now common for people to refer to their companion animals as a friend or member of the family, and therefore vets and animal support carers have begun to recognise the need to support people when their companion/pet animal dies. Chur-Hanson notes that despite the rise in companion/pet numbers, much work has to be done in understanding the grief that accompanies their death. Writing from an Austrialian perspective, Chur-Hanson discuss how the cremation of pets is often procedural rather than ritual, and that animal crematorium staff are not necessarily trained in counselling or managing grief. Additionally, Chur-Hanson points out that there are no recognised or standard funeral services for animals and there is little guidance on such matters for some religious leaders. In Japan, however, Buddhist temples and privately owned pet cemeteries recognise the importance of pet memorialisation and provide concrete manifestations of the ritual treatment of dead pets. Such rituals are in part explained by traditional Japanese values, where animals had once been regarded as powerful and even vengeful spiritual forces, which could wreak havoc on humans, depending on how they were cared for during their lifetime. While, from a Buddhist perspective, animals are sentient beings with the “potential for better rebirth and salvation”, there are no “Buddhist scriptures specifically for animals, let alone pets”.
What is key to take away from this contemporary research is that companion, namely pet animal grief, bereavement and loss is now recognised as a growing field of concern, practice and care. This development, as noted, reflects the number of animal and species relations that we now have in our domestic setting. As the number of creatures we constitute as pets has increased, the number of extinct species, recorded, witnessed and accounted for has become manifold. While one could potentially read our close relations to pets as an inverse or perhaps even subconscious reaction to this trend, the literature on companion pet loss illustrates how in bringing animals into our familial folds, their death and loss can impact us as much as the death of a human significant. Equally, there is the recognition that we have yet to develop appropriate rituals to support the grief that accompanies pet loss, with recommendations also being provided for counsellors on how to deal with disenfranchised grief, such as another’s response that it was “only a dog”. Findings from veterinary science, human environment studies and child development provide important indicators as to how we might approach species loss that is less tangent on our domestic pet relations and more broadly associated with the mass extinction of species, climate change and environmental degradation. Taking this logic and applying it to how we might move forward with dealing with the disenfranchised grief associated with extinction, the following stories provide insight into how artists, public institutions and concerned citizens are approaching this matter. Considering these stories as exemplars, that act as navigable paths or ley lines, each provides a glimpse into ways that we are beginning to explore and express the forms of grief and mourning, which I later describe in this paper as liquid loss.
Contemporary Responses to Loss and Grief
In 2008, I curated (with support from CADA and Margarida Mendes) the UM Media Art Festival in Lisboa. This particular edition dealt with the notion of gesture, and as part of the exhibition we showed the work Entropy by the Finnish artist Terike Happoja. Entropy is a one-channel video work, which uses an infrared camera to show the cooling down of a horse’s body after its death. The piece, which lasts twenty-five minutes, is an edit of the original recording, which lasts nine hours. Projected onto the large white walls of a disused garage in downtown Lisboa, the work is a meditative reflection that captures the heat leaving the horse’s body. The work is currently contextualised on Haapoja’s website as an example of how “the image reveals something of the invisible reality” that conceals other realities. With emphasis placed on processes of visualisation, what we define as the ‘moment of death’, opens up and is captured by the artist who in turn creates a tangible space through which the viewer can contemplate the horse’s death and life. The thermal image captures the cooler temperatures of the horse’s body in blue, purple, and green, with red, orange, or yellow expressing warmer zones. Over the course of the video, the warm colours slowly diminish, as the horse’s final living moments are silently recorded. Reflecting on processes of mourning, one could refer to the work as a homage and celebration of the horse’s life.
As a piece of art, Entropy works on many levels, and holds a space, a space through which we can, say goodbye to the animal in the simplest way. It also acts as a commemorate act similar to how, on the death of a loved one, we select portrait images to remember them. Entropy is a portrait of another kind that alludes not just to the form, shape and being of the horse as a living creature, but also—as the title suggests—to the degradation of matter, energy, to death and disorder. Haapoja, who has gone on to create a number of works that take the ‘animal’ as central, recently wrote that we need to move “beyond an order that organizes beings into those protected and those killable by using animality and humanity as its divider”. Drawing on the work of American philosopher Cora Diamond, Haapoja speaks to “letting go of a binary logic” that divides human and animal, so that new forms of kinships can flourish. Adding to Haapoja’s viewpoint, creating compassionate spaces where the loss of kin species is acknowledged and held is part of work required to dissolve such binary positions.
Almost a decade after showing Entropy, on the 30th of November 2016, we gather at the Digital Culture Research Centre, UWE and Pervasive Media Studio, Bristol, to raise a glass of port wine in memory of the blue stag beetle and the short-haired bumblebee. The act is a small gesture to mark the ‘Remembrance Day for Lost Species’, which since 2011 has been set aside as a day to memorialise extinct species. The project website (lostspeciesday.org) documents activities associated with the day and provides recommendations for remembrance, restoration and recuperation. Co-founded by Feral Theatre (in partnership with The Life Cairn), the day is based on previous work by both groups, including ‘A Funeral for Lost Species’ (Feral Theatre) and The Life Cairn project, initiated in 2011 by artist, storyteller and rewilder Andreas Kornevall and Rev Peter Owen Jones, as a means to mark species loss. The word “cairn” is derived from the Scottish Gaelic tradition of creating a marker from the layering of dry stones on top of each other. Adopting this process as a ritual to mark species loss, cairns are now recreated across the world. Reviewing the work of Lost Species Day, journalist Jeremy Hance notes how the work provides a space for a grieving process that extends beyond our human parochialism.
‘Remembrance Day for Lost Species’ and The Life Cairn project are therefore acts of mourning, which register the need to create spaces through which to grieve species and landscape loss. In a similar act of registration, Bristol Museum recently responded to the IPBES report on global biodiversity, as well as to demands from school children to tell the truth about the animals on display in its World Wildlife Gallery. In August 2019 museum staff shrouded endangered species in black mourning veils, to highlight the seriousness of the threat of extinction.
Since 2018, funeral processions for lost species and plants have been widely used by members of the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement as a means through which to enact a sense of solidarity and remembrance for extinct companion animals and landscapes, while also drawing attention to the cause and the seriousness of the situation. The aesthetic choice to appropriate funeral symbols (coffin, veils, mourning dress), expresses not only “biological annihilation” but also through silence and pageant, often and intentionally enacted in densely populated urban centres, creates space through which loss can be acknowledged and mourning publicly legitimised. Founded in 2018 in the southwest of England (Bristol and Stroud), XR is a non-political movement, which uses civil disobedience as a means to incite government change on climate breakdown, biological loss and ecological collapse. It is focused on three central demands that include declaring a climate emergency, reducing carbon emissions by 2025 and establishing citizen assemblies as a means of participatory governance. Regular and consistent protest and disturbance is central to the XR approach, and to support this the Bristol-based performance group Invisible Circus created the ‘Red Rebel Brigade’, which is now replicated around the world at various XR protests. Walking in slow motion and using mime to create a series of living tableaux during protests, the ‘Red Rebel Brigade’ covers the body entirely with their distinctive red costume that includes full-length robes, headdress, veils and long-sleeved gloves. Performers’ faces are completely painted in white, with eyes outlined in black and lips in red, their presence symbolising not just the common blood we share with all species, but also acting as a warning of the destruction that could come if we do not act now.
Liquid Loss: Naming, Co-creating and Legitimising Rituals for Ecological Loss
The above works are intentionally selected to illustrate how different styles of artistic and performance practice (Haapoja, Feral Theatre, The Life Cairn), concerned citizens (Extinction Rebellion) and public institutions (Bristol Museum) are now deeply engaged in what I view as mourning processes associated with companion species loss, mass extinction and environmental degradation. The intention with this short paper is to provide a primary view on how such expressions have emerged over the last fifteen years, with heightened actions (funerals, processions, remembrance days) in the last four to five years acting as release valves that illustrate our human need to negate the disenfranchised and marginalised forms of grief that arise from the sense of companion species and landscape loss that are not yet formally accepted within the mainstream.
Furthermore, these works constitute what I would also consider to be cogent responses to liquid loss, which I define as the loss associated with the death of organisms, niches, landscapes, the loss of the tundra, heather, reef, Caribbean monk seal and moa. Liquid loss is also the fluid, runny loss of icecaps and bog land. It additionally refers to the lack of etiquette or procedures to navigate this new territory, as the protocols for such loss have yet to come fully into this world. By acknowledging liquid loss, we return to the gooey warmth of the compost heap, to the knotted and entangled experience of living together in human and non-human worlds. This acknowledgement is a process whereby the acceptance of such death, as well as the need to recover from it, runs parallel to a process of recovering from the trauma of having been so utterly divorced in the first place from our environs. This divorce can also be constituted, as ethnographer Bird Rose notes, as the “drag of the shimmer”—the shimmer referring to the diminishing of the brilliance, which Yolngu, Aboriginal artists refer to as the bir’yun that is the ancestral force, the ecological pulse and rhythm of earth:
“…what is actually occurring is more dire than the numbers indicate. There are the functional extinctions, the extinction cascades, the extinction vortexes; these are ways in which, as things start to slip down that death road, other things start going too. Relationships unravel, mutualities falter, dependence becomes a peril rather than a blessing, and whole worlds of knowledge and practice diminish. We are looking at worlds of loss that are much greater than species extinction numbers suggest.”
There is an urgency here that comes with this loss that requires us to dig deep, to go beyond human-centric mourning rituals and ways. Liquid loss is an attempt to articulate the sensibilities and sensitivities that we need to adapt, in order to deal with the cascades and vortexes that are left behind by mass extinction. Rooted in emerging new rituals, practices and expressions of companion species and landscape mourning, liquid loss is an act of profound connection and love that articulates an aesthetics of attention and healing, which on the one hand acknowledges the abstracted alienation and dislocation that has resulted from centuries of capitalocene logics and, on the other, supports stepping beyond binary taxonomies. In attending to liquid loss we begin to create and hold spaces through which we can regain the sense of “we-ness” that attunes us once more to the shimmer of our earthbound existence.
REFERENCES AND NOTES
 Tsing, Anna, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan and Nils Bubandt. Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017, p. 1.
 Ceballos, Gerardo, Paul Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle, and Todd M. Palmer, “Accelerated Modern Human-induced Species Losses: Entering the Sixth Mass Extinction” in Science Advances 1, no. 5 (June 2015), e1400253 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.
 Background rate is the rate at which species would go extinct without human activity.
 Ceballos, Gerardo, Paul Ehrlich, Anthony D. Barnosky, Andrés García, Robert M. Pringle, and Todd M. Palmer. “Biological Annihilation via the Ongoing Sixth Mass Extinction Signalled by Vertebrate Population Losses and Declines.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 114(30), E6089-E6096.
 IPBES. The Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services on Pollinators, Pollination and Food Production. S.G. Potts, V.L. Imperatriz-Fonseca, and H.T. Ngo (eds.). Secretariat of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, Bonn, Germany, 2016. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.3402856.
 Windle, Phyllis. “The Ecology of Grief” in Ecopsychology. Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind, edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner, 136-145. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1995, p. 142.
 Refer to Shepard, Paul. “Introduction: Ecology and Man – A Viewpoint” in The Subversive Science: Essays Toward an Ecology of Man, edited by Paul Shepard and Daniel McKinley. Houghton Mifflin Co, 1969 and Roszak, Theodore, Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner. Ecopsychology. Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind. Berkeley: Counterpoint, 1995.
 Bowlby, John. Attachment. Attachment and Loss: Vol. 1. New York: Basic Books, 1969. Bowlby, John. Loss: Sadness & Depression. Attachment and Loss: Vol. 3. London: Hogarth Press and Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1980.
 Parkes, Colin Murray. “The Nature of Grief.” International Journal of Psychiatry 3, No. 5 (June 1967), pp. 435-8. Parkes, Colin Murray. “Models of Bereavement Care.” Death Studies 11, No. 4 (July 1987): 257-261. Parkes, Colin Murray. “Coping with Loss: Bereavement in Adult Life.” British Medical Journal 1998; Mar 14; 316(7134), pp. 856–859.
 Kübler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Death and Dying. New York, NY: Macmillan, 1969.
 Bonanno, George A. The Other Side of Sadness: What the New Science of Bereavement Tells Us About Life After Loss. New York: Basic Books, reprint edition, December 2010.
 Wordon, William J. Grief Counselling and Grief Therapy, Fifth Edition: A Handbook for the Mental Health Practitioner – Grief Counselling Handbook on Treatment of Grief, Loss and Bereavement. Springer Publishing Company, 4th edition, 2009.
 For example see Chur-Hansen, Anna. “Grief and Bereavement Issues and the Loss of a Companion Animal: People Living with a Companion Animal, Owners of Livestock, and Animal Support Workers” in Clinical Psychologist 14, No. 1 (2010): 14-21. Hueberge, Roschelle A., and Jessica Pierce, “Companion-Animal Caregiver Knowledge, Attitudes, and Beliefs Regarding End-of-Life Care” in Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 20, No. 4 (2017): 313-323. Kolondy, S.W. “Companion Animal Illness and Human Emotion” in Problems in Veterinary Medicine 3, (1991): 1-5. Pierce, Jessica. The Last Walk: Reflections on our Pets at the End of Their Lives. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2012. Tzivian, Lilian, Michael Friger and Talma Kushnir. “Grief and Bereavement of Israeli Dog Owners: Exploring Short-Term Phases Pre- and Post-Euthanization.” Death Studies 38, No. 2 (2014), pp. 109-117.
 Melson, Gail F. Why the Wild Things Are: Animals in the Lives of Children. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001. Melson, Gail F. “Child Development and the Human Companion Animal Bond” in American Behavioral Scientist, 47 (2003), pp. 31-39.
 Ambros, Barbara. “Vengeful Spirits or Loving Spiritual Companions? Changing Views of Animal Spirits” in Contemporary Japan, Asian Ethnology 69, no. 1 (2010), pp. 35-67. Kenny, Elizabeth. “Pet Funerals and Animal Graves in Japan.” Mortality 9, No. 1, February 2004, pp. 24-60.
 Diamond, Cora. “Eating Meat, Eating People” in Philosophy 53, No. 206 (October 1978), pp. 465-479. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of Royal Institute of Philosophy.
 A Funeral for Lost Species: https://vimeo.com/25260994, highlights from the performance and sculpture installation at St Peter’s Church, Brighton Fringe Festival, May 2011. Created by Feral Theatre.
 Fisher, Andy. Radical Ecopsychology, Second Edition, Psychology in the Service of Life. Suny Press, 2013, p. 52.
 Bird Rose, Deborah. “Shimmer: When All You Love Is Being Trashed.” In Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet: Ghosts and Monsters of the Anthropocene, edited by Anna Tsing, Heather Swanson, Elaine Gan and Nils Bubandt, 51-61. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2017, p. 52
TERESA DILLON is an artist and researcher creating performances, installations, sound and texts that tell stories about humans and companion landscapes. Taking the urban as a primary site of habitation, her work explores the embodied nature of techno-civic relations and the influences of technology on human and species living arrangements. From this perspective, reoccuring themes within her work address notions of survival, repair and recuperation, care and hospitality, encountering, commoning, pollution, data governance and surveillance. She is a Humboldt Fellow and has held research and lecture posts at Cambridge University, UK and Trinity College Dublin. Curatorial invites include HACK-THE-CITY (Science Gallery, Dublin, 2012) and transmediale (2016). Since 2013, Teresa has hosted Urban Knights, a programme of talks and workshops, which provokes and promotes practical approaches to rethinking urban governance and ‘smart’ city living. Her work has been published and exhibited internationally (Ars Electronica, Helsinki Design Week, LABoral, 7a*11d, Locws International; Solstice Arts Centre), presented at various conferences and symposia (Make City Festival, ISEA, EcoCity), and reviewed in Nature Magazine and Wire. Teresa currently holds the post of Professor of City Futures at the School of Art and Design, University of the West of England, Bristol, where she leads on the RepairActs programme.
I said I would not forget, and I want to write to you, disembodied totem spirit of an ex-thing that I probably don’t believe in, because I want to bear witness, to envision the end of an existence.
It was, of course, absurd. My friend reminded me of this as we waded out to a bench on the edge of a flooded pond carrying a paper replica island towards a herd of confused and curious swans. How could it be otherwise?
Firstly death just is. At an individual level – not in a jolly Halloween cartoon Grim Reaper way, but in a deep epistemological way. We humans can’t comprehend the absence of existence. And we don’t like it. It unsettles us.
It is a further step to imagine the death of something that you didn’t know existed in the first place. That is a loss of opportunity. But also a leap into a gap which the imagination or unconsciousness might fill with projections. My own are of failing to protect something innocent and precious. Was that really you, Bramble Cay Melomys?
I also spend time thinking about rats. Attentive readers will have noticed in the sister post how quickly I conflated the unknown extinct rodent with the common rat. The analogy becomes more problematic when we consider that the survival of the melomys, until climate change finally did for it, occurred mainly because occasional human visitors to Bramble Cay had failed to bring with them the opportunistic and competing rodents which had caused the extinction of other ground-living island dwellers in the area. Real things are always fucking up our best metaphors. But still, as a familiar example of undervalued beings in our midst, rats work pretty well. We are to be observed by several as we launch our craft.
Around the time of the commemoration I saw an artwork by Marcus Coates. Entitled Extinct Animals it is composed of plaster castes of the artist’s arms, hands or even fingers as he makes shadow figures of various extinct animals. Some of these are frankly very schematic, but that doesn’t really affect the impact much. These creatures no longer cast a shadow, so…
I’ve been drawn to Marcus’ work for several years and soon afterwards I was able to see him talk about it. He described his fascination in embodying a message of communication of some kind – and I’ve noticed that this is often across a barrier of some sort, of time, kind, language or even, and often, species. I’ve watched him being interviewed as a Blue Footed Booby on Galapagos TV, attend a community meeting in a condemned council block wearing a deer skull on his head before going into a shamanistic trance, choreograph a number of volunteers sitting in their cars, living rooms and waiting rooms into a replica of the dawn chorus, and take a question from a man dying in a hospice on a journey to and from an ageing woman in a hut in the Peruvian Amazon. Here he is, encouraging a Canadian island community to apologise to the extinct great auks which used to live there.
None of these admirable projects look anything other than absurd. But they do encourage a way of connecting which is uncanny, disorientating and affecting. I think they tug around our felt senses.
Within the growing field of climate anxiety is a recognition that our response to the evidence of climate change is also necessarily un-canny, and will feel at least some part absurd.
We have the notion that Tim Morton draws from object-orientated ontology of the ‘strange stranger’, the thing that we can only encounter in a phenomenological way without prejudice or preconception, and the hyperobjects he develops from that way of thinking ( I’d suggest that extinction is another hyperobject that is spreading through us at the moment, like a lump of indissoluble plastic). In the more cautious and classical philosophical position laid out by Jonathan Lear in Radical Hope,
We do not have to agree with Plato that there is a transcendent source of goodness – that is a source of goodness that transcends the world – to think that the goodness of the world transcends our finite powers to grasp it. The emphasis here is not on some mysterious source of goodness, but on the limited nature of our finite conceptual resources. This, I think most readers will agree, is an appropriate response for finite creatures like ourselves. Indeed, it seems oddly inappropriate – lacking in understanding of oneself as a finite creature – to think that what is good about the world is exhausted by our current understanding of it. Even the most strenuously secular readers ought to be willing to accept this form of transcendence. (pp.121-2, 2006)
Lear’s ‘hero’ ( I think that is fair), the Crow chief Plenty Coups, uses a dream he has interpreted to suggest that his tribe should give up their traditional virtues, and find an accommodation with the crushing forces of American colonisation, which would (and indeed did) allow them to retain their identity and integrity. His message, however, is that in a situation when our known virtues clearly no longer protect us we must search beyond.
We must find new ways of thinking – whether these come to us from overlooked Indigenous traditions, cyber-identities, art practice, experimental philosophies or paradigm shifts in science. All of these are fruitful responses to the crisis of the Anthropocene.
As, I think, psychogeography might be. Psychogeography is a child of situationism, but has been dallying with shamanism for a while too. Being inhabited, haunted, dealing with the margins, and the supplements are the business of our trade – using the tricksterish slogan of ‘Seeing Things As They Really Are’ (@Tim Smith) which suggests we live in an illusion of some sort, and that our imaginations might find a reality that is somehow missing (although of course what is missing might in fact be our imagination).
So digging into this methodology I decided I wanted to create a funeral representation of the absent and unknown creatures.
I don’t actually have these kinds of craft skills – which is, of course, entirely the point. We end up with a green paper tray covered in straw and leaves I gathered from the edges of a new semi-permanent floodpond near my home, some sugar mice purchased hurriedly in something that felt like a drug deal from an olde sweetie shop, and used to mould others out of moss and used kitchen towels, purslane seeds (which apparently grew on Bramble Cay), and some Australian incense (which wouldn’t light in the stormwinds of Edinburgh in February). The frustrations, dead ends, ineptness and questing for meaning is what I know to be grief work. It is a process to enter that only gives partial outcomes, and usually leaves you somewhere (else).
Despite the perceived increase in eutrophication (and sugar content) of the already heavily polluted pond, the freezing conditions, and the herd of swans, we launched the tray, which floated out on the strong westerly into the mid distance and sank gradually beneath the water. My friend said it was like watching a feeling happen.
As I struggled with the process of representation I faced the futility, cost and projections in my task, I was able to ignore or avoid my own decay, overfeed my domestic guest rodents, and engage with what go missing with extinction. The answer as the ecologist, Daniel Jansen* says in terms of biology, and the anthropologist Deborah Bird Rose echoes in human terms, is an opportunity to connect, potentially or actually.
As my work sank under the water, unnoticed by the rest of the world, I felt something of that loss. I may have murmured melomys rubicola under my breath without needing to know exactly what it meant.
As we looked for a site for extinction day commemorations I checked out the National Museum of Scotland (NMS). I had only a mild hope that I might find a melomys amongst the stuffed animal collection. What I did find was a display board listing some animals which had become extinct – which did not include the melomys or indeed any other animals which had disappeared since 2010. Which gave the commemoration another more practical focus.
The list of extinct animals I was then to send to the NMS ( including only mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and freshwater fish) covering only the years 2017-19, and based only on two reputed websites and a cursory check of the IUCN Red List data base, contained 25 names. It excludes those creatures which live on only in human captivity, which we are best able to watch die out (like the Northern Rhinoceros or the Spixx Macaw). Some of the species have been declared extinct more than once, as a specimen occasionally blunders out of the undergrowth in some unlooked-for place (usually at around the time it is being levelled to make way for human activity). Others were only ‘created’ as species after they were gone. So its not really an exact science, but really neither is speciation, which is looking increasingly like an Anthropocene construction.
But what is not in doubt is that many, many types of animals are disappearing and that everywhere in the world the trend is for a reduction in variety and overall number of non-domestic animals. We are living in an age of mass extinction, which human activity is ultimately responsible for. For most of our existence as humans we acknowledged our kinship with other creatures, and it is only in the transformations to capitalism that philosophy and science have created these divisions (and which belatedly both are now striving to close).
To see extinction as a hyperobject is to see it extending, largely unnoticed, into numerous dimensions of existence. Some of these are exemplified in the specific losses noticed by Jansen and Bird Rose – the destabilisation of ecosystems (one wonders what is happening to Bramble Cay without its main herbivore, for example) and the loss of cultural resources (for example the oft-quoted Lost Words which have vanished from the everyday vocabulary of our children), and others are there buried in our psyche. We watch wildlife documentaries, are shamed or activated by images of turtles with plastic around their necks , and maybe are beginning to perceive morality in terms of reducing our environmental impact (or reacting against those perceptions in aggressive, nationalistic justifications of our privilege).
Around us a shadow army of pets, parasites and animal crops provide us with a distorted connection to that legacy. We are becoming used to finding our friends grieving their pets, upset by the truth of food production, or shocked by the running over of roadkill. Grief is, after all, grief, and I suspect that the central part of it is the shock of how fragile life is. Our life.
After some correspondence and a brief protest action the NMS offered me a dialogue about how they commemorate extinction as part of climate change. Can I ask them to do it absurdly? I’d like there to be a way in which connections disappear, and the visitor is left increasingly in a void. Ideally this might be subtle, but colour and noise or smell would disappear. Or there is a game where it becomes a choice of what to save, but the choice has unintended consequences. Or they could suddenly find that all the exhibits in the lower level are under three feet of water.
I realise now that I am going to have to end the article. And in doing so I will feel the loss of the Bramble Cay Melomys, and the rich connections I’ve had from virtually knowing them. And I will also remember the list of the other known, unknown animals which I’ve learnt about after their end. And think about the unknown, unknown animals I haven’t learnt about. Yet, or more probably, at all. And now I see the image of Sadness from the film Inside Out, who I think should be there to meet us at the exit of the new exhibit. I’m with her now.
* What escapes the eye when species go extinct is a much more insidious extinction – that of ecological interactions.
Uncle Bruce Shillingsworth spoke at Going Gone, a poetry reading and exhibition at Articulate Project Space, Sydney Australia, to mark Lost Species Day 2019. Bruce is a First Nations artist and rights activist who campaigns for just management of the river system.
The event was organised by Juliet Fowler Smith, Noelene Lucas and Gary Warner.
First Nations people are feeling the brunt of the devastation that’s happening – not just here, but right across the world. First Nation people have lived on this country’s land for thousands and thousands of years. I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation – the custodians of this land. I’d like to acknowledge our Aboriginal brothers and sisters of the past, the present and emerging.
I would like to acknowledge that we now stand on stolen land. First Nation people, like I say, bear the brunt of what’s happening with them – it is our environment, and now a situation that is happening right across the world.
Look, I’m from a liitle place called Brewarrina out in the northwest of New South Wales. Brewarrina is a place where they got the fish traps, the Ngunnhu. Fish traps, stone fish temps, are the oldest man-made structure in the world. It is the oldest – it’s older than the pyramids in Egypt. The pyramids weren’t even built 5000 years ago. So we have a history. We have evidence in this country of the survival of First Nation people.
How do we now survive with the, with the climate change and the changing of our environment, the land we live on? The destructions of the rivers, the extinctions of our animals, and what we relied on for thousands and thousands of years?
Like I said, First Nations people felt the brunt because we have lived with Mother Earth for thousands of years. Mother Earth that sustains us. You know we’re all living in the great circle of life – everything on this earth or on this planet relies on one another. Just like we as First Nations people rely now on non-indigenous people and non-indigenous people rely on First Nations people. I believe that we’re now on a journey. We’re on a journey. We’re on a journey to fix this planet. There is no Planet B – we can’t go anywhere else. We as humans need to live on this one planet together with Mother Nature. We cannot live without Mother Earth because it feeds us, it shelters us, it gives us everything we need.
So then why are we cutting down our trees that gives us oxygen? Why are we polluting the air, polluting our rivers, and putting toxics in our food that we eat? How long do you think we’re going to survive on this planet? They’re only giving us till 2050 – not very long. But we are here. It is our turn, it is our time. We are in a very important time in history. I believe that we are responsible to look after our Mother Earth and nature, the things we live with. If we don’t, we’re going to destroy our lives and our future generation.
Our elders have said to me the land we live on has only been borrowed from our children. How do we give that back to our children? Look at the extinction that’s happened. Australia’s got a record of the most extinct animals in the world. What are we going to do about it? Well I’ll tell you what we’re going to do about it. It’s now time for change. It is time that we’re going to stop the raping of the land, the mining in our countries, the destruction of our rivers and the land. First Nations people are going to now stand up and have their voices heard. First Nations Voice are going to have representatives in all areas of government and in the decisions of this future, of this Australia.
I believe there’s a message: that we’re gonna do it together. It is now time – it is time to change. We will now be the protectors of our lands and our environment. It is us that has the power. It is people power that’s going to change this world. The changes are not going to come from the top – it’s going to come from the bottom like people the likes of yous. From the grassroots level. Change has got to come from the bottom up.
Look, thank you for inviting me. I hope you get another look at some of the artwork, but think about all those living creatures out there – look at the bush fires that are ravaging the land now. Those living creatures are now being destroyed. Look at our rivers that have been dried up – how do you bring back those water creatures? How do you bring back the animals, the birds, to those, to the rivers anymore, when it’s completely gone? Extinct. There’s no life.
Water is life. Water feeds the land, feeds the animals, feeds the birds, feeds all the environment. But look who’s controlling our waters. Look who’s controlling our waters. This is a man-made disaster. This is why our animals are coming extinct. Man is not listening. It is time to change. It is time. Thank you.
by Persephone Pearl, Rachel Porter and Emily Laurens
Please note that we acknowledge the complex structural barriers to inclusion faced by people due to class, ableism, educational and financial privilege, prejudice related to gender and sexuality and so on, but in this article we have chosen to focus on and discuss racism and white privilege as a formative societal influence.
The authors of this essay, the ‘we’ referred to here, are Persephone Pearl, Rachel Porter and Emily Laurens. We are white cisgender British women in our 40s, all educated to university level, all with children, all working in the arts. In 2011 we co-founded an environmental project called Lost Species Day and have dedicated a lot of time and love to the initiative over the years. In more recent years, this energy has become more reflective and critical of the movement and questioning of our work and its place in it. We have written this essay because, aware of the scale and rapidity of environmental degradation and its uneven impacts on people and places, we want to talk about white supremacy and how it plays out in the environmental movement. We hope that it will be useful to anyone concerned about climate and ecological breakdown, wanting to understand the history and drivers of this breakdown, and/or wanting to make links with social and racial justice movements. It is offered as a resource for people restless or dissatisfied with the language and practices of contemporary mainstream environmentalism. It is written in solidarity to frontline environmental and human rights defenders, with love for everyone working for bold action on fossil fuels and extractivism. It is inspired by and arises from ideas, actions, invitations and initiatives by people of colour and Black people.
Remembrance Day for Lost Species (RDLS or Lost Species Day), now in its ninth year, is coming up again on November 30th. It is an unfunded initiative, an invitation to people to hold events exploring biodiversity loss on or around this date each year. It started as a demonstration outside parliament – in May 2010, as part of an overnight climate vigil, a few friends created a pop-up installation of a graveyard for extinct species on a patch of grass opposite the Houses of Parliament. We were fed up with feeling helpless and excluded from environmental policy. We wanted to make work that spoke to the scale of the ecological problems we were witnessing.
After the climate vigil, we made a play, Funeral for Lost Species, in a real graveyard in Brighton. We imagined it was a graveyard for extinct species and that we were a team of celestial funeral directors, responsible for ensuring every species got a suitable send-off, thus ensuring the continuity of existence. It parodied the mainstream environmental movement and articulated Eurocentric culture’s de-sacralising drive, and the clash between science and spirituality in the Eurocentric paradigm. Mostly, though, we were glad to make a space for contemplation of biodiversity loss, and when the project ended we wanted to carry on doing this.
It turned out that some people were making a memorial to extinct species on a hill in Sussex at that time. It felt apt to work with them, to continue exploring how to make rituals for the Anthropocene. We held the first Remembrance Day for Lost Species in November 2011, with a lot of support and interest. A supporter designed us a logo inspired by the extinction symbol, which was based on the image of an hourglass inside the circle of the earth.
RDLS emerged as part of a wave of artist-led projects exploring the theme of mass extinction and collapse in the UK. Something important was being tapped into and explored, but the networks we were aware of consisted largely of white privileged people confronting the failings of capitalism and consumerism without including a proper analysis of the racialised underpinnings and workings of those power structures – an omission that could only come from a lack of awareness or care about how structural racism punishes some and privileges others.
After a few years, we saw that most Lost Species Day events were taking place in Europe and North America, and realised that an initiative like this, despite seeming imperative to us, unless examined, was largely irrelevant, particularly for people who are:
struggling for survival
on the front lines of climate breakdown
affected by conflict and colonialism
queer and trans people facing hate crimes, and other people facing human rights violations
in prison or at risk of imprisonment
facing persecution by the state and corporations
living lives that are entwined with those of endangered species and places
The list went on. We realised that our purported inclusive approach was in fact exclusionary due to its lack of an analysis of structural racism and classism. All are welcome!, went the cry – but these words, predicated on privilege, were hollow. Rather late in life, we realised that our brand of environmentalism was a product of racial and class privilege – and worse, that its ‘colour blindness’ colluded in the ongoingness of white supremacy. Privilege had led us to assume it was acceptable to focus on biodiversity loss without building this work on a foundation of solidarity and anti-racist practice. But as environmental communicator Susuana Amoah puts it, “white supremacy and colonialism are fundamental causal factors in the climate emergency”.
Might remembrance for lost species contribute to cultural erasure? Arguably, focusing on the stories of extinct species without studying and discussing concomitant harms to people and cultures perpetuates white environmentalism’s huge history of cultural erasure and genocidal acts. Environmentalism is not exempt from racism. We finally recognised the all-subsuming power of whiteness, and the rule of white supremacy as a hegemonic ordering force globally and in our psyches. Canada-based scholar Audra Mitchell’s writing on white tears for extinct species made for reading that was hard but that we were instinctively drawn to. We made commitments to:
turn to Black, indigenous, decolonial and people of colour activists, organisations, artists and academics for wisdom
pay attention to and amplify the voices of the people living through entwined genocides and ecocides
make the links between, rather than separate, the stories of harms to people and non-humans
remember that hurt feelings are not actual injuries, that as the beneficiaries of white supremacy we have a duty to speak and act on racism from our position of safety
ask ourselves daily, as scholar Imani Robinson invites us to, What are we going to do today to create the world we want to live in?
On Extinction Rebellion
We have watched Extinction Rebellion grow without building a critique of white supremacy into its central environmental messaging or organising structure. As part of a strategy that uses the rhetoric of emergency to reach the mainstream, this has been amazingly successful, and XR have done what they set out to do in terms of shifting the Overton Window on the climate emergency, and creating a mass movement – a colossal and vital achievement at a time when the speed of environmental change is escalating dizzyingly. There are doubtless many committed people working hard within Extinction Rebellion to address structural racism in its language and tactics, and to articulate a language of solidarity with impacted communities. But their efforts are not reflected in the public demands or practices of the organisation, which adopts – or co-opts – the tactics of the Civil Rights movement whilst maintaining majority white leadership, pro-police politics, and no demands or strategy for dismantling structural racism. Its language of emergency trumps inclusivity of process and depth of listening.
Black Lives Matter UK (BLMUK) / Wretched of the Earth (WOTE) activist Joshua Virasami describes the historic and contemporary lack of connection between animal rights / environmental activism and human rights / social justice movements as “tragic”, and invites neighbourliness and the centring of solidarity and inclusion as core practices in environmental action. When white people turn up they can have a massive impact. White people in the UK are the demographic majority, with confidence born of freedom from exposure to micro-aggressions, fear of false accusations, arrest, overt violence, risk of death and countless disadvantages due to systemic racism. This and other aspects of privilege are very useful in service to justice. As of yet, too little support has been lent to the efforts of movements led by people on the front lines of environmental disaster, surviving multiple apocalypses over centuries of colonialism and exploitation. The ongoing disconnection from, and failure to honour, these movements is due to structural racism and internalised white supremacy, invisible to the beneficiaries, ruinous for the survivors and the victims.
The mass silence and large absence of white people from movements that integrate work for racial justice does everyone a disservice. Without the warping lens of racism, it is obvious that movements for social change must centre and be led by those who are most affected, like the Civil Rights movement, Black Lives Matter and countless campaigns by frontline environmental protectors. The people most vulnerable to harms are the people most knowledgeable about those harms, experientially as opposed to ideologically. The white-dominated environmental movement must learn from other parts of the movement. It must centre and amplify the voices and perspectives of people with direct lived experience of climate-related harms.
XR is an infant movement that has become powerful very quickly, with the help of a lot of funding and influential supporters. Its senior team needs to move quickly to incorporate a commitment to racial justice within its practice and core demands. A movement that ignores or minimises its responsibility to address white supremacy risks:
Alienating diverse cultural groups and struggling to make up this lost ground later
Overshadowing and potentially diverting funding and support from pre-existing work by other activist groups
Intensifying danger for minority groups, as the absence of non-white perspectives in organising spaces creates more space for negative projections. Messages about scarcity and lack can feed prejudice about Black people and people of colour as ‘foreigners’ and ‘others’, and increase abuse and violence.
Perhaps most significantly, actions by an environmental movement that does not address racism can generate a false sense of hope. Campaigns that do not incorporate social justice as foundational will not change the system in the likely event of inadequate governmental action on climate breakdown. Arguably, Extinction Rebellion’s politics and structures reproduce the racism on which capitalism depends. To quote Wretched of the Earth:
“Climate change has not happened by a sequence of small missteps; the economic structures that dominate us have been brought about by ongoing colonial projects whose sole purpose is the pursuit of domination and profit. For centuries, racism, sexism and classism have been necessary for this system to be upheld, and have shaped the conditions we find ourselves in.”
Social justice must be the backbone of the environmental movement
With a focus on quality of process rather than the default white activist mode of urgency and panic comes curiosity, and a stepping-back from righteous anger into more reflective modalities that unpick assumptions about how to make change. Adrienne maree brown’s work on Emergent Strategy is inspiring here.
Having explored some of the ways in which white people use structural power consciously and unconsciously to ignore, undermine and erase initiatives led by Black people and people of colour, let’s explore how white people can consciously and strategically utilise racial privilege to serve and give power to frontliners. A few questions for campaigns and projects:
Are there already existing Black, indigenous and people of colour-led initiatives doing similar work to the project you are undertaking? Could you be putting your energy, time, platforms, money and other resources into their cause? Or at least listening to their advice? If not, why not? Suzanne Dhaliwal has written extensively about this.
Are your strategies adding to threats to the safety of people of colour? Do they support migrant solidarity? Are they inclusive? Who do they exclude, and how?
Who is on the front lines of your efforts? Where are they in your movement? Are their voices audible? Are they part of the leading team? If not, how might you work to change this?
Making space for lost species: remembering extinct species, cultures and places
These questions bring us back to Lost Species Day, and how and whether to move forward with it. Can this project be decolonised, or do its roots in white privilege mean that it’s conceptually too flawed to ever be truly anti-racist? We don’t know yet, but we pledge to:
Research our ancestors’ relationships with the places where we live, and use RDLS as a way to reconnect with our local ecosystem
Use RDLS as an educational opportunity for people who want to learn more about the reality of accelerating global biodiversity collapse through an anti-racist lens
Promote RDLS as a space for emotional engagement with the devastating effects of colonialism and the extinction and climate crises
Offer resources and service to Black and people of colour-led activist groups born from a drive for justice, doing explicitly decolonial and anti-racist work. For example, Black Lives Matter UK , Wretched Of The Earth.
We hope – and we would welcome others’ views on this – that a recurring day of ecological and bio-cultural remembrance can be of service and of social relevance at this time of multitudinous apocalypses and structural harms. It can:
Make spaces for remembering histories that are at continual risk of erasure and being forgotten
Offer a way for nature lovers into conversation about racism and its links with environmental harms
Offer space for exploring the concept of DIY rituals, and encouragement for people attempting the work of connection whilst being conscious of colonialism and cultural appropriation
Articulate the importance of the work of facing the grief of ecological severance, and make links between this and the grief of inhabiting inherited structures of white supremacy
Point towards possibilities for personal, interpersonal and cultural healing
Articulate the fact that all people and beings constitute a living connected system – there is no ‘other’.
We have removed the original Lost Species Day logo from the RDLS platforms because of its visual connection with the extinction symbol which is now synonymous with Extinction Rebellion. We are grateful to N.Puttapipat and Matt Stanfield for allowing us to use their logo while we explore possibilities for a new logo that better articulates our aspiration that Lost Species Day emphasises the interconnectedness of extinct and critically endangered species, cultures and ecological communities, and promotes the message that whilst these losses are rooted in violent and discriminatory governing practices, the day provides an opportunity for participants to make or renew commitments to all who remain.
October 20th 2019
With many thanks to colleagues and Lost Species Day project supporters who have advised on and helped edit this essay
This article and image are reproduced with the author’s permission from Terra Incognita Media. The piece was published there in March 2019.
It’s Actually Not Complicated At All
“Separate the art from the artist.” “Everybody is complicated.” “They were a product of their time.” “He was a complicated guy.” “It’s complicated.”
These comments come up frequently when we talk about the truth of those who our society have lauded and held in high esteem as heroes or geniuses. These are all white-centring sentiments that are triggered by white fragility. We see this trend of protecting men like John Muir, Louis C.K., or Harvey Weinstein, or Edward Abbey, or Charles Bukowski, to name only a few, yet I could go on — forever — because the list of white men who abuse their power is exhaustive and exhausting. To know that these men write our history, decide what is included in a “canon” of literature, is deeply, painfully, exhausting because it skews the past to plow a narrative fit for ongoing colonization, and allows white men to keep hoarding power. Uplifting these men as “heroes” and exclusively shelving their stories, excludes and discounts the myriad lived experiences and perspectives of womxn, femmes, trans, non-binary folx, Black, Indigenous, People of Color who were contemporaries of these men, and who would tell you a very different story.
“Rethink the Wild” is IWH’s t-shirt and awareness campaign. The t-shirt illustration is a classic image of Muir sitting, one leg crossed over the other, leaning over his walking stick, but this time with bloody hands, and a quote that reads, “A strangely dirty and irregular life these dark-eyed, dark-haired, half-happy savages lead in this clean wilderness.”
When preparing to go public with this illustration, Jolie Varela, the founder of Indigenous Women Hike, dealt with a lot of anxiety and stress, due to the inevitable backlash from those who prefer to keep things hushed when it comes to the impacts of ongoing colonization, and the way in which our environmental “heroes” play a huge role. Varela shared the illustration with this caption:
“The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as ‘an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is absent.’ The American idea of wilderness did not exist, it had to be created.
Indigenous people have always been a part of the land. We’ve always existed in spaces that American history has written us out of. National Parks were created on Treaty Lands. ‘Great’ American conservationists fought to preserve their idea of wilderness— which meant Indian Removal by any means. This meant dishonoring treaties.
This art is meant to start a conversation. Profits from this shirt design will go toward our efforts to travel with our Indigenous relatives in Peru. In the midst of the government shutdown, National Parks are being desecrated. Indigenous homelands are being desecrated. But is it any wonder when we consider how these lands came to be known as public lands in the first place? To move forward we must acknowledge this sad and violent history. We need to take a deeper look at ‘Great American Heroes’ like John Muir. We must no longer be complicit in the erasure of Native peoples from these spaces. We must Rethink the Wild.”
John Muir visited Ahwahnee (Yosemite) for the first time in 1868, ten years before the Bannock War, which took place in 1878. But when Muir arrived to the Sierras, forced Indigenous removals were already under way and John Muir was aiding and abetting it with his writing. John Muir very much knew that indigenous people were fighting for their lives and being forced into internment camps — what we now call reservations. In John Muir’s case his contemporaries included Sarah Winnemucca, a Northern Paiute author, activist and educator. A couple decades after his first time in the Sierras, “The Soft-Hearted Sioux” written by Zitkala-Sa [aka Gertrude Simmons Bonnin] (1876-1938) was published. This story details how indigenous youth were forced to assimilate to white culture and worship Christianity. Zitkala-Sa was very much against the eradication of indigenous culture and language. Harriet Jacobs who wrote Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. In 1868, the same year John Muir first arrived in Ahwahnee (Yosemite Valley), Elizabeth Keckley published her memoir Behind the Scenes, Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House. A few years earlier in 1855, Josephine Brown published Biography of an American Bondman, by His Daughter. As an assistant to her father’s extensive anti-slavery activities, Brown’s writing was no doubt crucial in Black liberation and exposing the machinery of white supremacy.
Many like to excuse John Muir as just a “product of his times,” but this comes up short, not only because it’s never acceptable to aid and abet structures of oppression, but also because there were ample people bringing to light the violence of slavery and colonization. John Muir knew what was going on and he didn’t care. This is hard for us white people to accept because it means that we have to not only “Rethink the Wild,” but rethink everything that we believe in and have built our identities around, and maybe even rethink some tattoos we got, or Instagram handles we created. There’s no gentle way around it. Worshipping Muir needs to stop. It’s time to rip the band-aid off.
Who Defines What is “Natural”? Who “Naturally” Belongs?
In Black Faces, White Spaces, Carolyn Finney shares that,
“…we have collectively come to understand/see/envision the environmental debate as shaped and inhabited primarily by white people. And our ability to imagine others is colored by the narratives, images, and meanings we’ve come to hold as truths in relation to the environment….
In the case of race and the environment, it’s not just who we imagine has something valuable to say. These assumptions, beliefs, and perceptions are at the very foundation of our environmental thinking, how we define the ‘environment,’ and how we think of ourselves in relationship with the environment. Who do we see? What do we see?”
White people have always decided what is “natural,” as well as who “naturally” belongs and who doesn’t. John Muir did not do “some powerful work for conservation and parks.” He co-founded the Sierra Club and worked to ensure that Ahwahnee became Yosemite National Park — these structures are tools that maintain power for a few (white people, particularly white men), as well as perpetuate gatekeeping (the practice of limiting and controlling resources). National Parks are active tools in ongoing indigenous genocide.
“For my Indigenous folx, this was an emotional read. I was brought to tears more than a few times. This is obviously a heavy subject but as a Native woman wanting to learn more about ‘American Conservation’ this is a good place to start.
The book is pretty dense, but interesting. Anyone who recreates and visits National Parks needs to read this book. Dispossessing the Wilderness highlights the removal of Natives from Yosemite, Yellowstone, and Glacier National Parks.”
In Dispossessing the Wilderness, David Spence goes into detail about how the National Parks were marketed and sold to white audiences as vacation spots to “get away from it all.” To get away from, you know, the buzzing, mundane, chaotic, stressful, anxiety-inducing, apocalyptic, capitalist hellhole we created for ourselves — we all need a break sometimes. In order to selfishly save our mental health we created “wilderness” a construct entirely concocted out of the white imagination to rationalize our greed, industrial growth and expansion. “Wilderness” functions as an important tool that was pushed forward by the poster-boys of the romantic period like Thomas Cole, George Catlin, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Herman Melville — John Muir loved these guys. They were the architects of what white America salivates over today: idealized uninhabited landscapes.
The Earth doesn’t need “saving” – it needs to be left alone. We need to stop projecting our colonizer narratives onto the Earth and its people. What drives white environmentalism is also what drives the non-profit industrial complex. White people have generational wealth, resources, power, and money, and therefore, the ability to create non-profits under the guise of helping and working towards “sustainability.” But the only thing sustaining is that those who need the resources the most remain in poverty, and those who have the money remain in power. Really, really rich men thrive on the reliance of the poor.
The answer to all of this is not complicated, but quite simple: white people, we need to start giving up our power, doing away with hierarchy in our organizations, and focusing on equitable outcomes for all. This may be a scary idea because it means changing everything about our lives, but it doesn’t have to be scary. Giving up power means being in community with each other, building relationships instead of power dynamics, and ultimately, everyone benefits. The systems as they are now are not healthy for anyone, not even those who benefit from them.
Racism and colonization is an issue that is very much still of our time. Jolie Varela expressed on social media that she wishes more people would “…acknowledge Indigenous people/organizations who are already doing this work, who have been doing this work…As an indigenous woman who still feels the effects of removal brought on by JM and his brand of American Conservation I do not view this as ‘complicated.’ It’s obvious because I see the impacts of this brand of removal every day. It’s not ‘complicated’ it’s messed up. I think addressing this issue as complicated allows people to make excuses for just how uncomplicated it really is. Because then people would have to address their own behavior and their own privilege. And it’s a way to excuse violent behavior.”
Often, White People Wonder, “What Can I do?” So, Here Is What I Do:
As a white woman who wants to end the legacy of harm and violence that I inherited from my ancestors (intentionally or not), I try to constantly confront white supremacy and how it shows up in myself and in my life. I frequently refer to Tema Okun’s list of White Supremacy Culture characteristics to help me locate where and how white supremacy is at play throughout my day and in my thinking, behavior, and actions. I support Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) -led initiatives, organizations, and businesses. When opportunities come my way, I either give it up to a BIPOC, or I look for ways to include, spotlight, or recommend BIPOC to be included if they are not already. I follow, read, and pay for anti-racist education. I understand that anti-racism is a practice, not an identity. This means that I never deny my inherent racism for being raised in a society that conditions me to believe myself superior for my skin color, but I can practice anti-racism to try to prevent myself from causing harm as much as possible.
I don’t write off my friends and family who are resistant to talking about whiteness. I find ways to engage them in conversation about white supremacy and our complicity in it. I step out of my comfort zone and take risks at work in having these conversations because I know, ultimately, the risks are probably in my head, or rather, in my white fragility. I facilitate a series called “Detaching from Whiteness.” I don’t shy away from having these conversations with kids. Not only will they most likely be the most receptive, but it is a moral failing if we don’t talk candidly with children about systems of oppression because this is the world they are inheriting. Often, the kids end up teaching me. I value relationships over profit or social capital, which is the opposite of white supremacy culture. I give my money to people doing the work on the ground. I give my money to those who stand on street corners looking for change because I know it’s going to someone who needs it, not a third-party. I actively work to see myself in others, while honoring, respecting, and acknowledging our difference.
All of this is where I begin.
Erin Monahan is the founder of Terra Incognita Media. She’s a writer, facilitator, and rock climber based in Portland, Oregon. Her writing focuses on detaching from the commitment to the construct of Whiteness. You can follow her on Instagram @erin.k.monahan
Rather than focusing on a particular species story, Remembrance Day for Lost Species (also called Lost Species Day, or RDLS) 2019 invites people to celebrate the ways that humans have named, loved and lived with their human and non-human kin. An aim of Lost Species Day 2019 is to highlight the histories and current importance of indigenous people and traditional cultures as ecological stewards.
The recorded names of now-extinct and endangered species were often given to them as part of the extractive colonial processes that are responsible for ecological crises worldwide. Many of these animals and plants would have had local names already, but what are they? Lost Species Day 2019 may offer participants paths to restorative knowledge and place-based practice through exploration of the local names, stories and knowledge of extinct and endangered species.
There are many different ways to participate – here are a few examples:
Find out about and share stories that are local or relevant to you (eg local names of lost or endangered species)
Host a ceremony or event
Research your indigenous language/s
Learn about the languages of animals and plants
Additionally, 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).
Let us know if you hold an event, and we can help promote it
Document your event and share any images, text etc with us via Twitter or Instagram @lostspeciesday, or email us. Use the hashtags #lostspeciesday, #lostspeciesday2019 and #originalnames
We also welcome blog posts for this website.
About Remembrance Day for Lost Species
Remembrance Day for Lost Species, November 30th, is a chance each year to explore the stories of extinct species. These stories 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, Lost Species Day 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.
Lost Species Day is a voluntary initiative supported by a loose collective of artists, activists and charitable organisations.
Remembrance Day for Lost Species Declares a Climate and Ecological Emergency
In recognition of the science of climate change and of the devastating climate-related impacts of extractive capitalism on human lives, biodiversity and ecosystems around the world, the founders and advocates of Remembrance Day for Lost Species, November 30th (RDLS) declare a climate and ecological emergency. We pledge to use the reach and influence of RDLS to take positive action on climate and to support those who are tackling this emergency. These are our intentions:
1. WE WILL TELL THE TRUTH
Governments and the media must tell the truth about the climate and ecological emergency and its associated harms that disproportionately affect frontline communities and people of colour all over the world. They must communicate the urgent need for far-reaching systemic change. RDLS pledges to:
Use its platforms to communicate with people and support them to discuss and respond to the climate and ecological emergency, and to understand the changes that are needed.
Address fake news and bias in the media by posting/ reposting representative and scientifically accurate articles and information resources on RDLS social media, whilst also showing emotional responses such as grief and anger that people have.
2. WE WILL TAKE ACTION
Governments must reverse climate-harming policies and enact legally binding policy measures to reduce CO2 emissions to net zero by 2025 and to reduce consumption levels. We pledge to:
Challenge governmental policies and actions at all levels that do not help to reduce CO2 emissions or fossil fuel consumption levels
Imagine and model ways that RDLS and its participatory practices and actions can regenerate the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems in ways that support social and racial justice.
3. WE ARE COMMITTED TO JUSTICE
The emergency has arisen from deeply systemic injustices. Arts and culture can imagine and forge shifts in the ways people relate to one another and the world, in values and behaviours. We pledge to:
Use RDLS’s brand and platforms to amplify the voices of people and ecological communities experiencing climate and environmental injustice and highlight intergenerational harm.
Support practical acts of solidarity that are informed by people directly affected by the systems and structures driving the ecological emergency, and promote initiatives led by these communities.
Endeavour to ensure that our practices, projects and proposals are underpinned by reflective dialogue as we push for biodiversity restoration, restorative culture and rapid action for climate justice.