The Clearing, a UK-based magazine, recently published a special issue devoted to extinction and endangered life in honour of Lost Species Day. Here are the essays.
The Clearing, a UK-based magazine, recently published a special issue devoted to extinction and endangered life in honour of Lost Species Day. Here are the essays.
“Absolutely [global warming is] reversible. There’s no question about it … but hope has to pass the sobriety test and walk a pretty straight line to reality. Otherwise, it’s delusion.”
Paul Hawken, author and founder at Project Drawdown, Interview at Regenerative Development Conference
In 2014, Glaciologist Eric Rignot suggested that there may yet be a chance to slow down the West Antarctic Ice Sheet’s rapid irreversible decline and “a different level of communication” is required to translate the gravity of what he and his peers see.
The Vow 2 Act emphasizes that role modeling helpful action is the primary different level of communication needed. And is written by Extinction Witness founder and creative director Megan Hollingsworth as a practice response to Eric Rignot’s call.
The Vow language is grounded in the knowledge that the ecological health crisis is driven by a human health crisis. And awareness that the roots of the human health crisis are the spiritual crises of materialism, entitlement, and punitive judgment.
The results of brutal competition complicated by materialism are in. Whether or not we personally experience scarcity, this is a globally scarce moment that calls for compassionate intention, frugality, efficiency, and ingenuity.
Someone living in New York, where over 11,000 children under the age of 6 live in the shelter system, need not visit Yemen or Ghana to see the child’s deprivation brought by cruel socioeconomic practices generations-old.
While the words used and stories told matter, actions are effective only so far as the intention that forms the basis of the actions.
“ …Unfortunately, the Brazilian people, elite and masses alike, were generally unprepared to evaluate the transition critically; and so tossed about by the force of the contending contradictions, they began to fall into sectarian positions instead of opting for radical solutions.”
Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness, 1973
Vow 2 Act signatories vow to be a different level of communication by thought, word, and all other actions. This, a true “radicalization” of the individual toward truly radical solutions to collective ills.
Vow signatories commit to rebellion in the purest sense. Rebellion as honesty, compassion, and kindness.
Rebellion as the ability to see one’s own propensity for ignorance and refrain from ignorance. To see one’s own propensity for greed and refrain from greed. To see one’s own propensity for hatred and refrain from hatred.
Rebellion as the ability to practice compassion toward oneself and all others by thought, word, and hand that every expression and exchange display and promote compassion with kindness.
Streaked Bombardier beetle photo c/o Craig Slawson, Buglife
Sonia Boyce, MBE is a British artist, activist, curator and academic whose work features decolonial, participatory and ecological themes. She began working in the 1980s and quickly became a central figure in the black British art scene at the time – in 1987 she was the first black female artist to be exhibited at the Tate.
Her work began as an exploration of self and her position and visibility as a black British woman in contemporary British society. From observations of her race and gender, Boyce’s work has opened up to become more collaborative, encouraging discussions of similar themes.
One piece of work that chimes with Remembrance Day for Lost Species is Boyce’s recent commission to work on the Crossrail Elizabeth line near the docks in the east London borough of Newham, the area where the artist grew up. It will be the longest artwork in the UK, a mural that stretches 1.8km through Custom House, Silvertown and Woolwich. The theme of the mural is a kind of local ecology. Earlier this year, she worked with local residents as part of the research process, through oral histories and knowledge evolving from pub quizzes. This cooperative process is a defining feature of Boyce’s work and feeds into a decolonial theme of art being created by the people it is for; grassroots rather than top-down.
Boyce has said that she is interested in place and “site specific” work. In her proposal video for the Crossrail mural which Boyce of course won, she cites the London docklands as “the gateway to Britain’s relationship with the rest of the world” in terms of empire and trade. She is particularly interested in the people that live in and have passed through the docks and their relationship with British culture.
Boyce has woven local species into the mural. In her conversation with Frieze Magazine, she talks about a species of bombadier beetle which is found exclusively in the docks and its connection with the history of the place. In 2006 a colony of 61 Streaked bombadier beetles was rediscovered in the docklands after having been presumed extinct since 1928. This has led to concerns about protecting the areas of brownfield land in East London – prime land for developers and the “upscaling” and inevitable extinction of local communities, human or otherwise.
Since the 1990s, Boyce’s work has evolved with participation as a defining feature. Boyce herself considers this important and central to her method; visible in the way that she worked with Newham residents and community groups to create the Crossrail mural. Looking through a geopolitical lens, the timing of the Elizabeth line is problematic. Boroughs like Newham, previously a working-class, disenfranchised area, are now witnessing an unprecedented period of gentrification. Crossrail, which prides itself on connecting London and the South East, seems opportune and provokes questions about why it is only now that South East London is being connected to central London with a “state-of-the-art” railway.
With this in mind, Boyce’s process, working with local people and communities, relates directly to one of the issues that Remembrance Day for Lost Species seeks to consider: exploring stories of cultures driven to extinction by unjust power structures. The mural not only remembers but celebrates the history of the area in all its forms, of people, of local flora and fauna, and of the diverse cultures which have created what it has been and will be.
Another example of Boyce’s work as starting a dialogue is her “takeover” of Manchester Art Gallery in January of this year. It involved collaboration to discuss two controversial paintings, one of which, Hylas and the Nymphs (by John William Waterhouse, 1896), features unsettling portrayals of women. Boyce started a dialogue about this piece and gender binary representations with a local drag group and museum staff, which culminated in on-site performances, an art piece in itself. During Boyce’s takeover, the painting was temporarily removed, which caused a furore about censorship, criticisms which Boyce has addressed in her conversation with the Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins.
Boyce’s work promotes conversation and thoughts about local communities’ role in creating art and questioning structures of power. Remembrance Day for Lost Species goes far beyond the animals and plants themselves, and seeks to bring the themes that Boyce discusses in her work – of race, class, gender and how the identities within these classifications are being threatened – to the fore.
Cloe Ofori is a writer and researcher based in Brighton, England.
For the last 5 years I have been in the habit of producing a collection of work each year according to my own brief. Usually this is an idea that forms within the completion of the previous year and then I have to fight with myself to abandon that one and get on with the new.
And so it was as last year’s Remembrance Day for Lost Species exhibition was being hung that I had begun my Hallowed Ground project. This idea hadn’t come to me fully formed and I’d had to do a lot of casting around for the inspiration to sort of glue together. Part of my process was to research ways that other cultures mark their grief, their death customs. This had led me to discover the practice of Sky Burial and Air Sacrifice.
Both practices are types of excarnation, whereby the corpse is placed outside to be exposed to the elements and scavenging animals. In the Mongolian practice of air sacrifice, I discovered the specific ritual of outlining the body with stones, and when the body has completely degenerated back into the natural world, the space within the stones has become a sacred space.
I found this very moving. Considering this concept and applying it to the world’s most critically endangered species made me think about how their habitats have become so rarefied and equally as threatened as to require reverence. The idea of a negative space as an artistic device representing an extremely special, precious and rare place.
I began to research animals on the IUCN Red List that are classified as Critically Endangered but that also have severely threatened habitats. My intention was to create a representation of their home that was both faithful and fantastical. A grave and an afterlife. A place that draws the viewer in to explore, hopefully to delight, and then to ask questions to discover the story of this rare and absent friend.
The Rio Pescado Stubfoot toad is so critically endangered that it may already be extinct. It lives in a tiny scrap of Ecuadorian lowland forest that is dwindling away, and lives nowhere else. Indeed, it’s loss of habitat due to agriculture, logging and pollution is the main threat to its existence. One third of all frogs and toads are on the verge of extinction, suffering an 80% loss in the last 3 decades.
The large tooth sawfish is one of the rarest fish in the world, and a living dinosaur, existing for 60 million years at least. Degradation of their preferred habitat of shallow coastal estuaries has removed them from 95% of their historical range. The sawfish has suffered a population decline of 80% since the ‘60s.
The Pygmy three-toed sloth is found only in a tiny area of red mangrove forest on Isla Escudo de Veraguas, Panama. Despite being an uninhabited island and designated a protected landscape, a number of domestic and international efforts have been mounted to develop tourism on the island. In addition, their mangrove habitat is also threatened, with one in six species facing extinction.
One of the world’s rarest mammals, only found on the Seychelles islands of Silhouette and Mahe, there are estimated only 30-100 individuals remaining. Roosting in granite boulder caves, an introduced invasive species of vine block the cave entrances and reduce insect availability, already in decline due to pesticide use.
A very small and beautiful tortoise only found in the Cape Floral Kingdom of South Africa. In fact, this is the only species in this series classed as Endangered (not Critically), however destruction of more than 90% of its habitat, an extraordinarily botanically diverse area, itself classed critically endangered as well as ‘100% irreplaceable’, earned its place.
This otherworldly electric blue arachnid only exists in the dry deciduous forest of Andhra Pradesh, India. Its habitat is rapidly degrading due to logging and firewood harvesting. Population size is unknown but the combination of a tiny natural range and pressure from illegal pet trade paints a sad picture.
Kate Tume is an embroidery artist from Brighton, East Sussex who first learned her craft at her mother’s knee. She attended the Surrey Institute of Art and Design as a Fashion and Illustration student, but is largely self-taught in hand-embroidery techniques. Kate’s work is influenced by folklore, mythology, burial customs and the old Gods. She is currently working on projects around our disappearing natural world, and lost species.
This piece is an extract from an article published at Slate. You can read the full text here.
I was dying. Not just in the way that we’re all inching inevitably toward our own deaths each moment; I was hurtling toward a specific death with a name, a shape, and a timeline. I was 37 years old and I was dying of leukemia.
I was lying in a hospital bed, so ill that diagnosis, when someone finally named the doom I had been feeling in my body for months, was a relief. At least the sense of vague terror and impending catastrophe I had been feeling had a name. A cure, in the shape of a stem cell transplant, was possible, but it required the complete and utter dissolution of myself, dangling my broken body over the edge of the very cliff a cure is meant to postpone.
It wasn’t just my body that dissolved in those weeks: My mind and soul were also broken apart, fragmented, and brought to the edge of ruin. In medical terms, I became depressed, hallucinatory, and delusional. And in medical terms, the team of doctors really didn’t have jack-shit to prescribe me except for patience.
I was visited by a mindfulness practitioner during this time, but I was too far gone for prolonged mindfulness practice, unable to bring myself to a set of exercises that had sustained me prior to illness. There was simply no self to bring. Instead my visitor asked me to count to four, in line with my breath. And then to do it again. And to come back to this simple counting whenever I needed it. I could get to four, and then four again. I could get through my pain, my nausea, my misery, for the count of four breaths. And then I could ask myself to do it again.
This practice didn’t make me feel better. I was still miserable and broken and absent. But it gave me the space to sit with that misery, call it by its name, and know its shape. That was valuable, just as the name and shape of the leukemia diagnosis had been valuable some months before.
Three months after my stem cell transplant, I returned back to my home, my husband and children, my life. One year later I returned to work as a professor of chemistry and environmental studies, teaching the same material I had taught before my illness. Some of it was banal: procedures for balancing chemical reactions, reassuring in their straightforward clarity. But some of it took on a new emotional significance—specifically, teaching about climate change, biodiversity, and extinction.
This planet is dying. Not just in the way that life on Earth is always, inevitably beginning and ending, that species are rising and falling, that extinction and evolution occur, and that temperature and sea levels cycle dramatically and irregularly. In the 21st century, Earth is hurtling toward a specific death with a shape, a name, and a timeline. It is dying of global warming, climate change, extinction, biological annihilation, and ocean acidification. The exact names and the exact timing is debated, but the overall trajectory of life on Earth is well-understood: We are in the midst of Earth’s sixth mass extinction, and the odds of human civilization reaching the 22nd century are often estimated at no better than 50/50.
The Environmental Justice Atlas documents and catalogues social conflict around environmental issues, mapping ecological conflicts and resistance to injustice, and fighting for environmental justice. It is a teaching, networking and advocacy resource – a database used by strategists, activist organisers, scholars, and teachers, as well as citizens wanting to learn more about the often invisible conflicts taking place.
Across the world communities are struggling to defend their land, air, water, forests and their livelihoods from damaging projects and extractive activities with heavy environmental and social impacts: mining, dams, tree plantations, fracking, gas flaring, incinerators, etc. As resources needed to fuel our economy move through the commodity chain from extraction and processing to disposal, at each stage environmental impacts are externalised onto the most marginalised populations. Often this all takes place far from the eyes of concerned citizens or consumers of the end-products.
The EJ Atlas collects these stories of communities struggling for environmental justice from around the world. It aims to make these mobilisations more visible, highlight claims and testimonies and to make the case for true corporate and state accountability for the injustices inflicted through their activities. It also attempts to serve as a virtual space for those working on EJ issues to get information, find other groups working on related issues, and increase the visibility of environmental conflicts.
Socio-environmental conflicts are defined as:
Mobilisations by local communities/ social movements – which might include support of national or international networks – against particular economic activities, infrastructure construction, or waste disposal/pollution, where environmental impacts are a key element of their grievances.
The atlas documents social conflicts related to claims against perceived negative social or environmental impacts with the following criteria:
These conflicts usually arise from structural inequalities of income and power. Dimensions of environmental justice include:
The action repertoires may include formal claim-making, petitions, meetings, demonstrations, boycotts, strikes, legal actions, civil disobedience, collective violence, international campaigns and other action forms. In the act of claiming redistributions, these conflicts often form part of – or lead to – larger gender, class, caste and ethnic struggles.
Growing consumption of resources is fuelling ever more conflicts globally. Most of these are used to satisfy the material needs of the rich segments of the world population. But over-consumption by the rich visits ecological violence on the poor. It is a story of luxury for some versus livelihood for many.
The search for resources to feed the growing global socio-metabolism of the economy also leads to an expansion of the “commodity frontiers”, with extractive projects now reaching the last untouched places on earth such as the Arctic, deep sea, remote forests inhabited by indigenous populations, or even the centres of industrialised economies, such as middle-class communities threatened by fracking. The EJ Atlas aims to expose and explain the material dimensions of socio-environmental conflicts related to extractivist economies, criminalisation of dissent, and lack of democratic participation and decisional processes.
Access to justice is often elusive for impacted communities as many companies enjoy impunity for grave human rights infractions, corruption, and other abuses. Through subsidiaries, for example, mother companies can escape prosecution for criminal acts. Local governments are often not able or willing to prosecute environmental crimes because they are desperate for much needed investment in strategic sectors, or have come to exchange agreements with them, or feel under threat by creditors and international finance institutions. At the same time, the home countries of the companies refuse to rein in their companies as their only objective is pushing their companies into new markets or getting geopolitical control over those territories. Increasing financialisation of the economy has made such global justice issues much more complicated, as the actors behind many decisions related to investments and projects are private investments funds, private equities, pension funds, etc which fall outside any democratic control.
To deal with this lack of accountability, civil society organisations argue for international mechanisms to deal with abuses, such as the Eradicating Ecocide initiative. Further, legal scholars argue that communities should have the right to seek justice in the home countries of the companies if it is not available at home.
In some cases, communities succeed in getting a seat at the table, changing laws and legislations and contribute to institutional changes that lead to more equitable outcomes and increased citizen participation in decision-making processes. Of the cases currently in the map, almost 18% have been qualified as “successes” for environmental justice by the reporter, when court cases were won, communities were strengthened, access to the commons was reclaimed, or projects were scrapped. These victories are a testament to the power of protest and the ability to impact the political process. They also show the transformative power of resistance, where communities gain in terms of self consciousness, community organising, political action and incisiveness, when they push forward alternative projects to the imposed ones and their own resistance narratives and life philosophy and cosmology concepts (like Sumak Kawsay, Ubuntu, Lekil Kuxlejal, Radical Ecological Democracy, etc).
To learn more about access to justice, watch this video: “Access to Justice and Extractive Industries”
Environmental justice was born as a slogan for the first time in the United States during the 1980s among Black and Latinx communities. They mobilised against injustices perpetrated in their communities by polluting industries and waste disposal facilities. It later became an analytical frame, largely in relation to concerns about the unequal distribution of social and environmental costs between different human groups, classes, ethnicities but also in relation to gender and age. EJ draws attention to the link between pollution, race and poverty, and tackles socio-spatial distribution of “bads” (emissions, toxins) and “goods” (like green spaces and better services).
It later expanded as a concept and theoretical framework, including multi-dimensional and interlinked aspects of justice related to three fundamental dimension of EJ: distribution, recognition and participation, as explained above. It has also globalised, tackling issues such as trade agreements, the transfers of wastes, climate change and the Rights of Nature and has served to link up groups and networks within a common similar frame and understanding.
The global dimension is evident when it comes to trade and environmental degradation. A mine, a dam, a road in the forest are not isolated objects but connected sites along which value flows, accumulation occurs and costs are externalised.
Environmental Justice is both a social movement and an activist/mobilised science, and thus offers the potential to bring together citizens, researchers and scholars to create knowledge as part of a global and globalising environmental justice movement.
Explore the EJ Atlas here. Like it on Facebook, and sign up for the newsletter. Please use and share the resources in its resource library and blog. If you have information about a conflict not included on the map, you are invited to add it. You may register here. Share the website and maps and help be a part of a growing global movement for environmental and social justice.
During the summer of 2017, British artist Marcus Coates travelled to Fogo Island, Newfoundland, to ask for an official apology to be given the Great Auk, a flightless bird once numerous around the island, but extinct since 1844 due to excessive hunting. The resulting film, Apology to the Great Auk documents a sincere attempt by the community of Fogo Island, through the specially appointed apology committee, to respond and learn from the loss of what can only now be imagined.
You can read the full text of the Apology on Marcus’ website here.
Marcus’ work uses a wide range of means to delve into the more-than-human world. It’s often participatory and often uses ritual. Well-known projects include The Trip and Arrivals/Departures, Rituals. Ask The Wild is an ongoing series of panel events that ask what can be learned from other species to inform the problems and questions about human society. This year, Marcus made Extinct Animals, a collection of cast hands depicting different animal species whose extinctions were caused by humans.
Photograph of Martha’s Flock 2014 memorial at the Life Cairn, Mount Caburn by Robin Taylor
The following transcript is taken from the CBC website:
Persephone Pearl is the director of ONCA, a environmental and social advocacy group based in Brighton, UK. She is one of the organizers that runs the Remembrance Day for Lost Species, an annual memorial dedicated to species and places forever lost to us.
“We will do something. We will do something beautiful. We will act in defiance. We will try something ridiculous in the face of this kind of overwhelming sorrow. That’s kind of permission-giving and then tears can follow once laughter has been generated.”
It is a day of music, fire (they call it a pollinator pyre), poetry and performance, all themed around a sense of universal loss for the whole planet.
“Simply put, Earth is in the early stages of the sixth mass extinction and we’re losing biodiversity at a breakneck speed. And creatures and plants and all sorts of living things are disappearing at a rate that is hard to comprehend or keep up with. My friends and I, and a lot of people, had the sense that we need to make spaces to focus on, think about, reflect on these kinds of changes.”
Each year commemorates a different extinct species. In 2018, they’re mourning the loss of the Steller’s sea cow, a large marine mammal whose living relatives are the dugong and the manatee. Steller’s sea cow was last seen in 1768 in the Bering Sea between Alaska and Russia. 2018 marks the 250th anniversary of its extinction, just a few years after it was first observed and named by Europeans.
Pearl knows the topic is overwhelming, discouraging and painful. But she says it’s vital to approach it in a spirit of hope. And – yes – laughter is allowed.
“It’s absolutely ok to laugh, I think laughter is really important because it’s part of it, isn’t it? It’s part of feeling. And I don’t think any particular feelings are forbidden. All feelings are welcome and I think we just want to cut into a space where feelings are welcome and difficult emotions just being swept aside or just blocked out – because I think a lot of the time…there is so much terrible stuff happening all around us, all the time. It’s overwhelming. Tired of bad news that surrounds us. You have to be quite careful with your feelings. You can’t feel too much or you feel like you might be losing your mind.”
Listen to the full interview here: http://www.cbc.ca/listen/shows/tapestry/segment/15551082
South Cumbria, June 6, 2018
this is hope
this is hope
lying in my hand
eyes tight shut
wings the tiniest of things
not ready to fly
limp blue legs
this is the heavy weight of hope
here in the meadow
among sorrel and buttercups
and the heat of a cloudless sky
hope, feathered and filched
flung to the ground
I do not know
if it was a crow
that took this curlew chick
or a fox
I do not know if the calls of the parent birds
that have been circling and calling
circling and calling
circling and calling
are calls of anger
or of sorrow
but in those haunting high-pitched cews
I hear no hope
hope lies here
at my feet
while the adults cry
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Next Saturday June 16th is the 9th annual Global Earth Exchange Day. Organisers Radical Joy for Hard Times invites people to ‘find and make beauty in wounded places”. http://www.radicaljoyforhardtimes.org/events/2018-global-earth-exchange/
There are 7 simple steps to doing an Earth Exchange:
This year, the Global Earth Exchange kicks off PEOPLE BINDING THE EARTH, a year-long project in which participants’ gifts to their beloved places will include marigold yellow yarn.
Where is your beloved, wounded place? Will you join in?