Rowan Sylva's Blogs

Forgotten Daffodils

By Rowan Sylva

Donegal, the far north west of Ireland, is a country as lashed by the waves of history as it is by the winds of the Atlantic that carved the coastline into its high cliffs and long tidal inlets. Recently we were lucky to travel in that land, once thought by Medieval Christian scholars to be the ends of the Earth. Geologically as well as culturally Donegal is close to Scotland. The people say “aye” and the wet mountainous region of the Scottish highlands finds its most westerly extension in Donegal, ending in the cliffs of Slieve League that are among the highest in Europe. Coming from the deep forests of Germany what struck me about the landscape, and indeed much of Ireland, was its bleakness. It is a land of high hills, coated in black mud, red heather, yellow grass, lichen spattered rocks and deep blue tarns. Few trees grow here and those that do are wind swept, gnarled and twisted.

Everywhere the land is dotted with old stone ruins, the houses of shepherds and fisherman who built without motor, or walls that demarcate long forgotten boundaries and provide some relief from the sharp wind. The locals tell different stories to explain this ghost ridden landscape. Some say it was the potato famine that emptied the land of its people. To others these ruins are reminders of the great exodus of the twentieth century when the young bordered boats bound for Boston, New York or Sydney. Whole generations emigrated from Donegal and left a country of sad old men and women. There is a cairn near here, an old Derry man tells us, and each rock in the cairn was placed by one of those that left, a last reminder of their life before they voyaged across the ocean never to return. There are those who view the abandoned landscape as a testament to more recent change. “There is nothing to hold the young people here” seems to be a common refrain of the people. Whatever the reason one thing is certain these bleak hills are a hard place to eke out a living, and one has to go back a long way to the days of the proud Gaelic King, O Donnel, to find a time when Donegal was prosperous. As one local put it, all the farmers can do, “is burn the heather to grow a sour, yellow grass for the sheep to eat.”

Politically Donegal has changed radically in the last twenty years. For much of the twentieth century it was cut off from most of the neighbouring counties by a closed border with Northern Ireland, while the IRA used it as a base from which to launch operations; the county still votes for leftist Sinn Fein candidates. This political and geographic isolation has shaped the modern county. But now that the borders are open, tourism provides a growing industry and many of the old ruins are being torn down and replaced by shining new holiday homes for rich foreigners who live there for two weeks in the year. The demand for land pushes up the prices, many choose to sell, and the land leaves local hands. One of our friends is adamant that these houses will also one day be ruins. A woman drives us past a stretch of windswept beach. The travelers, the irish gipsies used to come here, she tells us, but the council built walls to keep them out, and they come no longer.

Despite the centuries of entrenched Christianity, there is a pagan feeling here. At a pub two centuries old, the bar girl shows us how horseshoes were built into the wall to give the building good luck. Another local talks excitedly about a book he has read that documents the stone sculptures that dot the landscape and the neighbouring islands. These sculptures, that have an upright stone placed in a shallow stone bowl, are thought to have been constructed as curses against the Christian missionaries that first came to this land. Our friend from Derry tells us a story about a priest that cuts down the fairy tree. The priest dies of an illness.

Along the coast of Donegal, placed on the most outward pointing fingers of land, are the signal towers. The locals do not agree on exactly when or why they were built. Some say it was to warn against the attacking French during the Napoleonic Wars, some say to warn against the Spanish Armada. Everybody, however, agrees on their purpose. A fire would be lit at the top of the tower. The light or smoke would be seen from the next tower, and the signal would be carried swiftly around the coast. Their remnants are now home to ravens which pray on dying lambs.

Inland, Donegal has one of the largest national parks in Ireland – Glenveagh. The national park was first created as a hunting estate by John Aidar who claimed infamy by throwing 244 tenants off the land. He died before his dream of a grand hunting estate could be completed, but the work was finished by his widow. Now, thanks to John Aidar’s ruthlessness, Glenveagh is a nature reserve, home to Ireland’s largest heard of red deer, and the once extinct in the wild, golden eagle.

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During our journeys in Donegal we were, as the locals constantly reminded us, “lucky with the weather.” The sun shone during the day turning me red, and speckling Daniela with freckles, while during the night the stars blazed unusually bright. But on our last day as we hiked Horn Head, in the far north, the fog rolled up from the sea. Dense and thick, it cloaked the landscape, pouring through the stone ruins and marshy valleys. It gave the land a mysterious and beautiful quality, but it bought with it a ghostly chill that our warm clothes could not repel.

As we hitched homeward to catch our bus from Letterkenny we are picked up by an old man, perhaps he is in his eighties. He was a pharmacist. We ask him how life was for him in the old time. And he recalls a time when no one owned cars, and buses were rare enough. If you wanted to get to the next town you had to walk or catch a lift in a cart. The only time he becomes emotional is when we ask him about religion. “No one tells me what to do anymore,” he says, his voice tense, “no one tells me what to do anymore.”

  Photos by   Daniela Gast

Photos by Daniela Gast

 

Berlin’s Urban Wildlife

By Rowan Sylva

It was early March, and spring seemed to come all in one day. Around the neo-gothic courthouse which dominates the local park, snowdrops and buttercups had seemingly sprung up over night. I went to buy some breakfast from the local supermarket and saw another sure sign that spring had come; the corporate auguries were as finely attuned to the change of seasons as the snowdrops and the supermarket had been decked-out with garish looking bunnies wielding baskets of chocolate. It was no longer winter. As march turned to April the snowdrops were replaced by bluebells and crocuses. The willows, the last to shed their leaves were the first to regrow them and broke out in spring green. And though the Berliners have not yet donned their summer skirts and are still wrapped in winter coats, the sporadic sun does drive them from their flats.

Spring in Berlin is a great time for observing urban wildlife, which is perhaps more diverse than I might have thought, and in this post, I offer a summery of the local fauna I have been observing.

The bog-standard birds: they too deserve mention.

Pigeons: the local gang is active roosting on the roofs of flats staining building with their excrement and cooing in loud deep voices.

Crows: These large black and grey scavengers are possibly the most numerous bird in Berlin. The local unkindness (apparently that is a collective noun for crows)are the established bosses of the neighborhood. Their ominous caws and large flocks are emblematic of the city’s winter.

Ducks: living the good life, the local crew, of about twenty, floats up and down the river, reaping the bounty of the hominid’s generous bread donations. Now spring has started the iridescent males are fighting. Whenever I see them I am put in mind of a spaniard I knew who would tempt urban ducks with bread before breaking their necks and eating them.

Sparrows: no surprise that these promiscuous little buggers are found here.

Magpies: these large brutes are undoubtedly the most magnificent of the bog-standard birds. White and black, with a long iridescent blue tale and wings, they like to strut their stuff both in the park and on the street.

The not so bog-standard birds

Tits: there are a lot of tits in Berlin, great tits, blue tits, and long tailed tits. The blue tits appear to be the most prolific and are highly visible this time of year, drawing a lot of attention to themselves. Their chirp is much greater than their beak; they make a lot of noise.

Herons: these large majestic blue-grey fish eating wonders, a one of my favorites. Generally Loners these long necked, long legged pescetarians can be seen during the warmer months, hanging out on islands of debris in the middle of Berlin’s canals and rivers.

Falcons: without a doubt the most regal of the local birds. There are a breading pair nesting by the river just across the road. These apex predators control the pigeon, rat and rabbit population. I had an unusual incident at a party a month or so ago when I was explaining to a pair of serbian chicks how impressed I was to see how many falcons were active in the city. They did not believe me that they were here. I was rescued by a Berlin male who proved by use of his smart phone their well established position.

Starlings: these highly social sparkled backed beauties, are back from basking in the warm south for spring time. When the are not gathering in vast murmurations, they can be seen picnicking on worms along riverbanks or in parks.

Blackbirds: almost a bog-standard bird, I’ve never really understood why its called a black bird when the females are, in fact brown. These mildly aggressive, relatively small dudes, prefer nuclear families to larger social gatherings they are relatively common and their song can be heard above the ceaseless chirping of the tits.

Robins: these small yet buxom red breasted betties are not so common, but I have spotted one or two hanging among the tits, keeping a low profile.

Blue Bum: now we come to the mysterious and elusive Blue Bum. When walking along the Panke river right in the middle of urban Berlin, I from time to time spotted a bright turquoise bum speeding upriver, looking for all the world like a colorful humming bird. Blue bum was always traveling too fast to ever be observed properly, and for many months the identity of this exotic beauty has remained a mystery. Until recently that is, when discussing the appearance of blue bum with my neighbor I was able to identify him as an Eisvogel, the small not so common kingfisher. These shy and colorful little bastards are extremely territorial and if another of the species enters its stretch of water it will fight it to the death, attempting to drown it under water. The appearance of blue bum, however, is good news for the river as he or she requires good water quality and the existence of fish.

Stalks: these allegiant baby bringers have not yet arrived from their winter residence in Africa.

Treecreeper: As their name suggests these unusual fellows appear to spend their entire lives erratically scuttling up and down tree trunks. Their plumage is so well camouflaged that they can only be spotted when on the move, a definite weirdo.

Nightingale: Finally this all night party animal can occasionally be heard, singing on the treelined streets, when the drunks stagger home. Rumored to have the greatest vocal range of any bird, the nightingale is a sigil of poets and musicians.

Woodpecker: While the treecreepers are more discrete in bark scouring activities, the woodpeckers exhibits none of their inhibitions, proudly and loudly hacking into wood to extract invertebrates whenever they please.

Mammalia

Rattus Rattus: There is a local crew of common rats who have extensive network of holes down by the river and appear to spend much of their time swimming around. While the well intentioned hominids feed copious amounts of dried bread to the duck gang, I have a well founded suspicion that is in fact the rats that benefit most from this bounty. I have to remind myself that in Europe rats are not quite the evil introduced villains of New Zealand, but a natural part of the ecosystem.

Rabbits: I was surprised to discover that there is a sizable urban population of these diseased pests, the common bunny.

Red Squirrel: they’re red and their squirrels and they’re cute.

Fox: One of these lean, bushy tailed seductive vixens lives a short walk from my apartment, her hole opposite a kindergarten. Despite being a surprisingly large predator, she is a master of not being seen. So the one cool autumn day, caught in morning traffic, I saw her running for the trees.

Canis Lupus Familiaris: the common hund is a serous plague in Berlin, coming in every imaginable shape and size and littering every patch of green with their excrement. I have difficulty imagining what these large carnivores are doing when they are not straining on the leash of their corresponding hominid. Something should really be done to reduce their number.

Homo Berlinis: certainly the most numerous of all the urban fauna the hominid population of Berlin is as diverse as its bird life: some are migratory others are permanent residents. There are long legged loaners and flouncing beauties, and small yet territorial specimens. One thing they appear to have in common is an ample amount of leasure time that they spend lounging in parks or by waterways.

  Pictures by   Daniela Gast

Pictures by Daniela Gast

California runs out of water: Nicolas Cage has a bad morning

By Rowan Sylva

California is running out of water. Scientists now claim that the worst drought in a millennia is striking the world’s fifth largest economy, an effect of climate change. The situation is greatly exacerbated by the mining of  “fossilized ground water,” irreplaceable reserves of fresh water underneath the ground. As the drought takes its toll more ground water is mined, but now even that is beginning to run low, and NASA predicts thatCalifornia could run out of water in just one year. But what does this mean? Let us imagine.

It’s another blazing hot day in Orange County. There is not a shred of cloud in the sky. It’s forty-five degrees centigrade in the shade. But Nicolas Cage doesn’t feel it, locked safely within the walls of his new, Newport beach mansion. He has had a late night. His head pounds. He needs water, water and pain killers, water to rehydrate his aging body – he’s to old for this kind of drinking. He opens the fridge to fumble for a bottle of mineral water, but he’s out.

Cage takes a glass from the cupboard and flicks his hand over the electric tap. Nothing happens. Then there is unsettling gurgling and a brown brackish sludge spurts out of the faucet. He looks at it with disgust. Another gurgle, than nothing. Problems with the plumbing? This can’t be happening. His head is hurting now, pounding. He throws back the pain killers and washes them down with a beer.

Standing inside his large mahogany paneled bathroom, Cage pisses into the gleaming porcelain bowl. He pushes the button for the flush, but nothing happens. He watches the yellow froth mingle with what seems to be an unusually precious pool of water. He washes his hands with whisky. He’s not sure what to make of his plumbing problem. He stares out toward his large bean-shaped swimming pool. Its empty. Was it empty yesterday? As he watches, a gust of dry wind blows across the yard bringing dust shriveled leaves into the aqua blue pool.

Cage opens a packet of salted almonds and chews on them slowly. A door opens and his house keeper enters carrying a stack of dry-cleaned towels. What are the point of towels if there’s no water? The house keeper gives a slight curtsy acknowledging the apprising look of her employer. Cage has never adhered to the modern mantra that a good housekeeper is invisible. Indeed his current wife, who he hasn’t seen for several weeks, was a waitress. There is something that Cage finds appealing in talking directly to staff. He likes to awe people with his celebrity. It gives him a feeling of worth and his house keeper, well she’s a competent and pretty Italian.

“Something’s wrong with the plumbing,” Cage remarks, “could you call the water guys.”

The house keeper stares back at her employer with a look of bewilderment. “You, you haven’t heard?” She averts her eyes.

“Heard what?”

“California, it’s run out of water.”

“But do they know who I am? They can’t just cut off my water. I’m Nicolas Cage.”

“But, but, its been allover the news for weeks. Everybody is leaving. It’s nothing personal. There’s just no water left. We’ve used it all and now its gone.”

Cage, keys to his new Mercedes in hand, strides out of the house and onto the lawn. He is instantly hit by the burning heat of the sun like he has just walked into an incinerator. He stares for a few moments at a sign one of the staff has put up, “keep off the grass,” it reads, “fresh paint.”

Cage stares for a few moments at the bright green grass. It’s funny it looks almost real. He gazes at his prize Spanish oaks. They’re tough trees, but they’re dying. Their leaves are shriveled green. He has to go somewhere where there is water. But where will he go? Where has everybody else gone?

Image by Daniela Gast

Reclaimed By The Forest

By Rowan Sylva

Konstancin, Poland – the habitable town transitions seamlessly into the crumbling ruins reclaimed by the forest. Indeed the town itself is a forest. Where elsewhere the yards, lawns and gardens would be well trimmed, groomed and delineated, here the trees grow through the lawns just as they do in the nearby unbuilt-in forest, where the trunks of the trees are ghostly blue with lichen.

The shop is one corner of an abandoned mansion, behind it the decaying spiral staircase has roots of myriad broken bottles from myriad drinking sessions. The church grounds are thick with eager saplings. Its steeple hangs crooked. It’s interior is a ruin. Crows nest in its rafters. Its terrace, where once men and women waited for communion in their sunday best, is another drinking spot. A pile of ash and a charred log show evidence of a fire. We drink a round of vodka.

My old friend tells me that these buildings are from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, before the first war, in this town’s glory days after it was founded, and named after the countess Constance. On the back of the church a recent detailed piece of stencil art commemorates the 1943 jewish ghetto uprising.

Looking at the art, I have a feeling of synchronisity – the flat, where we have been staying in the city, was part of the big Ghetto. From there the Polish Jews, the largest Jewish population in Europe, were contained before being sent to the death camps. Poland was once a multi cultural land, with large minorities of Jews and Gipsies. It is no longer so.

We cross a small canal where the roots of a moss covered oak tree now extend across it, forming a bridge to the estate behind – the servants quarters, the stables, all peeling wallpaper, crumbling plaster, but solid stone. The noble’s house was built to last but it too has been swallowed by the wood.

The talk of the town is of the wild boar that infest the forest and increasing the heart of the town itself. One of the residents swears that the boars are the size of Ponies. Two others tell us to be careful of being attacked by these beasts as we approached the deeper parts of the forest. And everywhere, even on the mown avenues and the grounds of the bank in the centre of town are gored into a mess of turned earth by their feeding.

As we walk along the trail leading through the wetland back toward the house of my friend, we catch a glimpse of geese migrating north. The singing of a nightingale heralds the coming evening as we walk past trees ringbarked by Beavers. We walk back, back to borscht, hot beat root soup. There is a beauty to towns like Konstancin. For though the council tries to mask it, with their electric lit mown park. Konstancin is a town partly reclaimed by the forest and therefor it is a reminder of temporal nature of civilisation and ultimately our great glass cities. For one day perhaps they too will be taken by the primordial boar infested forest. I certainly hope so.

  Photos by   Daniela Gast

Photos by Daniela Gast

 

Mars Settlement: You Too Could Make Your Way To The Promised Land

By Rowan Sylva

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For those who have not heard, Mars One, a project to establish a permanent human colony on the red planet is well under way. In ten years time the first colonists are scheduled to arrive from their eight-month one-way journey. They are to spend the rest of their lives on Mars – their dream. The Mars One official webpage sells it well. In 2013, 200, 000 people applied to become colonists. A lucky one hundred were selected for intensive and rigorous training.

Once on Mars the colonists are to live in 200 square meter pods. And are to begin growing their own food – specifically tomatoes and rice. They will apparently be able to shower in the “wet room.” They may leave the pods, putting on Mars suits, and are expected to conduct research. Further colonists are to land on the planet every two to four years, expanding the settlement. Presumably food will continue to be sent to the colonist as long as Mars One doesn’t run out money or the settlers become self sustaining permiculturalists.

This all sounds very well, How glorious for the human race. But Mars One moves into the bizarre and slightly grotesque, when one considers their business plan. The project requires an overall budget of around six billion US Dollars. Governments aren’t funding it; it is the ailing entertainment industry that is expected to cough up. Mars colonization is to be funded by making it the most expensive reality TV show ever made.

The contestants competing for the privilege of living on this red wasteland full of solar radiation and an unbreathable atmosphere are to be chosen by popular ballot by viewers. The final frontier becomes less the heroic expansion of mankind and more a perverse version of Americas Next Top Model. Living on Mars sounds bad enough to me, but living on Mars in some kind of weird Truman Show sounds much worse.

However, there are plenty of people that are keen. Or are there? Last week IFL Science reported that a Mars One finalist and Nasa researcher, Joseph Roche, left the project amid criticism that Mars One was a shambles. Allegedly contestants are not picked on their suitability but on the amount of money they contribute. Roche claimed he had not undergone any training other than filling out questionnaires. Instead he explained a point system where candidates are awarded points based on how much money they spend. Roche said it was untrue that there were 200, 000 applicants, claiming there were 2,671. Bas Landsthorpe, CEO of Mars One denies the allegations calling them, “lies.”

But why listen to the haters, when, as The Mars One website describes, we could be like, “the ancient Chinese, Micronesians, and untold Africans, the Vikings and famed explorers of Old World Europe.” But the ancient colonizers were after all going into the unknown, to discover fertile lands. In this case we know where they’re going – a cold lifeless planet. The website explains the arduousness of the eight month journey but claims the colonists will endure it, “because this will be the flight carrying them to their dream.” Yeah great, they can look forward to their fifty square meter pod and the odd fresh tomato, while people on earth watch them go steadily insane on youtube and their backers runout of money.

The Mars One website provides some examples of the kind of the discussions with the Mars colonists that the earth dwellers might find interesting – “What is it like to walk on Mars? How do you feel about your fellow astronauts after a year? What is it like living in the reduced Mars’ gravity? What is your favorite food? Do you enjoy the sunsets on Mars?”

I’ve taken the liberty of preemptively answering these questions.

What is it like to walk on Mars? Really boring. Its rock and dust.

How do you feel about your fellow astronauts after a year? I want to kill them.

What is it like living in the reduced Mars’ gravity? I live in a fucken pod. What do you think?

What is your favorite food? I haven’t had a shipment of food in five years. Is that supposed to be funny?

Do you enjoy the sunsets on Mars? I want to kill you too.

The very thought of living on Mars makes me realize how precious Earth is. And if we can raise six billion US dollars to colonize a freezing waterless wasteland shouldn’t we be able to raise at least a similar sum to save our own planet from destruction.

 

Confucius and Materialism

By Rowan Sylva

Materialism: An ideology and philosophical disposition that afflicts both poor and rich. It pervades modern capitalist society. Screams from now moving billboards, depicting luscious airbrushed beauties wielding shopping bags filled with stuff, their larger than life eyes scream for you to buy more. The cult of the super rich, cars, rolexes, money, the dream, materialism saturates our society. Materialism makes us sad. Materialism atomises us, isolates us. It makes us envious. It makes us apathetic. In places where spiritual ideologies once supported zero growth economies, the glittering golden allure of materialism drives people to destroy environments that once supported them. Beijing was once a city known for having ten million bicycles; today it has ten million Mercedes and unbreathable air. There can be little doubt the materialism is the engine of climate change.

We all struggle to contain the dangerous pull that materialism exerts on our own hearts and minds. One way in which we can combat the ideology of materialism is to evoke the powerful moral ideologies of the ancients. In this article I look at the Analects of Confucius.

Why Confucius? China has become a global hub of conspicuous consumption, wedded to a philosophy of endless growth and driven by materialism. But for more than two millennia, from the founding of Qin dynasty to the fall of the Qing, China was governed by Confucianism; stability took precedence over growth and to a certain degree, moral development took precedence over wealth accumulation. An ideology that so clearly offered a persuasive alternative to capitalism deserves investigation. Confucianism provides a personal moral philosophy without positing the need for a higher spiritual power, making it palatable for those with atheistic dispositions. Confucianism strongly critiques materialist dispositions, and, ironically, it can be read as a radical alternative to the modern-day paradigm.

Confucius has never sold well in the West, associated with a rather dry adherence to perceived irrelevant rituals of ancient China; western consumers prefer to engage in Daoist texts finding mystery in their unintelligible sentences and profundity in their rejection of moral standards. But I love the Analects. Unlike the Daoist texts something of Confucius the person, flawed, stubborn yet unwavering in his conviction shines through the centuries of editing. The prose is crisp. The story of his wandering is captivating, and through the remnants of his words we glimpse the man who birthed an ideology.

Here I have collated some passages which deal most directly with issues of materialism, and invite the reader to muse over them.

3.4: Lin Fang asked about the root of ritual. The Master said, “An important question! In ritual it is better to be frugal than extravagant. In funeral ritual it is better to be guided by one’s grief than to simply follow what is done.”

4.8: The Master said, “If a gentleman sets his heart on the dao but is ashamed to wear poor clothes and eat poor food, he is not worth engaging in serious conversation.”

4.12: The Master said, “If one allows oneself to follow profit, many will have cause for complaint.”

4.16: The Master said, “The superior person comprehends according to right. The small man comprehends according to profit.”

6.11: The Master said, “How worthy is Hui! A simple bowl of food and a dipperful of drink, living on a shabby lane – others could not bare the cares, yet Hui is unchanging in his joy. How worthy is Hui!”

7.12: The Master said, “If wealth may be ethically sought, though it would be as lowly bearer of the whip I too would pursue it. If it cannot be ethically sought, I will follow what I love.”

7.16: The Master said, “To eat coarse greens, drink water, crook one’s elbow for a pillow – joy lies therein. Wealth and high rank obtained by unrighteous means are to me like the floating clouds.”

7.17: When the Master fished he did not use a net; when he hunted he did not shoot at nesting birds.

7.36: The Master said, “extravagance leads toward delinquency. Thrift leads toward uncouthness.It is better to be uncouth than delinquent.”

10.14: When the stables burnt, the Master returned from court asking, “Was anyone hurt?” He did not ask about the horses.

 

Radical Philosophy and the Question of Leadership

By Rowan Sylva

On Saturday I attended the 2015 radical philosophy conference in Berlin. Held in the House of Culture and the World, the conference drew a sizeable crowd. I attended two panel discussions: Animalities andOrganisation.

 

Animalities focused on the animal world in capitalism, the first speaker, possibly my favourite of the day spoke about the philosophical move away from a behaviourist view of the animal world, arguing instead for an approach that viewed animals as individual political actors with their own desires and consciousness.The speaker used the examples of habitat, a word that is usually assumed to denote a set of ecological conditions in which a species can live, the speaker argued that such a position was flawed because animals often have a connection, even an attachment to a specific place. The second speaker reiterated the position of the “animal turn” during the seventies, arguing for its continued validity and rejection of the use of animal products. The third speaker laid out a Marxist analysis of animals in human communities, arguing that they were the ultimate “proletariat” and discussed the ways in which working animals have resisted their exploitation. Though the third speaker had a good rapport with the audience, I felt he stretched his point a bit far.
By the time the second panel discussion, Organisation, was under way it became clear to me that the whole conference was really a Marxist symposium that had lured much of the audience to the event on the pretence that it was about general radical philosophy. The odd non-Marxist on the panel were, it appeared, simply straw-men for the Marxist organisers. Nevertheless the discussion on organisation did raise interesting points and ones that do indeed apply to the global left and can be applied to the climate action movement in particular.

 

  •         The premises from which the panel debated were as follows
    1.  Leninism traditionally provided a successful strategic model for left wings groups wanting   to take power.
    2.   Leninism and its various twentieth centuries off shoots have become widely discredited.
    3.  In response to the rejection of Leninism, (and I would add Marxism generally) the global left has centred on mass decentralised movements e.g., Occupy Movement, Ferguson protests, Anti austerity movements in Europe etc.
    4.  These movements, though laudable, have failed to keep up their momentum and ultimately fizzled out, failing to produce any meaningful social change.
    5. They failed because they lacked the leadership to carry them forward.
    Conclusion: A rethink of leadership structures in left wing movements is needed if they are to compete with the rising popularity of the new extreme right.

In looking for a solution to this leadership problem the first speaker’s solution was to look back, before Leninism, before Marxism, back to Hegel, and the concept of the Hegelian monarch, the idiot monarch. His argument posited that in order to galvanise people a figurehead was needed, somebody like an Obama but with credibility, who through having a common appeal could unite people and appeal to the masses, even idiots, as he could be an idiot himself. The charismatic appeal of this kind of leader would hold the movement together and take its momentum forward while getting around the abuse of power that springs from Leninist centralisation by absolving the leader of any real power, he would be a unifying symbol a figure head, while the real organisation of the movement would be in the hands of more decentralised and democratically organised cells.  The Hegelian model has a kind of Taoist essence that appeals to me – “the greatest leaders are those that do not lead.”
The second speaker, had more contemporary and less theoretical content, he pointed to the South American, “Bolivarian,” approach to leadership, where left wing movements maintained a focus on leadership and personality, and combined this with the, “yes we can,” slogan co-opted by Obama from the South American movements. According to this speaker this combination of positive campaigning and strong leadership had built the strongest left wing movements in the world and that they had arisen from the ashes of the brutal Monroe doctrine (from the sixties to the eighties US installed regimes waged a political genocide on the South American left.) This “Bolivarian” approach, the speaker argued, had inspired the strategy and organisation of the hugely successful Podamos party in Spain (the name of the party translates as “yes we can”). Podamos is a far left party that grew out of the Indignado Movement – a protest movement with links to Occupy – they have however taken the momentum forward, and placed a heavy electoral focus on their charismatic leader, Pablo Iglesias. They are currently the highest polling party in Spain, were only founded last year and are now poised to win the general election in December.
As Andrew Dobson, author of the comprehensive Green Political Thought, demonstrates ecologists – with the exception of some thinkers who advocate a kind of green authoritarianism arising form a frustration with anthropocentric liberalism – are deeply suspicious of centralised power. Most green thinkers advocate the diffusion and decentralisation of political power as a central tenet of the sustainable society. There are myriad reasons why and this article is not the place to expound them, surface to say that a glance at twentieth century history shows a strong coloration between centralisation and environmental destruction; while successful conservation efforts tend to be on the part of mobilised local communities.  Decentralised localism is a strand that connects much deep ecological thought e.g., bioregionalism, transition towns. This model has had notable successes (the Bougainville war, where native tribes successfully threw out an international gold mining company is my favourite example).
Climate change, however, poses problems for the localised model of organisation. Though it has both local causes and local effects, it is a global problem and requires a global response. Perhaps climate activists, like the Marxist philosophers hosting the conference should re-examine their organisation and the role of leaders. Perhaps they and the green movement generally could learn from the “yes we can” movements of South America.

 

Winter is coming, and the night will be long, dark and filled with terrors

By Rowan Sylva

Early November in Berlin, and winter is indeed coming, causing the thermometer on our window to plunge below ten degrees. With each passing day the sun hangs lower in the sky giving a perpetual sense of evening. The wild geese swarm south, the swallows are no longer seen, but the flocks of crows become more visible and more vocal. The trees turn gold and red and shed their leaves into the streams which clog with Autumn’s debris. And one can almost hear the howling of wolves in the blood-red forests of Brandenburg. People also prepare. A man on the street puts winter tires on his car, the neighbours stock up on coal and we fill our cellar with wood scavenged from the forest to heat our nineteenth century flat. The pot of mulled wine sits slowly heating on the wood stove.

A new study, using comprehensive computer modelling demonstrates, that global warming doubles the probability of severe winters in Europe. The Arctic warms at a faster rate then the rest of the world, and freezing air is pushed south, over Eurasia. This, combined with a possible slowing of the Gulf Steam, is a recipe for the kind of Arctic weather that caused the great lakes to freeze, and it to snow in Florida, as temperatures fell to as low -38 Celsius in parts of the USA last winter. The phenomenon of severe winters is claimed by the authors of the study to be temporary (a couple of decades) before overall warming changes the climatic model.

Whether or not the coming European winter will be severe, or even below average temperature, is open to speculation, however, analysis of early snow fall in Siberia provides an indication that 2014/15 could be bitterly cold. And if it is severe it could initiate a political and humanitarian crisis in Europe, as the continent’s “new cold war” gets even colder. America’s severe winter cost the economy around five billion dollars, and similar damage could be inflicted on Europe, but it is the situation in Ukraine that should cause the most concern.

A friend of mine recently returned from Ukraine, where he was visiting his girlfriend’s family, and described the situation there as dire. Cut off from Russian gas supplies, Ukrainians have no hot water and no central heating. On top of this people are being drafted to fight the Russians in the east after completing a measly three months military training – a veritable death sentence. The bankrupt government is unable to pay its civil servants and it is cheeper to drive to Poland and back to buy medicine then to purchase it in Kiev. If this sounds bad it is nothing to the effect a severe winter would have on a population cut off from its primary heating resource – gas. General Frost may once again prove to be Russia’s greatest military asset.

If a severe winter strikes, western Europe and Kiev must come to an agreement with the Russians to prevent the potential mass deaths, as western Europe lacks both the infrastructure and the reserves to supply Ukraine with its heating needs. This problem would be exacerbated by skyrocketing demand for heating in western Europe itself, and associated spiking gas prices. If, and it’s a big if, a severe winter strikes, it has the possibility to draw Europe closer together and indeed to create peace, or it could tear it irrevocably apart.

 

Europe’s re-wilding

By Rowan Sylva

When I arrived in Europe last year there was one thing that struck me about the continent: its thriving natural environment. Coming from New Zealand, I had been conditioned to see Europe as a kind of overpopulated boiling pot whose natural beauty and biodiversity had been nearly annihilated by centuries of environmental destruction. How pleasantly surprised I was to find it covered in forest, 45 percent of it, a percentage considerably larger than New Zealand. Not only this, but there were truly wild places. The forest teamed with wild boars, foxes terrorised the farms and vultures circled in the sky. Native birds and mammals were thriving. Europe was, and is, undergoing a peculiar wildlife resurgence. This is detailed in a 2013 EU report, Wild Life Come Back in Europe. The study uses a geographic notion of Europe and includes European Russia (ending at the Ural Mountains). It maps the growth of a range of species between 1960 and 2005. The results are very encouraging.

The 1950s were the nadir for Europe’s iconic species. Wide scale persecution, over exploitation, land clearing, industrialisation, pollution, deliberate poisoning and habitat loss had driven Europe’s iconic fauna to the edge of extinction. Half a century later, however, things had changed.

Between 1960 and 2005 european bison, the largest native herbivore, increased its wild population by more than thirtyfold. The largest populations are in Poland and the Carpathians, but new herds have recently been introduced in Germany, Romania, France and Spain, and they have a current Europe population of over 12,000.

The alpine ibex population has increased fourfold over the same period, becoming a common sight in the Italian Alps. The eurasian elk, the largest living deer, more than doubled its population. Moving south and west from Scandinavia and Russia, elk have significantly increased their range into Europe’s north and east, with sightings as far west as Germany and Austria. Roe deer, the most common species of deer in Europe, also more than tripled its population, returning to territory where they had not been seen for centuries, such as the British Isles and the coastal regions of France. The more majestic red deer has done even better, more than quadrupling its population and doubling its range, it now claims the peculiar title of largest ungulate biomass on the continent; in terms of weight there is now more wild red dear than farmed cattle.

Wild boar has perhaps claimed the prize of most successful species in the resurgence. They have increased their population sixfold, and these savage beasts, as seen in Asterix comics, now inhabit every corner of Europe, their population is now so large and growing that they pose major problems for farmers, as well as being a leading cause of road accidents. As these resilient animals encroach onto suburbia they are one of the great success stories of Europe’s re-wilding.

Predators are also returning. Golden jackals are rapidly increasing their range, moving north and west from the eastern Balkans. The jackal has recolonised places as far as borders of Italy, and all of Hungary. It is the grey wolf, however, that is the success story of Europe’s resurging predators. Centuries of severe persecution saw the near collapse of the wolf in Europe, but their population has increased fivefold between 1960 and 2005, and there now may be around 25,000 wolves in Europe. More dramatic then population increase is its increase in range, expanding in Spain and colonising northern Italy, southern France, eastern Germany and Poland. There have been sightings of wolves as far afield as Belgium and Holland. The eurasian lynx meanwhile has increased its population sixfold, and these long eared cats now stalk the forests in central Germany, and has been reintroduced to the Scottish Highlands. Brown bears, the worlds third largest terrestrial predator, have doubled in population and are currently expanding in the Italian Alps.

The above information is just a sample of the species which have resurged in Europe, including many bird species. The period of resurgence has correlated with a period of reforestation in Europe, and has been driven by a range of factors such as changing attitudes, rural abandonment, conservation legislation, and de-industrialisation. But before we drink to Europe, and sacrifice a goat to the old pagan gods, there are a couple of points that must be raised. Firstly, the future of the resurgence is less certain, as the exploding population of particularly, wolves, bears and boars bring them into conflict with humans.

Bears are large and potentially dangerous predators, occupying a similar place in the food chain to humans. With bears, peaceful though their intentions may be, encroaching into settled areas, humans, who by nature are manically aggressive when frightened, could respond in hostile ways. In the spring of this year a male brown bear attacked and killed a man who was foraging for mushrooms in the dolomite mountains. Local authorities wanted to kill or capture the bear, but due to the lobbying of environmentalists, the bear was neither executed nor incarcerated; he continues to be at large, keeping the mushrooms for himself. Wolves, particularly in Spain, have been inflicting severe damage to livestock. Since 2007 wolves in Spain have killed 13,000 sheep, 200 hundred goats and several hundred cows, with around 1500 attacks annually. While environmentalists are celebrating the wolf’s return, spanish sheep farmers are not. Boars with their exploding populations are a major threat to arable land, particularly in Germany where the population growth has been greatest. In 2010 a group of wild boars attacked a man in a wheelchair in Berlin. Well in the same year about 24 of the animals entered the town of Eisenach, where they “terrorised” the town folk. In another incidence a group of boars broke through the barriers of an autobahn and shut down the motorway for several hours. In short, Europe’s wildlife resurgence will test true green credentials of its citizens as they adjust to sharing their continent with others.

There is a more serious criticism of Europe’s re-wilding. Despite the explosive rise of iconic species, overall biodiversity continued to decline in Europe over the same period; while big fauna are having a boom, rare insects are continuing to become extinct. Europe’s wildlife resurgence did not correlate to any boom in ocean wildlife, which, due to continued over fishing and pollution, is at the point where fish stocks are facing collapse. On top of this the European resurgence took place during a period of global biodiversity collapse including large fauna world wide. This accompanied sustained (though a decelerating rate of) deforestation globally. Thus, the charge that people I have spoken to who have expressed, that Europe is exporting its environmental destruction. Climate change is also adversely effecting Europe’s Arctic ecosystems.

Despite these gloomy thoughts Europe’s resurgence is great news, and heralds one major achievement by Europeans. They have had a consciousness shift around the way they view their feathered and furry kin. As recent as last century, wolves, bears and other wildlife had bounties on them, and were slaughtered in mass. Animals were unjustly persecuted. That cruel and merciless attitude seems on the way out. The economic damage inflicted by bears, wolves and boars is tolerated because many Europeans would rather live with the odd boar attack, than live in a world without boars.

Targeting extraction: the only way forward for climate action

By Rowan Sylva

This week’s UN climate summit looks likely to be the biggest fizzer since the League of Nations tried to stop World War II. For a start this years UN climate summit is to be an informal discussion to which big polluters are invited to attend and even present at a private sector luncheon. On top of this the Chinese and Indian presidents are not even bothering to attend and none of the issues that caused an impasse in Copenhagen five years ago look likely to be resolved. The issue of ocean acidification, moreover, will not be discussed. Add to the mix the fact that important countries like Canada and Australia are being run by environmentally hostile governments, in the pocket of big polluters and you have a recipe for a waste of time. The UN at present is so divided that member states cannot even work cooperatively to contain the Ebola virus. Anybody who thinks for a second that positive action will result form this summit is putting on a blindfold. At best we can expect a bit of guilt-elevating green-wash, of the kind that Naomi Cline as so articulately exposed. At worst we can expect a complete collapse of any semblance of international action on climate change.

But what about the mass climate rally in New York that urged leaders to do something? It was, as far it could be expected, a success, attracting around 300, 000 people, as large as comparable actions protesting the Iraq war (a lot of good they did), larger than the largest Vietnam protest, and bigger than any comparable rallies for an environmental issue in American history. The targeting of Wall Street by the protest was a good tactical move, because as one stockbroker put it, “ I think its bullshit… anything that makes clients money is good for my clients, and its good for the countries economy.” So yes investment is driving pollution.

The protest made headlines world wide, bringing some media attention to the issue. All of this is good and a testament to the organization that went into the event, however, the notion that the protest will have an effect on the outcome of the summit is utterly naive; there is no historic evidence to suggest that these kind of protests affect the negotiations. Unlike actions such as strikes they exert no hard power over political actors.

What the global day of action showed us is that there are enough people that care: but what should they do? Answer: target extraction. Extraction is the polluter’s weak point. it is dependent on limited physical infrastructure. It can be subjected to legal disputation over land rights. A simple, peaceful blockade can cost the polluter money, delay delivery of their product and affect their bottom line. Local people of all stripes and colours usually oppose the development of nearby extraction projects – because they are horrible. A lot of extraction takes place in rich countries where there are relatively strong environmental movements. It also often takes place in areas of natural value. This means that even those not concerned with climate change may be willing to oppose them.

It is worth noting that once a polluting fuel or substance is extracted it will be used. Shutting down existing extraction and blocking the development of new extraction projects nips pollution in the bud; if it’s not extracted it won’t be burned. This is the most effective form of carbon capture. Stopping extraction is the simplest way for governments to take action. They don’t need to argue about the details of carbon taxes or emission trading schemes. They simply need to shut down the mines and not offer new contracts – problem solved. There is a reason why governments won’t be discussing shutting down extraction programs at the UN summit, that’s because it works. Finally extraction is the one part of the pollution process, where small but dedicated action groups can have a big impact – this is demonstrated by the very effective way that environmental groups in the USA and Canada have managed to reduce carbon emissions by targeting pipeline projects from Canadian tar sand.

In my view climate actions groups should pivot their action toward targeting extraction and only extraction. They should not bother spending their precious little money on lobbying government and industry; they won’t listen, and if they respond, it will be with green wash. Some people in the climate movement argue that it is better to use every method there is to affect change. I respectfully disagree. A global movement with limited resources needs to focus on where it can best effect change. In the words of Frederic the Great, “He who defends everything, defends nothing.” What money, climate groups do have, should be spent on a two-pronged strategy: supplying ongoing peaceful blockades on essential extraction infrastructure, and fighting new extraction projects in the courts. Groups should not mobilize in cities to call for climate action; they should mobilize in the local areas where extraction is taking place and where direct action can affect polluter’s bottom lines.

 

Berlin’s climate rally: a report on the global day of action

By Rowan Sylva

The Berlin climate rally, (part of the global day of action in solidarity with the 300, 000 strong march in New York) was a rather relaxed affair, with estimates of the number of people ranging between 4,000 and 15,000. Unlike recent marches in Berlin demanding rights for refugees, there was a negligible police presence and the event had a more a feeling of a street festival than an angry protest.

Hot vegetarian food was served from long trestle tables, while stalls representing various interest groups, handing out literature and promoting their cause, lined the street. There was even a row of lovely wooden composting toilets, set up to service the needs of the protestors. Green balloons were the mark of the protest and every man and his dog had one of these heart shaped helium bubbles, complete with an attached message to the UN, demanding action on climate change.

A stage was set up under Brandenburg Gate, and a local political ska band provided entertainment for the masses, while on the other side of the famous triumphal arch, a silent climate disco was going on, as hip young greenies boogied down with earphones and the DJ cranked the silent beats from a tuktuk.

Further down the Seventeenth of June Street there were various other installations: a bed in the middle of the street with a “fuck coal” canopy, a bamboo structure with the message, “get angry,” a message that seemed at odds with the relaxed and happy throng. My attention was drawn to a sculpture, a permanent fixture on the avenue since 1989, named “the caller,” a bare foot man his eyes to the sky, his hands around his mouth calling the cry for peace.

By the titanic monument to the Russian victory over the Nazi’s attendees of the gathering had hung their green balloons and placed a green banner into the barrel of the tank’s gun.

Large rubber balls bounced around the crowd carrying the message to divest from fossil fuels, while a rather sad looking panda wandered, lonesome through the crowd. There were the usual messages, banners and signs of group affiliation.

der-rufer.jpg

At some point the band was replaced on the stage by some speakers to amp up the audience these included a bedraggled looking polar bear, and an Angela Merkal Impersonator. The event climaxed with the release of the helium balloons, which floated to the sound of applause through the cold autumn air, over the statue of Lady Victory, bearing their messages of climate action to the UN gathering in New York. But will they make it? and who I wonder will read them.

In conclusion Berlin’s climate rally was a pleasant event. It attracted the usual suspects, the young and the beautiful, the hip and the hairy, the veges and the vegans. The event was well organised; it was also entertaining and inclusive. But it was a far cry from the kind of mass nonpartisan movements that must shake the gates of Hell if they want governments to listen. Photographs by Daniela Gast.

 

A bitter aftertaste, election will divide NZ

By Rowan Sylva

It is an interesting week for the politically minded – the Swedish election, the Scottish referendum and the New Zealand election. And the results from the first of these are out; what they highlight are a divided and politically polarised electorate. The Swedish left coalition won the election, but the far right anti-immigration party held the balance of power. With all other parties refusing to work with the neo-fascist party, the new Swedish government is a minority one that will struggle to pass any legislation. The surge in support for the neo-fascists show an increasing divide between a racist right and a progressive left, a divide that has effectively frozen Sweden’s democracy.

Several commentators on the Scottish referendum have pointed out that, with polling neck and neck between “yes” and “no” and record voter turnout, that whatever the final result, it will leave behind a divided nation. The rising passion for independence and the desire among Scots to free themselves from the rightwing Westminster yoke is unlikely to simply disappear in the event of “no” majority. The same applies in the case of a “yes” majority; those Scots who are emotionally, and particularly financially, wedded to the union are not simply going to shrug their shoulders. They will be resentful of the result. Nationalistic and democratic passions once aroused are not easily repressed, and as either “yes” or “no” seems certain to shake up the old order of British politics. Not just Scotland, but the whole of the UK will be divided. It is exciting time, history could be made, and I for one will be hoping for a “yes” vote.

But Scotland’s referendum and Sweden’s election may not be the only polarising votes to occur this week. The New Zealand election looks poised to be one of the most divisive in modern history, and like strong Turkish coffee it will leave a bitter taste in the mouth of loosing side.

If National wins it will be a national shame. On Monday the prime minister lowered himself to the level of a schoolyard bully by calling award winning journalist Glen Greenwald a “looser,” and a “henchman.” On Breakfast with Bob Hosking, Key insulted Kim Dotcom for being fat, and described the host of internationally recognised whistle blowers as being “little butts.” For anyone who watched the clip, and I recommend doing so, they could see that nice John was gone, his mask slipped and he came across as nasty, ugly and viscous. Key has repeatedly lied to the NZ public, and as a Stuff Ipsos poll shows, the people know it. The National government has been proven to illegally feed information to disgusting attack blogs, and has now been shown to be complicit in the mass surveillance of New Zealanders. More worrying than all of this, is National’s role in negotiating the TPPA, which will cede NZ sovereignty to international corporations (see Bob Amsterdam’s great interview on TV3). All of this information is now in the public domain – the government is corrupt, it is complicit in organising smear campaigns. It illegally engages in mass surveillance. Key repeatedly misled the public, is recklessly giving away our sovereignty, and on top of all this he no longer seems like a nice man but a petty bully.

If National wins the election, the more enlightened sections of the Public will be seething; indeed they already are. Following The Moment of Truth, a debate between Simon Wilson, editor of Metro Magazine, and Michelle Boag, president of the National party, on the Paul Henry Show descended into a yelling match with both sides shouting down the other. Wilson’s point was that The Moment of Truth had nothing to do with Kim Dotcom, and everything to do with the illegal actions of the GCSB. Boag meanwhile tried to present whole thing as some trick of Dotcom. As progressives see their concerns ignored and sneered at, while their characters, and the characters of people they respect, are belittled and attacked, they will find themselves less willing to simply accept a National government for three more years. They will not feel the government represents them. For this reason, the election is not likely to end the political anger that has typified the campaign. In the event of a National victory, progressive New Zealand will fight the government in the courts, and on the streets. Tensions are enflamed. National billboards have been defaced across the country. The Moment of Truth event in the Auckland town hall was packed to capacity with hundreds turned away from the event. People are screaming, “fuck John Key,” and even burning effigies of him.

But despite the opinions of John Armstrong and other commentators in the Herald, a National victory is not a foregone conclusion. The polls show National still flying in the high 40’s, but they also show a high percentage of undecided voters. It seems likely that these undecideds are progressive voters (perhaps they can’t make up their mind whether to vote Green or Labour) and they could easily sway the election in an unexpected direction. Also, National won the last election through low voter turnout and with this election campaign being more engaging than any I have ever witnessed, voter turnout could be high: the result a strong Labour/ Green government, with or without Winston.

This would be a historic shift to the left in NZ politics and it terrifies NZ’s increasingly powerful economic oligarchs who have made millions, and are set to make millions more, from ripping up and selling anything in NZ they can. It is not Labour that bothers the oligarchs, but the possibility that the Greens will get economic portfolios, allowing people like Russel Norman to have a veto over mining, and oil drilling. They are frightened of climate change legislation and the restoration of the RMA. They are frightened of protecting our rivers, forests and oceans for the future and the possibility that they may be forced to stop polluting. As the rabid right watch in horror as National’s campaign goes from bad to worse. They can see the writing on the wall for their, “mine it, sell it, fuck the planet,” ethos, and they don’t like what they see – a green party with real power. But with the Greens on the rise and National rotten to the core, the election could come down to the wire. And what ever happens on Saturday there will be nation divided. New Zealand also has an opportunity to make history this weekend.

 

Generation zombie, it’s a worry

By Rowan Sylva

  source: NZ Herald

source: NZ Herald

Those of us who support progressive politics in NZ have a sinking feeling (given the mainstream polls) that despite Whalegate, despite Orivida, despite all the evidence that National is brazenly corrupt, we may be facing another three years of National government – and with it will come more assaults on our environment, education, more debt, more income inequality and a lower standard of living. We will have to live with the shame that we knowingly elected a government that is unscrupulous and corrupt. And will be forced to watch on as our beautiful natural areas are torn up. How could this happen? How can National constantly poll so high? Perhaps as Bomber Bradbury argues the polls are deceptive, but this can only be part of the picture. Another part of the picture, and the one that is the focus of this article poses a very, very worrying problem for progressive politics not just in New Zealand, but globally. It is a problem that is not going to go away, and it is a problem that has not been noted by the main stream media. So what is the problem: growing conservatism among youth. This is a frightening prospect for progressive politics because historically, youth can be counted upon to support the progressive side of politics, and while that may still be true, I would tentatively suggest that it is changing.

  source: The Dogs Space

source: The Dogs Space

I was unable to find any hard statistical data of youth voting trends, other than increasing apathy, (itself a potential indicator of growing conservatism). But there are detailed studies of youth attitudes in the UK. Consider some of these trends – the UK tory party more than tripled its share of the youth vote between 2005 and 2013, moving from 10 percent to as high 31. Another UK study (2013) showed that 48 percent of 18-25 year-olds believed that people received welfare payments because they were lazy rather than unlucky, while only 25 percent of over 65 year-olds believed the same thing. Another interesting stat from another UK study shows that only 20 percent of under 30s believe that more money should spent on welfare even if it means higher taxes. 70 percent of people born before war believed that it should. Last year’s elections for the European parliament showed an unprecedented swing to the far right of politics, particularly in France and Britain, where Frontnationale and UKIP swept to the elections; they were not voted in by old Pétanque playing frenchmen suddenly changing their vote, but by the young, educated and increasingly vile right. British youth atitudes are succinctly summed up by a writer for the Guardian, John Harris, when it comes to questions about the welfare state, work and the like, the younger you are, the more rightwing you’re likely to be.” The UK is of course not New Zealand but in the absence of hard data, the UK is a pretty good proxy. And looking at the similar way that Cameron and Key have run their campaigns it is fair to assume that National have increased its share of the youth vote by similar, if not greater, proportions.

  a John Key selfie, gone wrong. source: national billboard makeovers

a John Key selfie, gone wrong. source: national billboard makeovers

There is also anecdotal evidence to support the notion that National’s high polling is supported by youth conservatism. I was reading a comments section of the Herald the other day, an uplifting exercise as the 90 percent of the comments support the left side of politics – suggesting the Herald’s tone is out of line with its readership. I came across a comment that got me thinking and led to writing this article. The comment was from an old time Labour supporter bemoaning the fact that his son was a nat voter, and that he would at least cancel out his son’s vote. I then read an article in which ordinary people were being interviewed on their political views, a young woman said she would vote for John Key “because there was nobody else to vote for.” I then watched a clip where Campbell Live went on the road to interview people about their views on the dirty politics debacle; many young people (Wellington excepted) were apathetic about the allegations, or worse supportive of the National Government. This put me in mind of conversations I had with a friend of mine, who had an important position in the New Zealand Students Association – student unions were becoming more conservative, the Waikato Student Association, for example had been taken over by the Young Nats and they were trying to destroy the whole structure of student unions from the inside. The Young Nats’ facebook page has 12,906 likes; the Young Labour page has 5,679 likes – less than half, while the Young Greens have a measly 1,534. None of this amounts to iron clad evidence but when taken together it paints a picture that should give progressives pause for thought.

  John Key playing beer pong

John Key playing beer pong

Now consider National’s electoral campaign: John Key swans around the country taking selfies of himself with smiling young people, while spouting nifty but meaningless catch phrases. Consider some of Key’s media stunts over the past term in office – selfies at the Big Gay Out. Key playing beer pong with young bogans. Contrast this with Labour, where Cunnliffe seems to spend more time in retirement villages than universities, and it seems likely that Labour’s woes have less to do with their tax policy and more to do with their increasingly ageing support base. National is aggressively, and possibly successfully, targeting young voters. The irony is that National party policies will harm youth, with decreased spending into education and neoliberal economic policies that tend to keep young people out of employment. the National party is also resistant to raising youth wages and its environmental policies destroy the basis for a good future for the younger generation. It would appear that the age old adage that, he who is not communist at twenty has no heart, and he who is not a conservative at 40 has no head, is no longer the case. If ever the left has taken the youth vote for granted that attitude needs to change, now. As a committed Green voter, and myself a member of generation Y, I am saddened by the apparent trend toward conservative politics within my generation. It is not something which can be easily changed, and my suspicion is that the move comes from living in an increasingly uncertain world and an increasingly atomised society.

But sadness should never lead to apathy. We need to stand by the values we hold to be true, stand up to corporate interests and save New Zealand from a corrupt government. Youth conservatism may be growing but it is not yet dominant. And I will finish this post with a quote form George Monbiot, “[hope] can transform what appears to be a fixed polity, a fixed outcome, into something entirely different. It can summon up passion and purpose we never knew we possessed” 

 

Hikois From Hell

By Rowan Sylva

In a recent herald “hot seat” interview, John Key was asked if he would consider implementing the long standing National party policy of abolishing the Maori seats. He replied that such a move would mean, “hikois from hell.” Key’s comment, typical to his evasive style, did not answer the question. This should set off alarm bells to Maori, and pakeha who sympathise with indigenous rights because 2014 election is looking likely to result in a government to NewZealand’s world leading indigenous programs and settlement processes. Four parties in the election have decidedly racist agendas and policy – New Zealand first, the Conservatives, Act and National. With abolishing New Zealand’s “race based laws” being on of NewZealand First’s “bottom lines,” and that party looking increasingly likely to hold the balance power, it may indeed be time to start sharpening the tiaha.

In 1860 Maori held, in legal title under the crown, over 80 percent of the North Island (approximately 23.2 million hectares). After the hugely expensive New Zealand Wars 1860s, new views of scientific racism which held that the Maori race destined to extinction were applied in New Zealand. Through military seizure and forced land sales Maori lost half of their land by 1890. This was accompanied by drastic demographic decline which the government did nothing to arrest. Maori were forced off their land and employed as labourers on the land they had once owned. By 1910 only 27 percent of land in the North Island remained in Maori hands. Land seizures continued throughout the twentieth century and by 1938 Maori land had been reduced to nine percent, and by 1970 only four percent. During much of the nineteenth century the government pursued a policy of assimilation where Maori cultural practices would be stamped out, and Maori would europeanised. Such measures included banning Maori language in schools, the mass burning and destruction of sacred sites and the criminalisation of tohunga and traditional lore (this happened especially under the tohunga suppression act 1907).

Since the the maori revival beginning in the late 80’s maori have been able to regain some of the ground lost to over a century of colonial abuse, however, economically little has been achieved. The New Zealand deprivation index published this month, shows that NZ’s most deprived areas correlate precisely with areas that are predominantly Maori, areas where people live well below the poverty line. One of the most shocking things about the index is that it shows no improvement for Maori in the twenty years since the index was first created. With a 2012 prison population of 8700 New Zealand has one of the highest rates on incarceration in the developed world, and that rate is rising. Maori make up roughly 14 percent of New Zealand’s population but comprise 51 percent of our prison population; many are in prison for drug offences. The median maori annual income is $14,800, while the national median is $35,650. In addition to this shocking evidence of racial inequality, Maori are a rapidly growing demographic, suggesting that number of people living that are deprived of economic opportunity along racial lines is growing. These are the people that Jamie Whyte, leader of the Act party, described as analogous the French aristocracy on the verge of the 1789 revolution. That someone with doctorate in philosophy could spout such nonsense makes one doubt the academic rigour of Cambridge where Whyte lectured.

  source: https://www.facebook.com/pages/National-Party-Billboard-Makeovers

source: https://www.facebook.com/pages/National-Party-Billboard-Makeovers

Fortunately for New Zealand, despite Act’s disproportionate media coverage and large amount corporate funding, nobody give a shit what they think, and the party consistently polls under one percent. A much more dangerous threat to Maori sovereignty comes from NZ First (consistently polling over six percent). In a statement to the media in January, Winston Peters attacked Maori party policy as “apartheid,” and insisted his party would work to dismantle programs such as specialised assistance to Maori prisoners and whanau ora. He would review the need for maori seats and work to finalise settlements under the Waitangi Tribunal. Peters has also ruled out working with “race based parties,” (Mana and Maori parties). If NZ first holds the balance of power, and such a scenario looks increasingly likely than even a Labour /Green government may be forced into making concessions to Peters’ racist policy agenda. Further to right is the new rising star of the right wing minor parties – the Conservatives (the preferred coalition partner among national voters )– which have polled as high as 4.6 percent. Their “One law to rule us all” policy (I wonder if Craig realises the Sauron reference in his policy title) makes Peters look like a regular tohunga. The Conservative Party would seek not only to abolish the Maori seats but the Treaty of Waitangi as New Zealand’s founding legal document. They would seek to abolish the Waitangi tribunal, reverse the seabed and foreshore legislation and essentially all the programs Maori have fought to establish. All of this is glossed over on their website in languge that looks likes targeted to five year olds. (let us pray that such insidious party never reaches the five percent threshold.)

For the last two terms in office, Key, to his credit, has played the moderate when it comes to Maori affairs,while pursuing economic polices which further entrench Maori deprivation. His strategic alliance with the Maori party allowed him to keep National’s core racist policies at arm’s length while retaining them on paper. The National government negotiated a historic agreement with Tuhoi and supported the token whanau ora program. However, a third term looks likely to spell the end to National’s soft approach to Maori issues. If Key requires NZ First or  the Conservatives to form a government, the Maori party will not have a seat at the table. National, bleeding votes to the Conservatives, are already under pressure from their core constituents to end perceived Maori privilege. The conciliatory mask will slip and Maori will see their programs slashed or axed, while mineral exploitation brings the National party into conflict with Moari Tikanga and another three years of neoliberal polices will entrench New Zealand’s economic segregation. National is and always will be an anti-Maori party, and a third term for National is certain to see NZ’s racial wounds reopened. What is clear from history is that Maori cannot depend on pakeha voters to protect their communities. Maori must deliver on Key’s fear and give National hikoi from hell. For the rest of us, who want to see New Zealand remain a positive global example of post colonial race relations, we need to vote for those parties who will protect that status – the Greens, Labour, and Internet Mana.

 

The Problem with Australia

By Rowan Sylva

  Isaac Cordal’s “Follow the leaders.” Berlin, Germany, April 2011. (Cement Eclipses/Facebook)

Isaac Cordal’s “Follow the leaders.” Berlin, Germany, April 2011. (Cement Eclipses/Facebook)

A few years ago I was campaigning for The Wilderness Society on the streets of a north-eastern suburb of Melbourne. When a ruddy faced man approached me to enthusiastically declare that I was responsible for the death of his uncle, or in his words, “ah, you’re a greenie. You killed me uncle.”

My response was naturally sympathetic and I offered my sincere condolences for his loss. But I did politely express my surprise that I should be accused in such a fashion and professed that I was unaware of how I might have been complicit in such a horrible crime.

“Well,” the man informed me, “Me uncle died in the bush fires. If there weren’t of been any bush there wouldn’t been any fires. Yous are trying to save the bush. You killed me Uncle.”

After delivering this unassailable train of logic the man stared at me, awaiting my reply.

I told him that his logic was indeed faultless, and it was certainly true that if their were no trees there wouldn’t be any bush fires. But I humbly suggested that there might be other problems. I inquired if he thought that climate change might have anything to do with the  deadly Black Saturday fires.

He told me that it didn’t because, “there’d always been fires in Aussy bush.”

I assured him that he was correct but asked if had heard of the national firefighters union report that made a direct link with climate change and an increase in catastrophic bush fires and called on the government to take urgent action to reduce emissions.

He told me that he hadn’t, and I proceeded to discuss with him the Wilderness Society’s valuable work in the area of bush fire prevention.

The argument put forward by this fellow may seem absurd, but it was not anomaly. It was a widely held belief that “the greenies” were to blame for the Black Saturday bush fires that killed 173 people, including the unfortunate uncle of the man I spoke to.

How was such a factually incorrect, insidious, disingenuous, and down right ridiculous belief held by so many people? Answer: It was hammered by the all dominant Murdoch press. The Black Saturday fires were immediately politicised by the major newspapers as a reason to attack the state’s already lax environmental regulation under the argument aptly stated by my friend: if there weren’t of been any bush there wouldn’t have been any fires. In fact academic studies show that logging and land clearing actually increases the risk of fires. But the rabid Australian media is seldom interested in facts being much more concerned with its own hostility to environmental regulation, a hostility so vile and intense that many normal Australians end up blaming it for everything from the state of their own finances to the death of their relatives.

Thus when Tony Abbot was asked early this year if the bush fires in Australia had anything to do with climate change, in reference to to the claims made by a united nations executive, and he replied, that not only was she, “talking through her hat,” but that it was inappropriate politicise the bush fires, it made it want run to the nearest toilet and vomit in disgust.

Since coming to power, Tony Abbott, in less than a year, has launched a devastating attack on Australia’s environment. He abolished the ministerial posts of climate change and science. He abolished the climate commission. He provided 2.2 million in legal aid for farmers and miners to fight native title claims. He abolished the Maritime Workforce Development Forum, an industry body working to build a sustainable skills base for the maritime industry. He abandoned emission reduction targets. He Removed the community’s right to challenge decisions where the government has ignored expert advice on threatened species impacts.He approved the largest coal port in the world in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. He approved Clive Palmer’s mega coal mine in the Galilee Basin. He overturned the “critically endangered” listing of the Murray Darling Basin. He began dismantling Australia’s marine protection system. He Requested the delisting of World Heritage status for Tasmanian forests so that logging could begin again. He defunded all international environmental programs. He exempted Western Australia from national environment laws. He Axed funding earmarked to save the Sumatran rhinoceros from extinction. He overturned a ban on cattle grazing in the Victorian Alpine National Park. He cut 480 jobs from the Environment Department. He Terminated the Office of Water Science research programme. He Slashed the Biodiversity Fund. Finally, he axed australia’s carbon tax replacing it with nothing. Indeed the list of Abbots crimes are so long and so heinous, I recommend checking out the full list.

How was this vile assault on the environment allowed to happen in Australia, an educated first world country? The same reason why old mate blamed environmentalists for the Black Saturday bush fires: the rabid Australian Murdoch media. On the 31st of July a New South Wales farmer shot dead an environment officer who was approaching the man regarding his illegal land clearing. I have an inkling this man’s views, views that drove him to murder, were formed from unhealthy amount of reading The Australian. English speaking countries have the highest level of climate skepticism in the world. One explanation as to why that is, it the prominence of the Murdoch media in those countries. Yes Australia needs a change of government but above all, its media monopolies need to be broken.

Climate Change and I

By Rowan Sylva

Growing up, discussion of climate change was all around me. And my world view was shaped by the idea of entering a 21st century defined by cataclysmic climate change. I came to view climate change in an almost messianic way: it was humanity’s destiny to go down among rising waters, fires and droughts. These thoughts gave me a kind of bitter satisfaction, but also a curiously inflated sense of my own self importance; I, after all, would live through the final years of human civilisation – its pinnacle, its hubris, and its fall.

As I grew older my view of climate discourse changed, formed inlarge part as a reaction of discussions with my brother.  My brother referenced the work of James Lovelock, and liked to postulate that Earth was likely to become lifeless given the uncontrollable feedback loops, which once kicked off by humanity, as were certain to do, wouldlead earth’s climate into a runaway green house effect. This in turn would generate a venus like atmosphere. Ceasing to emit, my brother further claimed, would not help. Because of the effects of global dimming, an immediate cessation of emitting would in fact herald a rise in warming, as pollution helped mask the real extent of the greenhouse gasses already in the atmosphere.

These discussions no longer gave me a sense of messianic purpose; rather I saw them as a cynical train of logic, intended to abdicate all moral and personal responsibility, a kind of vindication of extistential nihilism. I became resistant to climate change discourse. And turned my attention to environmental issues that I felt to be within the reach ofeveryday action. Localisation of food production, reforestation and biodiversity issues.  These I found emotionally easier to engage with and ultimately did more in my view to combat climate change than flawed emissions trading schemes.

My research went into environmental texts such as the Limits to Growth Thesis which focused on ecological degradation and resource boundaries. Such a focus gave recourse to hope and a possibility for change which was absent from the discourses surrounding climate action. When I did consider climate change I tendedto view itas a moot point. Yes the climate was changing. Yes we were causing the changes. Yes the changes would be catastrophic. But what could individuals realistically be expected to do? It was better to focus on changing society and those changes would come about from knockingup against ecological boundaries. A sustainable society was necessary; but climate change was not necessary to the creation of a sustainable society, rather it detracted from it by casting into doubt its viability. This was the position I took in the university groups and grassroots organisations I was part of.

During the three years I worked as a street campaigner for Greenpeace and the Wilderness Society, my view on climate change discourse shifted again. Climate change was becoming an ever more central issue for the organisations I worked for and raising awareness on it was part of my job description. I came to realise that climate change provided to many people a powerful incentive to support environmental action and recourse to climate change was the strongest argument for people who saw the world in purely economic terms. It allowed me to make connections between things like australian wild fires and deforestation in Tasmania. Thosewho didn’t  value protecting an ecosystem from being turned into a coal mine,  could understand the value of keeping the coal in the hole. I began to view climate discourse pragmatically. It was a powerful weapon in the green movements vocabulary that added urgency to other environmental causes. It was rallying cry . And became involved in radical protests and clashes over climate  in Melbourne.

Today I feel a sense of alarm and dread. I read scientific reports of rising temperatures, hottest years ever, retreating ice, and climate catastrophes. I Fear. I had hoped by 2014 that the transition to a sustainable society would be more visible. Instead the increasing reliance on tar sand, the regressive action of governments, particularly the pariah states of Australia and Canada, has left me feeling jaded, though not without some hope. Photos by Daniela Gast.

Reclaiming Our Climate Stories – 3

By Rowan Sylva

In this latest post in my  Reclaiming Our Climate Stories series I discuss a subject close to my heart: A story or rather a concept arising from the ancient Chinese philosophical tradition.  The great schools of Chinese philosophical thought, the Confucians, the Daoists and Mohists all arose during the turbulent but culturally rich Warring States period (475-221 BC). These schools of thought had fundamental differences, but they also agreed on certain key concepts.

One such concept was tian ming – the mandate of heaven – the notion that heaven bestowed on rulers the right to rule, but could also revoke that right. Tian ming, supported by both Daoist and Confucian tradition became one of the most important governing principals of the imperial period that lasted until 1911.

As with most classical Chinese philosophy tian ming, was based on precedents drawn from the semi mythical Zhou, Shang and Xia dynasties. So what are these mythical precedents that had such an important impact on Chinese history? Here are the stories:

In the beginning the goddess Nuwa created humanity and domesticated animals; she made them out of yellow clay. At this time a quarrel between two other powerfull gods smashed one of the pillars of heaven. This caused great calamities to strike the earth, floods and wildfires, but Nuwa repaired the fallen pillar by cutting of the legs of the cosmic tortoise and fashioning them into a pillar.

The founder of the first and mythical dynasty the Xia dynasty, Yu the Great established the mandate of heaven when he stopped the floods which threatened to engulf ancient China. Yu with the aid of a yellow dragon and a magical black turtle stopped the flooding by building irrigation canals, ditches and dikes and in doing so established agriculture. Yu’s dynasty would rule for 700 years until 1600 bc.

 At the end of the Xia dynasty a seven year drought scorched the land the Xia had also become complacent and tyrannical rulers. The people starved and died of thirst, their crops failed and the land became barren. The people supported the rebellion of Tang of Shang, and the Shang dynasty reestablished the mandate from heaven and there was five centuries of peace and prosperity.

The last ruler of the Shang ignored the affairs of state and preferred drinking and orgies, and floods, fires, earthquakes and raining animals devastated the land. The Zhou dynasty defeated the now ailing and corrupt Shang and established the last and longest of China’s ancient dynasties, claiming the mandate of heaven to legitimise their rule.

This story of the transitions between the ancient dynasties provides the precedent for tian ming. And principal runs something like this:  Heaven bestows the mandate on the ruler because of his virtue. The mandate is passed on to the ruler’s chosen successor. However when the ruler becomes tyrannical and devoid of virtue, then heaven revokes the mandate through devastating climate chaos. The people are then justified in overthrowing the ruler .

Tian ming has essentially two facets the first amounts to kind of ancient Chinese second amendment – the right of the people to rise up and overthrow a tyrannical and morally corrupt ruler. The second is that the ruler, as “the son of heaven.” has a responsibility to please the force of heaven and therefore avert natural disaster during his reign.

Much has been made in online and scholarly commentary of the first of these facets. But it is the other side of tian ming that I find particularly interesting and most applicable for the modern age.  For we now know that rulers indeed do have the power to please heaven and avert natural disaster, or to go against the will of heaven and induce natural disaster. The imperial Chinese clearly had a better understanding of the relation between state and climate than many modern nations.

But what should a ruler do to please the will of heaven? Well one answer is given clearly in the Daoist classic, the Dao De Jing,

“Man follows earth, earth follows heaven, heaven follows the way, the way follows nature.”

As climate chaos and natural disasters wrack the world in the 21st century, causing increasing conflict, refugee crises, famines, droughts and floods it is abundantly clear that the leaders of our modern nations, China among them, have lost their heavenly mandate. And it is our responsibility raise up an overthrow them and re-establish the sacred balance between heaven, ruler and earth.  Picture by Daniela Gast.

Reclaiming Our Climate Stories – 2

By Rowan Sylva

In my last post I discussed the aboriginal dreamtime story of Tiddalic the frog, and the narrative’s relevance to past and present climate change. Continuing my focus on ancient climate change stories, in this post I look at one from the Vedic, Indian tradition – the story of Vitra the dragon. The story runs something like this:

Back in the ancient times when the world was very young and gods still walked the earth like men. Vitra the dragon came into being. Vitra was greedy for the waters of the world, taking them and storing them in ninety nine mighty fortresses that he constructed on the sides of the mountains. In the absence of water the world became parched, and drought without parallel covered the land so that life itself seemed threatened. Plants wilted and died and so did men and beasts. All seemed lost. But a god was born, Indra, the chief of the gods, the king of heaven, the god of thunder, rain, war and Liquor. Indra became drunk off soma and went to face Vitra so that he could release the waters of the world. He fought Vitra with a thunderbolt made by Tvastar, the creator of the universe, and a vajra, a ribbed club. Indra broke Vitra’s jaw, and threw him down upon his fortresses, smashing them, so that the water of the world flooded forth and the earth became lush and fertile.

The story of Vitra comes from the Rig-Veda, which is the earliest Indo-European text and one of the earliest surviving texts of all time; it was composed sometime between 3,500 and 4,000 years ago. Given the ancient composition of the Rig-Veda it is tempting to think that the story of Vitra, like Tiddalic the frog, refers to the climatic change brought about by the end of the last glaciation period (about 12,000 years ago, when the dry hostile conditions of the glacial period gave way to the fertile climate of the modern era). The stories show an interesting parallel, though the Indo-Arian Rig-Veda certainly has more of an emphasis on slaying, rather than the gentler aboriginal story of tickling. The absence of a flood narrative in the Vitra story could reflect its Central Asian origin, where changes in sea level may not have had a great impact. Such, hypothesising, however, is purely speculative, and beside the point. What is more certain is that Vitra is the personification of drought, and drought was perceived by the ancient Indo-Arians as the most terrible and destructive of the gods’ adversaries.

Droughts have historically been catastrophic events in South Asia, most famously The Great Famine of 1876-1878, which principally because of British colonial mismanagement resulted in the death of nearly six million Indians. But today as Vitra again rears his terrible head, the Indian subcontinent faces catastrophic droughts in a 2 degree hotter world. Extremely severe droughts have already occurred in the late 80’s and early 00’s. These events are expected to become more frequent and more severe. A change to unpredictable monsoon patterns is expected to create longer droughts followed by savage flooding such as that which swept through Pakistan in 2010. The situation is exacerbated by lack of political action among India’s government and business elite and falling groundwater levels due to corporate mismanagement. True: India may be a raising economic power but greed has awakened Vitra and he threatens once again to bring the subcontinent to its knees. By giving an old name to a new evil, we can use the climate stories of the past to empower our fight in the present. If you wish to read more about the likely effect of climate change on India check out the World Bank’s predictions. Photos are by Daniela Gast.

Reclaiming Our Climate Stories

By Rowan Sylva

It is a common retort among climate change deniers to state that the, “the climate has always been changing” – a classic case of missing the point. The effect of this argument, however, is that advocates of climate action may shy away from discussing catastrophic climate events of the past. It is my view that this is wrong. By learning and talking about the climate catastrophes of the past, we can gain an understanding of the horror that a hotter world will bring, examine precedents and take hope from the stories of our ancestors’ survival. In this series of guest posts I will discuss stories from out deep past. It may be that climate change stories are, in fact, among the oldest and most resilient of all art forms. And it is time for climate action advocates to reclaim these stories for they are not anecdotal evidence against anthropogenic climate change; they are documents that attest to the awesomely destructive power of the planet.

My first story comes from aboriginal Australia, from the Guntai people of south Gibbsland. It is among the best known of dreamtime stories – the story of Tiddalic the frog. The story goes that Tiddalic awoke one morning with a burning thirst. He drank the rivers till they became a trickle. He sucked all the water from the wells till they ran dry. He consumed the lakes and billabongs till they became nothing but cracked mud. The trees wilted and died. Many animals perished with thirst, so too did men and women and they were forced to wander the land in search of water. The remaining animals knew that if they did not act against the greed of Tiddalic they would also die. They beseeched him to let the water out, but to no avail. So they devised to make him laugh and release the water that way. They tried jokes and many tricks on him, but the frog would not laugh.Eventually the eel tickled the belly of Tiddalic and he laughed. All the water that he had consumed rushed out of him and became a flood. The flood became so great that it drowned the land and all that remained were the tallest mountains. Men, women and animals were swept away in the flood. Many did not survive some were isolated on islands where they were rescued by Palacan, but that is        a different story.

Aboriginal Australia is the oldest continuous civilisation on earth, with some sacred sites being continually occupied for up to 45,000 years by an artistic culture (Stonehenge is a mere 5,000 years old). The existence of such early civilisation in Australia, puts their arrival in the contentment at an interglacial period when Australia had a lush and bountiful climate. People thrived there for roughly ten thousand years. With the occurrence of heavy glaciation roughly (22,000 – 15,000 years ago), the Australian environment became brutally hostile. The forests dried out and were replaced with sandy deserts and barren savannahs. The sea level dropped by some 40 meters and CO2 levels were half preindustrial levels; many peoples and animal species did not survive. This was followed by the end of the glacial period which caused roughly thirty percent of the Australian continent to fall below sea level, eliminating coastal peoples and isolating Tasmania and New Guinea from the Australian mainland. Aboriginal cultures survived these catastrophic climate events and Tiddalic the Frog is one among many dreamtime stories that tells of the land and peoples lost to climate change.

The story carries with it no obvious moral, but as the twenty-first century rolls on and droughts and floods ravage human population we can think of the greed of Tiddalic. We can think of the rising flood water and the loss of peoples. And we can scorn the ignorance of people like Tony Abbot, who claim that climate change is a modern political fad, unworthy of our attention, or indeed that climate action should be actively opposed. The traditional owners of Australia know better. If you’re interested in learning more about pre-European Australian history check out the ABC documentary First Footprints. All photos are by Daniela Gast