Tag Archives: climate change

Return from the Frank Church Wilderness: A Photo Essay

In the wilderness, public policy feels far away. But it has effects, eventually, inevitably. There is wildfire damage. There are species, or sometimes the lack thereof. This is the battleground for conservationism, but the conservationists spent too much of their time looking at the soil, not the sky. The air was filled with smoke one day while I was here, and the next day was clear. This place in central Idaho, this last wilderness, is a refuge, a haven. Given the failures of the environmental movement to solidify a real climate policy, or perhaps given the reactionary violence of counter-movements against environmentalism who have doomed my generation to extinction to preserve their precious branding, even public land that is preserved by the strictest laws will be affected by the inevitable. The connections cannot be felt, now, but what happens in D.C. will eventually alter the air, water, and greenery of this place. But this stretch of wilderness, unlike the rest of us who visit it, will not go without a fight. These photographs will, in ten or twenty years, be testaments to what is no longer there, not entirely. Soon, these will be photographs of spatial ghosts.

 

 

-jk

Congratulations to Russia for Finally Winning the Cold War

oneway“We’re satisfied to be able to finish off the United States the first time round. Once is quite enough. What good does it do to annihilate a country twice? We’re not a bloodthirsty people.” -Nikita Khrushchev, comparing American and Soviet nuclear capability.

I’d like to extend my warmest congratulations to Mother Russia for finally winning the Cold War. Some say it’s too early to call, and that the popular majority of Americans (by 1.5 million at this point) who still think we have a leg in the race might suggest otherwise, but as it is, I think it’s safe to say that America concedes defeat. Congratulations, Russia. You win. Freedom and democracy, as it turns out, really don’t work after all. You’ve proven that much, Russia.

I’ll admit, you fooled us with that whole “collapse of your very way of life” trick back in 1990. I can’t believe we fell for the oldest trick in the book, and didn’t even notice when, out of nowhere, you elect a former KGB agent to take over for Boris Yeltsin. Smooth move. We also didn’t think trolling could be a successful war tactic. In the end, your trolls really knew how to rig an election. I’m just glad Reagan isn’t alive to see this day. He would have been sorely disappointed.

So, Russia, what’s next? What’s your end game? Warming the oceans and melting Greenland’s ice sheets enough to get our Cold War nuclear base? Our new president will ensure that happens. Spreading misinformation? Reducing our language to double plus good and double plus ungood? We’re already limiting our words to great or nasty.

I’m sorry, Russia, but when you come for the spoils of war, you won’t find anything worth taking. By the time you reach us, we’ll have run the continent into the ground with oil spills in our largest rivers, Midwestern earthquakes from fracking, dust bowls, forest fires, and uranium mining accidents. By the end of the Cold War, we killed off 93 percent of our varieties of fruits and vegetables, and who knows how many we’ve gotten rid of since then.

Do you want our healthcare? It’ll be cut. Do you want our Space program? We’ve been defunding it for a while now. Do you want our agriculture? One blight and our corn will be gone in a few months. Dearest Russian overlords, we are now ready for your conquest, but I will not say we are ripe for the taking, because as a nation we are actually rotten to the core, entrenched in racism, misogyny, anti-intellectualism, Evangelical opposition to science, the comfortable idea that we can actually survive the catastrophe of ourselves if we just buy the necessary tools.

America’s value has depreciated so much that you won’t find anything worth conquering. Keep in mind that we’re taking you with us, in the end. Mutually Assured Destruction never looked so appealing. So congratulations, Russia. I await your rule.

-jk

Silence in the Classroom

rain

It was only by coincidence that my class’s week on  ecological nonfiction essays coincided with the first presidential debate, back in September. That week, I decided to overwork my students by asking them to watch the debate and research issues not discussed in it to present informally to the class. This was in addition to numerous readings by environmental writers, including Terry Tempest Williams, Donna Haraway, Edward Abbey, and Alison Hawthorne Deming. My students watched the debate, but we did not discuss it extensively. Instead, at the end of a long week about nuclear testing, the meat industry, and communication between species, my classes presented numerous, often unspoken issues.

Many of them chose to research declining bee populations. Some researched eroding coastlines, others the Dakota Access Pipeline. Alongside these topics, the debate somehow felt too disheartening to discuss. I did not assign the second debate; I have avoided discussing the content of the presidential election, because much of it is ugly and dehumanizing.

I think I can take a lot, intellectually speaking. Maybe it’s numbness or being a grad student, or the erosion of my soul to coffee and rum. It’s not that ugly and dehumanizing rhetoric is unimportant; it’s that, lately, I’m having a hard time stomaching it, as well as the important environmental and geopolitical issues that are too frequently sidestepped in order to create more time in the media for quotes, scandals, emails, videos, or tweets. Such issues are important, but hideous, and I don’t know if I can impose them on my students if I myself am frustrated by their imposition on me.

Me! I’m not a cynic, but I read about atrocities with considerable ease. I can sit through a Werner Herzog documentary and feel only minimal anxiety about the impending digital apocalypse. I can stomach a lot. What I find frustrating is that the capacity to discuss serious issues remains very much a choice, but not for long. Even now, classroom discussions about climate change take place in the present tense and not the future tense; women’s suffrage could soon become a past-tense moment; digital public shaming over five-year old tweets could become a common, inescapable practice. I don’t want to be silent about important political issues in the classroom, but I now recognize the comfort of silence.

It’s easy. It’s pleasant. It’s satisfying to turn off the noise, the rhetoric, the verbal and psychic and physical violence. Silence may be irresponsible, but now I understand its appeal. We are only halfway done with the semester, and there is still much left to discuss. Silence is appealing, but dangerous.

-jk

Climate Poem: Murder of Crows

Climate fiction (cli-fi) and other forms of ecological literature have been around for a long time, from Edward Abbey to Margaret Atwood. Today, I decided to dabble in ecological poetry about my home state’s claim to fame.

Murder of Crows

See the Grand Canyon, an overture in foliage, The Bland Canyon
a cacophony of life. A murder

of crows, watchful, calculating,
circles above the ever-emptying Canyon.
They perch along the new uranium rigs,
rancourous tourist bathrooms, a clearance sale
of the canyon’s condors, now going out of business.
Sun-dried pilgrims flock into the sandy mouth
by gondola, elevator, jeep,
no descent beyond imagination,

to where the river once flowed when tourists trickled
by the curious dozen. The crows all grin
as the tourists cascade, a new waterfall of sweaty flesh
bringing with them whole picnics
to toss into the shock of relief,

greenless, insect-ripe, a sight to behold.
The murder of crows delights in the garbage,

lab-made meat patties, factory salads,
brownies with a genesis in HTML,
plastic coffee in plastic cups, and endless anti-depressants
packed into health bars laced with enough alcohol
to relax the fast-paced tourist.
The crows become drunk on their dessert

dropped by the sweating fingers
under their generation’s birthright summer scorches.
See the murder of crows feast

on the bodies piled into the Canyon,
sunburned limbs, imported clothes like packaging,
a soup of sun screen and contaminated sweat
fermenting in the Canyon’s deep barrels.

See the crows peck at weeds, fingers, preservatives
dumped into the bone-dry skeleton of the Southwest.

-jk

Copyright Keene Short, 2015. Photograph magnanimously donated by the spectacular travelers at Lost Compass Photography.