These days good news is great news.
Thylacinus cynocephalus, the Tasmanian tiger, has been once again spotted in the wild. Calling it a tiger is a misnomer; it’s actually a marsupial. So while it looks like a wild cat with a distinctly zebra-like stripe pattern towards the end of it’s back, it’s genetically closer to a kangaroo than a feline. As colonizers tore through Australia and Tasmania, the Tasmanian tiger was one of the casualties. The last one was believe to have died in 1936 in Tasmania’s Hobart Zoo.
This isn’t an unfamiliar story: the colonizers celebrating their bloodthirsty hubris by displaying the last of a species or society as a living curiosity to the world they destroyed. On March 3, 1869, William Lanney, the last known full-blood male of the exterminated Aboriginal population of Tasmania, had died. Nicknamed “King Billy,” he spent the last of his brief 34 years a bit of a local celebrity as his happy demeanor and sailor life rendered him both a citizen and a relic.
Within a day of his death, news spread quickly. His entire body had been looted from the morgue and torn apart multiple times. The house surgeon turned a piece of his skin into a personal tobacco pouch.
Ishi, the last of California’s Yahi society, suffered a similar fate. Captured in 1911, he spent his last five years as a living exhibit in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. And he too, upon his death, had his body torn apart for trophies.
The tendency of civilization is to subtract: to reduce wild populations to nothing, possibly save a few living examples for philanthropic fantasies in captivity. Martha, the last known passenger pigeon was born into captivity and died there in 1914. A species once so dense and populous that they could block out the skies for days. “Extinct in the Wild” is a phrase given to the last of a wild population being kept in captivity to protect it, ironically, from us.
Dying in captivity, however, is not living. Elephants living in sanctuaries have been found to suffer from PTSD related to both the trauma of capture and the disruption of their own communities. What’s better than attempting to salvage a species in artificial circumstances? When they do it on their own. In the wild.
“Against all odds, the resiliency of the wild continues to fight the cancer civilization throws at it.”
The Ivory Billed woodpecker comes to mind. Having been declared extinct numerous times between the 1920s and 1940s, an Ivory Bill was recorded by a birder in Arkansas back in 2004. This opened the door to seek them out and evidence of their persistence continues to come to light. “Lazarus species,” species thought to have gone extinct and found in the wild, is a much-welcomed list. In our times, any news there is good.
Or I should say better than all other news. The excitement that comes when a previously thought extinct species is found must be tempered with our reality. Every day, dozens of species go extinct. That is because of civilization. Loss of habitat, climate instability, warming seas, pollution, toxins, chemical and oil spills, death by wind turbines, automobiles, and glass windows, or simply exterminated by the farmers, ranchers and trophy hunters: all made possible by civilization.
What the reemergence of these species, alongside the existence of millions of unknown species that persist and the existence of uncontacted indigenous societies, represents is that while our footprint exceeds all aspects of carrying capacity a million times over, our sense of control is a delusion. To put it another way: the destruction civilization inflicts upon the earth is definitive, our control and understanding of it, not so much. Against all odds, the resiliency of the wild continues to fight the cancer civilization throws at it.
“As drastic as things look, they can always get worse.”
That pendulum, however, swings both ways. So while we’ve found that coral reefs are exceptionally resilient at healing themselves, we’ve also seen back-to-back episodes of catastrophic coral bleaching in 2016 and 2017. Soaring sea temperatures feed bleaching events, result in species extinctions, and drastically alter behavior patterns. They also result in unprecedented events, like the increasing probability of a second year of El Niño cycles.
As drastic as things look, they can always get worse. Guy McPherson believes that an ice-free Arctic will result in 50-gigaton bursts of methane, which will result in human extinction by “mid-2026.” That begs the questions of whether industrial civilization will last that long, as even HSBC bank was warned against investing in fossil fuels due to peak oil looming in the coming years.
“Instead of keeping species from going extinct, some prefer to keep their heads in the clouds and revive species that already went extinct.”
In an act of absurdity, while the fate of the world is at play, so too are the scientists. Instead of keeping species from going extinct, some prefer to keep their heads in the clouds and revive species that already went extinct. One team of researchers has tried to reverse engineer a dinosaur’s face by manipulating chicken embryos. Another team of researchers seeks to create a mammoth-elephant hybrid by genetically engineering elephant embryos.
It would appear that some scientists find more traction in “de-extinction” efforts than “anti-extinction” ones. The mammoth-elephant hybrid drives the point home further as the giant tusked bull elephant populations were down to 21 as of the beginning of this year. This is the kind of number it took for China to announce its plan to shut down its ivory trade by the end of 2017. Hopefully, they will make it that long.
The problem isn’t that we aren’t aware of the consequences of civilization: it’s that we, as a globalized, hyper-technologically-fused society, have decided that it’s more palatable to see how this all plays out instead of doing anything about it. In the face of adversity, we double down on the technological solutions that got us here. So while it seems promising to hear about events like the “People’s Climate March” that took place in Washington DC on April 29, 2017, it’s vital to remember that they aren’t anywhere near enough.
“Control is an endemic condition if left to its own logical conclusions. This is what we know: the state of the world is worsening, rapidly.”
It is absolutely telling that the Trump administration is deleting government sites related to climate change. But it is not enough to believe that those government agencies were ever going to be enough in the first place. Like the “de-extinction” efforts, NGOs, corporations and scientists concerned about the real impacts of climate change simply accept that things like the Paris agreement weren’t going to do enough on their own. Their solution: geo-engineering, or, simply, “deliberately manipulating the Earth’s climate” to counter the impacts of complete climate instability. For all of Obama’s talk about climate change, this is what his former science advisor promoted, thus resulting in federal funding of intentional efforts to reconfigure the earth’s environment.
Control is an endemic condition if left to its own logical conclusions. This is what we know: the state of the world is worsening, rapidly. The models that we have developed for how negative feedback loops might spiral? It more often appears that the reality is worse than predicted.
Beyond all else, we know that it is civilization that has caused this climate change. From the origins of farming, through the methane releases caused by agriculture, culminating in carbon spike brought by the industrial age, and amplified by the green revolution, our technological solutions have only made the problems worse, not better. And who is leading that charge? The very people the “People’s Climate Marches” sought to redeem us once again.
Salvation is not coming. It most certainly won’t be legislated. The models, predictions, and policies are predicated on one central aspect: that civilization is not going to stop and that it can be controlled or directed. If living in an era where two bloated, narcissistic sociopaths can threaten the world with nuclear warfare isn’t enough to doubt the prospects for more control, it’s hard to say what will.
“If for no other reason, the meagerness of the “People’s Climate Marches” was good for one thing: a reminder that those in power don’t give a fuck about anyone or anything other than their own short-term interests.”
And it is here that there is some comfort in what we don’t know. Scientists aren’t typically modeling what would happen if civilization were to be stopped in its tracks. How many species wouldn’t go extinct? We have seen the staggering ability of coral reefs to regenerate despite what industrial technology heaves at them. We have seen that the resilience of the wild is stronger than our indifference to its decimation.
The history of civilization is evidence that the political power made possible by a mythos of absolute control never scales down. That is until it is forced to.
If for no other reason, the meagerness of the “People’s Climate Marches” was good for one thing: a reminder that those in power don’t give a fuck about anyone or anything other than their own short-term interests.
The Tasmanian tiger, the Ivory Billed woodpecker; they’re not here for us, but they are a reminder that we don’t need to wait for permission to live. The resilience of the wild is its refusal to be controlled. There is no guarantee or safety within it, but there is a chance of survival, of living on our own terms. At a certain point, you just have to stop asking.
 Mark Cocker, Rivers of Blood, Rivers of Gold. New York: Grove, 1998. Pgs 115-117.
 Orin Starn, Ishi’s Brain. New York: WW Norton, 2004.
 GA Bradshaw, Elephants on the Edge. New Haven: Yale UP, 2009.
On May 8, Marius Mason was moved out of the Carswell Federal Medical Center’s (FMC) Administrative Unit, into general population. While this is a far cry from freedom, for the first time in nearly seven years, Marius is able to see the sky and feel the grass beneath his feet.
This welcome news comes weeks before the Fight Toxic Prisons convergence, to be held in the city of Denton, Texas, near FMC Carswell. The environmental activists and prison abolitionists organizing the conference have identified Carswell, located on a Fort Worth military base, as a prime example of a “toxic prison” worthy of national attention. Carswell has long been the subject of complaints about general conditions, as well as being of special concern due to its Administrative Unit, which has housed political prisoners and individuals suffering from serious mental illness. Anti-nuclear activist Helen Woodson was held in the facility until her release in 2011, and other political prisoners, including Aafia Siddiqui and Ana Belen Montes, remain there today.
Since Mason’s confinement in the Administrative Unit, advocacy efforts from his community and his lawyer have been ongoing. Advocacy work has included not only efforts to have him moved from the overly restrictive environment of the Unit, but a successful campaign to secure gender-affirming hormone treatment, making him the first known prisoner authorized to begin female-to-male gender transition in federal custody. Also during his time in the Admin Unit, the BOP has adjusted its policies on solitary confinement. Carswell administrators gave no explanation for Marius’ redesignation. Needless to say, friends and supporters believe the move is long overdue.
Shortly after his sentencing in 2010, Marius was moved from FCI Waseca to the highly restrictive administrative unit at FMC Carswell. After litigation, a FOIA request yielded a document indicating that his redesignation was due to his “radicalizing and recruiting other inmates.” No specific information was provided about why an inmate might be placed into the unit, or how Marius might be able to transition out of it. Indeed, more information is available about the BOP’s Communication Management Units (CMUs), created with the stated purpose of monitoring alleged so-called terrorists, than about the administrative unit at Carswell.
For several years, Marius’ lawyer, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, attempted without success to get the BOP to provide a written statement justifying the decision to keep him in the Administrative Unit. According to Meltzer-Cohen, the few written documents about the facility’s Administrative Unit state that it exists in order to coerce compliance with institutional safety. Upon successful behavioral modification, the inmate presumably is to transition back to general population. Marius remained in the administrative unit for years with an almost flawless disciplinary record. The facility’s redesignation of Marius into general population therefore seems to be a belated, but welcome compliance with the BOP’s own stated goals.
We are hopeful that this move may mean better control over his diet and more reliable mail service.
Metzer-Cohen stated, “We wish Marius a lot of luck in this transition. While we may never know the reason for it, this does draw attention to the fact that the BOP finally seems to be acting in accordance with its own policy on administrative segregation in Mason’s case, after years of avoiding it.”
The Campaign to Fight Toxic Prisons (FTP) sends love to Marius in this move and extends solidarity to all people in administrative segregation as a penalty for their beliefs or mental health conditions which the BOP doesn’t want to deal with. We support the call to immediately close Carswell’s Administrative Unit entirely.
We also call on the BOP to address the long history of abuses in general population which Marius is entering. The Carswell Federal Medical Center has been the subject of more than a decade of scrutiny by groups such as the ACLU, which released an extensive report calling it a Hospital of Horrors.
Background on Marius and the Carswell prison
Marius Mason, a transgender prisoner at the federal women’s prison in near Fort Worth, Texas on the Carswell military base. Mason is serving a 22-year sentence for his underground actions against logging and genetic engineering, in which no one was injured. He was convicted in 2008 based on testimony of an informant.
FMC Carswell is home to at least two Superfund sites within a mile of the prison. One is a 760-acre plant known as Air Force Plant 4 General Dynamics that has manufactured military planes since 1942, resulting in soil and water contaminated with hazardous chemicals. The U.S. Air Force currently owns the facility; Lockheed Martin Corporation operates it. This site is on the National Priorities List, meaning it is among the worst hazardous waste sites identified by the EPA. The other is located at Building 1215. The EPA considers this to be an active site, with contamination continuing to impact the area. Carswell has also held to other prominent political prisoners, including Catholic Worker Kathleen Rumpf and activist-lawyer Lynne Stewart, who was released in 2014 and passed in March of this year.
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Sandisfield, MA. May 2–Â Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company hit another hurdle in their construction of the controversial $93 million Connecticut Expansion Project in Otis State Forest early Tuesday when over 50 Massachusetts residents blocked an access road to the company’s easement in Otis State Forest. At 7:00am today, a crowd of supporters holding signs and a banner that read “Save Our Forest Save Our Water. Save Our Earth. Unite. Resist. Protect”, began a protest march at Lower Spectacle Pond in Sandisfield, MA.Â By 7:30am, nine activists had secured a chain across Access Road #3 of Otis State Forest, chanting “This is What Democracy Looks Like” and “We are Stopping Pipelines, Never Turning Back.” At 8:00am, a caravan of 12 work vehicles, 2 State Police cruisers and 2 private security cars arrived. At 8:15am, the people of the chain barricade said “No” , when asked by the State Troopers to let the private security personnel report for work on Access Road #3. This blockade is preventing the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company’s personnel and equipment from felling trees to prepare for construction of the 3.8 mile pipeline.
Currently, the activists are standing staunchly behind their chain barricade, as “Police Liaisons” negotiate with the State Police officials. Ron Coler, one of the nine people on the blockade said, “We have every right to be here, as per the consent decree of the Massachusetts Attorney General, the public has full access to Otis State Forest! Another protestor, Vivienne said, “This land belongs to the people of Massachusetts and on behalf of all life on planet earth, we are proud to stand here!” Activists have pledged to continue their resistance to the pipeline until the project is stopped.
“We are committed to using all the non-violent tactics at our disposal in our ongoing opposition to the CT Expansion Project in Otis State Forest,” said activist Irvine Sobleman, of Northampton who participated in the action Tuesday. “In the face of ongoing Climate Change, it is crystal clear that [our] responsibility [to protect the earth] requires us to reject all fossil fuel infrastructure construction, no matter how small or large the project may be.”
All participants of today’s action are members of a Massachusetts-based group of which Sobleman is a part, the <http://sugarshackalliance.org/>Sugar Shack Alliance (SSA), a coalition of activists from around the state that is rooted in the principles of non-violence and originally formed in resistance to the Northeast Energy Direst Pipeline (NED) All members of the alliance have completed eight hours of comprehensive Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) training, are members of affinity groups, and agree on all decisions using a consensus-based model. In the group’s mission is a commitment to climate justice and non-violent disruption of the fossil fuel economy.
SSA has also formed a staging ground on private land abutting the state forest and the pipeline easement, setting up tents, information tables, and food for the activists in preparation for a long anti-pipeline campaign. “Stop! Take Notice,” reads a bright yellow banner hanging from a barn at the staging area, “This is Public Land. Say No to More Methane Pipelines. Save us from Global Warming! Gov. Leaders – Please Stand Strong Behind Article #97.” Representatives from Sugar Shack are present on an on-going basis at this staging area– #250 Cold Spring Road– to direct press to media liaisons and actions. All members of the Alliance wear pins to signal their membership in the organization, and media liaisons can be identified by their badges.
For more information, see: <http://sugarshackalliance.org/>http://sugarshackalliance.org and follow the group’s on-going social media project #whyiprotect on <https://www.facebook.com/whyiprotect/?hc_ref=PAGES_TIMELINE>Facebook and Twitter.