The coming cataclysm
Pádraig Ó Meiscill
‘One last climate warning in new IPCC report: Now or never’… ‘Heatwaves at both of Earth’s poles alarm climate scientists’… ‘Seven new oil and gas projects approved since IPCC report called for an end to fossil fuels’… ‘Woman, 64, convicted for role in Just Stop Oil’s fuel site blockade’… ‘US public lands to reopen for oil and gas drilling as fuel prices surge’…. ‘Wheat hits record high as war halts exports from Europe’s bread baskets’… ‘Soaring food prices put Cargills on rich 500 list’… ‘Floods kill hundreds in South Africa’… ‘Biden and the oil price panic’… ‘We were promised a bold and visionary energy plan. But we’ve been sold a dud’… ‘Polluters row back on emission targets upgrade’… ‘Deadly mudslides in Brazil’… ‘BP rejects calls for windfall tax’… ‘Land is new frontier to greenwash corporate sins’… ‘How Orwell’s dystopia includes a love of gardens’… ‘A superyacht is a luxury toy that keeps on giving’… ‘Taxing energy profits will not be the windfall politicians hope for’… ‘Mercedes buoyed by higher-end sales’… ‘OIL SHOOK UP’
What is the fucking point? We’re all doomed
Panic. Fear. Shaking. Shivering. Fever. Terror. Self-loathing. Dread. Muscle freeze. Brain freeze. Is the brain not a muscle? Freeze this frame, brain. Can’t. Too late. Too late by far bro. Brain death. Brain rot. Your own personal brain-drain as your cells rush for the escape pods. What is the fucking point? We’re all doomed. We deserve to be, anyway. Except that we don’t. Deserve to be, that is. Not all of us, anyway. Not equally. Not nearly. Not even close.
We knew this already, didn’t we?
I’m writing this on Earth Day, April 22 2022 (a coincidence, I didn’t know when Earth Day was until today. If I’m being honest, I’d forgotten there was such a thing. Maybe I never knew there was one until now) and when I split my screen to search for something, Google has photographs on a slideshow, illustrating the retreat of ice from the poles over the last forty years, of the slow death of tropical coral reefs, of the massacre of rain forests. That’s it – just this fleeing of whiteness from a barren stretch of land, of technicolour sponge from a blue background, of one type of green from another. What are we supposed to do with that? We knew this already, didn’t we? This isn’t so much a call to act as an incentive to curl up and die – after leaving all your personal data to Google, of course. Just like dying widows used to leave whatever pittance they had to the parish priest and Mother Church.
This burning stage
But what does it really matter when we’re stuck on this north Atlantic outcrop, this irrelevant little prop left lying on the neglected ledge of the burning stage? The actors are scurrying for the front exits, leaving the audience to the agonising fate of clawing at the padlocks on the chained service-doors. There’ll be no God in the Machine this time. This twilight zone, this stinking sod, this prop that may yet come to seem a comparative paradise when looking at rows C through to Z and how they burn and scream. Not yet, though. There are many twists and turns to go through yet. And is that all we have to give anyway? Clarity? Understanding? Empathy? Pretty words? We’re pretty good at those. Those couplets. Pretty. Obscene.
But how to bridge the gap between universal, existential dread – this feeling of pathetic impotence – and what can be done to put an end to it, to give ourselves another chance? How to be an actor and not a stupid, useless prop?
A cowardly euphemism
Well, we can’t bridge it, can we? Or we don’t want to. Not according to the experts, at least. Not according to the opinion polls. On this reading of things, maybe we don’t want another chance, another crack at making something better out of this terminal shitshow. We’re still mixed up in our little quarrels, aren’t we? Us and our little tribal quarrels. Begetting our squalid little pseudo-wars. But conflicts and crises get framed many ways, and usually by those with an interest in obscuring them and the power with which to do it, just like the naming and framing of our own wee ‘tribal quarrels’.
Do you care about the ‘environment’? ask the pollsters. Bringing forth visions of your brown bin and dog shit in your local park. No harm, ‘environment’ is a cowardly euphemism in this instance. If the term used in polls was ‘planet, our only planet, our only home, on fire, burning in front of our eyes,’ it’s safe to assume that a lot more than five per cent would be putting it at the top of their list of concerns.
Cauterised by the white-hot irons of corporate cynicism
But, regardless, we get pummelled by the ruthlessness of the news cycle and the seeming unrelation between one thing and another, our bleeding consciousness reduced to pulp beneath the vicious blows of events, our seeping heart cauterised by the white-hot irons of corporate cynicism. Just as a reckoning with our ‘environment’ appeared close, along came the plague, and millions of us died, and when that was no longer worthy of public emergency, Vlad the Impaler visited war upon Europe (war in other places being perpetual, to be expected and not worthy of our society being put on DEFCON 1, or whatever).
Profit for the murder machines
And so, the sabre rattling has got the blood up and there has been a great gnashing and wailing, not for a pause, not for peace, Mary Mother of God forbid, but for more violence, more corpses, more Javelin missiles, more Stingers in the sky, more profits for the Lockheed Martin and Raytheon murder machines. And yet, even within all this manipulation there are chinks of light, resistance in the form of free thought, a precarious clarity about our place in the world, a reticence to fully throw our lot in with the war mongers. Despite weeks of public posturing by establishment politicians and mainstream media darlings, the people of Ireland stand firmly behind their last vestiges of neutrality in the face of international war making.
A determination to fight for one another
And think back to that near reckoning. To the tens of thousands of people in the streets, the climate strikes, the schools shut down by students, the self-educating and self-organising. And remember that across this country, every day of the year, there are people taking on destructive extractive industries like gold mining and building alternative structures like urban people’s gardens for the growing of food. Small scale stuff, but the essential foundations upon which so much else can be built. The reckoning is going to come whether we want it to or not, but it does matter whether we face it with a flood of pathological despair or something resembling realistic optimism, a determination to fight for one another.
And let’s remember that we’re not completely on the periphery when it comes to the practices that are driving us towards a climate cataclysm; nowhere in a world strung up by the electric tentacles of capital could be anymore. We’re not completely without levers to pull and Emergency Stop buttons to hit that will make some kind of difference. And no, I’m not talking about turf. I’m talking about, for example, ‘data capture centres’.
Big data, big energy
Ireland lays on a famous welcome for the corporations behind these centres, which house piles upon piles upon piles of ‘server farms’. The ‘Cloud’ that captures all your data? That’s where it all goes to – into these very much physical, very old world, concrete and metal hulks.
Ireland is the most prolific data capture hub in Europe, with 70 operational ‘factories’ and more in the pipeline. A single server mega-farm can eat up energy resources equivalent to those used by a small city like Kilkenny. Electricity consumed by data centres in Ireland jumped by 144 per cent between 2015 and 2020. The cooling systems in these ghost factories that produce nothing tangible can use 500,000 litres of water a day and many times that amount when temperatures are high. All to churn your ‘data’ (your likes, your shares, your purchases, your fetishes) through big machines for the likes of Amazon and Facebook and Google to monetise.
It is estimated that, before the decade is out, 27 per cent of all electricity produced in the Twenty-Six Counties will be needed to power the data capture centres that the government throws the big bright Céad Míle Fáilte mat out for them to shit upon. Begorrah. Sodom. Gomorrah. Understandably, EirGrid, the state electric operator, is freaking out.
And the justification for this generosity? Here’s our man Leo Varadkar conjuring with the intangible things held in the centres, “It is gold. It is diamonds. Why would you not want it to be stored in your country?”
The key word used by Leo here is ‘stored’. He didn’t say ‘utilised’, ‘employed’, ‘used’, ‘deployed’, ‘put to work for the benefit of the community’, he used ‘stored’. All that ersatz gold and those alchemic diamonds just lounging around waiting…. Waiting for what, exactly? And for whom are they being stored? For what purpose? For whose benefit? And something that is stored, if it is to be of any value, has to be used eventually. So who will mine them and why and for whose benefit? Not Leo, not for us, you can bet your last cent on that.
Ireland’s Chief Charlatan, and for that title there is some serious competition, Eamon Ryan has led the charge for the pure personal responsibility approach to the climate crisis. ‘Take less showers,’ the boul Eamon says, ‘and it’ll be grand’. All that water being used to keep all those socially useless super computers cool seems to bother him not a bit. The plans for the latest Amazon data centre at Mulhuddart, perched on the River Tolka, lie open on Ryan’s desk, awaiting his signature. But Minister Ryan has been busy with the turf.
That Céad Míle Fáilte doormat
A problem with small countries which have a history of being colonised is that they usually beget a small class of equally small-minded people who tell the rest of us that the best way to get on in the world is to do the bidding of the globally powerful. Become that Céad Míle Fáilte doormat for the wealthy, they implore, and in turn, a snarling diseased, rabies-inflicting wolfhound to refugees and asylum seekers. Helpfully, this approach serves to obscure the fact that this small class is really, truly intent on robbing the rest of us. So the vision among the Irish of a certain refined class and disposition is of a country operating as a kind of Walmart warehouse for the Global North.
A warehouse for the tools of exploitation
It is of a country filled with trinkets useful only to those who have a pathological urge to accumulate more wealth upon the piles they already hoard. It is an Ireland equipped with airports like Shannon and Aldergrove which provide the militaries of NATO a launch pad for their latest expeditions to punish the less accommodating. Think Fallujah. Think Tripoli. Think Kandahar. It is Ireland as a warehouse for the tools of exploitation and mass murder on the periphery of the great charnel house of the 21st Century World. And we comply.
Paid up members of fortress Europe
It’s absurd now to talk of the Irish being the blacks of Europe, it has been for a long while. Black European citizens are the blacks of Europe. The Irish are fully paid-up members of Fortress Europe and our politicians seek to use that status, not without a certain degree of success, as a bargaining chip in our eternal battle with the British government. But neither does this negate our experiences in the scrapyard which has served as our history book. There are plenty here who know what it feels like to have a system of inequality imposed with the aid of an occupying army. Many more know the draining pain that comes with having to leave their home place in search of a job. And what to do with all that?
A love of place
I don’t know. But Murray Bookchin may have, “Ecology—social ecology—must begin with a love of place. There must be home. Oikos—home—ecology—the study of the household. If we do not have a household—and that household is not an organic, rich community—if we do not know the land we live on, if we do not understand its soil, if we do not understand the people we live with, if we cannot relate to them, then at that particular point we are really in a spaceship. We are really out in a void.”
Struggling against the void
So maybe that is a good place for us to start: The choice between believing in Jeff Bezos or our next-door neighbour. Maybe this is our perfect platform on which to act: The choice between believing that this void into which we are slipping can be filled by an Elon Musk-copyrighted spaceship or the community around us which already, in spite of everything, exists. As a people, we have been struggling against the void for a long, long time. Maybe that is our head start.
Are these easy choices to make? Of course not. Will the decisions entail hardship? Most definitely. Either way. There is no easy way out. But it might be worth remembering the words of James Baldwin, “People who cannot suffer can never grow up, can never realise who they are,” but, “If one is continually surviving the worst that life can bring, one ceases to fear what life can bring.”
Next time after the suffering
We all suffer. Jesus, and there’s a statement of the blindingly fucking obvious. But what Baldwin, a survivor of all the vicious racism that White America had to throw at him, was pointing to is a type of conscious suffering that allows us to grow. To learn. Because there’ll always be a next time after the suffering and everything that makes life worth living is contained in the in-between, with each other. So yeah, maybe this is a call to suffering. And this writer is among the first candidates who needs to grow up in advance of it. But it’s a call to suffer together, alongside one another, because otherwise we will do it anyway, just alone and isolated and resentful, and suffering alone is a pure distillation of what hell must be like in the twisted tortured nightmare visions of a true believer.
Suffering alone is what Boris Johnston and Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro et al. wanted us to do in the face of the Plague: compartmentalise and privatise the suffering into everyone’s box rooms and allow the profit making to go on unhindered, scornful of the cough-clouded moans – and if we do it that way, nothing of what we learn about ourselves will we be able to pass on to others. And neither would they want to listen anyway. Wasted suffering – what a fucking sin.
But here, this isn’t about burdening ourselves with more suffering. It’s a modest proposal to think differently about the suffering we already endure. We need to open ourselves up to the suffering which we are repressing or give alternate names to: ‘Debt’ ‘Pressure’ ‘Stress’ ‘Anxiety’ ‘Depression’. It’s about the alienation which we feel from ourselves, from our loved ones, from our neighbours, from our wage slavery, from each other, and which manifests itself in a dizzying amount of different out of control rollercoaster ways. Those Back to the Future daydreams about Bezos and Musk blasting us off into the stratosphere, leaving our wasted homelands behind.
To know one another
We need to get know one another again, those of our own class, the people of no property who will have no ticket on the fleeing spaceships. To foster that precious thing which we do so well: making one another feel good, in themselves, in relation to one another. We need to use the enjoyment of now to gild ourselves (yes, cover ourselves with light) for the suffering still to come, think about how we can utilise it before it hits us, get ready for the demonic bastard.
And, please, no silence in the face of the fire. Silence is for the comfortable. Let’s become like water. Let’s see if, between us, we can make that magic, deafening sound of a living river in full flow.