“In June 2021… a strange new weather event dubbed a ‘heat dome’ descended on the southern coast of British Columbia, the part of Canada where I now live with my family. The thick air felt like a snarling, invasive entity with malevolent intent. More than 600 people died, most of them elderly; an estimated 10bn marine creatures were cooked alive on our shores; an entire town went up in flames.” — Naomi Klein, The Guardian, 8/26/23
Mass death events of humans are occurring under the current climate and larger ecological breakdown. 388 people are still unaccounted for after the city-consuming wildfire in Maui, in addition to the 115 confirmed deaths. I heard the medical examiner of Phoenix, Arizona explain on Public Radio that 2022 saw upwards of 700 deaths traceable to extreme heat in his city, and that 2023 is exceeding those numbers. These events are horrific enough to try to process. But the mass deaths of nonhuman species under the human-caused ecological collapse can be even more bewildering to the human mind. 10 *billion* marine creatures dead in the Pacific Northwest in 2021? *Billions* of snow crabs disappeared from the Bering Sea in 2022? Emperor penguins in Antarctica with no children surviving the most recent birth cycle: not enough solid ice. Morbidly, dead insects used to coat cars after a road long trip in the 1970s. No more. Billions or trillions of insects have vanished.
It is, perhaps, not coincidental that one of the summer’s hit movies features a protagonist famous for declaring the line from the Baghvad Gita, “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds,” upon seeing the apocalyptic results his scientific work had wrought. From the vantage point of all other wild earth species, we are indeed Death. There is a remarkable passage in the book “Dreams” by Derrick Jensen that illustrates this reality. Jensen is a skilled nocturnal dreamer who has cultivated a conscious relationship to his dream life over decades. One summer, the frogs in the forests and bogs near his Northern California home are dying en masse from some kind of virus or bacteria. Before bed one night, Jensen asks the frogs to reveal to him how it feels to live side-by-side with humans. In his dream that night, he experiences the consciousness of a frog in the area near his home and he senses the human presence as a menacing giant behind him, stalking him with a large club in order to kill him. Jensen describes in arresting detail the cold, white dread he felt embodying the frog.
This is not how we should be living. And coming to grips with what our species has done and is doing is difficult-to-impossible. It should be. Such psychological difficulty is a sign that we still retain a soul.