Guest blog by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee Ph.D., author of ‘Spiritual Ecology, the Cry of the Earth’.
The bush fires raging across Australia have given climate crisis a new word: omnicide. Rather than just ecocide, our deliberate destruction of the natural environment, omnicide, images a crime “we have previously been unable to witness because we have never imagined it.”(1) With billions of dead animals and birds, millions of people suffering health effects, we are witnessing what the world will look like with three or more degrees warming, “the killing of everything.”
And yet while this vast devastation unfolds, Australian politicians – paid by climate deniers – are in the process of developing a huge new open coal mine helped by Siemens (which also profited from the Holocaust as a leading corporate participant in Hitler’s “death through work program”), despite the protests of Fridays for Future activists including Greta Thunberg, which once again shows the emptiness of so many climate change policies. And at the same time Japan races to build twenty-two new coal-burning power plants, which “would emit almost as much carbon dioxide annually as all the passenger cars sold each year in the United States.” (2)
This is the blinkered pathological hypocrisy we are witnessing across the world, which the Australian bush fires, together with the vocal protests of young people, have brought even more clearly into focus. Symbolically and literally, our future and the Earth is burning—our home is on fire, and the fossil fuel industry, supported by vast subsidies and tax breaks (3), is making sure that temperatures will continue to rise.
As images of raging fires and burning bush fill our screens, it is important to remember that omnicide has already arrived in another, less photogenic, part of the world whose people are poor and of color. It is vital that we bring racial justice into our understanding of climate collapse, that we recognize what is happening in war-torn Somalia as much as in New South Wales. Here, in a country described as a “failed state,” home to warlords and al-Shabab, climate emergency has already arrived, with the rains and crops failing—extreme weather a direct result of our global climate imbalance.
For these Somalis climate change does not just threaten fire to their homes, but famine, disease, and people fleeing, displaced. “The failure of seasonal rains earlier this year in Somalia threatened more than two million people with hunger as their crops shriveled in the fields and livestock died from the lack of water and pasture.”(4) And when rain did come, it was an unrelenting downpour that destroyed homes, creating the worst floods in memory. With droughts and floods increasing in frequency and intensity,(5) climate breakdown is no longer an image of the future, but a present reality. And, as Somalia shows, it is the poorest that are bearing the brunt of climate change, suffering from the carbon excesses of the rich. While industrialized nations pledged in 2009 to contribute $100 billion a year to help the poorest countries deal with the effects of climate change, only a fraction of that money has arrived, “the fund of hope becoming a fund of hopelessness.” (6)
We are all complicit in this great dying—our cars and energy-intensive lifestyle creating the carbon emissions that can so easily take us from ecocide to omnicide. What will our world look like one, two, or three degrees warmer? We may see images of the Earth burning, but many in the West are still safe in our consumer lifestyle, the shelves of the stores still full. We are not being displaced, refugees in our own country. But we are being asked to heed what Pope Francis called “the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” We cannot ignore the global racial injustice that belongs to our climate crisis.
© 2020 The Golden Sufi Center, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee Ph.D. author, Spiritual Ecology, the Cry of the Earth
(1) Danielle Celermajer, professor of sociology at the University of Sydney specializing in human rights, explains the term invokes a crime we have previously been unable to imagine because we had never before witnessed it. New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/25/opinion/sunday/australia-fires-climate-change.html
(2) “In contrast with Japan’s effort to portray this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo as one of the greenest ever.” New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/03/climate/japan-coal-fukushima.html
(3) In 2017 the IMF put these subsidies at $5.2 trillion.
(4) “Weather and war: how climate shocks are compounding Somalia’s problems,” The New Humanitarian, https://www.thenewhumanitarian.org/feature/2019/11/19/climate-shocks-somalia-problems.
(5) Linda Ogallo, a climate scientist who specializes in Somalia’s weather patterns.
(6) “Rich nations vowed billions for climate change. Poor countries are waiting.” “In 2017, Mr. Trump said the United States would no longer pay into the Green Climate Fund. He explained his decision by saying that the contributions could eventually cost the United States ‘billions and billions and billions’ of dollars.” New York Times.