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The Sixth Great Extinction Enters Glasgow

The natural world wrote the script at this year’s annual U.N. climate conference. It was performed by humans surrounding the miniature city that is COP.

Reverend Billy Talen Nov 19

For more from Reverend Billy, see “Before We Can Fight for the Planet, We Need to Learn to Talk with the Earth.”

The planners of the COP26 climate summit expelled the Earth from the talks. At the heart of the negotiations they were using data sets and professional phrases to summarize the life of the Earth, little bars and circles and dots that symbolize people and the Earth, but something in that elegant symbolism smells like bug spray.  

The negotiators at the climate talks who stand in for the people who live on the Earth — how did they represent us this year in Glasgow, Scotland? They must have used the phrase “250,000 climate change-related deaths last year.” How did they represent the mass mortality of animals and plants? Was the Australian’s continent’s fire, and the billion individual wild lives that perished there a memory that had a place at the table? Did the word “forests” come to the lips of a speaker?

The heaving crowd of cursing two-legged animals. Imagine what the protesters must have looked like from the inside.  Like a flood?  Like zombies in a movie?  Did you sneak a look at us from your windows?

What about deciduous forests and alpine meadows and mangrove swamps and salt marshes and coral reefs and high desert plains? Were the Earth’s ecosystems there at the center of COP26 negotiations? Could officials feel their conscious eyes looking out at them?

The natural world may have been present only in the bodies of the shouting, dancing, singing resisters pushing against the metal fences on the perimeter of the official COP conference. The unruly families with painted signs and laughter, screams, moans … all the tones of emoting that resemble extinct Kuai-O Birds and excitable Howler Monkeys and the whistling of super typhoon Haiyan.

The natural world wrote the script that was performed by humans surrounding the miniature city that is COP. The heaving crowd of cursing two-legged animals. Imagine what the protesters must have looked like from the inside.  Like a flood?  Like zombies in a movie?  Did you sneak a look at us from your windows? The upshot is that someone on the inside allowed thousands upon thousands of soldiers and police to encircle us.

We were the peaceful, if very loud, ones. We were watched, catalogued, followed by police, but we were the gentle, if arm-waving ones. The violence of the fossil burning executives inside the no-access buildings was what sealed them inside the hotels. The air-tight pressure-cooker in which they sat with their sheets covered with already-broken promises. The fury of the Earth-lovers outside their cyclone fencing aroused the anti-septic atmosphere inside, the very expensive promise that nature would never have the power, the promise that the power of nature and the power of social justice would never become one.

But the raging viruses flung from the blood of bats is flying back at the so-called First World. The resisters that the COP26 delegates and corporate lobbyists must have dimly heard chanting Earth-slogans are making promises too, promises that they will keep.

How are oil companies and their bankers separate from the Earth? Do they really believe that this is possible? How is that untouchable construction maintained when the dead are everywhere, the whole biosphere is migrating, dying, giving birth on the move? How do the suits stay away from the Earth they live in? The answer to that question is exactly where the next disaster finds its home.

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