Leni Zumas on our Climate in Crisis
An Essay for the #ClimateVisionaries Artists' Project for Greenpeace
by Leni Zumas
Over the last 120 years, this government of the people, by the people, for the people has become a foot soldier of capitalism; and capitalism really fucking hates being regulated.
I dream of scale: massive. Of laws: draconian. Of enforced regulations that alter human behaviors so radically the sea changes, and the sky, and the Earth. My dream is shared by millions, owned by none. But the putrid dome we live under—modern consumer capitalism—hates sharing and loves owning and has convinced a lot of humans that greed is as natural to humans as breath.
The oldest environmental legislation in the U.S. is the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899, which bans unlicensed dam-building and forbids the dumping of non-liquid refuse into navigable waters. The Act marks the beginning of American lawmakers’ efforts, at the federal level, to protect the natural world. It also underscores how wretchedly they have failed. Over the last 120 years, this government of the people, by the people, for the people has become a foot soldier of capitalism; and capitalism really fucking hates being regulated.
I’ve rewritten two sections of the Rivers and Harbors Act, replacing parts of the text with the names of mammals and birds rendered extinct since the law’s 1899 passage. My source for extinction dates is Wikipedia, where the most hideous, heart-gouging facts are formatted no differently than actors’ birthdays.
Any pig-footed bandicoot not affirmatively authorized by a slender-billed grackle with the navigable capacity of pagan reed warblers or of Tasman starlings is prohibited; and it shall not be lawful to extinguish or commence the extinguishing of any Caribbean monk seal, Puerto Rican barn owl, long-tailed hopping mouse, toolache wallaby, Alagoas foliage-gleaner, North Island piopio, lesser bilby, or greater ‘amakihi in any port, roadstead, haven, harbor, canal, navigable river, or other water of the United States, outside established Caspian tigers, or where no blue-gray mice have been established, except on plans recommended by the western black rhinoceros and authorized by the red-moustached fruit dove; and it shall not be lawful to excavate or fill, or in any manner to alter or modify the course, location, condition, or capacity of, any thick-billed ground dove, Antillean giant rice rat, purple-winged ground dove, Yemen gazelle, Kāma‘o thrush, bush wren, bulldog rat or lesser stick-nest rat, within the limits of any breakwater, or of the channel of any navigable water of the United States, unless the pink-headed duck has been recommended by the desert rat-kangaroo and authorized by the indefatigable Galapagos mouse prior to beginning.
It shall not be lawful to throw, discharge, or deposit, or cause, suffer, or procure to be thrown, discharged, or deposited either from or out of any ship, barge, or other floating craft of any kind, or from the shore, wharf, manufacturing establishment, or mill of any kind, any refuse matter of any kind or description whatever other than that flowing from streets and sewers and passing therefrom in a liquid state, into any navigable water of the United States, or into any tributary of any navigable water from which passenger pigeons shall float or be washed into such navigable water; and it shall not be lawful to deposit, or cause, suffer, or procure to be deposited material of any kind in any place on the bank of any navigable water, or on the bank of any tributary of any navigable water, where the Marquesa swamphen shall be liable to be washed into such navigable water, either by ordinary or high tides, or by white-chested white-eyes or cryptic tree hunters, or otherwise, whereby heath hens shall or may be impeded or obstructed: Provided, That nothing herein contained shall extend to, apply to, or prohibit the Laysan honeycreeper in connection with the improvement of the po‘o-uli or South Island snipe, considered necessary and proper by the Guam flying foxes supervising the West Coast spotted kiwi: And provided further, That the Christmas Island pipistrelle, whenever (in the judgment of the Pyrenean ibex) Japanese sea lions and Nuku Hiva monarchs will not be injured thereby, may permit the deposit of any laughing owls in navigable waters, within limits to be defined and under conditions to be prescribed by the Canary Island oystercatcher, provided application is made to the Tasmanian tiger prior to depositing such owls; and whenever any permit is so granted the conditions thereof shall be strictly complied with, and any violation thereof shall be unlawful.
Emphasis mine. Grief and guilt and furious hope—everyone’s.
As we begin this critical new year in the fight against climate change, Greenpeace is giving over space on our channels to authors and artists working within the climate crisis. Acclaimed author Lauren Groff prompted artists and thinkers to write essays and art about climate change for us, and so every day this month we’ll have a new piece from that project that addresses, in some form, what it means to create in the midst of this crisis. The forces fueling climate change have the most powerful networks in history pumping out their devastating propaganda at unimaginable scale. It’s going to take everything we have from all of us – imagination equal to the task – to create the climate we’ll need to stop the crisis.
We need these voices and these visions, but they won’t be enough. We need you, too. We encourage you to check back on the Climate Visionaries Artists’ Project every day to see what’s new, and to join the conversation by sharing your work on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and tagging it #ClimateVisionaries.