The words below were written – as prose not poetry – in ten minutes of totally free writing at a workshop today. I’ve made a few changes as I typed. There are a few borrowed lines.
The poem/prose is inspired by scenes at the end of the second programme in Our Planet, the new series from David Attenborough. I watched that programme, feeling worse and worse. When it came to the walrus scenes I wept. Later that night I wept for two hours about what I’d seen. I have cried since.
Here’s a 30 second clip. It spares you the most distressing parts of what I and many others have been so troubled by. I cried again, having found the video.
I am not the walrus. Goo goo goo joob.
I am the murderer.
I am death. Look upon me and despair.
I have a finely honed killer instinct. The destroyer of worlds.
I am the guilty. The dark witch.
The reversed hanged man card. The face up devil.
I hold out full hands. Display my weapons of
Overheated homes, plastic wrap ready meals,
Double plastic wrapped berries.
I am the over-consumer. The woman with a thousand luxuries.
A collaborator with riches,
With a trickle down capitalism that never trickled.
I am the deceiver. The compassionate one who failed to act.
I blinded myself to suffering.
Closed my eyes as waters rose, ice melted.
I was shown extinction and walked willfully into it.
I changed nothing without prompting,
Became arrogant in my raging pride at reusing a single bag.
I allowed devastation to happen, walked hand in hand with tyrants.
I kissed all who encouraged me.
Big businessmen, politicians, and billionaires.
I am not the walrus.
I watched. Saw the ice dweller who lost his ice.
A homeless king forced to climb cliffs
Merely to find a place to rest while
Most of his kind squeeze together so
Tightly to survive that they are crushed,
Their children asphyxiated in an almost lost battle.
I watched. He tried to return to the ocean,
Forced down from the cliffs, hungry.
I watched. He fell.
Separated momentarily from rock. Hit harsher ground.
Slow pained execution and the feasting of the birds.
I am not the walrus.
I slew the walrus. We all slew the walrus.
We never met him.
Our weapons of mass destruction,
Fired from afar in innocence and knowledge.
In every polystyrene pot, in every wasted moment.
My own kitchen condemns me. I know what I do.
And as I cook tonight's plastic wrapped modern miracle
I will weep again.
I am not the walrus. Goo goo goo joob. Goo goo goo joob.
What to do? Last year we learned that the human race has twelve years left in which we can not stop climate change from happening but avert a total catastrophe. We’re well on the way to that already, decades after environmental groups began lobbying for action. With every week that passes, actions need to be more extreme.
What to do? Most of us, even those of us who want to change the world, feel quite helpless. Many of us are very short of cash and we see that being environmentally friendly often costs more. Many of us have dozens of other commitments. We have major health concerns. I myself have major problems with food that make environmentally sounder options for eating very difficult indeed, and often almost an impossibility. We have fears, often planted in us by the powerful. There are lots of reasons we could each give as to why we’re not environmental saints. Probably nobody reading this will be part of the 1% who have greater power to make widespread policy decisions, but that doesn’t mean any of us are powerless.
I believe we can all do something. All of us. Something small. Even the tiniest of actions like not overfilling a kettle is something, and we can all do that. Several small things. Something big. A whole process of small changes leading to a greater transformation. Some pressuring of the 1%. I know for a fact that for all these years I could have been doing more and acting in a way more helpful to the planet. It’s going to take time, commitment, and some dedication to make the changes to my own life that are possible in the circumstances in which I find myself. Of course a sensible kettle habit won’t save our planet. A vast amount more is needed from our species. But can we all agree to at least learn to do these very easy things?
The time is now for regret for all we’ve done as a planet. The time isn’t right for self-condemnation or any condemnation for past mistakes and excesses. We haven’t got time for that even though many of the destructive actions and policies of humanity may merit condemnation. We only have time for positive action.
The time is now for me to make changes, one after another, not just in the way I consume or don’t consume things, but in my actions. No. The time was years ago. But I didn’t do it. At this point I also have to be involved with environmental issues as an activist. There’s a mental health reason for that urgency.
I have a hell of a lot to learn. And I am only one person. I cannot save the world. But I can begin and am just beginning to engage with climate activism again in a way that goes beyond signing petitions.
I haven’t been involved since I was still at school. Now I have to be involved again, and I will have to be involved more than I ever was before. My head gives no other option. So we’re now in contact with both Greenpeace and Extinction Rebellion, two groups of people whose forms of non-violent direct action appeal to my own sense of creative urgency. It’s a beginning for us. We have come to this very late in the day.
What to do? Hope. Act. I have to believe, we all have to believe, that actions will prove our hope to have been rational. It’s easy to despair. Hope instead. But without that action – and very, very radical change – we will be disappointed. More than disappointed, we may not survive at all.