September 7, 2022


By Lillian Michiko Blakey

“You from Vancouver?” I nod. “Big city. He shakes his head. “ All that cement (see-ment)”, he says, “addles the brain”.Joy Kogawa  OBASAN

When did we humans, supposedly the most intelligent beings on earth, begin to drive every living thing on the planet to extinction… including ourselves? Is it a recent phenomenon? Did it begin with our creation of modern cities of cement to serve only our needs? Or did it begin 125,000 years ago with human migration and colonization of every part of the earth? 

The fact is that wherever we went, we have systematically wiped-out species around us from almost the beginning of our history.  We forget the teachings of Indigenous people, that all living things on earth are related, that when species disappear, there are enormous ecological consequences. And yet we continue to be responsible for ongoing extinctions today. So maybe, as Rough Luck Bill states in Kogawa’s OBASAN, when seven-year-old Naomi is paralyzed and can’t speak, our brains are indeed “addled”.

Or maybe… those of us who live in our own bubble of privilege just don’t care. We see the evidence of unprecedented disasters all around the earth – fires, floods, disease, mountains of garbage – and yet, many choose to believe it is all “fake news”. NIMBE… so they don’t exist. Or maybe “I’m sick and tired of gloom and doom. I’m using the blue box, so I’m doing enough!”

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch in the North Pacific Ocean in 2022 is 1.6 million square miles, the world’s largest garbage dump with 1.8 billion pieces of floating plastic which kills millions of marine animals every year. But most of the plastic is floating below the surface. So, we tell ourselves, “I don’t see anything so it can’t be true!” By 2050, the oceans could have more plastic than fish. By 2050 fossil fuels used to manufacture plastics will be depleted. Maybe when we can’t get what we want, we will take notice. Will it be too late? Not if we take action now to stop the manufacture of non-degradable plastics and slow climate change by changing our habits. If each of the 8 billion people on earth today, did ONE thing to help the earth renew itself, we might be able to slow the inevitable extinction of all living things on earth.

 So, what can I do? I am only one person.  As an artist, I can hold a mirror to society through my images. I can question the materials I use only to create the desired effect in my art, no matter the cost to the environment. I can write to manufacturers of art materials to insist that they offer only eco-friendly products to artists. I can educate schools and children about plastic particles in acrylic paints which are washed down the sink into our drinking water supply. I CAN DO SOMETHING.

I am reminded of the sonnet written by William Wordsworth two hundred and twenty years ago.

The World Is Too Much With Us

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I’d rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.

 Willian Wordsworth Circa 1802

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