What is to be done is the main title of this seminar. It is also the title of a book by Lenin published in 1902; however Lenin, or, for that matter, his assassin the Russian revolutionary Fanny Kaplan, is not at the centre of my speech today.Instead, I will take the opportunity/liberty to rephrase the question, and ask: What is being done? In the Swedish Radio summer series program 21st of July this year, the poet Athena Farrokhzad closed her program with the following words: 'One day we will meet and talk about trees, the day when they belong to us all .... today it is impossible to talk only about trees when so many people's right to exist are being threatened.' Farrokzhad is right. The person fleeing for her life has no time to talk about trees. She has no time to talk about anything. There is no time to live a life, there is only escape. This is the moral and political scandal of the situation: People who have had to leave their homes, or have chosen to leave their homes, are not being welcomed on the shores of Europe but instead are left to perish in the waves of the sea. Yet, citizens of Europe and Sweden are aware of the fact that, following their signed conventions on human rights, there is an absolute obligation to welcome refugees, in the same way as residents in Europe and Sweden would have themselves wanted to be welcomed had they been trapped in calamities. Still, human rights were not and are not equally exercised. This is the scandal. This is what is not being done. So yes, it is indeed impossible to talk only about trees. But is it impossible to talk also about trees? It is suggested that we should postpone talking about trees until human politics have transformed into one caring community in which all trees are owned by all humans. In such a discourse there is a presumed conflict between talking about trees, and talking about people. Talking about trees is perceived as contrary to thinking about and acting for people in need. Is this ontology true? Is the ontology of zero sum games true? Are trees the guilty ones, making us look the other way? In a Swedish radio documentary the poet and Nobel laureate in literature, Tomas Transtromer, recounts how his nature poems were received by the critics in the late 1960's: 'If one included an animal or a straw of grass, one was dismissed as a reactionary.' Now, few people want to be a reactionary, so let us imagine following the suggestion not to talk about trees. Let us forget about trees for a while and talk about: What did happen when we did not talk about trees.
The 1960's were the decade for the onset of modern globalization and global industrialization of farming practices. It was the time when European ecological unconsciousness built into the economic order began to materialize intensively around the world.
Today, hegemonic human global society, formed by elite masculine power and driven by an economic order demanding constant growth, as few as eighty-five (85) individuals possess more monetary wealth than the Earth's poorest three and a half billion people (3.5) together, while eight hundred and forty two million (842) of the poorest are left starving. At the World Economic Forum in Davos this January, chief executive at Oxfam, Winnie Byanyima, stated that this economic inequality, as a fact, undermines human rights and human development. The Red Cross is in accordance, adding that the European Union is facing the worst humanitarian crisis in sixty years.
This global socioeconomic structure, as we know, stages global destruction of the biosphere by polluting groundwater, seas, soils, by felling forests, by the declining or extinction of birds, bees, butterflies and other animals in their habitats; the sheer number of wild vertebrae animals on the planet is today less than half compared to the numbers four decades ago, according to the latest Living Planet Index, and, not as much talked about, staging industrial and cruel exploitation of evermore animal creatures, combined with the exploitation of workers, having to carry out the actual handling and mass killing, as shown in the documentary film Samsara; while climate change is worsening conditions for humans, fellow species and other life forms on Earth.
So, one may say we are actually past the non-talking. The non-talking about trees is part of global history, today forcing people to migrate from their homes as natural catastrophes and conflicts are often linked to deforestation, soil degradation, erosion, fresh water shortages, draught and flooding. The non-talking of trees, the non-talking of ecosystems and the human influence on ecosystems, played and plays a big part in why humanity faces such troublesome times.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) most recent report, Climate Change 2014, 'Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability', says that climate change over the 21st century will increase displacement of people, as populations lacking resources for planned migration experience higher exposure to extreme weather events, in both rural and urban areas, particularly in countries with low income. The authors of the report note especially the indirect impact climate change has on increased risk of violent conflicts, such as civil war and inter-group violence.
By the end of 2013, an estimated 51.2 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced due to persecution, conflict, generalized violence, or human rights violations (UNHCR), the majority concentrated in 'climate change hotspots' around the world. In addition, in 2012, storms and floods forced 31.7 million, 86 000 people every day, to leave their homes; people who have no legal status, no recognition and no protection because they are environmental refugees. The International Migration Organization estimates that by the year 2050, there may be up to 1 billion environmental refugees.
So, the question we must pose is: How can the missing links be remembered and reclaimed? How can we save people and how can we save trees? How can trees be saved so that people can be saved, so that people can continue to sustain themselves?
How can we resist the choosing between the incomparable? What if we can't resist choosing between what is incomparable? What if we continue to make the mistake of not realizing that, for example, insect species are irreplaceable protagonists in human food production, pollinating seventy percent of the world's food crops?
What if we fail to recognize that, in the long run, without trees and insects there will be no food, no oxygen, no pure air, no fertile soil, no homes, no future, and no earth to breathe in? What if we continue to forget that, by undermining the needs of animals and nature, we are threatening the human prospect as well. What if we can't keep the web of life together?
Thanks to the untiring work of Vandana Shiva and many other activists and scientists, and a few politicians, there is today, in comparison with the 1960s and 70s, common knowledge about how environmental damage affects human rights, especially women's rights; and there is knowledge about the necessity to empower women and the necessity to resist land grabbing, mining, dam building, seed patents, and privatizations of water.
There is emerging awareness also of the interconnectedness of the mentioned threats; to build alternatives of equality, people in diverse social movements must co-exist and cooperate; hold hands and resist being thrown at each other like the oppressed were by the mighty in the gladiator games of the Roman Empire over 1, 500 years ago.
In spite of the structural barriers for collaboration, and in spite of the inability of especially mainstream media to discuss, simultaneously, more than one area of concern, many positive things are happening.
In Sweden and Europe, for example, there is now increasing resistance to the ongoing and growing open racism and xenophobia in society, as well as a rising consciousness about misogyny, the devaluing of femininity, and the oppression of women: In 2004, twenty two (22) percent of the Swedish population said they were prepared to call themselves feminists, in 2010 this figure was thirty three (33) percent and this year it had risen to forty seven (47) percent. Indeed, the Swedish Prime Minister, Stefan Lofven, in his inaugural speech, declared that the new government is 'a feminist government'.
Furthermore, there is among many young people an increased understanding of the importance to defend animal creatures in human society, for example by abolishing the industrial production and consumption of flesh from animals, replacing it with plant meat stuffs; for the sake of animals, for the sake of humans and for the sake of wild animals and nature as three-quarters (3/4) of the world's agricultural land is used for meat and dairy production, about thirty (30) percent of global corn crops and eighty (80) percent of global soybean crops are used for this production; according to the UNs Food and Agricultural Organization, animal production is the one human activity that causes the most damage to biological diversity. In the words of FAO, this sector is 'one of the top two to three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.'
The many interlocking facets of concern may indeed be the challenge of it all, identifying vicious circles and overdue systems, perceiving more than one layer and dimension, attending to the emergencies of our time while building in ways so that emergencies will not evolve into permanent patterns.
And, learning to pick up lost tropes, for example the concept of being amphibian, the term derived from the Ancient Greek amphíbios, meaning 'of both kinds' and βιος meaning 'life', meaning life of both kinds, and both kinds of life.
Today this may perhaps be interpreted as the destabilizing of the either or framework, the destabilizing of gender hierarchies and power hierarchies, and, in accordance with the artist Zanele Muholi and the film Difficult Love, as well as the artist Anthony Clair Wagner at this festival, trying out an existence as a monster undefined.
Indeed, 'monster' or 'amphibian' projects may be the multitask juggling this planet needs; inventing, creating and living the way it ought to be, as if this life was already here, dissolving strict power priorities, realizing utopia today.
I think of inspiring amphibian projects like the Indian network, Vandana Shiva's network, Navdanya's setting up of seed banks and training over five hundred thousand farmers in food sovereignty and sustainable agriculture over the past two decades, and I think of the social movement Moviemento Sem Terra in Brazil helping to resettle three hundred thousand families on farmland while training and giving support in ecological agriculture;
I think of refugee solidarity movement projects like Ingen manniska illegal in Sweden supporting people without documents and people who need refuge, as well as Folkkoket in Umea, Sweden and People's Restaurants in Brazil offering cheap and healthy vegan meals and cheap meals from local farms; I think of the Slow Food organization and its work against land grabbing in Africa and the work for the establishment of food gardens, returning local food to markets, home kitchens and schools; I think of My Villages and Skafferiet here in Umea at this festival.
I think of the girl empowering project Mighty Girl inspiring young people to invent new technology, for example 17-year old Cynthia Lam's device purifying water and generating electricity using only the power of the sun; I think of the New York physicians who prescribe fruit and vegetables as medicine for obese people, and the Forks over knives cookbook with its three hundred plant-based recipes reaching the top of the New York Times bestselling list;
I think of the lawyer Polly Higgins' ecocide initiative, reviving the idea of making ecosystem-destruction an international crime; I think of the Grassroot Economic Organizing newsletter with stories of collective solidarity economics, and the Rodale Institute's regenerative organic agriculture solution to climate change putting carbon back to work in the terrestrial carbon 'sinks' that are literally right beneath our feet; I think of the movement for an international basic income, and the movement for reducing work time instead of raising wages and consumption, and the middle class uprising movement in Sweden resisting higher wages and lower taxes;
I think of the vending machine in Istanbul helping stray dogs and recycling cans and bottles at the same time; I think of the nonviolent dove population methods in the town of Basel, the Canadian organization Animal Alliance's human-wildlife conflict prevention work, the movement for force free dog communication, the animal overpasses/green bridges in for example the Netherlands and France;
I think of the art exhibition The Paths to the Common(s) are Infinite at Tensta konsthall in Stockholm this autumn, and all the fantastic art work displayed here at the Survival Kit festival; for example Verklighetens conversion of the parking lot into a garden.
Finally, I think of a school here in Sweden that grows its own food on fertile soil thanks to the rooting system of old trees keeping the water in the ground.
I think of some of the children in that school, children having migrated from dire straits finding refuge in Sweden, playing with their new friends beneath those old trees, and I think of the people who opened their hearts to welcome them.
Concurrently with the ongoing destruction and arrogance in our time, this is what is, beautifully and progressively, being done.
I will end by reading a passage from Rabi Narayan Dash's poem 'A tree has deconstructed me' in Dash's collection of poetry from 2009, For Trees & Trees Only, Oripen Publ.:
Forever bent and difficult to come away from her shadow / And left with myriad of choices /She left before me /Two ultimate questions: What is a parallel to a tree? / Where sits the soul of man?
/Lisa Galmark, Survival Kit Festival, Umea 9th of October 2014
Copyright Lisa Galmark