On Plastic Straws and the Coming Collapse

When you look at what is needed to slow down or stop Climate Change and the destruction of the environment that sustains human life, you get confronted with an awful reality. That reality? There is literally no significant change that will not also deeply harm vulnerable people or infringe upon some modern freedom we now conceive as vital, inherent, and inalienable.

An editorial, from Rhyd Wildermuth

Recently, the city of Seattle in the United States became the first US city to fully ban single-use plastic straws, utensils, and cocktail picks in restaurants, bars, and coffeeshops. The ban was heralded as an environmentalist victory by marine conservationist groups and fiercely fought by restaurant associations, plastics manufacturers, and some activists for the disabled.

You may have encountered news about the ban specifically because of the opposition of some activists for the disabled. Though the Seattle ban allows restaurants to provide flexible single-use plastic straws for people who medically need them, restaurants, bars, and cafes aren’t required to keep such straws on hand. Thus, a disabled person who cannot drink without a straw might find themselves needing to provide their own in order to consume a beverage they’ve purchased. Activists for disabled people point out that this situation creates an accessibility barrier for a minority of people who already face countless other such barriers.

The debates around the plastic straw ban unfortunately obscured several much larger issues around environmental destruction, Climate Change, and disability. More unfortunately, the way the plastic straw ban was debated across social media reduced the question to a false polarity: save the turtles and oceans, or keep disabled people from aspirating their liquids and dying of pneumonia.

The problem with all these debates was that there were deeper topics which were never up for debate. For instance, can laws designed by technocrats to change consumer behavior actually stop environmental destruction? Can capitalist nations fix the problems they’ve caused by replacing one product with another? And what about the vulnerable people who rely on capitalist-created products that destroy the environment?

One can detect in the ban on plastic straws by Seattle (a city in which I lived for 16 years) a smug and fully unmerited sense of humanitarian “progress.” Much of it is hypocrisy: Seattle is longtime home to some of the most environmentally-destructive corporations in the world, such as Boeing and Amazon (which will sell you 100 plastic single-use straws for $5.99, straw ban be damned). Seattle relies heavily on those corporations and their workers for its tax revenue. Also, Seattle’s carbon output, while low compared to many cities of its size, is only so low because of its geographical proximity to hydro-electric power plants, not from efforts to conserve energy.

Like many “progressive” European nations and other cities, Seattle obscures its own contributions to the destruction of the environment while implementing laws and policies which only alter the aesthetics of its damage. This same hypocritical stance can be seen in Seattle’s treatment of homeless people. The Seattle King County metropolitan area has the fourth largest homeless population in the United States (12,500, the same size as South Korea’s homeless population), yet prides itself on its Liberal/progressive policies and is also the first large US city to have elected a Socialist to city council.

Seattle is the perfect example of the self-congratulatory, hypocritical Liberal Democratic (that is, capitalist) order, but it is hardly alone. This same duplicity can be found throughout the Western world. For a case in point, we need only look at Germany, usually touted as a paragon of green policies even under a conservative government. Angela Merkel announced the closure of all nuclear power plants by 2022; but Germany purchases and will continue to purchase and transport nuclear energy from its neighbors, particularly France. In addition, half of its timber production is burned to create electricity.

Almost all of the shifts that Liberal Democratic (capitalist) nations in the world have made towards reducing the destruction of the climate follow a similar pattern. Reductions in one destructive behavior are replaced by increases in another, and each switch is mere aesthetic. This pattern is nothing new: consider how most of the policies of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Clean Air Act in the United States focused entirely on aesthetic changes. Reductions of emissions into the air from factories and coal-fired power plants, as well as from automobiles, never significantly reduced CO2 in the atmosphere; instead, they reduced particulates which were causing asthma, smog, and “acid rain.”

The problem here should be obvious. While no one wants to choke on automobile exhaust and industrial pollutants, and reducing these particulates absolutely decreased cancer rates and helped asthmatics, these policies only made the larger problem invisible. C02, the primary agent of Climate Change, doesn’t leave a stain on the sky or cause immediate health problems. Instead, it increases the temperature of the entire earth by trapping heat, thereby melting glaciers, shifting ocean currents, and initiating wide-scale droughts, floods, crop failures, extinction events, and eventually societal collapse.

See No Evil

With this in mind we can return for a moment to the plastic straw ban. 9 million tons of plastic are dumped into the world’s oceans every year; of that pollution 2000 tons are single-use plastic straws: 0.025% of the total (though 4% by volume). Beyond pointing out the unnoticeable change in the oceans even the eradication of all plastic straws in the world would affect, we also need to remember that consumer bans like this are not actually targeting CO2 emissions.

Single-use plastic straws are visible waste. We can point to the images of sea turtles and marine birds choked to death on a piece of plastic and say, “look–we did this.” Larger-scale pollution such as trash dumping or oil spills likewise provide visible signs of the damage our modern way of life causes to the environment. Gulls and seals covered in petroleum or whales and dolphins killed by plastics make us feel bad. Our immediate response is guilt and some anger: we didn’t want to kill those things, and we want whomever did to take responsibility immediately, clean up the mess, and hopefully pay some sort of fine.

This is a deeply Liberal/capitalist sense of guilt, one that feels quite sorry for things and hopes everything can go back to normal once all the apologies are repeated and the perpetrator has learned their lesson. This guilt wants its feelings smoothed over and the ugliness taken away, along with re-assurances that all is forgiven. And most of all, this guilt just wants the crisis to be over so capitalism can continue.

The real crisis, however, is only just beginning. The destruction industrialized capitalist society has caused to the entire biosphere has been mostly invisible for the last two centuries; it has now made itself visible and becomes increasingly difficult to ignore. But unlike an oil spill or a sea-turtle suffocated by a plastic straw, the visible manifestations cannot be traced directly to individual actors, and creates a crisis for the model of Liberal guilt and responsibility.

Who is most responsible for the C02 emissions of automobiles? Is it the manufacturers who made the cars, the millions of people who bought and drove them, the governments which built the roads and defunded public transit, or the petroleum companies who delivered the gasoline to the consumers? Is it the people who profited off of all this most, or the people whose demand and consumption enabled that profit? And even if we decide that it is the corporations and politicians who are most responsible, the billions of people in the world such as myself who have never owned nor driven a car could just as easily say that those who do–even if they needed it because they are disabled–are also guilty and responsible.

The Coming Collapse

Extinction Symbol

The problem remains that guilt doesn’t actually change anything, and these questions–just like the debates around the straw ban–obscure the much more terrifying issues.

When you look at what is needed to slow down or stop Climate Change and the destruction of the environment that sustains human life, you get confronted with an awful reality. That reality? There is literally no significant change that will not also deeply harm vulnerable people or infringe upon some modern freedom we now conceive as vital, inherent, and inalienable.

Consider the automobile question posed above. Ending automobile use and manufacturing of automobiles would drastically reduce the amount of CO2 we put into the atmosphere, as well as the destruction of land and habitat caused by roads and petroleum extraction. Also, it would re-green a lot of space quickly: think all of those parking lots and highways no longer used. But if you have a car right now you’re probably thinking about how put out you’d be, especially if you live in a rural or suburban area. That goes doubly for someone in that situation who is disabled.

This problem repeats itself in every possible scenario. Jet travel, international shipping, personal energy consumption: vastly curtailing or even ending any of these things would actually make a difference and possibly stop climate collapse, but in each case most humans would lose something they count as a freedom, while a few would also lose their ability to survive.

Unfortunately, this is the future for industrial civilization whether we want it or not. Doing absolutely nothing will still kill the most vulnerable, while a small minority will get to keep all the technological splendor of late-capitalism. The biosphere will wither, civilization will self-destruct, and the rest of the human and non-human populations of the earth will suffer a slow, agonizing genocide.

A scenario already playing itself out in many places helps to explain the really awful crisis we are in. Increased temperatures increase demand for air-conditioning and other CO2-producing cooling technologies. Brownouts (when power-plants cannot provide enough electricity to meet demand) already occur and will increase as the earth warms. Such events will disproportionately affect vulnerable populations (the elderly) who may die during heat waves. So even all our efforts to transition to renewable and less-destructive energy sources will not fix the problem: the extra energy creation will merely go into mitigating these disasters.

There is currently no political or social mechanism to decide how to distribute energy to protect vulnerable people while reducing energy consumption by those who need it less. The best the technocrats in whom we are told to put our faith have come up with are aesthetic changes which feel good but change nothing. More so, even these toothless policy changes rarely ever take effect.

No government has banned personal automobile use, nor petroleum extraction, nor the vast networks of server farms or industrial manufacturing and distribution upon which our modern existence relies. Nor can we ever expect to see governments do this without revolutionary pressure.

So the current state of affairs–in which humanity continues to produce and consume its way to its eventual demise–will continue unabated. People living in wealthy capitalist nations will continue to debate aesthetic changes to their way of life and argue endlessly about who precisely is most to blame. Meanwhile, the most vulnerable beings–human and especially other-than-humans–will continue to suffer more and more from industrial civilization as the glaciers melt, the forests burn, the deserts spread, and the oceans rise.

Until our debates about environmental damage and Climate Change take this reality as their starting point, we will all suffer this collective fate, whether we ever use a straw or not.


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd Wildermuth is the co-founder and a co-editor of Gods&Radicals. His latest book, Witches in a Crumbling Empire, is now available at our online bookstore in print or digital.


We now have t-shirts! Sales directly support our work. Order by clicking the image below.

Settle Down

“We must learn to slow down, to be present in each moment. Only then can citizens parse through the immense piles of bullshit our political elites foist upon us each day.”

“Oh, I’ve plenty of time. My time is entirely my own.”

-Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot

 

What does it mean to “settle down in today’s political landscape? Let me be clear, I’m not referring to the way the term was used by our teachers in school, as a sneered, patronizing declaration to submit and obey: “Settle down, boys and girls!” Neither do I mean to “settle” in the sense of taking what one can get, selling out one’s values for some feeble, abstract compromise.

Rather, it occurs to me that settling down with oneself, and one’s community, is just about the most radical stance a person can take these days. Whatever do I mean by this? Part of what I’m referring to here is cultivating a healthy inner life. Having a sense of contentedness, equanimity, patience, inner peace, and wild-eyed wonder at the beauty our world has to offer.

We must learn to slow down, to be present in each moment. Only then can citizens parse through the immense piles of bullshit our political elites foist upon us each day. Instead of reacting (often with feigned surprise and outrage) at each and every tragedy and crisis the corporations and the government is behind, concerned citizens and protest movements must begin to go on the offensive.

This will require a unified front among Leftists and activists, and an understanding that the piecemeal approach which mainstream non-profits, social justice groups, and protesters operate under must be reevaluated, reconfigured, and new strategies must be invented.

A sense of duty, care, compassion, and collective responsibility for the planet and the meek of the Earth must be stoked among leaders in civil society. This may require radicals and activists to step back from the maelstrom of contemporary life in certain senses: to set examples by not jet-setting around the globe regularly, to give up luxury consumer items in solidarity with the working classes, etc.

Healthy food, continuing one’s education throughout life, being fulfilled in work and in play, learning to appreciate nature, and developing a spiritual practice are just a few basics. Mainstream American culture does everything it can to distract, obfuscate, and distort every conceivable path towards personal and collective enlightenment among its citizens. This culture of speed, of being unable to hold attention, this mindset of Amusing Ourselves to Death, must be confronted.

Computers, TV, cell phones, social media, video games, and now virtual reality technology are zombifying the average US citizen more and more as each day passes. Rather than providing a lens to understand and interpret current affairs, provide a way to engage and study world cultures, and develop critical thinking skills, our omnipresent screens have become our captors, distracting us with loads of useless information, lowest-common denominator pop culture, and vapid Hollywood movies.

How can citizens fight such an all-pervading degradation of values, art, and culture? Literally, part of what I refer to by settling means sitting on the ground, and being still. Also, walking barefoot on the soil, our mother Earth, will help people understand how to resist. It’s no surprise that many mental health professionals are now advising their patients to take walks in nature or working at tasks like gardening en lieu of prescribing pharmaceuticals. This burgeoning field has been dubbed ecotherapy.

(There are other things that can help. Here’s an abridged version of some personal experiences which have helped me settle down: meditation helps put my mind at ease. So does responsible use of cannabis and psilocybin. Good sex, of course. If you’re traveling in the US, getting away from civilization to recharge is a good place to start. Fishing by a stream worked wonders for me in the Great Smokies. Fasting in the Mojave was a revelation. Sitting and watching the fog roll into a redwood forest was a transcendental experience.)

What kind of advice did you expect from an eco-freak like me, a tree-hugging dirt-worshipper? It is possible to draw strength from the planet, as well as lovers and friends and plant and animal allies, after all. All indigenous societies and Earth-centered communities understand this instinctively, implicitly. For comatose Westerners, it will require stretching and reawakening their enfeebled imaginations. The Earth is alive, teeming with life, and always has been: small children know this, but mass culture has brainwashed us as we’ve grown up to believe otherwise.

Settling also means each of us has to learn how to become rooted in one’s community, state, and nation: growing a stable and harmonious identity, a sense of belongingness, and a meaningful culture. In this sense, settling in one’s community becomes taking a stand: if local resilience and environmental education is built up in your town or city, democratic consensus and citizen action can prevent corporations from buying up local businesses, bulldozing lots for huge real estate projects, and polluting with abandon.

Pacts within communities to promote some sort of egalitarian redistribution of wealth to decrease inequality will foster higher levels of trust, friendship, and reciprocity. Deconstructing capitalist multinationals and replacing them with worker-owned cooperatives is another necessary step, as workers living in the vicinity of factories are less likely to allow for environmentally-dangerous industrial practices. Providing a universal basic income, along with universal health care, even if at first only on a local or state level, would allow the rest of us in the US to see the benefits with a clear gaze, unfiltered by ideology and dogma.

Rules for increasing the percentages of women and minorities in government and the workforce would certainly promote a healthier public sphere. Switching to systems of proportional representation for elections would benefit third parties and allow for new ideas to take hold. Laws for conversion of agriculture to fully organic, non-GMO, pesticide and herbicide free food would uplift people’s spirits and drastically reduce preventable diseases and increase life spans.  Converting more people to eating less meat, especially red meat, will slow the razing of our tropical rainforests. Every town and city will have to convert to renewable energy to soften the impact of global warming, which is slated to raise temperatures about 3-4 degrees Celsius and raise the sea level about eight feet by 2100. These are relatively conservative estimates, by the way.

Personal transformation will have to go hand in hand with citizen-led, community based environmental and socially-oriented education. This will require teachers who will help us remember how to feel comfortable in our own skin, free from the dramas of judgment and victimhood that our culture imposes on us.

Our relationship to the land must change. European “settlers” who arrived in the New World assumed that land could be owned, and most descendents here in the US still agree. European colonists and later US pioneers had their very own urge for Lebensraum, which accelerated in 19th century America, and was dubbed Manifest Destiny. This destructive, inflexible European ethnocentric outlook has to be defeated. Please read a wonderful Russell Means speech about these issues here.

Most US citizens are sadly still strangers to the continent they live on. In general, the West and the US have become spiritually impoverished. Rather than owning land, we can learn to become stewards, caretakers of the planet, for the brief time each of us is here. For Americans, increasing ecological awareness is key, and to survive, we will have to learn from indigenous, Native American traditions, and Westerners must rediscover and embrace their lost indigenous souls.

We are living in a critical time to determine the planet’s future. As Fritjof Capra foretold, humanity has arrived at The Turning Point. Ecological thresholds are being approached as amounts of desertification, topsoil loss, deforestation, ocean acidification, and atmospheric CO₂ rise year after year. If China and India attempt to industrialize to the levels of Western Europe and the US, it’s essentially game over for continual, steady levels of food production as well as climate stability.

Here we are, at the crossroads. Restraint, humbleness, and compassion must reemerge as key values for our descendants to have a chance at a prosperous future. Global capitalism, a combination of gluttonous consumerism and breakneck speed energy and financial flows, must be thrown out the window. This will in some cases mean monkey-wrenching the machine, and destroying private property. So be it. The conversion to a steady-state, de-growth, equilibrium economy is long overdue.

Stressed, burnt out, with savings tapped out, and overworked from the hustle of corporate America, we are approaching a breaking point. There is a lot of work ahead of us, too. Citizens can find the time, if we make time. That is to say, we can succeed if our society can dare to imagine a system where time itself does not enslave us. So, lose that wrist watch and cell phone for a day or a hundred, if you can. Take that camping trip with your family you talked about. Live simpler. Love harder. Stop for a minute, and stare into the abyss which is global capitalism, imperialism, and systematic habitat destruction. Listen to the wind, the rocks and soil, rushing water, a crackling fire. One can find answers by keeping still and listening. As a poor, pacifist carpenter once said:

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”


William Hawes

William Hawes is a writer specializing in politics and environmental issues. His articles have appeared online at Global Research, Countercurrents, Dissident Voice, The World Financial Review, Gods & Radicals, and Counterpunch. He is author of the ebook Planetary Vision: Essays on Freedom and Empire. You can reach him at wilhawes@gmail.com


 

Things with Feathers: News about amphibians and Shell

I’ve read some exciting news since last month, some of it about the rather small and some (which you’ve probably heard), about much bigger things.

“Extinct” toad rediscovered

The Azuay stubfoot toad of Ecuador, believed to be extinct earlier this century, has been found alive. The toads were once abundant, but were later the first species in Central and South America confirmed to have the chytrid fungus, which has devastated amphibian populations worldwide. It was assumed the fungus lead to their extinction, but the toads found recently show no signs of the infection.

Photograph by Alejandro Arteaga, Tropical Herping (via National Geographic)
Photograph by Alejandro Arteaga, Tropical Herping (via National Geographic article)

The article also briefly mentions a number of other amphibian species that have been rediscovered after being declared extinct, including frogs and salamanders in South America, Africa, and Haiti. The other articles about rediscoveries are also great reading!

Royal Dutch Shell leaves Arctic

And the big news: As widely reported last month, Shell has given up on drilling for oil in the Arctic; they didn’t find enough in their test drill to convince them it would be financially feasible to remain (this despite being SO CERTAIN, for YEARS that there was plenty of oil up there).

It’s been interesting reading different news/blogs’ takes on this: the more environmentally-leaning authors/sites paint this as a victory for the environmental activist movement, whereas more “conservative” authors play that down and focus on the economics of it.

Of course, the economics ARE a major factor; there’s no doubt about that. However, it’s been curious to see the “it’s really just about the money” sources not really addressing Shell’s official statement in full, especially the last bit of it:

“Shell will now cease further exploration activity in offshore Alaska for the foreseeable future. This decision reflects both the Burger J well result, the high costs associated with the project, and the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.” (source)

Right, “the challenging and unpredictable federal regulatory environment in offshore Alaska.”

What about that? What happened recently? Neither of the two major Democratic candidates for President are in favor of drilling in the Arctic; if either of them gets elected, that person could end Shell’s (or anyone’s) access. Oregon Senator Merkley introduced a bill back in July that would prevent any future leases to drill in the Arctic, and, in addition, not renew current leases (it is cosponsored by Sen. Sanders, among others); the House bill was introduced in September by Rep. Huffman from California.

While I believe some of these politicians would hold these views regardless of popular opinion, these actions did not just come about in a vacuum. Playing down the role of thousands and thousands of people protesting Arctic drilling, Keystone XL, other fossil fuel extraction efforts, and asking for more ecological conscious alternatives, is slanted journalism.

It’s also worth keeping in mind what Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis say (in a lengthy interview, very worth reading), and particularly about the divestment in fossil fuels, which has become a really big effort (bolding added by me):

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what just happened in the Arctic—I think, to many people’s shock? You had the kayaktivists, the environmentalists converging along—all through the Northwest to try to stop Shell from drilling. You have President Obama, the first sitting president of the United States to go to the Arctic, giving some of the best climate change speeches ever. And yet, right before he went, he approved drilling in the Arctic. And then Shell announces they won’t be doing it, though he had given them permission?

NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, and though they had spent, I think, $7 billion on this adventure over the years. You know, it’s remarkable. And one of the things that I think one has to understand is that the fossil fuel industry will go to great lengths not to credit activism as being a contributor to a decision like this, because—

AVI LEWIS: Well, think what they could encourage, if they did.

NAOMI KLEIN: They don’t want to encourage us, yes. But I believe that this is a victory that absolutely should be claimed by this remarkable movement of those daring climbers on bridges, you know, climbing up—also climbing up the rig itself, the Polar Pioneer. I had a wonderful conversation with a 21-year-old named Zoe. When she was at the very top of the Polar Pioneer for seven days, I spoke to her on her satellite phone. But also the millions of people who signed the petition—I think it’s something like 7 million people signed the petition asking Shell not to go to the Arctic. So this was certainly a factor. We know that the price is down for oil, and there were concerns about whether this was even going to be economic. So, I think it was a combination of factors, that the profit margins are going down because the price is down, and this is a very expensive form of drilling, and then the cost to a brand when you have this type of mobilization, obviously, is something that their shareholders are concerned about.

But there’s something else, too, and I was talking about this with a colleague of mine, KC Golden, who’s from Seattle, and he’s the chair of the 350 board of directors. And he was saying, well, it’s something—it’s more than that. And what that is, is that this was always a long-term play. Shell always said, you know, “It’s going to take us a couple of decades before this becomes productive.” And KC’s point, and I think it’s a valid one, is that they’re no longer sure there is a long-term play, because of all of this cumulative impact of divestment, you know, of the fact that this movement is really a movement on a roll, that we are starting to see some significant policies. So, this whole idea of, “Well, we’ll do this in 20, 30 years,” investors are going, “Are you sure we’re going to be around for that long?” And so, I think that, on that level, it should also be claimed as a victory.

I’m going to quote another small bit from that interview, showing that even some of the individuals making their money directly from fossil fuels would prefer an alternative:

AVI LEWIS: It is complicated. And people in Alberta, who live next to that biggest industrial project on Earth, have been very anxious about the pace of development and the costs of that project for a long time. And, you know, the oil and gas industry is a very conformist culture. And if you speak about renewable energy, you really get slapped down. It’s like a—there’s a bit of a locker room thing happening there. But the number of workers who told us off camera that they would rather be building wind turbines and putting up—installing solar panels was remarkable. They wouldn’t say it on camera, except for this one amazing guy in the film who’s a boilermaker named Lliam Hildebrand, who started an organization called Iron and Earth, where he’s organizing tar sands workers in support of renewable energy. And he’s building support fast. And there’s a huge constituency up there, especially now that the oil industry is laying off thousands and thousands of people, of workers in that industry who would rather go home and tell their kids what they did that day and feel proud of it.

Activism matters. Individual actions matter; they add up. Economics does not exist independent of social behavior, and the sources who ignore the activism, and the efforts to change the status quo, are probably pushing an agenda.

NO-shell-arctic-drilling-rig
Original unedited photograph by Daniella Beccaria/AP; edits by me.

Keep up the good work!

 

 

 

A ritual for the Extinct

In the northern hemisphere, it is now autumn, getting close to traditional times to remember the Dead. Samhain/Halloween arrives at the end of the month, and November 30th is Remembrance Day for Lost Species.

The following is an outline of a ritual I did last year to mourn and remember extinct species, which I offer to provide a general framework for anyone else who may wish to do something like this.

I wanted to accomplish two things: create a space for myself to really grieve some of these losses, and the fact of human-caused extinctions more generally, as well as to formally acknowledge that my species has done this, and apologize, as a member of that species.

Preparations

Time:

Block out 90 minutes to a couple hours for the ritual itself. You might not need it all, but I ended up using at least a couple hours, though some of that was me figuring things out as I went.

Supplies:

  • 10 tealights or votives or similar sized tapers
  • Papers with the names and biographical information of the Extinct
  • A shoe box or similar sized box or container (big enough to hold 9 rolls of paper)
  • String to tie 9 rolls of paper
  • Kleenex or a handkerchief or five

Gathering the names:

Collect the names and biographical information of the extinct plants and animals you wish to remember. I tried to find names representing species from every continent, as well as names for each of the following groups (I do not think the order they are arranged in is important):

  • Mammals
  • Fish (freshwater and oceanic)
  • Birds
  • Reptiles
  • Amphibians
  • Plants and fungi
  • Arthropods (invertebrates with exoskeletons)
  • Molluscs and other invertebrates without exoskeletons

This may not be the most taxonomically-correct way to group lifeforms on our planet, but it is one I understand, and it kept the groups to a manageable number – and it worked out aesthetically nicely, too, which I feel is important for a ritual.

The IUCN Red List is considered the authoritative list of extinct species, but it is not 100% accurate; when I did further research into some of the animals I found listed there as extinct, I found newer information that some of them had been found alive. I limited my search to animals and plants driven to extinction within the last 200-300 years – those that suffered the worst from industrialization.

Preparing brief biographies – something about their habitat or ways of living – is a nice way to remember these beings as more than simply a name, when they were last observed alive, and what was the cause of their extinction – though for creatures like snails, there may be little recorded other than where the snail lived. I also could not find any fungi on the Red List, which was distressing, as I know there must be extinct fungi, but it isn’t well recorded.

I also asked online if anyone wanted particular animals or plants mentioned; I did the ritual alone, but I felt others might like to participate in some fashion.

Write or print out your lists so that each of the eight groups above has its own paper(s).

Also get one blank sheet of paper, to represent all those species that have gone extinct that we never knew or recorded; they have the 9th candle.

Setup:

Arrange your altar or altars.

The main altar is for the Extinct.

I had a secondary altar for the Elements (Fire, Earth, Air, and Water), Who I hailed as Ancestors of us all (the living and the Extinct alike). Including an altar for a deity of Death may be appropriate depending on your tradition; I have an altar for Hela normally, so I did not set up an additional space for Her.

On the main altar, I laid a white cloth, and arranged 3 groups of 3 candles each, with the 10th candle centered in front. I set them up on stone samples discarded by an architecture firm; plates would work fine, too, or you could simply arrange the 9 candles in a single line or arc, with the 10th centered in front.

The 10th candle is for Remembrance.

Place offerings as appropriate.

Ritual:

Cleanse, ward, etc., the space and yourself/others as appropriate to your tradition.

Hail the Elements as Ancestors, to bear witness, and thank Them for Their gifts – and/or Whoever you feel would be appropriate to invite.

Hail the god(s) of Death you honor.

I spoke some words about purpose and intent at this point.

Light the Remembrance candle.

Light the first candle for the Extinct, and read the names and biographies associated with it. (How you order the groups is up to you, but the Unknown should be last.)

When you finish each group, place the paper(s) on the altar and say, “May you be remembered.” Be mindful of where the flames are! (I placed the papers under the stone tiles, so that they were closely grouped with their respective candles.)

Repeat for the next 7 groups. Allow time between names and between groups to grieve and take your time; this is when the handkerchief may be necessary.

When you get to the Unknown, acknowledge their loss as well, but do not finish with “May you be remembered.” Last year, I said, “May your loss be mourned,” and some other words I did not record.

At this point, you may need another chunk of time to grieve or sit in silence or attend to whatever comes up.

Closing:

I blew out candles on the Elements’ and Hela’s altars before the altar for the Extinct.

When you are ready, but before the candles burn down, blow each out in turn, saying, “May it be long before your surviving kin join you.” Blow out the candle for Remembrance last. The wax remaining in the candles on the primary altar has a significance to me of hope remaining for the surviving kin of the Extinct, as well as that those who are gone will be remembered in some way.

When the wax has cooled, wrap each candle in the appropriate paper, tie it, and seal it the knot with wax from the Remembrance candle (if you can; I found it tricky to drip wax from a tealight, and used a taper I lit from the Remembrance candle). Place all the rolls and the Remembrance candle in the shoe box and store it somewhere safe. (I actually did this the next morning, because I did the ritual in my living room and could leave the altars overnight – and I didn’t actually figure out what to do to finish until I got up the next day. I haven’t yet figured out what to do in the long run with the scrolls.)

Another round of cleansing and/or grounding may definitely be in order at this point; I found the experience emotionally and spiritually very intense and draining, though it was also cathartic.

Afterwards (optional):

It was an important part of my process last year to share the ritual publicly – primarily to share the names and biographies of the extinct animals and plants I specifically named. I do not know that this is a necessary or required part of this ritual more generally.

Resources:

Remembrance Day for Lost Species

The Life Cairn Project

IUCN Red List

My main post from last year, which contains most of the text I spoke during the ritual, as well as a bunch of experiential stuff

Review of a book on grief (The Wild Edge of Sorrow) with some relevant commentary