Anthropogenic Extinction & Plastic

Last week scientists provided the starkest report yet warning of a man-made extinction level event.

Also known as Anthropogenic or Holocene extinction, the findings give evidence that we are going to see the eradication of 1m species which will have catastrophic effects on food chains and on levels of biodiversity needed to sustain our environment.

From the images we see on our television screens and social media news feeds of animals suffocated by plastic to the air pollution monitoring systems accessible online, we can see almost in real-time the devastating impact that we are having on the planet.

We are not only polluting the atmosphere through the overuse of fossil-fuel-rich sources but we are reducing ground level carbon sinks such as peat bogs and rainforests as cut down trees for commercial purposes, to build roads and for property development. Our effects on the planet are not slight, but monumental in their brevity as reported by Camilla Cavendish in The Financial Times: “Three quarters of the land, two thirds of our oceans and 85% of wetlands have already been altered or lost.”

Despite this information there is not enough being done to combat climate change. In certain areas of society climate change is ignored or described as a “hoax.” Donald Trump has time and again shooed the idea of climate change as a threat by claiming that there is evidence on both sides of the argument or else citing jobs as a reason to ignore climate change action.

The same was recently reiterated by Nigel Farage during an interview with Andrew Marr in which Nigel Farage claimed that he would not pursue climate action because of the loss of “hundreds of thousands” of jobs. This statement either highlights the lack of information that Nigel Farage is privy to regarding the vast scale of employment levels that would be achieved through a green energy market, Nigel’s willingness to overlook the signs of looming devastation in a bid to appeal to fossil-fuel companies like his friend Donald Trump, or perhaps just trying to appeal to the older voters of the U.K who remember with fondness the days of coal mining and oil extraction.

We don’t have the time to entertain regressive energy politics when we are seeing the destruction of 1/8th of the species that inhabit and contribute to our planet’s ecosystem.
Labour have recently announced that (if they were in power) they would D-list companies that do not follow strict environmental procedures. This at least provides incentive to work in a cleaner and more environmental way were Labour not facing embarrassing losses through both local elections and through the upcoming European elections.

Another worrying piece of information was put forward yesterday by television icon and environmentalist, David Attenborough: plastic pollution kills up to 1m people a year in developing countries. The awareness of environmental issues has skyrocketed, especially in the last year, but there is still little being done about it, predominantly by corporations whose products are found floating in waters the world over. While people recycle and do their best to limit water usage and take part in local clean-up operations, there needs to be a movement by corporations to become plastic free.

There are over 5 trillion pieces of plastic currently littering the oceans, as mentioned by the The Ocean Cleanup, an Dutch organisation currently leading the world’s largest ocean plastic removal scheme. Corporations and citizens need to work together to come up with innovative new ways to distribute products whilst eliminating plastics. At present, immediate convenience seems to trump full-scale catastrophe.

Private health

I was happy when told that I was going to have a spinal injection. Sciatica has been torturing me since October of last year. Walking has been reduced to a painful hobble. I wake multiple times every night with pains shooting down my leg. My fiancee and I are going travelling soon and I worry that we won’t be able to enjoy it if I can’t get around.

The NHS could not perform the operation. Instead I was referred to a private hospital on the Sussex/Surrey border. I was surprised by the hospital. And a little unnerved. The reception desk was busy with people who looked like they should be on the reception desk of upper class hotels. I was directed upstairs. The corridors were wide and empty save for a cleaner and a mother and daughter who were talking amongst themselves. When upstairs I was shown to my room and given spa-style flip flops and a dressing gown. I had the room to myself. I also had a TV but couldn’t be bothered to look for the remote and partly scared that I would hit another button by accident which would send the staff running.

A lady promptly came by and asked what sandwich I would like to have after my procedure. Coffee or tea? I gave my order and sat down to read while I waited. A nurse came in and took my vitals. She was chatty, which was nice, but it slowly dawned that where I was used to care, I was experiencing something like customer service.

Half an hour later I was shown to the surgery room. There were five or six nurses talking and checking equipment at a leisurely pace. The procedure started. I felt the pressure in my spine for a few minutes and then it was all done. I was rolled onto a wheelie-bed and taken back to my room.

I was in there for two minutes before my sandwich and coffee was bought in. Along with bourbon biscuits and a glass bottle of water with the hospital’s insignia on it. Twenty minutes later I was bored so I got up and changed back into my civvies. I walked to the ward desk and asked to be discharged. The lady obliged and five minutes later I was out.

I don’t understand private health care. It has done great things for people by giving them quick access to procedures and treatments which would otherwise have taken months or longer.

But what does that say about how we are treating our NHS? I say our NHS because we pay for it. It is a service of our financial outgoing and therefore we have a vested interest in its welfare.I would rather have doctors and nurses treat me as a patient with genuine care and compassion, than be treated like a customer using a service for the benefit of a survey – which arrived on my phone via text two days later.

Perhaps I am bringing bias to the entire experience. After all my time in the private hospital was pleasant. But care should not be costly. Care should be free to all (yes, through taxes) and it should never be abused through privatisation (which is statistically proven to provide worse service in terms of overall health.)

In an unchecked market, privatisation breeds competition at the cost of care levels as companies try to save money.

The NHS might be a money pit. But it is meant to have money poured into it for the betterment of treatment. Anything else would be negligent to our health. If someone wants to increase my tax to fully fund our public services; take my money.

Conspiracy Theory Vs Conspiracy Realism

It is almost universally accepted that the public were fed a lie regarding the assassination of John F. Kennedy. It would be hard going to find someone who didn’t believe that there is some kind of cover-up or some greater conspiracy at play.

Was it the appearance and disappearance of the Babushka Lady? Or perhaps it was the astronomical coincidence that the most notorious assassination in a generation was also the scene of the “magic bullet” which bounced around the car and struck Kennedy multiple times? And all this was pulled off by Lee Harvey Oswald, a man described as a mediocre marksman yet who was able to pull off two very accurate shots in quick succession on a moving target.

And we are more convinced of a cover up now than immediately after the shootings because we have the gift of hindsight.

With quick access to information (and disinformation) at our fingertips, the world has become a rife breeding ground for conspiracy theories and we are constantly faced with having to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Slender Man has a tailor on Saville Row.

Russia helped Donald Trump get into the Oval Office.

The world is run by reptilian overlords wearing flesh suits.

China are manipulating the weather.

Up to half of all global wealth is kept in offshore bank accounts and trusts.

Pyramids were built by aliens.

North Korea are experimenting with chemicals that will turn the world’s insects into a swarm of blood-thirsty killers hell bent on taking down the capitalist west.

We can separate the absolutely nonsensical claims from those that hold water. But what about those strange intermediary claims that could sit on the fence between theory and realism?

Well, China are manipulating the weather, but so are governments across the world. It is called cloud-seeding and it has been used to brilliant effect to get more rainfall over arid lands. There is also HAARP. Is HAARP a weapon that can be aimed anywhere the American government wishes? Unlikely. But does the HAARP having weather changing and atmosphere disturbing qualities? Yep. After all its sole focus is to heat up portions of the atmosphere. That is bound to have some kind of knock-on effect.

Above: HAARP – High Frequency Active Auroral Research Programme

The difference between conspiracy theory and conspiracy realism is the application of Ockham Razor thinking followed by a small amount of research. And a touch of cynicism.

Do we really think that Area 51 is reverse-engineering alien flight technology and dissecting bodies, or is Area 51 a military base whose purpose is to create and test state-of-the-art, top-secret war machines?

This photo from the 1950’s shows investigators looking at remains of a so-called alien spacecraft.

Man inspecting what was believed to be a broken-up spacecraft

Whilst people may have believed this story in the 1950’s when there was a lot more trust in governments and figures of authority, nowadays we can look at that photo we can see that the material they are inspecting is the kind of foil used for weather balloons/stations.

The problem that many of us face nowadays is that disinformation can be spread so quickly that the proliferation of conspiracy theories can far exceed those claims that have been scrutinised.

We know that Trump colluded with Russia. If the Mueller Report shows no direct link between Russian involvement and the presidential campaign of 2016, we still know that Trump has laundered money for Russian parties before he took the White House. The difference between conspiracy theory and conspiracy realism is that the answer is often in the middle ground.

Using the above example of Area 51, are we looking at a top-secret facility? Yes. Is it likely that they are experimenting on alien craft? No. Is it more likely that they are working on terrestrial projects like high-tech unmanned surveillance drones? Yes. Then why is it so secretive? Why don’t they open up the facility to show that they have nothing to hide? Because that would mean that America runs the risk of losing the strategic edge in future wars.

Cynicism is also a great weapon when judging claims. If you question what EVERYONE says, chances are you will come to a sound conclusion somewhere in the middle.

Alex Jones of InfoWars, a name as strange as can be for an organisation purportedly providing news, claimed that the government is “turning frogs gay”.

Alex Jones – Info Wars

Alex Jones saw this as a move by governments to try and turn the populace gay which would in turn mean that there would be a drop in the population. Alex has also made claims that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama “smell like sulphur” in a bid to show that they were satanic.

But because a person’s claims border on the bizarre-fanatic spectrum, does that really mean we should discount everything that that person says? Not necessarily. Breaking apart the claim that government is turning frogs gay, you should first ask yourself whether that claim is even possible. Before asking yourself whether it is probable.

Alex Jones had actually come to the conclusion that the government was “turning frogs gay” after it was found out that there have been negative side effects of agricultural practises where runoff has turned out to be toxic and, as a result, messes with hormonal patterns in certain species. The fact that the government is purposefully doing this in a bid to lower birth rates is absolutely unprovable and therefore would demand an investigation of its own whereas we are certain that North Korea is chemically altering and instilling anti-capitalist sentiment into insects… right?

So, are there aliens out there? Of course. It is a statistical probability that life must exist elsewhere in the universe as we can observe it today, let alone in the possibly infinite expanse of the universe beyond what we can observe. Have the Americans reverse engineered alien machines? Well, if they had succeeded in doing so the chances are we still wouldn’t be so backward that we have to use fossil fuels, hydrogen or solar power to keep the machines in the sky.
I actually love conspiracy theories. I’m not just saying that. I really do. I love the possibility that there is so much more out there than what is written in journals or what has been documented throughout history. But sometimes the truth is much more interesting and magical than any fiction we create.

Think of the pyramids of the Egyptian and Mayan civilisations. Even today scientists and engineers have opposing ideas about just how it the peoples of these times managed to build such impressive structures and to such a great degree of detail. Much like the religious will often fill any blanks in the knowledge with ‘God’, there are certain sects who are quick to jump to the conclusion that aliens had come down to earth and showed humans how to undertake such feats of construction.

It is a lack of faith in humanity that leads to such answers. It makes more sense that an ancient tribe would first wonder from whence they came and, not seeing any real-time answer to the question, would turn their eyes to the stars. If there was (and still is) some magic to be marvelled at, it was those twinkling lights in the sky. If something was indeed watching them, it would be somewhere “up there”. Which would explain why Egyptian and Mayan constructions would follow the stars and why the Nazca people created such large and beautiful pictures – the Nazca Lines – aimed at pleasing the people in the sky.

Nazca Lines

You might think that this all points toward alien intervention. But why would a distant traveller in possession of vast knowledge and technological prowess request that the people sacrifice certain members of their tribes to worship them?

History is dotted with geniuses. Da Vinci, Gallileo, Einstein. Why could people of such genius not have belonged to these civilisations and created something incredible? Why can we not just understand that these civilisations were capable of amazing things like advanced construction? And of course some not so amazing things like human sacrifice?

The main argument though is that you should never discount fantastical claims just because they sound too “out there”. Every idea that is against the general norms is considered a conspiracy theory until it is proved to be fact. After all, the world was once considered to be the centre of the universe (and flat) and saying otherwise was not only considered ridiculous but was in fact heresy.

Should we consider conspiracy theories as true? Absolutely. But only until they start overstepping what is possible, and what is probable.

A glimpse of the abyss

Mental health fucks up a lot of things. For instance, I just dropped the car off for an MOT that I can not afford. I have had to borrow money from my fiance. I feel like a low-life because of it.

Self-sufficiency has done a legger along with my mental health capabilities. There they go, running like old chums playing knock down ginger except the person never comes to the door.

I had to entertain myself during the MOT so I took a book to a nearby coffee shop. I was acutely, almost painfully aware, of the money that I was spending. I admit, as the barista turned to make the coffee, I eyed the tip jar. There was enough in there to pay for ten or more coffees. I wasn’t planning on stealing it or anything, but still.

I should feel lucky. I have more than a lot of people. But I am suddenly and starkly mindful that this is the path that many people have walked: that of people who have had everything, or at least something, and have lost it because of mental health or general health problems.

Because of mental health problems, I have seen myself lose one job only to suffer the loss of another because I was at the whim of an agency.

There are people out there who suffer so much worse. Who go from a partnership or marriage or a high paying job to scraping together what they can. And there I am, with more than most, wondering about the change in that damn tip jar.

And no one is immune.