This Earth crisis, you could say, is capitalism’s final product. Built on a promise, that wealth would trickle down. At the geographical north pole, the sun rises and sets once a year. A timelessness exists and in this ineffable quiet you can hear a quickening trickle of a glacier melting pass by your feet. There are no edges at the arctic pole to hang your hat on, as science has prescribed. Nor is it unlimited space, as capitalists would have you believe. The Great Wanderer (polar bear) knows this as it moves further and further north through the fjords to find solid sea ice.
Sailing Svalbard like snowdrift, uncharted in luminescence of living ice – the coolest reflector to the solar rays on the planet, awakens all your senses. Words are few, arbitrary at best. Lost in the immensity of ice cap mountains, veiled in static, blueish, grey twilight; only made real by the flight of a single ivory gull gliding on the same seemingly invisible breeze that fills our sails. A worldly cough. The bottom half of a glacier simply calves away, crashing into the sea. A transient ice sculpture floats by without a care.
Technology on its own will not be enough, in that humanity will remain entrenched in the same capitalist system where economic expansion is valued over human and non-human life. It is then impossible to imagine saving the Earth from further exploitation without also mobilising for the majority of human beings being ‘sheared off’: to wars, to the corporate elite’s oil spills and rising sea levels, to name just a few excises.
Vantage points are nowhere. Glistening slippery and wet, the cryosphere is no longer cold enough for glaciers to reproduce. Without any obscuring lens or frame, flakes of snow brush the skin on your face. Love, grief, a legitimate ‘yearning to belong’ is stripped back to the unquantifiable; the un-contained reflecting its own blue, green, transparent inner life force throughout a fjord ‘exceeds understanding’. The following day we dropped anchor in the fjord Andoyane to witness the frozen remains of a receded glacier. In this unfathomable loss came the realisation: sex and gender have no place, the wilderness is not a mess, it needs no domination – no patriarchal seed. Hornborg writes, ‘turning a mountain into gravel is facilitated first by breaking it down conceptually.’ To this the scientific microscope with all its keen dissecting, probing and labelling has played a major part in enabling the capitalist to ‘haul it away, piece by broken piece’.
The Earth’s surface touches the sky and the sun cusps below the edge. Humanity is suspended like coal in a white web of corrupting deceptions. Science has colluded with religious missions to deny the rights of First Nations. Fabricated ideas of sex, races and of course gender roles. Contained, conditioned, shamed with an intent to submission. Separated from our own inner wilderness, in order to conform to the same monoculture that is being cruelly inflicted on the entire planet. The capitalist steps in to reap the benefits and it is no friend of Earth, the collective, First Nations or future generations. Not surprising then to find there are no words to describe a moving glacier, a mountain, a frozen river, as a living being. E Povinell writes, ‘The very conditions of the western material and cultural world are underpinned by language that reject that possibility.’
On the threshold of colliding seasons, earlier spring, longer summers, shorter winters and later autumns, ‘Past and future have dissolved in a perpetual now, leaving us imprisoned in a moment without links backwards or forwards: only the dimension of space extends in all directions across the seamless surface of a globalised world in which everyone is connected to everyone else through uncountable threads’. Melting glaciers, rising sea levels, fires, poverty, mass extinction in a capitalist world is the thread that connects the privileged and corporate elites to the rest of humanity and non human beings who struggle for survival on the edge of growing unseasonal changes.
The question arises, is this a crisis caused by the whole of humanity when ten per cent of the world’s population are responsible for half of all global emissions? Or is this a crisis of capitalism, and if so, how does the simplistic equation that humanity + Earth = global heating, benefit the capitalist free market? It gives agency on one hand to make changes, while taking away our political agency to rein in the capitalist system with the other. So the exponential heating of the atmospheric temperature is seen as too big a problem, too distant, too abstract, which undermines agency, creates levels of complacency and despair. Thus leaving space for the constricted imagination of competing markets, and all its irrational modes of production, to continue maximising profits at the expense of an entire planet and its habitants.
The polar bear has survival instincts, however it seems, in the words of Arundhati Roy, ‘Our amazing intelligence has outstripped our instinct for survival.’ Imagine thousands of years of compressed ice transforming into a glacier the moment it begins to move, reshaping itself as it navigates changing terrains. In the same way it is possible to reimagine an eco-social world in which Raymond Williams describes the idea of livelihood as a self-renewing society, where people care for each other in a living world.
Dominique Lee Klein was awarded a scholarship in 2019 to join an art and science expedition and sail the High Arctic Circle on board a barquentine named Antiqua; This article is inspired by the encounters she made on the ice during that journey. Dominique lives and writes on Bundjalung land.