Australia 6 – Wicked World

DSC01759aGoing to the zoo has always brought me down, but visiting Zoos Victoria was exceptionally sad. The mere fact that animals are kept in cages so that we could gawk at them is already disheartening, but when you add to this the fact that these animals would go extinct if it wasn’t for those cages, it’s almost enough to make one want to murder&rape. Unfortunately neither killing nor raping will solve anything. Quite the contrary. It’s actually because humans like killing and raping so much (this applies to various species, their own as well, although it might not be the favorite) many species have already gone extinct and many more are waiting in line to be next. It’s a long line but it’s getting shorter. Homo sapiens is an effective predator. Which particularly likes carcass. I know this because I myself like it. But I try to resist the urge to eat meat.

DSC01768aAfter having seen the Leadbeater’s possum, previously believed to have been extinct until a few were discovered in the mountains and are now being introduced back into the wild by scientists, and feeding the orange-bellied parrot (only about fifty live outside of captivity, and about 150 are bred in cages and freed each year) we set off to get some food.

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It’s been several years since I’ve last eaten meat, and about a year since I’ve last eaten almost-meat, that is fish and seafood. It’s not always easy. Yesterday at a restaurant, my friend asked for a vegetarian dish, the waiter suggested chicken salad, shrimp salad and oysters. Thankfully, they also had garlic bread and some salad served normally as a starter, which was somewhat ok. Yet st the zoo restaurant, which supposedly has a mission of rescuing animals, it was rather shocking to encounter similar problems. The only warm vegetarian dish served there were fries. Luckily, I like french fries. But, this is one of the reasons, why I think there is no hope for us.

DSC01888aEveryone likes meat. It’s healthy. It’s full of vitamins and minerals. It gives us energy. And optimism. You eat a steak and you feel better. Some even believe that meat is better than sex. Maybe those people don’t have any chances at getting any sex. I don’t know, I haven’t done any research. But they’re not the only ones. All kinds of people like meat. Tall and short. Big and small. Americans and Poles. Germans and Irish. Chinese and Indonesian. Yeah, just about everyone! And there’s nothing wrong with that. Well maybe apart from killing and making animals suffer, and they do suffer. And feel. Just as we do. Of course I understand that you might not give a fuck. Our world is a cruel place. We can’t avoid suffering altogether. So give me the that steak because I’m starving to death. (Really? You’re dying? Sometimes I think that wouldn’t be so bad, but then I try to be understanding again.)

Suffering is one thing, economy is another. You may not give any fucks about suffering, but not caring about economy is a bit harder. If everyone in the world wanted to eat as much meat as Americans do, we would need six planets as big as Earth to be able to grow enough grains to feed all the to-be steaks (still in the form of cows). Hmm. I don’t think we have six planets. Hmm. It seems like most people want to eat as much meat as Americans. Hmm. I think we’ve got a problem.

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Meat is not only tasty and healthy, but it’s also an indicator of social status. Bling! Bling! Riches! The poor eat lentils, the rich can afford foie grais. And again there’s nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that ducks and geese are fattened by being force fed with pipes pushed down their throats in order to make the production more efficient. However, there is also another problem. In China and in India more and more people are earning more and more money. Which is great. But it can also cause serious problems. Rich people want to eat more steaks. To provide them with the sufficient amount of meat, more cows have to be bred and more grains have to grown to feed them. And the amount of grains that we can produce is limited. The question is: who will pay more for the grains? Children from Africa? Or Chinese people who want steaks? I’d bet on the later. The chinese are resourceful, whereas African children don’t have much bargaining power. Here’s a riddle: What will happen if the prices of grains go up so much that the precariat in Morrocco, Egypt or Syria will not be able to afford bread? The answer is: This happened a few years ago and we’re still looking at the consequences. One of the reasons behind the Arab Spring was the rising price of food. And food is getting more and more expensive because we need to feed all those cows. The African precariat won’t pay as much as subsidised by the state American farmers. And their’s a limited amount of grains. Have I already mentioned that war is coming?

I don’t think I have. So I’m doing that now. There will be war. And when it comes, I’ll write: Told you so. Maybe then I’ll let myself have a steak.

Australia – 3

DSC01687Should we deprive people of all hope? I’ve been thinking about this these past few days. Because hope is the worst. And, as we all know, it’s the last to die. Maybe we can finish it off somehow? Covertly poison it. Attack it, when it turns its back at us. As long as we will all still have hope, not much can be done. Imagine that some important guy, lets say Obama, has all the necessary data. Researchers draw up some fancy charts and graphs explaining in great detail the prognosis for the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere and to what levels to oceans will rise. Here we bid farewell to Hawaii, here New York becomes New Venice. Obama sits at his desk, cries a bit, and then pumps another billion dollars into the arms industry. And what is he thinking at that moment? “Fuck the flood in Luisiana, I never really liked that state anyway, what’s important is that we’ll finish off those guys wearing flip-flops in the desert. After all they’re the ones threatening American dreams, not the Koch brothers or the relentless desire to eat meat.” So, no. I don’t think that’s what he actually thinks. Actually I think that Gen. Keith Alexander comes to him and says: Don’t worry, buddy. We’ll build a perpetuum mobile, we’ll have an unlimited source of energy and you’ll soon be able to tell the oil barons to go fuck themselves. Maybe you’ll even be able to introduce your whole Obamacare, although I honestly don’t know why bother.

So what do normal people think? Those that I’ve met think for example that scientists exaggerate. Not so long ago they predicted that London would be flooded by tones of shit because of the excessive number of horse cabs. And what happened? Cars were invented. Scientists could say that London is still being flooded by shit but in a gaseous state. Air pollution will soon exceed smoking on the charts for factors leading to lung cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But didn’t we just say that scientists exaggerate? Luckily there are other brave scientists who instead of exaggerating and depriving people of hope keep working on lovely new nuclear reactors. Or even more exciting things. At least we hope so. So maybe we should be deprived of that hope?

People also think that it’s impossible for a man to do so much harm to nature in such a short period of time. We’re too weak for that. The ocean levels may be rising, but hasn’t the world always been changing? Maybe various species are dying out, but we need to eat something! And on this point I do agree with people. It’s difficult to prohibit people from eating. Although on those that could use this kind of prohibition, we can’t even impose taxes, much less make them go on a diet. Prohibiting things is easier when it comes to poor people. And that’s nasty.

Not having to look too far, the Australian government is trying to discourage people form smoking. So a pack of cigarettes costs about $15. I couldn’t believe it, as producing a packet of cigarettes costs a few pennies (in Australia maybe a bit more, due to high labour costs). But it’s true. If you’re rich it makes no difference. But when your’e poor it’s quite a lot. Thanks to this idea some people may actually give up smoking. But as far as I know, when it comes to oil, the restrictions are much more lax. It’s funny how the government that is doing its absolute best to destroy the Great and oldest Coral Reef completely, takes such good care of its citizens. They care so much that soon all that will be left of the ecosystem will be citizens with healthy lungs. Well, maybe not so healthy, because of the air pollution. But at least it won’t be from cigarettes.

Maybe it’s just easier to impose taxes on those who burn tobacco than on those who burn oil? All in all, awareness of the harms from smoking has become widespread. So maybe the awareness of the fact that consuming oil is not such a good idea will also get to into every house? The trick is that even though living without smoking is perfectly possible to imagine (and billions of people do this), living without oil seems a bit trickier. Maybe a few guys on the desert in flip-flops can, but probably not even them. Their flip-flops have to be made of something. And if it’s not human skin it’s oil.

DSC01675aNow I’m going to get some beer. Korean, because it’s the cheapest here. It’s cheaper to import beer from Korea, where the labour cost is low. Air pollution comes along as a free bonus. Air is also free. Maybe it shouldn’t be?

Why do optimists make me sick

DSC02430As I was stood outside a shop on one of Melbourne’s busiest streets, a young man looking a bit like a mini version of 50 Cent asked me if I could sell him a cigarette for a coin that he held in his hand. I told him I had no cigarettes, so I couldn’t sell him any. I don’t think he believed me, because even though he went away, he came back after a moment and asked me for a cigarette again. This time he didn’t want to pay. I repeated that I had no cigarettes and that I had only the one that I was smoking. He didn’t believe me. I tried to explain that I left the tobacco in the hotel, because I went out only for a smoke. Still he didn’t seem very convinced. This time he didn’t ask, he demanded.

-Do you wanna get hurt? – he repeated a few times, as if it was a question requiring further consideration.

I think it finally sunk in that I had no tobacco, because he suggested that I gave him the cigarette that I was smoking. I didn’t want to. I didn’t just leave the hotel so I could give my cigarette to some aggressive kid. But I also didn’t want to fight. Although I used to learn Krav Maga and I knew that I could handle it. However, the second rule of Krav Maga is: “If you find yourself in a dangerous place or situation, leave as soon as possible”. I decided to employ this rule. I entered the shop and I mused on what to buy long enough for the guy to go away.

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I’ve been attacked on the street many times, but nobody has ever tried to beat me up for half a cigarette. Addiction is a terrible thing. And cigarettes in Australia are extremely expensive. I’m not surprised that immigrant children can’t afford them. But it didn’t seem like a good moment for me to tell him that he should quit smoking. He probably doesn’t have too much pleasure in life so breathing in carbon monoxide, tar, polonium 210, prussic acid and five thousands of other poisonous substances may be for him one of the rare occasions to unwind. He was probably brought up in a violent environment, since he reacted aggressively to saying no to his plea. I felt a bit sorry for him and I would have given him a cigarette. If only I had had one. But I really didn’t have them with me. Maybe I should have said that I would got to back the hotel and bring him one? Yet his aggressive behavior discouraged me from being sympathetic.

If people who don’t get a cigarette when they want one behave this way, let’s to try imagine how they would act if they were banned from using fossil fuels. It’s likely that many of them have also been brought up in violent environments and have problems with anger management. The brave and benevolent legislators would probably get their asses seriously kicked. It doesn’t help that the alternative for this massacre is making millions on mining for carbon, gas and oil. Which, we of course all know, harms our planet, but let’s be optimistic. I’m sure we’ll come up with something. For example artificial volcanos exhaling sulphates into the higher parts of the atmosphere, which will disperse solar radiation and lower the temperature on Earth. Actually we’ve already invented them. Just they’re difficult to create, extremely expensive, and nobody knows what the consequences of pumping tones of sulphates into the atmosphere will be. But there are serious suspicions that it would lead to an ecological catastrophe. Fighting the excessive emission of greenhouse gases with the use of other gases doesn’t sound like a brilliant idea. Yet it was seriously discussed, particularly because of the fact that lowering the level of CO2 in the air is not going very well. Or rather it’s going terribly. Even though we’re becoming increasingly aware of the dangers this leads to, the level of emissions rises each year. There is nothing indicating this will stop soon. Even if we managed to lower them somehow (haha, I don’t think so), the changes that have already taken place are irreversible. We’re left with reducing the damage. That’s why optimists make me sick.

And Australia is full of them. It’s probably the reason none of the experts or activists invited to the debate on climate change answered my question: “Assuming that we can’t avoid global warming and an eco-catastrophe, what should we do? Where should we move? What should we buy?”. Even though nobody answered, I’m not worrying too much. I’ll find out the answer soon enough. We all will.

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Despite this, many scientists that we met, after showing us various data on how bad the condition of the environment is, suggested that we shouldn’t give into pessimism, because there are also many optimistic ideas. For example, the previously mentioned artificial volcanos. Most of the activists were also optimistic. The conservative right wing which claims the greenhouse effects are bullshit may be ruling, but we shouldn’t give up. We have to explain it to them. Maybe they’ll understand some day.

Ok, the woman from Greenpeace wasn’t an optimist. She said she sometimes considers herself a climate denier, for having all the knowledge that she has and not dropping bombs on mines. Yet she still acts as if change could be made by using regular methods, even though her daily experiences show it’s not gonna happen. Chaining people to machinery can keep a mine from functioning for several hours, but it won’t lead to the closing of that mine, nor will it stop the harm done to the environment. The only positive effect is arresting the participants of the protests. But how many times can you get yourself arrested? A lot, I suppose, but the fact that all the malicious trends that we fight against actually just keep growing may be discouraging. Nothing threatens progress. Or at least there is no visible force that could stop it. Apart from the global ecological catastrophe, of course. The planet will defend itself and stomp out the pest. I’m only sad that I belong to the race of pests and predators. But what can I do? Maybe some more intelligent species will come after us. Professor Jan Zalasewicz is betting on that rats.

PS: Meanwhile in Australia, apparently because of global warming, sheep are en mass committing suicide.

Australia – 4. Literature as an early warning system

DSC01724aIf anyone has any doubts weather literature can rescue us from the apocalypse, I’m not surprised. It doesn’t sound convincing to me either, but I do have some evidence confirming that it actually can. The widespread traditional stories or legends passed on from one generation to another which rescued the inhabitants of an Indonesian island Simeylule, located close to the epicenter of a tsunami that killed about 229 thousand people in 12 countries in 2004.

The legends appeared after 1904 when another tsunami took place. According to the tradition they passed on, the inhabitants should run away to the hills when they should see the ocean withdrawing. On December 26th the oceans withdrew. The same tsunami killed about 90 percent of the population in the nearby Indonesian region Aceh. They had no early warning system. They didn’t tell the right stories. As we can see literature (in this case oraly passed on legends), can work as an early warning system. I’m just afraid that first there has to be a catastrophe. But catastrophes happen all the time. The worlds history has seen a few civilizations fall. There a few books written about this. There are also warning signs that the same may happen to our civilization. The difference is that in the history of humanity there has never before been such a global civilization as ours. So if it collapses, it will be a spectacular collapse. And a fascinating history. If anyone will be left to tell it.

Australia – 2

qatar_imgThe journey went fairly well. I was afraid it was going to be worse. But I’m usually afraid that things will go worse, so maybe that’s not so strange. But hey! Sometimes things do go worse and then I can say: told you so! Which, of course, I do. From Warsaw to Doha it’s only about six hours, just like to Gdańsk. Yet one is in United Arab Emirates or maybe it’s Saudi Arabia.

Taking off in Doha I checked it on the screen located cleverly in the seat before me and realized that it actually is a city in Qatar. People who live in Qatar are very happy. No wonder, there are only two million inhabitants. Just like Warsaw. If we separated Warsaw from the rest of Poland we would too would be happy. I wonder who Qatar separated from? Qatar sounds like a funny name for a country to Poles, but in Qatar they don’t know this. And even if they did, they still don’t give a fuck. They have so much oil and natural gas that they don’t have to give a fuck about anything or anyone. At least not until they run out (I hope you translators sweat over this untranslatable play with words*). But they know they will soon, so they’re building an even bigger airport so they can earn more off of Poles that want to fly to Australia.

And Poles are pretty dumb. In Doha, on our way from the plane to the airport it was repeated in English three times that at the first stop should exit people that are staying there. The bus stopped, the Poles exited. At first I was shocked that so many Poles spend Easter in Doha. But they were soon turned back by the staff. Those poor dumb Polacks weren’t of course staying in Doha, they just didn’t know English. I don’t know it either. But I understand much more than I can produce. Still it’s far from perfect. Even though I’ve been learning this language since primary school (although to be technically correct since high school I’ve actually spent more time learning how to find excuses not to learn it. Why should I be learning the language of the colonists? They should learn Polish if they want to know what I have to say. They don’t have to talk to the offspring of the slaves. Really.) Still I’m a bit ashamed of not speaking English very well. So on the plane to Melbourne in my thoughts I went over what I would say to the person that was going to pick me up from the airport. “Hello. I’m Jaś. And you? Nice to meet you. Can I make a photo of you?”. Unfortunately I was picked up by a Greek taxi driver who spoke English even worse than I did. He drove me to my hotel. It’s next to the Central City Community Health Centre, and homeless people sleep around it. I don’t know if they have any health problems. I didn’t peek into their sleeping bags. But I did drop into the nearby McDonald’s to use the free internet. It turned out that at the hotel it costs $3 per hour. I decided to save money, because internet is a basic human right like air or water. Unfortunately the signal was too weak outside to update my status on Facebook, so I decided to go in and buy some fries. This also cost $3, just like the internet in the hotel. At least I got free fries. And I got to watch two drunk representatives of the local youth decorating their even drunker friend’s head with a construction made of empty packages whilst pouring drinks on him as well. All this for free. And yet it cost $3. In such an environment we happen to create new narrations about the environment. Do I really still have to explain that it’s not the best environment? What are they thinking in Qatar? That when they run out of oil they’ll make money transporting Poles by biofuel powered jets? What does the rest think? I think I know, but now it’s time to go sightseeing.

*Qatar, in Polish – Katar. The countries name is spelt and pronounced exactly the same as the polish word ‘katar’ which refers to the state of having a running nose. The author of the article Jaś Kapela, made use of this double meaning along with the double meaning of the polish word “ropa”, which means both oil and pus. Kapela joked that Perhaps the people of Qatar will stop not giving a fuck about anyone else when the pus stops seeping from their runny nose. You readers may now muse over how much of Kapela’s witty use of language is lost in translation.