Contributor Spotlight: Scott T. Starbuck

Manifesto from Poet on a Dying Planet

In a recent bio for my poem, “Thinking About AWP 2014 in Seattle,” at the Monarch Review, I wrote “The National Poetry Series accepting support from Exxon is like God asking Satan if he can spare some change for the cause.”  The problem is while many poets are giving voices to silenced dying inhabitants and wild places, many more are needed to break rank from climate-destruction-as-usual.  I understand some locations may benefit from increased carbon, but overall, it is clear most will suffer.  Therefore, I propose the term “climate destruction” from now on -- instead of the much less troubling global warming or climate change.

You know what’s at stake. At the same time big oil companies are acidifying Earth’s rising oceans, drying up rivers in China, Africa, India, and the American Southwest, melting Antarctic glaciers, causing global increases in hurricanes, storms, and typhoons leaving thousands dead or homeless, creating huge oil spills, and causing a massive increase in extinction of animals and plants, people who could do anything about these things are mind-locked by the wealthy and their political puppets’ 24/7 distraction machine. Allow me to be specific.

Several sources note Exxon Mobil spent 2 million dollars on a pro-fracking ad campaign, then called for improved science education, and said “Let’s solve this.”  They could start by focusing on clean, healthy water.

Du Pont Co. showed sea lions applauding, dolphins leaping in celebration, and penguins flapping wings, to celebrate a call for double-hulled oil tankers, and said “Du Pont: Better Things for Better Living.”  They could stop being, according to many sources, among the top five largest corporate polluters in the United States.

BP featured a TV ad “We will get this done. We will make this right." as oil gushed 87 days, and highly toxic dispersants were used to hide devastation from the public.  Tim Wall of noted December 3, 2012, in an article “BP Oil Highly Toxic When Mixed with Dispersants,” “When the oil was combined with the dispersant, the mix became up to 52 times more toxic than the oil alone, according to the study Martinex conducted at Georgia Tech.”

Maybe BP could have prevented The Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill if it would have bought acoustic oil switch cut offs like those required by law in Brazil and Norway.

Regarding these reverse-logic ad blitzes, Orwell said it best in his novel 1984:

“War is peace.

Freedom is slavery.

Ignorance is strength.”

The truth is these disasters to Earth’s climate and inhabitants were done in exchange for adding zeros and ones in banking computer databases.  The same type of men who invented clay symbols for record-keeping in ancient Sumer are exactly the ones killing life today by getting the rest of us to place more value on abstractions than on our children, our ecological communities, or each other.  Poets know viscerally this has to stop.

Since climate researchers note a new weather equilibrium, from current carbon pollution, will not be reached for about 30 years, and since globally we are pouring in much more than in the past, who will legally and forcefully put brakes on Big Oil if poets don’t do the necessary work of truth-telling?  The disappearing island nations and Arctic native peoples, along with oil-drenched otters, turtles, and dolphins, say no one but you. 

Without committed poets, brainwashed and/or distracted millions of the wealthiest, most politically powerful, and otherwise privileged humans are unable to recognize physical reality around them, and conscience and/or spirit-reality inside them.  Poet Wallace Stevens wrote, “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.”

I recently heard a woman who worked in the Marshall Islands explain islanders there have no illusion about what rising sea levels will mean to them.  It will mean submersion and complete loss of their land, culture, and ancient traditions.  Similarly, Kiribati's president, Anote Tong, said in an August 31, 2013 article written by John Vidal, environment editor of The Observer, “his country was likely to become uninhabitable between 30 and 60 years from now because of inundation and contamination of its freshwater supplies.”

Poet Lucille Clifton said "I think that were beginning to remember that the first poets didn't come out of a classroom, that poetry began when somebody walked off of a savanna or out of a cave and looked up at the sky with wonder and said, ‘Ahhh.’ That was the first poem."  Since ancient times, that has been our role as poets in the tribe.  The primary difference now is that instead of saying “Ahhh,”  honesty of climate destruction demands we say “Ahhh, shit!” loudly, clearly, and musically.  In short, modern poets must find the right sounds, images, metaphors, similes, and rhythms to cut through glazed-over Industrial Oz scum.  Perhaps prophesying 2014 and beyond, Edward Abbey wrote, “Society is like a stew. If you don't stir it up every once in a while then a layer of scum floats to the top.”  No matter how appealing the countless illusions and distractions, how burdensome the work grind, and how difficult the journey to accept reality, as Robert Bly noted in a classroom I attended long ago, “It’s a poet’s job to defend nature.”