Gaia’s Last Gasp

illustration: Elena Caldera


“We need the tonic of wildness”
Wrote Henry David Thoreau –
Knowing humanity’s hard-wired
For nature to kick-start its mojo.

And Wordsworth agreed, saying, “One impulse
“From a vernal wood can teach
“Us more of man – of moral evil and of good
“Than all the sages can.”

In Japan it’s known that shinrin-yoku,
Or “forest bathing”, reduces cortisol:
Stress hormones and blood pressure drop
If you watch trees instead of a wall.

Fresh country air swirls with phytochemicals –
The airborne defense mechanisms of plants –
Which exist to ward off pathogens and predators,
So each inhalation is equipped to protect.

Yet man sophistication urges him to defile it,
To replace the air’s goodness with poison
And the exhaust fumes from his ‘civilization’
Test heart, brain and lungs to exhaustion.

Imagine if planetary life was just a fairy story
Where the shoes man needed for transport
Had an evil power to kill thousands every day –
Someone might advise man to go barefoot.

Yet whenever someone presses a car’s pedal
And releases diesel particulates
They slow down man’s respiratory skills
And cause death in vascular units –

Where rows of patients languish in hospital beds
Plugged into oxygen machines;
With amputated limbs due to poor circulation
And bloodstreams that cannot be cleaned.

The carnage from consumerism is no different
From concentration-camp corpses;
Both created by poison and an empathy by-pass –
Cars kill as surely as armed forces.

Consumerism and war’s industrialized death
Have come to cross-fertilize each other:
One group decides that another can’t breathe
So they sentence them to be smothered.

In Britain thirty thousand a year die,
Due to their breath being stolen,
But it’s regarded with tolerant indifference
Rather than seen as a malignant omen.

Airborne pollution tops and tails human life
And slows down neural transmission.
It stunts infants’ brains, it reduces attention
Until dementia clouds all cognition.

Then, thanks to nanotechnology, the air itself
Is now very directly being weaponized:
There’s ‘smart dust’ that can recognize life-forms
For micro-drones to ensure someone dies.

What sounds like science fiction is fast becoming fact:
Minute particles with artificial intelligence
Can be programmed to target certain strands of DNA
And corrupt the air with a demonic arrogance.

But the sea can’t be stored in a mainframe computer
To be down-loaded after its death,
Neither can fresh air be screen-saved and kept for later
When we’ve finally run out of breath.

Imagine if the earth’s atmosphere became deranged;
Imagine oxygen being stifled, and then not there.
The world’s not obliged to keep mankind breathing –
What if Gaia goes rogue and cuts off man’s air?

People who have money have less atmosphere –
Somewhere en route they get neutered.
What if money was to cost the earth its atmosphere
And its airy goodness be irreversibly looted.

Diesel exhaust prevents honeybees from finding
The flowers which they wish to forage.
It masks floral scents and thus prevents pollination.
The world’s food depends on the bees’ knowledge.

The use of the air is common to all, yet money’s filth
Feels entitled to stake a monopoly
So the air that’s fuelled laughter and cries of elation
May no longer serve man’s odyssey.

In Japanese there is a concept known as “yūgen”
Which describes a soaring feeling for the sublime
And an awareness of the subtlety of the universe.
It occurs when your breath is pure and calm.

Heathcote Williams

By Heathcote Williams

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