When The Climate Karma Comes Due

Shiva Nataraja is a brilliant invention. It combines in a single image Shiva’s roles as creator, preserver, and destroyer of the universe and conveys the Indian conception of the never-ending cycle of time. Although it appeared in sculpture as early as the fifth century, its present, world-famous form evolved under the rule of the Cholas. Shiva’s dance is set within a flaming halo. The god holds in his upper right hand the damaru (hand drum that made the first sounds of creation).
Shiva Nataraja combines in a single image Shiva’s roles as creator, preserver, and destroyer of the universe and conveys the Indian conception of the never-ending cycle of ti¡™me. The god holds in his upper right hand the damaru (hand drum that made the first sounds of creation). His upper left hand holds agni (the fire that will destroy the universe). With his lower right hand, he makes abhayamudra (the gesture that allays fear). The dwarflike figure being trampled by his right foot represents apasmara purusha (illusion, which leads mankind astray). Shiva’s front left hand, pointing to his raised left foot, signifies refuge for the troubled soul. (Via The Met, give us our stuff back)

Nanda was showing off her bicycle. Mama came home and he was talking about an electric bike he had an eye on too. These people haven’t ridden bikes since they were newlyweds and they’re grandparents now. We spent all these decades developing out of that lifestyle, and now here we are. Right back where we were.

Where I live (in Sri Lanka) the petrodollars and fossil fuels have completely run out. We’re suffering and adapting and suddenly living within our means (with absolute cruelty to the poor). This is what the world has to do, minus the fucking the poor part. This has all been unsustainable. Not just for Sri Lanka, for everyone too.

We have all floated on a fossil fuel subsidy for years, shipping stuff all over the world, flying our asses around on a whim, dragging metal living rooms around wherever we go. It was never even close to sustainable and now the debt is coming due.

The whole premise of neoliberal free markets has been don’t do anything at home, don’t do anything in your village, and don’t even do anything in your country. Just ship it from wherever it’s cheapest. Capitalism in Marx’s age destroyed home industries to centralize them in urban factories, then capitalism in our age shipped those factories across the world. In the online orgy of the 1990s and 2000s the premise was that these supply chains would connect to your very doorstep, you wouldn’t even have to move. Every whim could be fulfilled, every desire delivered.

It was all a fucking fraud.

All of that is premised on fossil fuel energy. All of the convenience of today was mortgaged against cataclysm in the future. It was a fraud against all lifeforms yet to be born. The Earth was their inheritance and we squandered it so we could eat delivery out of plastic bags and have things that don’t even make us as happy. What was it all for?

We had this idea of ‘development’ where everybody would drive a car, everybody would eat meat, everybody would have closets full of things they don’t wear. And it wasn’t even fun when we had it. Everybody just ended up stuck in traffic, getting colorectal cancer, and doing drugs to feel anything at all. It’s not just that this path leads to ruin, it was fucking miserable while we were on it.

We only needed these cars because we made our streets so dangerous and things so far apart. We only ate at McDonald’s because we were working all the time and had to grab something quickly and eat it in our fucking cars. We worked so hard keeping our heads above water that we forgot what land was like. What it is to just lie in a field and eat a fruit and just not worry about shit all the time.

My point is not to ‘return’ to some bucolic time, but we also cannot dismiss the past. The idea of progress is just hubris. An illusion. In an evolutionary sense, it simply does not exist. There is no progress in a straight line against a fixed plane, you are constantly adapting to your environment. ‘Progress’ implies that the environment is constant and it’s just not. The ground is literally shifting beneath our feet, folding species into fossils (and fossil fuels). The famous misquotation of Darwin is “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.” He didn’t say it, but it’s true.

We have lost sight of the fact that we are a part of something and not apart from everything. We forgot that we’re dancing with nature and not just trampling her underfoot. Now Lord Shiva has come in and he’s going to dance all our hubris away. It’s a dance of destruction. It's just our karmic due.

Eventually, I think humans will rebalance with the ecosystem. We’re not even the first species to do this, or the worst. When bacteria figured out solar energy they went fucking crazy and turned the planet into a snowball with oxygen pollution. It took them millions of years to figure out how to work the thermostat, creating a planetary cybernetic system that controls the weather, like true gods.

Just as my aunt is rebalancing on a bicycle after decades, we’ll figure it out too. That’s not a hopeful thing though. Not really. Where I live people are fucking dying in this mess. For a clear example, bicycles cost 34,000 Rupees when my aunt started looking, 80,000 when she was ready to buy, and then they were sold out when she finally decided. She had to look around desperately and pay even more. That electric bike my uncle is looking at costs 350,000 and has a waiting list of 3 months. Their experience is of rich people with time and money. Poor people are absolutely, devastatingly screwed.

That’s who is paying this karmic, climate debt, the people who really didn’t incur it. The first shall be first and the last shall be last, as it always seems to be on this wretched Earth. When we talk about rebalancing, rich people adjusting their lifestyles is not enough. Not for Shiva. I’m terribly sorry but the whole thing has to burn. The riches of the rich more than anything.

That is the scale of chena farming that has to happen for a new world to grow. Slash and burn, the fall of empires, the end of fortunes, the death of many, many, more than you can even imagine losing. Revolution, then counter-revolution, then revolution again.

The hubris of the rich (and their love of money) is the root of this evil and as long as they are still comfortable, Shiva will not stop dancing. He is the god of destruction and things are not nearly destroyed enough. We can hear his music all around us, we can feel the fire, we can see the stomps here and there on the news. We think it will stop but it hasn’t even begun. Lord Shiva is dancing up a storm. Om Namah Shivaya. I know we cannot stop the cycle, please offer refuge for our troubled souls.