Owen Dan Luo is a medical student in the Class of 2023 at McGill University. He is also a committee member on the Health and Environment Adaptive Response Task force (HEART) of the Canadian Federation of Medical Students (CFMS).
On inspection, we would observe her febrile state,
As heat waves grow stronger and longer,
With her body covered with painful, red blisters,
As wildfires rage unrestrained over her epidermis.
On palpation, we’d run our hands along her prominent rib borders,
Cachexic wasting from malignant clumps of plastic waste in her oceans.
With clear signs of respiratory distress,
Trapped underneath a cloak of greenhouse gases – she gasps for air.
On percussion, we would detect dull notes at her lung bases
As her lungs – the Amazon rainforest – fail to respire.
With bibasilar crackles – edematous,
As engorged seas overwhelm her coasts.
On auscultation, we would hear a grade VI/VI murmur,
As melting glaciers crash into her oceans.
With a blatantly palpable thrill –
From footfalls of evacuating inhabitants displaced by extreme weather.
We don our white coats,
Carefully examining each of our patients
But we need to also pay attention –
To our wounded planet’s pained expression.
Would we sit still and look the other way –
If we had saw, heard and felt those signs of incoming squalls?
Just as multi-systemic disease requires teamwork to be kept at bay,
Our ill Earth requires care from us all.
I want to quickly reply. I don’t have much to say regarding the poem itself, but rather the underlying sentiment espoused by the author on his Facebook account promoting this post. While I’m sure the author had no ill-will, this type of approach to ecological devastation does more harm than good.
First, I have to admit it’s become exhausting hearing upper-class social elites reduce the climate catastrophe down to individual responsibility: “the world is burning, but if YOU, single-mother-of-two, would simply eat less meat, we could save everything!” This is not only naive, but foolish, and puts the onus of change on the victims rather than the perpetrators.
Second, the notion that that a post like this constitutes a form of eco-activism, to paraphrase the author, is so wrong, it’s nearly satirical. Writing a poem does not act as an indulgence, to soothe the troubled soul of the McGill medical student who has not done enough to help the planet. It’s incorrect to act as though writing a personal poem is anything but that: personal. Changing the world does not happen personally, however, it is a collective project.
Finally, I concede that the analogy of the planet as a patient here is very well fitting, but perhaps not in the way the author intended. Just like the poor patient seeking medical attention for a chronic illness who is only met with impractical and temporary solutions (“get rest”; “take time off work”; “take these meds”, etc.) , the climate cannot be helped by diagnosis individual features of its illness and ignoring the social context. The earth isn’t dying because the humans that inhabit it are lazy, greedy, or non-functional. It’s dying because it’s subjugated to a system that it can’t sustain; a system, ironically, universities like McGill seem to thrive on .
I didn’t mean to write such a lengthy response, but I couldn’t help myself. I guess I hoped that when it came to issues of this magnitude, the social elite of tomorrow might have more to do than pad their CVs.