May 5, 2011
On bodily reserves less than a bag of
M&Ms and wings that stretch to cover twelve inches, she’ll fly
thousands of miles, searching for the wetlands that will harbor her
young. And every year the journey gets longer as the wetlands are
desiccated for human demands. Every year the tern, desperate and
hungry, loses, while civilization, endless and sanguineous, wins.
When she wakes, the waters will stretch
impassably opened, and there is no
Abrahamic god of bears to part them
In plain terms, the babies died and kept
dying, and a species millions of years old is now a pile of shell
Are we so ethically numb that we need to
be told this is wrong?
Or James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis, who states bluntly that global warming has passed the tipping point, carbon offsetting is a joke, and that “individual lifestyle adjustments” are “a deluded fantasy.” 5
It’s all true. And self-evident. “Simple
living” should start with simple observation: if burning fossil
fuels will kill the planet, then stop burning them.
Google “global warming solutions.” The first paid sponsor, www.CampaignEarth.org, urges,
By “realistic” they don’t mean solutions that actually match the scale of the problem.
They mean the usual consumer choices - cloth shopping bags, travel mugs, and misguided dietary advice - which will do exactly nothing to disrupt the troika of industrialization, capitalism, and patriarchy that is skinning the planet alive.
But since these actions also won’t
disrupt anyone’s life, they’re declared both realistic and a
As one might expect, there’s no explanation points but instead a statement that,
This is followed by a list of Five Sensible Steps.
Step #1 is - no, not stop burning fossil fuel - but “Make Better Cars and SUVs.” Never mind that the automobile itself is the pollution, with its demands - for space, for speed, for fuel - in complete opposition to the needs of both a viable human community and a living planet. Like all the others, the scientists refuse to call industrial civilization into question.
We can have a living planet and the
consumption that’s killing the planet, can’t we?
As Derrick has written,
By definition, nonrenewable means it will eventually run out.
Once you’ve grasped that intellectual complexity, you can move on to the next level.
Trees are renewable. But if we use them faster than they can grow, the forest will turn to desert. Which is precisely what civilization has been doing for its 10,000 year campaign, running through soil, rivers, and forests as well as metal, coal, and oil.
The oceans are almost dead, 90 percent of the large fish devoured, and the plankton populations are collapsing, populations which both feed the life of the oceans and create oxygen for the planet. What will we fill our lungs with when they are gone? The plastics with which that industrial civilization is replacing them?
Because in parts of the Pacific, plastic outweighs plankton 48 to 1.7 Imagine your blood, your heart, crammed with toxic materials - not just chemicals but physical gunk - until there was ten times more of it than you.
What metaphor would be adequate to the
dying oceans? Cancer? Suffocation? Crucifixion?
When Derrick asks his audiences,
...and he’s asked it for years, all around the country - no one says yes.
That means that most people, or at least most people with a beating heart, have already done the math, added up the,
...and reached the bottom line: a dead planet.
Some of us carry that final sum like the weight of a corpse. For others, that conclusion turns the heart to a smoldering coal. But despair and rage have been declared unevolved and unclean, beneath the “spiritual warriors” who insist they will save the planet by “healing” themselves.
How this activity will stop the release
of carbon and the felling of forests is never actually explained.
The answer lies vaguely between being the change we wish to see and
a hundredth monkey of hope, a monkey that is frankly more Christmas
pony than actual possibility.
This culture leaves us ill-prepared to face the crisis of planetary biocide that greets us daily with its own grim dawn.
The facts are not conducive to an open-hearted state of wonder. To confront the truth as adults, not as faux-children, requires an adult fortitude and courage, grounded in our adult responsibilities to the world. It requires those things because the situation is horrific and living with that knowledge will hurt.
Meanwhile, I have been to workshops
where global warming is treated as an opportunity for personal
growth, and no one but me sees a problem with that.
As one set of experts puts it,
Somewhere unarticulated, we all know that.
And sociopaths can’t change. We know
that, too. Which is why no one raises a hand when Derrick asks
whether the culture will voluntarily transition to a sustainable way
To doubt the vague promise now firmly embedded in the word that we can have our cars, our corporations, our consumption, and our planet, too is both treason and heresy to the emotional well-being of most progressives.
But here’s the question:
Because this way of life - devouring, degrading, and insane - cannot continue.
For “sustainable” to mean anything, we must embrace and then defend the bare truth: the planet is primary.
The life-producing work of a million
species are literally the earth, air, and water that we depend on.
No human activity - not the vacuous, not the sublime - is worth more
than that matrix. Neither, in the end, is any human life. If we use
the word “sustainable” and don’t mean that, then we are liars of the
worst sort: the kind who let atrocities happen while we stand by and
And time is precisely what the planet has run out of. Admitting that might be the exact moment that we step out of the cloying childishness and optimistic white-lite denial of so much of the left, and into our adult knowledge. And with all apologies to Yeats, in knowledge begins responsibilities.
It’s to you grown-ups, the grieving and
the raging, that we address this book.
If the structural determinants are in place for them to live their lives without doing damage - like if they’re hunter-gatherers with respected elders - then that’s what happens.
If, on the other hand, the built environment has been arranged for cars, industrial schooling is mandatory, resisting war taxes will land you in jail, food is only available through giant corporate enterprises selling giant corporate degradation, and misogynist pornography is only a click away 24/7, well, welcome to the nightmare.
This culture is basically conducting a
Milgram experiment with us,
only the electric shocks aren’t fake - they’re killing off the
planet, species by species.
It is our thesis that there will be no mass movement, not in time to save this planet our home.
That two percent in other times has been able to shift both the cultural consciousness and the power structures toward justice: Margaret Mead’s small group of thoughtful, committed citizens. It’s valid to long for a movement, no matter how much we rationally know that we’re wishing on a star. Theoretically, the human race as a whole could face our situation and make some decisions - tough decisions, but fair ones, that include an equitable distribution of both resources and justice, that respect and embrace the limits of our planet.
But none of the institutions that govern our lives, from the economic to the religious, are on the side of justice or sustainability. Most of them, in fact, are violently on the side of capital-E Evil.
And like with the individually destructive, these institutions could be forced to change. The history of every human rights struggle bears witness to how courage and sacrifice can dismantle power and injustice. It takes bravery and persistence, political intelligence and spiritual strength. And it also takes time. If we had a thousand years, even a hundred years, building a movement to transform the dominant institutions around the globe would be the task before us.
But the earth is running out of
time. The western black rhinoceros is definitely out of
time. So is the golden toad, the pygmy rabbit. No one is going to
save this planet except us.
The usual approach of long, slow institutional change has been foreclosed, and many of us know that. The default setting for environmentalists has become personal lifestyle “choices.”
This should have been predictable as it merges perfectly into the demands of capitalism, especially the condensed corporate version mediating our every impulse into their profit.
But we can’t consume our way out of environmental collapse: consumption is the problem. We might be forgiven for initially accepting an exhortation to “simple living” as a solution to that consumption, especially as the major environmental organizations and the media have declared lifestyle change our First Commandment.
Have you accepted compact fluorescents as your personal savior? But lifestyle change is not a solution as it doesn’t address the root of the problem.
As Derrick has pointed out elsewhere, even if every American took every single action suggested by Al Gore it would only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 21 percent.9
Aric tells a stark truth: even if through simple living and rigorous recycling you stopped your own average American’s annual one ton of garbage production,
Industrialism itself is what has to stop.
There is no kinder, greener version that will do the trick of leaving us a living planet. In blunt terms, industrialization is a process of taking entire communities of living beings and turning them into commodities and dead zones.
Could it be done more “efficiently”? Sure, we could use a little less fossil fuel, but it still ends in the same wastelands of land, water, and sky.
We could stretch this endgame out another twenty years but the planet still dies. Trace every industrial artifact back to its source - which isn’t hard as they all leave trails of blood - and you find the same devastation: mining, clear cuts, dams, agriculture. And now tar sands, mountain top removal, windfarms (which might better be called dead bird and bat farms).
No amount of renewables is going to make
up for the fossil fuel or change the nature of the extraction, both
of which are prerequisites for this way of life. Neither fossil fuel
nor extracted substances will ever be sustainable: by definition
they will run out. And both getting them and using them are
literally the destruction of the planet. Bringing a cloth shopping
bag to the store, even if you walk there in your global warming flip
flops, will not stop the tar sands.
So this is the moment when you will have to decide. Do you want to be part of a serious effort to save this planet? Not a serious effort at collective delusion, not a serious effort to feel better, not a serious effort to save you and yours. But an actual strategy to stop the destruction of everything worth loving.
If your answer feels as imperative as instinct, then you already know it’s long past time to fight. After that, the only question left is: how?
And despite everything you’ve been told by the Eichmanns of despair, that question has an answer.
They have insisted that there is no answer, but that’s the lie of cowards. Every system of power can be fought - they’re only human in the end, not supernatural, not sent by god. Industrial civilization is in fact more vulnerable than past empires, dependent as it is on such a fragile infrastructure of pipelines and overhead wires, on binary bits of data encoding its lifeblood of capital.
If we would let ourselves think it, a
workable strategy is obvious, and in fact is not very different from
the actions of partisan resisters across history.
The train can be derailed, the tracks ripped up, the bridge blown down.
There is no metaphor here, as any General Officer could tell us. There is a planet being murdered, and there are also targets that, if taken out relentlessly, could stop it. So think “resistance” with all your aching heart, a word that must become our promise to what is left of this planet.
Gather the others: you already know
them. The brave, smart, militant, and, most of all, serious, and
together take aim. Do it carefully, but do it.