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Alex Rose: An Open Letter to Fellow Environmentalists

By Alex Rose / Deep Green Resistance Colorado

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The earth isn’t dying; it is being killed. And “clean energy” will only make things worse.

I should probably begin by introducing myself; my name is Alex, and I’m a recovering renewable energy advocate. For years, I was a victim of desperation and hope; I petitioned and parlayed, chanted and canvassed; I brimmed with excitement at the prospect of “green jobs” and a “renewable energy economy.” I still see much of myself in many of you.

I know what it’s like. I know exactly how it feels to look around and see a world not just dying but being suffocated, being tortured and maimed, sacrificed on the twin altars of profit and production. As a young person today, I know what it’s like to fear the future, to fear for my future. I—like many of you—have read all the studies and reports I need to see to know what’s coming, what disaster is now screaming, all but unchallenged, down the track upon us.

I know what it’s like to want a way out, a path from this desert of despair to something, anything that will shift us from the deadly course our society is on, some simple solution, the kind of sane idea that even a politician could support.

Like many of you, for years I thought “clean energy” was the answer to the despair that weighs heavier on our collective shoulders and conscience every day. It seemed realistic. It seemed achievable. It seemed aesthetic. And most importantly, I thought it would save the planet.

And I was dedicated whole-heartedly. When I was 14, I volunteered with The Climate Project, a grassroots climate-education initiative created by Al Gore to “awake the masses” to the threat of global warming. I went to classrooms, churches and community centers for years, preaching the good gospel of “green” energy, that we just needed to elect some compassionate democrats. I wrote letters to the editor, hoping to inspire people to be climate voters. I went to city council to beg, and organized protests to demand that the authorities swap the local coal plant for some 21st century renewable energy.

I could see it in my dreams and the artistic renderings of would-be developers; big white windmills peppered across the rolling plains and prairie, slowly making their dutiful rotations & smooth revolutions, a clean and green revolution themselves. All buildings could be fitted with solar panels and to a biker passing by, the deep blues of the PV’s would roll by like the bottoms of the oceans no longer choking in oil. It was beautiful.

Unfortunately, none of it was—nor is—true. Those visions and daydreams were—and are—entirely out of touch with reality, for nothing is made in a vacuum.

My dreams didn’t include the tens of millions of migratory birds and bats massacred each year by windmills (2), whose deaths are not justified by my being able to watch ‘Jersey Shore.’

My dreams didn’t include the reality that sun and wind conditions are ever changing and “renewable” generation systems must be run in synch with fossil fuel systems in case the wind stops or it gets cloudy. (2)

They didn’t include the mining of the minerals necessary to build these magic energy machines, which permanently destroys mountains and landscapes, leaching mercury and lead into watersheds.

They didn’t include the radioactive and carcinogenic waste produced by the manufacture of wind turbines, nor the Chinese farmers who’ve seen their land, animals, and families drop like too many flies from the pollution. (3)

They didn’t include the inevitable dilemma of an economic system that requires constant and endless growth with the reality of a finite planet (and thus finite amounts of gallium, indium, and silicone).

My perfect world was anything but; nevertheless, for some reason, I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that a world run by solar and wind power (or hydro or geothermal or biofuels or every other potential source I’ve ever heard of) would of necessity be a world with a global industrial mining infrastructure, along with all the horrible pollution and problems it encompasses. It would also, of necessity, be a world with a global industrial manufacturing industry. It would, again of necessity, be a world with a global transportation infrastructure.

Now step back for a moment; these are all things that we’re already protesting, destructive agendas which we’re already fighting—and losing—battles. Mining, manufacturing, and global transportation—these are all inherently destructive and polluting.

For the past 5 years, I believed in the “inspiring audacity” of renewable energy with a passion to rival Al Gore or Bill McKibben.

Yet if we preach a holy trinity of “wind, sun and hydro” because we believe they provide relief from an already collapsing biosphere, where does this leave us?

We call ourselves environmentalists; we call ourselves guardians and protectors, defending against the likes of Exxon-Mobil. But what is it you’re defending? Is it civilization? Is it the economy? Is it the sterile and plastic world you now call home?

Or are you defending—with your words, actions, and body—life? Maybe, like some of us, you’re fighting for a world where children can breathe the air and drink the water; a world where their bodies aren’t bombarded with chemicals and carcinogens from the day they’re born. Maybe, what you want is a world without deforestation, a world where forests are recognized for the living communities that they are. Maybe you want a world that isn’t being destroyed, but is more alive each year than the year before.

In the words of a recovering environmentalist, “destruction minus carbon does not equal sustainability.” (4) Destruction minus carbon is still destruction, and it is destruction upon which industrial civilization is based.

Erecting wind turbines won’t stop the systematic deforestation of the Pacific Northwest or desertification of the Amazon; it won’t stop fresh-water wells from drying up in India; it won’t stop trawlers from vacuuming up ocean life and replacing it with plastic; it won’t stop Monsanto from “Monsanto-ing.”

Building wind turbines will, however, force us to destroy whole mountain ranges with explosives and bulldozers to get the needed minerals and metals; it will create 5 mile-wide lakes of carcinogenic and radioactive sludge that will seep into the land, poisoning animals and people, and it will kill hundreds of millions of birds each year.

Coincidentally, it will also require us to build and maintain coal or natural gas plants, because wind output isn’t reliably consistent5; hence I find it difficult to see ANY good coming from wind power.

Solar is the same way. Paving the American southwest or the Sahara with photovoltaics and wiring the world won’t stop cotton growers in Arizona from draining the Colorado River dry; it won’t stop vivisectors from torturing dogs, cats, rabbits, monkeys and countless others in the name of “progress”; it won’t stop the ceaseless march of cities and development across what little wild remains in this world.

However those same solar panels will expand slave labor in the Congo. (6) They (I say “they” as if solar panels were somehow more alive and sentient than the very real and very living beings whose homes are destroyed to make room for them) will require a global industrial transportation and manufacturing infrastructure. They will foster more economic imperialism. (2)

And just like those messianic wind turbines, solar PV output is unpredictable and inconsistent, meaning that we’ll have to keep our fossil fuels anyway! (2)

It’s time to stop the lies. It is time to see support for “renewable energy” for what it is—the continuation of a dominating and oppressive economic and social system that murders and enslaves people around the world, and that is systematically destroying and dismantling life on earth.

As much as it may hurt, it needs to be said; renewable energy will destroy the natural world as surely as Chevron. There are no industrial or technological solutions to the death machine of industrial society that is swallowing whole what remains of this planet’s—our planet’s—most   vital and fundamental life support systems.

Before the arrival of industrial civilization on this continent, you could breathe the air and drink the water. A short 500 years later, every single mother in the world has dioxin (a chemical commonly called “the most toxic in the world”) in her breast milk, 98% of forests have been destroyed, half of all men and one third of all women now get cancer (7), and the Colorado River no longer reaches the ocean. Neither wind farms nor a “Solartopia™” will fix any of these things.

We cannot afford to waste any more time or energy. We must confront the reality of our situation, that industrial civilization is predicated on the death of the natural, living world.

For us, the question now becomes; do we want hairdryers, or do we want safe water? Do we want HD televisions, or do we want migratory songbirds? Do we want ten episodes of “The Simpsons” at the click of a mouse, or do we want mountains? Do we want “e-readers,” or do we want a world without lakes of radioactive waste? Do we want our lifestyles of privilege and consumption, or do we want a living planet? Because in spite of our daydreams and delusions, we can’t kill this planet and live on it too.

I write this as an open letter to environmentalists, but to be honest, it isn’t truly an open letter. Many  of you (probably most)will continue to call for these unsustainable forms of energy, despite knowing that to do so is to beg murder upon the migratory birds, the (very few remaining) unpolluted streams, rural Chinese farmers, and ultimately upon what remains of the living world. Many of you don’t want a truly sustainable way of life, but to sustain a functionally unsustainable civilization. Many of your salaries and personal identities depend on “clean energy,” and you won’t dare challenge it. And for me, this is incredibly saddening and disheartening, as I know many such people. So this letter is not written to you.

This letter is addressed with the utmost intimacy to those of you who are like I am; who yearn for a just world, a world without cancer, and lakes of toxic sludge, imperialism, or murdered birds.  This letter is addressed to those of you who want a living world, to those who know in the most profound places of your heart that the needs of the natural world MUST come before the needs of an economic system.

In the end, I can only speak for myself. I know what I choose; I choose a world that has wild trout and bison. I choose a world with mountains. I choose a world where I can breathe the air and drink the water and see the stars at night. I choose a world with more monarch butterflies each year than the year before. I choose a world where no one dies or is killed so I can play fantasy football—and if that means a world without fantasy football (SPOILER ALERT: it does), then so be it.

Our collective fantasy of renewable energy as a savior come to forgive us of our sins is just that; a fantasy, and whether we want to acknowledge it or not, this way of life is over, and “clean energy” is totally and entirely incapable of saving it.

Industrialism, with its imperatives of growth & production, must be abandoned. Those systems which are destroying the planet—industrial agriculture, the extractive industries (industrial mining, fishing, logging, etc), the fossil fuel infrastructure, and exploitative systems of power—must be strategically dismantled and replaced by independent cultures of direct democracy that are fully integrated with their land bases and local ecosystems. The Earth cannot afford any alternative, for the alternative is to let the dominant culture consume what little remains of the natural world.

Preserving life—in any meaningful sense of the word—will require bringing an end to the perceived entitlement to live in a way that destroys the living systems of the earth. As Lierre Keith says,

“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 is literally the earth, air, and water that we depend on…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 do nothing.” (8)

What do you want? Because we can’t have it all.

Where do you draw the line? Because ultimately there can be no justice—for humans or the earth—in an industrial society.

Where does your loyalty lie? These aren’t theoretical questions; they are some of the most important things we need to be asking ourselves right now. What is sacred to you—a living world, or central heating? Hold that question close, and whisper it to your heart; it’s time for an answer.

And it’s time to act on that answer, to carve out our purpose and forge resilience, to plant our feet firmly on the earth and defend our only home with our lives; for nothing else will do.

(1) Canada Free Press. “Spanish wind farms kill 6 to 18 million birds & bats a year.” Canada Free Press: Conservative, News, Politics, Editorials, Newspaper. (accessed March 5, 2012).

(2) Keith, Lierre, Aric McBay, and Derrick Jensen. “Other Plans.” In Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, 201-204. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011.

(3) Parry, Simon, and Ed Douglas. “In China, the true cost of Britain’s clean, green wind power experiment: Pollution on a disastrous scale | Mail Online.” MailOnline. (accessed March 5, 2012).

(4) Kingsnorth, Paul. “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist | Orion Magazine.” Orion Magazine. (accessed March 5, 2012).

(5) American Daily Herald. “Two-year Study in UK Finds Wind Power Unreliable and Inefficient.” American Daily Herald. (accessed March 5, 2012).

(6) Leslie, Zorba, Jody Sarich, and Karen Stauss. “The Congo Report: Slavery in Conflict Minerals.” Free the Slaves. (accessed March 4, 2012).

(7) American Cancer Society, Inc.. “Lifetime Risk of Developing or Dying From Cancer.” American Cancer Society :: Information and Resources for Cancer: Breast, Colon, Prostate, Lung and Other Forms. (accessed March 7, 2012).

(8) Keith, Lierre, Aric McBay, and Derrick Jensen. “The Problem.” In Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, 25. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011.

From Deep Green Resistance Colorado

11 thoughts on “Alex Rose: An Open Letter to Fellow Environmentalists”

  1. I couldn’t agee more. I am an old school environmentalist, and I am against wasteful wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear power,etc. All the things that todays greenies hold dear. We used to protest nuclear power, and we were successful. No new nuclear staions were built, but coal power stations were built instead. Now todays environmentalists protest the coal stations and now nuclear power stations are going to be built. All of our work was for nothing.

    I can’t stand by and watch birds being choppped to ribbons by wind turbines. My green brethren remain silent about this. I can’t. So I don’t fit in with today’s environmental movement, I’m a turn coat, I’m scum. But I still want clean air, land and water. I’m old school.

  2. Very well put, the only thing I would add is that the other side of the overconsumption coin is overpopulation. That’s a tough one, too!

    I have been at odds with climate change activists since the day I woke up and realized it’s an existential threat. It’s a popular myth anyway that clean energy can ever come close to replacing the concentrated power of fossil fuels, that contain millions of years of accumulated solar power. But your larger point, that switching to “clean energy” doesn’t address the environmental destruction, is why there is such a divide between climate change activists and environmentalists.

    I began to learn about climate change initially because I noticed the trees are dying, and I assumed the only agent wide-spread enough to explain that was drought from global warming. After about a year I realized that cannot be the explanation because even plants that are being watered exhibit the same damage to their foliage as untended trees growing in forests. That was when I figured out the the underlying reason they are dying is pollution. (If anyone’s interested, I wrote a free book – Pillage, Plunder & Pollute, LLC – about this:

    I presented my concerns to numerous climate change activists and scientists since after all, without the carbon sink of trees, global warming will accelerate dramatically. You’d think they would be interested. At best their response was total disinterest and denial – at worst, downright hostile and insulting.

    Wondering why that should be led me to understand what you wrote about – they want the fantasy that switching to clean energy will enable industrial civilization to proceed uninterrupted.

    Thanks Alex for this clarifying and personal perspective.

  3. Your critique of what we have now is clear and compelling. But what I don’t see is a vision of a new world not based on industrialism. For example, will there be an Internet? Will people who live far from wheat-growing areas have bread? Will there be electricity? I understand that centuries ago, Indians lived without iPhones, imported food, gasoline, plastic, etc. But their population was smaller, and the natural resources greater. Perhaps
    there’s an article or a book that envisions the new world. If so, I’d like to read it.

    Right now, for example, have you been able to live in a way that is not predicated on industrialism? I’ve been trying to figure it out for myself.


  4. Slow clap. Stellar work Alex.

    Many indigenous peoples live happily and well outside of industrial civilization, as did all our recent ancestors. It’s possible to do indeed! Even such things as purposefully powering down our home electricity every night at sundown, or going offline at least one day a week, can be helpful in freeing up our ingenuity for learning different ways of living.

    You’re right, we can’t “have it all,” as it has been marketed. And we have a narrow window of time to commit to the natural world before the whole planet’s temperature rises and kills off all life, frankly – this is what the inter-disciplinary overview, so well articulated by Nafeez Ahmed PhD and Guy McPherson, is telling us.

    Thank you for also articulating how the largescale renewable industry fantasy is an addictive mindset that is holding environmentalists back from our human potential to really stand with the natural world. The key question is, like you said, asking ourselves what is really sacred to us —a living world, or central heating (or cooling, if one lives in the southwest)? May ALL of us (scholars, parents, sysadmins, students, midwives, artists, lovers) hold that question close, and whisper it to our hearts. The time to stand with the natural world is now. Now is the only time we have.

  5. Mr. Budd is entitle to his opinion, but his extraordinary pessimism and complete lack of reality is not something worth listening to.

    He doesn’t lay out a solution explicitly, but his agrarian fantasy would require elimination of roughly 5 billion humans. This cataclysmic upheaval would not only cause the deaths of the 5 billion, but enormous reduction of the lifespans and health of the remaining 2 billion.

    And of course it would require a complete and utter reversal of human nature.

    As I said, deeply pessimistic, deeply unrealistic and not worth listening to.

    For all of the reasons why wind power, to pick one single example out of his ill-informed diatribe, is a tremendous choice, please see my site barnardonwind, which debunks all of the myths Mr. Budd has bought into.

  6. Nice job. Harsh realities that even most environmentalists don’t want to hear.

    An earlier comment reads: “… deeply pessimistic, deeply unrealistic and not worth listening to.” This sad fact of human nature: ‘that because the news is bad and threatens modern society; it must be wrong-minded,’ remains the huge stumbling block to re-configuring human societies toward true sustainability.

    Truth hurts. The carrying capacity of this planet has been far-surpassed. We’re losing 100-200 species of life a day while human population grows. And even with alternative energy technology (that indeed, much of which remains wedded to destructive technical processes) we still continue to spew increasing amounts of Co2 into the atmosphere.

    All my adult life has felt like walking among the living dead. Zombies everywhere. I eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations, scan the newspapers, monitor radio and TV channels, scroll around online – seeking signs of mass true awakening. And there are these hopeful hints… but nothing close to the huge systemic shift needed to stave off disaster.

    The modern human race is defective. We have a fatal flaw; one that developed in tandem with busting the mold that confined other animals to living within the dictates of their habitats — and this fatal flaw seems to involve wanting to feel good about stuff. Environmentalists are a downer. We depress people. The truth depresses people – so therefore it must be avoided.

    Many say: “But what can I do about it?” And once they’ve let themselves off this biggest of hooks, they plug into the matrix and consume. All too soon, there won’t be much we can do about climate change, ocean acidification, mass extinctions, befouled waterways, disappearing bees, unchecked spread of GMO’s altering the DNA of plant life, etc. We’re a race that created and swallowed its own Kool-aid. Our manifest destiny has become a mindless corporate machine crushing every daisy in its path.

    Nature tries to teach; but we don’t listen. Perhaps our walls, floors and ceilings are too good at keeping the elements out. Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina (made gigantic because oceans waters are warmer due to climate change) wiped out communities – yet storm victims who boldly proclaim their intentions to rebuild in the same spots are lauded for their folly…

    Humans. The smart ape? The illogical ape. Perhaps we evolved too fast. Perhaps we found fire, formed the wheel, and then the internal combustion engine too fast for our consciousness to wholly grasp the implications… so instead, we’ve got these stone age emotions and animal-like aggressive tendencies fatally juxtaposed upon our 21st century technical capabilities.

    Lemmings with Uzi’s. Driving ourselves to the edge. Many cry that we expound upon the doom and gloom but offer no solutions. That’s not what I see. We offer solutions, but lemmings don’t listen so good.

    And it seems to oppose modern human nature to grok the reality that we need to live in smaller homes, we need to ax global trade and consume bio-regionally, we need to shut the damn lights off at night, we need to use far fewer gadgets… lemmings, oh, I mean people, don’t want to hear that…


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