Building Leadership Capacity: The Ladder of Engagement

Building Leadership Capacity: The Ladder of Engagement

Editor’s note: When we engage in any form of activism, building leadership capacity helps people become more confident and proactive. It means the leader of the group doesn’t have to be responsible for every task and can delegate other important tasks to members. In this case, the author talks about climate change, we at DGR think that climate change is one of many problems and stems from our destructive industrial culture. But you can exchange the word for any other that would describe a dire situation today – the strategy of leadership capacity still applies. DGR disagrees with’s belief that electrifying everything will “solve” climate change. It is, in fact, impossible, and attempts to do so will only make matters worse.

By ,

Learn how organisers recruit and build the leadership capacity of others with the Ladder of Engagement.

This article has been sourced from Daniel Hunter’s book published by called The Climate Resistance Handbook. Daniel explains the Ladder of Engagement with a story from South Africa about an environmental justice group. Read below or see Chapter 3 on Growth and pages 40 – 46. The images have been added by the Commons Library.

The Ladder of Leadership

Growing groups face a challenge. Organisers are often the ones doing much of the work of the group — and they get tired of doing everything…One option for the organisers getting tired is they keep sacrificing more and more. They give up sleep. They sacrifice school and work. They stop social activities — it always becomes about the activism.

For most people, that’s just not sustainable. So what’s the alternative?

Getting new people to step into leadership!

A story from Ferrial Adam in South Africa provides us an example. She was part of an environmental justice organisation working with folks at the grassroots. Led largely by women, they were challenging a government policy called “Free Basic Electricity.” That policy guarantees the government will pay for a certain amount of electricity to poorer households (currently 50 kWh, about 5% of what the average US home uses).

This is a major issue, as the lack of access to energy often dooms whole districts to poverty. For example, those lacking electricity often rely on carbon-intensive paraffin, candles, or cutting down trees. This leads to a host of negative environmental and health effects.

Building relationships is key

This policy was widely credited as a successful social justice policy. But those who were most impacted by this policy weren’t part of the debate. So Ferrial began a research study to learn more about the actual impacts this had for households, which meant going to the poor districts in the city of Johannesburg.

She started where the people were. Her first step was finding a group of women who were keen and already working on energy struggles. It was important to start by explaining the intention and need for the work. She started by getting people to monitor their use of electricity. She spent time building relationships with mostly women, who ran the households. It took many months of weekly workshops to teach people to calculate the energy consumption of different household items.

Increased confidence

Her report was done. And she could have been the person presenting the report in front of national bodies. But when public hearings were planned to increase costs, the people Ferrial had been working with wanted more. She asked the women if they would testify on their own behalf. They jumped at the chance. Ferrial says, “It was so amazing and powerful watching people go to a hearing and speak as a collective on why the government should not raise the price of electricity.”

“They became part of the organisation and took their own leadership. Ferrial wasn’t calculating people’s consumption for them and writing the report and talking before the national bodies. She was organising. She wasn’t doing things that people could do for themselves.”

The women were supported through steps of engagement over the months. This way, they gained expertise about their own electricity usage and education on national policy and the impacts of climate change. Each step gave them increased confidence to not only testify but be strong community activists.

This concept is called the “ladder of engagement.”

The women wouldn’t have been ready to testify as their first step. Instead, they needed to learn more about their own situation. Then they needed to connect to others’ stories and see they weren’t alone. The ladder helps us think about what to do when people say, “What you’re doing is great, how can I help?”

“In our minds, we have our to-do list and things we need done. But that’s not where to start. We have to think from the perspective of that person.”

That probably means our first response is, “Let’s talk about what you’re up for doing.” And we find out what kinds of tasks they might be willing to help us with — ones that match their interest and involvement (not our long to-do list).

“This isn’t a science, and each person is different. Some people have absolute terror making phone calls but would happily risk civil disobedience. So chatting with people about their interests is important.”

Thinking about newer activists in our group with the ladder of engagement in mind helps us think about the next step for them.
And as Ferrial did, we can offer steps to keep increasing their level of commitment and involvement. This cultivates relationships and helps people move up the ladder of engagement, which is how you, too, will increase your group’s involvement.

Recruit People Outside your Circle

“Of course, to get more people into leadership, you have to have lots of conversations with them — about the goals of the campaign and the work you’re doing. You have to build trust. And you have to find them!”

Sometimes it’s hard to recruit new people, because we get used to talking the same way about an issue. You may have some ways you talk about climate change that you’re used to.

But someone you want to recruit may not talk about it that way. They may not care about climate change, but they may care about cats. You can tell them that climate change is increasing the habitat for fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. That’s bad news for pets. It exposes them to new diseases, like West Nile, Lyme disease and heartworm. Or maybe they care about football. Climate change isn’t going to end football soon, but it will change the game. With more erratic climactic events, you will see more games like the snowy 2013 World Cup qualifying match between USA and Costa Rica. It was a disaster. Or, since the spread of Zika (and other diseases) increase with the rise of temperatures, Brazil’s warmer temperatures threatened to derail the Rio 2016 Olympics.

How to organize?

Or maybe they just don’t like being angry! A study on climate and conflict showed that warmer temperatures increase people’s personal conflicts (by 2% amongst friends, and by 11% outside their social circle). So hot temperatures can cause more anger.

But even when we get more flexible in talking about climate change, many groups often mistakenly believe they’ve tapped all the people who are passionate about their issue. “Nobody in my school cares about climate change.” The problem is often not that we have exhausted the possibilities in our city or small town — it’s how we are organising.

Building leadership capacity

When it comes to recruitment, many of us think of people just as individuals. We imagine there is a scattering of people out there from whom to recruit.

The reality is different. Most people are not attracted to groups simply as individuals. Ask around, and you’ll find that very few people get involved in a cause because they receive a flyer, get sent an e-mail, see a poster, or see a Facebook post.

Most people join a group or get involved because someone they know personally invited them.

That’s because society is better understood as clusters of “social circles”. Social circles may be organised as formal or informal groups — religious communities, gangs, tight-knit neighborhoods, etc. Social media can show you the number of people who are friends of friends many times over.

The quickest way to build a group is to ask people in your net works of friends or family. Those people are the most likely to say yes to you. But a group stops growing when it reaches its maximum potential of people from its members’ initial social circle. Continuing to reach out within that circle may not bring in many more people.

The trick is to jump out of your social circle and find people connected with other social circles.

Ways to recruit in social circles

Show up at the events and meetings of people outside your circle. This is a great chance to meet others, see how they work, and find out where their values overlap with your campaign.

  • Stop doing the tactics you’ve always been doing, and try new ones that might appeal to different audiences. If your tactics are marches, strikes, and massive, disruptive direct actions, and it’s not working, then it’s time to adapt. Ritualising our actions makes us predictable and boring. People want to join fresh and interesting groups.
  • Notice when other groups make overtures toward your movement, and follow up with them. For example, if we are seeing reluctant corporate and government allies taking steps towards us, maybe with some of them there are relationships we can build to keep them moving faster.
  • Do lots of one-on-one meet-ups with leaders from other movements and groups. Meet with different people — not to recruit them, but to learn from them.
    • What are their values?
    • What interests them?
    • What strategies recruit people like them?
  • Do direct service. Gandhi was a big fan of what he called the “constructive program,” which means not only campaigning against what we don’t want, but also building the alternative that we do want. Climate disasters provide large-scale and small-scale chances for us to be part of that. Direct service to disaster survivors and other community-based projects put us shoulder to shoulder with others who want to make things better. Who better to hear a pitch about joining your campaign?

Growing outside of your social circle takes time, but when it comes to building successful groups, it’s worth the effort.

This article is from the Climate Resistance Handbook which brings together a wealth of learnings from the climate justice movement. It starts with breaking social myths about how social movements win. Then dives into campaign tools and frameworks you can use. It closes with how to grow your group and use creative, impactful actions and tactics. This book is full of stories of climate warriors from around the globe and historical movements. It’s filled with practical wisdom and inspiration to make you more effective, more active, and ready for what’s next.

Derivative of graphic by parasoley/Getty Images Signature via

Forest Bird Trade Flies Quietly Under Social Media Radar

Forest Bird Trade Flies Quietly Under Social Media Radar

by on Mongabay 11 June 2024

  • During the COVID-19 pandemic, a young documentary filmmaker began quietly joining a growing number of Facebook community groups run by traders of rare Indonesian birds.
  • Over the following two years, a reporting team from several news organizations uncovered a wide network of actors offering species for sale for as little as 250,000 rupiah ($15). These individuals included a serving naval officer.
  • One shop owner selling birds in Morowali, the epicenter of Indonesia’s nickel mining and smelting boom, said they began trading in birds in 2018, after ships began docking in the local port bringing oil and cement.

KENDARI, Indonesia — In 2021, as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic, Irwan watched online as a flurry of new social media groups dedicated to parrots sprang up across Indonesia.

When Irwan, whose name Mongabay has changed to protect his identity, first began participating in these online marketplaces, he saw a rainbow of parrot species offered for as little as $15 a bird, but with little further information about the species.

Two years later, after careful research, Irwan helped uncover a diffuse network of operators quietly transporting rare birds from eastern Indonesia for sale. He set out to establish whether the birds were bred in captivity or plucked from protected forests around the industrial boomtown of Kendari, his home in Southeast Sulawesi province.

“This was never detailed,” Irwan told Mongabay Indonesia. “That’s what interested me about it.”

Illegal trade in wildlife around the world is worth up to $23 billion each year, with one out of four global bird and mammal species falling victim to the business, according to BirdLife International.

As in other criminal enterprises, researchers emphasize that the true extent of the illegal trade dwarfs the number of seizures by authorities.

Much of the trade is conducted on social media. In 2016, Facebook partnered with WWF and other environmental groups to form the Coalition to End Wildlife Trafficking Online, aiming to reduce wildlife trade on the platform by 80% within four years.

In 2019, Facebook banned all live animal trade on its platform, allowing only verified sellers with legitimate business reasons. By 2020, the partnership introduced an alert system that notified users about the illegality of trading wildlife products whenever relevant search terms were used.

Flight plan

Mongabay Indonesia worked with other news outlets including Garda Animalia, which reports exclusively on the wildlife trade in Indonesia, to track and document the illegal bird trade in Sulawesi, an important transit hub for wildlife in the archipelago.

Reporters saw protected species advertised openly on social media, including the yellow-crested cockatoo (Cacatua sulphurea), black-capped lory (Lorius lory) and Moluccan eclectus (Eclectus roratus).

One account was traced to an individual whom reporters dubbed by their initials, WL: a university student in Puwatu, a subdistrict of Kendari. Reporters found WL in a two-story house fenced in by concrete and iron walls, with a plastic sheet obscuring the view of a terrace. Parrots native to the island of New Guinea perched in an enclosure outside.

WL said he’d obtained the parrots from a contact known by the Facebook pseudonym “M Parrot.” He claimed the man held a breeding permit from the provincial conservation agency in Southeast Sulawesi, the BKSDA.

WL and M Parrot were members of the same Facebook groups, where they interacted. WL said he understood that M Parrot kept around 20 pairs of birds, and that they could be identified by rings on the birds’ talons used to show certification.

“If it turns out that it’s against the law … well, don’t blame me,” WL told our reporting team. “I’m just a buyer.”

The student said the trade in birds from New Guinea likely came from hunters based in the island, whose western half is part of Indonesia.

Meanwhile, parrots in Kendari are often sourced from Obi Island in North Maluku province, and sent to port in Morowali by weekly ship. From there, the cages are switched to an overland transfer to Kendari.


Photo by Pat Whelen on Unsplash

Boomtown birds

Bungku harbor serves the industrial heartland of Morowali, which is undergoing rapid development as part of Indonesia’s nickel mining boom. The port was undergoing renovations and there wasn’t a ship to be seen when reporters visited this year.

A port worker said he usually saw crates of birds endemic to Maluku and Papua unloaded every week as large ships docked in Morowali. From here, the bird trade fans out into this part of Sulawesi, the world’s 11th largest island.

We met a man on the roadside of the main highway north of Morowali selling various types of parrots, without any official documents.

“This is 650,000 rupiah [$40],” he said, offering us a cage. “It’s a Maluku parrot.”

The man said he obtained the birds from crew members of ships anchored in Morowali, and that he would occasionally purchase birds from a trader in South Bungku, a subdistrict of Morowali.

The main road was packed with thousands of motorcycles of workers from the vast Morowali nickel smelting complex, a key node in the global electric vehicle industry. Inside one small shop by the road we found two black-capped lories, the birds’ feet chained to a small perch. Three yellow-streaked lories (Chalcopsitta scintillata) idled in their cages above a thin base of sand.

The black-capped lories were each priced at 1.8 million rupiah ($110), while the asking price for a yellow-streaked lory was 800,000 rupiah ($50). A contact number was displayed in front of the shop.

The owner said he’d been trading in birds since 2018, after ships bringing oil and cement started docking more frequently in Morowali to feed the mining boom in the region.

Later, when asked to identify the source of the birds via a WhatsApp message, the shop owner didn’t respond.

Bird on a wire

In October 2023, our reporting team visited the Southeast Sulawesi office of Indonesia’s conservation agency, the BKSDA, to obtain information on breeding permits for birds in the province.

The agency held only one such permit on file. It had been authorized in March 2023 in the name of Asriaddin.

Erni Timang, forest ecosystem lead for the Southeast Sulawesi BKSDA, said that documentation held by the conservation agency showed the permit holder didn’t have a license to deal in the birds.

“He can only breed, he can’t trade yet,” Erni told Mongabay. “You need to have a distribution permit first.”

Ahmar, the BKSDA’s conservation lead for Kendari, said his office had on several occasions attempted to clarify the trading status of the permit holder. However, Ahmar said that on every occasion, Asriaddin was unavailable at his registered address because he was on duty at the Kendari naval base. A public relations officer at the base confirmed that Asriaddin was a serving naval officer.

Mongabay visited the registered address in late March. At the home we saw cages containing various colorful parrot species, exotic imports as well as eastern Indonesian endemics, including black-capped lories, yellow-crested cockatoos, and a black lory (Chalcopsitta atra).

“In the past there were many, but now there are fewer,” a resident at the address told reporters.

On May 25, reporters reached Asriaddin by phone and asked about his status as a trader of birds.

“That’s not correct, it’s just speculation,” Asriaddin said.

When asked whether he had failed to report any breeding activities to the government conservation agency, Asriaddin claimed to not properly understand the reporting requirements.

Singky Soewadji from the Indonesian Wildlife Lovers Alliance (Apecsi), a civil society organization, criticized the awarding of breeding permits by the BKSDA conservation agency, which is part of the Ministry of Environment and Forestry.

“The director-general of the BKSDA should carry out its control function,” Singky said, “not wait until there is a violation of the law.”

Photo by David Clode on Unsplash

Review of the Film Bright Green Lies

Review of the Film Bright Green Lies

Editor’s note: Civilization is in free fall, and most people do not accept that. Humans will have to use a lot less energy. That future is hard for people to grasp. They will need to adjust their expectations of how reality is going to look. This will require going through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining(excuses), depression, and acceptance. We can still create social relations that can improve the world through policy and interactions. Remember the win is always in the movements struggling together with others toward those victories, the fighting against the fascism of industrial civilization.


By Paul Mobbs, The ‘Meta-Blog’, issue no.14, 7th May 2020


Being ‘well known’ in eco-circles, you sometimes get strange, often unsolicited stuff arriving in your inbox. This, however, was something I’d been hoping for: A chance to view, and thus review, ‘Bright Green Lies’ – Julia Barnes’ new documentary about the environmental movement and its support for renewable energy.

‘Planet of the Humans’ (PotH) was entertaining. At a general level, it was factual, albeit a polemic expression of those points. But its protracted period of production meant that it lacked coherence, and thus left itself open to easy criticism.
Those criticisms when they came, however, fell directly into the lap of the central argument of the film: That mainstream environmentalists distort facts to promote an erroneous vision of the measures necessary to ‘save the planet’.

It wasn’t just Josh Fox, backed by green entrepreneurs, engaging in a cavalier reshaping of facts and quotations to blacken the name of the film. Our own George Monbiot engaged in his own well-honed distortion of fact and quotation via The Guardian (symbolic of a number of their recent failures) in order to try and prevent people from watching the film on this side of the pond.

‘Bright Green Lies’ is very different: Like PotH, once again it presents the personal viewpoint of the director, Julia Barnes. Unlike PotH, though, it has a very different tone, building upon the immediacy and well-researched content of the eponymous book by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert – all of whom appear in the film.

You get the core of the film’s argument over the first five minutes, as the four main protagonists set out their respective take on the ‘bright green’ position [time index in the film is shown in brackets]:

 Barnes: “People rarely question the solutions they are taught to embrace, but with all the world at stake we must start asking the right questions. There is a push for a 100% renewable world, and after the research I’ve done for this documentary, I want no part of it. I did not become an environmentalist to protect my way of life or the civilization in which I live. I did it because I am in love with life on this planet and because the world I love is under assault. This film is for those whose allegiance is with the living world. Those who would do whatever it takes to defend it.”[02:26]


 Jensen: “You will have hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets of Washington, or New York, or Paris; and, if you ask those individuals ‘why are you marching?’, they will say, ‘we wanna save the planet’. And if you ask them for their demands they will say, ‘We want subsidies for the wind and solar industry’. That’s extraordinary. I can’t think of any time in history when any mass movement has been so completely captured and turned into lobbyists for an industry.”[03:49]

 Keith: “The environmental movement used to be a very impassioned group of people who cared very deeply about the places we loved and the creatures we loved. What happened, though, in my lifetime, was that this movement which was so honorable and impassioned, it turned into something completely different. And now it’s about protecting a destructive way of life, while it destroys the creatures and the places we love. It’s all become, ‘how do we continue to fuel this destruction?’ as if the only problem was that we were using oil and gas.”[03:16]

 Wilbert: “The natural world isn’t really part of the conversation anymore. Kumi Naidoo, the former head of Greenpeace, I was watching him being interviewed the other day. He was saying, ‘The planet’s going to survive, the oceans are going to survive, the forests are going to survive, it’s really about can we save ourselves or not’. And I just saw that and I’m thinking, what the hell are you saying? … This is someone who’s considered to be one of the top environmentalists in the world and he’s say- ing we don’t have to worry about the forests or the oceans? I mean, that just betrays a complete lack of empathy and connection to the natural world. I don’t know how you could possibly say that when we’re in the midst of the Sixth Great Mass Extinction, and it’s being caused by industrial culture. It’s being caused by the same institutions, the same economies, the same systems, the same raw materials, the same extractive mindset, that is being used for these renewable energy technologies.”[04:36]


Environmentalism is a ‘class’ issue

My introduction to ‘environmentalism’ started before I’d seriously heard the word; growing up in a semi-rural working-class family who grew their own food, kept chickens, and foraged. Likewise, coming into contact with ‘mainstream’ environmentalism in the mid-1980s introduced me to the concept of ‘bright green’ before I’d heard that term either.

If there’s one general criticism I have (in part because the book, too, glosses over it), it is the failure to explore the class bias of environmentalism. It is dominated by the middle class (and in the UK, led by the upper-middle class); and so the economically ‘aspirational’ middle-class values suffuse its agenda. That’s overlooked in the film.

That this movement should innately favor individualist materialist values, over communal or spiritual ones, should therefore be of no surprise. That does not condemn these groups, or render them incapable of change. What it makes them do is reflect a narrow focus on both concerns and solutions. More importantly, in a mass political society, it makes it difficult for them to have empathy with a large majority of the public – and that hampers their ability to make change.

That bias towards affluence informs their ideological values, which in turn have come to dominate contemporary environmentalism. As said in the film:


“Bright Green Environmentalism is founded on the notion that technology will solve environmental problems; and that you can, through 100% recycling, through wind and solar power, have an industrial economy that does not harm the planet. Deep ecology is the belief that we need to radically change the way society functions in order to be sustainable.”[05:30]

The spectre of this early ideological differentiation has haunted the movement. Just as Keith outlines, for me it became evident around 1988 to 1990. Figures such as Jonathon Porritt and Sara Parkin sought to divest the movement of its ‘hairshirt’ image and put it on a ‘professional’ footing. As a self-acknowledged ‘fundo’ (the pejorative term used for deep green ‘fundamentalists’ in the Green Party at that time) that didn’t enthuse me one bit.

That ‘professionalised’ approach (for which, read compromise with neoliberal values) would slowly percolate through the movement over the next decade. And with it, the compromise that has stalled more radical responses to ecological issues ever since. That failure has, in part, only escalated these historic internal tensions – tensions that this film, almost certainly, will inflame.

First ‘green consumerism’, and then ‘sustainability’, foundered on the reality that the movement’s role as a ‘stakeholder’ in government and industry programs produced little change. Today, the issue at the heart of this internecine contention is renewable energy – and whether it is a realistic response to the Climate Emergency or just another distracting ruse.

I think this film is a good contribution to that contemporary debate. If only to make many people aware that this debate exists, and so cause people to look at the academic research in more detail.

As Barnes succinctly put it: “We are told that we can have our cake and eat it too.”[01:59] And yes, this really is all about cutting the ‘cake’ of affluence. But the film’s criticism of consumerism was couched in a generic “we”, and therein lies its failing.


When it comes to consumption it is not an issue of ‘we’. It is about how an extremely narrow social and economic elite exploit the majority by giving them the ‘illusion of affluence’. Albeit one that is today precariously founded upon deepening debt and doubtful economics (a ‘deep’ issue in-and-of itself).

By not making the case that it is a highly privileged minority causing/benefiting from ecological destruction (see graph below), the film and book miss the opportunity to state arguments such as:


  • The most affluent 10% of the global population (OK, that’s mostly us!) cause half the pollution;
  • But even within these most affluent states, national inequality means wealthy households emit far more pollution than the poorest;
  • Hence pollution is absolutely associated with economic inequality and consumption; and,
  • That this skew means the most affluent states must reduce consumption by perhaps 90%!
In a situation where – both globally but also in the most polluting states – it is a minority which is causing these problems, that redefines its political ‘reality’ in different terms. To be fair, Barnes strays into this issue at points:

“The ocean is the foundation of life on this planet. The fact that we’re losing it at the rate we are is alarming. I think part of the reason we’re failing is that we ask what is politically possible more often than we ask what is necessary.”[41:37]

Simple logic demands that this minority urgently change their lifestyle, lest the majority, threatened by ecological breakdown, seek to rest it from them. It is how they do this which is another live issue. Frankly, that’s not going too well right now:


Currently, Western states are seeking to repress protests against the climate emergency, to forestall calls for more radical change; While at the same time, billionaires create bunkers in remote locations to survive any future backlash from the dispossessed majority. This creates a powerful incentive for the ‘impoverished majority’ to rest control away from the economic elite driving ecological breakdown. The reality is, though, neither Greenpeace, WWF, nor even Extinction Rebellion, are likely to pick up that banner any time soon. Their failure to recognise affluence as a driver for ecological destruction negates their ability to act to stop it. Instead tokenis- tic measures, like renewable energy, supplant calls for meaningful systemic change.

Economics versus ecological limits

About halfway through, Max Wilbert elucidates a truth that doesn’t get nearly enough exposure:

“When people talk about 100% renewable energy transition to save the planet, to save civilization, what they’re actually talking about is sustaining modern high-energy ways of life, at the expense of the natural world.”[26:38]

I’m sure a number will recognise that from many of my previous workshops. In fact, I’ve just had a Facebook post blocked for, ‘violating community standards’. The offense? It linked to a summary of the research making this same point, and it’s not the first time that’s happened. It’s a touchy subject!

In 2005, my own book, ‘Energy Beyond Oil’, visited many of the issues explored in the film/book. In far less detail though, as there was nowhere near the quantity of research evidence available back then. What that also highlights, though, is how over the interim: ‘Bright green’ environmentalism has been unable to comprehend the message from this new research; while at the same time deliberately deflecting people’s attention towards points of view which have a questionable basis for support.

On that point, I think Max Wilbert gives a most eloquent view for how mainstream environmental- ism sold itself on the altar of green consumerism:

“They want us to believe that consumer choices are the only way we can change things. But if we accept that then it means that they’ve won because we’re defining ourselves as consumers…I have to buy things within this culture to survive, and that is not something that defines me or my power as an actor in this world. I would say much more fundamentally I am an animal. I have hands. I have feet. And I can walk places. And I can do things. And I have a voice. And I have the ability to speak with people and build a relationship with people. And I have the ability to organise. And I have the ability to fight if need be. These are all much more important than my ability to buy or not buy something.”[48:28]


Since ‘Planet of the Humans’, many on the ‘bright green’ side of the aisle have learned a lesson. Their hysterical condemnation of the film, to the point of calling for it to be banned, only served to feed it greater publicity, ensuring more would see it.

Their lack of response this time is perhaps also due to how well the film exposes the fragility of their arguments. One of the bright points in the film was the way in which ‘deep green’ criticisms were dove-tailed alongside interviews with those they criticised – amplifying the substance of the disagreement be- tween each side.

I think my favorite was the segment on Richard York’s research, showing that growing renewable energy actually displaces a very minimal level of fossil fuels. When York’s point was put to David Suzuki, his reply, which I too have often received, was, ”So what is the conclusion from an analysis like that, we shouldn’t do anything?”[24:08]

The film brilliantly explodes this false dilemma. When pushed, about needing to tackle things systemically rather than just trying to influence behavior, Suzuki’s response was, “Yeah, there’s no question our major impact on the planet now, not just in terms of energy, is consumption. And that was a deliberate program…”[24:26]

When it comes to the ‘liberal’ solutions to the climate crisis generally, I think Lierre Keith gives the most perceptive criticism of the simplistic, ‘bright green’ arguments for change[1:03:23]:

“[Capitalism] takes living communities, it converts those into dead commodities, and then those dead commodities are turned into private wealth. And a lot of people think, well, if we just make that into public wealth, we all could get an equal piece of the pie, that’s the solution. The problem is that’s not go- ing to be a solution because you’ve still got the first two parts of that equation. Why are we taking the living planet and turning it into dead commodities? That’s the problem…It’s the fact that rivers, and grasslands, and forests, and fish, have been turned into those dead commodities, that’s the problem.”

Jensen then bookends Keith’s point with another, straightforward invalidation of the basic premise of the bright green approach[1:04:33]:

“What do all the so-called, ‘solutions’, to global warming have in common? They all take industrial capitalism as a given, and so conform to industrial capitalism. They’ve switched the dependent and the independent variables. The world has to be primary, and the health of the world has to be primary because without a world you don’t have any economy whatsoever. And the bright greens are very explicit about this. What they’re trying to save is industrial capitalism, industrial civilization. And that’s my fundamental beef because what I’m trying to save is the real world.”

Climate inequality meets decolonialism

Jensen makes an interesting observation towards the end of the film:

“The thing that blows me away is the lengths that people will go to avoid looking at the problem. That they will create all these extraordinary fantasies in order to do something that’s not going to help the planet so they can avoid looking at the real issue. Which is that industrial civilization itself is what’s killing the planet.”[59:40]

Likewise, Barnes astutely characterises the basic block to progress toward the near end:

“Bright green environmentalism has gained popularity because it tells a lot of people what they want to hear. That you can have industrial civilization and a planet too. It allows people to feel good about maintaining this destructive way of living and to avoid asking hard questions about the depth of what must be changed.”[1:05:04]

For me, though, it was Keith’s discussion about what it is ‘civilization’ is based upon[1:00:02] which brought a long overdue argument into circulation: Criticism of the ‘resource island’ model for the modern city, and its inherent link to the global expropriation and exploitation of land. Driven by the wealthiest ‘city’ state’s need to maintain consumption, the inherent ‘neocolonial’ aspects of international climate negotiations are something the climate lobby too often overlook. Especially in relation to issues such as carbon offsets, the global allocation of carbon budgets, and their inherent global inequality.

At some point environmental groups must call ‘bullshit’ on these whole neocolonial proceedings, and start giving equal value to all humans, irrespective of their present-day privilege. More importantly, we have to give ecological capacity, currently occupied by human societies, back to natural organisms to allow them sufficient space to live too.

Before ‘Bright Green Lies’ turned up, I had just seen Raoul Peck’s excellent, ‘Exterminate All The Brutes’. Coming to the end of ‘Bright Green Lies’, what startled me was how the two films arrived at a very similar place. Both showed similar blocks toward acceptance of the radical change required, around both ecological change and decolonialism.

To understand Peck’s film it helps to have read, ‘Heart of Darkness’. In structuring the film around the characters in that book, and contrasting it to The Holocaust, Peck shows how indifference to European and US colonialism enabled The Holocaust to take place [Episode 4, 46:57 to 54:11]:

“It is not knowledge that is lacking… The educated general public has always largely known what atrocities have been committed and are being committed in the name of progress, civilization, socialism, democracy, and the market…At all times, it has also been profitable to deny or suppress such knowledge… And when what had been done in the heart of darkness was repeated in the heart of Europe, no one recognized it. No one wished to admit what everyone knew.


Everywhere in the world, this knowledge is being suppressed. Knowledge that, if it were made known, would shatter our image of the world and force us to question ourselves. Everywhere there, Heart of Darkness is being enacted…Black Elk, holy man of the Oglala Lakota people, said after the Wounded Knee Massacre, ‘I didn’t know then how much was ended… A people’s dream died there. It was a beautiful dream. The nation’s circle is broken and scattered. There is no centre any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.’”

There are uncomfortable parallels between Peck’s insights into Holocaust denial, the denial of the crimes of colonialism, and the everyday denial of the damage that affluence and material consumption are causing to the entire planet. From the horrors of resource mining to the devastation of the oceans by plastics, such evidence represents a constant ‘background noise’ in the modern media. A noise people have learned to ignore, in order to keep functioning amidst the cognitive dissonance of their everyday, disconnected lives.

As Peck says, “It is not knowledge that is lacking”. People are aware. The fact that they will not engage with the issue, as outlined in ‘Bright Green Lies’, is that people innately know the extent of their own complicity. To do so, ‘would shatter our image of the world and force us to question ourselves’.

We do not need more ‘evidence’. The block to ecological change is not simply a lack of ‘knowledge’. It is that many all too well understand the reality of what stopping the ecological crisis would entail. Trapped by their subconscious fear of what that would mean personally, they cannot see a solution to the psychological dependency engendered by consumerism and industrial society.


Mainstream environmentalism, as the film outlines, is its own worst enemy. In advocating ephemeral, consumer-based solutions to tackling ecological breakdown, it creates its own certain failure. Unfortunately, unless the counter-point to that, the ‘deep green’ argument, is able to give people the confidence to accept and let go of industrial society, it will not make progress either. I think this film almost gets there; but we need to focus far more on the workable, existing examples of people living outside of that system to give people the confidence to make that internal, ‘leap of faith’. For those who want to follow this road, and perhaps provide those examples, this film is a good starting point to build from.


Released under the Creative Commons ‘BY-NC-SA’ 4.0 International License

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Deep Green Resistance, the News Service, or its staff.


The Wrong Side of the Tract: Abstract, Extract, Distract

The Wrong Side of the Tract: Abstract, Extract, Distract

“The climate crisis for example, has been framed as an environment issue and a technology issue, when it is actually a crisis of the human consciousness and psyche. This criminally negligent misdiagnosis, reframing and distortion of major existential crises into simple practical problems to be solved by technology, demonstrates how superficial and corrupted our very approach to problem-solving is. We are trying to solve the disasters of capitalism with more capitalism. This has never worked, and it never will. The very desire to profit out of these solutions, to “create jobs” and prosperity through Green New Deals, only demonstrates the level of delusion and persistent lack of any seriousness in dealing with a problem which is of apocalyptic proportions…..There are thousands of “environmental” organisations who are nothing but shopfronts for extractive capitalism in the form of renewable technology.  Their very organisation and operating principles emulate capitalist ventures.” – George Tsakraklides

By Mankh

“Now they worry and they hurry and they fuss and they fret
They waste your nights and days
Them, I will forget
You, I’ll remember always”
– Bob Dylan, from “Workingman’s Blues #2

”Crazy Horse
We Hear what you say
One Earth, one Mother
One does not sell the Earth
The people walk upon
We are the land
How do we sell our Mother?
How do we sell the stars?
How do we sell the air?”
– John Trudell “Crazy Horse

Adults, teens and some kids got duped. The slick, climate confidence tricksters distracted people by fixating on CO2 air quality and temperatures at the expense of the very land you’re standing with.

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” they shouted, hurling numbers, measurements, and projections at the dart board of your mind so they could usher in a trendy era greenwash cash cow – buy now and save the planet! Their rewrite of Henny Penny more like the fox guarding the hen-house for an ugly penny i.e. billions. Fixating on the sky while habitats being mined and destroyed beneath the very land you’re standing with, but are you, too, yearning for a piece of that pie in the sky?

There’s an African saying, “No one shows a child the sky.” I interpret that as: Children naturally look to the sky, there is an innate knowing and rapport, they don’t need to be told. Yet if overly instructed, children can miss out on the wonder of finding out and experiencing for themselves. If manipulated, children and adults can be misled.

My proof of how all that seeps into the mainstream everyday society is via web-searching for a few days to find a corded weed trimmer because I don’t enjoy the gas fumes or noise from the old one; virtually every trimmer and other such gadgets, including vacuums, now use lithium batteries.

“As of February 29, 2024 an estimated 21,897 active, filed, and submitted placer claims, have been located in Nevada, presumably for lithium or lithium brine in 18 different hydrographic basins,” not to mention the rest of the world, and already destruction of sacred Native lands at Thacker Pass/Peehee Mu’huh in so-called Nevada. A case of destroy the land out west so the suburban east and elsewhere can feel good about greenwashed tools that are helping to protect the environment by destroying it! By the way, the cost of trimmer and electric cord was much less expensive than the others.

The sky story (not to diminish actual air quality issues and other data) is a textbook distraction or dis-tract attention, the word meaning “dis-” “away from” and “tract” “tracts of land and water.” Yet “distract” is step three of a simplified three-stage “tract” pattern of colonialism and disaster capitalism.

First comes “abstract” from “ab-” “to draw away from” & “tracts of land and water.” Abstract so as to get your attention in your head and disregard the feet and heart and soul of things. A prime example comes from Dr. Tink Tinker (Osage – Wazhazhe); the conversion of land into “property” which “chopped up our Grandmother [Earth] into pieces.”

Fast-forward to bizness lingo:

A tract of land is a well-defined piece of property with specific boundaries.

  • It plays a key role in real estate transactions, zoning regulations, and property disputes.
  • It can range from small residential lots to extensive commercial developments.
  • Knowing what constitutes a tract of land is essential for demarcating property lines.”

Yet not even a homeowner’s God’s little acre backyard is sacred. In the 1950s chemical companies turned the medicinal Dandelion Nation into an abstract noun, “weed,” then got brainwashed yard-gardeners to poison (a form of extraction) the dandelions; thus distracting people from the medicinal values available from the very land they were standing with.

Number 2 is “extract” — from “ex-” “draw out of” & ”tracts of land and water.” Abstracting consciousness – which is a cutting off of empathy and recognition of the very substances that nurture us — enables the extractive industry mechanism to proceed without a care. Most of the extraction has to do with mining minerals and pumping oils, yet chopping down trees for solar panel ‘fields’ or another Amazon “fulfillment center” warehouse is another form of extraction, especially if you’re a tree whose deep roots are ‘drawn out of the Earth.’

Number 3 is “distract” — so as to keep your consciousness away from Land and Water, so as to enable the extractive industry to continue as if it’s normal business as usual. Distractions run the gamut from the more immediate and in your face corporate media, tabloid news and mainstream so-called culture to longstanding institutionalized religions that dis-empower people by keeping them at a distance from their direct and personal relating with Mother Earth and Spirit. Plus there’s the educational system as Information Factory, or as Birgil Kills Straight (Oglala Lakota) summed up the systemic process, “They cut you off from your heart, stick you in your head, and manipulate you out of a book.” Yet: “No one shows a child the sky.”

Though not specifically included in the “tract” etymology, Air can be considered an extension of Land and Water since what is done to them often affects the Air.

All of Land and Water as Property
The two more recent, mostly hidden, insanities are:
1): deep-sea mining
Deep sea mining is the extraction of minerals from the ocean floor at depths of 200 metres (660 ft) to 6,500 metres (21,300 ft). Deep-sea mining uses hydraulic pumps or bucket systems that carry deposits to the surface for processing.”

What could go wrong?

My investigative call to the Octopus has not been returned. I pray they are ok.

2): The NYSE valuing of all of Nature aka Mother Earth as an “asset class.” I read about that in 2021 but don’t recall hearing of anything else until an interview with Rebecca Adamson (Cherokee) on First Voices Radio (FVR), well-worth the listen.

From a 9/14/2021 article: “NYSE and Intrinsic Exchange Group Partner to Launch a New Asset Class to Power a Sustainable Future”:

“This new asset class on the NYSE will create a virtuous cycle of investment in nature that will help finance sustainable development for communities, companies and countries,” said Douglas Eger, CEO of IEG. “Together, IEG and the NYSE will enable investors to access nature’s store of wealth and transform our industrial economy into one that is more equitable.”

You have to have money to invest, so the “virtuous cycle of investment in nature” con game is rigged from the get-go. And, “more equitable” is an oxymoron because “equitable” is “just and fair, equal,” therefore ‘equal is equal’ and “more equal” is bullshit. Then again, the masters of fine print manipulation may be referring to another dictionary definition of “equitable” along the lines of the title of Peter d’Errico’s book Federal Anti-Indian Law: The Legal Entrapment of Indigenous Peoples – “of or relating to rights historically enforced in courts of equity.”

In an article by Whitney Webb and Mark Goodwin from 2/8/2024, “Tokenized, Inc: BlackRock’s Plan To Own The Fractionalized World,” there’s an excellently concise analogy summary of the current potential global disaster: “Nature, the New Gold.”

History 101 shows a progression:
– gold rush, gold
– black gold, oil
– white gold, lithium
But now the powers that do too much are going for the whole kit and caboodle: Nature/Mother Earth as gold. This should bring shudders to anyone with an ounce of empathy. Or else, another line from Trudell’s “Crazy Horse”: ”Mirrors gold, the people lose their minds.”

As highlighted by Rebecca Adamson in the FVR interview, also in on the deal is Bloom23, a slickly-worded website proclaiming “protecting nature” and working with “BIPOC” [Black, Indigenous, (and) People of Color], yet it’s all under the banner of business, or more accurately, as the website name attests to, GreenBiz.

Here’s a blurb from Theresa Lieb, Sr. Director, Nature and Food Systems:
“Biodiversity has quickly become a hot topic for companies and investors. At Bloom 23, the flourishing group of nature-focused business leaders will come together with policymakers, entrepreneurs, Indigenous groups and other key stakeholders to transform rising awareness into real progress.”

Sounds pretty good, right? But a FAQ spill$ the bean$:
”Who attends Bloom 23?
The majority of attendees will come from Fortune 500 companies, investment and insurance firms, service providers, leading nonprofits and government agencies. Experts from community organizations, academia and nature tech startups will also participate.”

Indigenous Peoples have been doing “nature tech” for thousands and thousands of years. For one in-depth example, read the book Native Science: Natural Laws of Interdependence by Gregory Cajete.

According to Rebecca Adamson’s article “Water + Indigenous Peoples Rights = Risk”, 3/8/2024:
“80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity is within Indigenous territories along with 40% of the terrestrial areas, 33% of the intact forest landscapes and 70% of tropical forests.”

So there’s the not new battle line, as most at risk from such investments are Native/Indigenous Peoples on the front lines — and “nature focused” woke inclusivity won’t stop the destruction.

The least one can do is to de-abstract the thinking process so as to access the true nourishing energies; be wary of any and all extractive processes; and minimize being distracted from caring about Land and Water — and maximize actually caring for Land and Water by doing whatever you can to thwart those who see dollar signs instead of true gold: Sunlight amplifying Daffodil, Forsythia, Dandelions, Marigolds, Freesia, Black-Eyed Susan, Goldenrod . . . . .

yellow petaled flower on grass

Photo by Natalia Luchanko on Unsplash

Banner Photo by Michael & Diane Weidner on Unsplash

Surprise Discovery of Wind Farm Project in Philippine Reserve Prompts Alarm

Surprise Discovery of Wind Farm Project in Philippine Reserve Prompts Alarm

Editor’s note: Wind farms are not a solution to ecological destruction, especially not when built in protected reserves. Singapore-based company Rizal Wind Energy Corp. (RWEC) is drilling illegally in wildlife sanctuary and ecotourism area Masungi Georeserve.

For this massive construction it is bulldozing forest to make roads. It needs diesel for the trucks and lube oil to run the wind turbines. Local environmentalists have protected the Masungi Georeserve over generations through educating local people and engaging in struggles against land grabbing.

This important work is dangerous: park rangers are shot, the army arrests workers and the government sends their agencies with legal threats.

Despite having considered giving up, conservationists won’t surrender: “If we abandon it, who will look after the wildlife?”

Everyone who is able to get active in these times of ecocide should ask themselves this same question.

Surprise Discovery of Wind Farm Project in Philippine Reserve Prompts Alarm


In late 2023, conservationists monitoring the Philippine’s Masungi Georeserve were surprised to encounter four drilling rigs operating within the ostensibly protected wildlife sanctuary. The construction equipment belongs to a company building a wind farm within the reserve, which claims to have received the necessary permits despite the area’s protected status. Masungi Georeserve Foundation, Inc. (MGFI), the nonprofit organization managing the site, has launched a petition calling for the project to be canceled, saying that renewable energy generation should not be pursued at the expense of the environment.

Drilling for windfarms without permission

Conservationists have expressed alarm over the surprise discovery that a Singapore-based company has started construction of a wind farm inside the Philippines’ Masungi Georeserve.

The Masungi Karst Conservation Area (MKCA), declared a strict nature reserve and wildlife sanctuary since 1993, is home to more than 400 wildlife species. The site is located in Rizal, a province about 60 kilometers (37 miles) south of the Philippine capital, Manila.

Drone images from late 2023 captured by the Masungi Georeserve Foundation, Inc. (MGFI), the nonprofit organization that manages the site, showed that Rizal Wind Energy Corp. (RWEC) was behind the construction, drilling to build 12 wind turbines as part of a renewable energy project. RWEC is owned by Singapore-based energy developer Vena Energy.

“This development entails widespread road construction and raises significant concerns for local wildlife, particularly threatening birds and bat populations,” the foundation said in a statement on Feb. 12. The group estimates that 500-1,000 hectares (about 1,200-2,500 acres) of the MKCA could be affected by the project, as it would require extensive road networks that may lead to forest clearing, vegetation damage, and visual disruption of the natural landscape.

The MKCA, previously commercially logged and barren, has been undergoing forest restoration since 1996 through a joint-venture agreement between the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) and Blue Star Construction and Development Corp., owned by the founder of Masungi Georeserve Foundation Inc. In 2016, when the foundation was formally established, Masungi also opened to the public as an ecotourism site, generating revenue to support ongoing restoration efforts in the area.

Green greed disturbs protected zone

Of the more than 400 flora and fauna species that call Masungi home, around 70 are endemic to the Philippines, including the Luzon tarictic hornbill (Penelopides manillae), which is nationally listed as vulnerable, and the Luzon mottle-winged flying fox (Desmalopex leucoptera), one of the world’s largest bats and internationally categorized as vulnerable.

In an online signature campaign against the construction of the wind farm, the group said this “misguided energy development” is the latest threat to Masungi, which already faces illegal logging, land grabbing, quarrying, and violence against its forest rangers. These challenges exist even though Masungi is part of the 26,000-hectare (64,500-acre) Upper Marikina River Basin that was declared a protected landscape in 2011.

The Masungi management said this venture “marked a disturbing violation” of a 1993 administrative order by the DENR prohibiting industrial or commercial uses of Masungi. The organization added that the wind farm project also shows a “blatant disregard” for the area’s designation as a strict protection zone in its own management plan.

As per the Philippine environmental impact statement system, projects that plan to operate in ecologically sensitive zones like Masungi need to obtain an environmental compliance certificate from the DENR prior to commencing activities.

wind power

Wind farm in the Philippines

Over four years of developing the Rizal wind farm, Vena Energy said that, “being mindful of its environmental impact,” it has secured various Philippine government permits, including an environmental compliance certificate, protected area management board clearances, and a certificate precondition, following an environmental impact assessment study and consultations with Indigenous peoples.

“Vena Energy assures the public that it continues to maintain open dialogue with stakeholders and is always willing to work with concerned parties to achieve the common good,” Angela Tan, the company’s corporate communications chief, told Mongabay in an emailed statement. The company has not responded to a request to verify its permits.

Coincidental discovery

MGFI says it was never formally informed of the project, which is reportedly nearing commercialization. Instead, georeserve staff discovered the project during routine monitoring of the site. MGFI advocacy officer Billie Dumaliang and her team periodically fly a drone over the reserve to monitor land changes, whether these are caused by fires, clearings, or new structures. In late 2023, they said, they were shocked to see four drilling rigs.

Zooming in on the photos, they discovered that RWEC was behind the drilling. “We immediately searched for their contact so that we can reach out to them and find out more about the project before reacting,” Dumaliang told Mongabay in an email on Feb. 21. “Nonetheless, we were surprised because as designated caretakers of the area, we were not informed of any wind development underway within the Masungi Karst Conservation Area.”

Hoping to persuade the company to relocate, MGFI did not publicize the issue until Feb. 12. This was after two meetings with company representatives where MGFI told them “they are on the wrong track.” According to MGFI, though, the company remains determined to build the wind farm inside Masungi, claiming it will undertake “‘mitigation measures.”

“However, mitigation is superficial if the site selection is wrong in the first place,” Dumaliang said, further expressing disappointment over what she describes as the company’s failure to adhere to emerging environmental, social and governance principles in the alternative energy industry.

“There are many other places to build colossal wind turbines — why do it inside a sensitive karst ecosystem and wildlife sanctuary which cannot be replaced?”

Touching interviews about the activists protecting Masungi Georeserve.

Wind power push

The Philippine government has promoted wind energy development to help meet its target of increasing the share of renewables in the country’s energy mix from 32.7% in 2022 to 50% by 2040. As of 2022, the country’s wind installed generating capacity stood at 427 megawatts, projected to rise to 442 MW by 2025. Since the enactment of a renewable energy law in 2008 up until November 2023, contracts have been awarded to 239 wind power projects. This includes RWEC’s 603 MW (potential capacity) project spanning Rizal and Quezon provinces, listed by the country’s energy department as in the predevelopment stage.

MGFI said wind energy development shouldn’t be pursued at the expense of the environment. “The transition to renewable energy and nature-based solutions such as reforestation and biodiversity conservation should go together. There should be no conflict between the two if the transition to renewable energy is done in a responsible manner,” Dumaliang said.

“If renewable energy development falls under the usual trappings of greed and capitalism, then we risk doing more damage than good.”

The group, along with 30 other civil society organizations, has demanded the revocation of RWEC and Vena Energy’s permits in the MKCA “on scientific grounds and the lack of public consultation.” It’s also seeking outright rejections for similar applications in this wildlife sanctuary, which is meant to be off-limits to industrial and commercial activities.