Scientific Progress vs the Natural World

Scientific Progress vs the Natural World

Editor’s Note: Ever since the beginning of scientific progress, it has been based on control (or domination) of the natural world. It has been based on a nature-hating patriarchal way of viewing the world. That does not mean that there is no other way to fulfill our curiosity. Numerous indigenous peoples and nonhumans have found ways to fulfill their curiosity within a harmonious relationship (as opposed to a dominating relationship) with the natural world.

This article highlights how scientific progress could destroy the world to the point of causing human extinction.

By  / The Conversation

Our present moment is characterised by a growing obsession with the long term. The study of climate change, for example, relies on increasingly long-range simulations. Science’s predictions are no longer merely hypotheses for validation or invalidation but are often grave threats – of growing scope and severity – that must be prevented.

Predicting oncoming peril demands a proactive response. This means that, increasingly, the pursuit of technoscience tends towards not only passively investigating the natural world but also actively intervening in it. In the case of the climate, one thing this has spawned is the proposal of “geoengineering” – the large-scale harnessing of Earth’s natural systems in order to counteract climate change’s deleterious consequences.

Our anticipations of nature’s perils motivate us to attempt to intervene in it and reinvent it for our own purposes and ends. Accordingly, we increasingly reside within a world of our own making, in which the divide between the “natural” and “artificial” is collapsing. We see this from genome editing to pharmaceutical breakthroughs to new materials. And it is at the heart of the idea of the “Anthropocene”, which acknowledges that the whole Earth system is affected – for better or worse – by human activities.

While some of these technologies are rightly considered the pinnacle of progress and civilisation, our pursuit of anticipating and preventing disaster itself generates its own perils. This is, indeed, what got us into our current predicament: industrialisation, which was originally driven by our desire to control nature, has perhaps only made it more uncontrollable in the form of snowballing climate degradation.

Our efforts to predict the world tend to change the world in unpredictable ways. Alongside unlocking radical opportunities such as new medicines and technologies, this poses novel risks for our species – at ever greater scales. It is both a poison and a cure. Though awareness of this dynamic may seem incredibly contemporary, it actually dates surprisingly far back into history.

Comets and collisions

It was back in 1705 that the British scientist Edmond Halley correctly predicted the 1758 return of the comet that now bears his name. This was one of the first times numbers were successfully applied to nature to predict its long-term course. This was the start of science’s conquering of the future.

By the 1830s, another comet – Biela’s comet – became an object of attention when an astronomical authority, John Herschel, hypothesised that it would one day intersect with Earth. Such an encounter would “blot” us “out from the Solar System”, one popular astronomy book sensationally relayed. Edgar Allen Poe even wrote a short story, in 1839, imagining this world-ending collision.

On the other side of the world, in 1827, a Moscow newspaper published a short story envisioning the effects of an impending comet collision on society. Plausible mitigation strategies were discussed. The story conjured up giant machines that would act as planetary “defensive positions” to “repulse” the extraterrestrial missile. The connection between predicting nature and artificially intervening in it was already beginning to be understood.

The Russian Prince

Odoevskii in the 1840s. Wikimedia Commons

The short story had been written by the eccentric Russian prince, Vladimir Odoevskii. In another story, The Year 4338, written a few years later, he fleshes out his depiction of future human civilisation. The title came from contemporary calculations which predicted Earth’s future collision with Biela’s Comet 2,500 years hence.

Humanity has become a planetary force. Nonetheless, Odoevskii’s vision of this resplendent future (complete with airships, recreational drug use, telepathy, and transport tunnels through the Earth’s mantle) is relayed to us entirely under this impending threat of total extinction. Again, scientists in this advanced future plan to repel the threat of the comet with ballistic defence systems. There is also mention of hemisphere-spanning systems of climate control.

This perfectly demonstrates that it was the discovery of such hazards that first dragged – and continues to drag – our concerns further into the future. Humanity only technologically asserts itself, at increasingly planetary levels, when it realises the risks it faces.

It is no surprise that, in the appending notes to The Year 4338, Odoevskii provides perhaps the very first methodology for a “general science of futurology”. He lays claim to being the first proper, self-conscious futurologist.


In 1799, the German philosopher Johann Fichte anticipated our present megastructure of planetary forecast. He foresaw a time of perfect prediction. Gleefully, he argued that this would domesticate the whole planet, erase wild nature, and even entirely eradicate “hurricanes”, “earthquakes”, and “volcanoes”. What Fichte did not foresee was the fact that the very technology that allows us to predict also itself creates novel and unforeseen risks.

But Odoevskii appreciated this. In 1844, he published another story entitled The Last Suicide. This time, he envisioned a future humanity which had again become a planetary force. Urbanisation has saturated global space, with cities swelling and fusing into one Earth-encompassing ecumenopolis – a planetwide city.

Yet Odoevskii warns of the dangers that come with accelerating modernity. This is a world in which runaway technological progress has caused overpopulation and resource depletion. Nature has become entirely artificial, with non-human species and ecosystems utterly obliterated. Alienated and depressed, the world welcomes a demagogue leader who convinces humanity to wipe themselves out. In one last expression of technological might, civilisation stockpiles all its weapons and proceeds to blow up the entire planet.

Odoevskii thus foreshadows contemporary discussion on “existential risk” and the potential for our technological developments to trigger our own species extinction. Right back in 1844, his vision is gloomy yet shockingly prescient in its acknowledgement that the power required to avert existential catastrophe is also the power requisite to cause it.

Centuries later, now that we have this power, we cannot refuse or reject it – we must wield it responsibly. Let’s hope that Odeovskii’s fiction doesn’t become our reality.

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

An Alliance Between Human and Non-Human

An Alliance Between Human and Non-Human

Editor’s note: Writing from the mountains of Kerala, rewilder and restorationist Suprabha Seshan explores the pandemic and the war of patriarchy vs. the planet. “It is my sworn mission to salvage the ones burned, maimed, poisoned or reconstituted from the living earth by the fires of industrial civilisation,” she writes. This essay was first published in Turkish in Jineoloji magazine, a publication of the women’s movement of Kurdistan.

The Covid-19 pandemic, lethal as it is, is instrumental to capital’s assault on the living world. Looming through the terrors unleashed by free-flying strands of DNA are gargantuan infrastructural projects, including medical, green and digital. These are intent on destroying the web of life. Out of this extermination project, will spew more illnesses, disorders, infections, infestations, and devastations.

I urge us to address the relation between the militarised-capitalist-supremacist mindset and the living body of the earth. The latter includes you and me, our beloved human families, friends, communities and peoples, and also our non-human kith and kin. In this essay, I refer to the former as The Patriarch.


An active extermination event is at large, distinct from previous mass deaths of species through passive geologic processes. The current event involves slavery, ecocide and genocide. To understand Covid-19 while this is going on, would be like trying to understand a friend or family member’s 0.05% chance of dying from a natural ailment, when there is a psychopath with a shotgun in the room.

Domination, disorder, disease, debilitation, torture, slavery, unhappiness, fear, addictions, death and decay are essential for The Patriarch. Assembled from the reconstituted bodies of the living world, with extermination intrinsic to his existence, he will not stop until he consumes all. Ecocide and genocide are his mission.

The fundamental driving force of capital, I believe, is the imperative to conquer all life (including human bodies, hearts and minds). Unless this is negated, we cannot nurture the more subtle aspects of the enduring relationships between humankind and other-than-humankind.

While The Patriarch reduces many persons to touchscreen modalities, he confines and debilitates others. He even suffocates entire populations in the gas chambers of modern civilisation – the polluted cities – and burns others in wastelands resulting from the furnaces of his industries.

This kind of extermination has been going on for a while, perhaps since about 1492 when Europeans gifted smallpox wrapped in blankets to native Americans. Some people think it began way before, during the birth of civilisations – of militarised-hierarchical-extractive entities distinct from the myriad small cultures growing slowly over millennia in sustaining land bases. I find the nature of capital, particularly technocratic-militarised capital, egregious to a new extreme. The Patriarch is insatiable. I also believe he is insane. He has begun to devour his own body.


I am a conservationist living in a community in the rainforests of the Western Ghat mountains in southern India. I protect endangered species, restore rainforest habitat, and educate youth. We are many women in this place. Together with the men who also live and work here, we have an intimate knowledge of the plants and animals who create this biome, who are all sovereign beings in their own right.

These non-humans – or other-than-humans – also give us our foods and medicines, our ecologies and cultures, our material and immaterial bases. In return we try to protect them, nurture them, and see them through these terrible apocalyptic times. Together we work on a collective ecology, acknowledging our inseparableness from each other in the web of life. We are deeply intertwined through our physical beings: our cells, juices and tissues, our senses, limbs and nerves, and every organ and follicle. Through our bodies we create cultures, biomes and ecospheres. All these are being exterminated by the toxic forces of technologised-capitalistic patriarchy.

It is indeed my deep and fervent wish to examine the work of an unsee-able, unknow-able micro-being on humans. But I believe this will never be wholly known, and certainly not in a reductive way.  Reciprocal mutualistic relationships rooted in interbeing grow in intimacy while remaining free and wild. They are like a dance between creatures – between men, women and others; adults and children; humans and nonhumans; between plants, animals, fungi, clouds, winds, rain, rocks, mountains, algae, forests, grasslands and oceans. This mutualism includes viruses, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus, too.

However, I believe the pandemic needs to be examined in the infernal light of omnicide (planetary to cellular). We cannot afford to ignore the background to the viral outbreak. We cannot forget the various “cides” that are going on – ecocide, gynocide, bactericide, fungicide, vermicide, infanticide, weedicide, genocide, climate-cide – and even cosmocide, the destruction of a cosmic body, the planet.

We are not at the beginning of a catastrophe, as the climate-mongers will have us believe. Rather, we are already towards the end of an altogether incomprehensible horror. The orchestration of capital through this pandemic threatens further the direct perception of The Patriarch’s endgame. He wreaks further havoc on his hapless slaves through various fear tactics. He exerts his enormous machines on all his subjugates such as indigenous peoples, marginalised classes, races and castes, women and children. He deploys them on the last forests, waters, winds and habitats. All the above, human and non-human, are swept under the rubric of “resources to be managed”. He also invents new enemies from the very body of the earth which sustains him, like the SARS Corona Virus.


As an ecologist serving the rainforests of the Western Ghats, it has been my lifelong enquiry to look at how a biome can recover from assault – from colonial-neocolonial-capitalistic-civilisational assault. I know, and the biome knows, that it can heal from most travesties and injuries, and that it will do its utmost to replenish itself and the planet. But the opposing faction, which for the moment we are calling The Patriarch, is gathering momentum. For the arsenal he has accrued – an arsenal built and assembled from the living body of the planet – is in fact, simultaneously disassembling, as he is now also turning on himself. He is running out of other resources.

In this utter disconnect, a monstrous creature devouring himself, he further debilitates humans and non-humans and the living community of earthly existence. He is not open to reason, though he sounds like he is. Nor is he open to life, though he needs it and appropriates it, particularly its very metabolic and life-engendering powers. Saying he is allied to the natural world, he severs himself from it in manifold ways. It doesn’t take much to see that The Patriarch’s language alienates him from his own body, and the body of the earth and the people. His actions separate him more and more from humans and non-humans, without whom he would perish in an instant.

There is no doubt, for me, that The Patriarch’s machinery must stop. My sincere observation is that only non-humans will stop him. Humans are at a gun point more insidious than what non-humans face. Non-humans are not hooked as humans are to The Patriarch.  None of the other species – the ones within us and the ones without, those who inhabit our human bodies (the micro-biomes and macro-biomes without whom we could not even have a so-called human existence), and those whose bodies within which we dwell – none are dependent on him. They don’t need him for anything.


As of this writing, 0.05% of the human population has died from Covid, according to the WHO. The BBC news earlier this week said another half-million people in Europe will die by next year, unless vaccinated. If the data are to be believed, and if the projections are to be trusted, perhaps 5 million people will die altogether from Covid-19. We must do everything to prevent such a terrible thing. Of course. But, critical to recovery of humankind from its various acute and chronic ailments is a return of habitat, of clean air, and clean water, and nature-based relationships for humans to dwell amongst. The cleansing of lungs and livers and other organs, the opening of the senses, and the revival of rivers and wetlands, oceans and aquifers, and the vast ancient forests and human-non-human relations requires The Patriarch to be stopped. Humans are more dependent on all these than we are on The Patriarch.  Whom to choose? The Patriarch, or life?


I’ve heard it said that the virus has no moral brief, but the starker reality is that it carries with it a potent ecological brief, a message saying that unless the world is fecund again, pandemics will speed up the obliteration of the human species, itself a marvelous creation of nature, already weakened by war, by generations of slavery to capital, by poison and dead-numbing effects of digital weaponry, radiation, forced migration, wage slavery, mental anguish and terrible violence on women, children, people of colour and indigenous peoples – all required by The Patriarch as cogs in his capitalist-industrial-technocratic machine.


The virus, invented in a laboratory or not, is a biological entity that enters human bodies, causes symptoms as it goes about its own mission, propagating itself, tangling with host genomes, creating new conditions, challenging us in its own way, and like any infection, or deemed infection, it pushes our immune systems. Other viruses create other conditions, many of which are beneficial. Overall, the benefits outweigh the diseases.

The virome consists of vast assemblages of viruses in each and every body, habitat and biome. It surrounds us, fills and subsumes our every thought, breath and action. Viruses are the most abundant biological entities on earth. They make us who we are. Like with every aspect of the living cosmos, much of what happens is beneficial, and viral life seems to beget more life, creating our genetic identities. Evolutionary studies show that all life begets more life, despite the occasional disruption or cataclysmic event.


If invented, then the virus is not different from other invented beings, like dog breeds, plant breeds and even the eugenist caste creations, where, through exercise of a supremacist caste or class’s control, another caste or class or creature’s love, life and passions are harnessed, culled, consumed, engineered, enslaved, extorted, and artifacted to serve the supremacist project (factory farms, factory labour, pet industry, plant industry, monoculture agriculture, industrial fishery, dams-on-rivers, humans-in-slums, human trafficking, domestic labour, untouchable peoples and many more forms of subjugation).


Domesticated dogs go feral sometimes. They attack people sometimes. The dogs get impounded, spayed or killed, and there is a furor for a while. Domesticated plants go feral sometimes, usually after generations of breeding and enslavement, or after a natural disaster, like a volcanic explosion, or the desertification caused by modern civilisation. They, too, seem to invade territories controlled by humans for other purposes, including other plants deemed more useful. The new problem plants get weedicided, eradicated, and turned into biomass for some other project. This phenomenon gets new names, such as “the science and practice of invasion biology.”

Humans too, go feral, sometimes. They try to take back the control and agency they were systematically denied. They become targets of world leaders and other supremacists.

Now the virus is going feral. Viral. The solutions to this are confinements, containments, fear-mongering and authoritarian technics such as lockdowns and mandates regarding vaccines.

In all these instances, the aggressors, the hosts, the pathogens and the victims are actually contingent to the projects of The Patriarch.  Besides, we all know that this virus and its quick evolving progeny can beat any vaccine. We all know The Patriarch needs the virus, the vaccines and human beings.

The Patriarch needs life for all his projects. It is his own dependency on human and non-human others, that he hates more than anything else. Would that we were all machines! He would not be so burdened, guilty, tormented. Machines can be turned on and off, in an instant.


During the lockdowns, the stopping of vehicles affected every human and non-human. A great number of humans were corralled in. There was no traffic. Other humans and non-humans surged onto streets. The exuberance of the latter offset the tragedy of the former (people desperate to get home). Many studies show that when air, water and land traffic stopped, biodiversity increased in most areas. This was true in our home in the Western Ghats too. Freshwater life had a reprieve from the pesticides washing into the streams and rivers. Insects bred unhindered by insecticides (momentarily unavailable because of the collapse of supply chains). Everywhere, people started gardening in balconies and yards, while others returned to hunting and foraging. Although this hurt some non-humans, overall, it was a return to another kind of life, and a far more direct existence. In the forest, friends reported seeing animals come closer, and they also reported some increase in illegal hunting. Men forced to take to the gun instead of the shopping bag. Men have always hunted for food. Now this ancient way of living is illegal only because The Patriarch legitimises another kind of degradation; the devouring of the land by his forces to feed his industrial systems and machines, including the slaves that work them and now wholly depend on them.

Actual human impact on this forest, man to tree, man to river, women to plants, people to the commons, is minimal compared to the post-Hiroshima assault on the whole biome. We cannot equate hand to hand combat to the unleashing of a nuclear or chemical arsenal, like Round up or Endosulfan or Agent Orange. Or the arsenal of earth-moving machinery.


I’ve heard that whales could once again hear each other sing underwater during the lockdowns, because of the reduction in ocean traffic. Friends say Olive Ridley turtles increased in certain coastal areas for a brief period, because of a near complete halt in trawling and netting. Air pollution dropped because of the grounding of aircraft, and great murmurations of birds could fly freely without hindrance from war planes and cargo planes and passenger planes. I know from my personal experience that I could walk through the streets of Bangalore without my eyes smarting from pollution, and I saw more birds and butterflies in the city than ever before. The resilience of life is obvious. It’s possible to see what it is capable of all the time.

I know the resilience of  my own body, of human beings, non-human beings and of the great earth herself.


The increase in human numbers by over 4% in this same period overshadows the effect of one life form on another, but is not mentioned. However, human will is even more broken and hijacked by the Patriarch’s projects, by capitalism. Furthermore, the increase in other kinds of machines, industrial infrastructure and invasive medicine (all wreaking ecocide or genocide somewhere in the world) pales, in turn, the effect of the increase in human numbers, and even more the effect of one little, invisible life form on some of humankind.

I also heard that young people turned suicidal, and that mental illness rose during this great human confinement, another term for the lockdowns. Already estranged from the rest of the cosmos, modern humans are even more lonely. Indigenous people know the antidotes to loneliness and breakdown are communities of humans and non-humans. The Patriarch and his henchmen divide millions more from their loved ones while they live and also while they die. I cannot think of anything more terrifying than this.


As a rainforest activist, it is my daily work to find alliance amongst humans and non-humans to stop further assault. This is no simple task, as most humans see the so-called benefits of capitalism as great, and that life has never been so good. The assault on their bodies through the toxification of the environment, which has led to severely compromised immune systems – a necessary precondition for new diseases to run rife – is unperceivable, because of clever filters in place, addictions, and the numbing effects of petroleum-based lifestyles. Most people are hooked to modern capitalistic systems as providers of life, healers of disease and rescuers from death. A capitalist technocrat is like God. He is a life-giver and a death-controller. He can also assuage, deprive, save, confine and kill in the name of God, or science, for whatever he considers to be the greater common good. To which we are all subject. To which we cannot say no. This great hijacking of the human will is the horrific achievement of the pandemic.

So I seek alliance amongst those not yet wholly hijacked.


As a rewilder and restorationist, it is my sworn mission to salvage the ones burned, maimed, poisoned or reconstituted from the living earth by the fires of industrial civilisation. My friends, comrades and I run refuges for non-humans, and also humans. We see the need for safe houses, halfway homes, and intensive care units for our plant and animal kith and kin, and also for women, children, marginalised and indigenous peoples, and anyone wishing to break free from The Patriarch’s projects. We need every possibility to regroup and re-enter relationships where humans and non-humans can support each other, so that we may resist the last onslaughts.  I find rewilding to be a worthy vocation.

As a member of the web of life, of the still substantial community of life, I try to unravel the effects of one member of this community, the virus, on another member of this same community, the human being.  Unfortunately, without addressing the mission of The Patriarch, of omnicidal capital, we cannot examine our true relations with our non-human kith and kin.


Humans are slaves to The Patriarch.  So is the great planet with its winds and lands and waters with trees and elephants and butterflies. So are the forests of my region. The Patriarch needs us alive and needs us dead for his project. It’s a real question how liberation will come.  With a domination imperative unique in the entire life of the cosmos, he needs dead wood and living wood and feral wood (ecosystem services of forests). He needs dead water and living water and feral water (for irrigation, tidal and hydropower). He needs dead wind and living wind and feral wind (for air-conditioning, ventilators and turbines). He needs dead plants and animals and living plants and animals and feral plants and animals (for food and medicines and now for climate-saving biodiversity). Now he even needs dead fungi and living fungi and feral fungi (for more biodiversity). He needs dead viruses and living viruses and feral viruses (for evolution and now for vaccines and the great global reset). He needs dead humans, and living humans and feral humans (for research, trade, war and terrorism and slavery).


I see Covid-19 as a project of The Patriarch, of supremacist powers in the ruling class destroying people and saving people. Our lives are clenched in their hands. They have become the arbiters of human-non-human community, of the very web of existence. They give life, and they take away the foundation of life, through creating new hooks and needs. At the same time they destroy genuine relationships and our capacity to remember what the land was once like. However, because life is as powerful as it is, and because the forests are as resilient and fecund as they are, the world leaders and technocrats aim to harness life’s myriad powers for their projects. Where before they sought land, spices,  plants, animals and slaves from the global South, and wood, water and minerals, now they hunt ecosystems and planetary forces (tides, sunshine, clouds, biomes (evolution itself) and slaves everywhere. It is the exuberance and wholeness of life that they seek to devour to fuel their existence.


I am witness to the land coming alive every moment of every day, so I know the full powers of life are still working. Life’s fecundity is unstoppable, it surges under every type of condition. Like the pigs in factory farms who have babies under impossible conditions, or men and women growing families during war, or forests having baby forests even when the whole climate is shifting, life creates life all the time and everywhere. The ever-entwining forests and winds and waters, with their immense creative forces, both tantalise and threaten The Patriarch, because life achieves with joy and felicity what he cannot ever do. He cannot create life yet, he can only try to force it to create itself. Whether under gun point or nuclear blasts, or dioxins in the cell of every creature, life is the regenerative force he wishes to tap into. Genetic and geologic engineering are only steps along the way.


I, too, am a creature of nature. Endowed with a particular passion, a wonderment of what this alive, half-alive, wild, half-wild, feral, domesticated, enslaved, tortured way of existence is. Aware that I am a part of all this through my body, my mind, my senses and other faculties, I experience inter-being in everything I do, everything I am, in every aspect of my body-being. I cannot even call it mine, as I feel the work of the forest through the lungs, and the skin and the gut and the mind of this body, itself a biome of sorts. This is the awakening from the nightmare that happened after some years of living here. I came alive to the undeniable truth that we are all inextricably intertwined. That ecology is the non-negotiable, ever-vital matrix in which I am completely held. That I also take part in it, through every action, and non-action, even in my sleep and dreams. As I awoke to The Patriarch’s shadow project, I awoke to the natural world’s life engendering service. Ecology makes more of itself and lives and thrives upon itself. Capitalism, the latest and most devastating avatar of patriarchy, and of ego, makes more of itself and lives and feeds upon its now disassembling self.


The Patriarch forms himself not in the image of some god; he tries to gain advantage to himself through the exuberance of life. His ego needs our eco.

However, he is a toxic mimic, imitating the form of creation but not its content. He is bent on destruction; total annihilation.

Unlike life. She lives and thrives through community and love and joy and play and inter-being and fecundity and beauty.


In solidarity with Kurdish women in their extraordinary mission, and through these thoughts, joining the clarion call for Life to overrun the patriarch wholly: to dismantle every cog and wheel of his stupendous machine. Let’s unhinge him. Let’s ally with eco, not his insufferable ego!

Suprabha Seshan is a rainforest conservationist. She lives and works at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, a forest garden and community-based conservation centre in the Western Ghat mountains of Kerala. Her essays can be found in The Indian Quarterly, The Indian Express,, Hard News, and Economic and Political Weekly. She is currently working on her book, Rainforest Etiquette in a World Gone Mad, forthcoming from Context, Westland Publishers. She is an environmental educator and restoration ecologist, an Ashoka Fellow, and winner of the 2006 Whitley Fund for Nature award.

Indigenous People Confront 350 and Sierra Club

Indigenous People Confront 350 and Sierra Club

On October 12th, 2020, Indigenous People’s Day, a group of indigenous people and allies gathered in Illahee (Portland, Oregon) to confront the Sierra Club and for their corporate ties and advocacy of false solutions as outlined in the film Planet of the Humans.

These groups were informed that they had breached trust with the grassroots environmental movement and local indigenous people, and had betrayed their own stated goals.

Sierra Club was informed that their promotion of “green investments” in massive multinational corporations via their “sustainable investing funds” represent a fundamental opposition to life on the planet. was informed that even their name and stated goal, 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide, is incompatible with life for the small island nations. As the Association of Small Island States write in their 2009 briefing as part of the Copenhagen climate conference, “350 ppm is a death sentence. . . . The safe level of CO2 for SIDS (Small Island Developing States) is around 260 parts per million. . . . CO2 buildup must be reversed, not allowed to increase or even be stabilized at 350 ppm, which would amount to a death sentence for coral reefs, small island developing states, and billions of people living along low lying coastlines.”

Both of these groups have and continue to advocate for false solutions, including “green” technology, “green” investments, and other greenwashing schemes. Both groups failed to sign the Universal Declaration on the Rights of Mother Earth created at the 2010 Cochabamba World People’s Conference on Climate Change, despite the opportunity to do so.

On October 12th, 2020, both groups were informed that they are no longer welcome, and were asked to cease operations in Oregon and across Turtle Island in favor of true grassroots resistance.

Against Efficiency: How A More Efficient Economy Hurts the Planet, Part Two

Editor’s note: This is the second part of an edited transcript of a talk given at the 2017 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. Read Part One hereWatch the video here.

     by Erin Moberg, Ph.D., and Max Wilbert / Deep Green Resistance Eugene

A question that a lot of radical environmentalists ask ourselves is, “where is your threshold for resistance?” Particularly given the recent U.S. presidential election, people in so many communities with a lot at stake, with a lot to lose, and not a lot of choice, have been doing much of the harder and riskier work as front-line activists.

Latinos are taking action in courts, schools, and town halls. Women of color are taking action, black and brown people are taking action, and indigenous people are taking action. Since the U.S Presidential election it has been good to see other people with less to lose take steps, and sometimes leaps, out of the spaces of privilege they occupy in order to stand up and speak up against injustice–against violations of people of color, of women and girls, of Spanish-speakers, of immigrants, of undocumented people, and so many others.

In Eugene, Oregon, I’ve also seen many people new to activism come out to learn about direct action and community organizing, because they want to defend the land they love, but a lot of times don’t know how.

This gives me brief moments of hope and yet I’m still terrified, and still very certain that nothing short of a unified global movement of all kinds of people ready to resist and fight back, to protect the land they love, the air we breathe, the water we need, and all of the animals on the planet, will be enough to give us any say at all in how and when this culture collapses.

Some of the ramifications of environmental activists and movements dedicating themselves to promoting energy efficiency include strengthening the existing culture, i.e., industrial civilization, by correcting contradictions that stand out between ideals and practices, or policy and practices, within the dominant culture.

This also provides an unproductive outlet for activist revolutionary anger that only serves to pacify us and detract us from more materially impactful work that we could be doing as activists. Thinking about the global crises that we are currently facing, including deforestation, peak oil, water drawdown, soil loss, food crises, overfishing, desertification are often framed in the media and in popular and academic discourse as disparate or coincidental issues.

We know, however, that all of these crises are interrelated. These are some of the ways in which we can collectively characterize these crises:

  • They are progressive – they are rapid, but not instant, which can lead to what is called “shifting baseline syndrome.” That is, we get accustomed to a new norm, a new kind of way of living, and we lose sight of a previous issue like destruction of forests or water drawdown.
  • These crises are non-linear, runaway or self-sustaining, they have long lead and lag-times, which really impedes any kind of activism that’s focused on long-term solutions or long-term planning.
  • They have a deeply rooted momentum and they are industrially-driven, and they benefit the powerful, and cost the powerless.
  • They often yield temporary victories, but permanent losses, particularly losses to the planet.

The proposed solutions to these crises often make things worse, as in the case of energy efficiency measures. Here is quote by Aric McBay that really resonates with me. In the book “Deep Green Resistance” he writes:

Even though analysts who look at the big picture globally may use large amounts of data, they often refuse to ask deeper or more uncomfortable questions. The hasty enthusiasm for industrial biofuels is one manifestation of this. Biofuels have been embraced by some as a perfect ecological replacement for petroleum. The problems with this are many, but chief among them is the simple fact that growing plants for vehicle fuel takes land the planet simply can’t spare. Soy, palm, and sugar cane plantations for oil and ethanol are now driving the destruction of tropical rainforest in the Amazon and Southeast Asia…This so-called solution to the catastrophe of petroleum ends up being just as bad—if not worse—than petroleum.

Let’s look at some traits of ineffective solutions:

  • Ineffective solutions tend to reinforce existing power disparities. These solutions tend to be based on capitalism as a guiding principle and goal. Anything that has as its primary goal to increase productivity, to make more money, is necessarily going to be an ineffective solution when it comes to the health of the planet.
  • These solutions suppress autonomy or sustainability that impede profit. For example, suggestions of voluntary changes for corporations to undertake are not going to be carried out, because it doesn’t serve their best interest, which is to increase their profit, to make more money.
  • They rely on techno-fixes, or technological and political elites. For example, photovoltaic solar panels, which in the process of creating them uses more energy and causes further environmental harm.
  • They encourage consumption and increasing consumption and population growth.
  • They attempt to solve one problem without regard to the interconnected problems. “Solving” the energy crisis with corn-derived ethanol destroys more land and causes water drawdown, with a very low yield of ethanol.
  • They involve great delay and postpone action. A good example of this is the Paris Climate Accords. Every day, the gap between human population and the earth’s carrying capacity increases. The goals are set for 2025 or 2050–by the time we even get there, that gap will be exponentially greater.
  • They tend to focus on changing individual lifestyles, such as buying more efficient light bulbs. This consumer deception: if you buy more of the right things, you can save the planet.
  • They tend to be based on token, symbolic, or trivial actions. For example, an activist group acknowledges the problem of industrial civilization, but then the only action they take is to sign a petition, or to grow their own food. Those things might be great things for individuals for consciousness-raising, finding community, and expressing ourselves, but they are very disconnected from the material impact of civilization on the planet.
  • They tend to be focused on superficial or secondary causes, like overpopulation instead of over-consumption. For this particular point, it also tends to be a very racist approach in looking at how to save the planet, because the blame tends to be put on indigenous and brown and black communities who have the most to lose, and the least control over this system of empire.
  • Finally, these ineffective solutions tend to not be consonant with the severity of the problem, the window of time available to act, or the number of people expected to act.

Let’s talk a little bit about what effective solutions could look like. Effective solutions need to address root problems with global understanding. We need to acknowledge the interconnected aspect of all of these crises that are occurring around the planet.

Effective solutions involve a higher level of strategic rigor. But they also enable many different people to address the problem and ask themselves what they’re able to risk, what they can offer. Can you risk your body, can you risk your family, can you risk your job? Or not? It is necessary to locate our position on that spectrum and figure out how we can best use our skills to end the crisis.

Effective solutions are suitable to the scale of the problem, the lead time for action, and the number of people expected to act. If you know you need 25 people to pull off a blockade of a coal train and you don’t have 25 people, then plan a different action. Be realistic.

Effective solutions tend to involve immediate action and long-term action planning, make maximum use of available levers and fulcrums (planned to make as big of an impact as possible), playing to the strengths of the people involved, and targeting the weaknesses of the system.

Finally, they must work directly and indirectly to take down civilization, which is the overall goal. This leads to a discussion of another obstacle to effective solutions: the conflict between reformist and revolutionary perspectives.

Reformists, those who advocate for change through reform, tend to consider the existing system as functional but flawed, and believe it can be modified to address the issue at hand.

Reformists tend to be willing to employ legal and socio-politically sanctioned approaches to changing the system or addressing the problem, like legislations, petitions, grassroots organizing. Reformists also tend to focus on separate issues.

There are some limitations to this. A reformist focuses on correcting contradictions within the system, and thus redirects revolutionary anger to less materially-impactful solutions. On the other hand, both revolution and reform can have a place in the type of activism that leads to effective solutions.

Revolutionists consider the existing system to be the root of the problem, and believe that it must be dismantled and replaced. Revolutionists are willing to employ resistance strategies through whatever means are most effective. Rather than working within a particular legal framework, revolutionists are willing to employ strategies that may or may not be legal toward the goal of saving the planet.

Revolutionists see this system, this culture as the primary issue. We advocate that those working toward reform and those working toward revolution, or anywhere within that spectrum, identify points of overlap in their goals and strategies, in order to better work together.

This might look like activists who utilize legislative channels to prevent the shipment of fossil fuels through their municipality, while front-line activists block coal trains and offer direct action training for others to do those same actions.

What do we mean by fighting back? We mean thinking and feeling for ourselves, finding who and what we love, figuring out how to defend what we love, and using any means necessary and appropriate. This involves calling out the problem, in this case the dire circumstances caused by industrial civilization for life on the planet; identifying the goal, for example, depriving the rich and powerful of the ability to destroy the planet, and defending and rebuilding just and sustainable human communities within repaired and restored landbases.

In our communities and around the world, great people are doing great work in the name of saving the planet. More people are marching in protest than before, more people are writing letters, signing petitions, making calls, and organizing at the grassroots level. More people are seeing clearly, and more people are learning the language to speak about what they see.

And yet, more animals go extinct every day, and more areas of the earth become uninhabitable for so many animals, including humans. The salmon are dying, the forests are dying, the rivers are dying, the oceans are dying, and people are dying, all around the world, because of industrial civilization.

Since the last US presidential election, more people are speaking out about the climate crisis through social media, in town halls, in their homes, in neighborhoods and schools. And yet, the earth’s temperature rose again last year, and the Bramble Cays Melomys went extinct due to climate change last year. So did the San Cristobal Vermillion flycatcher.

San Cristobal Vermillion flycatcher

The Rabb’s Treefrog went extinct. And the Stephan’s Riffle Beetle. And the Tatum Cave Beetle. And the Barbados Racer Snake. And 13 more bird species went extinct. And the list goes on.

As environmental activists, we know what is at stake: all life on the planet. We know, too, that an environmental and cultural movement grounded in energy efficiency is, simply put, not enough, and often incites further planetary harm. I’d like to read a quote by one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Rebecca Solnit, a writer, feminist, philosopher and activist:

Our country is now headed by white supremacist nativist misogynist climate-denying nature-hating authoritarians who want to destroy whatever was ever democratic and generous-spirited in this country, meaning that it’s a good time to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, to keep your eyes on the prize, and to commit to the long term process of taking it all back. Because even after Trump topples, which could happen soon, remaking the stories and the structures is a long term project that matters. It is not ever going to finish, so you can pace yourself, celebrate milestones and victories, and get over any idea of arrival and going home. Most of the change will be incremental, and the lives of most great changemakers show us people who persisted for decades, whether or not the way forward looked clear, easy, or even possible.

This is also a remarkable moment in which many people you and I might have disagreed with in safer times are also horrified, are allies in some of the important work to be done, and worth reaching out to to find what we have in common. “The word emergency comes from emerge, to rise out of, the opposite of merge, which comes from mergere: to be within or under a liquid, immersed, submerged. An emergency is a separation from the familiar, a sudden emergence into a new atmosphere, one that often demands we ourselves rise to the occasion.” This is an emergency. How will you emerge?

We will leave you with a brief analysis of a poem by Adrienne Rich, the poet, essayist, and radical feminist who died just a few years ago. This poem is called “North American Time” and it’s taken from a collection published in 1986, in which she argues for a kind of ethical imagination, that I think applies to our argument for moving beyond energy efficiency, towards the end of halting climate change and the destruction of the planet.

The poem begins as the speaker, a woman of color, reflects on her growing realization of having been systematically silenced and pacified by the culture of empire:

When my dreams showed signs

of becoming  

politically correct

no unruly images

escaping beyond border

when walking in the street I found my

themes cut out for me

knew what I would not report

for fear of enemies’ usage

then I began to wonder…

She goes on to describe the power and permanency of written words, and of the verbal privilege in being able to write, or to act, in a public, enduring way. In the third section, she challenges the reader to do the impossible: to imagine herself outside the context of history, of planetary life, of accountability.

try telling yourself

you are not accountable

to the life of your tribe

the breath of your planet

It doesn’t matter what you think.

Words are found responsible

all you can do is choose them

or choose

to remain silent. Or, you never had a choice,

which is why the words that do stand

are responsible

and this is verbal privilege.

Here and throughout the poem, Rich calls out the silent bystander, the privileged witness who sees and knows that great injustice is being perpetrated, and yet doesn’t speak, doesn’t act, doesn’t intervene. Central to this poem is Rich’s profound understanding that words, rather than thoughts, are ultimately found responsible. I think the same holds true for actions in the context of environmental activism.

Our actions will be what endure, not the thoughts we had, or the plans we made, or the feelings we had about the destruction of the planet. Also central to this poem is Rich’s compelling portrayal of the disjuncture between those who have a choice, the more privileged, and those who don’t.

As activists, we need to first understand our own relative privileges and then acknowledge that being male; being white; being an English-speaker; being a citizen; being wealthy, are not innate. They are a direct result of the culture of empire, of a culture grounded in institutionalized racism, misogyny, and omnicide.

The salmon, who have all but disappeared, didn’t have a choice. The Kalapuya, whose land we occupy here today, didn’t have a choice. The forests don’t have a choice, nor the bees, nor the rivers.

What choices do you all have? We encourage all of you to reflect on these words as a call to action, as a call to re-evaluate the words we use, and the stances we take, to assess whether or not they truly coincide with our deepest, most intimate hope for the future of ourselves, of the planet, and of this world.

We ask all of you to think long and hard about how you would like to emerge, and then we ask you to act, in a way that feels intentional and possible, and significant to you, and most importantly, for all life on this planet.

Time is Short: The Bolt Weevils and the Simplicity of Sabotage

Time is Short: The Bolt Weevils and the Simplicity of Sabotage

Resistance against exploitation is nothing new. History is full of examples of people—perfectly ordinary people—fighting back against injustice, exploitation, and the destruction of their lands and communities. They move through whatever channels for action are open to them, but often, left with no legal or political power, they turn to militant means to defend themselves.

It is hardly a simple decision, and rarely the first or preferred option, but when all other paths have been explored and found to lead nowhere, militant action becomes the only realistic route left. Movements and communities come to that truth in many different ways, but almost without fail, they come to it borne by a collective culture of resistance. One inspiring example is the Bolt Weevils.

The Bolt Weevils were a group of farmers in Minnesota who spent several years in the late 1970s perfecting the fine art of sabotaging interstate electrical transmission lines. Their efforts have been memorialized in numerous books and songs, and their story is a hopeful one we would do well to remember and re-tell.

The story of the Bolt Weevils begins in the mid-1970s, when the Cooperative Power Association (CPA) and United Power Association (UPA) proposed construction of a new interstate high-voltage transmission line. Taking its name from the two cooperatives, the CU Powerline would carry current from a generating station in North Dakota across west-central Minnesota to feed the urban centers of the Twin Cities.

In determining a route for the powerline, small farmers land was rated less important than large industrial farms, and as a result, the proposed route crossed the property of nearly 500 landowners. Outraged at being trodden over to for the benefit of industry and urbanism, resistance against the project began immediately in earnest.

Once residents found out about the project, they refused to sign land easements. Local towns passed resolutions opposing the project and reject construction permits. The powerline went to review before the State’s Environmental Quality Council, which went ahead and granted the necessary permits in the face of overwhelming public opposition.

When surveyors showed up out of the blue in one farmer’s fields, he smashed their equipment with his tractor and rammed their vehicle. The action of that one farmer helped catalyze popular sentiments into action. Farmers began using CB radios to notify one another about surveying activities, and would turn out in groups to stop the work. As resistance began to build, local radio stations would broadcast times and locations of protestor gatherings. Farmers and others who opposed the project began meeting every morning in the Lowry town hall, hosting others who’d come from neighboring counties, to make plans for each day.

As surveying and construction continued, the locals escalated their efforts. They would erect signs in their fields to block the sightlines of the surveyors, and stand next to survey crews running their chainsaws to disrupt their work. Survey stakes disappeared overnight. Farmers used their trucks to make roadblocks and their tractors to pile boulders in the construction sites. One group even gained permission from the county to improve a rural road—they dug a ditch across it to stop all traffic.

They filed more lawsuits, and the issue was eventually taken up by the Minnesota Supreme Court, which in the spirit of everything it represents, decided against the farmers and in favor of the powerline. Many of the citizens opposing the pipeline had earnestly believed in institutions like the Supreme Court and the structures of power. After their battles through the courts, many of them were disillusioned and had been radicalized.

Law enforcement began escorting construction and survey workers, and the situation came to a head on January 4th 1978, when 100 farmers chased powerline crews from three different sites, fought with police, and even tore down part of a tower. The next week, the Minnesota Governor ordered the largest mobilization of the State Troopers in Minnesota’s history, with 200 Troopers—fully half of the force—descended on the rural area to ensure construction continued.

Protests continued and grew, as the issue began to draw national and international media attention; hundreds turned out for rallies at survey sites, and some schools even let out so students and teachers could attend. In St. Paul, thousands of farmers rallied and demonstrated, and in March of 1978 more than 8,000 people marched almost ten miles through freezing temperatures from Lowry to Glenwood to protest the CU powerline.

It was in the heat of August that the kettle boiled over. Bolts on one of the transmission towers were loosened, and soon afterwards, it fell over, as the Bolt Weevils entered the scene. Then three more fell over. Guard poles and bolts were cut and loosened, insulators were shot out. Over the next few years, 14 towers were felled and nearly 10,000 insulators were shot out. Soon, helicopters patrolled the powerline, and it was made a federal offense to take down interstate transmission lines.

There were numerous arrests, some 120 in all, but only two individuals were ever convicted on felony charges, and even then they were only sentenced to community service. Opposition to the powerline was so common that in some instances, witnesses refused to testify against farmers.

In the end, unfortunately, the powerline was built and went into operation, despite the protests and the disruptions by the Bolt Weevils. While they were unsuccessful in ultimately stopping the project, there’s much from their efforts that we can learn and apply to our work today against exploitation and civilization.

As in most social struggles that turn to property destruction and militancy, that wasn’t the first choice of tactics for those on the ground. They fought for years through accepted legal and political avenues, turning to material attacks after all other courses of action had proven ineffective. But more than that, the popular agitation and organizing in the years leading up to the emergence of the Bolt Weevils didn’t merely precede militant direct action: it laid the groundwork for it.

The work of the local farmers—their protests, demonstrations, civil disobedience, and community organizing—paved the way (forgive the phrase) and set the conditions for the sabotage that would later occur. By mobilizing residents and community members against the project, building social networks, and agitating and raising opposition against CU powerline, a collective culture of resistance was created, planting and watering the seeds from which the Bolt Weevils were born.

With civilization churning onwards towards biotic collapse and underground resistance the only real hope left, caring for those seeds is our primary duty today. The story of the Bolt Weevils—like countless other stories of resistance—shows that militant resistance emerges from strong and supportive cultures of resistance. The time to start building such a culture was yesterday. For those of us who choose to organize and work in an aboveground and legal way, building such a culture that embraces and celebrates sabotage and the use of any means necessary to stop the omnicide of industrialism is our foremost task.

The story of the Bolt Weevils isn’t empowering and inspiring because they “fought off the bad guys and won.” They didn’t win. The power lines were built, forced down their throats in the face of their resistance. No, their story is inspiring because it so clearly and undeniably demonstrates how simply feasible sabotage and material attacks truly are. Often, we talk about militant resistance and direct action as mysterious and abstract things, things that wouldn’t ever happen in our lives or communities, things that no one as ordinary as any of us would ever do.

Whether we romanticize underground action or are intimidated by it, we generally talk about it as though it is something out of a movie or a novel. The truth is that such actions are simply tactics—just like petition-drives or street marches—that can be used to dismantle systems of power. The Bolt Weevils—a group of farmers with hunting rifles and hacksaws*—serve as a stark reminder that one doesn’t require military training and high-tech gadgets to act in direct and material ways against the infrastructure of destruction. We’re all capable of fighting back, and while sabotage against industrial infrastructure can be daunting for many valid reasons, technicality isn’t one of them.

We may have to fail working through other channels (as if we haven’t already) before collectively turning to sabotage and attacks on industrial infrastructure as a strategy, and we will certainly need to build a supportive and strong culture of resistance. But if we’re serious about stopping the destruction and exploitation of civilization, we will be left with no other choice.

*This is speculative. I don’t actually know how they shot out insulators or cut through guard poles, although there are plenty of accounts of hunting rifles and hacksaws being used in this fashion, and it’s from those stories that I hazard this guess.

Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a biweekly bulletin dedicated to promoting and normalizing underground resistance, as well as dissecting and studying its forms and implementation, including essays and articles about underground resistance, surveys of current and historical resistance movements, militant theory and praxis, strategic analysis, and more. We welcome you to contact us with comments, questions, or other ideas at