Globalization Has a Deadly Footprint

Globalization Has a Deadly Footprint

     by  / Local Futures

That pollution is bad for our health will come as a surprise to no one. That pollution kills at least 9 million people every year might. This is 16 percent of all deaths worldwide – 3 times more than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined, and 15 times more than all wars and other forms of violence. Air pollution alone is responsible for 6.5 million of these 9 million deaths. Nearly 92 percent of pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries. All this is according to the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, a recent report by dozens of public health and medical experts from around the world. This important report is sounding the alarm about a too-often neglected and ignored “silent emergency”—or as author Rob Nixon calls it, “slow violence.”

In one media article about the report, the Lancet’s editor-in-chief and executive editor points to the structural economic forces of “industrialisation, urbanisation, and globalisation” as “drivers of pollution.”  Unfortunately, however, the report itself doesn’t elaborate upon this crucial observation about root causes – in fact, when it moves from documentation of the pollution-health crisis to social-economic analysis, some of the report’s conclusions go seriously awry, espousing debunked “ecological modernization theory” and reinforcing a tired Eurocentric framing that paints the industrialized West in familiar “enlightened” colors, while the “developing” countries are portrayed as “backward.”

For example, one of the Commission’s co-chairs and lead authors Dr. Philip Landrigan (for whom I have the greatest respect for his pioneering work in environmental health), points out that since the US Clean Air Act was introduced in 1970, levels of six major pollutants in the US have fallen by 70 percent even as GDP has risen by 250 percent. According to fellow author Richard Fuller, this sort of trend proves that countries can have “consistent economic growth with low pollution.”

Coupled with the fact that about 92 percent of pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, this would indeed appear to validate one of the core doctrines of ecological modernization theory—”decoupling”—which posits that while pollution necessarily increases during the early “stages” of economic development, it ultimately plateaus once a certain level of wealth is achieved, whereupon it falls even as growth continues ever upward.

It is understandable why the Commission might want to package its message in this way: it makes an “economic” case for addressing pollution that is palatable to policymakers increasingly ensconced within an economistic worldview, one that is increasingly blind to non-economic values (including, apparently, the value of life itself – one would have hoped that 9 million deaths would be reason enough to take action against pollution). The economic costs of pollution, along with the apparent happy coexistence of economic growth and pollution reduction, are marshaled to challenge “the argument that pollution control kills jobs and stifles the economy.” This favorite bugbear of industry and big business is certainly spurious—forget about pollution control “killing jobs;” the absence of such control is killing millions of people every year!

But, as I showed in my previous blog post (Globalization Blowback), much of the rich countries’ pollution has been outsourced and offshored during the corporate globalization era. It is disingenuous at best to cite instances of local pollution reduction alongside increased economic growth in the rich world as evidence of decoupling, when those reductions were made possible only because of much larger pollution increases elsewhere. A global perspective—where true costs cannot be fobbed off on the poor and colonized—is necessary for gaining a meaningful and accurate picture of the relationship between wealth, growth, development and environmental integrity and sustainability. Panning out to this broader global perspective shows that, in fact, GDP growth and pollution continue to be closely coupled. And because a large percentage of the pollution in poorer countries is a consequence of corporate globalization, so is a large percentage of pollution-caused deaths.

Choking—and dying—on globalization

China’s export-oriented industrial spasm, powered largely by burning coal, has bequeathed it notoriously lethal air pollution, so much so that, according to one study, it contributes to the deaths of 1.6 million people per year (4,400 per day), or 17% of all deaths in the country. Another study puts the total at two-thirds of all deaths, and concluded that the severe air pollution has shortened life expectancy in China by more than 2 years on average, and by as much as 5.5 years in the north of the country.

Interestingly, some studies have actually calculated the number of globally dispersed premature deaths from transported air pollution and international trade. One such study found that deadly PM2.5 pollution (particulate matter of 2.5 micrometers or smaller) produced in China in 2007 was linked to more than 64,800 premature deaths in regions other than China, including more than 3,100 premature deaths in western Europe and the USA. At the same time—despite manufacturing- and pollution-offshoring—about 19,000 premature deaths occur in the US from domestically emitted pollution for the production of exports, 3,000 of which are linked to items exported to China.

But this is far less than what the Chinese are suffering because of consumption in the West. According to the study, “consumption in western Europe and the USA is linked to more than 108,600 premature deaths in China.” (Worldwide, pollution emitted for the production of goods and services consumed in the US alone caused 102,000 premature deaths; European consumption caused even more: 173,000 premature deaths). Note that the above fails to take into account the costs of various other air pollution-related chronic illnesses. And of course, air pollution isn’t the only harmful human cost of China’s coal-driven industrial growth and export-orientation. According to Chinese government statistics, some 6,027 Chinese coal miners died in the course of work in 2004, though analysts point out that official estimates are usually highly conservative, and “the real number is probably higher.” Since 2004, coal extraction has grown significantly in China.


What about the transport of incomprehensible quantities of materials back and forth across the planet? Coal to China, commodities from China, waste back to China (the undisputed locus of global waste trade)—nearly all of it is done via oceanic shipping, which carries heavy ecological costs. The statistics on the scale and impact of the global shipping industry are arresting: a 2014 study found that ship traffic on the world’s oceans has increased 300 percent over the past 20 years, with most of this increase occurring in the last 10 years. According to one analysis, emissions from international shipping for 2012 were estimated to be 796 million tons of CO2 per year (or 90,868 tons per hour), more than the yearly emissions of the UK, Canada or Brazil. (An earlier study put the amount of annual emissions from the world’s merchant fleet at 1.12 billion tons of CO2.) Whatever the actual figure, shipping accounts for at least 3 to nearly 4.5 percent of global CO2 emissions.

Much worse, shipping contributes 18-30 percent of the world’s total NOx and 9 percent of its sulphur oxide (SOx) pollution. A single giant container ship can emit the same amount as 50 million cars: “just 15 of the world’s biggest ships may now emit as much pollution as all the world’s 760m cars.” By 2015, greenhouse gas emissions from shipping were 70 percent higher than in 1990, and, left unchecked, were projected to grow by up to 250 percent by 2050; this would make shipping responsible for 17 percent of global emissions. According to the University College London’s Energy Institute – whose astonishing ShipMap may be one of the best visualizations of globalization available—“China is the center of the shipping world; Shanghai alone moved 33 million units in 2012.”

And this is only maritime shipping. Air freight is even more pollution-intensive: though much less merchandise and material is moved by air, some estimates are that the relatively minor 1% of the world’s food traded by air may contribute upwards of 11 percent of CO2 emissions.

In sum, the toll of the global shipping industry makes the “death footprint” of globalization’s air pollution even larger. A 2007 study conservatively estimated that just the PM (particulate matter) emissions of global shipping—estimated at 1.6 million metric tons—kill 60,000 people per year, which the authors expected to increase 40 percent by 2012.


To point out the harms of global pollution outsourcing is emphatically not to argue that US corporations, for example, should simply return their outsourced production and pollution to the territorial US. This was the erstwhile “Trumpian” right-populist recipe. Under this ideology, the way to facilitate “insourcing” is not to insist on higher labor and environmental standards abroad, but to systematically dismantle the framework of laws in the US (however weak many of them already are thanks to corporate-captured government agencies)—that is, to bring the race to the bottom home. Whether generous tax cuts and other hand-outs will entice the outsourcers back remains to be seen: it’s becoming evident that the Trump/Koch brothers enterprise is about both eviscerating domestic environmental and labor laws, and accelerating global transnational corporate pillage—the worst of all worlds.

An anti-corporate, degrowth, eco-localization stance is the unequivocal opposite. Firstly, it rejects the broader ends and means of the entire consumerist, throw-away project. Rather than merely bringing the disposable extractive economy back home, localization is about reconnecting cause and effect and overthrowing irresponsible and unethical environmental load displacement on the global poor. Localization is about re-orienting the entire economy towards sufficiency and simplicity of consumption, towards needs-based, ecologically-sustainable and regenerative production, and towards fair, dignified and democratic work and production. By definition, localization connotes less dependence on external resources and globalized production chains that are controlled by global corporations and are congenitally undemocratic. Putting power into workers’ hands is to not have globally—outsourcing, hierarchically—owned and managed corporations, tout court.

Of course Dr. Landrigan is right that reducing pollution doesn’t “stifle the economy”—quite the contrary, if “the economy” is understood in a much more holistic sense than mere GDP. But, as has been pointed out previously on this blog (here and here), we also shouldn’t equate a healthy economy with a growing economy. The converse is more often the case. To reduce global pollution deaths, we not only need robust pollution control regulations, we must reduce corporate power, globalization, and the scale of the economy as well.

Alex Jensen is a Researcher and Project Coordinator at Local Futures. He has worked in the US and India, where he co-ordinated Local Futures’ Ladakh Project from 2004-2015. He has also been an associate of the Sambhaavnaa Institute of Public Policy and Politics in Himachal Pradesh, India. He has worked with cultural affirmation and agro biodiversity projects in campesino communities in a number of countries, and is active in environmental health/anti-toxics work.

Photo by shawnanggg on Unsplash

Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet

Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet

Editor‘s note: This review from the book “Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet” talks about why the energy transition from fossil fuels to so-called renewable energy is slow and not that profitable. We at DGR believe it is not a transition – worldwide we see an increase in fossil fuel consumption. But the use of electricity from wind and solar power increases are just as strong, especially by digital companies like Amazon whose carbon emissions go up while powering with electricity. The public should get much more skeptical towards the “energy transition” and question the profit-making energy corporations.

Review of ‘The Price is Wrong: Why Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet’ by Brett Christophers.

By Simon Pirani/The Ecologist

Wind and solar power projects, that for so long needed state backing, can now provide electricity to wholesale markets so cheaply that they will compete fossil fuels out of the park. It’s the beginning of the end for coal and gas. Right? No: completely wrong.

The fallacy that ‘market forces’ can achieve a transition away from fossil fuels is demolished in The Price is Wrong: Why Capitalism Won’t Save the Planet, a highly readable polemic by Brett Christophers.

Prices in wholesale electricity markets, on which economists and analysts focus, are not really the point, Christophers argues: profits are. That’s what companies who invest in electricity generation care about, and these can more easily be made with coal and gas.


Christophers also unpicks claims that renewables projects are subsidy-free. Even with renewably-produced electricity increasingly holding its own competitively in wholesale markets, it’s state support that counts: look at China, which is building new renewables faster than the rest of the world put together.

The obsession with wholesale electricity prices, and costs of production – to the exclusion of other economic factors – emerged in the 1980s and 90s as part of the neoliberal zeitgeist, Christophers explains.

The damage done by fossil fuels to the natural world, including climate change, was priced at zero; all that needed correcting, ran the dominant discourse, was to include the cost of this ‘externality’ in prices.

This narrative became paramount against the background of neoliberal reforms: electricity companies were broken up into parts, typically for generation, transmission, distribution and supply; private ownership and competition in markets became the norm.

However prices do not and can not reflect all the economic factors that drive corporate decision-making.


The measure that has become standard, the Levelised Cost of Electricity (LCOE), is the average cost of a unit of electricity produced by different methods. But for renewables, 80 percent-plus of this cost is upfront capital investment – and the fate of many renewables projects hinges on whether banks and other financial institutions are prepared to lend money to cover that cost. And on the rates at which they are prepared to lend.

The volatility of wholesale electricity markets does not help: project developers and bankers alike have to hedge against that. “We don’t like to absorb power price volatility”, one of the many financiers that Christophers interviewed for the book said. “We’ll take merchant price risk – right now we often don’t have a choice – but we’ll charge three times more for it. […] No bank in the world will take power price risk at low returns”.

Christophers writes in an exemplary, straightforward way about markets’ complexities. He details the hurdles any renewables project has to get over before it starts: as well as securing finance, it needs land and associated rights and licences, and – increasingly a problem in many countries including the UK – a timely connection to the electricity grid.

If we confront, confound and supercede capitalism a future in which electricity is used equitably and within bounds set collectively with a view to avoiding catastrophic climate change is surely plausible.

Corporate and financial decision-makers are concerned not so much with costs, compared to those of fossil fuel plants, as with “an acceptable rate of financial return”. Does the project meet or exceed that rate?

“The conventional transition model […] assumes an effortlessly smooth trade-off between fossil fuels and renewable electricity sources, just as stick-figure mainstream economics more widely assumes all manner of comparable smooth trade-offs, not least between present and future goods.

“But real-world processes of production and consumption involving real-world businesses do not come even close to approximating to such smooth trade-offs.”


The clearest illustration of the argument that profit is the main driver of investment, not price, is the big oil companies’ behaviour.

Christophers writes: “[T]he returns ordinarily associated with wind and solar power are much lower than those to which fossil fuel companies are accustomed in their core businesses.”

He adds: “The big new hydrocarbon projects still being initiated by the international oil majors in the 2020s, in the face of widespread public fury and dismay, promise significantly higher rates of return – and, of course, on a significantly greater absolute scale – than renewables ever do.”

So tiny renewables businesses are used solely to greenwash the companies’ continuing investment in fossil fuel production. Shell, which in 2020-22 dabbled in slightly larger renewables investments, found that the rate of return for shareholders was the lowest of all its businesses.

“Chastened by Wall Street’s savage indictment of his company’s erstwhile turn – effectively – away from profit, [Shell chief executive Wael] Sawan spent the first half of 2023 pivoting Shell back to oil and gas. Hence the horrific spectacle of a significant revival in upstream exploration activity on the part of the European majors, with Shell to the fore. […] At the same time, Shell and its peers were busily scrapping projects (including in wind) with ‘projections of weak returns’.”

The Price Is Wrong, published by Verso.


Despite all this, renewable electricity generation is expanding. Christophers forensically dissects the economics, showing that ‘market forces’ have played little or no part in this.

Many renewables projects only go ahead when they have signed long-term sales agreements (power purchase agreements or PPAs), that shelter sellers from choppy markets and provide good PR (“green” credentials) for buyers.

In many countries, PPAs with utility companies that provide electricity to households are being superceded by those with corporate buyers of electricity, and above all big tech firms that wolf down electricity for data centres and, increasingly, artificial intelligence.

And then there is state support – not only overt subsidies such as the tax credits offered by the US Inflation Reduction Act, but also schemes such as feed-in tariffs and contracts for difference, market instruments that shelter projects’ income from volatility.

China’s new megaprojects are “about as far from being market-led developments as is imaginable”, Christophers writes. So too are those in Vietnam, mammoths given the total size of the economy, that soared with a special feed-in tariff in 2020, and slumped to zero in 2021 when it was withdrawn.

“That investment plummets when meaningful support for renewables investment is substantially or wholly removed demonstrates precisely how significant that support in fact, and also just how marginal – or even downright unappealing – revenue and profitability prospects, in the absence of such support, actually are.”


Christophers concludes that the state has to champion rapid decarbonisation, and “extensive public ownership of renewable energy assets appears the most viable model”. But this should not be done in a fool’s paradise, where it is presented as a means for taking profits from renewable electricity generators (what profits?!) and returning them to the public purse.

This is how the Labour Party is portraying its proposed state-owned renewable electricity generator, Great British Energy. Labour’s claims that GBE will benefit the state and taxpayers “betray a deep and perilous misunderstanding of the economics of renewable energy, and of the weak and uncertain profitability that actually plagues the sector”.

By way of contrast, Christophers points to the Build Public Renewables Act, passed by the US state of New York in 2021 in response to years of campaigning by climate action groups – which rests on the assumption that it is precisely the market’s failure to produce renewable energy projects on anything near to the timescale suggested by the climate emergency that necessitates state intervention.

All this prompts the question: don’t we need to challenge the whole idea of electricity being a commodity for sale, rather than a requirement of 21st-century living that should be provided as a public service?

Yes, we do, Christophers writes in his conclusions, with reference to Karl Polanyi’s idea of “fictitious commodities”, that under capitalism are bought and sold, but only in markets that are fashioned by “props, rules, regulations and norms”, and are therefore essentially pretences. The description fits the electricity markets ushered in by neoliberalism well.


The commodification of electricity, and other energy carriers, raises the prospect that, with a perspective of confronting and superceding capitalism, it should be decommodified.

Renewables technologies have opened up this issue anew, since they have hastened the trend away from centralised power stations and made it easier than ever for people – not only through the medium of the state but as households, community organisations or municipalities – to source electricity from the natural environment, without recourse to the corporations that control the market. How this potential can be torn from those corporations’ hands is a central issue.

The analysis by Christophers of the “props, rules, regulations and norms” used to bring renewables to neoliberal markets certainly convinced me. So too did his point that the returns from developing oil and gas, relatively higher historically, “are not ‘natural’ economic facts” either.

On the contrary, government economic support has always characterised the oil and gas business: in fact the line between state and business is often blurred.

In many countries they are “the selfsame entities, actively assembling monopolistic or oligopolistic constrol specifically in order to subdue volatility, stabilise profits and encourage investment”; indeed these “established institutional architectures of monopoly power” that scaffold oil and gas are a key distinction between it and renewables.


We badly need a comparative analysis of state support for renewables and for fossil fuels – not just the bare numbers, which are available in many reports, but an understanding of the social dynamics that drive it, and that are deliberately obscured by oceans of greenwash manufactured by the political class everywhere.

Themes that Christophers touches on, such as governments’ failure to phase out fossil fuel plants, even as they make plans to expand renewables need to be developed. The appallingly slow progress of renewables and the weight of incumbency that favours fossil fuels can not be separated.

This understandable book, which brings dry capitalist realities to life so well – and is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand why the transition away from fossil fuels is so disastrously slow – raised some questions in my mind about electricity demand.

Take the steep increase in demand for renewably generated electricity from big tech. Amazon is the world’s biggest buyer of solar and wind power under corporate PPAs, and an even bigger promoter of its own “green” image. But its carbon footprint continues to grow, Christophers points out, especially that of its “energy-gorging cloud-computing Web services business”.

A big-tech-dominated fake energy transition? “It would be difficult to conceive of a more ironic statement on the warped political economy of contemporary green capitalism.”


Which is reason to interrogate the way society uses electricity – and the way that capitalist social relations turn use – to fulfil needs, to make people’s lives good into demand – an economic category no less ideologically-inflected than other ‘market forces’.

Amazon and the rest are sharply increasing their electricity demand, which in the US and elsewhere has led to shutdowns of coal-fired power station being postponed – while hundreds of millions of people in the global south still have no electricity at all.

Furthermore: the “green transition” envisaged by most politicians will see the economic sectors in the global north that gulp down the greatest quantities of fossil fuels – road transport, the built environment, and industry – switching many processes to electricity. The classic example is the shift from petrol vehicles to electric vehicles. And this will increase electricity demand.

Christophers takes no view on these issues: “[R]ight or wrong, good or bad, electrification largely is what is happening and what will continue to happen”.

While I agree that, under capitalism, the dominant political forces take this for granted, I think that we should not. To stick with the example of road transport, none of the scenarios that assume swapping petrol vehicles one-for-one for electric vehicles can happen without trashing meaningful climate targets.


The economic transformations that tackling climate change implies must include reshaping – for collective social benefit, and with a view to rapidly reducing emissions – the huge technological systems, like road transport, that account for the largest chunks of fossil fuel use. Simply electrifying them is not enough.

Moreover, with the current level of technology, including the prospects opened up by decentralised renewables, there is potential to establish completely new relationships between production and use – which are currently controlled by big capital, but need not be.

Hopes of energy conservation implied in the International Energy Agency’s latest net zero report “border on the Pollyannaish”, Christophers writes. Yes, granted – if the perspective is limited to one dominated by capital.

But insofar as it is possible to confront, confound and supercede capitalism, a future in which electricity is used less wastefully, more equitably, and within bounds set collectively with a view to avoiding catastrophic climate change, is surely plausible.

That is where hope lies – outside the matrix of profit-driven relationships that Christophers skewers so exquisitely.

Title photo by Matthew T Rader/Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0

Simon Pirani is honorary professor at the University of Durham and writes a blog at

Top Scientists: We Face “A Ghastly Future”

Top Scientists: We Face “A Ghastly Future”

Editor’s note: According to the scientists who wrote the following paper, “future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed. The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts.”

We agree, and have been working to both inform people about these issues and to resist the destruction of the planet since our organization formed over a decade ago. “Any else [other than telling the truth about our ecological crisis] is misleading at best,” the scientists write, “or negligent and potentially lethal for the human enterprise [and, we must add, much of life on this planet] at worst.”

Modern civilization is a society of the spectacle in which media corporations focus more on who won the football game or how the queen is buried than about the breakdown of planetary ecology. This scientific report is essential reading and should be a headline news story worldwide. However, this information is inherently subversive, and therefore is either ignored or framed in such a way as to support the goals of the wealthy.

For years, our co-founder Derrick Jensen has asked his audiences, “Do you think this culture will undergo a voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of life?” No one ever says yes. This is why Deep Green Resistance exists.

Deep Green Resistance starts where the environmental movement leaves off: industrial civilization is incompatible with life. Technology can’t fix it, and shopping—no matter how green—won’t stop it. To save this planet, we need a serious resistance movement that can bring down the industrial economy. Deep Green Resistance is a plan of action for anyone determined to fight for this planet—and win.

Underestimating the Challenges of Avoiding a Ghastly Future

PERSPECTIVE article Frontiers in Conservation Science, 13 January 2021 Section Global Biodiversity Threats

By Bradshaw, Ehrlich, Beattie, Ceballos, Crist, Diamond, Dirzo, Ehrlich, Harte, Harte, Pyke, Raven, Ripple, Saltré, Turnbull, Wackernagel, and Blumstein

We report three major and confronting environmental issues that have received little attention and require urgent action. First, we review the evidence that future environmental conditions will be far more dangerous than currently believed. The scale of the threats to the biosphere and all its lifeforms—including humanity—is in fact so great that it is difficult to grasp for even well-informed experts. Second, we ask what political or economic system, or leadership, is prepared to handle the predicted disasters, or even capable of such action. Third, this dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business, and the public. We especially draw attention to the lack of appreciation of the enormous challenges to creating a sustainable future. The added stresses to human health, wealth, and well-being will perversely diminish our political capacity to mitigate the erosion of ecosystem services on which society depends. The science underlying these issues is strong, but awareness is weak. Without fully appreciating and broadcasting the scale of the problems and the enormity of the solutions required, society will fail to achieve even modest sustainability goals.


Humanity is causing a rapid loss of biodiversity and, with it, Earth’s ability to support complex life. But the mainstream is having difficulty grasping the magnitude of this loss, despite the steady erosion of the fabric of human civilization (Ceballos et al., 2015; IPBES, 2019; Convention on Biological Diversity, 2020; WWF, 2020). While suggested solutions abound (Díaz et al., 2019), the current scale of their implementation does not match the relentless progression of biodiversity loss (Cumming et al., 2006) and other existential threats tied to the continuous expansion of the human enterprise (Rees, 2020). Time delays between ecological deterioration and socio-economic penalties, as with climate disruption for example (IPCC, 2014), impede recognition of the magnitude of the challenge and timely counteraction needed. In addition, disciplinary specialization and insularity encourage unfamiliarity with the complex adaptive systems (Levin, 1999) in which problems and their potential solutions are embedded (Selby, 2006; Brand and Karvonen, 2007). Widespread ignorance of human behavior (Van Bavel et al., 2020) and the incremental nature of socio-political processes that plan and implement solutions further delay effective action (Shanley and López, 2009; King, 2016).

We summarize the state of the natural world in stark form here to help clarify the gravity of the human predicament. We also outline likely future trends in biodiversity decline (Díaz et al., 2019), climate disruption (Ripple et al., 2020), and human consumption and population growth to demonstrate the near certainty that these problems will worsen over the coming decades, with negative impacts for centuries to come. Finally, we discuss the ineffectiveness of current and planned actions that are attempting to address the ominous erosion of Earth’s life-support system. Ours is not a call to surrender—we aim to provide leaders with a realistic “cold shower” of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future.

Biodiversity Loss

Major changes in the biosphere are directly linked to the growth of human systems (summarized in Figure 1). While the rapid loss of species and populations differs regionally in intensity (Ceballos et al., 2015, 2017, 2020; Díaz et al., 2019), and most species have not been adequately assessed for extinction risk (Webb and Mindel, 2015), certain global trends are obvious. Since the start of agriculture around 11,000 years ago, the biomass of terrestrial vegetation has been halved (Erb et al., 2018), with a corresponding loss of >20% of its original biodiversity (Díaz et al., 2019), together denoting that >70% of the Earth’s land surface has been altered by Homo sapiens (IPBES, 2019). There have been >700 documented vertebrate (Díaz et al., 2019) and ~600 plant (Humphreys et al., 2019) species extinctions over the past 500 years, with many more species clearly having gone extinct unrecorded (Tedesco et al., 2014). Population sizes of vertebrate species that have been monitored across years have declined by an average of 68% over the last five decades (WWF, 2020), with certain population clusters in extreme decline (Leung et al., 2020), thus presaging the imminent extinction of their species (Ceballos et al., 2020). Overall, perhaps 1 million species are threatened with extinction in the near future out of an estimated 7–10 million eukaryotic species on the planet (Mora et al., 2011), with around 40% of plants alone considered endangered (Antonelli et al., 2020). Today, the global biomass of wild mammals is <25% of that estimated for the Late Pleistocene (Bar-On et al., 2018), while insects are also disappearing rapidly in many regions (Wagner, 2020; reviews in van Klink et al., 2020).


Figure 1. Summary of major environmental-change categories expressed as a percentage change relative to the baseline given in the text. Red indicates the percentage of the category that is damaged, lost, or otherwise affected, whereas blue indicates the percentage that is intact, remaining, or otherwise unaffected. Superscript numbers indicate the following references: 1IPBES, 2019; 2Halpern et al., 2015; 3Krumhansl et al., 2016; 4Waycott et al., 2009; 5Díaz et al., 2019; 6Christensen et al., 2014; 7Frieler et al., 2013; 8Erb et al., 2018; 9Davidson, 2014; 10Grill et al., 2019; 11WWF, 2020; 12Bar-On et al., 2018; 13Antonelli et al., 2020; 14Mora et al., 2011.

Freshwater and marine environments have also been severely damaged. Today there is <15% of the original wetland area globally than was present 300 years ago (Davidson, 2014), and >75% of rivers >1,000 km long no longer flow freely along their entire course (Grill et al., 2019). More than two-thirds of the oceans have been compromised to some extent by human activities (Halpern et al., 2015), live coral cover on reefs has halved in <200 years (Frieler et al., 2013), seagrass extent has been decreasing by 10% per decade over the last century (Waycott et al., 2009; Díaz et al., 2019), kelp forests have declined by ~40% (Krumhansl et al., 2016), and the biomass of large predatory fishes is now <33% of what it was last century (Christensen et al., 2014).

With such a rapid, catastrophic loss of biodiversity, the ecosystem services it provides have also declined. These include inter alia reduced carbon sequestration (Heath et al., 2005; Lal, 2008), reduced pollination (Potts et al., 2016), soil degradation (Lal, 2015), poorer water and air quality (Smith et al., 2013), more frequent and intense flooding (Bradshaw et al., 2007; Hinkel et al., 2014) and fires (Boer et al., 2020; Bowman et al., 2020), and compromised human health (Díaz et al., 2006; Bradshaw et al., 2019). As telling indicators of how much biomass humanity has transferred from natural ecosystems to our own use, of the estimated 0.17 Gt of living biomass of terrestrial vertebrates on Earth today, most is represented by livestock (59%) and human beings (36%)—only ~5% of this total biomass is made up by wild mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians (Bar-On et al., 2018). As of 2020, the overall material output of human endeavor exceeds the sum of all living biomass on Earth (Elhacham et al., 2020).

Sixth Mass Extinction

A mass extinction is defined as a loss of ~75% of all species on the planet over a geologically short interval—generally anything <3 million years (Jablonski et al., 1994; Barnosky et al., 2011). At least five major extinction events have occurred since the Cambrian (Sodhi et al., 2009), the most recent of them 66 million years ago at the close of the Cretaceous period. The background rate of extinction since then has been 0.1 extinctions million species−1 year−1 (Ceballos et al., 2015), while estimates of today’s extinction rate are orders of magnitude greater (Lamkin and Miller, 2016). Recorded vertebrate extinctions since the 16th century—the mere tip of the true extinction iceberg—give a rate of extinction of 1.3 species year−1, which is conservatively >15 times the background rate (Ceballos et al., 2015). The IUCN estimates that some 20% of all species are in danger of extinction over the next few decades, which greatly exceeds the background rate. That we are already on the path of a sixth major extinction is now scientifically undeniable (Barnosky et al., 2011; Ceballos et al., 2015, 2017).

Ecological Overshoot: Population Size and Overconsumption

The global human population has approximately doubled since 1970, reaching nearly 7.8 billion people today ( While some countries have stopped growing and even declined in size, world average fertility continues to be above replacement (2.3 children woman−1), with an average of 4.8 children woman−1 in Sub-Saharan Africa and fertilities >4 children woman−1 in many other countries (e.g., Afghanistan, Yemen, Timor-Leste). The 1.1 billion people today in Sub-Saharan Africa—a region expected to experience particularly harsh repercussions from climate change (Serdeczny et al., 2017)—is projected to double over the next 30 years. By 2050, the world population will likely grow to ~9.9 billion (, with growth projected by many to continue until well into the next century (Bradshaw and Brook, 2014; Gerland et al., 2014), although more recent estimates predict a peak toward the end of this century (Vollset et al., 2020).

Large population size and continued growth are implicated in many societal problems. The impact of population growth, combined with an imperfect distribution of resources, leads to massive food insecurity. By some estimates, 700–800 million people are starving and 1–2 billion are micronutrient-malnourished and unable to function fully, with prospects of many more food problems in the near future (Ehrlich and Harte, 2015a,b). Large populations and their continued growth are also drivers of soil degradation and biodiversity loss (Pimm et al., 2014). More people means that more synthetic compounds and dangerous throw-away plastics (Vethaak and Leslie, 2016) are manufactured, many of which add to the growing toxification of the Earth (Cribb, 2014). It also increases chances of pandemics (Daily and Ehrlich, 1996b) that fuel ever-more desperate hunts for scarce resources (Klare, 2012). Population growth is also a factor in many social ills, from crowding and joblessness, to deteriorating infrastructure and bad governance (Harte, 2007). There is mounting evidence that when populations are large and growing fast, they can be the sparks for both internal and international conflicts that lead to war (Klare, 2001; Toon et al., 2007). The multiple, interacting causes of civil war in particular are varied, including poverty, inequality, weak institutions, political grievance, ethnic divisions, and environmental stressors such as drought, deforestation, and land degradation (Homer-Dixon, 1991, 1999; Collier and Hoeer, 1998; Hauge and llingsen, 1998; Fearon and Laitin, 2003; Brückner, 2010; Acemoglu et al., 2017). Population growth itself can even increase the probability of military involvement in conflicts (Tir and Diehl, 1998). Countries with higher population growth rates experienced more social conflict since the Second World War (Acemoglu et al., 2017). In that study, an approximate doubling of a country’s population caused about four additional years of full-blown civil war or low-intensity conflict in the 1980s relative to the 1940–1950s, even after controlling for a country’s income-level, independence, and age structure.

Simultaneous with population growth, humanity’s consumption as a fraction of Earth’s regenerative capacity has grown from ~ 73% in 1960 to 170% in 2016 (Lin et al., 2018), with substantially greater per-person consumption in countries with highest income. With COVID-19, this overshoot dropped to 56% above Earth’s regenerative capacity, which means that between January and August 2020, humanity consumed as much as Earth can renew in the entire year ( While inequality among people and countries remains staggering, the global middle class has grown rapidly and exceeded half the human population by 2018 (Kharas and Hamel, 2018). Over 70% of all people currently live in countries that run a biocapacity deficit while also having less than world-average income, excluding them from compensating their biocapacity deficit through purchases (Wackernagel et al., 2019) and eroding future resilience via reduced food security (Ehrlich and Harte, 2015b). The consumption rates of high-income countries continue to be substantially higher than low-income countries, with many of the latter even experiencing declines in per-capita footprint (Dasgupta and Ehrlich, 2013; Wackernagel et al., 2019).

This massive ecological overshoot is largely enabled by the increasing use of fossil fuels. These convenient fuels have allowed us to decouple human demand from biological regeneration: 85% of commercial energy, 65% of fibers, and most plastics are now produced from fossil fuels. Also, food production depends on fossil-fuel input, with every unit of food energy produced requiring a multiple in fossil-fuel energy (e.g., 3 × for high-consuming countries like Canada, Australia, USA, and China; This, coupled with increasing consumption of carbon-intensive meat (Ripple et al., 2014) congruent with the rising middle class, has exploded the global carbon footprint of agriculture. While climate change demands a full exit from fossil-fuel use well before 2050, pressures on the biosphere are likely to mount prior to decarbonization as humanity brings energy alternatives online. Consumption and biodiversity challenges will also be amplified by the enormous physical inertia of all large “stocks” that shape current trends: built infrastructure, energy systems, and human populations.

It is therefore also inevitable that aggregate consumption will increase at least into the near future, especially as affluence and population continue to grow in tandem (Wiedmann et al., 2020). Even if major catastrophes occur during this interval, they would unlikely affect the population trajectory until well into the 22nd Century (Bradshaw and Brook, 2014). Although population-connected climate change (Wynes and Nicholas, 2017) will worsen human mortality (Mora et al., 2017; Parks et al., 2020), morbidity (Patz et al., 2005; Díaz et al., 2006; Peng et al., 2011), development (Barreca and Schaller, 2020), cognition (Jacobson et al., 2019), agricultural yields (Verdin et al., 2005; Schmidhuber and Tubiello, 2007; Brown and Funk, 2008; Gaupp et al., 2020), and conflicts (Boas, 2015), there is no way—ethically or otherwise (barring extreme and unprecedented increases in human mortality)—to avoid rising human numbers and the accompanying overconsumption. That said, instituting human-rights policies to lower fertility and reining in consumption patterns could diminish the impacts of these phenomena (Rees, 2020).

Failed International Goals and Prospects for the Future

Stopping biodiversity loss is nowhere close to the top of any country’s priorities, trailing far behind other concerns such as employment, healthcare, economic growth, or currency stability. It is therefore no surprise that none of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets for 2020 set at the Convention on Biological Diversity’s ( 2010 conference was met (Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity, 2020). Even had they been met, they would have still fallen short of realizing any substantive reductions in extinction rate. More broadly, most of the nature-related United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) (e.g., SDGs 6, 13–15) are also on track for failure (Wackernagel et al., 2017; Díaz et al., 2019; Messerli et al., 2019), largely because most SDGs have not adequately incorporated their interdependencies with other socio-economic factors (Bradshaw and Di Minin, 2019; Bradshaw et al., 2019; Messerli et al., 2019). Therefore, the apparent paradox of high and rising average standard of living despite a mounting environmental toll has come at a great cost to the stability of humanity’s medium- and long-term life-support system. In other words, humanity is running an ecological Ponzi scheme in which society robs nature and future generations to pay for boosting incomes in the short term (Ehrlich et al., 2012). Even the World Economic Forum, which is captive of dangerous greenwashing propaganda (Bakan, 2020), now recognizes biodiversity loss as one of the top threats to the global economy (World Economic Forum, 2020).

The emergence of a long-predicted pandemic (Daily and Ehrlich, 1996a), likely related to biodiversity loss, poignantly exemplifies how that imbalance is degrading both human health and wealth (Austin, 2020; Dobson et al., 2020; Roe et al., 2020). With three-quarters of new infectious diseases resulting from human-animal interactions, environmental degradation via climate change, deforestation, intensive farming, bushmeat hunting, and an exploding wildlife trade mean that the opportunities for pathogen-transferring interactions are high (Austin, 2020; Daszak et al., 2020). That much of this degradation is occurring in Biodiversity Hotspots where pathogen diversity is also highest (Keesing et al., 2010), but where institutional capacity is weakest, further increases the risk of pathogen release and spread (Austin, 2020; Schmeller et al., 2020).

Climate Disruption

The dangerous effects of climate change are much more evident to people than those of biodiversity loss (Legagneux et al., 2018), but society is still finding it difficult to deal with them effectively. Civilization has already exceeded a global warming of ~ 1.0°C above pre-industrial conditions, and is on track to cause at least a 1.5°C warming between 2030 and 2052 (IPCC, 2018). In fact, today’s greenhouse-gas concentration is >500 ppm CO2-e (Butler and Montzka, 2020), while according to the IPCC, 450 ppm CO2-e would give Earth a mere 66% chance of not exceeding a 2°C warming (IPCC, 2014). Greenhouse-gas concentration will continue to increase (via positive feedbacks such as melting permafrost and the release of stored methane) (Burke et al., 2018), resulting in further delay of temperature-reducing responses even if humanity stops using fossil fuels entirely well before 2030 (Steffen et al., 2018).

Human alteration of the climate has become globally detectable in any single day’s weather (Sippel et al., 2020). In fact, the world’s climate has matched or exceeded previous predictions (Brysse et al., 2013), possibly because of the IPCC’s reliance on averages from several models (Herger et al., 2018) and the language of political conservativeness inherent in policy recommendations seeking multinational consensus (Herrando-Pérez et al., 2019). However, the latest climate models (CMIP6) show greater future warming than previously predicted (Forster et al., 2020), even if society tracks the needed lower-emissions pathway over the coming decades. Nations have in general not met the goals of the 5 year-old Paris Agreement (United Nations, 2016), and while global awareness and concern have risen, and scientists have proposed major transformative change (in energy production, pollution reduction, custodianship of nature, food production, economics, population policies, etc.), an effective international response has yet to emerge (Ripple et al., 2020). Even assuming that all signatories do, in fact, manage to ratify their commitments (a doubtful prospect), expected warming would still reach 2.6–3.1°C by 2100 (Rogelj et al., 2016) unless large, additional commitments are made and fulfilled. Without such commitments, the projected rise of Earth’s temperature will be catastrophic for biodiversity (Urban, 2015; Steffen et al., 2018; Strona and Bradshaw, 2018) and humanity (Smith et al., 2016).

Regarding international climate-change accords, the Paris Agreement (United Nations, 2016) set the 1.5–2°C target unanimously. But since then, progress to propose, let alone follow, (voluntary) “intended national determined contributions” for post-2020 climate action have been utterly inadequate.

Political Impotence

If most of the world’s population truly understood and appreciated the magnitude of the crises we summarize here, and the inevitability of worsening conditions, one could logically expect positive changes in politics and policies to match the gravity of the existential threats. But the opposite is unfolding. The rise of right-wing populist leaders is associated with anti-environment agendas as seen recently for example in Brazil (Nature, 2018), the USA (Hejny, 2018), and Australia (Burck et al., 2019). Large differences in income, wealth, and consumption among people and even among countries render it difficult to make any policy global in its execution or effect.

A central concept in ecology is density feedback (Herrando-Pérez et al., 2012)—as a population approaches its environmental carrying capacity, average individual fitness declines (Brook and Bradshaw, 2006). This tends to push populations toward an instantaneous expression of carrying capacity that slows or reverses population growth. But for most of history, human ingenuity has inflated the natural environment’s carrying capacity for us by developing new ways to increase food production (Hopfenberg, 2003), expand wildlife exploitation, and enhance the availability of other resources. This inflation has involved modifying temperature via shelter, clothing, and microclimate control, transporting goods from remote locations, and generally reducing the probability of death or injury through community infrastructure and services (Cohen, 1995). But with the availability of fossil fuels, our species has pushed its consumption of nature’s goods and services much farther beyond long-term carrying capacity (or more precisely, the planet’s biocapacity), making the readjustment from overshoot that is inevitable far more catastrophic if not managed carefully (Nyström et al., 2019). A growing human population will only exacerbate this, leading to greater competition for an ever-dwindling resource pool. The corollaries are many: continued reduction of environmental intactness (Bradshaw et al., 2010; Bradshaw and Di Minin, 2019), reduced child health (especially in low-income nations) (Bradshaw et al., 2019), increased food demand exacerbating environmental degradation via agro-intensification (Crist et al., 2017), vaster and possibly catastrophic effects of global toxification (Cribb, 2014; Swan and Colino, 2021), greater expression of social pathologies (Levy and Herzog, 1974) including violence exacerbated by climate change and environmental degradation itself (Agnew, 2013; White, 2017, 2019), more terrorism (Coccia, 2018), and an economic system even more prone to sequester the remaining wealth among fewer individuals (Kus, 2016; Piketty, 2020) much like how cropland expansion since the early 1990s has disproportionately concentrated wealth among the super-rich (Ceddia, 2020). The predominant paradigm is still one of pegging “environment” against “economy”; yet in reality, the choice is between exiting overshoot by design or disaster—because exiting overshoot is inevitable one way or another.

Given these misconceptions and entrenched interests, the continued rise of extreme ideologies is likely, which in turn limits the capacity of making prudent, long-term decisions, thus potentially accelerating a vicious cycle of global ecological deterioration and its penalties. Even the USA’s much-touted New Green Deal (U. S. House of Representatives, 2019) has in fact exacerbated the country’s political polarization (Gustafson et al., 2019), mainly because of the weaponization of ‘environmentalism’ as a political ideology rather than being viewed as a universal mode of self-preservation and planetary protection that ought to transcend political tribalism. Indeed, environmental protest groups are being labeled as “terrorists” in many countries (Hudson, 2020). Further, the severity of the commitments required for any country to achieve meaningful reductions in consumption and emissions will inevitably lead to public backlash and further ideological entrenchments, mainly because the threat of potential short-term sacrifices is seen as politically inopportune. Even though climate change alone will incur a vast economic burden (Burke et al., 2015; Carleton and Hsiang, 2016; Auffhammer, 2018) possibly leading to war (nuclear, or otherwise) at a global scale (Klare, 2020), most of the world’s economies are predicated on the political idea that meaningful counteraction now is too costly to be politically palatable. Combined with financed disinformation campaigns in a bid to protect short-term profits (Oreskes and Conway, 2010; Mayer, 2016; Bakan, 2020), it is doubtful that any needed shift in economic investments of sufficient scale will be made in time.

While uncertain and prone to fluctuate according to unpredictable social and policy trends (Boas et al., 2019; McLeman, 2019; Nature Climate Change, 2019), climate change and other environmental pressures will trigger more mass migration over the coming decades (McLeman, 2019), with an estimated 25 million to 1 billion environmental migrants expected by 2050 (Brown, 2008). Because international law does not yet legally recognize such “environmental migrants” as refugees (United Nations University, 2015) (although this is likely to change) (Lyons, 2020), we fear that a rising tide of refugees will reduce, not increase, international cooperation in ways that will further weaken our capacity to mitigate the crisis.

Changing the Rules of the Game

While it is neither our intention nor capacity in this short Perspective to delve into the complexities and details of possible solutions to the human predicament, there is no shortage of evidence-based literature proposing ways to change human behavior for the benefit of all extant life. The remaining questions are less about what to do, and more about how, stimulating the genesis of many organizations devoted to these pursuits (e.g.,,,,,,,, to name a few). The gravity of the situation requires fundamental changes to global capitalism, education, and equality, which include inter alia the abolition of perpetual economic growth, properly pricing externalities, a rapid exit from fossil-fuel use, strict regulation of markets and property acquisition, reigning in corporate lobbying, and the empowerment of women. These choices will necessarily entail difficult conversations about population growth and the necessity of dwindling but more equitable standards of living.


We have summarized predictions of a ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health, and climate-disruption upheavals (including looming massive migrations) and resource conflicts this century. Yet, our goal is not to present a fatalist perspective, because there are many examples of successful interventions to prevent extinctions, restore ecosystems, and encourage more sustainable economic activity at both local and regional scales. Instead, we contend that only a realistic appreciation of the colossal challenges facing the international community might allow it to chart a less-ravaged future. While there have been more recent calls for the scientific community in particular to be more vocal about their warnings to humanity (Ripple et al., 2017; Cavicchioli et al., 2019; Gardner and Wordley, 2019), these have been insufficiently foreboding to match the scale of the crisis. Given the existence of a human “optimism bias” that triggers some to underestimate the severity of a crisis and ignore expert warnings, a good communication strategy must ideally undercut this bias without inducing disproportionate feelings of fear and despair (Pyke, 2017; Van Bavel et al., 2020). It is therefore incumbent on experts in any discipline that deals with the future of the biosphere and human well-being to eschew reticence, avoid sugar-coating the overwhelming challenges ahead and “tell it like it is.” Anything else is misleading at best, or negligent and potentially lethal for the human enterprise at worst.

Originally published in Frontiers in Conservation Science. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY).

“People vs. Fossil Fuels’’: Winona LaDuke & Mass Protests Call on Biden to Stop Line 3 Pipeline

“People vs. Fossil Fuels’’: Winona LaDuke & Mass Protests Call on Biden to Stop Line 3 Pipeline

This piece was first published at Democracy Now!




In response to the completion of the contested Line 3 pipeline, which is now reportedly operational, thousands of Indigenous leaders and climate justice advocates are kicking off the “People vs. Fossil Fuels’’ mobilization, an Indigenous-led five-day action of civil disobedience at the White House to demand President Biden declare a climate emergency, divest from fossil fuels and launch a “just renewable energy revolution.” “This pipeline doesn’t respect treaty rights,” says Winona LaDuke, longtime Indigenous activist and founder of Honor the Earth, a platform to raise awareness of and money for Indigenous struggles for environmental justice. “They’re just trying to continue their egregious behavior. It’s so tragic that, on the one hand, the Biden administration is like, ’We’re going to have Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but we’re still going to smash you in northern Minnesota and smash the rest of the country.’” LaDuke faces criminal charges linked to her protest of pipelines in three different counties.


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, as we continue to talk about Indigenous action to save our Earth. This week, thousands of Indigenous leaders and climate justice advocates are expected to participate in a historic five-day massive action of civil disobedience at the White House to continue to pressure President Biden to declare a climate emergency, divest from fossil fuels and launch a, quote, “just renewable energy revolution.”

The “People vs. Fossil Fuels” mobilization, led by the Indigenous Environmental Network,, Sunrise Movement, the Center for Biological Diversity and others, comes as Canadian pipeline company Enbridge has completed the construction of its contested Line 3 crude oil pipeline in northern Minnesota. The pipeline is reportedly now operational, violating the treaty rights of local Indigenous communities. Line 3 is set to carry over half a million barrels of tar sands oil every day from Alberta, Canada, through Minnesota to the tip of Lake Superior in Wisconsin, threatening sacred wild rice watersheds in Minnesota, local waters and lands, and doubling Minnesota’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Indigenous leaders and land and water defenders, who have been resisting Line 3 for years, often putting their own bodies on the line, vowed to continue the fight against the pipeline. Last week, a small group of water protectors confronted Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar at a fundraising event, where advocates say plates cost $1,000 a person, demanding her to take action against Line 3.

WATER PROTECTOR: We’re asking you to call on President Biden to stop Line 3. It has a higher carbon footprint than the entire state of Minnesota. And this climate crisis — I mean, you saw Hurricane Ida. You saw how many people died. And we just really need you to call on him and ask him to stop it.

AIDE: Excuse us.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: Thank you. Yes, I know about the concern.

WATER PROTECTOR: Because you have so much power. You have so much power.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR: I’ve brought those concerns to him. Thank you.

WATER PROTECTOR: And as a young person, the climate crisis is a thing that really concerns me, and stopping Line 3. We can’t have climate justice without you stopping Line 3 and asking President Biden.


WATER PROTECTOR: I know that you don’t have a vote, and I know that you can’t vote in the Senate to stop Line 3. But President Biden has that power. And you have the power.

AMY GOODMAN: “You have the power.” More than 900 water protectors have been arrested over their resistance to Line 3, with some protesters facing felony charges as they were brutalized by police. Some water protectors also reported being denied medical care and being placed in solitary confinement after their arrests. Well, The Guardian newspaper revealed last week that Enbridge paid Minnesota police $2.4 million in reimbursements, all costs tied to the arrests and surveillance of hundreds of water protectors, including officer training, wages, overtime, meals, hotels and equipment for the local police, paid for by an international corporation.

For more, we’re joined in Ponsford, Minnesota, by Winona LaDuke, longtime Indigenous activist, who’s been organizing for years to block Enbridge Line 3. She lives and works on the White Earth Reservation in northern Minnesota, is executive director of Honor the Earth. Her piece for the Minneapolis Star Tribune is headlined “Line 3 opponents can savor this defeat.” Her latest book, To Be a Water Protector.

Winona, welcome back to Democracy Now! So, if you can talk about these latest revelations of this Canadian company paying the local police to arrest you all, and also what it means that Enbridge says Line 3 is operational?

WINONA LADUKE: [inaudible] Enbridge’s Line 3 is operational will say that they’ve been hurrying really fast because the federal court has yet to rule on whether Enbridge has any ability to move forward. There’s no federal environmental impact statement on this project, which is why we want Joe Biden to stop it. I mean, they stole 5 billion gallons of water, fracked 28 rivers out, and then they have this broken aquifer losing 100,000 gallons a day of water. They have no idea how to fix this stuff, since January. You know, it’s really horrible up here. So, you know, Enbridge has been trying to rush to get this online before the court will rule against them, because, generally, courts have not ruled in favor of pipelines. That’s the status that we have seen, you know, in the federal court ruling on the DAPL, where the federal court ordered them to close down. This is the same company. Enbridge was 28% of DAPL. And when the federal court ordered them to close down the pipe, they said no. When the state of Michigan ordered them to close down a pipe this last May, they said no. So they’re just trying to continue their egregious behavior.

It’s so tragic that, you know, on one hand, the Biden administration is like, “We are going to have Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but we’re still going to smash you in northern Minnesota and smash the rest of the country.” Same thing, you know, Klobuchar and Smith, the two Minnesota senators, shameful their lack of courage, not only for Indigenous people but for the planet, you know?

So Enbridge is trying to get that oil out. In the meantime, it’s a disaster up here. I’m still up here monitoring the line and monitoring what’s going on, because it’s crazy. And just to say, they don’t have Indigenous Peoples’ Day apparently in Becker County, because have a court date today. So, you know, no break for Indigenous people. You could still go to court. You know, it’s just insane up here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, how does your activism change now that it’s supposedly operational, the pipeline? And what exactly does it mean? For people who aren’t familiar with Line 3, talk about its course, from Canada through the United States, and why you’re so concerned about this particular pipeline.

WINONA LADUKE: OK. Well, first of all, the pipeline is 915,000 barrels a day of oil. That’s a lot of oil that’s going to move through it, if they get their way. And that oil, like, this is the last tar sands pipeline. Now, how we know this is the last tar sands pipeline is that our alma mater — remember, Amy, when we were at Harvard trying to get them to divest in South Africa? No, but they just are divesting in fossil fuels. Everybody is fleeing the tar sands. And it’s an industry that’s at its end. Like, Canada needs to quit trying to breathe life into the tar sands and breathe life into boarding schools and residential schools. They need to just stop being the criminals that they are.

You know, so, forcing them — they’re four years behind schedule, if they get to oil. And in that four years behind schedule, the industry is falling apart. There’s no new investment in tar sands infrastructure. And it’s the dirtiest oil in the world. Then add to that the fact that the company can’t even get insurance for its pipeline. Like, I’m just trying to understand what kind of fiscal responsibility exists in the state of Minnesota, that Enbridge divulged a couple of weeks ago that they can’t get insurance for their pipeline. And so, you have an accident, it’s going to be just like Bhopal and Union Carbide. These guys are going to pack up and go back to Canada. You know, I mean, it is a really horrific situation. And, you know, the impact of it is so wrong. You know, I mean, it’s not only the equivalent of 50 new coal-fired power plants, but right now our rivers are dry. They took 5 billion gallons of water from the north. Enbridge and the Walz administration are climate criminals.

And the Biden administration needs to stand up. You know, on one hand, I’m looking at Joe Biden, and I’m so grateful. Like, Bears Ears, that was the right thing to do, you know, to get back and to be the people that are supporting Indigenous people and Land Back. Let’s go, Joe. Let’s go. Let’s go, Joe. You know, 80 million acres of national parks stolen from Indian people, let’s start returning those, too, along with creating new national parks. We could just start returning land that was stolen. That would be a great step.

And then, actually, when you have Indigenous people in your administration, Joe, like Deb Haaland or maybe Jaime Pinkham at the Army Corps of Engineers, let them do their job, instead of having politics, oily politics, intervene. You know, I know that Deb Haaland does not support this pipeline. No sane person supports this pipeline. Only people who want to take oil money from Canadian multinationals support this pipeline. And I know that Jaime Pinkham, assistant in the Army Corps of Engineers, came up here, came up and visited, and saw what was going on and the disaster.

Our tribes have sued, you know, trying to stop this, sued in federal court. That federal court hearing is yet. And our tribes also have a tribal court hearing, where the federal courts have ordered Enbridge to come to our court, because we say that they’re climate criminals and they’re destroying the rights of wild rice. Actually, the state DNR has been ordered into tribal court.

You know, so, Joe, if you appoint Indian people, don’t just make them pretty Indian people that sit in your administration. Let them do their job. Indigenous thinking is what we need in the colonial administration. That’s when change happens.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, Winona, in August, you met with the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights defenders to share the police violence suffered by water protectors protesting the Line 3 construction site. And now we are learning just how much money the Canadian corporation gave to the local police to do the arrests, to do the training, etc. What happened with the U.N. rapporteur?

WINONA LADUKE: The U.N. rapporteur has asked the United States a bunch of questions and is expecting a response on what exactly the United States is planning to do to protect the human rights of Indigenous peoples, because this pipeline does not respect not only treaty rights, but, you know, when you get 900 people arrested and they’re brutalized with all kinds of — you know, I mean, it is torture. Some of what was done to these people is classified as it’s excessive force. So, the United Nations has called to task the United States on the Enbridge pipeline. And so, on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, that’s part of what we are saying, too, is it’s a time to account.

And I just want to say that this isn’t just like our problem, because the Enbridge model — like, first of all, Canadian multinationals kill people in Third World countries. That’s what they do. You know, that is known. Seventy-five percent of the world’s mining corporations are Canadian, and all through Latin America there’s human rights violations. This is no different. This is a Canadian multinational and Indigenous people. And two years ago, we told Attorney General from Minnesota Keith Ellison that this was going to be a problem. You know, we have had no action. And instead what we have is our rights continue to be violated. And, you know, I’ve got charges in three counties, more probably coming soon. I mean, this is like —

AMY GOODMAN: What do you face?

WINONA LADUKE: And this is a national problem, because the Minnesota model is being considered nationally, that corporations should finance your police. And that is — you know, in any way you look at it, that’s definitely a violation of the public trust, to have corporations financed by the police. And the Minnesota —

AMY GOODMAN: What charges do you face, Winona?

WINONA LADUKE: I’ve got trespassing, obstruction. I think I’ve got some public safety, you know, causing public safety problems because cops could have been doing something else instead of monitoring people on the pipeline. A lot of trespassing charges — Aitkin, Hubbard, Wadena County. I’ve got charges in three counties so far.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, best of luck to you today in court, Winona LaDuke, longtime indigenous activist, executive director of Honor the Earth, speaking to us from northern Minnesota.

When we come back, we look at the Russian journalist who was just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Stay with us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.


Book Review of “Bright Green Lies”

Book Review of “Bright Green Lies”

Editor’s note: We are very thankful to George Price for his wonderful review of the book Bright Green Lies.

Book Review: Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It
By Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert

By George Price, originally published on his blog learningearthways.

This book, Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It, by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert, will probably be the most important book published anywhere in 2021, on the most important issue facing all Life on Earth—why we must end the prevailing human economic and industrial practices and the anthropocentric cultural worldviews. It will probably also be the most reviled, attacked, suppressed, censored, dismissed, misrepresented, and slandered book published this year, as well, for some of the same reasons that many people virulently attacked and censored the documentary film, “Planet of the Humans,” last year. Why?

The authors answer the question of why these facts are so difficult to hear, and why they are also so difficult for many of us reluctant messengers to tell, at many points throughout their book, including this passage from the chapter on green energy storage:

“We are being sold a story, and we are buying it because we like it. We want it to be true. We want to believe that our lives can go on with all the ease and comfort we accept as our due. How painless to believe that a simple switch of wind for oil and solar for coal and we can go on with our air conditioning and cell phones and suburbs. Every time we hit a trip wire of unsettling facts or basic math, we soothe ourselves with our faith in technology. If all that stands between us and the end of the world is a battery that can store 46 MJ/kg, surely someone is working on it.”

Most modern humans have been taught all of their lives, by most of the voices of their culture, that their own comfort, pleasure, purpose, social standing, legacy, avoidance of pain, and continued survival depend upon the perpetuation of, and their conformity to, western industrial technological capitalist civilization. That teaching has been reinforced within their psyches by a long series of painful and pleasurable personal experiences. Therefore, they do not want to hear convincing, factual arguments which clearly demonstrate that nearly everything that they have been taught to value and have devoted their lives to is intertwined within a path toward the imminent destruction, collapse, and extinction of not only their so-called “way of life,” but also the real, natural world upon which all biological life on Earth depends. Besides that, most humans of this culture and era do not want to hear that there is no viable and actually existing technological “fix” for this predicament—which the authors of Bright Green Lies make painfully clear—and many do not want anybody else to hear or declare that either. In addition to all of that, most modern, capitalist, technophile humans are not (yet) prepared to engage with the solutions offered in this book: ending most industrial technological activities and allowing Nature and the few humans who still have such knowledge to teach us how to live without those destructive entities, by her truly sustainable laws and systems, (like we did for 97% of the time of our species’ existence), thus enabling all that remains of natural Life to heal and continue. Bright Green Lies also asks its readers—especially those who identify themselves as “environmentalists” or “environmental activists”—to face up to the fact that they must choose whether they value and seek to protect what the authors refer to as the “real world” (the natural, life-giving, life-sustaining world), or, instead, protect the human-made civilizations that order and constrain their lives, because, with what the world has now come to, we cannot save both. Is such a potentially life-shattering choice more than most people can deal with, even when presented with an overwhelming preponderance of factual evidence persuading them that the choice is unavoidable?

Putting aside (for now) the human tendencies toward acting on faith, auto-conformity, or the herd mentality, and assuming that when making the most serious, life or death, joy-or-perpetual-misery types of decisions, most people will still place some value in actual facts and bother to do a little research, we should expect such people to proceed with such appropriate caution when determining how to answer the challenges presented in this book. Knowing that, and being acutely familiar with the reactions of many politically moderate/liberal, save-civilization-first (before the natural world) people to their previous publications and to similar publications by others, such as Ozzie Zehner’s Green Illusionsback in 2012, and to Jeff Gibbs’ Planet of the Humans documentary, the authors of Bright Green Lies obviously “did their homework,” while drawing also from their decades of expertise on these topics. Nearly every one of the 478 pages in this illuminating volume contain several footnotes citing a variety of relevant and reliable sources for the multitude of little-known, seldom-mentioned facts about the extent of toxic destruction and ecocide that are routine impacts from our commonly-engaged industrial technologies, as well as from the production of solar panels, wind turbines, lithium batteries and other products that are alleged to be “green” and even “100% renewable!” Beginning with solar power, and moving on from there to wind turbines, “green energy” storage (especially lithium), “efficiency,” recycling, “green” cities, “green” electric grids, hydropower, carbon capture, geoengineering, and several other false and misrepresented “solutions,” Jensen, Keith, and Wilbert repeatedly and clearly assist us in the difficult process of discerning and untangling truth from lies.

Here is a summary outline of some of the more potent revelations (for the not-yet-informed) brought forth in this book:

  • Promoters of solar, wind and other allegedly “green” technologies have repeatedly and misleadingly conflated the words “energy” and “electricity” when making their claims. The reason that is significant is that electric grid production, which is what solar, wind, hydropower and biofuels are primarily used for, makes up only about 20% (in Germany, the “green” energy technology advocates’ favorite showcase, 15% in the U.S., and ranging between 12 and 35 % elsewhere) of the actual total energy used to power the machinery of modern industrial society. So when they give a figure for how much of Germany’s “energy” is provided by “green renewables,” that figure has to be reduced by 80%–and that still might be too high, due to other falsehoods.


  • Of the 20% of energy use that goes to electricity (in Germany), only about 14.8% comes from “green renewables,” with wind accounting for 3.5 % and 1.6 % for solar, for a total of 5.1 % between them. (These are 2019 statistics, the most recent available when the book went to press.) Biomass (including logged forests) provides 7.6 % of Germany’s electricity; waste products incinerated along with the biomass provide another 1%; 0.5% comes from geothermal heat pumps; and 0.6% comes from hydro power. In addition to those “renewables,” Germany gets 6.4 % of its electricity from nuclear power. Those are the actual figures for the “green showcase” nation, and the renewable electricity figures are generally lower for the rest of the world. Solar and wind enthusiasts have sometimes claimed that Germany gets as much as 75% of its “energy” from renewables.


  • Elon Musk, multi-billionaire producer of the Tesla electric car, admitted to a broadcast journalist in July of 2020 that he supported the coup that overthrew Bolivian President Evo Morales in November of 2019. The Tesla car runs on rechargeable lithium batteries and Bolivia has one of the largest lithium deposits on the planet, which many industrialists, including Musk, hope to mine under terms favorable to their interests. Morales is a socialist whose interest is in what is best for his people and their homeland, and who led an international conference in 2010 that produced the Universal Declaration for the Rights of Mother Earth. Musk told the journalist, “We’ll coup whoever we want! Deal with it.” (TeleSUR English, July 25, 2020 )


  • Lithium mining is just one of scores of very toxic industrial activities described in gory detail in this book, along with the names of the chemicals involved in these processes and the various harms and damages that they inflict upon many species of life, human and non-human. The processes involved in producing so-called “green energy” devices, including mining the raw materials, transporting them to factories, refining and forming the materials into more machines and consumable products, transporting it all over the world, clearing the land of the living beings who already live where the devices are to be installed, operation, maintenance, removal after expiration, and replacement, are all just as destructive to Life on Earth as most other modern industrial activities. None of that activity is truly “green” or beneficial to natural ecosystems or living organisms.


  • Biofuel, a renewable energy source that is much more widely in use than wind turbines or solar panels, depends mostly on deforestation and the creation of vast monoculture tree farms that replace biodiverse natural habitat, causing death, misery and extinction for many species of life, just to grow trees that will be burned for fuel. And what are they fueling? Very often it is energy for industrial factories that will produce more machines to make more toxic and unnecessary consumer products. All “green” energy devices will continue to contribute energy to the rest of the industrial infrastructure, by the dictates and customs of the current economic system and culture.


  • In their chapter questioning the value to life on Earth of “efficiency,” the authors clearly demonstrate how and why efficiency is no incentive for the reduction of CO2 and other harmful by-products of modern industrialism, when carried out within an economic system devoted to unlimited growth and competition (capitalism) and a culture devoted to maximizing convenience and consumption. Using examples based on Jevon’s paradox (basically that efficiency in manufacture and/or use tends to increase the production and consumption of that thing, rather than providing us more time to do other things besides producing and consuming) and on the facts regarding what has actually occurred with the gradual increases in renewable energy devices—not replacing, but, instead, accompanying continued increases in fossil fuel use and CO2 emissions—their point is made clear, as seen in the following chart:

(If you look for charts like this on the internet, you will have a hard time finding ones that end at 2019. Instead, you will see many charts that project beyond, usually up to 2050, showing that somehow the dismal reality portrayed above will magically explode into a dramatic increase in the use of solar and wind technology, even with industrial capitalism remaining intact. They do concede, though, that fossil fuel use—and, of course, CO2 emissions—will still be a considerable part of the picture by then, because of the energy “needs” of industrial capitalism that renewables just cannot provide. That is a difficult fact to admit, but the main reason that it must be faced is found in a combination of basic physics and the capitalist imperative for the maximization of profit. The physics can be summed up in the fact that the average energy density for fossil fuels is 46 megajoules per kilogram (MJ/kg) and “the best lithium battery can only store 1 MJ/kg.” The authors also report that “a diesel semi-tractor can haul 60,000 pounds of freight 600 miles before refueling. To get a similar range [with an imaginary, not-yet-invented electric semi-truck], that tractor would have to have about 55,000 pounds of batteries.” So, which truck would any capitalist distributor of products who wants to maximize efficiency and profit prefer to use? In addition to all that, many climate scientists now say that still using fossil fuels past 2030 means unstoppable bio-system collapse. But people have to have something they can believe in, right? And they cannot be allowed to believe in an end to capitalism or replacing that system with many local, truly democratic, community economic systems that are based in cooperation with Earth ecosystems and Nature’s laws.)

  • One of the grandest forms of deception, exposed repeatedly in several parts of Bright Green Lies, especially the chapter titled, “The Green City Lie,” revolves around a practice called “pollution outsourcing” or “carbon footprint outsourcing.” When measuring a country or city’s pollution or CO2 output, it is common practice to only count what is emitted locally, within the city or nation’s boundaries, omitting completely the emissions made in other countries around the world (typically in relatively poor countries outside of Europe and the U.S.) by citizens and corporations residing in the nation or city being measured. Examples include the facts that the U.S. “annually imports about $500 billion worth of products from China,” and Seattle (considered by many to be possibly the “greenest” city in the U.S.) imports “more than 60% of its food” from countries outside the U.S. After describing the horrific amount of pollution and CO2 emissions created by shipping, trucking and train transport, the authors report that when we do “account for imported products and services, cities are responsible for 60 percent higher carbon emissions than previously thought.” The failure to measure the impacts to other ecosystems of this kind of outsourcing, “allows a city to exist without its occupants coming into contact with the land they depend on, building, in essence, a ‘phantom carrying capacity’ based on the consumption of soil, forests, grasslands, water, and so on from other locations.”


  • The last example of “bright green lying” given in this book that I will mention here (although there are so many more!) involves the horrific potential impacts to life on Earth from attempting to implement green energy technologies at the scale required to run this ever-expanding, long-ago-overshot, capitalist industrial economic system, replacing the use of fossil fuels. The necessary infrastructure creation for that alone is not only mind-boggling and physically impossible, but also clearly ecocidal. For example, “12 percent of the continental United States would have to be covered in windfarms to meet current electricity demands. But electricity is only one-sixth of the nation’s energy consumption. To provide for the U.S.A.’s total energy consumption, fully 72 percent of the continent would have to be devoted to wind farms.” A slightly more conservative estimate is given in a recent report by a pro-green-energy team of researchers, stating that, if we combined wind farms and solar panel installations to replace all fossil fuel electricity production, we would only have to cover 10 % of the surface of the U.S. (The Race to Zero: can America reach net-zero emissions by 2050?, by Oliver Milman, Alvin Chang and Rashida Kamal, The Guardian, March 15, 2021) That figure does not take into account the amount of additional land surface (and habitat destruction) required for all of the necessary increase in transmission lines, which the authors of the Race to Zero… report estimate would be “enough new transmission lines to wrap around Earth 19 times.” (and that’s just for the U.S.!) To put that amount of Earth surface destruction into some familiar perspective, currently about 2% of the surface of the U.S. is covered with asphalt and concrete pavement. We all have some sense of what that much pavement (on roads, sidewalks, parking lots, freeways, etc.) looks like. Imagine then, 10 to 70 times that much ground covered with wind turbines and solar panels, and much more land than that converted to accommodate new power transmission lines. Do you need any more material than that for new nightmares to keep you awake at night? And I didn’t mention all of the resulting dead birds, tortoises, trees and other wildlife, which Jensen, Keith, and Wilbert also describe in painful detail. Who needs horror movies when we have these kinds of visions springing up all around us? Would such a repulsive scenario be worth submitting ourselves to just to preserve a so-called “way of life” for just a little while longer? It would not last long with most of the natural ecosystems and species of life that keep us all alive destroyed or extinct.

I cannot end this book review without mentioning the love for all inter-connected natural Life that is a continual thread throughout its pages and is clearly the supreme motivating force behind the book’s creation. Jensen, Keith, and Wilbert are what I would call “old school” environmentalists—people who put Earth and all of her interconnected Life first, and have no fondness for any human system or culture that must continually harm and even destroy our living world in order to exist. I also appreciate the authors’ acknowledgement, in their “Real Solutions” chapter, that traditional Indigenous peoples have known the answers to our predicament all along. By following the first ways and the guidance of our natural Earth relatives (of all species), we can help the living world to heal all of our interrelated beings. I will close here with a few top quotes from the book:

“So many indigenous people have said that the first and most important thing we must do is decolonize our hearts and minds. We must grow, they’ve told me, to see the dominant culture for what it is: not as the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to human beings, but instead as a way of life that provides conveniences—luxuries—to one set of humans at the expense of everyone else—human and non-human.”

“Because the earth is the source of all life, the health of the earth must be the primary consideration in our decision-making processes.”

“Often people are so shocked by the idea of their lifestyle disappearing completely that they honestly can’t imagine what could come next. They care deeply about the planet, but what they want to know is: ‘Can’t we find a solution that leaves our way of life intact?’”

“’How can we continue to harvest industrial quantities of energy without causing harm?’ is the wrong question. The correct question is: What can we do to help the earth repair the damage caused by this culture?”

“The truth is that we can debunk each and every piece of bright green technology, and ultimately it won’t make a bit of difference to bright greens or anyone else whose loyalty is not to the earth but to the economic and social system that is dismantling the earth.”

“The best way to prepare for this [systemic collapse] is also the best way to prepare to bring about just human societies after collapse: not by leaning even more into industry, but by building communities based on self-sufficiency, biological integrity, and human rights. This is work anyone can support.”