Indigenous Peoples in the Age of COVID-19

Indigenous Peoples in the Age of COVID-19

The CoViD-19 pandemic is impacting Indigenous peoples across the Americas who are already living under ongoing colonization, have poor access to health care, and suffer disproportionately from pre-existing conditions that compromise the immune system.


by Laura Hobson Herlihy and Daniel Bagheri Sarvestani / Intercontinental Cry

Coronavirus now has spread throughout the Indigenous Americas. The Navajo nation reported over 1,600 cases of COVID-19 and 59 deaths on the largest US reservation, which expands through Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. Nineteen members of the Afro-indigenous Garifuna people living in New York City have died. The Garifuna are migrants from the Caribbean coast of Central America, hailing from Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

South of the U.S. border, iconic groups like the Kakchikel Maya in Guatemala, the Kuna in Panama, and the Yanomami of the Brazilian Amazon all have reported COVID-19 cases. Hugo Tacuri, President of CONAIP (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Peru), said: “Deaths are not recorded in Latin American cities by ethnicity and minorities are being mixed in with the greater population.” Tacuri said about 10% of the cases in Lima, Peru’s capital, were Quechua people, and a few were from the Amazon.

Native peoples in the early colonial period were decimated by diseases such as smallpox and measles. They lacked immunity to fight disease from outside and from European populations. As if through genetic memory, native peoples began extreme measures of social distancing soon after the coronavirus pandemic was reported in the Americas.

US and Canadian reservations went into lockdown and denied entrance to outsiders. Clément Chartier, leader of the Metís nation in Canada, commented, “we created check points along the road and established curfews.” Amazonian tribes in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru retreated deeper into the forest. A Brazilian tribe stopped missionaries aboard a helicopter, from entering their rainforest homeland.

Indigenous elders, valued for their knowledge and transmission of cultural ways, language, and traditions, are especially at risk from coronavirus. They pass on stories of past epidemics and the remedies to heal fever and respiratory illness. Indigenous peoples refuse to discard their grandparents and elders. Indeed, they are following their elders’ advice to self-isolate.

The Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast

Countries not preparing for the pandemic stand in violation of Indigenous rights. A recent New York Times article cited Nicaragua as being one of three Latin American nations, along with Mexico and Brazil, to have ignored the pandemic and minimized its seriousness. Nicaragua, however, is one of the poorest nations in the Americas, and cannot afford to shut down its economy. Most Nicaraguans work in the informal economy–if they don’t work, they can’t eat. Nicaragua also has the lowest number of infections and deaths in Latin America: the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health (MINSA) only reports three deaths due to Covid-19.

Nicaragua’s ruling Sandinista regime recently sprang into action, blocking international flights into the Managua Airport, but their borders, businesses, and schools remain open. The Sandinista government now considers mandating rest in place and social distancing, as recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The WHO also recognized the difficulty of populations living in poverty to quarantine.

Nicaragua’s most impoverished region, the pluri-ethnic Caribbean coast, is home to the Indigenous Miskitu, Mayangna, Ulwa, and Rama peoples, along with the Afro-descendant Kriols and Afro-indigenous Garifuna. The Caribbean coast ethnic groups are organizing to protect themselves from the virus, partially self-isolating and creating resources shared on social media in their own languages. In the Indigenous capital of Bilwi (pop. 185,000), many people live crowded together in households without running water, plumbing, or electricity. Those dwelling in remote forest communities are unable to reach hospitals.

Afro-descendant populations, like the Kriol and Garifuna in Nicaragua, have the pre-existing medical conditions of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. José Coleman, of the Indigenous Youth Organization of Moskitia—Mark Rivas (MOJIMM), stated that Nicaraguan Indigenous peoples “most commonly suffer from anemia, asthma, and cardiovascular illness.”

Anemia is brought on by malnutrition resulting from their poor diet, high in of carbohydrates and sugar. Amidst settler-colonization, food Insecurity also causes malnutrition within the Nicaraguan forest-dwelling populations. The Miskitu and Mayangna are afraid to leave their homes to go to their fields for subsistence activities. So far in 2020, armed colonists’ attacks have left nine Mayangna leaders and land-defenders dead in Las Minas, the mining region, and the UNESCO-designated Bosawas biosphere reserve.

Nicaragua’s health system is weak on the Caribbean coast. Despite excellent doctors, the Bilwi hospital suffers from a lack of infrastructure and investment–medical technology is antiquated and hospital rooms are hot with no fans or ventilation. The patients’ family members bring them food plates three times a day, similar to the Bilwi prisons.

Overcrowded hospitals, prisons, and markets are particularly concerning for the transmission of coronavirus on the Caribbean coast. The Miskitu and other coastal peoples in Nicaragua brace themselves for the impending epidemic.

Health Disparities and Indigenous Peoples Rights

Indigenous peoples have comparatively poor access to national health care systems, and suffer disproportionately from comorbidities, that is, pre-existing conditions or health-related complications that compromise the immune system.

In Canada, First Nations communities have a lower life expectancy and much higher mortality rates due to infant deaths and physical injuries. Indigenous youth are far more likely to experience psychological and emotional health complications, including chronic depression, all factors that are contributing to a suicide rate that is far higher among First Nation communities than the general population.

Central American Indigenous territories are subject to increasing encroachment from mestizo settlers and multinational industries causing water pollution and land degradation. In Honduras, food and water insecurity are sighted as the leading social determinants of health disparities, as illegal operations and mestizo settlers continue to invade Indigenous territories, carrying the risk of infecting them.

The Honduran Indigenous communities are also suffering disproportionately during the statewide shutdowns and COVID-19 confinement measures enforced by state authorities. The Tolupán and Maya Ch’orti’, among other Indigenous nations, have already reported severe food shortages and a chronic lack of access to basic goods. Since most Honduran Indigenous communities are made up of subsistence farmers, the unilateral restrictions imposed in public spaces mean that many families are unable to meet their daily nutrition needs. Furthermore, the widespread police brutality cases reported as part of the enforcement of those restrictive measures have created an atmosphere of increasing state-sponsored oppression of Indigenous communities, further eroding Indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination and consultation.

It is no secret that, in many places around the world, governments have taken unfair advantage of the coronavirus pandemic to advance policies that are harmful to Indigenous peoples. In the Canadian province of British Columbia, for instance, the Coastal GasLink Pipeline is forging ahead through Wet’suwet’en “unceded territory” without First Nations consent and in spite of widespread public outcry. The oil sands industry is not only threatening to pose a major ecological threat, but it also presents a major risk for the spread of COVID-19. First Nations peoples have collectively put pressure on Ottawa to stop the construction of the pipelines immediately, but whether or not the government will heed their urgent request remains to be seen.

Human Rights, which include Indigenous Peoples Rights, must not be overlooked, particularly during current health crisis, and when Indigenous peoples are at a great economic and social disadvantage as a result of longstanding systematic discrimination by state institutions. States have a responsibility to ensure equal access to public services to all their citizens, free from discrimination.

Because Indigenous peoples are disproportionately vulnerable to the pandemic, the International Fund for the Development of Indigenous Peoples in Latin America and Caribbean (FILAC) recently stated that countries should have a plan to support ethnic groups in dealing with COVID-19. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) also published a list of recommendations to defend Indigenous rights during the pandemic.

Governments must consult Indigenous leadership and community members in good faith regarding any intervention and decision liable to impact their communities. This is precisely why the right to consultation and the right to participation are the two fundamental pillars of international standards for the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as highlighted by United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and required under Articles 6 and 7 of the ILO Convention 169. Consultation is needed to achieve Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC). Governments are held to international law regarding any intervention and decision-making that may impact Indigenous territories. This necessity does not change with the current crisis.

Many Indigenous nations, for instance, have long had their own methods of preventative health care based on a variety of native plant medicines. In northwestern Honduras, the Maya Ch’orti’ peoples and other groups regularly rely on locally grown plant medicine to boost their immune systems against common diseases. Medicinal plants, in many cases, have been proven to have tremendous health benefits. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), for one, recommends an intercultural approach to working with Indigenous peoples, meaning that medical interventions in Indigenous communities should respect and incorporate traditional knowledge and medicine as a viable form of healthcare.

During a two-part conference organized by the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), titled Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples in the Time of COVID-19, Navaho elder Chili Yazzie and other leaders called on the human family to come together and correct our destructive tendencies. Socially and morally irresponsible overexploitation of the environment makes the world population susceptible to natural disasters like pandemics. As elders like Chili Yazzie postulate, COVID-19 teaches us that we should balance our needs with the sustainability of the ecosystem and live in union with our planet.

Indigenous nations around the world provide us with examples of sustainable living. Their ways of life provide us with a vivid alternative to the current corporate-centric world order. Indigenous peoples also are custodians of some the world’s last remaining biospheres. Now is the time for international communities to act, to promote environmental sustainability worldwide in conjunction with Human Rights.

The world that we have taken for granted for too long will either be one, or not at all.

Indigenous Peoples Denounce Discriminatory Response to COVID-19

Indigenous Peoples Denounce Discriminatory Response to COVID-19

The United States of America was founded on stolen land. The legacy of violence, discrimination, and criminal disregard for indigenous people continues today. 


April 7, 2020

The undersigned Indigenous peoples and organizations write this letter to denounce the discriminatory response to COVID-19 and express our deep concern of the situation faced by hundreds of thousands of diverse Indigenous peoples of the immigrant community in the United States (U.S.), those in detention centers under the custody of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), those surviving in makeshift camps on the northern Mexico border under the U.S. government’s Migrant Protection Protocols (MPP), who are being systematically excluded in the COVID-19 pandemic response mechanisms.

We recognize that the global COVID-19 pandemic is affecting people indiscriminately. However, we highlight that the most vulnerable are the most affected and devastated by this pandemic: those living in extreme poverty and chronic malnutrition who are unable to access or pay for medical care, the undocumented, and those with limited English and/or Spanish languages, as they cannot understand the information about COVID-19 and/or express their medical and financial needs during this pandemic.

The lack of recognition of our Indigenous identity and the exclusion of our languages at the local, national, and international levels puts our lives at risk, threatens the survival of our People, and violates our rights of self-determination, autonomy and to be free from any kind of discrimination.

Language exclusion is illegal due to Executive Order 13166 regulating access to services provided to Persons with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) by federal departments, their agencies and the organizations contracted by them.

The Departments of Homeland Security (DHS), Health and Human Services (HHS), and The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) of The United States Department of State (DOS) program etc., are excluding our peoples and communities at the Southern border and throughout the U.S.

Specifically, the rights established in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), describe the minimum human rights standards such as the right to revitalize and use our languages (Art. 13), establish and use the media in our own languages (Art. 16), the right to better economic and social conditions, such as health, (Art. 21) and the right to determine and develop priorities in all areas, including health (Art. 23).

We are deeply concerned that these minimum standards are not met and as a result, our peoples are being excluded from essential information and services to survive the Pandemic.

The continued lack of information in Indigenous languages predisposes our peoples, an already extremely vulnerable group, to more difficulties and health impacts. We face the exclusion of our Indigenous languages, as well as the lack of recognition of our existence, resulting in dangerous consequences for our peoples and our survival. As background, the deaths of five Maya children at the facilities of the Border Patrol (BP) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) before the pandemic indicates, unfortunately, what we can expect.

Faced by this situation, we Indigenous peoples and organizations are organizing and articulating efforts to respond to the needs and priorities of our peoples in our own geographic regions and at the national level. As an example, we are creating materials in Indigenous languages with Public Service Announcement videos on notices, public services, and information about COVID-19, printed materials, and cards that identify our primary language (I speak cards).

However, we are deeply concerned that our peoples, who constitute a large majority in the public services sector in urban and rural areas (for example, agriculture, construction, domestic services, and cleaning); mostly undocumented, without health insurance and those living in poverty, are not being adequately informed about resources and services at this time. For example, being informed of where to find food and health centers and/or access to computers for distance learning for their sons and daughters in their respective locations. We are concerned that most members of our community are unable to benefit from local, regional and national programs and services due to their legal status.

We express our outrage because in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, our community continues to suffer deportations, family separations, immigration raids, and the lack or null attention in cases of people in detention with contagion of the virus under the responsibility of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The criminalization of our communities will only increase fear and panic and will unnecessarily contribute to dangerous conditions resulting in the further spread of COVID-19 perpetuating genocide against Indigenous peoples, a genocide that has a long and dark history in the United States, and throughout the Americas.

FACED BY THIS SITUATION, WE REQUEST THE SUPPORT TO INDIGENOUS PEOPLES  AND ORGANIZATIONS, AND TO OUR INDIGENOUS PROPOSAL BEFORE COVID-19

  1. First, that the local, municipal, state and federal governments consult with our organizations and peoples to learn about our existence and needs.
  2. Second, that the different government agencies support strategies already led by Indigenous peoples rooted in our experience and knowledge of the needs and priorities identified by our own peoples and communities.
  3. Third, financial support:
    • Any legislation to provide COVID-19 relief and the benefits derived from such legislation must be accessible to Indigenous peoples.
    • The Interpretation of COVID-19 services and benefits legislated by Congress at the end of March 2020 in Indigenous languages.
    • Technical support to our organizations for our Educational Campaigns on COVID-19.
    • The creation of a communication mechanism / platform such as a telephone line and a website aimed for Indigenous peoples in priority languages so that they are aware of the resources available to them.
  4. Fourth, the assignment of contact people between government agencies and our organizations to support prevention, mitigation, and monitoring of COVID-19, and the exchange of community and government resources.

During this time of crisis for humanity, we unite as one voice and express our concerns, but also our recommendations to meet the needs of our peoples, who survive their respective realities based in our languages, traditions, worldview and experiences.

Together, valuing and respecting the diversity of all our communities, peoples and cultures, we will be able to respond to the needs of our peoples and future generations.

SIGNED BY:

  • Juanita Cabrera Lopez, (Maya Mam), International Mayan League/Liga Maya Internacional
  • Odilia Romero, (Zapotec), Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB)
  • Comunidades Indígenas en Liderazgo DBA CIELO
  • Policarpo Chaj, (Maya K’iche’), Maya Vision
  • Alberto Perez Rendon, (Maya Yucateco), Asociación Mayab
  • Blake Gentry, (Cherokee), Indigenous Language Office, Alitas Immigrant Shelter
  • Luis Marcos, (Maya Q’anjob’al Nation) Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim: Reinforcing Our Roots, Living Our Maya Heritage
  • Charlie Uruchima, (Kichwa), Kichwa- Kañari, Kichwa Hatari
  • Arcenio J. López, Executive Director, Mixteco/Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP)
  • Indigenous Alliance Without Borders / Alianza Indígena Sin Fronteras
  • The Guatemalan-Maya Center/Centro Maya Guatemalteco, Florida
  • LA Comunidad Ixim, Maya Collective in Los Angeles, CA
  • Alianza de Organizaciones Guatemaltecas de Houston
  • Red de Pueblos Trasnacionales/Transnational Villages Network (Pueblos Nahuas-Tlaxcalteca, Mixteco y Nahua/ Nahuas-Tlaxcalteca, Mixteco and Nahua Peoples)
  • Red de Intérpretes Indígenas/Network of Indigenous Interpreters (Pueblos Mixteco, Tlapaneco, Nahua, Mam, Cuicateco, and Kichwa)
  • Colectivo de Intérpretes Comunitarios Pixan Konob’ de Champaign IL
  • Jose Flores Chamale, Sangre Indigena Art
  • Benito Juarez, (Maya Mam), Vice President, Board of Directors, International Mayan League
  • Emil’ Keme (K’iche’ Maya Nation/ Nacion K’iche’ Maya)
  • Giovanni Batz (K’iche’ Maya), Visiting Assistant Professor, New Mexico State University
  • Floridalma Boj Lopez, (Maya K’iche’), Assistant Professor in Sociology, California State University, Los Angeles
  • Gloria E. Chacón (Maya Ch’orti’), Associate Professor, University of California, San Diego
  • Ingrid Sub Cuc (Kaqchikel/ Q’eqchi’ Maya)
  • Ana Yesenia Ramirez (Maya Akateka)
  • Jessica Hernandez (Zapotec & Ch’orti’ Maya), Pina Soul, SPC
  • Mercedes Say, (Maya K’iche’)
  • Daniel Hernandez, Wīnak: (K‘iche‘,Tz ‘utujil, Mam, Kaqchikel), Doctoral Candidate, Te Whare
  • Wānanga o Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa
  • Sonia Cabrera Lopez, (Maya Mam)

Media Contacts:

  • Juanita Cabrera Lopez International Mayan League, Washington, D.C., juanita@mayanleague.org
  • Odilia Romero Indigenous Front of Binational Organizations (FIOB), California, odiliar@mycielo.org
  • Blake Gentry Indigenous Language Office, Alitas Immigrant Shelter, Arizona, tsalagi7@gmail.com

Featured image by Joe Catron, CC BY NC 2.0

Covid-19 Exposes Underlying Problems of Western Civilization

Covid-19 Exposes Underlying Problems of Western Civilization

Ben Warner relates the coronavirus pandemic to the wetiko disease, what Jack Forbes calls “a spiritual sickness with a physical vector”—the disease of colonization.


By Ben Warner

A virus has been infecting humanity for centuries and it threatens all life on earth. This virus of selfishness is named Wetiko by many indigenous Americans. It is a form of psychosis, an infection of the mind and spirit that allows the creation of this cannibalistic culture often called Western Civilisation.

“Now, were Columbus and his fellow European exploiters simply “greedy” men whose “ethics”were such as to allow for mass slaughter and genocide? I shall argue that Columbus was a wétiko, that he was mentally ill or insane, the carrier of a terribly contagious psychological disease, the wétiko psychosis. The Native people he described were, on the other hand, sane people with a healthy state of mind. Sanity or healthy normality among humans and other living creatures involves a respect for other forms of life and other individuals, as I have described earlier. I believe that is the way people have lived (and should live). The wétiko psychosis, and the problems it creates, have inspired many resistance movements and efforts at reform or revolution. Unfortunately, most of these efforts have failed because they have never diagnosed the wétiko as an insane person whose disease is extremely contagious.”

– Jack D. Forbes, Columbus and Other Cannibals

Although Covid-19 is not “the cure” as some misanthropes claim, it does expose some truths, allowing us time to identify the real problems and reflect on ways to build an effective resistance to solve it.

What kind of culture needs a virus that attacks the respiratory system to force it to make behavioral changes that reduce levels (in China, the UK, Australia and worldwide) of nitrogen dioxide, a gas that increases the likelihood of respiratory problems? The decline of air pollution over China is estimated to have saved 77,000 lives.

What kind of culture needs a respiratory virus to save people from choking to death on the poison it produces? A wetiko culture.

While reports of nature and dolphins returning to the ancient city of Venice were exaggerated, why did the tweet that started it become viral? Why did so many people love the idea that nature might be reclaiming one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations?

It is likely that globalized capitalism caused this pandemic. What other form of human organization would lead to a marketplace selling highly-stressed animals, thus creating the conditions for a virus to cross the species barrier? Even if the virus originated in America, as some claim, it was spread by globalized transport. What other system would create the trade links and transportation to allow this virus to spread rapidly? 

There is a strong likelihood of more viruses emerging with every bit of nature we destroy. Industrial civilization is the only human culture that extinguishes biodiversity at such an unprecedented level that it makes mass pandemics almost inevitable.

In a sane and healthy culture families forced to stay at home due to a disaster would not fear violence from members of their own household. In the Wetiko infected culture we have already seen an increase of men inflicting domestic violence (worldwide, France, the UK, the USA, South Africa) on the women and children they should be caring for. This culture of dominance is one we should all reject. By objectifying every being and viewing them simply as resources to be consumed; women, forests and all of wild nature become resources to be used, abused, tortured and killed.

Medical experts predicted this crisis. Governments and the ruling class knew what was coming, but did not meaningfully try to stop it. They simply planned the best way they could extract capital from it. They asked themselves how they could turn the virus and its consequences into a resource. This neoliberal cabal, includes the World Economic Forum (an organization which only represents leading global companies) and, which is now in partnership with the United Nations and World Health Organization. The response to this crisis is being controlled by global corporations. Do you think they care about you, or their profit margins?

The global elite tell us “we are all in this together.” If that is true then why did Prince Charles and Boris Johnson get tested when displaying mild symptoms?  Meanwhile our nurses and doctors remain untested. The authorities are using this pandemic as an excuse to take away our rights and force us to comply with their agenda. How exactly have the authorities provided the services you need?

Consequences of Economic Shutdown

The community-strengthening sectors such as; arts and culture, local markets and small businesses have been forced to close and are unlikely to survive. They could be taken over by multinationals or simply disappear. Sectors that serve capital (finance, big tech, mining, construction, energy, industrial agriculture etc.) either continue unabated with their destruction or will be revived and bailed out when the lockdown ends. In fact promises of bailouts have already started

Working class people cannot work from home. They have to work to stock the supermarket shelves and make sure we have food to eat. Most of these people are women, so once again, poor women will suffer the most. The majority of the global poor do not have access to healthcare and are starving to death amid food shortages (the Philippines, India)

It is likely that after this pandemic, governments and the global elite will implement the green new deal. This will not benefit the environment nor will it benefit poor communities. It will benefit the corporate sector. What is happening currently may have far reaching implications; we may never return to normal. We are already seeing countries pass laws to force medical treatments on patients who do not want them. In some countries (e.g. Sweden) there has already been microchipping of people. It is voluntary at the moment, but for how long? Elsewhere there is evermore increased, intrusive surveillance. People are being fined thousands of dollars for simply leaving their homes. Some medical professionals are advocating for infrared-visible tattoos for those who have been vaccinated—a procedure with unknown effects on health and privacy. Could we see governments make this compulsory?

It is hardly surprising that with at least 200 species going extinct each day we are fast approaching the 6th mass extinction. What else can we expect from a culture ruled by psychopaths?

Covid-19 provides the privileged with a frightening glimpse of what many face in the present and what we are very likely to face on an increasing scale in the future. Panic buying, mass migrations, starvation, reduction or complete loss of civil freedoms, social unrest and nations switching from fake democracies (inverted totalitarianism) to outright dictatorships. As species extinction, soil depletion and climate change continue to accelerate we could all face a more extreme version of this.

What Can We Do?

In this culture, there are people who value (and hold) power and money over relationships and love. By taking a bird’s eye view we can remember the importance of building communities and take decisive, effective action. Those of us who value relationships and love rather than money and power need to prepare ourselves. We need to help others prepare. While the media propagates panic, we need to organize collectively.

We must engage with every form of effective resistance. We need to talk with each other. We need to be united. We must collaborate with others whenever we share a common goal. Here are some specific examples.

Go On Strike

In late 2019 and early 2020, striking French electrical workers cut off the power to major corporations, including Amazon and government agencies. Previous French strikes have seen transport workers park trucks across the entrance to oil refineries and ports, shutting them down. We can learn from the French workers’ unions. A strategic general strike could shut down whole industries.

Build Community Defense Networks and Practice Discipline and Skills

Neighborhood organizing. The military and the police serve the interests of the ruling class. We should keep them out of our neighborhoods by forming our own defense forces and patrols. Emphasizing community safety and mutual aid. We should confront, record and prevent racist policing. This is one way to  create a sense of neighborhood sovereignty. Refuse to report on your neighbors, instead help each other out. Defend small business and community infrastructure, drive out industries exploiting neighborhood land and labor, and resist corporate takeover.

Engage in Rent Strikes and Debt Strikes

The economy doesn’t need our labor, as evidenced by, the UK government paying people not to work. To continue the economy needs us as consumers. We could stop paying rent and paying off our debts. We could boycott the economy altogether and provide for our own needs from a land base. We have the collective power to take down the economic system.

Create Mutual Aid Systems and Local Food

We could grow food together, providing for others in our neighborhoods. Get to know neighbors in person. We need to abandon any belief that the government will provide for us and start providing for ourselves. As millions of people lose their jobs, they will see that the money economy does not serve us. This could promote opportunities to explore localized economies that do not depend on money and the global economy. 

Learn and Teach Practical Skills

Offer skill shares such as food production, permaculture, maintenance and repair, crafts, direct democracy, local culture, arts and healing. All these skills can be learnt and taught. Learning together strengthens community and supports neighborhood well-being.

Raise Awareness About Political Issues and Revolutionary Analysis

Increase understanding about where political power is held, and how it is being exercised. It is in globalist institutions (World Economic Forum, World Bank, United Nations, International Monetary Fund) and Big Tech. It is not in regional, national or local governments. Power is being exercised electronically, including through surveillance, it need not be exercised overtly.

The more organized we can be in building resistance, in localizing economies, the easier it will be for everyone. Global economic collapse is inevitable. Bringing it about and/or supporting transition is important work. We can find vulnerabilities in the structure, as the French Union workers did. We can start conversations to consider the possibility of life without electricity as an option. Without it the ruling class have fewer ways to extend power over us. We could support direct action to target the electricity grid and shut down the energy industry.We could be at the point in history when revolution to overthrow capitalism is inevitable. We need to be ready.


Ben Warner is a longtime guardian with DGR, a teacher, and an activist.

Disclaimer: This article was based on information and evidence available at the time of writing. The situation is changing quickly. Please, post links to anything you believe is relevant in the comments section, so the article can be updated as necessary. The links and questions in this article invite you to seek answers for yourself, engage critical thinking and investigate. You may not agree with everything. However, now more than ever, we need to collaborate and unite for revolutionary change, whenever and wherever we can.

Covid-19: The Pathologies of Civilization.

Covid-19: The Pathologies of Civilization.

The origins of epidemics can be traced back to the emergence of civilization.


By aurora linnea

There is a family of bacteria dwelling in soil, in water.

Some reside in the bodies of cows. Humans domesticate cows, for meat, milk, labor.

Cows are corralled in large groups, in small spaces, near to human settlements. The bacteria, disturbed by the upset of their microbial life-ways, shift their behavior. Now they move quickly between cows, they become more aggressive. Cows get sick.

Increased human-cow contact allows bacteria to pass from bovine into human bodies, and adapt to their newfound hosts. Humans build cities, into whose crowded centres ever more people migrate, to live breathing a grey swill of fumes, eating poorly, labouring to exhaustion in cramped, lightless, unventilated factories.

Going home to rundown tenements on piled garbage streets. It is the dawn of the glorious new Industrial Age, and in their great cities, humans are coughing blood. A bacterial disease is diagnosed: tuberculosis.

Over a century later, it continues to quietly fell over a million of the world’s poor each year.


There is a virus in the bellies of wild ducks, harmless to the birds. As ducks fly pond to pond they shed the virus into water, infecting other birds, who fly to other ponds, infecting yet more birds.

Humans domesticate ducks and begin raising them in captivity. Birds in cages have no ponds to fly to, so the virus cannot reproduce itself as it once did—it must change its habits. It adapts.

Now, it transmits rapidly between birds. It grows more virulent, since it no longer needs a living host: in captivity, healthy birds cannot flee the dying. The virus learns flexibility. It infects.

Soldiers are packed into squalid barracks, undernourished, cold and damp. Their immune systems exhausted by the stresses of combat. Outside the trenches, humans live in greater density, in closer proximity, in larger cities than ever before.

Many are recovering from immunity-battering bouts of measles, tuberculosis. A formerly innocuous bird virus spills into human bodies as a formidable pathogen. It spreads person to person across the earth’s surface until one-third of the total human population is ill. 50 million are estimated dead.

It is the Flu of 1918, the deadliest pestilence in human history.


There is a virus, its natural reservoir a small, insect-eating bat whose home is the forest. The forests are shrinking. Human cities go on expanding, there are more factories, more farms where humans store their captive legions of birds and pigs.

The bats’ habitat is fragmented by deforestation. The stress of that loss strains the sensitive animals’ immune systems, exciting the expression of a latent virus. Flying through what remains of the forest, stressed bats shed the virus. Now other animals are infected.

Humans hunt and trap wild animals and sell them at urban wildlife markets. The concentration of different animal species creates a fertile medium for viral recombination. Sustained human-animal contact grants adventuresome viruses access to human hosts.

At a wildlife market in a city with a population of millions in one of the world’s most polluted regions, a virus strays from a caged animal into a human body. Commercial air travel has made it possible for humans to cross oceans overnight.

They take with them whatever microbes their bodies harbor. A new viral disease emerges, within months it has spread across continents. The human death count steadily rises.


Covid-19 is one in a series of infectious diseases to unsettle the standard operating procedures of human societies. Disease has been civilization’s consort since our earliest history. Yet we are stunned by Covid-19, as if the concept of disease were alien—an “unprecedented event.” In a state of emergency, there is a forgetting, an attenuation of vision. Drifting out of focus goes the context of the emergency, the history, patterns, reoccurrences of emergencies. As ecofeminist philosopher Susan Griffin writes, “Whatever is in the background disappears in the focus of a gunsight.”

The mass media pandemic-panic and governments’ wartime rhetoric manipulate public perception. It amplifies anxiety, training that anxiety on an illusory “invisible enemy.” To exist in the state of emergency is torture for a public desperate for relief.  So people are inclined to suspend reflection and accept the solutions handed down by those in power.

Fear disorients, distracts; it drives reactionary behavior dictated by the volatility of cortisol. Panic, once seeded, has a virality to rival any contagion. We materialize our imaginings into reality, by acting as if the worst-case scenarios have already arrived. Sirens scream. A stricken public rush to the supermarkets to prepare for imminent collapse. People panic buy toilet paper, creating a shortage. The emergency oozes through screens into everyday life as something palpable for all to experience, regardless of the facts of the outbreak. Panic intensifies, not helped by the authorities repeatedly blasting “This is an EMERGENCY”.

Responding to the emergency, politicians, intergovernmental organizations, and pundits have declared War on The Virus. The UN’s Department of Global Communications asserts, “The world faces a common enemy. We are at war with a virus.” In the United States, at the helm of “our big war,” President Trump leaps into action, militarizing the pandemic by activating the National Guard.

We are assured! We have the help of Biotech firms, hard at work on a vaccine. Billions of tax dollars paid out to prop up struggling corporations. We are assured, we will defeat this plasmid-coated adversary. The Virus will be vanquished. Crisis averted, emergency over, release the balloons, return to work, resume business as usual. Humanity has triumphed.

It is a habit of the Western mind to imagine that human existence is isolated from the natural world. That we can eat our way through the earth’s resources, laying waste to the environment without doing harm to ourselves. If the story of emerging viruses in the 20th-21st centuries has a moral, it is that human independence from the natural world is a delusion. Human health is contingent upon the health of the biosphere. When we brutalize the earth, we foreclose upon our own survival. Our actions enabled the spread of new pathogens. The structures and systems of our civilization have entrenched widespread susceptibility to infectious disease.

Anthropogenic environmental degradation is a precondition for disease susceptibility. This is evidenced by the high Covid-19 mortality rates in regions with poor air quality. Before Italy and Iran became coronavirus hotspots, they drew headlines for the deadly repercussions of unbreathable air. In China, ambient air pollution kills upwards of a million people annually.

As for the epicenters of Covid-19 mortality in the U.S, “Air Quality Health Advisory” ozone warnings are a summertime tradition in New York City. Louisiana boasts Cancer Alley. An 85-mile stretch of air-poisoning oil refineries and petrochemical plants along the Mississippi River. The same human systems that maximize vulnerability to disease make our societies unfit to respond effectively. In the U.S. the privatized, (for-profit) healthcare system has proven itself predictably useless under the pressure of a pandemic. There is no infrastructure in place for systematic testing. There are shortages of hospital beds, ventilators, nasal swabs and respirator masks. We are expected to be thankful that the biotech industry is highly motivated ( by money) to make a vaccine to save us.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government, in a bipartisan Disaster Capitalism trick lifted directly from Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, has made hay while the sun of chaos shines. A $2.2 trillion package of handouts and loans will be distributed to corporations (airlines, the Pentagon and weapons manufacturers, industrial agriculture). For $1,200 each (per average-earning citizen) we are happy to subsidize corporate profiteering, warfare, environmental devastation.


The EPA has announced it will be suspending enforcement of pollution monitoring and reporting laws for the duration of the pandemic. There is no end date in sight. There is little consideration for pollution causing respiratory illness, which exacerbates the risk posed by Covid-19 . The U.S. is not alone in this. China has indicated it will be modifying” environmental laws to hasten economic recovery now that its own Covid-19 crisis is cooling.  Rejecting the panic driven amnesia, we can understand the connections now. The patterns from the present crisis to its predecessors. We can see that disease pandemics trace back to human actions and human systems. With tuberculosis and the Flu of 1918, it was the domestication of animals that spawned viral emergence. With Covid-19, it was progressive ruination of ecosystems and the commodification of wild creatures. Where we unbalance the natural world, we create ecological distress and disease. And once we are sick, it is social factors – industrialization, war, global capitalism, that raise death tolls. It was as true with tuberculosis as it was with the Flu of 1918 as it is with Covid-19.

The gravest threat to humanity is not any pathogen, but the diseased state of human civilization. Vulnerability to Covid-19 is predicted by preexisting chronic illness: diabetes, COPD, heart disease, liver disease, obesity and asthma. People with immune systems suppressed by pharmaceuticals and environmental toxins are also at higher risk. These conditions are the  diseases of civilization”. The upshot of human lifestyles disfigured by consumer capitalism.

Chronic disease is an off shoot of patterns of industrialised labor and consumption, the foods and intoxicants with which we overload our bodies chasing “fullness” and “pleasure”. We experience an accumulation of  stress in toxic environments riddled with sexism, racism, poverty and the colonial mindset: the backdrop of industrial production. Although these conditions are endemic: it is indigenous people, people of colour, women and the poor who endure the highest incidence of affliction. The dispossessed will suffer most when confronted with infectious diseases such as Covid-19. The virus will flourish in bodies undermined by societal cruelties.

Demonizing a microbe as humanity’s nemesis scapegoats the natural world. This nurtures blindness to Covid-19’s background; the social history of infectious disease. If we pause, breathe, attempt a calmer review of context and history, what is revealed is that it is not The Virus, nor any pathogen, that threatens our continued life on earth. Human action precipitated the emergence of Covid-19. Humans razed the forests. Humans captured wild animals to sell at market. Humans squired a formerly harmless virus out into the world as a virulent pathogen. Human societies decimate the environment to glut the coffers of transnational corporations. To meet the insatiable demands of First World consumers, we collided with microbes once held within the fortifications of wild nature. Robust ecosystems. The unviolated bodies of animals. Like the virus of the hour, Junin, Machupo, Lassa and Ebola all spilled from wildlife into humans as a byproduct of deforestation and development. Novel flu strains continuously arise out of Confined Animal Feeding Operations, where humans warehouse domesticated animals in increasingly careless industrial conditions.

The world is comprised of microorganisms. To ‘wage war’ against microbes is folly. Infection and illness are inevitabilities beyond human control. So too is death. The social, cultural, structural pathologies that provoke viral emergence and needless mass suffering are our own inventions . It is in our power to remedy them. Protection from future pandemics is possible, but it’s not an antiseptic wipe, a face mask, a million ventilators, a vaccine, Medicare-for-All. It is preventing the viruses from emerging, by ending our violence against the natural world. We all, humans and non-humans, thread together within the delicate, interlacing of connections that binds us to the living earth. If we were guided by our deep knowledge of interdependence, rather than by fantasies of human detachment, we would not plunder as we do now. We would not be so reckless. We would know in our bodies that the destruction of the earth is self-destruction.

Protection from catastrophes of our own making are possible, yes, but only with a radical transformation of human civilization; the totality of global systems and institutions, including how we live and how we think. The human species will survive Covid-19, but without change, alignment to the natural world, there will be another virus, another pandemic culling of an impaired population, and another after that. One day, the earth we have  blighted will have done with us.


aurora linnea is a librarian and ecofeminist pariah living near the Atlantic Ocean.

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 https://doi.org/10.3389/fcosc.2020.615419

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.

Introduction

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

www.frontiersin.org

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 (prb.org). 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 (prb.org), 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 (overshootday.org). 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; overshootday.org). 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 (CBD.int) 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., ipbes.org, goodanthropocenes.net, overshootday.org, mahb.stanford.edu, populationmatters.org, clubofrome.org, steadystate.org, 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.

Conclusions

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).