Editor’s Note: We thank the author for offering this piece to us at the beginning of a new season. The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and may not correspond to DGR. DGR is a biophilic and feminist organization. Our stance puts us in conflict with religion many times, but we are not an anti-religious organization. The following article is published as a critical analysis of religion and capitalism, not to oppose any religion.
For further insight into DGR’s views on spirituality, read this portion from the Deep Green Resistance book.
By Paul Edwards/Information Clearing House
Is this, our lifetime, the critical moment when the survival of life on earth will be determined; or just another of the ongoing crises that have always defined human existence? For a great majority of people it’s the latter: a time like any other. To most people, beset as they are with daily struggles, the question doesn’t even occur. One of the mixed mercies of human limitation is their blindness to what threatens them and the capacity to ignore it.
But assume that it is. Assume that in our time the future of life will be decided. This idea, as Dr. Johnson said of the prospect of being hanged, concentrates the mind wonderfully. If we imagine this is where we are—that whether human life continues truly does depend on us now—then all would agree that it’s imperative to abandon the hypocritical bullshit that prevents us from acting to preserve it. Humanity has never had to face the certainty its actions will determine whether life continues, and has never had to make ultimate choices irrevocably. Suppose that now it does.
Beneath and behind the cowardly sophistry that has prevented humanity from acting for its own survival, there are two powerful conceptual anchors that support our refusal to accept the iron fact of finity and prevent our acting rationally. They provide both cover and tacit permission for our self-elected suicide.
The first—longest enduring, and deepest—is the absolutism of organized religion; not of one religion, but all religions, religion itself. We understand why they exist. Awareness of finity, that fear we feel of our inevitable mortality, in addition to the random miseries living entails, create a desperate yearning for protection, hope, and safety every human experiences. Since life provides no such dispensation, a magic answer had to be devised. All religion originates in this need and is an attempt to address it.
Humanity in the mass found relief in religion; it assuaged the eviscerating hopelessness and mollified the inescapable dread mortality imposes. It’s psycho-spiritual gift has come at great cost, however. In insisting upon godly direction of Man’s destiny, religion allowed him to obliquely offload responsibility for his actions onto deity. The notion that “Man proposes and God disposes” has been used not just to provide a fantasy heaven, but as an excuse for the horrors Man inflicts on his own kind.
The appalling tragedies Man has perpetrated on himself and the living world through the ages, have found ultimate excuse and explanation in the Will of God. Religions have provided historic justification for Man’s long saga of cruelty and murder of his own. This is not because gods are portrayed as malevolent, but rather as omnipotent and incomprehensible. Man is not ultimately in charge of himself and his actions. God is. Religion requires Man to conform to a destiny he is unable to understand. Deus lo vult!
Although science has so long and so thoroughly exposed all religions for the specious, infantile fantasies they are, weak Man continues to use God myths to justify his brutality, and to elude, in his own mind, responsibility for the disasters he has planned and executed that are leading him and the living world to an end.
The second categorical imperative of human policy is Capitalism. It has been said that it’s easier for men to envision the end of the world than the end of Capitalism. Because it has proven the best means to amass the wealth that insures power and privilege, it is the ruling economic system of the world, and all business of significance is conducted through Capitalism. It is absolute.
Economics—a “social science”—has no more relation to ethics than chemistry has to politics. It is simply the study of the way people contrive to exchange goods and services. Its “laws” or, more accurately, practices, are not subject to ethical strictures or regulated by social effects. Economic systems simply enable servicing of the needs and wants of Mankind, and Capitalism is one of them. There is nothing inevitable and numinous about its so-called “laws”. They are a human created collection of rules that serve the interests of money power; in other words, stories.
In spite of that fact, Capitalism, the most powerful engine of wealth generation in history, has assumed a mythic character of permanence, an aura of inevitability, that has raised humanity’s belief in it to the level of a sanctified religion. The fact is, that human-created economic systems work as money power wishes them to work, but are riddled with cruelties and failures, and are subject to change if and when humanity demands it.
For the same reason religions continue their hold on the vast majority of humanity, Capitalism is virtually invulnerable to honest criticism. It has been portrayed as somehow holy, and ultimately necessary for the survival of humanity. Nothing could be more false and ridiculous. Ages of lying indoctrination and relentless force-feeding of dishonest propaganda by the money power has rendered it unchallengeable as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
The combined power and dominating influence of these forces—religion and Capitalism—which virtually all mankind upholds and fiercely defends—is rapidly destroying the physical bases of human life and the prospect of any possible future for Mankind.
To return to our premise, if this is the age in which survival of our species will be determined, which seems certain, then unless the tyranny of these deeply evil belief systems is broken there is no hope for Mankind. Perhaps, the sense that any possible future is ours to determine, if widely disseminated, will provide the moral strength to break free and live? The choice is ours to make.
Editor’s Note: Taking the context of Maryland’s forests, the following piece analyses how the mainstream environmental movement and pro-industry management actors have used deliberately misinterpreting to outright creation of information to justify commercial activities at the expense of forests. Industrial deforestation is harmful for the forests and the planet. The fact that this obvious piece of information should even be stated to educated adults affirms the successful (and deceitful) framing of biomass as an environmentally friendly way out of climate crisis. The same goes for deep sea mining.
Most would agree that we live in an age of multiple compounding catastrophes, planetary in scale. There is controversy, however, regarding their interrelationships as well as their causes. That controversy is largely manufactured. In the following pages I will describe the state of “forestry” in the state of Maryland, USA, and connect that to regional, national, and international stirrings of which we should all be aware. I will continue to examine connections between international conservation organizations, the co-optation of the environmental movement, the youth climate movement, and the financialization of nature. Full disclosure. I am writing this to human beings on behalf of all the non-human beings and those yet unborn who are recognized as objects to be converted to capital or otherwise used by the dominant culture. I am not a capitalist. I am a human being. I occupy unceded land of unrecognized peoples which is characterized by poisoned air, water and soil, devastated forest ecosystems, decapitated mountains, and collapsing biodiversity. I am of this earth. It is to the land, water and all of life that I direct my affection and gratitude as well as my loyalty.
Last winter, amid deep concerns about the present mass extinction and an unshakeable feeling of helplessness, I began to search for answers and ecological allies. I compiled a running list of local, regional, national, and international organizations that seemed to have at least some interest in the environment. The list quickly swelled to hundreds of entries. I attempted to assess the organizations based upon their mission, values, goals, publications and other such things. I hoped that the best of the best of these groups could be brought together around ecological restoration and the long-term benefits of clean air, water, healthy soil supporting vigorous growth of food and medicine, and rebounding biodiversity throughout our Appalachian homeland. Progress was and continues to be slow. Along the way, I encountered an open stakeholder consultation (survey) regarding a risk assessment of Maryland’s forests. As an ethnobotanist with special interests in forest ecology and stewardship, Indigenous societies and their traditional ecological knowledge, symbiotic relationships, and intergenerational sustainability, I realize that my unique perspectives could be helpful to the team conducting the assessment. I proceeded to submit thought provoking responses to each question. Because the consultation period was exceedingly brief and outreach to stakeholders was weak at best, and because the wording of the questions felt out of alignment with the purported purpose of the survey, I sensed that something was awry. So I saved my answers and resolved to stay abreast of developments.
Summer came around, I became busy, and the risk assessment survey faded from my mind until a friend recently emailed me a draft of the document along with notice of a second stakeholder consultation and the question: should we respond? This friend happens to own land registered in the Maryland Tree Farm Program. The selective outreach to forest landowners with large acreage was an indication as to who is and who is not considered a “stakeholder” by the committee.
After reviewing the Consultation Draft: A Sustainability Risk Assessment of Maryland’s Forests I felt sick. Low to Negligible was the risk assignment for every single criteria. I re-read the document – section by section – noting the ambiguity, legalese and industry jargon, lack of definitions, contradictory statements, false claims, poorly referenced and questionable sources, and more. Have you heard of greenwashing? Every tactic was represented in the 82 page document. Naturally, then, I tracked down and reviewed many of the referenced materials and I then investigated the contributors and funders of the report.
Noting, furthemore, that on the Advisory Committee sits a member of the Maryland Forests Association (MFA). On their website they state: “We are proud to represent forest product businesses, forest landowners, loggers and anyone with an interest in Maryland’s forests…” They also state: “Currently, Maryland’s Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard uses a limiting definition of qualifying biomass that makes it difficult for wood to compete against other forms of renewable energy,” oh yes, and this extraordinarily deceptive bit from a recent publication, There’s More to our Forests than Trees:
When the tree dies, it decays and releases carbon dioxide and methane back into the atmosphere. However, we can postpone this process and extend the duration of carbon storage. If we harvest the tree and build a house or even make a chair with the wood, the carbon remains stored in these products for far longer than the life of the tree itself! This has tremendous implications for addressing the growing levels of carbon dioxide, which lead to increased warming of the earth’s atmosphere. It means harvesting trees for long-term uses helps mitigate climate change. We can even take advantage of the fact that trees sequester carbon at different rates throughout their lifespan to maximize the carbon storage potential. Trees are more active in sequestering carbon when they are younger. As forests age, growth slows down and so does their ability to store carbon. At some point, a stand of trees reaches an equilibrium where the growth and carbon-storing ability equals the trees that die and release carbon each year. Thus, a younger, more vigorous stand of trees stores carbon at a much higher rate than an older one.
Just in case you were convinced by that last bit, my studies in botany and forest ecology support the following finding:
“In 2014, a study published in Nature by an international team of researchers led by Nathan Stephenson, a forest ecologist with the United States Geographical Survey, found that a typical tree’s growth continues to accelerate (emphasis mine) throughout its lifetime, which in the coastal temperate rainforest can be 800 years or more.
Stephenson and his team compiled growth measurements of 673,046 trees belonging to 403 tree species from tropical, subtropical and temperate regions across six continents. They found that the growth rate for most species “increased continuously” as they aged.
Al Goertzl, president of Seneca Creek (a shadowy corporation with a benign name that has no website and pumps out reports justifying the exploitation of forests) who is featured in MFA’s Faces of Forestry, wouldn’t know the difference, he identifies as a forest economist. In another publication marketing North American Forests he is credited with the statements: “There exists a low risk that U.S. hardwoods are produced from controversial sources as defined in the Chain of Custody standard of the Program for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC).” and “The U.S. hardwood-producing region can be considered low risk for illegal and non-sustainable hardwood sourcing as a result of public and private regulatory and non-regulatory programs.” The report then closes with this shocker: “SUSTAINABILITY MEANS USING NORTH AMERICAN HARDWOODS.”
Why are forest-pimps conducting the risk assessment upon which future decisions critical to the long-term survival of our native ecosystem will be based? What is really going on here?
“Europe’s largest single source of renewable energy is sustainable biomass, which is a cornerstone of the EU’s low-carbon energy transition […] For the last decade, forest resources in the US South have helped to meet these goals—as they will in the future. This heavily forested region exported over <7 million metric tons of sustainable wood pellets in 2021 – primarily to the EU and UK – and is on pace to exceed that number in 2022 (emphasis mine) due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, which has pinched trade flows of industrial wood pellets from Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.”
Sustainability means using North American hardwoods.
If it has not yet become clear, the stakeholder consultation for the forest sustainability risk assessment document which inspired this piece was but a small, local, component of an elaborate sham enabling the world to burn and otherwise consume the forests of entire continents – in comfort and with the guilt-neutralizing reassurance that: carbon is captured, rivers are purified, forests are healthy and expanding, biodiversity is thriving and protected, and “the rights of Indigenous and Traditional Peoples are upheld” as a result of our consumption. (FSC-NRA-USA, p71) That is the first phase of the plan – manufacturing / feigning consent. Next the regulatory hurdles must be eliminated or circumvented. Cue the Landscape Management Plan (LMP).
“Taken together, the actions taken by AFF [American Forest Foundation] over the implementation period have effectively set the stage for the implementation of a future DBC project to promote and expand SDE+1 qualifying certification systems for family landowners in the Southeast US and North America, generally.”
“As outlined in our proposal, research by AFF and others has demonstrated that the chief barrier for most landowners to participating in forest certification is the requirement to have a forest management plan. To address this significant challenge, AFF has developed an innovative tool, the Landscape Management Plan (LMP). An LMP is a document produced through a multi-stakeholder process that identifies, based on an analysis of geospatial data and existing regional conservation plans, forest conservation priorities at a landscape scale and management actions that can be applied at a parcel scale. This approach also utilizes publicly available datasets on a range of forest resources, including forest types, soils, threatened and endangered species, cultural resources and others, as well as social data regarding landowner motivations and practices. As a document, it meets all of the requirements for ATFS certification and is fully supported by PEFC and could be used in support of other programs such as other certification systems, alongside ATFS. Once an LMP has been developed for a region, and once foresters are trained in its use, the LMP allows landowners to use the landscape plan and derive a customized set of conservation practices to implement on their properties. This eliminates the need for a forester to write a complete individualized plan, saving the forester time and the landowner money. The forester is able to devote the time he or she would have spent writing the plan interacting with the landowner and making specific management recommendations, and / or visiting additional landowners.
With DBC support, AFF sought to leverage two existing LMPs in Alabama and Florida and successfully expanded certification in those states. In addition, AFF combined DBC funds with pre-existing commitments to contract with forestry consultants to design new LMPs in Arkansas and Louisiana. DBC grant funds were used to cover LMP activities between July 1, 2018 and December 31, 2018 for these states, namely stakeholder engagement, two stakeholder workshops (one in each state Arkansas and Louisiana) and staffing.” (American Forest Foundation, 2, 7).
It is clear that global interests / morally bankrupt humans have been busy ignoring the advice of scientists, altering definitions, removing barriers to standardization / certification, and manufacturing consent; thus enabling the widespread burning of wood / biomass (read: earth’s remaining forests) to be recognized as renewable, clean, green-energy. Imagine: mining forests as the solution to deforestation, biodiversity loss, pollution, climate change, and economic stagnation. Meanwhile, mountains are scalped, rivers are poisoned, forests are gutted, biological diversity is annihilated, and the future of all life on earth is sold under the guise of sustainability.
Sustainability means USING North American hardwoods!
The perpetual mining of forests is merely one “natural climate solution” promising diminishing returns for Life on earth. While the rush is on to secure the necessary public consent (but not of the free, prior, and informed variety) to convert the forests of the world into clean energy (sawdust pellets) and novel materials, halfway around the planet and 5 kilometers below the surface of the Pacific another “nature based solution” that will utterly devastate marine ecosystems and further endanger life on earth – deep sea mining (DSM) – is employing the same strategy. Like the numerous other institutions that are formally entrusted with the protection of forests, water, air, biodiversity, and human rights, deep sea mining is overseen by an institution which has contradictory directives – to protect and to exploit. The International Seabed Authority (ISA) has already issued 17 exploration contracts and will begin issuing 30-year exploitation contracts across the 1.7 million square mile Clarion-Clipperton zone by 2024 – despite widespread calls for a ban / moratorium and fears of apocalyptic planetary repercussions. After decades of environmental protection measures enacted by thousands of agencies and institutions throwing countless billions at the “problems,” every indicator of planetary health that I am aware of has declined. It follows, then, that these institutions are incapable of exercising caution, acting ethically, protecting ecosystems, biodiversity or indigenous peoples, holding thieves, murderers and polluters accountable, or even respecting their own regulatory processes. Haeckel sums up industry regulation nicely in a recent nature article regarding the nascent DSM industry:
“…Amid this dearth of data, the ISA is pushing to finish its regulations next year. Its council met this month in Kingston, Jamaica, to work through a draft of the mining code, which covers all aspects — environmental, administrative and financial — of how the industry will operate. The ISA says that it is listening to scientists and incorporating their advice as it develops the regulations. “This is the most preparation that we’ve ever done for any industrial activity,” says Michael Lodge, the ISA’s secretary-general, who sees the mining code as giving general guidance, with room to develop more progressive standards over time.
Of course, this “New Deal for Nature” requires “decarbonization” while producing billions of new electric cars, solar panels, wind mills, and hydroelectric dams. The metals for all the new batteries and techno-solutions have to come from somewhere, right? According to Global Sea Mineral Resources:
“Sustainable development, the growth of urban infrastructure and clean energy transition are combining to put enormous pressure on metal supplies.
Over the next 30 years the global population is set to expand by two billion people. That’s double the current populations of North, Central and South America combined. By 2050, 66 percent of us will live in cities. To support this swelling urban population, a city the size of Dubai will need to be built every month until the end of the century. This is a staggering statistic. At the same time, there is the urgent need to decarbonise the planet’s energy and transport systems. To achieve this, the world needs millions more wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicle batteries.
Urban infrastructure and clean energy technologies are extremely metal intensive and extracting metal from our planet comes at a cost. Often rainforests have to be cleared, mountains flattened, communities displaced and huge amounts of waste – much of it toxic – generated.
That is why we are looking at the deep sea as a potential alternative source of metals.”
Did you notice how there is scarcely room to imagine other possibilities (such as reducing our material and energy consumption, reorganizing our societies within the context of our ecosystems, voluntarily decreasing our reproductive rate, and sharing resources) within that narrative?
Do you still wonder why the processes of approving seabed mining in international waters and certifying an entire continent’s forests industry to be sustainable seem so similar? They are elements of the same scheme: a strategy to accumulate record profits through the valuation and exploitation of nature – aided and abetted by the non-profit industrial complex.
“The non-profit industrial complex (or the NPIC) is a system of relationships between: the State (or local and federal governments), the owning classes, foundations, and non-profit/NGO social service & social justice organizations that results in the surveillance, control, derailment, and everyday management of political movements.
The state uses non-profits to: monitor and control social justice movements; divert public monies into private hands through foundations; manage and control dissent in order to make the world safe for capitalism; redirect activist energies into career-based modes of organizing instead of mass-based organizing capable of actually transforming society; allow corporations to mask their exploitative and colonial work practices through “philanthropic” work; and encourage social movements to model themselves after capitalist structures rather than to challenge them.” (Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex | INCITE!).
The emergence of the NPIC has profoundly influenced the trajectory of global capitalism largely by inventing new conservation and the youth climate movement –
“What’s infuriating about manipulations by the Non Profit Industrial Complex is that they harvest the goodwill of the people, especially young people. They target those who were not given the skills and knowledge to truly think for themselves by institutions which are designed to serve the ruling class. Capitalism operates systematically and structurally like a cage to raise domesticated animals. Those organizations and their projects which operate under false slogans of humanity in order to prop up the hierarchy of money and violence are fast becoming some of the most crucial elements of the invisible cage of corporatism, colonialism and militarism.” (THE MANUFACTURING OF GRETA THUNBERG – FOR CONSENT: THE GREEN NEW DEAL IS THE TROJAN HORSE FOR THE FINANCIALIZATION OF NATURE [ACT V]).
We must understand that the false solutions proposed by these institutions will suck the remaining life out of this planet before you can say fourth industrial revolution.
An important point must never get lost amongst the swirling jargon, human-supremacy and unbridled greed: If we do not drastically reduce our material and energy consumption – rapidly – then We (that is, all living beings on the planet including humans) have no future.
In summary, decades of social engineering have set the stage for the blitzkrieg underway against our life-giving and sustaining mother planet in the name of sustainability industrial civilization. The success of the present assault requires the systematic division, distraction, discouragement, detention, and demonization (reinforced by powerful disinformation) and ultimately the destruction of all those who would resist. Remember also: capital, religion, race, gender, class, ideology, occupation, private property, and so forth, these are weapons of oppression wielded against us by the dominant patriarchal, colonizing, ecocidal, empire. That is not who We are. Our causes, our struggles, and our futures are one. Unless we refuse to play by their rules and coordinate our efforts, We will soon lose all that can be lost.
Learn more about deep sea mining (here); sign the Blue Planet Society petition (here) and the Pacific Blue Line statement (here). Tell the forest products industry that they do not have our consent and that you and hundreds of scientists see through their lies (here); divest from all extractive industry, and invest in its resistance instead (here). Inform yourself, talk to your loved-ones and community members and ask yourselves: what can we do to stop the destruction?
All flourishing is mutual. The inverse is also true.
“…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 […] this dire situation places an extraordinary responsibility on scientists to speak out candidly and accurately when engaging with government, business, and the public.” – Top Scientists: We Face “A Ghastly Future”
—Austin is an ecocentric Appalachian ethnobotanist, gardener, forager, and seed saver. He acknowledges kinship with and responsibility to protect all life, land, water, and future generations—
Editor’s note: Science, touted to be objective, is far from so. As Lewis Mumford explains and Derrick writes extensively in Myth of Human Supremacy, any tool cannot be separated from the overall social structure under which it was created and operates. Likewise, science, as a way of thought, was created under a paradigm of dominance of nature. Much of the scientific discoveries have been pursued for the same purpose. Neither climate science, not climate solution is an exception.
The following article is a part of a blog by Indrajit Samarajiva. DGR does not espouse the views express in this article in its entirety.
Popular science books are all about wonder and discovery and a bit of woe about the state of the world, but that’s what science says, not what science does. In the western delusion of words over actions, science is portrayed as a hero in the fight against climate collapse when in fact is the primary villain. Because that book came on a truck, and that truck ran on diesel, and that diesel was refined from oil, and that oil came from the ground, and the people finding it and digging it up were all scientists.The fact is that there are far more scientists (and science graduates) working to cause climate collapse than there are scientists working to stop it, whatever that means. The fact is that your average poor person simply not consuming much is doing more than the most vaunted scientists jetting around the world to ‘save’ it by ‘raising awareness’. It’s all a preening hypocrisy really. The master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house.If you judge science by its works and not its words, science should be judged by the thousands of scientists who ‘discovered’ fossil fuels and continued to discover even more violent and invasive ways of fracking them out of the Earth; well after they should have figured out that lighting dead ancestors on fire makes the world hot and the gods angry. Science is justified as a state religion of capitalism because it produces real miracles, like abundant store shelves wrapped in plastic and time-saving products. But at what cost? As Frank Ocean sang, “if it brings me to my knees, it’s a bad religion.”In another example, the Seneca people of Turtle Island understood crop rotation through a story of three sisters (corn, beans, and squash). This along with much other wisdom was dismissed by science and reformulated as the nitrogen cycle. Taking this knowledge (without understanding) scientists have used natural gas to pump nitrogen into fertilizer and tie our food supply (frankly inextricably) to fossil fuels. We literally eat natural gas. This works miraculously, but it works in the sense that a deal with the devil does. It works miraculously for a while, but the devil always gets his due.Science as opposed to religions advocated progress as opposed to balance or apocalypse. There is no concept of humanity as fallen or ‘below’ anything, it is always rising to the top. But this is hubris, like Icarus, and we are the generation getting our polyester wings scorched.The fact is that scientific understanding is only superficially used to wonder at and revere the world. It’s about as sincere as using a cartoon chicken to sell fried chicken. While a few scientists write books and give talks about how we shouldn’t end the world, a dozen more are actively ending it. That is indeed what science is for. That is why it is funded. Nuclear knowledge is (and likely was) most actively pursued for killing massive numbers of people for the military and scientific knowledge is most avidly pursued for killing off the Earth for industry. All of the warnings and whining are just the marketing layer over big business, which is the master science actually serves.The response then is what about solar panels and more efficiency and the green revolution to come. Yes science technically got us into this hole, but it’s also going to get us out. Which is to say, when you’re in a hole, keep digging I guess. Literally. The ‘green revolution’ requires digging huge amounts of lithium and copper and other rare earth minerals out of more and more obscure reserve (using massive amounts of diesel of course). This captive revolution is not in fact a revolt against the power relations and godless philosophical rot that both run and ruin the world. It is just more window dressing on a burning house.
Electric batteries will not square the circle that personal vehicles are wildly inefficient. What we need is public transport and the destruction of roads and cars, not more inventions catering to peoples laziness and greed, which is what science is focused on right now. They are effectively deck managers on the Titanic, asking if you’d like a virgin mojito instead of the alcoholic one. The ship is still running on massive inequality, extraction, and fundamental ignorance, and the ship is still going down.
Shoveling ‘green’ energy into the same voracious greed of the 1% and the heavily marketed dream of everyone else living like that simply isn’t going to work. The fact is that science is being used to change the engine on a train that’s simply on the wrong track. It will still reach its destination, which is collapse.
At that point the tools of science (which are agnostic) can theoretically be used to balance the thermostat, just as cyanobacteria figured it out after they froze the Earth with their oxygen emissions. But that requires wisdom, accumulated over millions of years by our photosynthetic ancestors. Scientists—like children finding their fathers gun—have dug up and burnt those very photosynthetic ancestors and marveled at their own power. But it was all stolen glory, and now the climate is taking it all back. The debt incurred by scientific hubris yoked to capitalist greed is the death of 90% of species, including much of our own.
Science is thus not a way out of climate collapse. It is its most proximate cause. The way out means going backwards through science to philosophy (whence it sprung) and unfucking that. It involves going even further to the gods and stories that west Asian philosophers discarded and scorned. Hence the answer is not in the popular science novels you see in airport bookshops. They (and you) are part of the problem.
The answers are in the ancient (and frankly superior) civilizations crushed by western science and technology crashing on their shores, in the ancient wisdom rejected as superstition, and in the simple experience of being a human on earth, sitting still, not consuming much, and inhaling and exhaling oxygen under the trees. I don’t know what the answer is, but I know that we’ve got to go much deeper than science. We’re in a hole. The answer is definitely not more blind faith in the shovel.
This episode tries to answer the challenging question: What comes after Industrial Civilization? In this part, Max Wilbert talks with Lierre Keith. Lierre Keith is the author of ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ and someone who has studied food systems, sustainability, agriculture and soils for many years. This is part 2 of an episode of the Green Flame. Part 1 where Max interviews Michel Jacobi was release a while ago. You can find it here.
Max: Okay I’m here today with Lierre Keith. Lierre is a writer, a radical-feminist, food activist and environmentalist. She’s the author of novels including Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel, and her non-fiction books include The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability, which is a fantastic book. It’s been called the most important ecological book of this generation. She’s the co-author of Deep Green Resistance: A Strategy to Save the Planet, the editor of the Derrick Jensen reader and co-author of the forthcoming book Bright Green Lies which she co-wrote with Derrick Jensen and myself.
So Lierre, thank you so much for being on the show. How are you doing today?
Lierre: I’m good and it’s always a pleasure to talk to you.
Max: Glad to have you here. So I want to focus today on collapse and on the food system, I know food is something that has been a big focus of your work for a long time. Years ago, I read some of your more obscure interviews that were diving into the topic of collapse. I’m wondering if we can start by looking at collapse as you see it.
Is collapse an event or is it a process or is it both? Some people like to think of collapse as this sort of discrete thing that will happen one day where everything will just change, or will it be more of a slow process over generations and I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about how you see collapse playing out today and in the future.
Lierre: Yeah I’m definitely in the process camp. I don’t think there will be one day when things are sort of normal and then the next day everything is different. There’s no food. There’s barbarians at the gate. These things take a long time to come about. So every civilisation that’s ever existed, and I think there have been 3-4 total, have all ended in collapse because they’re based on drawdown and overshoot. This is what agriculture is and it’s what agriculture does.
You’ve got huge chunks of land that are just taken over to grow humans on. Nobody else can live there: none of the plants or animals that once called that place home get to live there. First of all, that’s just mass extinction. Over time, the soil is degraded. There’s no way to do this process that doesn’t involve soil degradation. That’s how civilisations end: their soil just gives out. They’re constantly conquering their neighbors because they have to get more stuff: the food, the water, the energy. They have to come from somewhere else since the city has used up its own.
That’s what a city is. It’s people living in those concentrations so high you just don’t have enough stuff. After a certain point it’s all just concrete. There’s literally nothing else that can be done on that land. So you have to go out and get it. And there’s nobody who wants to give up that stuff. Everybody wants their rivers and their fish and their trees so you have to conquer those people. That’s the pattern of civilisation. It’s drawdown and overshoot so it produces way more people than can be supported so you keep conquering and eventually you would reach the sort of automatic limit.
Then, of course, along came fossil fuel and that was just a huge accelerant on this whole process. Regardless of that, this is where civilisations end. They use up all the stuff and there’s no more food or water or energy. Then there’s a slow decline. We are now facing this on an absolutely vast global scale because the whole thing has gone global. And, we have added that incredible accelerant of fossil fuel particularly in terms of food. This is where stuff gets really scary.
There were six billion less people here. Because of fossil fuel, scientists learned this thing called the Haber-Bosch process. It was originally used for making bombs because they need a source of nitrogen. After WW2, it got turned to “peacetime” uses. All those bomb factories were turned into fertiliser factories. That was the beginning of the so-called green revolution and the human population quadrupled in response.
By adding gas and oil to the food supply, they were able to make various grains like rice and wheat that grew really short. The stuff we don’t want got shorter, we don’t eat the cellulose, but the grain head. The part which we do eat got really big. They were able to grow plants that would do that if they had the correct inputs and the inputs, of course, are chemical fertilisers.
So that happened. They pushed those plants to their absolute limit and created an absolute mountain of surplus grain. The human population responded the way that it does when there’s a lot of food, it quadrupled. So it didn’t actually solve any of the problems it just made them four times worse. That’s where we are now, this civilisation is going to end the same way that they all do. It is inevitable. You can’t fight physical reality. I get called all kinds of names for pointing this out which is honestly shooting the messenger. It’s not like I take any pleasure in pointing this out. We are in a really grim situation. That is the reality.
There’s a quote from James Howard Kunstler that I have always loved. He says that our planet needs reality based adults. That’s really where this has to start. We need to face reality. We need to face how bad this is. That’s the only hope we have of the best possible outcome for this situation.
A soft landing on the other side of this collapse, if humans as a whole, as a global population take charge of this situation we could support everyone’s human rights, redistribute what there is and repair the planet while we do that. We wouldn’t have to end in these grim, dystopian kind of scenarios that we all imagine and that popular culture has long since decided was the way this was going to go. We’ve all seen the Mad Max movies. We even know what we’re going to be wearing.
But the problem is I don’t see anyone, like the institutions in charge, headed in the right direction. I’m afraid that where we’re headed is exactly into those kinds of dystopian failed state scenarios. None of this is going to happen overnight. I think there’s a lot of people out there who do think that like one day, there’s going to be this thing called the collapse, and there’ll be a before and after. That’s not really how it goes. It’s a slow erosive process over time, over usually many generations. In the archaeological record you see there’s more and more signs of hunger, more and more signs of chronic malnutrition, people get shorter and shorter, their bones get more and more brittle. And then, at the very end of it, the last proteins in the cooking pots are human so they’ve turned to cannibalism because there’s nothing left to eat.
That’s the end then. There’s no more sign of them. And we just scratch our heads and go, “Wow! Couldn’t they figure out something better?” Clearly not. Here we are, are we going to figure out something better? Well I don’t know but I’m still hoping we do it anyway. No, I think this is going to take a long time and we’re seeing a taste of this right now. We’ve got the coronavirus pandemic. People are on lockdown and here we are. I live in the United States. Pretty much everybody who listens to this is probably going to be mostly English-speaking first world people. I’m glad you’ve got listenership that is more diverse than that but I know mostly who’s going to be hearing this. We have not really experienced those kinds of shortages – not most of us in our lives.
Even if we didn’t have money we knew we could go to the store and get stuff. I think it’s a little bit of an eye opener for a lot of people my age and younger who really haven’t experienced war in the United States. My family background certainly went through vast amounts of these kinds of traumas in World War II. But I was born safely in America. I’ve never seen anything like this. I know it’s certainly possible. I’ve heard the stories but it’s different when you go to the store for the first time and you see everything’s empty. All the good stuff is gone. You think “Wow! all of this is really coming true like it really could be any time.”
We are utterly dependent on six corporations who control the food supply. Who thought that was a good idea?
Well obviously they did.
They’re the ones with all the power. Rest of us – I mean some of us have been out here fighting this.
I don’t think most people really get involved until their lives are directly impacted. As hard as this is on people, I’m always trying to think what can we do as a political movement to use this experience to help people understand the layers of power that are controlling our lives and ways to fight back. I don’t find that a lot of the doomers are the preppers. I don’t know that they necessarily are. I don’t find them politically viable. It’s all about, “How am I gonna save my family, help myself?” Which is fine. We’re all going to have those reactions too. But the broader perspective is what are we going to do to make the world healthier as a planet and then also, more just for everyone, and for that we obviously need those political movements.
So how do we get from here to there? This is an opportunity. As usual, is the left gonna use this or are we gonna blow it one more time and not build that movement? Because I see the right be incredibly successful with their political program right now. They’ve got people storming the state house in Michigan with guns. They’re getting stuff done, at least from their perspective. It’s horrible. It makes my skin crawl, but they’re doing it. You have to have a little respect for the fact that they’re able to mobilise people in these times. We just don’t seem able to do it on our end of the spectrum. So that’s really my question: how do we use these, because these moments are going to become more and more frequent. We’re going to have more droughts. We’re going to have more horrible fires. There’s going to be times when the electric grid starts going down. How do we make use of that to get people to understand what the real problem is right now on the planet, and then what are the real solutions to it. Because this way of life is over. It was only going to last two or three generations and then the fossil fuel was going to be out. It always had a time limit on it. Can we get people who have lived very comfortable lives to understand what that was based on?
Max: A few interesting thoughts: I’m just reading about the Haber-Bosch process. There are a couple of the pretty stunning facts in this piece I’m reading. Nearly 50% of the nitrogen found in human tissues originates from the Haber-Bosch process which means that 50% of the nitrogen in our bodies is directly from mostly natural gas
Lierre: Yeah it’s just absolutely horrifying when you start reading about it. I get called like all these terrible names. This is the accusation always: “You want to kill six billion people. Of course, I don’t want to kill six billion people. It’s just absurd. Like, it’s just insane that I even have to answer that kind of thing. But that’s the point we have to face if we’re gonna find a way out of our dilemma. And that’s really all I’m asking for. Could we at least talk about it? Think about it like, try to imagine how we’re gonna get out of this mess because we’re backed up against the cliff now both as a planet and as a species. Whoever thought this could go on? Oil doesn’t reproduce! When it’s gone, it’s gonna be gone. And we’re already over the peak and we’re using more and more every day. It’s not like we’ve even slowed down using it. It just keeps accelerating. So you know like, what are we going to do folks? And it starts with a proper diagnosis which is that this way of life always had that time limit on it.
Max: It seems like so much of this, so many problems in the world really comes down to really simple ethics. It’s easy to get very complicated. You’re talking about being accused of wanting to kill six billion people. It’s making me think of another simple ethical way of looking at the natural world which leads into the next question.
And I’m looking out the window right now and I live in Oak Savannah – Oak Woodland habitat in the southern part of the Willamette Valley. I’m lucky to live in this forest of black oak and white oak trees who are beautiful long-lived native trees who produce abundant amount of acorns which can be a staple food source for humans and for a huge variety of other creatures. So this sort of oak forest habitat is one of the most biodiverse type of forests around.
And I’m contrasting this with further north in the Willamette Valley where you have industrial agriculture covering pretty much the entirety of the valley bottom. That’s the reason why around 97 or 98 percent of this Oak Savannah has been destroyed because the trees were cut down, the wetlands were drained, and it was all turned into agricultural fields.
And it seems to me there’s a pretty stark and simple contrast between an ecological ethic based on sharing versus one based on a fundamental selfishness where we take everything for ourselves. This is really a major topic of your book The Vegetarian Myth. Could you talk a little bit about comparing and contrasting those different ecological models of how we get our food?
Lierre: I live in a similar climate to you in the Pacific Northwest. In a climate like this, it would take about a square mile to support one human as a hunter-gatherer. Now you can compare that with an agriculturalist where it only takes one acre or two to support a human and you might think “oh wow what a better use of the land you can get way more people.” But like you’re saying, that’s just completely the wrong side of values. Why is the goal to maximize the number of humans you can support on a piece of land, especially when supporting that human is only temporary? You’re going to destroy that land by doing that. Ultimately, you might get more humans out of it but they’re all going to die. Like at the end, that’s where it’s going to. That’s where this story, that’s the conclusions of it there. Everybody there is going to die unless they expand and take somebody else’s land. It doesn’t even really work to say, “oh but you can get more humans.” Yeah you can temporarily but it’s not a way of life that can go on. It’s going to have its limits.
But the point is that when you are living in that hunter-gatherer way, which is what we did for 2 million years, all of our progenitors leading up to humans. That’s what we were doing. You’re sharing that land with millions of other species. You’ve got the ones you can see visibly. That’s the trees and the megafauna and the little animals and birds and reptiles and all those little guys. But then, there’s all the bacteria: the tiny little microscopic things that we can’t even see. Those are the creatures that do the basic work of life because they’re breaking down. As the plant or animal bodies die and bacterial bodies, as well, as everything dies, it needs to be be broken apart and then those nutrients made available again to the cycle of life. It’s those microscopic creatures – the bacteria of the soil – who do that work. And none of the rest of us can do it. Without them none of us are here. We can’t even see them now. Mostly where they live is in the soil.
When we destroy the soil that’s what we’re destroying. We’re destroying those basic processes of life. By doing that, we are making it near impossible for our own survival to continue. If you’re going to share the land, you can do it selflessly because we’re all going to die if we don’t. You could do it in a way that is – like with all on thanksgiving – respectful, in a humble way that says, “Wow! I’m a tiny little part of something so vast that has been going on for so long and am I not lucky to be here? All of what’s gone before me, all of what is happening in this moment, makes my life possible. I wouldn’t be here without any of it and that’s just a miraculous thing.:
You get this one life and I get to see the green leaves on the trees and there’s a little rabbit outside right now, I get to see this absolutely adorable little bunny rabbit. There’s fish in the stream and everything’s blooming because it’s May and how could I not be just utterly thankful that I get to experience this moment by moment.
It all depends on that dense web of relationships from the tiny little creatures on up to the really magnificent megafauna that we all enjoy that strike awe in our hearts. When we see an elk leaping or we see a wolf running or you know those just incredible animals but the little ones too have their own majesty and we are utterly dependent on all of that for our lives.
And it’s just amazing to me that we’ve had these cultures now around the globe that forget that and that make a point to destroy it all. They create a totally different religion that usually involves a sky god of some sort. You know god is a disembodied principle not a moment-to-moment experience of that wholeness and participation.
These are really our options, you can either participate in that cycle. That does involve death which is always a hard moment and I’m not going to make it pretty. There’s a lot of death going on as I look outside my window. But that’s what it is and we have to accept that as humans. I have no idea what other living creatures think about that. I don’t know what they experience. Do they dread it the way that we do? I don’t know. I don’t think there’s any way to know.
I know that we tend to dread it, so we have to accept it if we’re going to do it well. It’s really our only option. That is to participate in that cycle, such that the cycle itself is stronger. That’s really all we’ve got and that means being a participant and not a dominator because the other model, that agricultural model, the civilized model, is about domination. You’re taking a piece of land, you’re clearing every living being off it down to the bacteria and then you’re just using it for humans for that brief period of time that it can sustain the humans and then you leave a desert in your wake.
So pretty much those are our options. We can do it well or we can dominate and do it terribly. There’s a price to pay. As a planet, we’re going to be paying that price really soon. We’ve used it all and now we’ve used up all the fossil fuels. There’s not really any way to extend it. We are going to have to face these facts. As grim as they feel at first, there’s hope on the other end. I am not someone who has given up. I think that nature can still, in really miraculous ways, restore this. But it needs our help and the number one thing we can do is stop destroying.
Max: Yeah this brings up an interesting question which is pretty nuanced. I feel like when people attack proponents of deep ecology or biocentrism or whatever you want to call our worldview, they often seem to take this approach that humans are inherently destructive, that everything we do is going to destroy the land and so therefore the best thing humans can do is disappear. This leads to those sort of accusations of eco-fascism like you were talking about wanting to kill six billion people. They assume that just because civilization is destructive to the land, that if we want that to stop, then we want humans to stop existing entirely.
And it gets to this more nuanced question, which I think maybe those people wouldn’t understand even or wouldn’t be prepared to engage in a discussion on. It’s sort of about the role of humans as a large mammal, as an apex predator, as a being that’s naturally evolved to fill ecological niches and like wolves coming into a natural community for the first time, are going to cause disruptions to almost everybody else in some way. They’re going to cause a lot of change.
And it’s an ethic that I wonder about myself because, for example, I’m not really a gardener. I kind of suck at gardening. I also have ethical questions about it because I don’t like the process of tearing up some of this beautiful native grass to expose bare soil so that I can grow tomatoes or whatever. I would rather just let the grass grow and eat one of the deer who eats the grass. Or acorns from the trees or what have you.
But it’s an interesting question to me regardless. You’ve probably heard of the book Tending the Wild by Kat Anderson right?
Lierre: Oh yeah
Max: Classic book looking at indigenous people in California and how they impacted and interacted with the land around them and how there are plants in what’s now California whose populations are fading or going towards endangered status because humans aren’t interacting with them as much. And here, where I live this type of oak Savannah and oak woodland was largely maintained by fires set intentionally by the Kalapuya and other indigenous peoples going back for thousands upon thousands of years, probably pretty much to the last ice age.
So what you had here when the first Europeans showed up or hundreds of years before that, or thousands of years before was a human – I was almost going to say human dominated but it wasn’t human dominated it was human sculpted as a better term – a human sculpted landscape. There, you had thicker denser Douglas fir, Ponderosa, maple forests in the riparian corridors on the moist north facing slopes where the fire couldn’t get to. But pretty much everywhere else in the Willamette valley and much of the coast range was this open meadow that was maintained by burning.
People were doing a lot of impact with fire which is a destructive force. I’m sure that that was killing a lot of creatures, a lot of plants and yet what they created was the oak Savannah ,which is as I said one of the most biodiverse habitats in the region. Now the oak Savannah is is struggling. So much of it has been destroyed for urban developments and agriculture and so on. Now a lot of those species who are dependent on the oaks are struggling.
I’m just wondering what your thoughts are on this sort of complex balance, or this nuance between the fact that we don’t want to be this destructive civilizational force imposing agriculture across entire landscapes and cutting down entire forests, plowing up entire grasslands to convert them to just feed human beings. There’s also this nuance that human beings like other creatures can create some level of disturbance in natural communities that’s beneficial to biodiversity, that can create greater flourishing of life. Do you have any thoughts on that? Lierre: I have had opinions across that scale for a long time. And I’m not sure I’m a hundred percent settled on what I think about it all. I tend to agree with what you’re saying at this point. I might change my mind with more information. A few things that I keep in mind is that all creatures have an impact on the place they live. Predators affect the prey species. The prey species have an impact on the plant species. The plant species interact with each other. It really is a very complicated a web where everybody is affecting each other.
So are we doing that in a way that’s okay? Are we helping there to be more life? Or is it slowly draining away because it’s being done badly? I think about what happened at Yellowstone National Park where they introduced the wolves. I think it was almost 20 years ago now, or maybe 15. There hadn’t been wolves at Yellowstone for a long time. A lot of the area was degraded because there was nobody to keep the ruminants moving. The elk and others would just stand and eat wherever they wanted. The places they really like to be is along the raparian corridors because it’s really juicy there and there’s easy water. There was no reason for them not to be there. They’re all going to hang out there. But it meant that they were completely destroying the riverbanks. There weren’t any cottonwoods or willow trees or anything coming up because all the seedlings were being eaten. It was just eroding slowly, year by year. This is a phenomenon you’ll see everywhere where there are not apex predators. The animals that are eating the grasses or the either browsers or grazers don’t naturally behave well. None of us actually are who we should be if we are taken out of our community. If the full cohort isn’t there, everything tends to just go crazy bit by bit. They’re destroying the place because there’s nobody to move them along. Then they introduced the wolves and overnight everything changed. The phrase they used is that it created “an ecology of fear” which doesn’t sound very nice but it did do that. Now you have elk and deer that are afraid that the wolves could come at any minute and try to eat them. So, they’re moving along. That’s the point. They’re tightly bunched. They’re moving quickly. Within a year, all of those riparian zones had repaired. You have way more plant diversity which, of course, means way more animal diversity. Now you’ve got all these birds that are able to nest there once more. They had all been driven out because there was no habitat for them. The waters themselves are way cleaner because there’s plants that are holding the soil in place. Now you’ve got all kinds of fish that weren’t there before.
The whole place comes back to life in a really short amount of time by simply introducing the correct apex predator. We all evolved together. That’s the thing. You can’t take out a species and hope that the web holds. There’s a hole now in that web. There’s a thread that’s been broken. The whole thing starts to unravel. We have that role too. That’s the thing about humans. We are also those apex predators. When we say apex, I just want people to understand that there’s a tropic pyramid where energy condenses. That’s all that apex means. It doesn’t mean we’re the best. It doesn’t mean we’re the smartest. It doesn’t mean we are worth more. It just means that energy condenses up that pyramid. You’ve got animals that eat plants and then animals that eat animals and that’s where we are. We’re at the end of that so all of that solar energy condenses up until you get to us. Eventually we all die too. We get recycled back into the soil. It’s not like we’re somehow not a prey. We are prey just not to other animals. Usually it’s bacteria or viruses that get us.
Regardless I see that that’s true in nature that apex predators play an absolutely crucial role. This of course is part of the problem with the way that people are doing grazing around the world with whatever pastoral kind of methods they may have. If the animals aren’t being bunched and moved quickly, you have all kinds of degraded landscapes. This is the work of people like Allan Savory or the different people who are trying to do this with cattle. They’ve had extraordinary results . They just act like the predators were supposed to be which is to keep the cattle tightly bunched and quickly moving. Everything gets better. You can’t remove ruminants from the land especially in grasslands areas where they’re needed. The grasslands will turn to deserts without the action of ruminants. Without the actions of predators, of course, you have the same problem. They will over graze. We all need each other to be properly behaved.
When I see that out in the world, I think that that is the place of humans. It’s not terrible that we do the things that we do because we definitely have a role. We all evolved together. Our role is to keep the animals moving. Then, you’ve got this issue of fire which humans have been using for what 500,000 years or something. You have landscapes that evolved with that and, like you said, that need it. There’s a lot of species like where I live in the West. There’s a lot of species that the seeds won’t open unless they’ve been through a fire. By suppressing the fires across the West, there aren’t any young trees to come as the old trees are leaving. All of these areas are just devoid of what should be here because there hasn’t been a fire in too long. Right now humans are suppressing those fires when we used to make them. There’s plants that evolved with that and they need the fire to release their seeds. That’s the thing people have done and it’s a thing people have done around the world. It’s a very common tool. It’s the first tool that humans really used on a broad scale.
I remember reading one article about England. It’s a very temperate kind of region. There’s a lot of rain. The basic tree is the oak. Oaks live 800 years. That’s about the age of an oak tree. What they found looking archaeologically in the levels of the soil was that every 800 years there was a fire. There’s no way that that’s just “natural.” It would be random if it was just lightning strikes which are also hard to start. I’s hard for lightnings to start a fire in a wet environment. Clearly people were setting them. It’s just fascinating to me that people understood how long an oak tree lives and that every 800 years would be about the right time to set a fire in this area of our territory. They were exactly right about the age of an oak tree. There is evidence of that kind of wisdom in the archaeological record that people figured out how to do this. It releases nutrients. It releases those seeds. There’s all this incredibly new green growth, very lush, easy things to eat. All the animals now have a lot to eat. They reproduce really fast. They get fat and happy really quickly. You’ve got ground-dwelling birds, and you’ve got deer. Whoever is there, they come in droves. They make that their place. They have lots of babies. There’s lots of food for people. It seems to work for everyone.
Without the fire, it’s not like creatures wouldn’t live there. They will but it’s going to be a different mix. It’s going to be a different mix of trees and a different mix of animals and different populations of animals and that’s where I start to go like, “I don’t know, is it okay that we’ve done this?” It’s still an open question for me. Where I’m not really sure is if there were no humans, what would it be like there? Is it better or worse? Is this even a moral judgment, As long as the cycle of life is continuing and it seems good and lush and diverse and lots of creatures are there and they’re building top soil and nobody’s being driven extinct?
It’s just like the natural kind of way that evolution prunes the tree is fine. That’s just what life is. But, us humans are accelerating that process. Then we’ve got a problem. I end up having to say yes that that’s a good thing because humans have managed to do it in ways that do increase diversity and that do make the web stronger. That’s sort of my moral. That’s where I’ll plant my flag. That seems to be the values that are the good values because it’s not about destroying everything. It’s about making it all better and stronger and more diverse. That should be the touchstone for all of this.
I’m left feeling uncomfortable by it too because a lot of anti-environmentalists will use it as an argument. They’ll take anything that anybody did around the globe as an indigenous person or prehistorically and say, “Well they did it so it’s okay that we do it. They cut down forest, so we should be able to do it.” Well they didn’t really cut them down, they used fire which is actually a really different tool. It was used for a very different reason and actually had the opposite effect of destroying the forest because it did make the forest stronger. So, I’m not really sure that it’s the best argument you can make, but people make those arguments all the time. It just leaves me kind of uneasy.
Like beavers, they’re a keystone species. This continent was entirely different when there were beaver here. They’re mostly gone. They were hunted to death both for agriculture and for the fur trade. They had a huge impact and still do when they’re allowed to come back on the places that they live. As a keystone species, they build dams. They stop rivers from moving very quickly. The water still flows but it’s at a much much slower rate. What they create is wetlands and wetlands are the most species dense habitat on the planet. By making these disturbances, by slowing down rivers, they actually make a whole bunch more life available to the entire cycle and that’s pretty cool that they do that. It’s like the same thing. They have an impact that’s pretty dramatic across entire landscapes. I don’t think it’s bad that humans can also do that as long as we’re sort of following the beaver model and making more life not less life. It’s just like, doesn’t it have to be a good thing. I hope so,because here we are as a species. Clearly it’s a role that we’ve played. If we could just get get back to doing it, it would probably be alright. Beavers do it, so we should be able to to play our role as well and have that be a good thing, not a destructive thing.
I’ve heard people say, “Oh well beavers make dams so why can’t we make dams?” Because when we make dams, we leave deserts behind. When they make dams, they leave wetlands behind which are fabulous places to be. It’s just a little interesting to think about what this continent looked like when all the beavers were here. Anywhere where there’s water – there’s free-flowing streams and little creeks and then larger rivers – none of that water would have been free-flowing. There would have been a beaver dam. There were apparently cities of beaver dams that would go on for like 100 miles. So it’s just incredible that they had that much impact.
We are living on a continent that is severely degraded in ways that we’re not even aware of. It seems natural to me to have tons of trees and fast flowing water and streams. That’s not what it would have looked like 500 years ago. There would have been a lot fewer trees along those riverbanks because the beavers would have taken some. It would have been a more dappled shade, not a deep shade. The water itself would have been very slow-moving. It would have been spread out because it would have been a wetland not a free-falling stream. It’s just amazing to think those millions of miles of streams would have looked completely different than what we have now. That’s probably what the world wants to be if we stopped destroying it and let the beavers come home. That’s what it would look like again. They are nature’s architects and that’s what they evolved doing. I have to assume that all the plants and animals around them would respond in a good way. They’re right now missing their architects because we killed them all. I’m all for it. Where I live, we were trying to get the beavers to come back. Of course people fucked it up as usual. It’s not going to happen anytime soon. It would be amazing to see that process in living color.
Max: So you organized to try and get some beavers in the area?
Lierre: Well it’s actually bigger than that. It wasn’t even me. There were people here who were trying to restore a local stream. The stream actually ends right at the Pacific Ocean.It literally empties into the ocean. The first few miles part of that runs through my neighbor’s land and a little bit through my land. There were attempts by the local environmental groups to try to repair it all because it was pretty well trashed. They had done a really good job. They had seen some fish and there were other animals coming back as well and different birds. It looked like it was the time for beavers. The habitat can now support it.
What happened instead, and of course this is that level upon level of human tragedy, was that whole area where it opens out into the ocean, it runs behind a big supermarket. That whole area got taken over by the local homeless people. What’s back there now is essentially meth addicts and schizophrenics who clearly need help and they’re not getting any because there’s no money put to mental health issues. It’s just entrenched poverty and mental illness. All the horrors of modern day America are right there. They utterly trash the place. There’s no conceivable way now that the beavers are coming back anytime soon. Not until the human problem is fixed is the beaver problem going to be fixed.
It’s just tragic because the people who really were working on it to try to get the beavers back, they’ve just had to back away from it because they’re not getting any help. It’s all the reasons that nobody’s going to help the homeless people. So no beavers, it’s really sad.
Max: This is actually a good lead into the next question. Some people often argue that we should just have a single issue focus with any any sort of organizing, that we should just focus on one very discreet topic, get as broad a coalition of people together as possible and work on that issue. That is an approach that you see a lot of organizations doing effectively. I’m sure probably a lot of the environmental groups, like the ones you were just talking about, are doing that. I know in my community groups like the Watershed Council have a very specific focus and they just stick to that. It does allow them to build these broader coalitions. My response to that approach is always that it’s gonna work for surface level issues but when you start to get towards the deeper manifestations, everything becomes so interlinked. We can see that with the example you just gave. Relatedly, I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about patriarchy and feminism and how those fit into everything that we’re talking about so far.
Lierre: It’s huge, and this is what we’re up against. Ten thousands years ago, people started to live this totally different way of life that involves agriculture. It involves cities and growing militarism and genocide and all slavery. All these horrors started on the planet that hadn’t been there before. One of the things that got very firmly entrenched is the system called patriarchy, which is essentially men ruling over women and owning women as property. Particularly it starts then because it’s about men having to control reproduction. Until you have the concept of private property, there’s not really a need for men to know or particularly care who their biological children are.
People may have to wrap their minds around this: for most of our time on this planet, in our history as humans, the basic unit of every culture was the mother child dyad. That was the most important relationship. Everything else was about supporting that relationship. Everything else was about helping the mother child. Humans are dependent for so long. We are what’s called a super social species because we are born premature. Our brains are so big, we would never get out otherwise. That’s why babies spend the first three or four months sleeping and not much else. That’s because we’re not really mature yet. You can compare humans to pretty much any other creature like horses or whatever. They’re on their feet and moving within the first hour. How long it takes a human baby to get to that stage?
So it takes a lot to raise a baby to become a self-sufficient adult. We need each other to do that. You need a whole collection of people to get that job done. Hence, we’ve always lived in these small groups can – very kin-based groups of maybe 75 to 100 people. That would be like your clan or your tribe or whatever word you want to use for it. And, at the center of it was that mother baby relationship. The adults in that child’s life would have been organized around that. Think about your own mother, her sisters and her brothers. The male role models in your life would have been your uncles, your mother’s brothers.
Her sexual partner, the the guy that either she married or she didn’t and a lot of cultures don’t even have marriage, but the biological father was not that of an important figure in that world. Nobody really expected those relationships to last. It’s generally called a walking marriage in the anthropological literature. When they got tired of each other, if the woman got sick of him, she would roll up his blanket put it outside the door and then he would walk back to his mother’s lodge which was really his home like for all important ceremonies and any big event. That was where he belonged, with his mother’s people. He was always there anyway, but he would sometimes spend the night over with his partner. But when they got tired of each other, it was just over. He would walk back. That’s why, it’s called a walking marriage.
Nobody put a lot of importance on that relationship. Romantic relationships just aren’t that stable compared to the mother bond dyad. Then, the bond between siblings were the important ones. These were the people you grew up with. Think about your brothers and sisters. Your sisters’ children are the ones that you would have been involved with raising. Not your romantic partner particularly, but those would have been like your family. That would have been the core of your family. That would have been your responsibility. The kids that you fed and the people that you raised to adulthood – they would take care of you when you were old. That’s how it went.
It’s completely different when you get to patriarchy now. It’s about private property. You have this concept that we have to inherit something. Men don’t really know who their children are. For women, there’s no way not to know because you gave birth to that baby. You know you did that. With men, it’s like “Well I don’t know. Who knows? She could have slept with somebody else.” It’s just that you can’t know. So women go into lockdown essentially as men’s property so that they can know for sure who’s going to inherit the property. With this comes all these restrictions on women’s bodies, women’s freedom of movement. Women essentially become their chattel property. They’re like broodmares.
That’s a huge switch from being the very center of the culture to being essentially a reproductive slave. That’s what patriarchy is. It’s women’s bodies, women’s labor used as some kind of resource for men. Any a good definition of patriarchy would probably start there. That’s where all of these civilized – the cultures based on agriculture and cities – ends. It may take a few thousand years to get there. It doesn’t happen overnight but that’s the inevitable end of that whole process.
Now here we are and there’s way more people than the planet could ever sustain. It’s still true that the key to all of this is about women and girls. You bring up the issue of there being too many people and immediately along come those same complaints that you’re a racist or an eco-fascist or any of those things. A lot of people, I think, are now afraid to even bring it up as a topic because it’s so fraught. It can be so difficult and so emotional. Friendships can end over it. We’ve all seen how destructive that can be.
But I don’t think that we really need to be afraid of this because the answer to any of it is honestly quite simple. This is an issue that really has been studied pretty thoroughly. The number one thing that drops the population, the one action you can take, the number one action is you teach a girl to read. Literally, that action alone is enough to drop the birth rate. It’s because when you give women and girls even the tiniest bit of power over their lives, they will choose to have fewer children.
I find this interesting for a lot of reasons. The first one is that we have this vague concept that people just keep multiplying because it’s what people do. There’s that sort of Malthusian ethic out there, but it’s not really true. When people honestly have some control over it, when they’re able to make a decision a rational decision about what they want to do with their lives, it turns out that most couples have about two children. That’s replacement levels. Actually most of us don’t choose to have ten, twelve, fourteen kids. There’s always going to be a few people who want to have really large families. That’s fine because there’s a lot of us who don’t want to do it at all. That balances out. The average ends up being about two children which is fine. That would not overpopulate the world if we had just stuck to that. It would have all been fine and it was for two and a half million years. In fact, humans didn’t do that to the planet. We were very good at keeping a very sustainable level of the human population
I’m not going to say that that was always fun. Like you read in the literature the kinds of things that people had to do for that. Most hunter-gatherers are very well aware of the ratio that you have to have between productive adults and dependents. If you’re having too many babies, you have to do something about it. I’m not saying that those are fun things, but everybody knew it was your responsibility. Then, there’s all kinds of other interesting things that people have done around the globe. Like, in a lot of places, if a woman has a baby then she doesn’t have sex again for three or four years. Everybody knows that it’s not a thing that you that you do after you have a baby, because: A, you don’t have the nutritional resources for it, your body has to build back; B, it’s not really the best emotional environment that you really need to be giving a lot of care to the very dependent young that you do have; and C, it’s just you’re gonna end up with too many kids. So, they know that that’s a thing that is very open in a lot of cultures. From hunter-gatherer places, all of that is a way to keep the population in a way that’s sustainable. Otherwise, everybody understands if there’s too many people we’re all going to be hungry very quickly. We’re going to destroy what’s here. There won’t be enough food. That’s not a taboo thing to talk about. Everybody gets that there are limits on nature. We just can’t have more of us. Everybody knows what the magic number is.
Then, you enter this whole other world where we’re doing drawdown and overshoot. It becomes like a symbol of men’s masculinity to have more children. Of course, they’re going to want to have more. Then, you have this high rate of infant mortality. Now you have to keep producing more children in order that some of them will live to be adults. For the last ten thousand years what’s happened. The countryside provides the population. The cities were actually a population sink. Here you are out in the country and you’re doing agriculture which is back breaking labor. You want as many laborers as you can get. You’re having more and more children to just to do the work. Then the problem is you can’t actually divide that plot of land up any smaller. It’s only so many times you can divide it in half before there’s nothing left. What happened until very recently is that most of those second third fourth sons would leave and head to the city to make their fortunes. They would join the army and a lot of them got killed so that took care of the excess males. They would go to the city and die. The average time that somebody would live when they arrived in the city across Europe was 18 months because there were so many diseases. There was no sanitation. People didn’t understand that. You would just die from smallpox or typhoid or whatever was going around. So it was a population sink. That all changed in the 19th century with better medication. Absolutely the public health methods too get better: sewage control and all that. They were able to put a stop to all of that. Then, of course, the population starts to grow. So, it’s still kind of a problem that we have.
My main point here is that if we give women and girls a little bit more power over their lives, if we fight back against that sort of patriarchal ethos, immediately the problem gets better. The countries where they have done that, it’s been actually really interesting to watch because they can do it really quickly. All you have to do is give everybody the information and then access to different kinds of birth control and information about it and they all want it. People want it. In fact, men will get vasectomies. They will line up to do it because as it turns out they don’t really want to have twelve children either. They don’t have any way to provide for that many children. They’re looking at a life of drudgery trying to do it. Most of them don’t want to do it either. So if you give people what they need, which is basic food, basic medical care and some information about what birth control is and how to get it and you let them get it, then, in fact, the population will drop. The reproductive rate will drop really quickly.
Again, as I said earlier, it’s really interesting that two kids seem to be about what people want, all things being equal. That’s kind of the average. That’s not an issue like we’re not just going to multiply like rabbits if on our own. That’s not actually a thing that people do. It takes a quite amount of political pressure to get that rise in population. That’s really the problem. All the political institutions and the economics of the situation are all headed in the wrong direction. There are all these pressures on both women and men to do that. If you take those pressures away, which means remove the ability of the rich to steal from the poor and remove the ability of men to exploit women, in a very good way the population will drop. We should be supporting the rights of women and girls anyway. As it turns out, that is the only way we’re going to save our planet. It was never people versus planet. It was always people plus planet. We belong here too. It’s okay but if we give everybody full human rights and everybody has basic food and basically medical care, then that’s what happens, just naturally and normally. That, in fact, fulfills people’s desires to reproduce and it’s not overshoot. It actually turns out that it’s a really reasonable amount of children that people want. We can do that, but it means we’re going to have to fight the Catholic Church. We’re going to have to fight capitalism. We’re going to have to fight all kinds of religious regimes around the world. We’re going to have to fight patriarchy. We’ve got our work it out for us.
Max: Thank you for that Lierre! Practically speaking, how can people start to reintegrate themselves into relationship with the natural world? In other words, if we turn away from the philosophical side of this and get down to the nitty-gritty, how can people start to build these relationships and change the dynamics of how we interact with and live with the rest of the beings on this planet?
Lierre: I think it depends on what your interests are, what your passion is, if you have a little bit of land. There’s all kinds of amazing things people are doing to rewild their land. There’s an amazing book that came out of England called Wilding that I highly recommend if you need a shot of hope. These people (obviously wealthy) inherited a huge ancestral estate. I think it’s 12,000 acres or something. It’s just absolutely gigantic and it was dying. They didn’t know why. The book starts with them. They have these beautiful ancient oak trees on their land. One by one the oak trees are dying. They don’t know why. So, they call an ancient oak expert. These people are experts now because there’s so few old growth oaks that it’s an incredibly rarefied job. This guy takes care of the ancient oaks that are on Queensland. So, he’s the best in the country. He makes an appointment to come see their oaks.
He says the reason these oaks are dying is, frankly, because there’s been agriculture here for centuries. Especially the very toxic chemical agriculture that’s been done here for the last 50 years killed the microbial networks in the soil. There’s nothing helping these trees. They don’t exist without that network. They are part of a community and the community has been destroyed. That’s why, the oak trees are dying. Of course, they’re horrified. They love these old oaks. They don’t know what to do. They start researching as fast as they can. Then they realize that this agriculture thing is kind of a nightmare – what we have been doing.
They start reintroducing plants and animals that will help. Then, they just let it all take over. It’s an amazing journey through those first few years when they do this. Everything comes back to life including the oak trees. They’ve had species there that haven’t been seen for 100 years. They have found their way home on their own. There’s mushrooms there that nobody’s seen. There’s giant birds that have come back. There’s eagles that have come back. These incredible creatures, from really small to really huge, have found their way back. They just did that by 1) stopping the destruction and, 2) helping a little bit. That’s really all any of us have to do. If you have a little bit of land, just do those things. It means like researching some and trying to figure out what’s the best way, but it’s not actually a hard process. You’re working with life now you’re not fighting against it. You’re not fighting that war anymore.
A lot of this is going to involve ruminants. If you have an open grassy area, the best way to make that place stronger and better is to let it be grazed. Then, you have to be the apex predator and move it along. There’s plenty of people who can teach you how to do that. If you don’t have land, one of the best things you can do is figure out who is doing it well. Find the places in your area where there are farms that are grass-based farms.
The thing about grass-based farming, why this is so important is that it hits every high note in what has to happen. Number one, it repairs habitat. In a regular grassland, you should have something like 25 different plants per square meter, which is a lot of diversity. That’s what you’ll have in a functioning prairie. Anybody who’s doing this should have that. They should be able to reproduce that pretty quickly. The reason that you need ruminants is that it’s ruminants that are the ones who carry the bacteria that’s needed to break down the cellulose of the grass. Grasses without ruminants, honestly, it just degrades to desert because they need to be grazed. Grass evolved to be eaten. They did come about together in time. They come through evolution at the same moment. That’s why they need each other. It’s a symbiotic relationship. Inside the ruminant is the bacteria that can actually digest the cellulose. Without that, there’s not anybody to actually break down the bodies of the grass. Somebody has to do that work. That’s the ruminant grass dyad that has to happen.
Of course, those plants are very deeply rooted. What that means is rain has a way to now enter the soil again. Without those roots, it really can’t do it. There’s not a physical way for rain to get in. This is important. It recharges the water table. This is something that happens where we can’t see it but it’s absolutely crucial for essentially every living thing. During the summer when there’s no rain, it’s that huge sponge underground that is storing that water. Bit by bit, either the trees or the grasses will draw up that water and they make life available to the rest of the community. You and I can’t get moisture out of soil, but plants can. We can eat plants, or we can eat animals that eat plants so that we have moisture. That’s basically what’s going on. They’re storing it long term and then bringing it back up as needed. Without those deeply rooted perennials, there’s no way to store it. The rain does not penetrate in.
That’s another thing that is very much a part of grass-based farming: recharging that water table. Right now things are so bad in parts of this country, that they’re using oil drilling equipment to pump out the last of these ancient aquifers to grow wheat and corn and whatnot. When that water is gone, there’s not really going to be any getting it back. Again this is one of those draw down things that we don’t even hear about. It really is a massive emergency. Help people to repair those perennial plants and restore the water table. It is absolutely crucial for life on earth.
When you do that, of course, you’ve made habitat. Almost overnight, you’re gonna see all those creatures now have a home. They will find their way back. There’ll be reptiles and amphibians and birds and small mammals and even larger mammals. They all have a home again. You’re letting them come back. I just don’t understand why people don’t want that. How do you not miss all the animals? It just feels so lonely to me knowing that they’re gone. It’s just an emotional thing that I don’t know why that doesn’t trip the wire for everyone. Honestly, since I was four years old, that’s all I ever wanted. I could not understand why people made cities. I couldn’t understand why there was cement anywhere. I just wanted deer and wolves. That’s all I wanted. I just can’t understand this human impulse to kill at all. It just will never make any sense to me. But you can get them all back. That’s the thing. It’s not actually that hard. It’s not even that much work for humans. The plants do it. Then they call the animals to them. The animals know what they need to find a home. They know the plants they need to make nests. They know how to make burrows. They know the food. They need to eat. They will find it. They will come back. All of that comes back to life and pretty quickly.
In your area find the farms where this is happening. Find where they’re doing grass-based farming. Buy your food from them if you can. If you can’t, that’s fine too. Ask your local store to carry that food. find the other people who are doing that. In your area you can bet there are people who are working on this politically. There’s so much that we have to do on a larger scale: we have to fight the food bill, the farm bill. every year, it’s giving money to all the wrong people. It’s giving money to those six corporations that control the food supply. Those are our tax dollars. They are subsidizing the worst possible food for the environment, the worst possible food for the planet. There’s just nothing good about it.
In the meantime, there are farmers out there who really want to do it well. They don’t know how to do it. they’re being paid to do all this really destructive stuff, like corn and soy. If we could just get a little more money put toward training and restoration work, they can see how fast it happens, that they’re able to make a living by raising things like grass-based beef or bison. It happens really fast. It’s not a hard sell. They just need help doing it.
This is the stuff that the subsidies of the local agricultural extension funded by the federal government should be going for. They’re not. They’re just going toward the usual kinds of destruction and all of that. These are all battles you can fight, either locally on the state level, or on a national level on a federal level. There’s room for everybody in there. Even if you just take your food dollars and try to support the right people, you’re doing a huge thing. The final thing, of course, is that all of this sequesters an amazing amount of carbon. There’s been research now that’s around the world because there’s millions of acres under this restoration. It’s really the only hope we have to get the carbon out of the atmosphere. Just let the grasses and the ruminants take care of it. And they will. It’s not too late. So if we can put even our own food dollars toward the people doing that repair, it will make a huge difference.
Max: Thank you for that Lierre! I’m wondering, we’ve got these two elements here. So much of your work has been focused on shifting to these grass-based pasture-based restorative relational ways of eating. The other theme in your work has been about serious resistance. It seems like you’re painting a picture here of a movement that has two wings or two main elements essentially: an element that is doing the restoration of the land or at least getting out of the way and helping the land to restore itself, and then the more serious resistance side of the movement resisting the industrial systems that are destroying the planet. Could you talk about this a little bit?
Lierre: I like that sort of conceptualization that there’s two wings of this. I think a lot of people aren’t cut out for being on the front line of a resistance. That’s absolutely fine. Not everybody has to do that. It’s not up to me to tell people what their political work is. Whatever your passion is, that’s what your work is. Nobody else can tell you what that is. That’s between you and your soul, what you’re called to do. We all have that calling. For some people, it is going to be frontline. Some of us just do have that – a spirit – and other people don’t. There’s also a lot of reasons that people can’t do it that are about our other responsibilities. If you have children or you have family members that need your support, you can’t risk getting arrested. You have to be there providing. That’s good. That’s wholesome. That’s the thing you did when you signed up to be a parent. You need to take that seriously. There’s lots of people who can’t take risks for all kinds of reasons. and that’s perfectly legitimate. But you can do those other things. You can help be part of the repair.
You can help repair the human communities. They have to be repaired as well, because right now all the models are about domination and exploitation and just constantly causing pain to each other. We’re not taking care of each other. That’s what needs to be repaired too. We need better models. We need to be experimenting with ways to have that democratic culture where we know what the process is for making decisions and for settling disputes and for making sure that there’s justice and that everybody’s taken care of. That’s a lot of repair to the culture because we live in a very adversarial hierarchical culture. I know there’s places on the planet that are way worse. I’m not unaware of that. It could be a lot worse than it is here. But there’s still so much bad. That’s happening.
I think on any local level, those are things that people should be thinking about and trying to get started wherever they are, because the end of this is inevitable. If we don’t do something better, it will devolve. Essentially the biggest bullies are going to be local warlords. And we’re all going to be under their boot. That’s a lot of times where this ends and it’s ugly. I don’t think any of us want that. So we need to start preparing for all of that. That’s work anybody can do. Getting to know your neighbors and figuring out how you’re going to make decisions is the thing that anybody can do. here’s really good models about people doing this around the world on a more political scale, on a more, not informally, but on a more formal scale too. I think that’s all for the good.
But then there’s the people who really do want to do those direct confrontations with power. If we understand that industrial civilization is a war against the living planet, then how are we going to respond? Because it’s not enough to just educate. It’s not enough to just hope. We have to have a plan for how we’re going to fight on behalf of everything that we love. This isn’t even just that the people we love are being hurt, it is every last living creature is now under assault. It’s under threat of extinction. If we’re going to take that seriously, what I’ve been arguing is that we at least need to think about other options. Because right now what we have been doing is clearly not working. Every year the carbon goes up. Every day 200 species go extinct. Nothing is getting better. There’s not a single biological indicator that’s headed in the right direction. We have not even slowed the rate of acceleration, like let alone the acceleration itself, let alone repaired anything. It’s grim out there. If we acknowledge that, then what’s next?
Well I mean the two main ways we have to confront power would be either some kind of organized civil disobedience or non-violent resistance and I love the ways that people have been able to use that throughout history. I think it’s a very elegant political technique if you understand it. The problem is it depends on a lot of people. And I just don’t know that we have the people. If this was not a time sensitive situation, I would say let’s just keep building for that movement. I think the results are better and I’m very queasy about the idea of using any kind of violence. It does not usually end well when people go there. But I’m not sure that we have any other options. I would like somebody to tell me what the other options are. Because if you see one I want to hear about it. I don’t know what it is. I feel like we’ve tried everything and it hasn’t worked and time really is running out for life. so the only reason I’m willing to consider other things is because of that. It’s just the situation really is that dire.
So I don’t know that we want to unleash that, but I don’t see any other option when every last living thing is under threat. I don’t. I want somebody else to give me a better answer because I don’t have one. MEND is the best I can come up with. They did it. They were successful. It didn’t take a lot of people. I think this could be done with simply property destruction and no loss of human life. But are we willing? And that’s the thing. This infrastructure is incredibly vulnerable. We all know where the oil comes into the country. We all know where the coal lines are. This is what you’re trained to do in militaries around the world: how to take out the infrastructure? There’s entire manuals written about how to do it. It’s not like the information is something we have to develop. It’s there for learning. It’s there for reading. We should at least consider that this might be the last option that we have.
Max: This could be a whole another conversation. We could go down so many different paths. I have a lot of different thoughts on, for example, how the environmental movement is deceiving itself with the green technology, with the focus on saving civilization with re-powering the society with new energy sources and new types of devices, as if a solar powered chainsaw is any different or a solar powered combine harvester is going to do anything for the destruction that agriculture has wreaked upon the world and continues to do so. But that’s a whole another discussion. People can keep an eye out for our book coming up for that.
I want to wrap up this interview, Lierre. The final question that we like to ask people is about practical skills. It’s for the individuals who are listening to this show. We are living in these very serious, very dire times. There’s a lot of people who want to get involved. They want to contribute in some way but maybe they don’t feel like they have the skills or the knowledge necessary to do so.
One of the things I like to tell people is: look at every person who’s been involved in a revolution or a social uprising or a serious movement. I don’t think any of those people ever turned to their friends and said, ‘You know what? I feel perfectly prepared to meet this situation.” I think everyone’s unprepared. Yet we find ways to rise to the occasion. I’m wondering if you can speak for a moment about any takeaways you have from your experience in organizing over the years, in terms of skills given this future that we’re facing. What sort of skills or mindset or organizational structures do you think are the most important for people to be cultivating? What should people be doing and working on right now?
Lierre: Honestly, I think the most important things have to do with democracy and human rights. How do we make a culture on the left that understands the depth of the problem, as well as is an inviting place for people to live? I think a lot of us grit our teeth and do the work because there’s really no option. We have to keep fighting. But we’re not it. We’ve just made the left a really impossible place. It just feels like it’s gotten harder and harder in my lifetime.
This whole woke culture that’s taken over is so destructive, where you can’t even have a conversation with people. There’s no way to be friends through it. Everyone just throws up every conceivable insult and barrier to actual human connection now. It just let us down a really very dark and ugly rabbit hole. I don’t know how to fight it. The moment that you try to say this is a really destructive set of behaviors, you will then be called a racist or a misogynist or homophobic or like whatever the thing is, classist, ableist. They’re going to throw something at you, usually out of left field. There’s no way out of it. The moment that’s been laid down, you have to just admit to original sin: mea culpa. And that’s it.
You never get anywhere with this. It’s been a very very destructive decade or two here. We drove out all the good people. The only ones left are, honestly, just abusive, little emotional sadists who get off on it, and then a bunch of really grim people who keep moving forward. I want it to be a better place again. It wasn’t this bad when I was young. Maybe I was just more naive or hopeful and I didn’t feel it as much. But it really feels like things have gotten a lot worse.
We need a resistance movement that’s built on what are called strong ties, not weak ties. Strong ties are relationships that are long-lasting, where you’ve known people and you’ve seen each other through a whole bunch of hard stuff. And you still like each other and care for each other. You’re in it for the long haul. All we have now are weak ties, which are the kinds of ties that social media are only ever going to make. You’re never really going to be in each other’s lives. It’s completely disembodied. Weak ties are never going to be enough to make the glue that holds social movements together. We really need to be in person. We need to be friends. We need to treat each other well. It just seems like we’ve forgotten how to do all of that. That is sort of the basis of it.
It’s this same impulse that makes us long for human rights and human justice, because we care about each other. We know that when somebody cries, it’s because they hurt. We all know what that feels like. We want to make it better. It’s such a simple thing. But why did we let this happen to all our movements? It’s just become so ugly and so destructive, when the human impulse to care is so basic to all of us. It really is our first. Unless you’re a sociopath it really is. It really is how we feel about each other at the end of the day. We want to help other people and in our best moments, that’s who we are. Every time there’s a disaster, that’s the first thing that happens. Everybody says, “How can I help?” That’s a noted phenomenon around the world. People will give all kinds of things. They’ll give money, and they’ll give food, and they’ll take people into their homes. We really do want to care for each other. That’s a really basic thing about being a super social species. We have those impulses.
But I just feel like we’ve just been led so astray by all of this, I don’t know what the answer is. I have literally no idea how we’re going to get our movement back from this destructive framework that’s been laid on top of it. But we have to find a way. We do. The human technologies are the ones that we need, ways to have democracy and human rights and conflict resolution that are accessible to everyone, and that are understandable, and that are really about human care and connection. That’s what we have to do.
There’s definitely things that are more nuts and bolts. Like if you have a backyard or you have a little land, I’ve so enjoyed having things like goats and chickens. I have dogs and the kinds of repairs that I’ve done to my land here have been. I’ve just felt incredibly rewarding to see rare species here. It just gives me such a thrill knowing that there’s coho salmon in the stream. We have pacific giant salamanders and all kinds of creatures. I mean we have mountain lions on my land. How many people get to have apex predators next to them? Every day, it’s really incredible. All that’s important too but I just feel like if we don’t make it possible to have a real connected movement, a movement of people that are in it for the long haul with each other, then we don’t have a chance in hell. We just don’t. So that has to be some priority. I just wish I had better ideas about it. I just know what’s gone wrong. I’m not sure how to make it right. Sorry I didn’t end on a happy note. Make food. Make food for everyone in your life. That’s like a really good thing to do. Making food really helps people.
Max: It’s good to not sugarcoat this situation for people. I think people like to have this idea that everything’s going to be wonderful and we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to have fun at the same time. It’s going to be all these different things. I don’t think that that’s quite realistic. Not that that’s not important. We all need that. I say this as somebody who just spent the weekend out in the wilderness for three days, because I needed to get the hell away from screens and do some reconnection and spend some time just breathing and just being a human being and not thinking about anything political beyond what was right in front of me at that moment. But you know we need to do the hard work side as well.
Lierre: There’s a really good article that’s probably a decade old now. It was in the New Yorker. It’s called small change. It’s all about strong ties and weak ties in political movements. I refer back to it all the time because it really really explains why this is so important. The example that he uses is the very first guys who did the very first sit-in at the lunch counter in, I think it was, Greensboro, North Carolina. There were four of them. The interesting thing about them is that they were all 18 years old. They were really young guys but they had all known each other since they were kids. They’d gone to the same college together. They were hanging out in somebody’s room and there was all this talk about the civil rights movement. They were all engaged and super excited to be part of it. The world is really starting to bubble up for them. “We can do this. We can change history. We’re going to be part of something that is going to be incredible.” Then they realize like they actually have to do it. In the article, he talks about how the four of them sat there all night long going, “Well, somebody else will do it. We don’t actually have to go to lunch counter and sit down. And they’re like, “I think it has to be us.” They went back and forth and back and forth: being afraid and then somebody would say, “Well, we have to do it.” This went on for hours. It was because they knew each other. It was because they were friends and they cared about each other that they could have that conversation and give each other that kind of encouragement, where they finally just came to the conclusion, “Tomorrow morning, we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna go in there as a group and we’re gonna sit down at lunch counter and we’ll see what happens. They kicked it off but it was about strong ties. People who didn’t know each other couldn’t have that kind of conversation or give each other that kind of real courage. It was because they knew each other and loved each other that they were able to make a group that could face down the horror of what was probably coming at them.
On November 19th, Deep Green Resistance hosted a special 3-hour live streaming event, “Collapse: Climate, Ecology, and Civilization” including a keynote speech by Lierre Keith. If you have missed it, you can view it here. The audio version of the event is also available on various podcast platforms.
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Editor’s note: On September 16, a 22 year-old woman (Mahsa Amini) was brutally tortured and killed by the Iranian state for improper wearing of hijab. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei, has made a public statement that the protests happening in the country are being backed by the Western countries, and that Mahsa Amini was not tortured in their prison. Given the history of US-backed regime changes across the world from Central and South Americas to the Middle East, including Iran itself, concerns among anti-imperialists about the recent protests are not an indication of paranoia.
Whether or not the protests are backed by imperialist tendencies of the West, the plight of the women of Iran should not be discarded either. For the past forty decades of theocratic rule in Iran, women’s human rights have been violated in more than one occasion. They have faced many injustices, the death of Mahsa Amini and of the hundreds of people (especially young women) who protested her death is just the latest of which. Regardless of the West’s imperialist tendencies, these injustices should be addressed first and foremost.
Victory to the united struggle of the brave women and men of Iran; For liberty, and freedom from theocratic tyranny and the repeal of all laws that undermine women’s human rights!
Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women(DOIW) emphatically condemns the killing of Mahsa (Gina) Amini, by the security forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We convey our condolences to Mahsa’s grieving family and to all freedom-loving women and men of Iran. The regime’s Guidance Patrol arrested this young woman of 22 as she travelled on Tehran’s Metro with her brother under the pretext of having “bad hijab”. As a result of the brutality of the regime’s guidance patrol and beatings while in custody, Mahsa Amini died in hospital on 16th September. This new crime of the Islamic Republic has provoked the anger of the long-suffering people of Iran. The name and memory of Mahsa Amini has turned into a rallying cry for the people who have come out to the streets to rise up against oppression, dictatorship and social injustice. On Mahsa’s temporary gravestone, is written: “Darling Gina, you won’t die, your name will become a code”. Today, Mahsa Amini’s name has indeed become the rallying cry for the people rising for freedom.
In the past forty years, the reactionary Islamic regime of Iran has used systematic violence to secure its self-interest, and to trample shamelessly on the social and human rights of the people of Iran, particularly the women of Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran has presided over deepening poverty, economic and social insecurity, promoted the practice of embezzlement and hypocrisy in the state, has plundered the national wealth for the personal interest of the ruling elite and their associates, and has been directly responsible for violence and crimes against countless women and men. These have ranged from the forced hejab and medieval laws against women, to the torture, rape and execution of hundreds of girls and women supporters of left-wing organisations or mojaheds during the 1980s, or the mass killings of political prisoners in the summer of 1988, the execution of Fatemeh Modaresi, the consultant member of the Central Committee of the Tudeh Party of Iran in 1989, the brutal murder of other dissidents such as Parvaneh Forouhar in the 1990s, and Zahra Kazemi, Zahra Bani Yaqub, among others, in the torture chambers of the regime, and the murder of Neda Agha Soltan in street demonstrations. These atrocities continue to this day and the people have had enough.
The regime’s denial of responsibility over the death of Mahsa Amini has fuelled people’s anger. At first the regime claimed that Mahsa had died due to ill health, something that her family have denied vehemently. The regime’s contradictory position on this tragedy, mimics their denials and lies immediately after the Revolutionary Guards’ downing of the Ukrainian plane over Iran in December 2019.
The people of Iran have been living with the fallout of the regime’s neoliberal policies, with its resultant poverty, deepening class divide and prevalent corruption, with the poor, women and the young bearing the brunt, and they have little to lose in this unequal fight.
Street clashes continue to rage in more than 80 cities and towns in Iran, despite access to the internet having been curtailed to stop communications. The women and men of our country have shown indescribable courage to stand against the brutal security forces of the regime and despite the heavy cost in this unequal struggle – fists against bullets – they are holding fast. The echo of people’s slogans conveys their demands: “Death to Dictatorship”, “Down with Theocracy”, and latterly “Woman, Life, Freedom” – a slogan that has emerged in these protests to reflect women’s particular aspirations – is a reminder of Marx’s position that a society is only free when its women are free. Today, the women of Iran are fighting courageously for their freedom and for the freedom of the society from theocracy.
Since Thursday 22nd September, different organisations, including Iran Human Rights have announced that at least 31 have been killed in the protests. Some reports put this figure at 50. There are reports of the arrest of a large number of protesters, including reporters, civic and political activists, women, students and former political prisoners. At present the prisons of Iran are full of workers’ rights activists, teachers, national minorities, religious minorities such as the Baha’is, dissenters, artists, and students.
At present, the Islamic Republican regime continues its brutal suppression, cutting off the internet and access to social networks. In 2019 during the people’s uprising, more than 600 innocent people were killed among them 23 children and youngsters under the age of 18. The regime cut off the internet then too (killing with the lights out), and shamelessly lowered the official number killed to 224 people instead. Then the regime accepted no responsibility for its atrocities, and in September 2022, the regime is repeating its brutal suppression of the people as before.
Today, too, the regime’s guns are aiming at the hearts of the women and youth of Iran. Ra’isi, the President of the regime, was one of the main perpetrators of the murder of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Just as he spoke of human rights at the UN General Assembly, on the 21st of September, the 15 year old Abdollah Mohammadpur, and the 16 year old Amin Ma’refat were shot dead by the regime’s armed police. The mass arrests continue all over Iran.
DOIW condemns the brutal suppression of the people and believes that victory in the fierce struggle that is ahead of us, for democratic rights and freedoms, social justice, and an end to discrimination, in other words, the realisation of the protesters’ demand “Woman, Life, Liberty”, can be secured only through the united struggle of all progressive social and political forces and the dismantling of the religious dictatorship that rules Iran. Our victory depends on the separation of religion from the state, and the establishment of a national and democratic republic in Iran.
Finally, the Democratic Organisation of Iranian Women, appeals to all progressive forces the world over, especially progressive women’s organisations, to condemn this latest atrocity perpetrated by the Islamicists in Iran- the arrest and killing of Mahsa (Gina) Amini under the pretext of carrying out “religious laws and decrees”- and condemning the killings in Iran especially of our young people, and to condemn the detention of freedom fighters in our country. With your solidarity you can extend the reach of these protests and let our brave people’s call for justice be heard worldwide.