Putting the Land Back In Climate

Putting the Land Back In Climate

Editor’s note: Due to the focus of many reputed mainstream environmental organizations, climate change has become a household term. Even those not interested in environmental issues know about climate change, whether or not they are concerned about it. “Environmental action” has become interchangeable with “climate action” in many circles.

While we believe that climate change poses a significant threat of an ecological crisis, it is by far not the only threat we have. Ecology is a complex interrelation between multiple processes, some of which humans have no knowledge about yet. Land change, or the change in ability of the land to hold and cycle water, is one such factor that is closely linked to climate change. While climate change deals mostly with the change in atmospheric composition, land change deals with the change in landscapes. Together, land change and climate change, both humanmade, alter the vital processes that make life possible on Earth.

“Nature is not more complicated than you think, it is more complicated than you CAN think.” ~Frank Edwin Egler

The following article describes land change and how, despite knowing about it for decades, we have failed to bring attention to a significant part of ecological destruction.


By Rob Lewis/Resilience

What if we’ve been looking at the climate, well, incompletely? What if there’s another side to climate change, one less concerned with what we put in the atmosphere than what we do to the land, a side which, despite four decades of climate education, has yet to be explained to us?

Scientifically speaking, there is. Scientists call it “land change,” a characteristically neutral term for the not-so-neutral ways humans alter landscapes, through things like logging, agriculture, road building and urban/suburban sprawl. By disturbing land this way, we disturb the land’s ability to hold and cycle water, and that affects climate, particularly on a local and regional level.

Though we tend to think of climate in terms of carbon, water is in fact the primary medium of Earth’s heat dynamics, perhaps not surprising on this 71% water planet. Water not only has the highest heat capacity around, it’s also a shapeshifter, continuously phase-changing between water, vapor and ice, absorbing and releasing heat at each juncture, elegantly distributing heat along the way.

Evaporation, the phase-change from water to vapor, is a cooling process. We’ve all felt it when we sweat. Plants essentially do the same thing when they respire, cooling themselves and their surroundings by releasing water vapor from under their leaves. Trees are the power lifters here, drawing upwards of 150 gallons per day through their roots and out through their leaves, giving an average tree the cooling power of two air conditioning units running all day.

The vapor, with the heat held latent inside it as a chemical potential, rises until it is high and cold enough to condense back into clouds and rain, at which point the heat is released into the air again, only higher, some of which continues its journey out to space, the rest reentering the system elsewhere. It’s like a heat pump, soil to vegetation to cloud to rain and back to soil—hydrating, cooling and buffering climate along the way. If there’s an operator, it would be the landscape itself, or simply life.

But the land not only feeds clouds water vapor, it seeds them with the nuclei of future raindrops, sending up grains of biota like bacteria, pollen dust and terpenes. Those nuclei speed the formation of clouds, whose bright tops reflect sunlight for additional cooling.

Soil is key, as it collects and banks both water and carbon. Picture soil as a sponge, held together but full of tiny spaces. There are grains of sand, clay, and minerals within that matrix, but what binds them into a sponge is life, an astounding plethora of the invisible and nearly invisible: protists and bacteria, nematodes and soil mites, thousands of miles per square yard of fungal hyphae. It is their exudates and decaying bodies which not only glue the particles together, but hold them apart, making room for the water so crucial to all life.

Here we encounter feedback loops we like. The more carbon (life) in the soil, the more water it can hold. The more water it can hold, the more life (carbon) it can grow, bringing yet more carbon down to the soil, which can bank yet more water, and around it goes, literally swelling with life.

It follows as well that when we damage land, we reverse the cycle. Less life means less water, meaning less rain, meaning less vegetation and down it spirals to desert.

It doesn’t take long to realize the scale here. Consider all the land cleared over the centuries for agriculture alone. Add grazing, logging, mining, urbanization, suburban sprawl, roads, shopping malls. It’s estimated half the land surface of earth has been converted to human purpose. And now we must add “green infrastructure” to the list, with forests corridors cleared for transmission lines and deserts scraped for solar arrays.

If all this is news to you, you’re not alone.  The climate movement has largely ignored land change, building its narrative almost exclusively around CO2 and green energy. Not all scientists are satisfied though with the approach. One in particular, Mediterranean-climate expert Millan Millan, remembers a time when science held both land change and greenhouse gasses in roughly equal measure as human causes of climate change. He has his own terminology for this more traditional view of climate, calling it two-legged—one leg for CO2 and the greenhouse effect, the other leg for land change and hydrological effects.

In 1991, the European Commission asked him to figure out why the afternoon storms in the western Mediterranean Basin were disappearing, and it was his understanding of land change that led him to the cause. “Land-use perturbations that accumulated over historical time and greatly accelerated in the last 30 years” had rendered the land incapable of supporting the region’s cloud regime. The storms were dying because the land was dying, and Millan’s work showed how.

Though published in the American Meteorological Association’s prestigious Journal of Climate, his findings proved, as Millan put it, “incommodious.” The CO2 oriented, global computer models that came to dominate climate science couldn’t see the fine grained, land-level processes Millan uncovered. Politicians, with their pet building projects and economic growth fixation, ran from them.

Millan often refers to a book called Inadvertent Climate Modification: Study of Man’s Impact on Climate, an early study published in 1971 by MIT and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The book is still available, and you can see the land leg there for yourself, it’s opening paragraph listing “climatic effect of manmade surface change” as a “major area” for consideration. Under the heading Man’s Activities Influencing Climate, there’s roughly equal treatment for subsections concerning both Atmospheric Contamination, and Land-Surface Alteration. Under Major Conclusions and Recommendations is an entire chapter written on the Climatic Effects of Man-Made Surface Change.

Eight years later, in 1979, we see land change again in the proceedings of the World Meteorological Organization’s first World Climate Congress. From the conference’s keynote address: “We now change the radiative processes of the atmosphere and perhaps its circulation by emission of the products of our industrial and agricultural society. We now change the boundary processes between earth and atmosphere by our use of the land.” The first of 28 scientific papers, under a discussion of “the impacts that are of the most relevance to the subject of climate,” places “the transformation of the land surface of the planet by forest clearance, the ploughing up of the steppes and great plains, land reclamation, etc” at the top of the list. And in a section titled, Human Activities that Affect Climate,the author literally breaks the subjects into two parts. “The subject of this paper is clearly of very wide scope and accordingly presented in two main parts as follows: Part I…covers the main human impacts on climate, excluding mankind’s interference in the atmospheric carbon dioxide (C02) balance; and Part II…deals comprehensively with those aspects of climatic change which are related to the carbon dioxide balance.”

But there was a problem. The living, water-mediated processes of land change were too complex and variable to be put in the global computer models, while CO2, well mixed in the atmosphere, was relatively easy to model. Not only that, CO2 was the novel threat, its atmospheric concentrations easily measured, and rising fast, which caught the attention of the US office of Science and Technology Policy under the Carter administration. In 1978 it made a formal request of the National Research Council to look into the matter, and an Ad Hoc Study Group of scientists was put together, led by Jules Charney, the mathematician behind the computer modelling that revolutionized modern weather prediction.

They gathered in Woods Hole, Massachusetts and began reviewing the modelling on CO2, assessing weak spots, somewhat averaging the findings. The result was a slim, 22-page report called Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment. Unlike the WMO report, which though comprehensive at 700 pages long, offered no definitive statement on CO2, this report provided the closest thing yet to a firm prediction. If CO2 concentrations double, it said, global temps will increase 3 degrees centigrade.

It was a bombshell. Petroleum interests immediately attacked it, environmentalists lined up to defend it and a kind of social feedback loop developed. The more CO2 was denied as a cause of climate change, the more it was championed by its defenders, cementing in place the sense that carbon gasses were the sole matter of climate change.

Did Charney and his associates intend to portray CO2 as the only cause of climate change? Likely not. They point out in their Summary and Conclusions, “we have limited our considerations to the direct climatic effects of steadily rising concentrations of CO2.” They likely understood there’s a land change aspect to climate change, but until it was mathematically translatable, it was placed aside as “all other things being equal.”

You can imagine where this left the WMO and the other international organizations. The Americans had come out with a strong statement on CO2, while they were far from such consensus, still sorting through various uncertainties, often related to land change. What to do?

A series of international workshops were held in Villach, Austria, to work such complications out. The solution was to split the two legs, with two organizations created roughly side by side. One we’re all familiar with: the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC. The other you’ve likely never heard of: the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program, or IGBP.  That’s where the land leg, with all it’s complex, watery, difficult-to-model process, seems to have been filed, but in the context of different language. Rather than dealing with “climate change,” this group was responsible for something called “global change,” for which it received one tenth the funding of the IPCC.

Thus, the CO2 leg, championed by the IPCC, strode into the climate spotlight, while the land change leg, under the IGBP, remained in shadow for further research, where it was largely ignored. In 2015 the IGBP was closed and turned into a private organization called Future Earth.

Of course, the research continued anyways, and now it is common to see the term “biophysical” used, which is basically the two legs contracted into a single word: bio (land and water process,) physical (atmospheric chemistry and the greenhouse effect.) It seems the land change leg is coming forward again. For instance, at the University of Washington there is a research group called the Ecoclimate Lab, looking specifically at “how plants and climate interact with one another.”

Unfortunately, the IPCC’s most recent report, published in August 2021, devoted less than four pages out of three thousand eight hundred and fifty to land change. Nonetheless, the next report will likely include land and water processes as the science is moving that way. But at the IPCC’s typical rotation of six years, that’s still five years off. We shouldn’t have to wait that long. Nor should we require the permission of computer models to treat land change as a human cause of climate change. Though we might want to ask why land change has remained publicly unexplained for so long.

Just to be clear, nothing here contradicts the CO2 leg of climate. Nor does it allow us to continue saturating the atmosphere with carbon gasses. It just puts it in a different context, the context of life, where CO2 is food, and the living land is the true green infrastructure of climate.

The Lakota say Mni Wconi, “Water is Life.” Something in that insight appears in climate as well, over and over. We could say, “because water is life, there is climate.” That would be one way to put. It may not be “the science.” It certainly isn’t the politics or the economics. But it may well be the Law.

Make carbon life again.

Ditto Water.


Photo by Braden Egli on Unsplash

We Are Not Leaving: Indigenous Tribe Takes Back Their Land

We Are Not Leaving: Indigenous Tribe Takes Back Their Land

This is a press release by Process of Liberation of Mother Earth, originally published in Liberacion de la Madre Tierra. The Nasa people of Cauca had been pushed to the mountains by the invaders in the 16th century. For the past 17 years, they have shifted to direct action to get back their land. Although their pursuit had been disrupted in the past, they have now stayed in their original land despite state attempts to remove them. Both right leaning and left leaning governments have attempted to remove them from their rights to their land. DGR extends our solidarity to the Nasa people of Cauca valley in their struggle for land reclamation.


Now that the 48 hours have passed, we send this letter to the world to tell about our struggle and the danger that awaits us, and what we are going to do in face of the danger. The great chief sent word, that we are invaders and gives us 48 hours to abandon our struggle and the land where we fight, or the full weight of the law of the Colombian state will fall on us.

First we tell you about our struggle. This last September 2nd, 17 years have passed since we returned to direct action to fight for the land, a struggle that has roots in 1538, when our people decided to declare war to the invaders. The invaders took over our land and pushed us into the mountains, the invaders made of dispossession a way of life, the how of their civilization, and today they have in their possession the most fertile lands and they have documents that prove they own and they are an organized power that moves the strings of politics and economy and justice and the media in Colombia to keep the documents up to date and to exploit Mother Earth more and more until skinning her and sucking her blood and digging into her entrails and this is called progress, development.

For us, families of the Nasa people of northern Cauca, the land is Uma Kiwe, our mother. Everything that is in it has life, all of it is life, all beings are our brothers and sisters and all beings are worth the same. The invader indoctrinated us to teach us that we humans are outside our Mother and that we are superior to her, but deep in our hearts, nasa üus, we know that people are Uma Kiwe just like the condor and the butterfly and the corn and the stone are Uma Kiwe. The invader indoctrinated us to teach us that the moor is a resource that produces money, that by cutting down the jungle we can increase bank accounts, that by digging into Uma Kiwe’s entrails with large tubes we can access a life of well-being. That is the word of the invader and he calls it the goal, the life plan.

The lands of the Cauca river valley, where we now live, from where we fight, is the house and home of hundreds of animals, plants, rocks, waters, spirits, in a way of life that in Spanish they called tropical dry forest. The invader destroyed everything, that house and home no longer exist, he has damaged the face of Mother Earth. In their eagerness to impose their civilization, those who have the documents of these lands, planted the entire valley of the Cauca River with sugarcane and there are 400 thousand hectares where the cane is planted up to the riverbank. In other regions of Colombia, the invader displaced communities with war and planted oil palm on thousands and thousands of hectares, and in other regions they have displaced communities to build dams or to extract gold or petroleum.

And once, in a region called Antioquia, the Cauca River rebelled and damaged the machines and equipment of the dam and it overflowed and the people who had already been displaced by the hydroelectric project had to move again because once again their lands were flooded. For these facts there are no guilty parties, the invaders of the Cauca River, the displacers of those communities and those who committed the massacres to impose development, have not yet received the full weight of the law of the Colombian state. And so, every corner of this country they call Colombia, the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America, is made up of patches of development projects installed where the war displaced entire communities, where the forests, moors, savannahs, mountains, jungles and plains were or are being razed so that a few people can enjoy the honeys of development.

We, the indigenous families of the Nasa people who walk the struggle platform of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC -by its acronym in Spanish), our organization, we don’t believe in that development and we don’t believe in that civilization that imposes death through laws and legal actions to generate coins. They indoctrinated us to believe in their civilization and told us that humans are superior to other beings, but we see that among humans there are levels, some humans who are superior than others, the superiors take all the wealth and the inferiors have to live cornered in the corners that development leaves us available, but they tell us that if we try hard or sell ourselves we can rise to the level of the superiors. We don’t like that way of life, we don’t accept it.

That is why 17 years ago, on September 2, 2005, we came down from the mountains to make a struggle that we continue today and that we have called the liberation of Mother Earth. Because we say that people will not be free while Uma Kiwe is enslaved, that all animals and beings in life are slaves until we get our mother to recover her freedom. At that time, September 2005, we had a tactical error, as one liberator said, and we negotiated an agreement with the Uribe government, an error that cost us a nine-year delay. But then we came back to enter the sugarcane agribusiness farms in December 2014, which means that we are almost eight years old, and in these eight years the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America has not managed to evict us from the farms despite more than 400 attempts, and we are not going to leave, and we have been advancing by entering in these lands, so much that we already have 24 farms in process of liberation, already eight thousand hectares.

When we enter the farms we cut the cane and instead of the cane the food we sow grows, the forest also grow because Uma Kiwe has to rest, chickens, ducks, cows and little pigs grow, wild animals return… We are returning the skin and the face to Mother Earth. That is our dream, or if you prefer, our life plan. And there is still a long way to go, sometimes the word of the invader arrives and confuses us, but as a community we are talking and clarifying things. And other times the media from agribusiness or power in Colombia arrive and brand us as terrorists, lazy, that we slow down development, and tell us that we are invaders, as the current government of Petro and Francia says, and now they have planted the lie that we are stealing the land from our neighbors of the Afro-descendant communities who live cornered on the banks of the cane fields: what we can tell you with complete certainty is that the documents of the 24 farms that are in process of liberation, they are listed in the name of Incauca, the largest owner, and other landowners, or their land is leased to Incauca or other mills that process cane for sugar or agrofuels.

And also the judicial apparatus of Colombian democracy says that because we are terrorists they are going to capture us at checkpoints or with arrest warrants and they are going to take us to jail. And the paramilitaries, organized by the sugar cane agribusiness say that since the Colombian state has not managed to kill us, they are going to do it and they have already arrived at the farms in process of liberation to shoot us with short and long range weapons, but our range is longer because we already know how they are organized and how they work. And the agro-industrialists -Incauca, Asocaña, Procaña- have been sending us negotiation or association proposals for seven years and we have answered NO because a struggle is not negotiated and NO because for them being partners means that we put the labor as cheap as possible and that they provide the capital, NO gentlemen, we are not here to change bosses, we fight so that there are no more bosses.

And now that a new government and a new congress have arrived to strengthen the oldest and most stable democracy in Latin America, the congress tells us that we can send proposals for the agrarian reform law “because the liberation of Mother Earth is a concrete agrarian reform”; we haven’t responded yet, but we know how to restore the balance of Uma Kiwe, our Mother Earth, and it goes far beyond an agrarian reform. And the latest thing that has happened is that the new government of President Petro and Vice President Francia tell us that we are invaders and that we have 48 hours to leave these lands where we fight, we sow, we graze, we watch the forest grow and the wild animals return, well, in this land where we live, and that’s how we started this letter.

At the end of 48 hours, this September 2, the state attacked with the army and esmad (Mobile Anti-riot Squadron (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios or ESMAD), there was no half hour of dialogue, as the new government had promised, the tank came in shooting gas. Later the army fired its long-range weapons against us, the communities that are liberating Mother Earth, there was no dialogue either. 17 years ago, on September 2, 2005, it was Uribe who ordered the esmad and the army to fire their weapons at us. This new government is from the left, the Uribe government was from the right. After eight hours of trying to evict us from one of the farms in process of liberation, the esmad and the army of the oldest democracy… they failed to evict us, here we continue, from here we launch this letter to the world.

We, the process of liberation of Mother Earth in northern Cauca, send word to the great chief that we are NOT going to evict, that here in these lands we are staying because this is our home to live and fight II. We say II because before we have already written that this is our home to live and fight I. At that time, 2018, the paramilitaries gave us a deadline to leave this land, but the paramilitaries gave us a slightly longer, more rational deadline, because they gave us two months, and when the two months were up we told them NO, that we couldn’t leave because this is our house to live and fight. That’s why we say II, because despite everything we don’t lose our smile. And you have to know that neither Uribe, nor Santos, nor Duque ever told us “they have 48 hours.” And we also tell you that we are not leaving because here in these lands in process of liberation, 12 compañerxs have fallen since 2005, murdered by the private company of Incauca, Asocaña and Procaña, and by the Colombian state. Here we already take root. We continue here until the government completes the process of delivering the documents to our indigenous authorities, either through agrarian reform or by the fastest way, and if it doesn´t happen, for the years of the years, we will continue here.

We also sent word to the great chief that we are going to enter in other farms because our struggle doesn’t stop. Yesterday we were in a great action to accompany a community that is liberating a farm because the esmad has been bothering them with gas every day for several days, despite the fact that they promised us that the esmad was going to end, then to transform and then that it was going to change it’s clothes, and it’s true because they wear a sports uniform for a soccer game while here they continue to shoot gas at us. We will continue our actions to root ourselves more with this land , so that our word has sustenance, because otherwise it would be like a decree or a campaign promise, which is written and signed but not fulfilled.

To the communities that in other regions of Colombia are fighting directly for the land, we invite to not leave the farms. We invite more families, more communities in the northern Cauca and in Colombia and in the world to enter in more farms and take possession and build life and community as we are already doing in these lands, the same way as many struggles that have been branded as invaders by the great chiefs of the country, because no fight has been won with little kisses on the cheek.

We also send word to our compañerxs who are now in the power of the Colombian state not to get tangled up along the way. Because they have walked alongside our struggles but now we see that they are forgetting where they come from, something that can happen to anyone who reaches a peak, who doesn´t see that after the top comes the descent. That is why we also sent word that we will enter to another farm where we will carry out rituals and plant food to share with them and we will pray for them so that when they finish their time in the state they continue to be the same people who one day arrived there with the votes of millions of people who saw in them some kind of hope.

So far this letter ends, but our word goes on. We write our word on the farms where we are liberating, that is our first word. The documents, the letters, the videos, the radio…, the second word, that helps us to tell the world what we do, the danger that awaits us and how we will continue walking in the face of danger. Thanks to the struggles and peoples of the world who listen to us and stand in solidarity with us. As we have already said in “this is our house to live and fight I”, the best way to support us is to strengthen your fight: it will be very difficult for capitalism to evict or bring down with the full weight of the law thousands and thousands of battles throughout the world.

Process of liberation of Mother Earth

Nasa people, Northern Cauca,

Colombia September 3, 2022.

Featured image: Cauca valley by Alliance for Biodiversity International and CIAT via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

After Industrial Civilization with Lierre Keith

After Industrial Civilization with Lierre Keith

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.

Max: Look at what that kicked off in the end.

Lierre: Yeah they did a great thing.


Featured image: Mad Max / Fly, Fly Away by Stefans02 via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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.

Note: The fundraiser still continues. If you want to donate, please visit our Givebutter page. We also have some interesting things available in our auction page. Please visit soon if you want to bid on items. The auction will remain open till today.

 

Event Recording – Collapse: Climate, Ecology and Civilization

Event Recording – Collapse: Climate, Ecology and Civilization

On November 19th, Deep Green Resistance hosted a special 3-hour live streaming event, “Collapse: Climate, Ecology, and Civilization” featuring Derrick Jensen, Saba Malik, Max Wilbert, Robert Jensen, Lierre Keith, and a variety of other grassroots activists from four continents. The recording of the event has been released. The fundraiser and auction still continues. Auction will end on Wednesday.


Our way of life doesn’t need to be saved. The planet needs to be saved from our way of life. Right now civilization is causing the extinction of 200 species a day. It is drawing down the Earth’s capacity to support life. Ultimately, we are talking about the future of all generations being sacrificed.

Deep Green Resistance is the movement that is dedicated to stopping this. We are some of the people that are willing to be honest about what’s going on here and dedicate our lives to stopping this culture of empire. DGR keeps the natural world at the center of all our strategies and tactics. We are working not just to stop one bad law, or one bad corporation, or one bad government. We are working to fundamentally transform this entire culture.

There is nothing more important in this entire world than the health of the world. The only thing that will save this planet is for industrial civilization to stop. Whatever you love, it is under assault. Love is a verb. We’ve got to let our love call us to action.

In this video:

  • 02:00 Introduction by Max Wilbert
  • 07:47 Keynote by Lierre Keith
  • 24:14 Keynote by Saba Malik
  • 49:55 Activist report-backs
  • 1:28:43 Keynote by Robert Jensen
  • 1:41:26 Keynote by Derrick Jensen

We would like to thank all our supporters for their constant support. Your help goes a long way in making possible all that we do.

A crease in apocalyptic time by Will Falk

The apocalypse doesn’t care about weekends. But, on some Sunday afternoons, especially when the November northern California clouds part and the redwoods are draped in their gold, emerald, and ebony robes, I need a break. I take my cup of tea and notebook to the front porch and wait for the light to change.
It doesn’t happen every time. It doesn’t even happen most of the time. But, every once in a while, ravens fly across my vision, brushing the sky clean, and pulling the world’s sharpest knife across the air to cut a fine crease in Time, herself.
My perception slows as the veil falls away and I slip into a long, amber moment. The sun kisses my brow. Shadows cup my head. And, natural warmth holds me closer than any human lover. I know if I could just find this embrace, even if only every once in a while, I’d be strong enough to fight the apocalypse.
But everyday eventually fades. Moments must pass to exist. Moments must exist for light to move. And, light must move to hold me like this.
The sun slips away on Earth’s autumnal slants and I am cold again. Time stitches close the crease the ravens cut. Long, amber moments become simple tick-tocking seconds again, marching tirelessly into the dark future.
A chainsaw keens in the distance. Planes vandalize the sunset. A muffler pops like gun shots. And, the redwoods – naked in the dusk now – know that soon it will be too hot to live here, to live anywhere, anymore.
I don’t know where the ravens will take their knife, then. I don’t know where the shadows will dance. And, I don’t know who will protect me from this apocalypse.

 

Will Falk is a writer, lawyer, and environmental activist. The natural world speaks and Will’s work is how he listens. He believes the ongoing destruction of the natural world is the most pressing issue confronting us today. For Will, writing is a tool to be used in resistance. 

The Green Flame is a Deep Green Resistance podcast that brings you revolutionary analysis, practical skills, and artistic expression from the grassroots movement to dismantle global industrial civilization. The show was launched in 2019.

Listen now on your preferred platform:


 

Live Streaming Event — Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization

Live Streaming Event — Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization

Today, November 19th, Deep Green Resistance is hosting a live online event on the topic of collapse. The event will start at 3 PM Pacific Time (11pm / 23:00 UTC) and will be hosted on Givebutter and Facebook.

This live event will explore issues of collapse (ecological, climatic, and civilizational) with a focus on organized, political resistance to slow and mitigate the worst aspects of collapse and accelerate the positive impacts. There will be opportunities to ask questions and participate in dialogue.

The event is also a fundraiser. The raised funds will go to fund a national speaking tour, community-led land defense in the Philippines, campaigns addressing mining and biodiversity, training programs for activists around the world, and other organizational work.

Keynote speakers

Lierre Keith

Lierre Keith, a founding member of Deep Green Resistance, is an American writer, radical feminist, food activist, and environmentalist. Lierre is the author of the novels Conditions of War and Skyler Gabriel. Her non-fiction works include the highly acclaimed The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability. She is coauthor, with Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay, of Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet (Seven Stories Press, 2011) and she’s the editor of The Derrick Jensen Reader: Writings on Environmental Revolution (Seven Stories Press, 2012).

Saba Malik

liveSaba, also a founding member of Deep Green Resistance, is a longtime radical feminist, environmentalist, and anti-racist organizer. She studies herbal medicine and loves to spend time in the forest with her children.

 

 

Robert Jensen

Robert JensenRobert Jensen is an emeritus professor in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Texas at Austin and a founding board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center. He collaborates with New Perennials Publishing and the New Perennials Project at Middlebury College. Jensen is associate producer and host of Podcast from the Prairie, with Wes Jackson.

 

 

 

 

Derrick Jensen

Derrick JensenDerrick Jensen is an American ecophilosopher, writer, author, teacher and environmentalist. Utne Reader named Jensen among “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing the World” in 2008, and Democracy Now! says that he “has been called the poet-philosopher of the ecology movement”.

 

Other features

Activist Report Back

In this segment, DGR members share their experiences regarding what the different organizing work that they have been involved in.

Silent auction

The silent auction will features items (paintings, books, etc) donated by members of DGR. The auction will open with the event and will remain open till Wednesday. You can find the auction here.

Schedule

  • 3pm – Live Event begins
  • 3:10pm – Lierre Keith
  • 3:25pm – Saba Malik
  • 3:35pm – Activist report-backs
  • 3:50pm – Intermission
  • 4pm – Robert Jensen
  • 4:25pm – Derrick Jensen
  • 5pm – Event ends

You can watch the event here: Givebutter

An Inconvenient Apocalypse [Review]

An Inconvenient Apocalypse [Review]

By Frank Kaminski, originally published by Mud City Press

An Inconvenient Apocalypse: Environmental Collapse, Climate Crisis, and the Fate of Humanity
By Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen
184 pp. University of Notre Dame Press, Sept. 2022. $24.00.

The goal of An Inconvenient Apocalypse isn’t to try to convince people of the reality of humankind’s environmental and societal crises. The book’s authors know that’s a fool’s errand, given the powerlessness of facts alone to change minds. “A parade of statistics and studies,” they write, “rarely persuades those who have decided to ignore the threats to human communities and ecosystems.” Instead the book takes these threats as a starting point and spends the majority of its lean page count exploring their implications and how we might best respond to them. It succeeds commendably in this regard.

Authors Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen certainly have the bona fides to write authoritatively on the topic of this book. Jackson is a pioneer of sustainable agriculture and an all-around sustainability icon. Jensen is a professor emeritus of journalism and media at the University of Texas at Austin, as well as a longtime collaborator and coauthor with Jackson on sustainability-related issues. Like all their previous books together, this one is founded on a recognition of the obvious but widely denied reality that Earth is finite, and that humans have to learn to live within its limits. Write the authors, “[W]e take seriously the biophysical limits of the ecosphere and human limits.”

Unfortunately, most readers are likely to misinterpret the book’s title. That’s because the word apocalypse has come to be equated in popular parlance with the end of the world. But Jackson and Jensen are using it in its traditional sense, which they paraphrase as follows: “a lifting of the veil, a disclosure of something hidden from most people, a coming to clarity.” Understood in this sense, it’s perfect to describe the change in consciousness needed for humanity to make meaningful movement toward sustainability. Still, it’s regrettable that those who aren’t familiar with this meaning of apocalypse are likely to dismiss this book as alarmist or fatalist. (To the authors’ credit, their original title, The Old Future is Gone, would have been much less prone to such connotations; alas, it was rejected by the publisher on the grounds of its poor search engine optimization value, according to Jensen in interviews.)

The authors make a crucial clarification early on in the book, namely to whom they’re referring when they use the word “we” in the context of humanity’s ecological predicament. They don’t use it to mean citizens of high-consuming industrial nations, as many others do; instead, they use it to refer to every human alive today. They go on to explain that while the industrial world certainly is responsible for the majority of today’s resource consumption and consequent environmental impacts, the path that has led us to this state of affairs is rooted in humanity’s species-wide tendency to seek out ever more energy-dense fuel sources.

Philosopher Bill Vitek calls this propensity of ours our “human-carbon nature.” As that phrase suggests, Vitek contends that our affinity for relentlessly exploiting every last source of carbon on Earth—from soils to forests to fossil fuels—is an essential part of human nature. And Jackson and Jensen build on this contention to argue that “while not every individual or culture is equally culpable, the human failure over the past ten thousand years is the result of the imperative of all life to seek out energy-rich carbon.” Ten thousand years ago is when humans invented agriculture and thus first began extracting carbon beyond replacement levels. Ever since then, we’ve been on an ever-escalating carbon binge.

In a chapter aptly titled “Four Hard Questions,” Jackson and Jensen do a fine job of bringing into focus the true dimensions of the change our species must make. The titular questions are size, scale, scope and speed. By size the authors mean the maximum sustainable size of the human population. In the absence of modern fossil-fueled technology, they estimate this number to be a fraction of the planet’s present 8 billion. They acknowledge the taboo surrounding the topic of human population, but stress that we must be willing to discuss it nonetheless if we’re to avoid flying blindly into the population contraction that lies ahead as we lose access to the energy resources that have temporarily enabled today’s bloated population.

Scale, scope and speed refer, respectively, to the natural size limit of human social groups, the maximum technological level of a sustainable industrial infrastructure and the speed with which humanity must undergo its transition toward a sustainable society. The authors cite 150 people as the natural size limit of a human community, a figure rooted in human cognitive capacity and known as “Dunbar’s number.” They argue compellingly for an industrial infrastructure that is technologically simpler and far less energy-intensive than today’s. As for the speed with which we must shift our society onto a sustainable path, they say we need to do so “faster than we have been and faster than it appears we are capable of.”

Of course, many people stoutly believe that no such shift will be necessary, because technology and progress will somehow rescue our modern industrial way of life and allow it to continue indefinitely. Jackson and Jensen reiterate the oft-remarked observation that this belief amounts to a religious conviction. Borrowing a term from environmental author and thinker David Orr, they call it “technological fundamentalism,” defined in this book as “a religious-style faith in the ability of societies to solve problems with high energy and high technology, including the problems created by past use of that energy and technology.”

Adherents of this faith often point to feats such as humanity’s successful bid to save the ozone layer from ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the late 20th century as evidence that their faith is warranted. But the authors are quick to counter that the replacements for CFCs—hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)—have themselves had to be replaced following the discovery of their catastrophic global warming potential. It is the tale of so many supposedly miracle technologies of our time.