Scientific Progress vs the Natural World

Scientific Progress vs the Natural World

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

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

By  / The Conversation

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

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

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

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

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

Comets and collisions

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

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

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

The Russian Prince

Odoevskii in the 1840s. Wikimedia Commons

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Photo by Denys Nevozhai on Unsplash

Why Don’t We Stop Destruction of Nature?

Why Don’t We Stop Destruction of Nature?

Editor’s Note: The Earth is dying. The facts are there. Yet, not a lot of people take it seriously. Otherwise, we would have seen a much greater action around it. The following post tries to explain this phenomenon by the concepts of enlightenment, wétiko, denial of reality and maximum power principle, and by challenging the preconceived notions in our civilization.

By Erik Michaels/Problems, Predicaments and Technology

My last post about enlightenment was to describe the simple fact that enlightenment does not bring happiness or fulfillment but is a stripping away of innocence and naïvety. Enlightenment is what experience and reality replaces idealism with. My own experience informs me that I must choose to look for positives rather than the negatives which initially overwhelm me. I must turn away from the anthropocentric perspective which I am naturally biased with. In this manner, I can then begin to look at the collective set of predicaments our species has brought forth and see it for the unvarnished truth that it really is. My writings aren’t unique, as many others write about the same topics as I do. However, very few actually point to the actual roots of these predicaments the way I do, and perhaps denial of reality (see link below) is one reason why. Doing so requires much grief work along the way, realizing the true nature of how we got to this point.

I brought the concept of wétiko into that post (as well as many others), and an article from Max Wilbert about Protect Thacker Pass made me realize that I should probably expand on this concept as well as point out the reasons for it. In the article, he quotes Jack D. Forbes, and then goes on to explain here, quote:

“‘The wétiko psychosis, and the problems it creates, have inspired many resistance movements and efforts at reform or revolution. Unfortunately, most of these efforts have failed because they have never diagnosed the wétiko as an insane person whose disease is extremely contagious.’

That contagion is dangerous. None of us are immune. This is why all of humanity’s most lasting stories, from the Wendigo to Star Wars, tell of internal conflict. Whether you call it greed, temptation, evil, the Dark Side of the Force, or anything else, humans have the capacity for doing wrong.

It was that very part which is so powerful that made me see that I need to expand on it to bring the reality of precisely what it is into the forefront. Most people brought up in western civilization cannot “see” wétiko because they are indoctrinated against it. (Go here for an indepth and complete description of what civilization is.) Elementary schools teach history in such a way as to present Europeans as the “good guys” and North American Indians as the “bad guys” when in reality, it is the other way around from an ecological standpoint. European cultures invaded North American Indians’ lands and used their superior technology to wipe out or marginalize the Indians wherever resistance was mounted. This same colonialism has presented itself time and time again all over the world, where a force with superior technology has wiped out culture after culture and relegated such cultures to history. The trouble with this is in the fact that those cultures actually lived in a far more sustainable relationship with their environment than most all of us today.

Most of us in western civilization look at land ownership, agriculture, and civilization itself as part of who we are, including our economic systems and cultural systems. Until one learns the reality about these systems being unsustainable, one almost never questions their necessity or their presence. Once one questions the presence and the necessity of continuing these systems, one becomes aware of the fact that humans lived without these systems for most all of our entire history except the last ten to twelve thousand years (in the case of civilization) and only the last 200 years or so has been industrial civilization.

“The less you think about your oppression, the more your tolerance for it grows. After a while, people just think oppression is a normal state of things. But to become free, you have to be acutely aware of being a slave.” ~ Assata Shakur

This quote is poignant due to precisely the predicament we find ourselves in. Now, I still do not think that 8 billion or more human beings can live on this planet in a sustainable manner, regardless of how they live simply due to the fact that in order to provide habitat to that many humans more or less requires an amount of energy for habitat greater than can be provided through renewable resources (provided by photosynthesis). Still, there is no doubt in my mind that the humans who are alive today could live far more sustainably than those of us who live the Western Civilization lifestyle. The oppression most all of us face has to do with technology use, civilization, and the economic system currently being used, among many other items commonly discussed in the social justice realm.

Whether one calls the set of circumstances we find ourselves in a predicament, a multi-polar trap, dilemma, or something having a similar meaning as these, this set of circumstances is far different than a problem. This set of circumstances cannot be solved or answered with a simple solution or even a set of solutions. Even if the entirety of human population right now could cease all anthropogenic emissions immediately (something which is utterly impossible), ecological overshoot and climate change and many other symptom predicaments of overshoot would continue unabated (see Denial of Reality for the evidence). While eliminating emissions would be a really nice start to mitigating climate change, as long as overshoot is allowed to continue, we would have accomplished very little. The only way to reduce overshoot is to reduce technology use – in other words, we will need to promote degrowth and the abandonment of the system of civilization, because it is unsustainable. Civilization is supported by technology use and cannot exist without it. Even back when our species lived mostly in a sustainable fashion, we only did so after causing destruction first (usually in the form of wiping out the species we relied on for our very existence) and learning from our mistakes. Still, most Indigenous societies learned these lessons and even today still live in a mostly sustainable fashion compared to those living in the system of civilization.

Ultimately, Indigenous cultures found a way to live more or less in a subsistence lifestyle and did so in a very fulfilled way, being supported by other members of their society. Because each member felt supported by the other members, there was generally little unhappiness. If a member felt unhappy about something, it was discussed with others who helped the member come to terms with whatever ailed him or her.

Getting back to Max Wilbert’s quote, we see that wétiko psychosis is the cause of our undoing and that it is very contagious. How does this present itself in society? Take any form of technology from simple to complex and show a person unfamiliar with said technology this tool to help this person through his or her day. How likely would a person reject this new form of help, especially if you are his or her friend and YOU have it and are using it? Start with simple stone tools and progress through today’s computerized systems, robotics, AI systems (who hasn’t seen someone posting about ChatGPT?), cars, electricity, medical technology and so on. What you have just witnessed is the Maximum Power Principle in action. This is precisely what causes our lack of agency with regard to so many different topics, and also what causes the root issue of our unsustainability. For those who still believe in free will, go back to these articles I have linked here and read them. It took me a long time to accept the reality and I am all too painfully aware that providing the facts and evidence won’t change your mind because if it did, you would no longer have the impediment of that belief since it doesn’t exist:

“You can’t convince a believer of anything; for their belief is not based on evidence, it’s based on a deep seated need to believe.”    ~Carl Sagan

As for folks who think we have the ability to go against the Maximum Power Principle, you are actually correct – we can go against it (in a sense). This is exactly what most Indigenous cultures did upon coming into contact with European cultures. The European cultures then subsequently wiped them out or sidelined them onto reservations because they held superior technology. I would even go as far to say that we should go against the MPP to the extent possible. This has been the attempt almost every activist has made at one point or another. However, we will then be fighting those who have superior technology and weapons (society will first label troublemakers as terrorists and use superior technology against those folks), and one can clearly see how that battle ends up. Some people may gasp at the reality of robotic dogs with mounted machine guns, but look at the technology that is available to the average person now! At the end of the day, going against the MPP is something that will only result in actually making a difference once everyone agrees that reducing ecological overshoot through reducing technology use, promoting degrowth, and promoting the abandonment of civilization is the correct way to handle the set of predicaments we have gotten ourselves into. The real question is this: Will that day ever come? I’m not going to hold my breath. As long as there are still people who choose to continue living under the system of civilization, they will consume and utilize the energy and resources that those of us who choose to conserve said energy and resources do not use, undoing any progress along the way. As long as there are those who resist giving up modern technology and civilization, reducing ecological overshoot becomes a test of character because we ALL live on the same planet. For anyone still believing otherwise, perhaps the shopping cart theory story might convince you that there are many reasons that society might still choose to live under our current systems rather than attempt to abandon it despite it being unsustainable. One last reason we lack agency is Bonhoeffer’s Theory of Stupidity I posted quite sometime ago.

The conclusion I have come to based upon all the evidence is one that I do not like at all; but one that I cannot deny either. We have very little if any agency to be able to do anything better than what is being done right now as long as there is still relative abundance. Only when the pain becomes too great will most people change their behavior, and this quote reminds me of this fact:

No one changes unless they want to. Not if you beg them. Not if you shame them. Not if you use reason, emotion, or tough love. There’s only one thing that makes someone change: their own realization that they need to do it. And there’s only one time it will happen: when they decide they’re ready.    ~Unknown

Once one sees the enlightenment that I have disclosed in recent articles (going back to November) and comprehends our collective and individual lack of agency to be able to make serious change during this time of relative abundance, the best one can do is to follow their own conscience and to Live Now.

Featured image: via UnsplashPhoto by Gino on Unsplash

Fatal Faiths

Fatal Faiths

Editor’s Note: We thank the author for offering this piece to us at the beginning of a new season. The opinions expressed in this article are of the author and may not correspond to DGR. DGR is a biophilic and feminist organization. Our stance puts us in conflict with religion many times, but we are not an anti-religious organization. The following article is published as a critical analysis of religion and capitalism, not to oppose any religion.

For further insight into DGR’s views on spirituality, read this portion from the Deep Green Resistance book.

By Paul Edwards/Information Clearing House

Is this, our lifetime, the critical moment when the survival of life on earth will be determined; or just another of the ongoing crises that have always defined human existence? For a great majority of people it’s the latter: a time like any other. To most people, beset as they are with daily struggles, the question doesn’t even occur. One of the mixed mercies of human limitation is their blindness to what threatens them and the capacity to ignore it.

But assume that it is. Assume that in our time the future of life will be decided. This idea, as Dr. Johnson said of the prospect of being hanged, concentrates the mind wonderfully. If we imagine this is where we are—that whether human life continues truly does depend on us now—then all would agree that it’s imperative to abandon the hypocritical bullshit that prevents us from acting to preserve it. Humanity has never had to face the certainty its actions will determine whether life continues, and has never had to make ultimate choices irrevocably. Suppose that now it does.

Beneath and behind the cowardly sophistry that has prevented humanity from acting for its own survival, there are two powerful conceptual anchors that support our refusal to accept the iron fact of finity and prevent our acting rationally. They provide both cover and tacit permission for our self-elected suicide.

The first—longest enduring, and deepest—is the absolutism of organized religion; not of one religion, but all religions, religion itself. We understand why they exist. Awareness of finity, that fear we feel of our inevitable mortality, in addition to the random miseries living entails, create a desperate yearning for protection, hope, and safety every human experiences. Since life provides no such dispensation, a magic answer had to be devised. All religion originates in this need and is an attempt to address it.

Humanity in the mass found relief in religion; it assuaged the eviscerating hopelessness and mollified the inescapable dread mortality imposes. It’s psycho-spiritual gift has come at great cost, however. In insisting upon godly direction of Man’s destiny, religion allowed him to obliquely offload responsibility for his actions onto deity. The notion that “Man proposes and God disposes” has been used not just to provide a fantasy heaven, but as an excuse for the horrors Man inflicts on his own kind.

The appalling tragedies Man has perpetrated on himself and the living world through the ages, have found ultimate excuse and explanation in the Will of God. Religions have provided historic justification for Man’s long saga of cruelty and murder of his own. This is not because gods are portrayed as malevolent, but rather as omnipotent and incomprehensible. Man is not ultimately in charge of himself and his actions. God is. Religion requires Man to conform to a destiny he is unable to understand. Deus lo vult!

Although science has so long and so thoroughly exposed all religions for the specious, infantile fantasies they are, weak Man continues to use God myths to justify his brutality, and to elude, in his own mind, responsibility for the disasters he has planned and executed that are leading him and the living world to an end.

The second categorical imperative of human policy is Capitalism. It has been said that it’s easier for men to envision the end of the world than the end of Capitalism. Because it has proven the best means to amass the wealth that insures power and privilege, it is the ruling economic system of the world, and all business of significance is conducted through Capitalism. It is absolute.

Economics—a “social science”—has no more relation to ethics than chemistry has to politics. It is simply the study of the way people contrive to exchange goods and services. Its “laws” or, more accurately, practices, are not subject to ethical strictures or regulated by social effects. Economic systems simply enable servicing of the needs and wants of Mankind, and Capitalism is one of them. There is nothing inevitable and numinous about its so-called “laws”. They are a human created collection of rules that serve the interests of money power; in other words, stories.

In spite of that fact, Capitalism, the most powerful engine of wealth generation in history, has assumed a mythic character of permanence, an aura of inevitability, that has raised humanity’s belief in it to the level of a sanctified religion. The fact is, that human-created economic systems work as money power wishes them to work, but are riddled with cruelties and failures, and are subject to change if and when humanity demands it.

For the same reason religions continue their hold on the vast majority of humanity, Capitalism is virtually invulnerable to honest criticism. It has been portrayed as somehow holy, and ultimately necessary for the survival of humanity. Nothing could be more false and ridiculous. Ages of lying indoctrination and relentless force-feeding of dishonest propaganda by the money power has rendered it unchallengeable as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The combined power and dominating influence of these forces—religion and Capitalism—which virtually all mankind upholds and fiercely defends—is rapidly destroying the physical bases of human life and the prospect of any possible future for Mankind.

To return to our premise, if this is the age in which survival of our species will be determined, which seems certain, then unless the tyranny of these deeply evil belief systems is broken there is no hope for Mankind. Perhaps, the sense that any possible future is ours to determine, if widely disseminated, will provide the moral strength to break free and live? The choice is ours to make.

Paul Edwards is a writer and film-maker in Montana. He can be reached at:

Featured image by Paul Fiedler on Unsplash

Land We Promised to Care For

Land We Promised to Care For

Editor’s Note: The brief piece reflects on the consumer-, expansion- and tech-centered world and calls for shifting our allegiance to the natural world. We thank the author for both the article and the poem.

By Mankh (Walter E. Harris III)

“Each and every new product is supposed to offer a dramatic shortcut to the long-awaited promised land of total consumption.”
“… consumer can only get his hands on a succession of fragments of this commodity heaven.”
– Guy Debord, from his book The Society of the Spectacle

The commodified society represents the abandonment of the promise of a religious heaven afterlife for the manifesting of that heaven on earth, a one-click materialized paradise replete with all the right appliances and just the right look, you know, the ones seen in television and magazine ads or glimpses of the lifestyles of the rich and famous. To paraphrase Nietzsche, “Heaven is dead” . . . but we’re gonna do our best to get a damned-close facsimile to you with same-day free delivery. But wait, read the fine print, it’s not “free.”

What’s also at risk is dead earth. Already agricultural practices have depleted the soil’s nutrients. Mining continues to wreak havoc:

“Ramshackle slums and makeshift villages spread out from the city center into the ever-decreasing habitable space. Mines occupy at least 80 percent of the developed land in Kolwezi. The green is gone. Arable earth is extinct … Kolwezi is the mangled face of progress in Africa. The hunt for cobalt is all”.
Siddharth Kara

The once actual promised land is being sacrificed for a consumer promised land of shiny gadgets and electric vehicles whose batteries require cobalt. And as the one example of Kolwezi shows, we may actually be on the road to “total consumption,” literally destroying what’s left of the earth so as to be able to send a photo of that destruction via smartphone. What that phone can do may be smart, but the way the phone, laptop and car batteries are being made is cruel and stupid.

A brief look at history shows that the promised land was never really promised, rather stolen land. The God of the Old Testament promised the land of Canaan to His people but the problem there was that, the land “was already inhabited by indigenous peoples…” And, “The first task was to extirpate or “uproot” the non-Hebrew Canaanites from the “promised” land. The second task was to “replant” (repopulate) the promised land with the seed (offspring) of Abraham.”

This then became the template for the Doctrine of Christian Discovery and its patterns of domination and dehumanization spread globally, as explained by Steven T. Newcomb in his book Pagans in the Promised Land:

“During the fifteenth, sixteenth, and the later centuries, the monarchies and nations of Christendom lifted the Old Testament narrative of the chosen people and the promised land from the geographical context of the Middle East and began carrying it over to the rest of the globe. Genesis 1:28’s directive to subdue the earth and exercise dominion over all living things, for example, and Psalms 2:8’s mention of the ‘uttermost parts of the earth’ provided a cognitive basis for the globalization of the Chosen People–Promised Land model during the Age of Discovery.”

As the amount of actual land lessens, nowadays the promised land colonizers have already started planting chips, as in microchip implants, into human beings. The next level is brain chips, the what-could-go-wrong brainchild of Elon Musk’s company Neuralink. But “could” has already gone wrong: “The experiments involved 23 monkeys in all. At least 15 of them died or were euthanized by 2020…”

Meanwhile, the Bezos-owned Whole Foods chain is a land flowing with organic milk and local honey. You might as well call the supermarket Promised Land, since it is mostly the cho$en ones who can afford it.

You don’t need to sign a petition or write your congressman or senator (though maybe that will help), simply make a promise to care for the land (and while you’re at it, the water), and see what that promise does to your lifestyle.

Instead of just looking for what the best deals can “promise” you, turn the tables on the approximately 2,000 year old religio-business model and promise to care for the land.


  • Translated by Donald Nicholson-Smith, Zone Books, 1995, p.45 and p.43.
  • Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives – Siddharth Kara, St. Martin’s Press, 2023, p.158.
  • Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery – Steven T. Newcomb, Fulcrum Publishing, 2008, p.38 and p.43 and p.43. Also, the documentary film, The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code.
  • “Elon Musk’s Neuralink allegedly subjected monkeys to ‘extreme suffering’”

Origin Story 2023

When The Powers That Bank want to raise hell,
i lower heaven.

When the Corporations want to commodify water
i raise rivers.

When the Environmentalists think solar panels are THE solution
i burn with truth and beauty
making their eyelids open to the Sunrise
as if for the very first time.

When the Developers want to destroy just another patch of trees
for just another warehouse,
i make money grow on their genitals
because it damn sure shouldn’t grow
from cutting down trees.

When the People fail to raise their voices
i rewrite the Origin Story.

How can we begin again
when the ends still justify the mean-spiritedness?

How do we change the trajectory
that wants the hardware
to run roughshod tax free
over the lands of the Burrowing Owl,
the Sagebrush and Sagebrush Sparrow,
the Pygmy Rabbit, the Jackrabbit?

When hearts go cold as Winter ice
i make The Powers That Bank weep
until there is no more need for me to raise the rivers

The word “sustain” is from the root:
—to support from below—
so who else but Earth does that?

In the end that is just another beginning
i will even the score
so that the birds sing again,
the trees stay put again,
and the wind move through again
as when they inspired
my first Origin Story.

Mankh (Walter E. Harris III) is a verbiage experiencer, in other words, he’s into etymology, writes about his experiences and to encourage people to learn from direct experiences, not just head knowledge; you know, actions and feelings speak louder than words. He’s also a publisher and enjoys gardening, talking, listening, looking… His recent book is Moving Through The Empty Gate Forest: inside looking out. Find out more at his website:

Featured image: Golden dart frog via Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Making the connections: resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, climate change, and human rights

Making the connections: resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, climate change, and human rights

Editor’s note: This article has been published in The International Journal of Human Rights. Unfortunaltly we don’t have the rights to publish the whole article which is behind a paywall, but we are publishing the extract and some quotes.

Featured image: The surface mine storage place, mining minerals and brown coal in different colours. View from above. Photo by Curioso Photography on Unsplash

This article describes the connections between resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, and climate change. Although resource extraction and prostitution have been viewed as separate phenomena, this article suggests that they are related harms that result in multiple violations of women’s human rights. The businesses of resource extraction and prostitution adversely impact women’s lives, especially those who are poor, ethnically or racially marginalised, and young. The article clarifies associations between prostitution and climate change on the one hand, and poverty, choicelessness, and the appearance of consent on the other. We discuss human rights conventions that are relevant to mitigation of the harms caused by extreme poverty, homelessness, resource extraction, climate change, and prostitution. These include anti-slavery conventions and women’s sex-based rights conventions.

Farley writes: “In this article we offer some conceptual and empirical connections between prostitution, resource extraction, poverty, and climate change.1 These associations are clarified by Seiya Morita’s visual diagram, in Figure 1.2 In the short term, resource extraction leads to a sudden increase in the sex trade, as shown by the arrow on the left side of the diagram. In the long term, resource extraction causes climate change as indicated by the right arrow. Climate change then leads to crises in peoples’ ability to survive extreme events such as drought, floods, or agricultural collapse. These climate change catastrophes result in poverty which then mediates and channels women into the sex trade. The arrow on the bottom of Figure 1 illustrates this process.

The initial phase of resource extraction launches and expands prostitution
“At first, colonists and their descendants subordinate indigenous people who live on lands rich in natural resources. Historically, extraction industries have exploited young, poor men who are paid well to perform jobs that no one else wants because the jobs are unplea- sant and dangerous. This initial phase of resource extraction temporarily results in a boom economy with cash-rich but lonely working-class men. In order to pacify the workers and enrich the pimps, women and girls who are under pimp control are delivered to workers in these boom/sacrifice zones such as the Bakken oil fields in USA and Canada, gold mines in South Africa, coltan mining regions in Colombia, and logging regions in Brazil.3 This movement of trafficked women increases prostitution both in the boom town and in neigh- bouring communities. Following is an example of this process.

“The Bakken oil fields of Montana/North Dakota/Saskatchewan/Manitoba are located in lands where the Dakota Access Pipeline causes physical, psychological, and cultural damage to the community, and ecocidal harm to the land and the water.4 In 2008, large numbers of pipeline workers moved into the Bakken region’s barracks-style housing which were named man camps. Sexual assaults, domestic violence, and sex trafficking tripled in communities adjacent to the oilfield sacrifice zones,5 with especially high rates of sexual violence toward Native women.6 Adverse consequences of living near extractive projects include increased rates of sexually transmitted infections and still- births; general deterioration in health; ecological degradation and climate change; threats to food security; and political corruption – all of which severely impact women.7 When resource extraction is terminated, for example when coltan mining was halted in Congo because of environmental protests, the newly expanding sex trade remains in operation, an enduring legacy of colonisation. Belgium’s domination of Congo gradually shifted from state to corporate colonisation.8 The Belgian colonists’ commodification of the nation diminished the people’s social and political power, leaving them poorer, with fewer resources, and often desperate for a means of survival even before the later phase of climate change occurred. This sequence happens wherever resources are commodified. Initially, a boom economy based on resource extraction creates short-term job opportunities and wealth previously unknown. Prostitution is established both to pacify the workers and to generate money for pimps and traffickers. When the boom economy goes bust, men’s continued demand for paid sexual access, combined with women’s need for survival – drive the institution of prostitution, which remains even after the extraction industry has ended.”

Melissa Farley (2021): Making the connections: resource extraction, prostitution, poverty, climate change, and human rights, The International Journal of Human Rights, DOI: 10.1080/13642987.2021.1997999

The whole article is accessible here:

Melissa Farley
Melissa Farley is a research and clinical psychologist who has authored many articles and 2 books on the topic of prostitution, pimping/trafficking, and pornography. She is the executive director of Prostitution Research & Education, a nonprofit research institute that conducts original research on the sex trade and provides a library of information for survivors, advocates, policymakers, and the public. Access to the free library is at



This article first appeared on the Association for the Tree of Live Website.


A ravenous, yet decrepit cyborg – part machine, part zombie – lurches onward as it is programmed to do. Its hunger is so insatiable that it eats its own flesh; it eats its offspring; and it eats the future. The catabolic effects are inescapable and its death rattle reverberates for miles. An entire city lives inside this beast. Yet in this late hour, inhabitants put their heads down and carry-on as usual, for they are all dependent upon this monster for their very own food, water, and shelter. No one dares utter a stray word, until the day one brave soul holds up a mirror that reveals who they have become.

A decade ago, I attended a series of contentious activist meetings with Rio Tinto, the mega-mining corporation that owns the massive Kennecott copper pit in the Salt Lake Valley. Rio Tinto planned to expand the mine, and activists were pushing back. The meetings foundered and collapsed upon the lack of viable possibilities for avoiding local impacts and for making operations more sustainable. Activists’ proposals were considered impractical and unprofitable. Ultimately, Kennecott got its expansion and activists got nothing.

Jean Arnold, Civilization, 2012, oil on canvas, 42 x 42 inches.
An early Egyptian pyramid is seen with the gaping hole of the Kennecott copper pit. As civilization builds up monuments to itself, it must tear down into Earth for her treasures.

As a visual artist, I took my angst to the studio and captured eviscerated earth in a series of paintings and drawings, depicting large-scale mining operations that are rarely seen or considered by the public. What better way to reveal our civilization’s insatiable hunger for resources?

I realized that the mining industry cannot be greened, intrinsically by its very nature. Mining casts a long shadow: habitat loss, land theft, worker exploitation, local health impacts, and groundwater contamination, to name just a few issues. Without mining and other forms of extraction, Industrial Civilization could not exist. Yet we rarely ponder our Wonder-World’s material basis and its extraction costs.

Turns out I’m not the only one working in this vein – far from it.

This year a broad panoply of photographers, painters, poets, and printmakers are raising a ruckus in a four-continent constellation of almost sixty exhibits, installations, performances, and events under the rubric “EXTRACTION: Art on the Edge of the Abyss.” When EXTRACTION originator Peter Koch announced the project, it took off like wildfire. Creators are shining lights on all forms of the omnivorous extractive industry, “from mining and drilling to the reckless plundering and exploitation of fresh water, fertile soil, timber, marine life, and innumerable other resources across the globe.” The project’s broad definition begs the questions: In our civilization, what isn’t based on extraction? What isn’t affected by extraction?

The Algonquin word “wetiko” reveals extraction as a symptom of the culture-wide soul-sickness driven by domination, greed, and consumptive excess. It blinds humans from seeing ourselves as part of an interdependent whole, in communion with all of life. It is through this toxic mindset that the world is divided up and consumed for profit.

Extraction is an uncomfortable topic: it confronts us with our system’s voracious appetite for taking Earth’s riches without reciprocity – the very epitome of wetiko. Sure, we can point at capitalism, corporations and elite interests, but as participants in this wetiko culture we are all infected by this mind virus.

Far beyond a “problem” – extraction and its consequences pose a predicament without escape. Humanity is hitting planetary limits: declining resources, excess CO2 in the atmosphere, and plastic choking our oceans. Many of the proposed “solutions,” are just new iterations of the same paradigm, bringing more extraction. For example, see our blog “We are Strip-Mining Life While We Drink ‘Bright Green Lies’” as to why “green” tech will never save us. Humanity has dug itself deep into a hole from which few of us may emerge.

Since stories create meaning, the “wetikonomy” seeks to maintain itself through a tight control over its own narratives. In our situation, the system rewards those that uphold its delusions: endless growth, techno-magic, fulfillment through consumption, and superiority over nature. We are told there is no alternative and things are getting better all the time.

Stephen Braun, The Hoarder, 2009, raku ceramics, 24 x 30 x 8 inches.
Clinging to the same mentality at the root cause of the crises.

The pressure to act according to these grand-yet-contradictory narratives is pervasive, which means compliance is near-universal. Witness the charades played by world leaders and diplomats at decades of climate conferences, giving lip service to fossil fuel phase-out while maintaining the techno-growth-extraction paradigm – essentially mocking the stated climate goals by clinging to the same mentality at the root cause of the crisis. Does anyone think this year’s climate conference, COP26 in Glasgow will play out differently?

Why are people so willing to surrender their agency? Society is captivated by a grand bargain described by social critic Lewis Mumford in his 1964 essay “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics”:

The bargain … takes the form of a magnificent bribe … each member of the community may claim every material advantage … food, housing, swift transportation, instantaneous communication, medical care, entertainment, education. But on one condition: that one must not merely ask for nothing that the system does not provide, but likewise agree to take everything offered … Once one opts for the system no further choice remains.

In other words, the bribe offers everyone a share in the largess, that is, the cornucopia of material goods unleashed by this industrial economy — as long as one does not question the costs to others, to ecosystems, or to the future.

The wetiko-spirit hates to be seen and named, as this begins to dissolve its parasitic power over its host. Dissent against the existing paradigm is ignored, penalized, or co-opted – that is, absorbed into the hegemony. Until it’s not. The time comes when costs become unbearable, limits are reached, and opposition finally boils over.

Thus, the last thing the power structure wants is a cultural spotlight on extraction, which exposes the core of our malady. And certainly not through art, which has a visceral, soul-level power – a power that scientific reports, statistics, and warnings do not have. Art can play a prophetic role: bearing witness to unsettling matters and grabbing attention before we can turn away. It can portray possibilities previously unconsidered, vitally needed at this time.

Jos Sances, Or, the Whale, 2108-2109, scratchboard, 14 x 51 feet
This very large scratchboard drawing was inspired by Moby Dick and the history of whaling in America. The whale’s skin is embedded with a history of capitalism in America—images of human and environmental exploitation and destruction since 1850.

EXTRACTION co-founder Edwin Dobb (now deceased) posed the question of our time: Can we break the spell? A growing chorus on the periphery – Greta Thunberg, poets, painters, performance artists, Extinction Rebellion – is revealing the sociopathic end-game holding us in its grip and unraveling slowly in real time. Learning to see wetiko within ourselves and our culture can begin to break its spell. Can we come to see our own hubris? Contraction is coming whether we like it or not – how can we deal with this if we are spellbound? We have no individual or collective roadmap for the coming post-extraction Reality.

The EXTRACTION project’s exhibits and events are winding down, although organizers hope for continuation in some form. Only a few more venues are scheduled to open, yet its effects will continue rippling outwards. The project has legitimized the extraction art movement and showcased some of today’s most potent work. It has broadened my own definition of extraction-inspired art, which helps me see new possibilities. The project will live on in the evolving work of extraction artists and in others forging authentic responses to our global predicaments. Art is all-too-often wed to money and societal embrace, compromising its own power and obscuring rather than illuminating Reality. Artmaking on the margins is not easy, so supporting this work is necessary.

Chris Boyer, Atlantic Salmon Pens, Welshpool, New Brunswick, Canada (44.885980°, -66.959243°), 2018.

Art that challenges the wetiko-extraction paradigm will become even more relevant, as extraction’s impacts widen. Extraction art is not going away, until extraction itself goes away. While industrial-scale extraction has “only” been with us for four hundred years, art has been with us for thousands of generations, since our early ancestors rendered images inside caves.

Listen to an audio of this blog, narrated by Michael Dowd.

Learn more about the EXTRACTION project.

EXTRACTION megazine (648 pages): download for free or purchase a printed copy for $25 + $7 shipping.

Partly a group catalog of extraction-related artwork, each artist or creator’s individual contribution documents their own personal investigations into the extraction question. The project is by no means limited to the visual arts—in these pages you will also find poetry, critical writings, philosophical treatises, manifestos, musical scores, conversations, historical or found photographs, and much more.

Make a donation to the EXTRACTION project.