stop hs2

High Speed Rail: The Insanity of Civilisation

In this writing Ben asks questions about a rail development that is destroying the natural world. He asks what it would take to stop the development  and why we are not all talking about it.

Is high speed rail the pinnacle of civilisations’ insanity?

By Ben Warner

Probably not, unfortunately, but it is an excellent example. Standing in the same place for centuries should mean something. The men must have made a mistake. They have destroyed a National Asset. The National Heritage has a list of criteria for granting protected status that includes being in the same place for centuries. Why have they just demolished a possible candidate for the National Heritage List for England? The answer is, it was a tree who was razed to the ground and not a building. The tree was in the way of “progress” and those who get in the way are often crushed.<

Imagine a country so insane it would spend £100 billion during a pandemic and one of the worst recessions in human history, just to speed up a journey by 20 minutes. That’s 5 billion a minute. Imagine the same project would destroy over 700 wildlife sites including sites designated by that same culture as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSI) and not be carbon ‘friendly’ for at least a hundred years.

Imagine it would simultaneously threaten the water supply of its biggest city and use between 6 and 10 million liters of water during its construction. Now imagine the same project has been made obsolete by a virus that has stopped people travelling for business. Of course you do not have to imagine it. The country is the UK and it is as insane as the culture it is part of Industrial civilisation.

High Speed Rail (HS2)

The first stage of HS2 will make the rail journey from the UK’s London to Birmingham 1200 seconds quicker. That is for people who can afford the tickets, which are likely to be in the region of £50. What are people going to do with these 20 minutes? If they were commuting there is probably little they can do at work that they could not have done on the train.

The rational arguments for HS2 do not exist. There are none. But the project will continue. Why? Because it has already started, too much money has been spent and too much embarrassment will be caused, if it stopped. For a culture that prides itself on its rationality, this is baffling. Even when the evidence is so strong, it is hard to accept that our own culture is insane.

Right now there are brave people occupying woods and sleeping in tree houses attempting to slow down the HS2 project and the pointless destruction it is causing. Their efforts are courageous and valuable. Their resistance probably won’t stop HS2, but their actions will not be in vain because the morality of what they are doing is clear for all beings who care to learn about it.

What would it take to stop HS2?

The people in the camps are above ground and peaceful. But what if there was another, completely separate, group of militant underground activists using the hit and run tactics of successful resistance groups? Would sabotage stop HS2? Would sand or water or bleach in the engines of their destructive machines stop them? Would constant, relentless physical intimidation of the workers make the project impossible to complete?

What would a truly effective campaign look like and why are we not talking about it?


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

Featured image artist unknown via Stop HS2 campaign. There are suggestions of how you can help resist the destruction on their website: stophs2.org.

3 thoughts on “High Speed Rail: The Insanity of Civilisation”

  1. The entire concept of “progress” should be re-examined in depth. It’s one of those capitalist buzz-words, like “growth” and “development,” which (to steal a line from classical poetry) are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    As I said in an earlier discussion on this topic, “progress” is a supposedly positive term for building something and declaring it “the Eighth Wonder of the World” — and then, 40 years later, arguing that it has to be torn down because it’s obsolete, and because some developer has plans to replace it with “the Eighth Wonder of the World.”

    Capitalism is a perpetual make-work project, rationalized on nothing more than its own, circular argument that civilization must continue to grow so that civilization can continue to grow.

    I mean, we didn’t build all this earth-moving equipment so it could just sit here, did we?

    Civilization is an endless advertisement for itself. After all, what use would men be, if they weren’t digging holes and moving dirt around? That’a what progress is all about!

  2. “The tree was in the way of ‘progress’ and those who get in the way are often crushed.”

    “Progress is overrated.” Arthur Dent, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    Real progress would be greatly lowering human population and consumption, while shifting from unnaturally and harmfully manipulating the physical/natural world, to focusing on wisdom, empathy, and expanding human consciousness. The accepted definition of progress, in stark contrast, is just a euphemism for destruction, just like “development.”

    The high speed rail project in California that will probably never happen was originally for the purpose of getting people, who were traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco and vice versa, out of planes. In order to get over the hills from the San Francisco area and into the big valley to head to Los Angeles, the train was planned to go over Altamont Pass, an area already ruined by a major highway and other train tracks. But the greedheads, this time in the form of the San Jose Chamber of Commerce, got their dirty hands on the project and demanded that the train go through San Jose and over Pacheco Pass instead. Pacheco Pass is a wilderness area, and putting a train there would do massive ecological damage. So some of us went to court and stopped the project, with one lawyer still single-handedly holding it up for the past 10 years as far as I know. Hopefully it never gets built.

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