By Lierre Keith, Derrick Jensen, and Max Wilbert
“The beauty of the living world I was trying to save has always been uppermost in my mind,” Rachel Carson wrote.“That, and anger at the senseless, brutish things that were being done.”
Silent Spring, which inspired the modern environmental movement, was more than a critique of pesticides, it was a cri de couer against industrialized society’s destruction of the natural world.
Yet five decades of environmental activism haven’t stopped the destruction, or even slowed it. In those same decades, global animal populations have dropped by 70 percent. Right now, we are losing about one football field of forest every single second. Looking forward provides no solace: the oceans are projected to be empty of fish by 2048.
A salient reason for this failure is that so much environmentalism no longer focuses on saving wild beings and wild places, but instead on how to power their destruction. The beings and biomes who were once our concern have disappeared from the conversation. In their place we are now told to advocate for projects like the Green New Deal. While endangered ecosystems get a mention, the heart of the plan is “meeting 100 percent of the power demand in the United States through clean, renewable, and zero-emission energy sources” in the service of industrial manufacturing.
This new movement is called bright green environmentalism.
Its advocates believe technology and design can render industrial civilization sustainable, and that “green technologies” are good for the planet. Some bright greens are well-known and beloved figures like Al Gore, Naomi Klein, and Bill McKibben as well as organizations like the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, and Audubon. These committed activists have brought the emergency of climate change into consciousness, a huge win as glaciers melt and tundra burns. But bright greens are solving for the wrong variable. Their solutions to global warming take our way of life as a given, and the planet’s health as the dependent variable. That’s backwards: the planet’s health must be more important than our way of life because without a healthy planet you don’t have any way of life whatsoever.
The bright green narrative has to ignore the creatures and communities being consumed. Take the Scottish wildcat, numbering a grim 35, all at risk from a proposed wind installation. Or the birds dying by the thousands at solar facilities in California, where concentrated sunlight melts every creature flying over.
Or the entire biome of the southern wetland forest, being logged four times faster than South American rainforests. Dozens of huge pulp mills export 100 percent of this “biomass” to Europe to feed the demand for biofuels, which bright greens promote as sustainable and carbon-neutral. The forest has a biological diversity unmatched in North America, lush with life existing nowhere else and barely hanging on. This includes the Southeastern American Kestrel. They need longleaf pine savannahs, and longleaf pine have been reduced to 3% of their range. The kestrels depend for their homes on red-cockaded woodpeckers, who exist as a whisper at 1% of historic numbers. Last in this elegiac sample is the gopher tortoise. Four hundred mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, and insects cannot survive without the protective cover of the burrows dug by tortoises, tortoises now critically endangered. All these creatures are our kin: our fragile, wondrous, desperate kin, and environmentalists would have them reduced to pellets, shipped to Europe, and burned, while calling their slaughter “green.”
Facts about renewable energy are worse than inconvenient.
First, industrial civilization requires industrial levels of energy. Second is that fossil fuel — especially oil — is functionally irreplaceable. Scaling renewable energy technologies like solar, wind, hydro, and biomass, would constitute ecocide. Twelve percent of the continental United States would have to be covered in windfarms to meet electricity demand alone. To provide for the U.S.A.’s total energy consumption, fully 72% of the continent would have to be devoted to wind farms. Meanwhile, solar and wind development threaten to destroy as much land as projected urban sprawl, oil and gas, coal, and mining combined by 2050.
Finally, solar, wind, and battery technologies are, in their own right, assaults against the living world. From beginning to end, they require industrial-scale devastation: open-pit mining, deforestation, soil toxification that’s permanent on a geologic timescale, extirpation of vulnerable species, and use of fossil fuels. In reality, “green” technologies are some of the most destructive industrial processes ever invented. They won’t save the earth. They’ll only hasten its demise.
There are solutions, once we confront the actual problem.
Simply put, we have to stop destroying the planet and let the world come back. A recent study in Nature found we could cut the carbon added to the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution in half by reverting 30% of the world’s farmland to its natural state. This would also preserve 70% of endangered animals and plants. This is the lowest of low hanging fruit when it comes to combating climate change and healing our planet. Everywhere there are examples of how the wounded are healed, the missing appear, and the exiled return. Forests repair, grasses take root, and soil sequesters carbon. It’s not too late.
The green new deal has reforestation as one of its goals, but it’s not the main goal, as it should be. If environmentalism is going to help save the planet — and if it’s going to respond to global warming commensurate with the threat — it needs to return to its roots, and remember the love that founders like Rachel Carson had for the land. We need to pledge our loyalty to this planet, our only home.
There’s no time for despair.
Wildcats and kestrels need us now. We have to take back our movement and defend our beloved. How can we do less? And with all of life on our side, how can we lose?
Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert are the authors of the forthcoming book, Bright Green Lies: How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It. The book will be available March 16th, but you can pre-order to your local bookstore or library via IndieBound now.