Editor’s Note; The fossil fuel industry is largely responsible for the climate crisis we are in today. The following article highlights the current state of the climate crisis.
While we believe that the fossil fuel industry needs to be stopped, DGR does not believe that “green” energy is going to save the planet. We believe that the green energy industry is just an extension of the ‘traditional” energy industry, running with the same disregard for the natural world.
This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
By Thom Hartmann/Earth | Food | Life
You may remember the 2004 disaster movie The Day After Tomorrow, in which large parts of Europe and the American East Coast suddenly freeze up?
The plot device is that the Great Conveyor Belt—also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC)—which brings heat from the south Pacific around the southern tip of Africa and up the east coast of the Americas (we call it the Gulf Stream) into the North Atlantic and Europe shuts down.
The AMOC and the heat it brings to the North Atlantic ocean is the main reason why London (at the same latitude as Calgary) has a relatively temperate climate year-round, instead of being snowbound six months out of the year.
It’s why Europe can grow enough food to feed its 740+ million people; if the AMOC was to stop transporting all that heat to the North Atlantic, the continent could be plunged into famine in a matter of years or decades (the movie was heavily dramatized).
The IPCC has warned of this possibility but had placed the danger zone for the failure of the AMOC in the early 22nd century, well past the lifetimes of most people living today. That proclamation moved it off most of our immediate-attention screens.
Now, however, might be a good time to watch the movie again: a new study published in Nature Communications last week titled “Warning of a Forthcoming Collapse of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” reports that global warming forced by all the CO2 and methane in our atmosphere—if we don’t do something immediately—could shut down the AMOC as early as 2025 and almost certainly before 2095.
This adds to a growing body of alarming climate science, like the one published last year in the Journal of Climate titled “Sixfold Increase in Historical Northern Hemisphere Concurrent Large Heatwaves Driven by Warming and Changing Atmospheric Circulations,” which indicates we’re much farther down the path of dangerous climate change than even most scientists realized.
That study essentially predicted this year’s shocking Northern Hemisphere heat waves (with more and worse to come); the lead researcher’s first name is Cassandra, no doubt an unintentional choice in the paper’s authors’ pecking order, but still.
Perhaps most alarming was a paper published eleven months ago in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) titled “Evidence for Massive Methane Hydrate Destabilization During the Penultimate Interglacial Warming.”
It brings up the topic of the “Clathrate Gun Hypothesis,” which is the absolute worst case scenario for humanity’s future.
All across the planet there are an estimated 1.4 trillion tons of methane gas frozen into a snowcone-like slurry called clathrates or methane hydrates laying on the sea floor off the various continental shelves.
When they suddenly melt, that’s the “firing of the gun.” An explosion (in the context of geologic time) of atmospheric gas that’s over 70 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. The Clathrate Gun.
The PNAS paper mentioned above concludes that 126,000 years ago there was an event that caused a small amount of these clathrates to warm enough to turn to gas and bubble up out of the seas. The resulting spike in greenhouse gas (methane) led to a major warming event worldwide:
“Our results identify an exceptionally large warming of the equatorial Atlantic intermediate waters and strong evidence of methane release and oxidation almost certainly due to massive methane hydrate destabilization during the early part of the penultimate warm episode (126,000 to 125,000 y ago). This major warming was caused by … a brief episode of meltwater-induced weakening of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and amplified by a warm mean climate.”
The researchers warn we may be looking at a similar event in our time:
“Our results highlight climatic feedback processes associated with the penultimate climate warming that can serve as a paleoanalog for modern ongoing warming.”
As glaciers melt and the oceans warm, they note:
“[M]eltwater-induced AMOC weakening significantly amplifies the warming of intermediate waters and, in turn, destabilizes shallow subsurface methane hydrate deposits.”
In other words, the recent extreme warming of our oceans increases the chances the AMOC Great Conveyor Belt will shut down, throwing Europe into an existential crisis and wilding the rest of the world’s weather. And, most ominously, the AMOC shutting down will speed up the melting of more methane clathrates on the sea floors around the world.
The process is driven by warming of the oceans, which absorb more than 90 percent of the additional global warming heat we’re forcing by burning fossil fuels. As the BBC noted, the past month and first weeks of July “were hotter than any in recorded history” and:
“This week, sea surface temperatures along the coasts of Southern Spain and North Africa were 2-4C (3.6-7.2F) higher than they would normally be at this time of year, with some spots 5C (9F) above the long-term average.”
Ocean temperatures off the coast of Florida this week were in the range that Jacuzzi recommends for their hot tubs: 101 degrees. This has never happened before in human history.
The least likely but most dangerous outcome scenario is that the warming ocean might begin a massive melting of those methane hydrate slurries into gas, producing a “burp” of that greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, further adding to global warming, which would then melt even more of the clathrates.
It would be a deadly “positive feedback system,” with each phase of warming setting up the next and worse one. The Clathrate Gun.
At the end of the Permian, 250 million years ago, this runaway process is apparently what happened when a spike in methane led to such a violent warming of the planet that it killed over 90 percent of all life in the oceans and 70 percent of all life on land, paving the way for the rise of the dinosaurs, as cold-blooded lizards were among the few survivors.
That period is referred to as the Permian Mass Extinction, or, simply, “The Great Dying.” It was the most destructive mass extinction event in the history of our planet.
Eight years ago, Leonardo DiCaprio and I put together and co-narrated a 12-minute video about this exact scenario, interviewing some of the world’s top climate scientists.
The “clathrate gun hypothesis” is controversial, but there’s a large body of evidence for it having done the damage at the end of the Permian, as we note in that video.
While it’s the least likely but most dramatic outcome of today’s global warming, it’s worth heeding the warning: by pouring over thirty billion tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year we have stirred a beast that could—if we don’t take serious action soon—spell the doom of human civilization, if not humanity itself.
As the scientists writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences noted:
“The key findings of our study add to a growing body of observational findings strongly supporting the ‘clathrate gun hypothesis.’ … Importantly, the interval we have studied is marked by a mean climate state comparable to future projections of transient global climate warming of 1.3 °C to 3.0 °C.” [emphasis mine]
We just this year passed 1.3 degrees Celsius of planetary warming: we are now in the territory of the Clathrate Gun Hypothesis if these researchers are right (although the risks are still small).
This is the first study I’ve seen to make such a claim, and it’s not from crackpots or alarmists; these are solid, credible scientists with a lifetime of learning and work behind them.
And, they argue, if the AMOC weakens or shuts down, all bets are off:
“Simulation studies have suggested warming of intermediate waters has been limited to ∼1.5 °C to 3 °C, and that such warmings were insufficient to significantly affect the stability of shallow subsurface methane hydrates. However, the magnitude of intermediate water warming can be significantly amplified by meltwater-induced weakening of atmospheric and ocean circulation, an amplification not considered in the simulations that examined potential gas hydrate destabilization.”
In other words, if the AMOC fails, the clathrate gun hypothesis becomes significantly more viable.
For much of the past four decades, climate activists have been warning us that we’re approaching tipping points and thresholds that will alter how Americans live, cost us a fortune, and kill millions of humans every year.
Now we’re there. Our “normal” climate is dead; the weather has gone insane, and it is annually killing thousands of Americans and millions of people all around the globe. And the numbers are increasing almost exponentially, year to year.
This is how quickly it has hit us: when I published the first edition of my book warning of climate change, The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, in 1996 (it’s been updated twice since then) there was still a vigorous debate here in the United States—funded in large part by the fossil fuel industry and its allies in rightwing media—over whether climate change was even a real thing.
They knew that their product was poisoning our atmosphere, but they were making hundreds of billions of dollars in profits. Nothing was more important to these morbidly rich people than that money.
They and their bought-off politicians began to believe their own lies, or at least some did, and thought this wouldn’t happen until they were all dead anyway, even if it was true.
But then it happened. The climate emergency we were worried about arrived. It is here, now.
Looking at statistical information about major heatwaves—particularly ones that hit multiple continents at the same time—the authors of the Journal of Climate paper referenced above found:
“Such simultaneous heatwaves are 7 times more likely now than 40 years ago. They are also hotter and affect a larger area.”
In the 1980s the Northern Hemisphere averaged around 73 heatwaves during the summer months from May to September. By the 2010s that number had grown to 152 heatwaves per summer.
And those heat waves are also almost 20 percent hotter than they were the year Reagan won the presidency (and denied climate change throughout his 8 fossil-fuel-funded years in office).
One of the most startling understandings of what’s happening has only become apparent in the past decade or so: that the atmospheric Polar Jet Stream is acting weird and thus making our weather extremes more severe.
Over the course of multiple conversations with a few of the world’s top climate scientists I’ve learned that the Polar Jet Stream—the fast-moving river of high-altitude (30,000+ feet) air that circulates around the North Pole—has slowed down, weakened, and is beginning to “drool” down over parts of North America, going as far south as Texas.
This was, in fact, what caused the severe winter weather that shut down Texas’ privatized power grid a few years back, along with causing the “bomb cyclone” freezing storms hitting the Midwest and Northeast every winter, and the extended periods of 100+ degree weather all across America, Europe, Russia, and China this summer.
Historically, the Polar Jet Stream was held in place—mostly in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere—by the temperature differential between the Arctic and the middle latitudes, where most Americans (outside of northern Alaska) live.
The cold arctic air defined the northernmost margin of the Polar Jet Stream while the warmer middle latitude air defined its southernmost margin. While it pushed weather patterns across North America for much of my life, it rarely dipped below the Mason-Dixon line and, even when it did, generally just brought the hot/cold, or wet/drought weather behind it for only a day or two.
But the Arctic has been warming at least three times faster than the middle latitudes where most of us live, which means the difference in temperature between the Arctic air to the north of the Jet Stream and our air to its south has diminished.
The North Pole/Arctic, once a solid cap of ice where Santa Claus was supposed to live, is now an open sea every summer.
As that temperature differential has declined, so has the strength and velocity of the Jet Stream. Now, instead of whipping across the Northern Hemisphere, it often spills down as far south as Mexico and then stays in place for days at a time.
What would have been a one-day cold-snap or heat wave becomes multiple days, long enough to wreak billions in damage to a state’s residential and energy infrastructure.
What would have been a rainstorm lasting a few hours becomes an unrelenting downpour lasting for days, creating massive flooding.
These changes in the Jet Stream, combined with the warming of our oceans (whose temperatures also drive weather), have also caused what were once routine weather patterns to change.
Regions that were only dry during the summer are now experiencing drought year-round; parts of the country where flooding was occasional but rare are now regularly experiencing massive, days-long storms that tear up houses and flood entire regions.
Flights are bumpier and being canceled with increasing frequency because of weather, as we’re just now sliding into this unknowable new era of severe weather weirding.
This is our new normal, and it’s costing us lives and billions of dollars every year, all to preserve the profits of a fossil fuel industry that knew in the 1960s that their product was poisoning the world and would lead to this outcome.
But don’t think that just because this is the new normal that this “normal” will last. The last time our planet saw CO2 levels at their current 422 parts-per-million, sea levels were 60 feet higher and trees were growing in Antarctica.
In other words, we’re on a path, not at a destination. The planet will catch up with all that CO2, and as it does our weather will continue to become more and more severe until we figure out a way to get CO2 levels back down to the 1950s count of just over 300 ppm.
Meanwhile, we’re pouring more CO2 into the atmosphere right now than at any time in human history, despite efforts among the world’s developed nations to reduce their carbon footprints.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been a major kick-in-the-pants to Europe to get off their dependence on fossil fuels and go green, as have high oil and gas prices around the world.
But here in America, Republicans on the Supreme Court (with 6 justices put on the bench with money from fossil-fuel billionaires) kneecapped the Biden administration’s ability to regulate CO2 and promote green energy.
In 2010, five Republicans on the Court legalized political bribery with their Citizens United decision. And, of course, Republicans deeply in the pocket of Big Oil, Gas, and Coal continue to deny climate change is even happening. Just last week, Congressman Scott Perry called climate change a massive “grift.”
And now the Heritage Foundation has, according to Raw Story, a plan for the next Republican administration to gut the EPA; end the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations; end “grid expansion for the benefit of renewable resources or supporting low/carbon generation”; ban EPA workers from using certain types of science; and prevent other states from copying California’s strict environmental standards for greenhouse gasses.
The fossil fuel industry has almost unlimited money to buy politicians, per Citizens United. The ten top recipients of fossil fuel money in Congress last year were:
Manchin, Joe (D-WV) $724,270
McCarthy, Kevin (R-CA) $396,284
Lankford, James (R-OK) $275,148
Pfluger, August (R-TX) $268,011
Kennedy, John (R-LA) $264,788
Murkowski, Lisa (R-AK) $249,808
Sinema, Kyrsten (D-AZ) $230,160
Fletcher, Lizzie (D-TX) $191,765
Cuellar, Henry (D-TX) $191,450
Scott, Tim (R-SC) $181,291
Scalise, Steve (R-LA) $181,263
Gonzales, Tony (R-TX) $174,461
Rubio, Marco (R-FL) $165,636
Amazing how little it costs to buy a member of Congress to keep your multi-billion-dollar-a-year profits flowing, isn’t it?
Here’s who opensecrets.org says are the top fossil fuel money recipients through their careers:
Romney, Mitt (R-UT) $8,291,262
Cornyn, John (R-TX) $4,678,062
Cruz, Ted (R-TX) $4,138,421
McConnell, Mitch (R-KY) $2,852,107
McCarthy, Kevin (R-CA) $2,581,832
Hutchison, Kay Bailey (R-TX) $2,332,021
Inhofe, James M (R-OK) $2,320,139
Pearce, Steve (R-NM) $2,236,714
Barton, Joe (R-TX) $2,211,987
Brady, Kevin (R-TX) $2,087,396
Scalise, Steve (R-LA) $1,847,013
Murkowski, Lisa (R-AK) $1,792,602
Americans are dying because these paid-off shills have either failed to act or actively blocked any meaningful change in our nation’s climate policy. They have blood on their hands, with more to come as every year brings more severe floods, storms, and drought.
We can no longer tolerate this morally criminal level of political malpractice, particularly since there is still time to act. And we must move quickly.
If America is to reclaim its position as a leader and role model for the world and stop the disastrous new climate “normal” we’re now entering from becoming radically more severe, we must get our use of fossil fuels under control.
That means ostracizing elected officials in the pocket of the industry, rolling back Citizens United so Big Oil and Big Coal can’t continue to bribe members of Congress, and throwing significant subsidies into greening our energy and transportation systems.
The climate emergency is here. We can’t wait any longer for major and dramatic worldwide action.
Thom Hartmann is America’s number one progressive talk-show host and the New York Times bestselling author of The Hidden History of American Healthcare and more than 30 other books in print. His online writings are compiled at HartmannReport.com. He is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.
Featured image: Big Island, Hawaii by Doug Kewon via Unsplash
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.
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.
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, 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 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 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”.
Activist Report Back
In this segment, DGR members share their experiences regarding what the different organizing work that they have been involved in.
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.
- 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
This is part 1 of an episode of the Green Flame. This episode tries to answer the challenging question: What comes after Industrial Civilization? In this part, Max Wilbert talks with Michel Jacobi. Michel Jacoboi is a German, but he’s living in the Western part of Ukraine trying to reverse breed some of the extinct large animals of the European countryside back into existence and work with these creatures as assistants and as allies, in the process of restoring the land. Part 2 of the episode is with Lierre Keith, author of ‘The Vegetarian Myth’ and someone who has studied food systems, sustainability, agriculture and soils for many years, will be featured shortly.
Max: I’m here today with Michel Jacobi. Michel is somebody who’s becoming an expert in local food; in relocalisation; in rewilding of lanscapes using animals as allies, friends and community members in that process. Michel, could you tell us a little bit about you, who are you and what your work is and where you’re located?
Michel: Yes, I’m a German forestry engineer and I came 11 years ago from Germany and started to build up a farm for rare domestic breeds, and have been rescuing the water buffaloes that exist here in the mountains of Western Ukraine. It’s the Carpathian mountains, where we still have huge diversity. And some part of the landscape has once been all over Central Europe, because here we have the biggest virgin forest of Fagus Sylvatica, the European red beach.
So I was first interested to rescue these trees and the forest systems. I realized that the communities here – the locals are called Ruthianians – they are still quite powerful. The national parks that are located here they cannot save anything if they are not working with the locals together. So I started with the shepherds here, I learned the local dialect and collected some money in Switzerland with my NGO and could buy a few animals that had been in the slaughterhouse. They were male buffaloes, and after a while, I was the only one in the whole state that was breeding or keeping male water buffaloes.
So then I became quite famous among those people that still have water buffaloes and I helped them to keep them by exchanging the males from village to village so that the people can afford to keep females. The males are quite cost intensive and our NGO was managing this and through that I got quite famous. The circumstances here are quite hard and nearly no foreigners are living here. Most people from Zakarpattia go abroad to work and just live here in their free time. So, our NGO is still now, more or less, the only nature/environmental NGO that is working in the whole state and we are not only saving water buffaloes but we keep very rare Hucul horses, that is the local mountain pony with Zebra stripes. It is very close to the extinct Tarpan that once lived here in the mountains.
We also started to rescue a rare cow breed. I realised that the cow is a very central part of a self-sufficient community and people really loved what I’m doing. The local people felt they remembered former times because I learned from the shepherds how things used to be. They are quite old school. So even the richer locals started supporting me and I made cheese products from the buffaloes, from the buffalo milk, which is also quite unique because the water buffaloes are quite special in their behaviour. They are highly intelligent animals so it was weird for the locals that a German engineer is able to milk those buffaloes.
I learned from the buffaloes that you cannot force them, you have to act with them like a child. When you use force of violence they will refuse to give you anything. The local people here seem to be very traumatised by this collapsed regime that was here till the 90s So they forget how to keep those buffaloes and they told me like 60 or 70 years ago there had been thousands of them. When I arrived in 2008 I could just find 38 animals. Now we have more than 100 to 180 and they are in several projects such as rewilding Ukraine.
They keep the buffaloes in national parks and I started several farms just supporting people. We (me and my girlfriend) just have seven animals now but we’re managing five bull lines to keep up the diversity and live self-sufficiently. Having a garden, planting trees and exchanging products is called barter. I have a very nice family in Germany. Each time, when I had huge trouble I could go home and work there and make some money and bring it here to buy the hay because it was not always easy. When you rely on tourism or on external money, then there’s always something that can happen. I learned to just be on my own and to have very high diversification in my pro and my income.
Max: So you’re in what part of Ukraine exactly? It is the Western portion?
Michel: Yeah it’s the most Southwest part. Some geologists or geographers measured the center of Europe here. So we have a tourist station which says it’s the centre of Europe. It’s around 300 kilometers East of Budapest and close to Prague. In fact, there is no real industry or big cities around. It’s a very privileged micro-climate that we have here. It’s at the beginning of the large Pannonian basin which is like a steppe area and we are at the foothills of the Carpathian mountains which is the largest connected ecosystem of Europe.
Max: So I’m curious to hear you talk a little bit more about the aspect of this that I’ve been thinking about a lot. With the coronavirus crisis having swept around the world, it kind of remains to be seen exactly how intense it’s going to get and how many people are going to be killed. There were some estimates in the beginning that now are looking like they were a little too high, right? It’s looking like the virus is less lethal than a lot of the early estimates put it.
But one repercussion of what we have seen with coronavirus is this semi-collapse in globalisation. We’ve seen plane flights grounded we’ve seen the collapse of air travel, we have seen borders closed and because of that, we’ve seen food shortages in various areas. And I think a lot of people are maybe recognising in a way that they wouldn’t have recognised a month or two ago that globalisation and having this globalised supply chain for our food systems is maybe not such a good idea.
So I know here in my area – I live in the Western United States – and here in this area for example chickens, garden stores, seeds, nurseries, all of those type of businesses have been flourishing and exploding because thousands and thousands and thousands of people are recognising all of a sudden that local food and self-sufficiency is an incredibly important thing.
I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about the relocalisation of food and it seems like you’re sort of trying to revive this pastoral way of life. So can you talk about why this is important and why you know how you contrast that to the dominant culture today?
Michel: This culture here, the Ruthenian people, have been into serious trouble over the last 150 years. Different empires were always coming here, like the Austro-Hungarian empire and then Czechoslovakia. The Czech Republic and several Hungarians have been very cruel here. In the Soviet Union, mass people were killed because they were just farming.
When I talk to the people and say “we have a crisis,” they just start laughing because they say they are in a permanent state of crisis. In fact, they are not really touched by any world economic crisis because they have learned over the years to be self-sufficient. What that means is that everybody has two hectares of land for himself and his family and they share common land. So, common land is probably the key issue because for any self-sufficient gardening, you need the nutrition. The traditional way is that you keep a cow, or you keep a horse and a goat or whatever like this, like large herbivores that bring the nutrition from the field to your house to the garden. And with this manure you’re able to grow the vegetables and even feed the orchards. So those two hectares people have around is one important part. Potatoes, beans, onions, carrots and beetroots are the basic foundations of their survival.
At the beginning I did not have any garden. People were quite confused because growing potatoes is such an easy thing. I wasn’t used to it because in Germany it is not normal that you have any land where you can grow potatoes. In fact it’s really small land that you need for it and those highly productive plants like sweetcorn or beans you can grow on small areas.
These people have been teaching me how to do the gardening. The funny thing is that they are combining a very old calendar with their orthodox church. It’s a calendar that is oriented on the stars and moon and so on, it tells you when you can see which plants. Sometimes you have a freezing time that is heading in and when you plant something too early it will just die or when you plant it too late you will not have any results. So, it’s a little bit tricky and you should be connected to them, and to somebody that has some experience.
But with like a small greenhouse, anybody can start and have beautiful results and the interesting thing is when you have your own vegetable it’s like a synergy effect, it’s not only fun, it’s very healthy. You have something you can share in your community. It brings some type of pride when you produce something with your hands. You’re digging with the dirt and it’s like a healing ritual. So I recommend to anybody, even if it’s not necessary just do it as a hobby. If you are like really into it, you can start to grow your own seeds which can be a very high science, especially when we look at the different flowers that you can produce with corn.
I was once renting a small house in the mountains and I had always about two or three volunteers at the same time because of WWOOFing and things like that. An old lady, who was more than 83 years at the time, was able to feed me and two volunteers every day with at least one nice completely self-made meal. It means that you can, with your own garden, achieve a very high production and it’s not so work intensive. Now in the spring, when you believe in the digging, then you have to do quite a lot. But there is a very high result from very little work. When you invest like two or three hours a day, you have a really really big garden that can feed your whole family.
I think this is the main thing for building up anything. Because out of this home ground, you can be relaxed and you can start thinking about any problem in the world in a completely new way and a new perspective. It’s your ground and the common fields are defended by your community. Nobody can go there, no investor can go and say “I will take away your common ground and plant some genetically modified crops there and spray glucosate” or whatever. The community is depending on it so they will just burn down their machines and that’s what those people here are about. That’s the reason why there is no foreign investor, no big companies.
People don’t want anybody to use their common land because they are depending on it. And this new food that you have in your cellar the whole winter gives you the opportunity to do anything. Even if you get fired from your additional job, you always know you can come home and your granny is living at home and taking care of the children or the neighbor’s children or whatever.
With this gardening, a family structure is like this. There is the inner circle: the house. In the house, there is the oven you heat with firewood. Outside the house there is the well and the garden. The children are playing around and the granny is taking care of the children. Mostly here it’s a traditional way such that the wife is closer to the house and doing some gardening. The man is in the forest. They even have a community forest here so you can go and chop your own wood. I have to be honest, it’s a really great feeling. For example, when you start to cut hay, it’s a big activity in the summer. It brings everybody together. When you are out there with around twenty men cutting the hay of the grass with very sharp sickles from very early in the morning, you are singing and drinking together and it has such a strong energy.
It fees like people here have their secret language. When you don’t have you own potatoes and you don’t have your cow at home and you don’t speak the local dialect–which is pretty weird and survived over the last few hundred years–then people say “yeah they are the strangers and the tourists or whatever or the occupants.” When you have those things, you’re one of them. It was such an incredible feeling when they started to call me one of them. It makes feel like I’m not afraid of anything anymore because I’m now part of a bigger thing, a community which you cannot easily dismantle. There were many situations where it was helping me and giving me such a deeper inner freedom. Out of this I can now go out and do my research anyway.
I’m still different because I am not drinking with the locals (no alcohol). But I read. So people come here and want to know information and so on. And so it’s like this synergy that comes up with the community. That is such a great feeling. I just can’t recommend it enough to anybody to build up such a structure. This is how it was in old Europe. And I feel at home here because my family or my roots are in this central European culture like the Celtics. They have also been living here. The people are of Slavic culture here, but they realize that the Celts have been living here. Everybody has to find his own place where he can resonate with the location. I tried to live in Bolivia but it was not possible, although I liked the political system but I feel like this European oak forest is the one that resonates with me the most.
Today, all day long, I was pestering my animals in the oak forest and it’s just wow because even the oak forest is feeding you with a lot. With mushrooms, they call it the meat of the forest. You can harvest all those non-timber forest products beside the wood and this gives you an even deeper connection. You know why you should keep this forest alive. You start to love it. Nobody can just come and buy it from you. Not even the state government is able to do illegal logging. Everybody who is picking mushrooms in the forest knows how much is allowed to take out and how much healthier it is for the forest. There is a very healthy and very strong community that takes care for the nature here.
The only problem here is the plastic garbage. People are not able to deal with plastic garbage because it’s quite new to this community. They don’t even know what it means. They don’t know what dioxin or what can oil do to the water. That’s a problem but that’s the reason why they contact me so much because I read, I’m an ecologist, and try to tell them how to handle plastic garbage
Max: It’s interesting I was just in the Philippines about a month ago doing some organising work down there and spent time in a rural agrarian community that sounds like it has some similarities to the community that you’re working in. It’s mostly people living in a small village. The houses are clustered together in small areas with some communal fields and some individually owned fields around. And then there’s also a jungle nearby that the community protects from deforestation and development. Even though at times in the past they themselves, or their ancestors, have cut trees in that area.
They’ve begun to develop stronger ecological ethics. There are a few similarities with the community that you’re talking about. First is living in this small community that’s rooted in a place where you know everyone in your village and they all know you. And the second similarity that I’m thinking about is the sense of the protection of the land and how powerful that can be when it’s shared in a community. And in the place that I was in, the Southwest part of the Northern island of Luzon, there is this village that when they would hear a chainsaw running in the forest everyone would just drop what they were doing and run to find the chainsaw. Because that often meant there was some illegal logging going on. I didn’t hear that happening while I was there. But they had developed a shared ethic that logging in this forest was unacceptable. And they’re doing restoration work and planting native trees and working to restore the forest starting with pioneer species and so to help restore their water cycle.
The third similarity actually would be the plastic garbage because similarly this community didn’t really have plastic coming into their community until relatively recently, perhaps maybe in the past, maybe a couple decades. So the idea of having a trash service or having a landfill or something like that is just a foreign concept.
We live in the United States and in Germany and the ubiquity of trash and garbage is so intense that there’s so much of it, it’s everywhere. People have figured that we got to make a giant pile of it somewhere and basically sacrifice this land to put all this poisonous substance in it. And then bulldoze over with soil and pretend that it will be fine there.
It’s pretty fascinating to be in a place where that reality just goes so unquestioned. In so many places around the world is new.
Michel: Yeah definitely. I think it’s a phenomenon that was for many thousands of years all over the world. When we look even in the amazon, we are talking now about jungle gardens there, which is something that modern people call an agroforestry system. But it’s not a virgin forest at all. For example, the Brazil knot is a plantation and underneath you can have chocolate trees. And here it’s more or less the same system with the oaks and then the orchards. You have pears and apples and plums and then around this the chickens and so on.
Additionally, this community is working on it. In fact, those orchards here and pastoral forests have the highest diversity in Europe. That means that the nature had the longest period to adapt to it. I think that’s a sign that it has been here for a very long time. All those insects and flowers had a long time to adapt to those systems. They are established here. This is also what they took away, like, in Germany. When they conquered Germany, or when the ruling class got more powerful in the 16th century, we had those uprisings of farmers that fought for the common land. Once the common land was given to the ruling class, the farmers became slaves because they had to pay to use the land and pay the tax and so on. It’s such a weird thing that you can just buy land with money.
Here in Ukraine now, they started to introduce this system too. Summer next year 2021 will be a large moratorium on the land going because of the credits the World Bank was giving them. Others like the IMF (International Monetary Fund) forced farmers to give away their land to be privatized so it means that now is the last time we have seen this common land in central Europe. This area is mostly primitive. But I would say that it’s not really advanced when you make people dependent on the money system which is not sustainable.
Max: Right. Yeah it’s fascinating and that’s sort of the pattern that we’ve seen again and again around the world with the IMF or the World Bank, or the US or China or whatever sort of foreign development oriented financial power. Now colonization has evolved from sort of the direct invasion and violence and direct occupation that we’ve seen in the past, although that of course still happens, but this sort of financial form of colonization is so powerful. The amount of damage that has been done by these capitalist ideal ideologues at places like the IMF and the World Bank is pretty stunning. And it’s continuing so I’m not surprised. It’s horrible that what you’re talking about and that’s coming to Ukraine.
And that’s what they always do right. They offer loans and they hold some sort of collateral over your head that you have to change these policies or basically move towards more of a “free market system” if you want access to these international “development loans” right.
Michel: Yeah and that’s the reason we should show the people how important the commons are. Here it’s still not too late and I’m using my popularity to talk with the people about commons. It was taken away step by step. Maybe it was by accident, but it looks like first Europe opening the border for the workers. They all went abroad and worked in the Czech republic. That means that in order to make some money they left the old lady, or the babushka as they call them, with the cow and the children. In most cases, it’s too much work just for one person to run the self-sufficient farm. So they sold the cow. That means they don’t need the common land anymore. Now, they come in and say, “You don’t need the common land, so let’s give it to privatization.” Nobody will really complain about it. So hopefully this corona virus or this coming crisis that’s intensifying the system will teach the people that it is important to use the commons to be independent of this economical fluctuation or convince them to not give up their traditions.
I have some hope that the communities are still strong enough to fight back this development that’s coming in the next years. But in other countries, we have seen how it worked and it’s good that we are talking about it now on an international level and using the English language to tell each other like how it has been like in the Philippines, or in Africa, in Ethiopia, in South America Then we can use that to teach the people here.
Do you want this to happen in your country? Look at Chile and look at those guys. Look where they are now.
Ukraine is just like five or ten years behind this development. We can show them by pointing out those examples where the IMF, like in Argentina, was privatizing everything. I know that those people don’t want to live like in Argentina. We just have to make it visible for them and show them what it means and they have the facilities. They have the strength to fight back.
One major thing here in Ukraine is that they completely exchanged the police 10 years ago or 5 years ago. We called it militia. Now it’s completely new cars, completely well equipped people. It’s not the local sheriff anymore that everybody knows.When the local sheriff does something weird, the next morning his window is broken or something. Now there are faceless weird guys from the other cities or from somewhere else. Nobody knows them. They’re called police and they are driving around on the worst road you can imagine with the highest advanced electric cars. Everybody is a little bit suspicious about this new development. Now I understand why: the IMF is asking back for not money because officially they are bankrupt here but for their resources.
And we are talking about the biggest country of Europe with incredible resources. A lot of people in Europe didn’t know that Ukraine is so rich. People have heard maybe of this black soil somewhere in central Ukraine but when you look here in the hills it’s completely covered in old growth forest. We are living directly at the Romanian border, which has been a part of European Union since 2007. There, it’s naked. They cut down everything. Just open google maps and look at the border region of Romania. Ukraine is completely covered in forest. Once Ukraine and Romania were the same region. It was called the Maramureș region here. So it’s the same culture, the same ecosystem, and so on, and in Romania. Everything was chopped down. And it started a little bit before 2007 but it’s European countries.
Max: Absolutely. And I think so many people take a sort of fatalistic attitude towards that. That everything is getting worse no matter what we do and we’re headed for doom. But it seems to me that the opposite is true in a lot of ways. I mean the seed of a future world, of a just world, of a sustainable world is contained in the present. And it seems like the destruction that goes on, the control, the colonization, the clear cutting; all of these issues–it shows how the dominant culture and ruling class has to work extremely hard to contain the natural world. To contain human beings who just want to live in good ways on their local land with their communities and their families.
And just to go back to a couple of the points you were making earlier we’re seeing some of the same trends play out here in the United States. Obviously this country has been controlled by a powerful ruling class and exploited for a long time. All the land here is stolen from indigenous people but we’re still seeing this ongoing privatization process. This ongoing process of economic colonization and exploitation, that now one of the frontiers of it is, there’s quite a lot of federally owned public land in this country and the far right and the ruling class are really pushing to privatize that land and to put it into private hands. So right now near where I live for example, there are national forests where you can go out and wander in the woods and harvest mushrooms and harvest wild edible plants and you can legally camp there for up to two weeks at a time in almost any location. And that’s not to say it’s a paradise because a lot of that land is logged periodically, there is a little bit of old growth forest remaining here and there but about 98% of the old growth forest in the US has been cut down.
But the point is that there is still this public land that is open to the people. That is held in common in some way and it’s not an as ideal of situation as sort of land that’s held in common at a village or a community or regional level but we do have that in this country. It’s under threat right now. And the other point that I just wanted to make real quick to go back, you were talking about how bio-diverse these oak forests are in your region and that’s something that we actually see in this area too.
I live in the Willamette Valley in Oregon and this area has two species of oaks the Gary oak or white oak and the California black oak. Both of those species really benefit from fire and so historically the indigenous people of this area, the Calipuya and other nations, would burn, they would set intentional fires which would keep the landscape open and in more of a woodland or Savannah type regime where you had widely spaced trees.This created a hyper abundance of acorns from the oak trees, a hyper abundance of wildlife who would come to eat the acorns, and this lush grass that would grow up in the burned meadows. And then a big abundance of some of these root crops that would naturally grow in the open meadow areas. And so when the first European colonizers arrived in this particular valley here they said it would be full of smoke the entire summer because of all the fires that would be set by the indigenous people.
And it’s interesting to note that, so many people used to think that humans are inherently destructive and no matter where we go humans are like a cancer. But the reality is that the humans in this area did impact the land pretty heavily. They changed the natural ecology around them quite intensively but they actually did it in a way that increased biodiversity and increased the resilience of the natural system. And so it’s very interesting to me that some people seem to think humans are inherently destructive when there are so many examples of people living in ways where people are provided with an abundant life and abundant food from the land and their life actually enhances the biodiversity and health of the land around them.
Michel: Yeah exactly, this is my experience too. It’s such a great example. It completely shifts my point of view on humans too. This major question: is a man a wolf or a sheep? Are they good to each other, or bad? Here in this case, every spring, we have been so angry about this burning of the grassland and of these blackberries and so on. But now when you go out where people are putting their time and their power into the land, digging with, not with heavy machines but working with their hands and with their animals, you have an absolute increase of diversity.
And when I go here with tourists, I go with them to show them the beach forest which is like a car zone of the bios ferry reservation and it’s completely boring. You just have like those 300 year old trees which are covering the sunlight from the ground and you have some dead wood and some bugs and beetles of course. But it is really, really, boring in comparison with the oak forest where you have like heavy grazing and the acorn you’re mentioning is like feeding the sheep and the shepherds are going through there and singing. You have different types of flowers all over the year because the sunlight goes to the ground It’s absolutely true that the humans are such a great thing for nature.
It comes back to this idea: when I was in University, I was told about this overkill theory. It says that after the last ice age, humans advanced in building weapons to kill those mega-heavy wars. But the latest theory by Graham Hancock is that there was an asteroid or something twelve thousand or eleven thousand six hundred years ago and this changed the civilization and the amount of mega heavy force existing. And with this major change, there came other tree species and other ways of living together.
But what it shows me, is that humans are not really so bad that they kill everything up to the last one. It seems to be that it’s not such a bad history for the last 20,000 years. It’s just the last probably 200 or 300 years where we decided to use fire weapons and the chainsaw and this oil based petroleum industry which is really seriously changing the environment. Here people say a man should be able to do everything so you need to be able to make your own clothes. You need to be able to chop your own boat in the forest, you need to be. You need to know how to milk a cow, how to make cheese, how to do gardening, and how to repair a car. And when we start to get specialized like sitting on in the office and at a computer, they lose these abilities to really do something satisfying.
For example, I can work a few hours on the computer. But then I go out and pester my animals or cut some hay, do some gardening and then meet with friends. It’s so much more fulfilling and I have no need for any distraction like when I was living in the city. I was drinking beer and I was trying to distract myself and now it is like I’m waking up with a smile and going to sleep and having good dreams. So all of this civilization, like the diseases of civilization, starts to disappear when you start to manage your own piece of land with all the community that is involved in this way.
I have met so many people in Germany that have depression. But when people from the city come here and help me for a while they start smiling. They come out and those animals have a very, very, positive effect on your soul. Because as soon as you realize this is not a stupid hybrid cow, this is a very, very, ancient animal that is voluntarily working with you together.
Even when you look at the shit, it’s not a piece of shit. You turn it around and it’s full with life. You cannot even count two seconds when the shit is falling out of the animal, flies are on it in seconds using all those nutrition. And then the birds are coming sitting on the animals and singing in the morning and waking you up like this. The whole rhythm in yourself becomes more natural and it feels good and it gives you power. i don’t have to go to the gym or need any special nutrition because from those old breeds, the milk and the cheese is so healthy.
My girlfriend and I were both vegetarians when we came here. But it’s so like of course, in the city you’re a vegetarian because you cannot eat this mass-produced stuff. But here, it’s just, it’s just you cannot be vegetarian because of course we have to kill from time to time a male animal. You have to because they are fighting heavily. You have to take it out, if not, then they kill each other. What do you do with the meat and the fur? We’re just using everything and making a soup with the vegetables that we have in the garden. And all this bouillon we call it, is the foundation for most of the food we are preparing here, like even pasta. So it means the nutrition and this lifestyle that the animals give you, feels really, really, powerful.
Max: So Michel, we like to finish off every interview with a similar question and the question is around skills. So you know we’re living in these pretty dire times right. Things seem to be getting worse around the world and we have to figure out how to turn that around. So there are a lot of people who want to contribute to movements for justice, for sustainability, but don’t know where to start or what exactly to do.
So the final question for you is given this, what skill, or what skills, do you think are most important for people who are listening to this interview, to cultivate?
Michel: Yeah there’s an interesting movement, like the tiny house movement. So when you start with your tiny house that is out dark, you can move it somewhere. You have the chance to occupy a piece of land and when nobody is working on the land it means they don’t take responsibility, you have the right to use it.
I don’t know where you are in the world but here when I don’t use my land then other people can come and use it. That’s an unwritten law. So I’m trying this, I’m doing it here and I just go where I see nobody have been cutting grass and I put there my tiny house. I put electric fences around, and keep the animals that feed me. And this is attracting other people because they are interested in what I’m doing, why I’m doing it. And with them I can communicate and it resonates with them so for this I’m a good example for those people.
And you can build up a community structure which is essential for any further action. Because in this direct democracy, in this decision making process where you include those people that are interested in working with the land, you can discuss the problems that you’re facing and how to solve them in your little community. In our case, and in cases I have seen all around the world from Portugal or here in Romania, you can teach the people with good examples because everyone needs those examples.
So you have to be the shining example, first for yourself. My teachers are those large primitive herbivores. You can learn a lot from them. Just take a horse like the Mustang in North America and try to work with him and he will teach you. And out of this knowledge, you are shining example for those people surrounding you and trying to get away from fossil fuels. Bring yourself into a situation where you have to think “how can I do this?” And it’s not that you handicap yourself. You will see you have to think much more and become creative and out of this energy you get new energy. It’s like this synergistic effect that comes. You will realize that with this creativity you can move more than most people think. You just have to start very small with your minimalist tiny house and start occupying land and living with animals.
Max: Well thank you so much for joining us today. That was a great conversation Michel.
Michel: Yeah very nice to hear from you Max.
Want to know more about collapse?
This November 19th, join the philosopher poet of the deep ecology movement Derrick Jensen, radical eco-feminist author and strategist Lierre Kieth, and special guests Saba Malik, Robert Jensen and Dahr Jamail for a special 3-hour live streaming event, Collapse: Ecology, Climate, and Civilization starting at 3pm Pacific Time and hosted by Deep Green Resistance.
You can view the event live on Givebutter or on Facebook
Editor’s Note: The following article compares civilization to a cult, by questioning some of the basic assumptions of civilization. Civilization, particularly industrial civilization, is fundamentally unsustainable. The solutions proposed to make it more sustainable, i.e. technological advancements, miss the root cause of the problem, i.e. overconsumption by a species to the detriment of all life forms on Earth. (more…)