Editor’s Note: Industrial civilization is not a path to lasting peace and prosperity. By undermining the foundations of life on this planet, industrial society is creating unimaginable wealth for a small portion of people while creating a wasteland. This will not last. As Richard Heinberg has said, “The Party is Over.”
If this is indeed a party, it’s a ball on the deck of a slave ship—a hierarchical party in which amusement rides are built with planks from the hull. The party will only end when the whole ship sinks and everyone—slave and master alike—dies. Ecologically, industrial civilization amounts to this: a murder-suicide, bacchanalia purchased with the coin of atrocities.
For this article, we bring you two voices—Lierre Keith and Will Falk—on the ecological costs of war, and the war on the natural world.
The Non-Human Costs of War
- Carbon emissions and fuel consumption (In 2018, the U.S. Defense Department purchased more than 3.5 billion gallons of fossil fuels).
- Use of depleted uranium ammunition, defoliant herbicides, and other toxic substances.
- Weapons testing that destroys habitat directly (for example, bombing ranges) or harms wildlife (for example, military sonar testing that kills marine mammals).
- Pollution associated with military installations (more than 5,440 toxic sites inside the U.S. alone).
- Nuclear weapons production, testing, and waste.
Lierre Keith: The War Against the Planet
In my lifetime, the earth has lost half her wildlife. Every day, two hundred species slip into that longest night of extinction. “Ocean” is synonymous with the words abundance and plenty. Fullness is on the list, as well as infinity. And by 2048, the oceans will be empty of fish. Crustaceans are experiencing “complete reproductive failure.” In plain terms, their babies are dying. Plankton are also disappearing. Maybe plankton are too small and green for anyone to care about, but know this: two out of three animal breaths are made possible by the oxygen plankton produce. If the oceans go down, we go down with them.
How could it be otherwise? See the pattern, not just the facts. There were so many bison on the Great Plains, you could sit and watch for days as a herd thundered by. In the central valley of California, the flocks of waterbirds were so thick they blocked out the sun. One-quarter of Indiana was a wetland, lush with life and the promise of more. Now it’s a desert of corn. Where I live in the pacific northwest, ten million fish have been reduced to ten thousand. People would hear them coming for a whole day. This is not a story: there are people alive who remember it. And I have never once heard the sound that water makes when forty million years of persistence finds it way home. Am I allowed to use the word “apocalypse” yet?
The necrophiliac insists we are mechanical components, that rivers are an engineering project, and genes can be sliced up and arranged at whim. He believes we are all machines, despite the obvious: a machine can be taken apart and put back together. A living being can’t. May I add: neither can a living planet.
Understand where the war against the world began. In seven places around the globe, humans took up the activity called agriculture. In very brute terms, you take a piece of land, you clear every living thing off it, and then you plant it to human use. Instead of sharing that land with the other million creatures who need to live there, you’re only growing humans on it. It’s biotic cleansing. The human population grows to huge numbers; everyone else is driven into extinction.
Agriculture creates a way of life called civilization. Civilization means people living in cities. What that means is: they need more than the land can give. Food, water, energy have to come from someplace else. It doesn’t matter what lovely, peaceful values people hold in their hearts. The society is dependent on imperialism and genocide. Because no one willing gives up their land, their water, their trees. But since the city has used up its own, it has to go out and get those from somewhere else. That’s the last 10,000 years in a few sentences.
The end of every civilization is written into the beginning. Agriculture destroys the world. That’s not agriculture on a bad day. That’s what agriculture is. You pull down the forest, you plow up the prairie, you drain the wetland. Especially, you destroy the soil. Civilizations last between 800 and maybe 2,000 years—they last until the soil gives out.
What could be more sadistic then control of entire continents? He turns mountains into rubble, and rivers must do as they are told. The basic unit of life is violated with genetic engineering. The basic unit of matter as well, to make bombs that kill millions. This is his passion, turning the living into the dead. It’s not just individual deaths and not even the deaths of species. The process of life itself is now under assault and it is losing badly. Vertebrate evolution has long since come to a halt—there isn’t enough habitat left. There are areas in China where there are no flowering plants. Why? Because the pollinators are all dead. That’s five hundred million years of evolution: gone.
He wants it all dead. That’s his biggest thrill and the only way he can control it. According to him it was never alive. There is no self-willed community, no truly wild land. It’s all inanimate components he can arrange to this liking, a garden he can manage. Never mind that every land so managed has been lessened into desert. The essential integrity of life has been breached, and now he claims it never existed. He can do whatever he wants. And no one stops him.
Can we stop him?
I say yes, but then I have no intention of giving up. The facts as they stand are unbearable, but it’s only in facing them that pattern comes clear. Civilization is based on drawdown. It props itself up with imperialism, conquering its neighbors and stripping their land, but eventually even the colonies wear out. Fossil fuel has been an accelerant, as has capitalism, but the underlying problem is much bigger than either. Civilization requires agriculture, and agriculture is a war against the living world. Whatever good was in the culture before, ten thousand years of that war has turned it necrotic.
Will Falk: An Armistice With the Natural World
The news about war in Ukraine causes me to think about how some human cultures have waged a war on the natural world for millennia. War begins with a willingness to exploit the natural world. And, no actually, war is not as old as humanity. Conflict, yes. Violence, too. Sometimes atrocious violence. But, not large scale mobilizations of a population, with professional killers, to invade and permanently dominate distant lands. When you live in balance with your own land base, you don’t need to steal resources from somewhere else.
The horrifying truth is: Human populations have so thoroughly exceeded the planet’s carrying capacity that the so-called resources humans exploit to support the population overshoot are being depleted. When those resources are no longer available, human populations will collapse and humans will suffer on a scale we’ve never seen. Currently, the dominant culture is just imposing that suffering on the rest of life.
There’s no way out of this mess without extreme suffering. We can voluntarily dismantle the dominant culture that is based in destroying the natural world for the benefit of some humans. This dismantling will be incredibly painful if we are truly going to honor the rest of the natural world’s ability to survive and thrive. If we don’t dismantle the dominant culture, these resource wars are only going to intensify, more places like Ukraine will be plunged into brutal wars, and it just becomes ever-more likely that some humans will choose to use the technologies we now possess to seriously threaten Earth’s ability to support life in the future.
And no, I am not advocating for killing people off. I am, however, insisting that we recognize the suffering the dominant culture causes the countless other beings we share this battered, but still beautiful planet with. I am insisting that we recognize that procrastinating on the very difficult changes we need to make in the name of preserving the dominant culture just pushes the problem on to the natural world and the much more populous, vulnerable, future generations of humans.
If we want to build a world without war, then the first armistice we need to sign is with the natural world.
Image: public domain.