This is an excerpt from the book Bright Green Lies, P. 1-7
By LIERRE KEITH
“Once our authoritarian technics consolidates its powers, with the aid of its new forms of mass control, its panoply of tranquilizers and sedatives and aphrodisiacs, could democracy in any form survive? That question is absurd: Life itself will not survive, except what is funneled through the mechanical collective.”1
There is so little time and even less hope here, in the midst of ruin, at the end of the world. Every biome is in shreds. The green flesh of forests has been stripped to grim sand. The word water has been drained of meaning; the Athabascan River is essentially a planned toxic spill now, oozing from the open wound of the Alberta tar sands. When birds fly over it, they drop dead from the poison. No one believes us when we say that, but it’s true. The Appalachian Mountains are being blown to bits, their dense life of deciduous forests, including their human communities, reduced to a disposal problem called “overburden,” a word that should be considered hate speech: Living creatures—mountain laurels, wood thrush fledglings, somebody’s grandchildren—are not objects to be tossed into gullies. If there is no poetry after Auschwitz, there is no grammar after mountaintop removal. As above, so below. Coral reefs are crumbling under the acid assault of carbon. And the world’s grasslands have been sliced to ribbons, literally, with steel blades fed by fossil fuel. The hunger of those blades would be endless but for the fact that the planet is a bounded sphere: There are no continents left to eat. Every year the average American farm uses the energy equivalent of three to four tons of TNT per acre. And oil burns so easily, once every possibility for self-sustaining cultures has been destroyed. Even the memory of nature is gone, metaphrastic now, something between prehistory and a fairy tale. All that’s left is carbon, accruing into a nightmare from which dawn will not save us. Climate change slipped into climate chaos, which has become a whispered climate holocaust. At least the humans whisper. And the animals? During the 2011 Texas drought, deer abandoned their fawns for lack of milk. That is not a grief that whispers. For living beings like Labrador ducks, Javan rhinos, and Xerces blue butterflies, there is the long silence of extinction.
We have a lot of numbers. They keep us sane, providing a kind of gallows’ comfort against the intransigent sadism of power: We know the world is being murdered, despite the mass denial. The numbers are real. The numbers don’t lie. The species shrink, their extinctions swell, and all their names are other words for kin: bison, wolves, black-footed ferrets. Before me (Lierre) is the text of a talk I’ve given. The original version contains this sentence: “Another 120 species went extinct today.” The 120 is crossed clean through, with 150 written above it. But the 150 is also struck out, with 180 written above. The 180 in its turn has given way to 200. I stare at this progression with a sick sort of awe. How does my small, neat handwriting hold this horror? The numbers keep stacking up, I’m out of space in the margin, and life is running out of time.
Twelve thousand years ago, the war against the earth began. In nine places,2 people started to destroy the world by taking up agriculture. Understand what agriculture is: In blunt terms, you take a piece of land, clear every living thing off it—ultimately, down to the bacteria—and then plant it for human use. Make no mistake: Agriculture is biotic cleansing. That’s not agriculture on a bad day, or agriculture done poorly. That’s what agriculture actually is: the extirpation of living communities for a monocrop for and of humans. There were perhaps five million humans living on earth on the day this started—from this day to the ending of the world, indeed—and there are now well over seven billion. The end is written into the beginning. As earth and space sciences scholar David R. Montgomery points out, agricultural societies “last 800 to 2,000 years … until the soil gives out.”3 Fossil fuel has been a vast accelerant to both the extirpation and the monocrop—the human population has quadrupled under the swell of surplus created by the Green Revolution—but it can only be temporary. Finite quantities have a nasty habit of running out. The name for this diminishment is drawdown, and agriculture is in essence a slow bleed-out of soil, species, biomes, and ultimately the process of life itself. Vertebrate evolution has come to a halt for lack of habitat, with habitat taken by force and kept by force: Iowa alone uses the energy equivalent of 4,000 Nagasaki bombs every year. Agriculture is the original scorched-earth policy, which is why both author and permaculturist Toby Hemenway and environmental writer Richard Manning have written the same sentence: “Sustainable agriculture is an oxymoron.” To quote Manning at length: “No biologist, or anyone else for that matter, could design a system of regulations that would make agriculture sustainable. Sustainable agriculture is an oxymoron. It mostly relies on an unnatural system of annual grasses grown in a mono- culture, a system that nature does not sustain or even recognize as a natural system. We sustain it with plows, petrochemicals, fences, and subsidies, because there is no other way to sustain it.”4
Agriculture is what creates the human pattern called civilization. Civilization is not the same as culture—all humans create culture, which can be defined as the customs, beliefs, arts, cuisine, social organization, and ways of knowing and relating to each other, the land, and the divine within a specific group of people. Civilization is a specific way of life: people living in cities, with cities defined as people living in numbers large enough to require the importation of resources. What that means is that they need more than the land can give. Food, water, and energy have to come from somewhere else. From that point forward, it doesn’t matter what lovely, peaceful values people hold in their hearts. The society is dependent on imperialism and genocide because no one willingly 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. Over and over and over, the pattern is the same. There’s a bloated power center surrounded by conquered colonies, from which the center extracts what it wants, until eventually it collapses. The conjoined horrors of militarism and slavery begin with agriculture.
Agricultural societies end up militarized—and they always do—for three reasons. First, agriculture creates a surplus, and if it can be stored, it can be stolen, so, the surplus needs to be protected. The people who do that are called soldiers. Second, the drawdown inherent in this activity means that agriculturalists will always need more land, more soil, and more resources. They need an entire class of people whose job is war, whose job is taking land and resources by force—agriculture makes that possible as well as inevitable. Third, agriculture is backbreaking labor. For anyone to have leisure, they need slaves. By the year 1800, when the fossil fuel age began, three-quarters of the people on this planet were living in conditions of slavery, indenture, or serfdom.5 Force is the only way to get and keep that many people enslaved. We’ve largely forgotten this is because we’ve been using machines—which in turn use fossil fuel—to do that work for us instead of slaves. The symbiosis of technology and culture is what historian, sociologist, and philosopher of technology Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) called a technic. A social milieu creates specific technologies which in turn shape the culture. Mumford writes, “[A] new configuration of technical invention, scientific observation, and centralized political control … gave rise to the peculiar mode of life we may now identify, without eulogy, as civilization… The new authoritarian technology was not limited by village custom or human sentiment: its herculean feats of mechanical organization rested on ruthless physical coercion, forced labor and slavery, which brought into existence machines that were capable of exerting thousands of horsepower centuries before horses were harnessed or wheels invented. This centralized technics … created complex human machines composed of specialized, standardized, replaceable, interdependent parts—the work army, the military army, the bureaucracy. These work armies and military armies raised the ceiling of human achievement: the first in mass construction, the second in mass destruction, both on a scale hitherto inconceivable.”6
Technology is anything but neutral or passive in its effects: Ploughshares require armies of slaves to operate them and soldiers to protect them. The technic that is civilization has required weapons of conquest from the beginning. “Farming spread by genocide,” Richard Manning writes.7 The destruction of Cro-Magnon Europe—the culture that bequeathed us Lascaux, a collection of cave paintings in southwestern France—took farmer-soldiers from the Near East perhaps 300 years to accomplish. The only thing exchanged between the two cultures was violence. “All these artifacts are weapons,” writes archaeologist T. Douglas Price, with his colleagues, “and there is no reason to believe that they were exchanged in a nonviolent manner.”8
Weapons are tools that civilizations will make because civilization itself is a war. Its most basic material activity is a war against the living world, and as life is destroyed, the war must spread. The spread is not just geographic, though that is both inevitable and catastrophic, turning biotic communities into gutted colonies and sovereign people into slaves. Civilization penetrates the culture as well, because the weapons are not just a technology: no tool ever is. Technologies contain the transmutational force of a technic, creating a seamless suite of social institutions and corresponding ideologies. Those ideologies will either be authoritarian or democratic, hierarchical or egalitarian. Technics are never neutral. Or, as ecopsychology pioneer Chellis Glendinning writes with spare eloquence, “All technologies are political.”9
- Lewis Mumford, “Authoritarian and Democratic Technics,” Technology and Culture 5, no. 1 (Winter, 1964).
- There exists some debate as to how many places developed agriculture and civilizations. The best current guess seems to be nine: the Fertile Crescent; the Indian sub- continent; the Yangtze and Yellow River basins; the New Guinea Highlands; Central Mexico; Northern South America; sub-Saharan Africa; and eastern North America.
- David R. Montgomery, Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2007), 236.
- Richard Manning, Rewilding the West: Restoration in a Prairie Landscape (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 185.
- Adam Hochschild, Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire’s Slaves (Boston: Mariner Books, 2006), 2.
- Mumford op cit (Winter, 1964), 3.
- Richard Manning, Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization (New York: North Point Press, 2004), 45.
- T. Douglas Price, Anne Birgitte Gebauer, and Lawrence H. Keeley, “The Spread of Farming into Europe North of the Alps,” in Douglas T. Price and Anne Brigitte Gebauer, Last Hunters, First Farmers (Santa Fe: School of American Research Press, 1995).
- Chellis Glendinning, “Notes toward a Neo-Luddite Manifesto,” Utne Reader, March- April 1990, 50.
This article was written by Malavika Vyawahare and published on the 18 November 2020 in Mongabay. Malavika describes the work undertaken by a community association to improve the health of the ecosystem of a wetland. The organization won the Equator Prize in the category “Nature for Water.”
This piece comes from the Karuk Tribe, a nation located in what is today northern California and Southern Oregon, along the Klamath River. This piece shares Karuk cultural teachings around socio-ecology. We publish this with gratitide to the Karuk Tribal Department of Natural Resources Pikyav Field Institute, which is currently raising funds to support their land restoration and cultural revitalization initiatives.
Socio-Ecological first vs. Socio-Economic first
by Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources / Pikyav Field Institute
What are these perspectives and how are they different? Both approaches intend to enhance the health and well-being of ourselves, our communities, our ecosystems, and our economies, but they go about it in different ways – based on different priorities.
The core belief with socio-ecology is that we (humans) are intimately connected to and a part of our ecosystem (i.e. socio-ecosystem).
There is an emphasis on balancing and enhancing human-ecosystems, interactions and ecosystem dynamics and an understanding that resilient abundant economies rest on a
resilient socio-ecological foundation.
Resilient Abundance here means having healthy human communities, diverse and abundant economic opportunities, diverse and frequent ways people interact with the ecosystem.
In addition, we should have diverse and plentiful reproducing animal and plant populations; plentiful high quality air and water and thriving mycorrhizal networks; etc.
What does it look like when priority is given to socio-ecology? There is Socio-ecological-economic integration. Many people work in natural resource-related fields because of the complexity of ecosystem management. This includes, for example ecosystem stewardship such as thinning, burning and herd management. There is frequent, regular monitoring of and interaction with the ecosystem and species. There is alignment of ecological and economic benefits.
The indigenous stewardship ethic is that resources (e.g. fruits, nuts, meat, fish, fuel, fibers) are not harvested for trade unless
1) Their habitat has been managed such that they are thriving & reproducing.
2) The local animal and human populations have had their share
What Does This Lead To?
With Socio-Ecological First this leads to interconnection between social, ecological, and economic factors. This results in strong feedback loops between humans and the ecosystems upon which they depend and are part of.
This can result in quicker identification of ecological problems including species in decline, pest/disease outbreaks and negative
impacts of management actions. Prioritising this interconnection can result in more complete ecosystem understanding and thus, more appropriate systemic solutions. There is an increased and increasing interconnection.
The core belief with socio-ecomony is that humans are separate
from the natural world. That natural resources are here for us to use.
There is a strong emphasis on economic and financial Growth as the root of prosperity, happiness, & health.
Resilient Abundance in this context means healthy human communities, diverse and abundant economic opportunities with higher (and higher) profit margins.
The priority is focused on increased (and increasing) gross domestic product (GDP), and an increase in jobs.
What does it look like when priority is given to socio-economy?
Many people work in entirely socioeconomic fields such as finance, business, accounting, law, policy and/or IT and they live with minimal interaction with the outdoors. There is disconnection between economic and ecological benefits which sets up perverse incentives. This lead to using natural resources in an exploitative manner (e.g. overharvesting).
What Does This Lead To?
With socio-economic first this lead to separation between socio-economic gain and ecological impacts which in turn leads to negative externalities such as pollution, erosion, species extinctions, and an increased risk of pest/disease/high severity fires.
There are more likely to be boom and bust cycles due to the disconnection between ecosystem and human system of supply & demand. These are often addressed with technological fixes rather than systemic solutions, and thus, do not result in long-lasting resilience (the ‘whack-a-mole effect’).
This piece was first published in June 2019 at https://www.karuk.us/images/docs/dnr/Socio%20Economic%20vs%20Socio%20Ecologic_Rossier_Tripp_2019.pdf
In this video, Boris Forkel explores five different forms of human society: agriculture, horticulture, pastoralism, hunter-gatherer, and industrial culture.
By Boris Forkel
In this lecture, we will cover a wide range of 10,000 years of agricultural history. Starting with the initial question “how old is human culture” we argue that humans have been living in a wide range of different cultures, long before some of them started applying agriculture about 10,000 years ago. We distinguish 5 different human cultures, according to the way they get their food and basic resources: Hunter/gatherers, horticulturists, pastoralists, agricultural, and finally industrial culture.
Agriculture of different character developed in some places in the world, and some forms are more destructive than others. The form of grain monoculture that developed about 10,000 years ago in the fertile crescent has proven to be the most aggressive one, it is spreading very fast and with it the agricultural society, the people and their genes. It also causes the most devastating consequences for ecosystems. Europe was already ecologically badly damaged towards the end of the Middle Ages, by agriculture and the mining and extraction that was needed to fuel countless wars between European lords and kings.
The Issues with Agriculture
Environmental problems caused by agriculture are not a new phenomena. As a consequence, the European people had a large pressure to expand. The conquest of the Americas is the most recent disaster of this clash of cultures that has been going on for 10,000 years. The American Holocaust is the greatest mass murder in human history, the annihilation of at least 500 unique cultures, languages, peoples and world views that will never come back.
Since “unquestioned beliefs are the real authorities of any culture” (Robert Combs), and “Culture” means “enacting a story” (Daniel Quinn), we continue exploring some of the myths of agrarian culture. The question “why we are doing all of this” leads us back to biblical times and a spiral of violence that started with early agrarian empires and their efforts to conquer and colonize the middle east.
Following the development of apocalyptic thinking that originated in the ruined and deeply traumatized societies the empires and their wars left behind, we discover that “authoritarian religion and technocracy are not opposites, but part of a continuum” (Fabian Scheidler).
Transformation through Technology
Finally, we enter the 20th century. Central to apocalyptic thinking is the complete destruction of the old and the creation of a new, better state. To replace the heavenly state for the souls heard by the Last Judgment comes the belief in a transformation of the world through technology. Nature, which is perceived as brutal, raw, wild, imperfect is to be replaced by a better system, created by man.
This is what we are currently doing with our modern capitalist economy. In modern times, especially in the 20th century, the mega- machine, into which agricultural culture had evolved, once again gained enormous momentum through the input of the newly discovered energy sources fossil coal and oil. Also the destructiveness gained enormous momentum which we can see in climate change, ecocide, critical state of freshwater resources etc.
As we know, the 20th century brought new weapons and new wars. A particularly important man, who‘s inventions shaped our recent history, was Fritz Haber. He developed the process of ammonia synthesis in 1909. Ammonium nitrate is the basic material for explosives and also chemical fertilizers. The 20th century was marked by an explosion of human population that planet earth had never seen before. Fritz Haber inventions indeed broke the planetary boundaries by artificially producing more nitrogen than there would be naturally. This was the birth of modern industrial agriculture.
After we have covered all these startling facts, we can finally start thinking about solutions. But we have to learn that “The political system cannot be counted on to reform agriculture because any political system is a creation of agriculture, a co-evolved entity. The major forces that shaped and shape our world –disease, imperialism, colonialism, slavery, trade, wealth– are all part of the culture agriculture evolved. (…) Just as surely, agriculture dug the tunnel of our vision.” (Richard Manning).
We‘ve probably understood during this lecture that the dominant culture, the civilization that is based on agriculture, inevitably leads to colonialism and conquest, and ultimately to the destruction of all life on this planet. That is the history, the present and that will be the future. But the future is ours, and we can change it. We can stop the destruction, and we can build alternative, life-centered cultures with structures and institutions that are based on cooperation, mutual understanding and respect. Whatever happens, the future must be an age of ecological restoration.
After millenia of agriculture, war, colonialism and suppression, all of us are, over generations, severely traumatized by all this violence. We went crazy and thought that we have to conquer and subdue nature and change the world fundamentally with our technology. All peoples who stood in the way of the expansion of agrarian culture were either destroyed or robbed of their land, their spirituality, their culture, and traumatized by violence and oppression, so that they became equally insane. (This is what Jack Forbes called Wétiko disease in his brilliant book Columbus and Other Cannibals.)
I want permaculture to become a remedy that helps us to recover from this delusional state, so in the last part of this lecture we get to know permaculture, its founder Bill Mollison and its basic principles and ethics as a viable alternative. Coming to an end, I want to answer the initial question “Why do we need permaculture?”. Do we want an era of collapse, the apocalypse? Or do we want to take the chance and be protagonists of a new age of ecological restoration?
You may know the slogan swords to plowshares. It comes from the bible and has been used by movements for peace for a long time. But even they did obviously not understand that no lasting peace is possible within agricultural culture. Any peace movement that fails to recognize this must fail. Because whoever has plowshares will soon need swords. Actually, the plowshare itself is already a sword that injures the earth. It is the same analogy as explosives and chemical fertilizers, pesticides and chemical weapons. But we obviously had to break the planetary boundaries first to see these connections.
The more I think about it, the more permaculture becomes a new peace movement for me. So I would like to answer the question “Why do we need permaculture?” as follows: Agriculture is permanently at war (against nature and other people). Permaculture offers the chance for lasting peace.
Boris Forkel is a radical environmentalist, social rights activist and permaculturalist located in Germany. You can learn more about his work on his website BabylonApocalypse.org.
What would a revolutionary permaculture movement look like? As food shortages begin to sweep the world, the prospect of a Deep Green Resistance—a movement combining relocalization with organized political resistance—grows ever more relevant.
Can Permaculture Become a Revolutionary Force?
By Max Wilbert
As coronavirus unravels global supply chains, wildfires cool in Australia, Arctic ice continues to decline, and 2019 goes down as the 2nd hottest year on record, we all know how bad things are.
Unless there is fundamental change to the socio-economic fabric of global societies, the future is bleak.
Here in the United States, both major political parties are completely insane. Even the most progressive Democratic politicians are only proposing what amount to relatively minor reforms to the economic systems we live under.
Policy proposals like The Green New Deal in the U.S. and plans like the Energiewende in Germany aim to maintain a modern, high-energy consumption lifestyle while only changing the sources of energy we use. Much more is needed.
As we accelerate further into global crisis, we are seeing increased instability around the world. Refugees are on the march, food instability is rising, extreme weather events are becoming commonplace, and as a result authoritarianism is on the rise. Trump, Putin, Bolsonaro, and Erdogan reflect the hopes of a fearful population looking for a strong patriarch figure to lead them to safety.
But there is no safety to be had behind walls and armies, not when the world is burning.
Industrial Civilization is Fragile
A founding principle of Deep Green Resistance is the understanding that modern industrial civilization is fragile. While globalized supply chains enable the system to easily recover from regional shocks, industrial capitalism is highly vulnerable to global disruptions, as CoViD-19 has shown.
More of these shocks are coming, as industrial civilization undermines the ecological foundations of life. Soil depletion and desertification, aquifer depletion and fresh water pollution, deforestation, ocean acidification, the rise of dead zones, and overfishing are just a few of the trends.
We are seeing cracks in the industrial food system, which is leading people to question modernity. This questioning is a good thing. It’s essential that we begin a wholesale shift away from high-energy, consumeristic lifestyles and towards local, small-scale, low-energy ways of life. We need to abandon industrial capitalism before it destroys all life on the planet.
Various movements such as Transition Towns and permaculture have been saying this for a long time. Their message is essential, but in my opinion incomplete. The dominant culture has always destroyed and exploited low-energy, small scale, sustainable human communities.
That’s what colonization is. And it’s still going on today. A failure to grapple with the racist violence necessary to maintain and expand modern civilization is one reason why permaculture movements have remained mostly white and middle-class (capitalism, and poor people’s resulting lack of access to land and free time, are another critical factor in this).
Building a Revolutionary Permaculture Movement
Therefore, not only do we need to relocalize, we also need community defense and resistance movements dedicated to pro-actively dismantling industrial civilization in solidarity with colonized peoples and indigenous communities. We can’t just walk away. We have to fight like hell and bring a revolutionary edge to all of our organizing. We have to combine building the new with burning the old. The faster the system comes to a halt, the more life will remain. And there is no time to waste. This is probably the only way to save the planet and guarantee a livable future.
The failure of mainstream political parties of technological solutions are becoming increasingly clear to average people. They are looking for solutions. Popular movements are becoming increasingly confrontational. But still, it is very rare that anyone is able to articulate a feasible alternative to the dominant culture, the techno-industrial economic system.
A politicized permaculture movement has this alternative. A political permaculture movement, allied with resistance movements and working to rapidly re-localize and de-industrialize human populations could provide a feasible alternative to partisan gridlock while demonstrating a tangible real-world alternative. This movement needs to begin at the local and regional levels, seizing power in schools, county offices, water and soil boards, and building our own power structures through localized food networks, housing, labor, and political organizing.
I have heard it said that permaculture is a revolution disguised as gardening. Perhaps it is time to drop the disguise.
Our Pilot Project
In Oregon, Deep Green Resistance is engaged in a community mutual aid project in collaboration with local indigenous organizers and other allies. We are distributing to the community free of charge:
- Seeds and gardening supplies
- Plant starts
- Gardening pamphlets and guides
- Freshly-hatched ducklings and information as to their care
- Seedlings of native oak trees
We have chosen to distribute native oak seedlings because native oak savanna is the most endangered habitat in the country. More than 95% of it has been destroyed since colonization. Second, because acorns can be a valuable staple food. Third, because planting native oak trees (and assisting in the northward migration of valuable non-native food trees) can help begin the transition to perennial food systems while both mitigating and preparing for global warming and biodiversity collapses (oaks are prized by wildlife and oak savanna is an extremely biodiverse habitat).
At the same time, we are also distributing political literature and engaging in (socially-distanced) conversations with our community members about these issues. Our goal is to strengthen and build local food systems, and also resistance networks with radical analysis of the political situation.
Oregon is perhaps ahead of the curve. It’s a mostly rural state with a relatively small population. It has long been a hub for local food production, permaculture, and relocalization. These projects will be harder to implement in urban communities, and poverty compounds all the challenges. However, the skills to live sustainably already exist. The barriers are time, funding, political education, and most importantly the will of the people. As the famous saying goes, only ourselves can free our minds. Free your mind and begin to build this new revolutionary transformation.
We hope to see this project replicated around the world. We take inspiration from the many people already engaged in this sort of work, especially those who combine ecological awareness, practical relocalization, and revolutionary resistance. Contact us for more information, to get involved, or to have a conversation about implementing similar projects in your community.
Max Wilbert is a third-generation political dissident, writer, and wilderness guide. He has been involved in grassroots organizing for nearly 20 years. His essays have been published in Earth Island Journal, Counterpunch, DGR News Service, and elsewhere, and have been translated into Spanish, Italian, German, and French. His second book, Bright Green Lies, is scheduled for release in 2021.