Endgame: Resistance and Resilience

Endgame: Resistance and Resilience

Excerpted from Endgame by Derrick Jensen / Featured image: River Grass by Max Wilbert

If you’ve gotten this far in this book—or if you’re simply anything other than entirely insensate—we probably agree that civilization is going to crash, whether or not we help bring this about. If you don’t agree with this, we probably have nothing to say to each other (How ‘bout them Cubbies!). We probably also agree that this crash will be messy. We agree further that since industrial civilization is systematically dismantling the ecological infrastructure of the planet, the sooner civilization comes down (whether or not we help it crash) the more life will remain afterwards to support both humans and nonhumans.

If you agree with all this, and if you don’t want to dirty your spirituality and conscience with the physical work of helping to bring down civilization, and if your primary concern really is for the well-being of those (humans) who will be alive during and immediately after the crash (as opposed to simply raising this issue because you’re too scared to talk about the crash or to allow anyone else to do so either), then, given, and I repeat this point to emphasize it, that civilization is going to come down anyway, you need to start preparing people for the crash. Instead of attacking me for stating the obvious, go rip up asphalt in vacant parking lots to convert them to neighborhood gardens, go teach people how to identify local edible plants, even in the city (especially in the city) so these people won’t starve when the proverbial shit hits the fan and they can no longer head off to Albertson’s for groceries. Set up committees to eliminate or if appropriate channel the (additional) violence that might break out.

We need it all. We need people to take out dams, and we need people to knock out electrical infrastructures. We need people to protest and to chain themselves to trees. We also need people working to ensure that as many people as possible are equipped to deal with the fall-out when the collapse comes. We need people working to teach others what wild plants to eat, what plants are natural antibiotics. We need people teaching others how to purify water, how to build shelters. All of this can look like supporting traditional, local knowledge, it can look like starting roof-top gardens, it can look like planting local varieties of medicinal herbs, and it can look like teaching people how to sing.

The truth is that although I do not believe that designing groovy eco-villages will help bring down civilization, when the crash comes, I’m sure to be first in line knocking on their doors asking for food.

People taking out dams do not have a responsibility to ensure that people in homes previously powered by hydro know how to cook over a fire. They do however have a responsibility to support the people doing that work.

Similarly, those people growing medicinal plants (in preparation for the end of civilization) do not have a responsibility to take out dams. They do however have a responsibility at the very least to not condemn those people who have chosen that work. In fact they have a responsibility to support them. They especially have a responsibility to not report them to the cops.

It’s the same old story: the good thing about everything being so fucked up is that no matter where you look, there is great work to be done. Do what you love. Do what you can. Do what best serves your landbase. We need it all.

This doesn’t mean that everyone taking out dams and everyone working to cultivate medicinal plants are working toward the same goals. It does mean that if they are, each should see the importance of the other’s work.

Further, resistance needs to be global. Acts of resistance are more effective when they’re large-scale and coordinated. The infrastructure is monolithic and centralized, so common tools and techniques can be used to dismantle it in many different places, simultaneously if possible.

By contrast, the work of renewal must be local. To be truly effective (and to avoid reproducing the industrial infrastructure) acts of survival and livelihood need to grow from particular landbases where they will thrive. People need to enter into conversation with each piece of earth and all its (human and nonhuman) inhabitants. This doesn’t mean of course that we can’t share ideas, or that one water purification technique won’t be useful in many different locations. It does mean that people in those places need to decide for themselves what will work. Most important of all, the water in each place needs to be asked and allowed to decide for itself.

I’ve been thinking a lot again about the cell phone tower behind Safeway, and I see now how these different approaches manifest in this one small place. The cell phone tower needs to come down. It is contiguous on two sides with abandoned parking lots. Those lots need to come up. Gardens can bloom in their place. We can even do our work side by side.

The Wisdom of the Toads

The Wisdom of the Toads

By Boris Forkel / Deep Green Resistance Germany

I want to tell you a story. A story about permaculture, food chains, friendship, love and death. People are storytellers. We transport information through stories, or narratives, to use the more sophisticated term.

Actually I wanted to go with my good friend Cengiz to a political event, a meeting of the initiative aufstehen (stand up) about the resistance of the yellow vests in France. However, Cengiz decided to spend the evening with his newly hatched chicks, his cats and a good friend whom he looks after because she has addiction problems. He is one of the finest characters I have ever met. I taught him how to kill. We have already taken the lives of a many proud roosters together. At the same time, I have never met a person who cares more about his animal friends than he does.

Without him, I had no desire to go to the event. I wanted to spend such a wonderful spring evening in the garden. That was a good thing, because I think I learned much more there.

I heard voices all around me. It was the voices of the toads that migrated from the forest into my garden to perform their ecstatic mating rituals. The three ponds I have built over the last few years were suddenly full of toads, talking loudly to each other. I consider it a great honor that they lay their eggs in my ponds.

Derrick Jensen says “So many indigenous people have said to me that the fundamental difference between Western and indigenous ways of being is that even the most open-minded westerners generally view listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to the way the world really is.”

Listen. In medieval fairy tales, toads are a symbol of wisdom. In many tales there is the hero who suddenly understands the language of the animals after a magical initiation event. Medieval people still had a relationship to the natural world and an understanding of the wonders of life. What the toads tell me is that whether we call ourselves quite immodest Homo sapiens sapiens, the wisest of wise, wolves, bears, bison, toads or any of a thousand other names, we are all sitting on the same boat.

The world speaks. They all speak. The chicks who are calling for food. The toads with their mating cries. Trees communicate with each other and certainly with us. If we had not forgotten how to listen and if, as members of this culture, we had not largely given up our empathy, we could never allow this mass murder to happen.

It was not right to exterminate the wolves. The only way we can all permanently exist together is to recognize the needs and lives of others, as as important as our own lives and needs. Moreover, life is sacred. All life.

This is, in my understanding, the core statement of permaculture and the only way for us and all other species to survive. We can fantasize all we want about colonizing Mars or other planets. All this is pure technocratic ideology. It has never worked. We are still all on the same boat.

The toads are much smaller than the ones I saw 10 years ago. Through the war of our culture against insects, we are depriving them of food. Insects are the animal basis of the food chain. To exterminate them is an abysmal stupidity and will cost us dearly.

Last year I wanted to participate in the toad rescue operations that environmentalists carry out every spring. The toads have to cross roads on their way to their spawning grounds; the toad rescuers collect them in buckets and carry them safely across the road. Last year, the toad rescue was canceled because there were too few toads. They live in warlike conditions, but life wants to live. They still migrate, sing, mate and lay their eggs.

I had to think of the film Life is a Miracle by Serbian director Emir Kusturica, which takes place during the Bosnian War. The protagonist wants to commit suicide after his son was taken prisoner of war. But then the Serbian Militz hands him a young Muslim woman as hostage, with whom he falls in love. They sleep together while bombs fall in the background.

Life wants to live.

Recently, I killed two quails. It was hard. I cut their heads off with sharp poultry scissors. The eyes and beak opened a few more times in shock. The little body twitched in my left hand in agony. I cried. Then I plucked them, gutted them and ate them. It was the best meal I’ve had in months.

If you are a self-sufficient chicken farmer, you usually only have to perform the ritual of slaughter once a year. In autumn you kill the surplus roosters and the hens that no longer lay.

Since all my wonderful chickens, turkeys and also my young peacock were massacred this winter by a hungry marten, I have given up breeding chickens for the time being and now try quails.

Quails are smaller, but they are much more efficient feed converters and have a better ratio of body size to egg size. All processes are much faster in quails than in chickens, which means for me that I will have more meat more often, which in turn means that I will have to kill much more often.

I breed them in my incubator, I raise them, I feed them. Like all children, they are always hungry. They always want to eat and grow so fast that I can almost watch them getting bigger. With big intelligent eyes they look at me and shout “Feed us, feed us”, as little chicks all over the world call out to their parents. They scream for life. I love these little, sweet, intelligent birds and I love raising them. Most of them I will slaughter and eat one day.

I often feel like a cannibal eating his own children. But so is the harsh reality, adult knowledge, true wisdom: As long as we live on this earth, we consume the lives of others. Even the great Homo sapiens sapiens is, biologically, nothing but an animal. And as such we are part of the archaic food chain that we in the West destroy so diligently.

The whole history of the world is the history of eating and being eaten. One can explain the whole world in food chains, and understanding food chains means understanding the world. The real world, not the artificial structure of civilization that we have created from ideologies, slavery and exploitation. Civilized people think they can cross any natural boundaries, including food chains. A fatal error.

I consider vegetarianism and especially the extreme form, veganism, to be fundamentally wrong. I myself grew up mostly as a vegetarian, fortunately only from an age of about 8 years. I understand the moral arguments very well, but my body always said something different. I always had a ravenous appetite for meat and stuffed it into myself wherever opportunity presented itself. I think I might have grown bigger and stronger, if I had consumed more meat as a child.

Vegetarianism and veganism are modern phenomena with a religious character. The way our culture is treating our fellow creatures is a sin, without any doubt. But the vegan is pulling out of the affair, washes his or her hands in innocence, and often tries to convert others with religious zeal and a moral club.

Never before has a human society existed that could do without animal products. The Inuit, who consume almost exclusively raw meat and fish, have the best results in blood panels ever measured in humans. A friend of mine and her daughter, both of whom have been vegetarians for several years, have very poor blood panel results. The doctor explained two options: either eat meat or take a handful of vitamin supplements every morning. The 21 year old daughter chose the latter for moral reasons. Her pale skin and glassy eyes speak of malnutrition.

One last argument: Does any of you know a second generation vegetarian or vegan? I met one once. A 3 year old girl, whose mother was a very dogmatic vegan. Even her shoes featured the inscription “VEGAN” in big letters. Her little daughter was severely physically and mentally handicapped, could hardly speak, had glassy squinting eyes and such weak bones that her legs had grown crooked and she could not walk.

On my stove the bones of the slaughtered quails simmer slowly and for a long time, to later feed my own as nutritious broth.

I think that this woman will never free herself from the vegan ideology, because if she had to admit what she did to her daughter, she would have to spend the rest of her life in the hell of immeasurable guilt.

We all have to eat.

I can’t imagine a more intimate relationship than eating someone else. Your flesh becomes mine. We unite. This must be seen as a sacred act.

The least I have to do is to give my quails the best possible living conditions. And I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to worship them with rituals as holy animals. Haven’t indigenous people always done this, with salmon, bison, and many other animals that were their food source, before the Europeans exterminated them (the salmon, the bison, and the native humans…)?

When I take someone else’s life to eat or otherwise utilize him or her, I am responsible for the wellbeing of that species. Both for moral reasons and for pure self-interest. I want to continue eating in the future.

Seriously, I think that a hunter-gatherer culture is the most respectful way of dealing with our fellow creatures. Stable natural communities, from which healthy, strong, wild animals can be hunted when needed, to which appropriate respect is shown in cult and ritual. I would like to hunt, and in a healthy culture I would certainly be a hunter. But the completely degraded ecosystems no longer allow this. Animal husbandry is therefore a necessary compromise.

From a permaculture perspective, the final solution of a reasonable culture would be a large-scale and worldwide ecological restoration, solely for reasons of morality and justice. The restoration of habitats and the transition to a respectful, strictly taboo- and ritual-regulated extraction by hunting as source for meat.

If, for example, the American prairies, with their 100 million murdered bison were restored, one could have a considerable amount of high-quality bison meat every year, without the enormous ethical problems and environmental hazards of factory farming.

Currently, the United States spend about 69 million dollars per hour to finance its gigantic military apparatus. In Germany, this sum amounts to a paltry 5,023 thousand dollars per hour, and rising. If we would spend these gigantic sums not for imperialism, war, murder and destruction, but for ecological restoration and thus for the future of our children, projects like the vital cleaning and regeneration of the oceans and the regeneration of healthy, game rich forests, meadows and prairies would appear quite feasible.

Unfortunately, our culture seems to strive for the apocalypse as the final solution.

Preventing it from destroying the food chains and ultimately all life on the planet must be our common and most sacred duty. For moral reasons, for reasons of justice and for pure self-interest. Because we all have to eat. Now and in the future.

To Save the World

To Save the World

Editor’s note: people with various diets are involved in Deep Green Resistance. Critical analysis of agriculture is central to our understanding.

By Lierre Keith

Start with a sixteen-year-old girl. She has a conscience, a brain, and two eyes. Her planet is being drawn and quartered, species by species. She knows it even while the adults around her play shell games with carbon trade schemes and ethanol. She’s also found information that leaves her sickened in her soul, the torment of animals that merges sadism with economic rationality to become the US food supply. Their suffering is both detailed and institution- ally distant, and both of those descriptors hold their own horrors.
A friend of mine talks about “the thing that breaks and is never repaired.” Anyone who has faced the truth about willful or socially- sanctioned cruelty knows that experience: in slavery, historic and con- temporary; in the endless sexual sadism of rape, battering, pornography; in the Holocaust and other genocides. You’re never the same after some knowledge gets through with you. But our sixteen-year-old has courage and commitment, and now she wants to do what’s right.

The vegetarians have a complete plan for her. It’s simple. You can create justice for animals, for impoverished humans, and for the earth if you eat grains and beans. That simplicity is part of its appeal, partly because humans have a tendency to like easy rules. But it also speaks to our desire for beauty, that with one act so much that’s wrong can be set right: our health, our compassion, our planet.

The problem is they’re wrong, not in their attempts to save the world, but in their solution. The moral valuing of justice over power, care over cruelty and biophilia over anthropocentrism is a shift in values that must occur if we are to save this planet. I didn’t call this book The Vegetarian Lie. I called it The Vegetarian Myth for a reason. It’s not a lie that animals are sentient beings currently being tortured for our food. It’s not a lie that the rich nations are siphoning off the life of the planet for literally oceans full of endless, empty plastic junk. It’s not a lie that most people refuse to face the systems of domination— their brute scale—that are destroying us and the earth.

But the vegetarians’ solution is a myth based on ignorance, an ignorance as encompassing as any of those dominating systems. Civilization, the life of cities, has broken our identification with the living land and broken the land itself. “The plow is the … the world’s most feared wrecking ball,” writes Steven Stoll. For ten thousand years, the six centers of civilization have waged war against our only home, waged it mostly with axes and plows. Those are weapons, not tools. Never mind reparations or repair: no peace is possible until we lay them down.

Those six centers were each driven by a tight cohort of creatures, at the center of which stand an annual plant or two. And humans have been so useful to corn and rice and potatoes, clever enough to conquer perennial polycultures as vast as forests, as tough as prairies, but not smart enough to see we’ve been destroying the world. The cohort has often included infectious diseases, diseases like smallpox and measles that jumped the species barrier from domesticated animals to humans. Humans who stood in the way of civilization’s hunger have been eradicated by the millions through civilization’s microbes, the first clear-cut preparing the way for the plow.

This is the ignorance where the vegetarian myth dead ends. Life must kill and we are all made possible by the dead body of another. It’s not killing that’s domination: it’s agriculture. The foods the vegetarians say will save us are the foods that destroy the world. The vegetarian attempt to remove humans from a paradigmatical pinnacle is commendable. And it’s crucial. We will never take our true place, one sibling amongst millions, sharing a common journey from carbon to consciousness, sacred and hungry, then back to carbon, without firmly and forever rejecting human dominion.

But in order to save the world we must know it, and the veg- etarians don’t, not any more than the rest of the civilized, especially the industrially so. Hens driven insane in battery cages are visible to vegetarians; both morally and politically that insistent sight is needed. What are invisible are all the other animals that agriculture has driven extinct. Entire continents have been skinned alive, yet that act goes unnoticed to vegetarians, despite the scale. How do they not see it? The answer is they don’t know to look for it. We are all so used to a devastated landscape, covered in asphalt and the same small handful of suburban plants, a biotic coup of its own. The whole east coast should be one slow sigh of wetland, interspersed with marsh meadows and old growth forest. It’s all gone, replaced by a McMonocrop of houses, shackles of asphalt, the brutal weight of cities.

Where the water goes shy, the trees should thin to savanna and prairie, although even there the wetlands should cradle the rivers. But there’s nothing left. The deltas and swamps, bison and black terns, have been turned into soy and wheat and corn. The capitalists say we should turn those into animal units; the vegetarians say we should dump them near the starving; I say we should stop growing them and let the world come back to life. Then we can take our place again, that place that the vegetarians claim to want, our place as participants.

We can dominate or we can participate but there is no way out. That’s what no one is telling that sixteen-year-old. The earth is liter- ally dying for wetlands and forests, rivers and prairies. And if humans would simply step aside, the world would do the work of repairing itself. But that repair involves death. It means letting the beavers eat the trees, letting the wolves eat the beavers, letting the soil eat us all. It means taking down every last dam and letting the salmon come home to lay their eggs and be eaten, and in the eating become the forest. This is the world as it should be, resiliently nourishing itself, the gift both given and received. No one is going to tell that sixteen- year-old girl the truth, because there’s no one left in her world who knows it.

Letting the beavers come back will mean that wetlands may well cover one-third of the land in places. Those wetlands can’t coexist with our roads and suburbs and agriculture. So where does your loyalty lie? Ask yourself that question as if you really mean it. Those wetlands would also feed us forever. To bring the wolves back would require a similar and massive contracture of human activity: they need land, wild land, sturdy with functioning forests and grasslands, not broken by cars, gouged into subdivisions, and coerced into mono- crops. You can’t have it both ways, vegetarians. If you want to save this world, including its animals, you can’t keep destroying it. And your food destroys it.

If you want rules about what to eat, I can give you some principles. They’re slightly more complicated than “Meat Is Murder,” but then the living world is complex, and beholding it should leave us all aching with awe. So start with topsoil, the beginning place. Remember, one million creatures per tablespoon. It’s alive, and it will protect itself if we stop assaulting it. It protects itself with perennial poly- cultures, with lots and lots of plants intertwining their roots, adding carbonaceous leaves, and working together with mycelium, bacteria, protozoa, making a new organism between them, the mycorrhiza that talks and nourishes and directs.

Defend the soil with your life, reader: there is no other organism that can touch the intelligence of what goes on beneath your feet.

So here are the questions you should ask, a new form of grace to say over your food. Does this food build or destroy topsoil? Does it use only ambient sun and rainfall, or does it require fossil soil, fossil fuel, fossil water, and drained wetlands, damaged rivers? Could you walk to where it grows, or does it come to you on a path slick with petroleum?

Everything falls into place with those three questions. Those annual monocrops lose on all three counts, unless you live in Nebraska, where it “only” fails the first two. Animal rights philosopher Peter Singer argues that you should only eat animal products if you can see their origin with your own eyes. While I agree with the impulse—to end the denial and ignorance that protect factory farming—this demand has to be much bigger: you should know where every bite of your food comes from. We need to end the denial and ignorance that protect agriculture. The worldview that gives any and all plant foods an automatic pass is profoundly blind to how those very foods devour living communities. Go look at Nebraska, where the native prairie is 98 percent gone. Even if you’ve never seen an Audubon bighorn or a swift fox, you must surely miss them.

We’ve all built this living world of gift and need, birth and return. To repair this planet, we must take our sustenance as part of those relationships instead of destroying them. We can pull the forest down or we can eat the deer that live there. We can rip up the grass or we can eat the bison that should stretch across the plains. We can dam the rivers or we can eat the fish that could feed us forever. We can turn biologic processes into commodities until the soil is salt and dust, or we can take our place as another hungering member of an ancient tribe, the tribe of carbon. All flesh is grass, wrote someone named Isaiah in a book I don’t usually quote. In Hebrew, the word translated as “flesh” is basar, meaning meat, something one eats. Isaiah understood what is no longer physically visible to us, living at the end of the world: we are all a part of one another, made from grass, become meat.

“But food requires destruction,” a vegan argued with me, in an e-mail exchange that went exactly nowhere. That is the final myth you must face, vegetarians. Because the food I am proposing, the food of our ancestors, whose paleolithic hearts and souls we still inhabit, does not require destruction. At this moment it would in fact require repair and restitution: the forests and grasslands mended, conquered territory ceded back to the earth for her wetlands. Steven Stoll sums up agriculture: “Humans became parasites of the soil.” It’s your food that has brought us to the end of the world.

My food builds topsoil. I’ve watched it happen. The mixture of grasses and trees, cousins in their own right, provides for the animals, who in their turn maintain and nourish by their simple biological functions of eating and excreting. On Joel Salatin’s Polyface Farm— the mecca of sustainable food production—organic matter has increased from 1.5 percent in 1961 to 8 percent today. The average right now in the US is 2-3 percent. In case you don’t understand, let me explain. A 6.5 percent increase in organic matter isn’t a fact for ink and paper: it’s a song for the angels to sing. Remember that pine forest that built one-sixteenth of an inch of soil in fifty years? Cue those angels again: Salatin’s rotating mixture of animals on pasture is building one inch of soil annually.

Peter Bane did some calculations. He estimates that there are a hundred million agricultural acres in the US similar enough to the Salatins’ to count: “about 2/3 of the area east of the Dakotas, roughly from Omaha and Topeka east to the Atlantic and south to the Gulf of Mexico.” Right now, that land is mostly planted to corn and soy. But returned to permanent cover, it would sequester 2.2 billion tons of carbon every year. Bane writes:

That’s equal to present gross US atmospheric releases, not counting the net reduction from the carbon sinks of existing forests and soils … Without expanding farm acreage or removing any existing forests, and even before undertaking changes in consumer lifestyle, reduction in traffic, and increases in industrial and transport fuel efficiencies, which are absolutely imperative, the US could become a net carbon sink by changing cultivating practices and marketing on a million farms. In fact, we could create 5 million new jobs in farming if the land were used as efficiently as the Salatins use theirs.

Understand: agriculture was the beginning of global warming. Ten thousand years of destroying the carbon sinks of perennial polycultures has added almost as much carbon to the atmosphere as industrialization (see Figure 5, opposite), an indictment that you, vegetarians, need to answer. No one has told you this before, but that is what your food—those oh so eco-peaceful grains and beans—has done. Remember the ghost acres and the ghost slaves? What you’re eating in those grains and beans is ghost meat, down to the bare bones of whole species. There is no reconciling civilization and its foods with the needs of our living planet.

To save the world, we must first stop destroying it. Cast your eyes down when you pray, not in fear of some god above, but in recognition: our only hope is in the soil, and in the trees, grasses, and wetlands that are its children and its protectors both.

“And why are we not doing this now?” is the clarion call Bane ends with. For a lot of reasons, most of them having to do with power. But a new populism could spring from this need, a serious political movement combining environmentalists, farm activists, animal rights groups, feminists, indigenous people, anti-globalization and relocalization efforts—all of us who are desperate for a new, and living, world.

That’s the real reason I’ve written this book. The earth, our only home, needs that movement, and she needs it now. The only just economy is a local economy; the only sustainable economy is a local economy. Come at it from whichever angle matches your passion, the answers nest around the same central theme: humans have to draw their sustenance from where they live, without destroying that place.

That means that first we must know that place. I can’t give you a list of what to eat because I don’t know what can live where you do. I can only give you the principles I’ve already laid out. Then you’ll have to ask questions. How much rain falls where you are? What’s the terrain, the temperature, the soil? Dairy cattle, for instance, do great things where I live in cold, wet New England. I wouldn’t suggest them in dry New Mexico.

Understand my point. Farming—the growing of annual mono- crops—will never be sustainable. Our only chance is a judicious and humble human participation in perennial polycultures. We can do that poorly, as demonstrated in the overgrazing due to population pressures that is currently turning grasslands to desert the world over. Or we can do it well, like the Fulani of Africa, with a largely unbroken line reaching back to a pre-human time four million years ago.

How much can we change the landscape before participation becomes destruction? Especially when our impact may not be visible for a thousand years? Should we, for instance, use fire? Fire will drive out some species, both plant and animal, and encourage others. Where I live, sugar maples are iconic. Yet five hundred years ago, they wouldn’t have been here, or not many of them. The burning practices of Native Americans kept the forest here shifted toward fire-resistant and mast-bearing trees. That information was a shock
to my system: don’t mess with my maple trees. But Brian Donahue makes the point that as long as there has been a forest in New Eng- land, there have been humans living in it. We belong here, too, if we would just behave like it. The pristine forest free of human influence has never existed here, so is it the ideal we should be aiming for?

If so, that ideal must presuppose a devastated landscape some- where else and an interstate highway system to transport the foods produced out of it. None of this can last: not the devastation, the fossil fuel, the distance. We need to eat where we live and our food must be part of the repair of our home.

Let’s look at an example. Do dairy cows belong in New Eng- land? In the here and now, as I make my personal and political decisions about breakfast, are cows on the side of good or do they need to be hauled up Mount Doom?

Dairy cattle were brought over from Europe four hundred years ago. Does that rule them out automatically? But if you dig deeper into the past, there were once thirty-three more genera of large mammals on this continent, relatives of horses, cows, elephants, giraffes— and not that long ago, a mere 12,000 years. Their absence has left evolutionary widows, trees like honey locust and osage orange that are in decline because they need large herbivores to help them.9 In that sense, horses and cows were perhaps reintroduced with the spread of Europeans. So dig deeper still. Are these new animals similar enough to the ones that are gone, or do their divergences make them destructive assailants on the land base? There were, for instance, once equids here, but they had cloven hooves and no upper teeth. The result of the solid hooves and incisors is “ecological havoc.”10 The feral horses from Europe destroy desert seeps and springs, smother spawning gravel with silt, and strip grasslands to bare dirt. The most in-depth analysis of nineteen study sites found severe damage to “soils, rodents, reptiles, ants, and plants.” That damage puts species from desert tortoises to the endangered Lahontan cutthroats at risk.

There are clearly brittle landscapes too fragile for cows—especially for dairy cows—as well. Most of the west is more suited to the animals that were already there—buffalo, pronghorns, elk—and that’s what the people there should be eating. So that’s a directive: restore the prairie, long grass and short, and the drylands, and return their animal cohorts. Then think long and hard about other megafauna and their place on this continent. Do the grasslands and savannas want them back, or their relatives that still survive? What about the honey locust and osage orange, who need their large seeds to be di- gested and carried by large herbivores? Is their dying simply evolution at work? If we humans reintroduce some creature that might fulfill that function and restore the range of those trees, is that also evolu- tion? Or is that interference?

And I still need to decide about breakfast.

Cattle on pasture in my climate can easily be sustainable. Joel Salatin is certainly proving that. The model is sound and the climate and rainfall are suitable. But pasture isn’t the natural landscape of New England. Forests, wetlands, and marsh meadows are. The Europeans’ cows first grazed in those meadows and forests. As the beaver were eradicated, the wetlands and marsh meadows disappeared. Meanwhile, in Europe, experimentation with plant admixtures improved the sustainability of pastures dramatically. How does turning some forest land into pasture compare with the habitat shift of burning? Both of these are activities that, done well, will build topsoil and provide for human sustenance essentially forever. So how much impact are we allowed to have? The entire rainforest is a human project. Small patches are burned by the indigenous like the Lacandon Mayan, and then planted in a secession of eighty different crops, including the vines, shrubs, and trees that will take over when the plot has been abandoned—though “abandoned” is not really an accurate description, as the plot will be revisited in a twenty-year rotation, and will meanwhile produce food, fiber, and building materials, as well as a home for the wild animals that serve as protein.

Which brings me to my point. It wasn’t pasture that brought down the northeast forest. It was coal. As long as the human economy was based on wood in this cold climate, people more or less took care of the forest, because they needed it. Coal was what reduced the forest to simply one more commodity, and the land that forests grew on was more profitably used for wool breeds of sheep. What will happen as the price of oil first climbs past what the average household can pay, then past the effort worth retrieving it from the ground? Will New England be cleared from the Atlantic Ocean to the Housatonic River as people freeze to death? Or will the rural areas and private woodlot owners be able to hang onto their parts of this young forest, knowing that without it they, too, will soon freeze? Will we be facing a war not over Middle Eastern oilfields, but over trees in the Berkshires?

And I still need to decide about breakfast.

I can raise these issues, but maybe I can’t answer the questions.
I know that whatever we’re eating has to build soil, and if it doesn’t, it has to be struck forever from the human menu. It has to be part of a self-replicating community, where life and death are inseparable in the process of nourishment. Everyone has to give back, through the labor of their life functions, and then through the nutrients stored in their bodies. Our food can’t be based on fossil fuel, for nitrogen or energy. Nor can it use fossil water, or indeed any water that empties a river.

Dairy cows, where I live, meet those criteria and more. But is the change in species composition wrought by human-set fire on the acceptable side of the line while the change required for pasture placed in the unacceptable column? Then what we will eat instead will be deer and moose. Both of those, along with bison, migrated here from Eurasia not too long ago, maybe 12,000 years. They filled in niches left empty by the megafaunal extinctions. They’re Eurasian trans- plants, too. Do you see how complicated this gets?

And I still need my breakfast.

In the end, I do have my own answers to offer, of course, but they involve a bit more than drinking soy milk. Agriculture has to stop. It’s been a ten thousand year disaster, as life on earth will tell us if we listen. Writes William Catton:

The breakthrough we called industrialization was fundamentally unlike earlier ones. It did not just take over for human use another portion of the web that had previously supported other forms of life. Instead, it went underground to extract carrying capacity supplements from a finite and depletable fund …

As discussed earlier, I think the beginning of the fossil fuel age does mark a new level of human destructiveness, but he’s wrong in his characterization of agriculture as simply taking over more ecological niches. Agriculture is extractive: soil is depletable and “peak soil” was ten thousand years ago, on the day before agriculture began. We’ve been on the down curve ever since.

So agriculture has to stop. It’s about to run out anyway—of soil, of water, of ecosystems—but it would go easier on us all if we faced that collectively, and then developed cultural constraints that would stop us from ever doing it again.

Where I live, the wetlands need to return to cover the land in a soft, slow blanket of water. They will be a home for a lush multitude of species, many of which—waterfowl, moose, fish—could feed us. The rivers need to be undammed. And the suburbs and the roads need to be abandoned. I have no great solutions for how to make that economically feasible: I sincerely doubt it’s possible. I only know it has to happen, no matter how much we resist.

This is an excerpt from “To Save the World” in the book The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith. Click here to order directly from the author.

How to Survive Climate Collapse (part 1)

How to Survive Climate Collapse (part 1)

Image credit: Truthout / Lance Page

by Liam Campbell

“Extinction is the rule. Survival is the exception.” ― Carl Sagan

David Spratt, research director of the Breakthrough National Centre for Climate Restoration in Australia, recently warned us that “no political, social, or military system can cope” with the outcomes of climate collapse. The consequences are almost too extreme to process: global crop failures, water shortages, extreme natural disasters, dying ecosystems, and unstoppable climate feedback systems. These increasingly chaotic variables can lead to crippling uncertainty; should you dedicate all of your energy to fighting against greenhouse gas emissions and ecological destruction? Should you balance your time between resistance and preparing for adaptation? What are the skills and resources needed to survive? This article is the first in a series designed to help frame and answer those questions.

I grew up in the wilderness and was a stranger to civilization until my mid teens. Outside my childhood home I could have walked for weeks or months without encountering another human, and I often spent extended periods of time doing just that. It was a difficult environment to survive in because the summers were searing hot, the winters were far below freezing, there was little water, and vegetation was sprase. My classroom was the natural world, my teachers were the native species, and some of my tests were high stakes.  I learned how to quickly build shelters, how to find clean water from miles away, and how to find enough food to survive. It was a perfect childhood, despite many challenges and hardships.

When I moved into the town I was around 14 years old. I found the endless, often arbitrary, rules perplexing and frequently amusing. The “city people” were alien to me. I was utterly convinced that they would die of dehydration if they couldn’t get water from a tap, and that if they were told to walk off a cliff by someone wearing an adequately authoritative costume, they would do so. My amusement with this alternative reality soon turned into frustration. City cultures were full of people whose minds had been filled with often useless information by school curricula that insisted knowing the names and birthdays of bygone presidents was more important that knowing how to grow your own food, purify your own water, or build your own home. I was disturbed by this culture which had stripped people of their ancestral knowledge, of their independence.

Several decades later, my frustration has given way to activism. The brutal reality is that most of us, at least among the English speakers, have no clue how to survive without industrial civilization; which makes us the slaves and victims of that dominant culture. With climate collapse rapidly approaching, one of the most radical things we can do is restore our ancestral knowledge and rebuild the self sufficiency of our families and immediate communities.

Food and Water Security

Fast moving water is generally cleaner than slow or still water. Morning dew is often abundant. Conserving water is as important as collecting it. Sand, rocks, and charcoal purify still water. Trees and bushes transpire. Beaches produce freshwater. These are the lessons we used to learn as children and they provide us with security; indigenous cultures knew thousands of these variations, and specialized them for their local ecosystems over millennia. We need to restore this knowledge and disseminate it widely among our communities, both for our own individual security and also to maintain as much social stability as possible in the midst of collapse. There will be a day when your community attempts to turn on the tap for a glass of water to discover that it’s no longer working, and the ratio of infrastructure downtime will increase until we’re left to fend for ourselves. Communities with better developed skills will be better equipped to avoid desperation and violence.

Likewise, our food security needs to be addressed. Some ecosystems will soon become completely uninhabitable, others may remain habitable but become chaotic and prone to extreme weather events. Most of the food we eat today comes from industrial scale farming, which is entirely reliant on fossil fuels for pesticides, fertilizers, heavy equipment, refrigeration, and shipping. There will come a day, sooner than most people realize, when none of that infrastructure will work. This poses an immense challenge for communities whose farmers have forgotten how to produce crops without tractors and pesticides. Likewise, the average person has no idea how to grow or store their own food, and when the grocery store shelves go empty they’re going to become extremely desperate.

This is why we must prioritize local food and water security, which involves upskilling our communities and also leading efforts to build sustainable local systems. Every child needs to know the basic principles of permaculture, they need to know how to blend perennials and seasonals in regenerative rotations, they need to understand soil balance and which plants produce nitrogen, and they need to learn these things very quickly. Additionally, we need to replace lawns with gardens, ornamental plants with edibles for ourselves and pollinators, and we need to urgently protect the habitats of interdependent species and ecosystems. This starts by forming a group, knocking on your neighbours’ doors, and helping them build their first small garden.

Community Stability

Whether we like it or not, most of us are surrounded by larger communities of people. When people become too thirsty or too hungry their desperations leads to violence, which often ends up exacerbating their condition in a vicious cycle. For this reason, I think the worst possible place to be during climate collapse are cities. By nature of their design, city cultures are largely anonymous, callous, and unsustainable. The only way to feed the inhabitants of a city is to take food and other resources from the surrounding region, which will become increasingly difficult. Scarcity with lead cities to experience worsening class stratification, xenophobia, and misogyny; fear and poverty will also lead to reactionary movements and fascism, as it always does.

Communities will fare better when they’re small enough for the inhabitants to either know each other or recognize each other based on shared relations. I personally think populations between 2,000 and 5,000 are ideal because they’re large enough to significantly share resources and protect themselves, but small enough to be deeply integrated. In sufficiently rural or wilderness settings I would be inclined to live in even smaller populations.

The single most important thing you can do to maintain or prolong local stability is forge strong bonds with your neighbours, and to intentionally do so across preexisting divisions like class, race, and tribe. It’s important to foster a shared identity. One of the best ways to establish these bonds is to lead local permaculture, ecological, and economic adaptation efforts. If it can be at all avoided, never blame individuals in your local community for climate collapse or the worsening state of the world; even if it’s true, you’re now all in this together and those petty divisions can fester into dangerous conflicts as external tension builds.

Also focus on preparing today’s children. The next 10-20 years will be very difficult, but the following 50 years will be inconceivably difficult and we need to provide intensive training for the generation that will be attempting to survive it. Today’s 10 year old will probably be 25-30 years old when civilization as we know it collapses, those of us who are still alive will be relying on them to maintain order and potentially to help care for us as we age, experience illness, or become less independently capable. We will have great regrets if we fail to adequately prepare the next generation for what lies ahead.

Healthcare Essentials

Collapse will be most immediately horrific for people with serious health conditions. I relate deeply to this issue because my own medical condition, if left untreated, will probably significantly shorten my life and result in an unpleasant demise. It will be worse for people with conditions like kidney failure, who will be unable to receive dialysis treatments, or for cancer patients who will be unable to receive chemo therapy. Childbirth will also become increasingly dangerous. The good news is that we can mitigate some of these effects by connecting the dots between modern medical research and the active compounds found in various plants and fungi. Most of the world’s pharmaceuticals were initially derived from medicinal plants and fungi, and indigenous peoples have used those plants (often effectively) for countless generations. There will be increasing demand for local sources of medicine to treat things like infections, chronic pain, epilepsy, and even certain cancers. We need healthcare leaders in the future who are able to connect scientific medical research to processes which employ local plants and fungi.

We also need to improve our relationship with death because, unfortunately, there’s going to be a great deal more of it in the world. Most of our cultures have exacerbated our fear of death, in part because we have become so removed from it. For example, almost everyone eats meat, which obviously involves death, but how many people have slaughtered the animals themselves and processed through those complex emotions? Many of us have had loved ones die, but how many of us have been one of the primary caregivers, washed their body, and cremated/buried them ourselves? We have build entire economies around cultural desires to hide death behind layers of abstraction, and very few of us have learned to deal with it in healthy ways. The dominant culture prefers to pretend that death doesn’t exist; sometimes by ignoring our own mortality until the last minute, and sometimes even by denying mortality at all by propagating superstitions about eternal afterlife.

How we deal with death relates, in many ways, with my final point about healthcare: mental health. Our current frameworks for understanding and addressing mental health are deeply inadequate in the context of climate collapse. As our global and local situations progressively worsen, and as people realize that it will never return to their understanding of “normal” it will cause significant psychological trauma, persistent anxiety, and spiraling depression. I predict that suicide rates will increase dramatically, and I can’t blame those people. Likewise, it will become inceasingly difficult to deal with individuals whose mental health conditions may be significantly disruptive or even dangerous for other members of their communities. We will reach a point where we’re no longer able to access antipsychotic, antidepressant, antianxiety, bipolar, or any number of other mental health medications; this, combined with the intense psychological pressures of collapse will create great volatility among some of the most at risk members of our communities.

Part 1 Summary

This is first article is an overview of the scale of our challenges and some of the most essential priorities (food, water, community, and healthcare). As you can see, we have immense challenges ahead of us and it’s going to be a difficult road even for those of us living in the most temperature ecosystems. In the next article I’ll delve deeper into specific food and water systems, and provide detailed processes for organizing our communities toward those objectives. From a resistance perspective, it’s critical that we begin to address the details of how to resolve these issues. Our communities will be much more supportive of radical, direct action toward preventing global extinction if they feel like their most essential needs can be met in a post-collapse world. If we cannot provide and implement clear strategies for addressing these needs, people will retreat into denialism and delusions, eventually responding violently toward any group or information which threatens their fantasies. This is why we must take urgent action.

An ancient boon is now a modern disaster

An ancient boon is now a modern disaster

By Elisabeth Robson / Art for Culture Change

The catastrophic flooding across the midwest isn’t getting much coverage on the coasts, but it is a multibillion $ disaster for multiple states and indigenous nations.

Over a million wells may be contaminated.
Farmers will lose their farms.
The top soil is washing away.
The cattle losses have yet to be tallied but are likely to be huge.
8 EPA superfund sites have been inundated and no one knows what toxic nastiness is washing into the ground and water from those sites.
And of course all the little ways toxins make their way into the water from inundated septic systems, landfill sites, dumps, oil on the ground, and flooded energy infrastructure.

The flood waters are washing not just soil, but decades of accumulated synthetic fertilizers and many other toxins, into the Mississippi river, all of which will eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico. The yearly “dead zone” in the Gulf is already notorious–agriculture runoff creates algae growth, which in turn creates hypoxic zones, and all marine life in those zones dies from lack of oxygen.

This year’s “dead zone” could be the largest ever.

This winter, we can expect high food prices throughout the country. The flooded region produces wheat, corn, and soy, used to feed millions of feed lot cattle, and produce our industrial food products (bread, cereals, etc.)

The fields have not only lost topsoil; many are now covered with sand and other debris. It will be years, decades, or more before these fields return to full production–of course, their “full production” now is based on industrial agriculture, so it’s highly unnatural, but it does feed much of this country, so it’s something to keep in mind.

And of course along with those losses, many farmers will now be out of work.

Once upon a time, long ago, before the rivers in this country were dammed and levied and corralled into submission, flooding like this used to bring nutrients to the prairies and regenerate the land. Once upon a time, floods like this were a temporary hardship for a long term gain in productivity for all the wild things of the vast prairies of the continent.

In our modern times, flooding like this is a disaster, one that will have decades of repercussions of poisoned soil and water, poverty, and misery.

Image by NOAA of 2019 Spring Flood Outlook for the USA.