Excerpted from the book Deep Green Resistance — Chapter 15: Our Best Hope by Lierre Keith.
Featured image: Felix Mittermeier via Unsplash
3. Deep Green Resistance must be multilevel.
There is work to be done—desperately important work—aboveground and underground, in the legal sphere and the economic realm, locally and internationally. We must not be divided by a diversionary split between radicalism and reformism. One more time: the most militant strategy is not always the most radical or the most effective. The divide between militance and nonviolence does not have to destroy the possibility of joint action. People of conscience can disagree. They can also respectfully choose to work in different arenas requiring different tactics. I can think of no scenario in which a program to provide school cafeterias with food straight from local, grass-based farms would be advanced by explosives. In contrast, a project to save the salmon would do well to consider such an option.
Every movement for justice struggles with the subject. Violence, including property destruction, should not be undertaken without serious reflection and ethical, even spiritual, investigation. Better to accept that as individuals we will arrive at different answers—but that we have to build a successful movement despite those differences.
That shouldn’t be hard, considering that this entire culture has to be replaced. We need every level of action and every passion brought to bear. The Spanish Anarchists stand as a great example of a broad and deep effort to transform an entire society. Writes Murray Bookchin, “The great majority of these [affinity] groups were not engaged in terrorist actions. Their activities were limited mainly to general propaganda and to the painstaking but indispensable job of winning over individual converts.” The café was where all that discussion and proselytizing happened, just as it happened in pubs for the Irish and the IRA. The anarchists in Barcelona took over railroads, factories, public utilities, retail and wholesale businesses, and ran them by workers’ committees. They also created their own police force to patrol their neighborhoods, and revolutionary tribunals to mete out justice. Before the Fascist victory, the anarchists in Andalusia created communal land tenure arrangements, stopped using money for internal exchange of goods, and established directly democratic popular assemblies for their governance. They also started over fifty alternative schools across the country. Their educational ideas spread through Europe, landing in England where they were taken up by A. S. Neill at his famous Summerhill. From there, the concept of free schools migrated to the US. If you are involved with any student-directed, alternative education, you are a direct descendent of the Spanish Anarchists.
Every institution across this culture must be reworked or replaced by people whose loyalty to the planet and to justice is absolute. A DGR movement understands the necessity of both aboveground and underground work, of confronting unjust institutions as well as building alternative institutions, of every effort to transform the economic, political, and social spheres of this culture. Whatever you are called to do, it needs to be done.
It is unlikely that a political candidate on the national or even state level will have a chance of winning on a platform of truth telling, at least not in the United States. The industrial world needs to reduce its energy consumption to that of Brazil or Sri Lanka. That this reduction is inevitable doesn’t make it any more palatable to the average American, who will likely only give up his entitlement when it’s pried from his cold, dead fingers. At the local level, the political process may be more amenable to radical truth telling, especially in progressive enclaves. For those with the skills and interest, running for local office could yield results worth the effort. It could also scale up to other communities. What kinds of institutional change could be affected at the local level is a question worth asking.
From outside, a vast amount of pressure is needed to stop fossil fuel and other industrial extractions. Legislative initiatives, boycotts, direct action, and civil disobedience must be priorities. We need to form groups like Climate Camp, which started in 2006 with a teach-in and protest at a coal-fired plant in West Yorkshire, England. They’ve blockaded the European Carbon Exchange in London, protested runway expansion at Heathrow Airport, and are taking action against BP for its participation in the tar sands. In their own words,
The climate crisis cannot be solved by relying on governments and big businesses with their “techno-fixes” and other market-driven approaches.… We must therefore take responsibility for averting climate change, taking individual and collective action against its root causes and to develop our own truly sustainable and socially just solutions. We must act together and in solidarity with all affected communities—workers, farmers, indigenous peoples and many others—in Britain and throughout the world.
If the referendums and court decisions and market solutions fail, if the civil disobedience and blockades aren’t enough, a Deep Green Resistance is willing to take the next step to stop the perpetrators.
In the UK, someone is feeling the urgency. On April 12, 2010, the machinery at Mainshill coal site was sabotaged, machinery that was Mordorian in its destructive power: “a 170 tonne face scrapping earth mover.” The coal was slated for the Drax Power Station, “recognised as the most polluting in the UK.”
According to their communiqué:
Sabotage against the coal industry will continue until its expansion is halted.
This is a simple vow, an “I do” to every living creature. Deep Green Resistance remembers that love is a verb, a verb that must call us to action.
Ross Carter offers a critical review of Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine. He arguably enriches Naomi’s own assessment of the situation by adding a DGR analysis.
By Ross Carter
Using crisis as an opportunity to get rich
In her book, the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein details a particular trope of modern capitalism. That of using and/or creating shock and disaster to advance its agenda. Like the majority of liberal literature this book left me with more questions than answers. For example, is it just capitalism that uses crises to advance? Was life amazing before neo-liberal capitalism came along? Are discussions about different shades of civilization a waste of time? Is this whole book a distraction? Although frustrating at times and limited in its perspective, the history mapped out in this book did still have a lot to offer and to ponder.
The Traumatised Traumatise
One thing I take home from this book is how modern Capitalism is civilization attempting to continue to function and sustain itself, while everything (eco-systems and social structures) collapse around it. Due to Naomi’s blind commitment to Democracy and liberalism this would not be a take home though without a mild awareness of the history of civilization, particularly how it has always depended upon war, colonisation, control of populaces (social structure, slavery, police, media, religion and law etc.), and environmental and technological expansion, to sustain a hold over humanity and the planet. Civilization has also always fed off of disaster. This can be clearly seen in the fact that although individual civilizations collapse, disasters in themselves, civilization itself has continued to spread across the planet eating up wildlife, including wild humans, in its path.
The story that Naomi tells is not an isolated story, it is one that has been going on in one form or another for as long as civilization has existed. The logic of Civilization is to protect itself at any cost, and that logic continues unabated. Without a deeper analysis you are stuck in the limited perspective that if only we could get rid of those horrible capitalists then everything would be ok. This is a naive over-simplification of the issues we face. It ignores the current and rapid murder of the planet by Industrial civilization.
It ignores the reality of the lives of passive desperation, the mental trauma, anguish and grief that humanity, as a whole, currently lives with.
Another lesson or reminder I took away from reading the book was how war and conflict is integral to civilization and its expansion and survival. All expansion (aka colonisation) has depended on violence and conflict and left destruction in its wake. Civilization in turn traumatises individuals, communities and cultures, then takes advantage of that trauma to grow and expand. This was true in Iraq in 2004 and it was true in Iraq (AKA the Fertile Crescent) in 6-8,000bc when one of the first civilizations is said to have formed/spread their leaving decimation and desert in its wake.
This needs repeating. The land that Iraq now sits on was being pillaged and destroyed by civilization 10,000 or so years ago. The language I am writing in, it is said, evolved out of the Middle Eastern languages of the time. The Shock Doctrine is part of a continuum. We, the civilized, are doing the same things now that civilized peoples were doing 10,000 years ago. Changing from neo-liberal capitalism to a more social capitalism, replacing oil wells with lithium and rare metal mines (for ‘green’ technologies), isn’t going to change anything. The Shock will continue until we do something about the problem at the core, civilization itself. Or until civilization reaches, what seems like an inevitable suicidal endgame. The almost complete end of life on this planet.
“I am not arguing that all forms of market systems are inherently violent” p20.
The Shock process that Naomi defines and recognises is at the core a continuation of colonialism. It is hyper-colonialism. It is a confirmation by those in power that they are in power and that they are willing to do anything to stay in power. It is an extra layer of colonialism. And therefore an extra layer of trauma and destruction. Competition is at the core of all civilized relationships and the civilized psyche itself. It is at the core of agricultural societies who fight each other and wild nature for the space to deforest and grow. It is at the core of modern civilization in all its teachings and all it upholds. Competition we are told is natural and good. We appear to have forgotten what is natural and good. We have seen no other path. We are conquerors and dominators. Takers. We do not know what it is to be human be-ings, only human war-ings. This is apparent in Naomi’s book.
From Chile to Iraq via New Orleans. The only direction we can go is towards increasing levels of control and dominance. Unless we change this mindset we will continue on this path indefinitely. Civilization can wear a facade of democracy or liberalism but it is merely that. A facade. Equality and co-operation are not possible in civilization. They are in direct contradiction to its inbuilt needs to expand and control.
Changing this mindset is an intense and thorough task, but it is the only one that will make a difference long term.
Joe Biden and solar panels are not going to cut it. Just as different leaders and more technology have never made a difference before. Only increased and sped up the expansion and control of civilization. There will be no simple solution or saviour. Our desperation to control and dominate from the White House and board room, to our patriarchal nuclear family, stems from the same place. Mass cultural trauma. As Naomi points out, a broken individual is easy to manipulate and control. And we are all broken by civilization. We are traumatised in the womb. We are traumatised in birth. We are born into generational trauma. We are traumatised within our dysfunctional families and social structures. We are traumatised by our ‘education’. We are traumatised by the boxes we are put in and the masks we have to wear. We are traumatised by pollution, by food, by technologies. Etc. Etc.
The traumatised mind is a warring and competing mind. It is one that cannot be satiated. Civilization commodifies and others us. It turns us into objects and roles. Slave, farmer, chief, wife, husband, etc. THAT is shock and awe. The shock that Naomi defines is an interesting story and one worth hearing, but it is also an addendum, and like all leftist analysis it ignores or denies the rest of the book. It ignores what led to that addendum. If we continue not to see how violence and (our own) trauma and shock are integral to the establishment and sustenance of civilization, not just neo-liberal capitalism, then our solutions and actions, like all leftist/liberal solutions, are going to achieve absolutely zero when facing the bigger picture of the murder and enslavement of the planet and of ALL life on it by civilization.
Our blindness to reality is related to our mass trauma, perpetuated by our education system and media.
The media are masters of shock. Naomi points out how the military targeted certain industries in Iraq to increase the shock to the populace. Just as important was the taking over of the media. Of the stories being told to the Iraqi people. The media pacifies through dumbing populations down, through fear mongering, and simply through lying or covering up the truth, It is quite amusing but also sad to note that Naomi, and all of her other liberal pals, are suffering from the very symptoms she herself defines. That of a forgetting. A cultural amnesia. A reconditioning, brainwashing (let’s call it what it is). Let’s not forget that liberals are traumatised too.
One only needs some basic understanding of the history of civilization to know that at its core since its inception it has depended on slavery (by the whip or by economic/cultural control), genocide, ecocide and colonisation. This is completely ignored though. Why? Why would liberals continue to preach for, and believe in, those very things which are used to oppress them? The Green New Deal and Democracy aren’t going to remove the shock to the system that living hollowed out lives on a hollowed out planet perpetually puts us through. Yet they are worshipped. How could you read this 533 page book, in your break at the office, or sitting in your city apartment, the sound of sirens and cars droning around you, smell of pollution in the air, zero wildlife, about how capitalism uses shock to further its agenda, and not recognise the shock, all around you and within you? The obvious answer is that liberals have been shocked themselves.
We have all been shocked.
Then in this lost, disconnected state we are all susceptible to the easy solutions of religion, gurus, demagogues and techno-fixes. We are all malleable. People do not willingly hand over their personal power and autonomy and that of their community, to civilization, unless they have first been broken as a human and built up again as a citizen. We will only really be able to think clearly and connect to one another and the earth again once we throw off the myths that civilization holds us down with. Once we, as individuals and communities, destroy civilization as a concept and a physical system. For it is only beyond civilization that we can really be free from continued shock and perpetual disaster.
Ross Carter is a sytems thinker, critic and DGR guardian based in the UK.
Grassroots activist Suzanna Jones challenges the idea that green energy is good and rebukes the corporations and ideologically-captured organizations who promote it.
By Suzanna Jones
The recently released documentary Planet of the Humans takes direct aim at the major threat to the Earth.
It does this by asking fundamental questions: can Nature withstand continued industrial extraction; can humans – particularly those in the dominant West – persist in taxing the natural world to fulfill our own ‘needs’ and desires; is ‘green’ energy the savior for our climatic and environmental problems or is it a false prophet distracting us from confronting the gargantuan elephant in the room, what writer Wendell Berry calls “history’s most destructive economy”?
New roads built for the Lowell Wind Energy site in Vermont destroy and fragment important wildlife habitat for black bears, moose, and bobcat among others.
The Hypocrisy of Mainstream “Environmentalism”
Filmmakers Jeff Gibbs, Ozzie Zehner and Michael Moore don’t just ask questions, they highlight the hypocrisies of big shots like Al Gore and the national Sierra Club. Even Vermont comes in for less than flattering commentary. Planet of the Humans depicts Green Mountain Power‘s ridge-destroying Lowell Mountain industrial wind project, Burlington’s McNeil wood-burning electric generating plant, and Middlebury College’s biomass gasification facility as examples of the renewable energy delusion. And Bill McKibben, Middlebury’s Scholar-in-Residence, is cast as a string that connects all three.
The film has struck a nerve. Those depicted unfavorably have reacted. Some who admit to having enjoyed Michael Moore’s filmmaking strategy in the past don’t find him so funny this time. The criticisms reveal how much power and money lie behind the renewables-as-savior myth. With so much at stake, the industry and big environmental organizations have little appetite for discussing or even acknowledging the unsavory side of the technologies. And ultimately, the core issues remain unaddressed; the most important things remain unspoken.
Sustaining the Planet vs. Sustaining Industrial Civilization
Frankly, the green energy ‘movement’ is really about sustaining our way of life and the economic system that it depends upon, not the health of the biosphere. Capitalism is brilliant at co-opting anything that resists it. Green energy – like much of the broader environmental movement – is no exception. It’s business-as-usual in camouflage.
Back when Green Mountain Power’s bulldozing and blasting began at Lowell Mountain, a group of locals organized ‘open-house’ walks up the mountain to view the devastation. Hundreds attended these fall/winter treks. Shock and heartbreak were the usual response. Bill McKibben was personally invited to attend. Though his response was polite, he would not be coming. He dismissed our concern for the mountain as “ephemeral.”
That word underscores what has gone so terribly wrong with green energy “environmentalism.” Something is absent. That something? Love. Love of the places and living beings that are suffering or being destroyed so that we can live our electronic, nature-less existence. Affection for the natural, non- human world is missing in the discussions about climate, carbon and techno-fixes. Nothing seems to matter now but humans and their desires.
“Although it’s morally wrong to destroy the land community, people are going to sustain it, not because it’s morally right but because they want to; affection is going to be the determining motive”, Wendell Berry has explained in the past. “Economic constraints might cancel out affection, but genuine affection is going to be the motivating cause.”
The Moral Basis of Organizing for Justice
Without affection, we’re more likely to thoughtlessly sacrifice living beings on the altar of economics. When the film reveals who is paying the ultimate price for our ‘green’ energy consumption, we recognize affection for the casualty it has become. We are half-asleep, anesthetized by the barrage of meaningless marketing, with its hollow premise that we can continue to consume our way to happiness.
As I was planting in the garden this warm, spring day, the returning swallows joyfully zipping overhead made me stop. Usually this ritual is accompanied by the background droning of distant car traffic, but due to the pandemic, the infernal engines were silent. It made me wonder. Can we live in healthy reciprocity with the natural world? Can we make the shared economic sacrifices that are necessary or will we continue to sacrifice Nature? Can we make drastic reductions in consumption and live more local, less materially prosperous, more fulfilling lives? Can we replace modernity’s painful alienation from Nature with a genuine sense of intimacy, affection, meaning and responsibility? Will those in power let us? Will we allow them to decide for us?
On of 21 wind turbine pads at Lowell Wind Project in Vermont.
Our way of life is inherently unsustainable. We can’t buy or build our way out of this one. Yes, the climate crisis is both undeniable and existential, but it is not the only way the Earth is being destroyed. Simply changing the fuel that powers our destructive, planet-killing system is not a solution.
Planet of the Humans challenges our assumptions and our arrogance. It asks us to face what we have done, experience the grief, and then allow our hearts to consider an entirely new path into the future.
Suzanna Jones lives off grid on a small farm in Northern Vermont. She has been fighting injustice, destruction of the land, and industrial wind projects for decades and has been arrested several times.
Wildlife images by Roger Irwin depict native wildlife near the site of a proposed wind energy facility on Seneca Mountain. That project was canceled due to community organizing in opposition. Aerial photographs by Steve Wright depict Lowell Wind Energy Facility. Check out this photo essay on the impact of “green” energy on mountain landscapes.
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Editor’s note: This is the second part of an edited transcript of a talk given at the 2017 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. Read Part One here. Watch the video here.
by Erin Moberg, Ph.D., and Max Wilbert / Deep Green Resistance Eugene
A question that a lot of radical environmentalists ask ourselves is, “where is your threshold for resistance?” Particularly given the recent U.S. presidential election, people in so many communities with a lot at stake, with a lot to lose, and not a lot of choice, have been doing much of the harder and riskier work as front-line activists.
Latinos are taking action in courts, schools, and town halls. Women of color are taking action, black and brown people are taking action, and indigenous people are taking action. Since the U.S Presidential election it has been good to see other people with less to lose take steps, and sometimes leaps, out of the spaces of privilege they occupy in order to stand up and speak up against injustice–against violations of people of color, of women and girls, of Spanish-speakers, of immigrants, of undocumented people, and so many others.
In Eugene, Oregon, I’ve also seen many people new to activism come out to learn about direct action and community organizing, because they want to defend the land they love, but a lot of times don’t know how.
This gives me brief moments of hope and yet I’m still terrified, and still very certain that nothing short of a unified global movement of all kinds of people ready to resist and fight back, to protect the land they love, the air we breathe, the water we need, and all of the animals on the planet, will be enough to give us any say at all in how and when this culture collapses.
Some of the ramifications of environmental activists and movements dedicating themselves to promoting energy efficiency include strengthening the existing culture, i.e., industrial civilization, by correcting contradictions that stand out between ideals and practices, or policy and practices, within the dominant culture.
This also provides an unproductive outlet for activist revolutionary anger that only serves to pacify us and detract us from more materially impactful work that we could be doing as activists. Thinking about the global crises that we are currently facing, including deforestation, peak oil, water drawdown, soil loss, food crises, overfishing, desertification are often framed in the media and in popular and academic discourse as disparate or coincidental issues.
We know, however, that all of these crises are interrelated. These are some of the ways in which we can collectively characterize these crises:
- They are progressive – they are rapid, but not instant, which can lead to what is called “shifting baseline syndrome.” That is, we get accustomed to a new norm, a new kind of way of living, and we lose sight of a previous issue like destruction of forests or water drawdown.
- These crises are non-linear, runaway or self-sustaining, they have long lead and lag-times, which really impedes any kind of activism that’s focused on long-term solutions or long-term planning.
- They have a deeply rooted momentum and they are industrially-driven, and they benefit the powerful, and cost the powerless.
- They often yield temporary victories, but permanent losses, particularly losses to the planet.
The proposed solutions to these crises often make things worse, as in the case of energy efficiency measures. Here is quote by Aric McBay that really resonates with me. In the book “Deep Green Resistance” he writes:
Even though analysts who look at the big picture globally may use large amounts of data, they often refuse to ask deeper or more uncomfortable questions. The hasty enthusiasm for industrial biofuels is one manifestation of this. Biofuels have been embraced by some as a perfect ecological replacement for petroleum. The problems with this are many, but chief among them is the simple fact that growing plants for vehicle fuel takes land the planet simply can’t spare. Soy, palm, and sugar cane plantations for oil and ethanol are now driving the destruction of tropical rainforest in the Amazon and Southeast Asia…This so-called solution to the catastrophe of petroleum ends up being just as bad—if not worse—than petroleum.
Let’s look at some traits of ineffective solutions:
- Ineffective solutions tend to reinforce existing power disparities. These solutions tend to be based on capitalism as a guiding principle and goal. Anything that has as its primary goal to increase productivity, to make more money, is necessarily going to be an ineffective solution when it comes to the health of the planet.
- These solutions suppress autonomy or sustainability that impede profit. For example, suggestions of voluntary changes for corporations to undertake are not going to be carried out, because it doesn’t serve their best interest, which is to increase their profit, to make more money.
- They rely on techno-fixes, or technological and political elites. For example, photovoltaic solar panels, which in the process of creating them uses more energy and causes further environmental harm.
- They encourage consumption and increasing consumption and population growth.
- They attempt to solve one problem without regard to the interconnected problems. “Solving” the energy crisis with corn-derived ethanol destroys more land and causes water drawdown, with a very low yield of ethanol.
- They involve great delay and postpone action. A good example of this is the Paris Climate Accords. Every day, the gap between human population and the earth’s carrying capacity increases. The goals are set for 2025 or 2050–by the time we even get there, that gap will be exponentially greater.
- They tend to focus on changing individual lifestyles, such as buying more efficient light bulbs. This consumer deception: if you buy more of the right things, you can save the planet.
- They tend to be based on token, symbolic, or trivial actions. For example, an activist group acknowledges the problem of industrial civilization, but then the only action they take is to sign a petition, or to grow their own food. Those things might be great things for individuals for consciousness-raising, finding community, and expressing ourselves, but they are very disconnected from the material impact of civilization on the planet.
- They tend to be focused on superficial or secondary causes, like overpopulation instead of over-consumption. For this particular point, it also tends to be a very racist approach in looking at how to save the planet, because the blame tends to be put on indigenous and brown and black communities who have the most to lose, and the least control over this system of empire.
- Finally, these ineffective solutions tend to not be consonant with the severity of the problem, the window of time available to act, or the number of people expected to act.
Let’s talk a little bit about what effective solutions could look like. Effective solutions need to address root problems with global understanding. We need to acknowledge the interconnected aspect of all of these crises that are occurring around the planet.
Effective solutions involve a higher level of strategic rigor. But they also enable many different people to address the problem and ask themselves what they’re able to risk, what they can offer. Can you risk your body, can you risk your family, can you risk your job? Or not? It is necessary to locate our position on that spectrum and figure out how we can best use our skills to end the crisis.
Effective solutions are suitable to the scale of the problem, the lead time for action, and the number of people expected to act. If you know you need 25 people to pull off a blockade of a coal train and you don’t have 25 people, then plan a different action. Be realistic.
Effective solutions tend to involve immediate action and long-term action planning, make maximum use of available levers and fulcrums (planned to make as big of an impact as possible), playing to the strengths of the people involved, and targeting the weaknesses of the system.
Finally, they must work directly and indirectly to take down civilization, which is the overall goal. This leads to a discussion of another obstacle to effective solutions: the conflict between reformist and revolutionary perspectives.
Reformists, those who advocate for change through reform, tend to consider the existing system as functional but flawed, and believe it can be modified to address the issue at hand.
Reformists tend to be willing to employ legal and socio-politically sanctioned approaches to changing the system or addressing the problem, like legislations, petitions, grassroots organizing. Reformists also tend to focus on separate issues.
There are some limitations to this. A reformist focuses on correcting contradictions within the system, and thus redirects revolutionary anger to less materially-impactful solutions. On the other hand, both revolution and reform can have a place in the type of activism that leads to effective solutions.
Revolutionists consider the existing system to be the root of the problem, and believe that it must be dismantled and replaced. Revolutionists are willing to employ resistance strategies through whatever means are most effective. Rather than working within a particular legal framework, revolutionists are willing to employ strategies that may or may not be legal toward the goal of saving the planet.
Revolutionists see this system, this culture as the primary issue. We advocate that those working toward reform and those working toward revolution, or anywhere within that spectrum, identify points of overlap in their goals and strategies, in order to better work together.
This might look like activists who utilize legislative channels to prevent the shipment of fossil fuels through their municipality, while front-line activists block coal trains and offer direct action training for others to do those same actions.
What do we mean by fighting back? We mean thinking and feeling for ourselves, finding who and what we love, figuring out how to defend what we love, and using any means necessary and appropriate. This involves calling out the problem, in this case the dire circumstances caused by industrial civilization for life on the planet; identifying the goal, for example, depriving the rich and powerful of the ability to destroy the planet, and defending and rebuilding just and sustainable human communities within repaired and restored landbases.
In our communities and around the world, great people are doing great work in the name of saving the planet. More people are marching in protest than before, more people are writing letters, signing petitions, making calls, and organizing at the grassroots level. More people are seeing clearly, and more people are learning the language to speak about what they see.
And yet, more animals go extinct every day, and more areas of the earth become uninhabitable for so many animals, including humans. The salmon are dying, the forests are dying, the rivers are dying, the oceans are dying, and people are dying, all around the world, because of industrial civilization.
Since the last US presidential election, more people are speaking out about the climate crisis through social media, in town halls, in their homes, in neighborhoods and schools. And yet, the earth’s temperature rose again last year, and the Bramble Cays Melomys went extinct due to climate change last year. So did the San Cristobal Vermillion flycatcher.
San Cristobal Vermillion flycatcher
The Rabb’s Treefrog went extinct. And the Stephan’s Riffle Beetle. And the Tatum Cave Beetle. And the Barbados Racer Snake. And 13 more bird species went extinct. And the list goes on.
As environmental activists, we know what is at stake: all life on the planet. We know, too, that an environmental and cultural movement grounded in energy efficiency is, simply put, not enough, and often incites further planetary harm. I’d like to read a quote by one of my favorite writers and thinkers, Rebecca Solnit, a writer, feminist, philosopher and activist:
Our country is now headed by white supremacist nativist misogynist climate-denying nature-hating authoritarians who want to destroy whatever was ever democratic and generous-spirited in this country, meaning that it’s a good time to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, to keep your eyes on the prize, and to commit to the long term process of taking it all back. Because even after Trump topples, which could happen soon, remaking the stories and the structures is a long term project that matters. It is not ever going to finish, so you can pace yourself, celebrate milestones and victories, and get over any idea of arrival and going home. Most of the change will be incremental, and the lives of most great changemakers show us people who persisted for decades, whether or not the way forward looked clear, easy, or even possible.
This is also a remarkable moment in which many people you and I might have disagreed with in safer times are also horrified, are allies in some of the important work to be done, and worth reaching out to to find what we have in common. “The word emergency comes from emerge, to rise out of, the opposite of merge, which comes from mergere: to be within or under a liquid, immersed, submerged. An emergency is a separation from the familiar, a sudden emergence into a new atmosphere, one that often demands we ourselves rise to the occasion.” This is an emergency. How will you emerge?
We will leave you with a brief analysis of a poem by Adrienne Rich, the poet, essayist, and radical feminist who died just a few years ago. This poem is called “North American Time” and it’s taken from a collection published in 1986, in which she argues for a kind of ethical imagination, that I think applies to our argument for moving beyond energy efficiency, towards the end of halting climate change and the destruction of the planet.
The poem begins as the speaker, a woman of color, reflects on her growing realization of having been systematically silenced and pacified by the culture of empire:
When my dreams showed signs
no unruly images
escaping beyond border
when walking in the street I found my
themes cut out for me
knew what I would not report
for fear of enemies’ usage
then I began to wonder…
She goes on to describe the power and permanency of written words, and of the verbal privilege in being able to write, or to act, in a public, enduring way. In the third section, she challenges the reader to do the impossible: to imagine herself outside the context of history, of planetary life, of accountability.
try telling yourself
you are not accountable
to the life of your tribe
the breath of your planet
It doesn’t matter what you think.
Words are found responsible
all you can do is choose them
to remain silent. Or, you never had a choice,
which is why the words that do stand
and this is verbal privilege.
Here and throughout the poem, Rich calls out the silent bystander, the privileged witness who sees and knows that great injustice is being perpetrated, and yet doesn’t speak, doesn’t act, doesn’t intervene. Central to this poem is Rich’s profound understanding that words, rather than thoughts, are ultimately found responsible. I think the same holds true for actions in the context of environmental activism.
Our actions will be what endure, not the thoughts we had, or the plans we made, or the feelings we had about the destruction of the planet. Also central to this poem is Rich’s compelling portrayal of the disjuncture between those who have a choice, the more privileged, and those who don’t.
As activists, we need to first understand our own relative privileges and then acknowledge that being male; being white; being an English-speaker; being a citizen; being wealthy, are not innate. They are a direct result of the culture of empire, of a culture grounded in institutionalized racism, misogyny, and omnicide.
The salmon, who have all but disappeared, didn’t have a choice. The Kalapuya, whose land we occupy here today, didn’t have a choice. The forests don’t have a choice, nor the bees, nor the rivers.
What choices do you all have? We encourage all of you to reflect on these words as a call to action, as a call to re-evaluate the words we use, and the stances we take, to assess whether or not they truly coincide with our deepest, most intimate hope for the future of ourselves, of the planet, and of this world.
We ask all of you to think long and hard about how you would like to emerge, and then we ask you to act, in a way that feels intentional and possible, and significant to you, and most importantly, for all life on this planet.