Editor’s note: Today’s post is an interview with Will Falk discussing his work on the Protect Thacker Pass campaign with Tiokasin Ghosthorse (Lakota), host of First Voices Radio. Falk co-founded Protect Thacker Pass with Max Wilbert and is representing the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony in a Federal court case alleging violations of tribal consultation laws.
Tiokasin’s guest is Will Falk, who gives an update on Thacker Pass in northern Nevada. In January 2021, Will and Max Wilbert launched an occupation of a proposed lithium mine at Thacker Pass. Will is a writer, lawyer, and environmental activist. He believes the ongoing destruction of the natural world is the most pressing issue confronting us today.
Activism has taken Will to the Unist’ot’en Camp — an Indigenous cultural center and pipeline blockade on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory in so-called British Columbia, Canada, to a construction blockade on Mauna Kea in Hawai’i, and to endangered pinyon-juniper forests in the Great Basin.
Production Credits: Tiokasin Ghosthorse (Lakota), Host and Executive Producer; Liz Hill (Red Lake Ojibwe), Producer; Malcolm Burn, Studio Engineer, Radio Kingston, WKNY 1490 AM and 107.9 FM, Kingston, NY; Tiokasin Ghosthorse, Audio Editor
1. Song Title: Tahi Roots Mix (First Voices Radio Theme Song); Artist: Moana and the Moa Hunters; Album: Tahi (1993); Label: Southside Records (Australia and New Zealand) (00:00:22)
2. Song Title: Mother Earth; Artist: Karliene; Single: Mother Earth (2019); Label: N/A (Available on YouTube) (00:24:40)
3. Song Title: Single Pride of Man; Artist: Quicksilver Messenger Service; Album: Quicksilver Messenger Service (1968); Label: Capitol Records (00:28:45)
4. Song Title: Revolution; Artist: SOJA; Album: Peace in Time of War (2002); Label: DMV Records (00:32:34)
5. Song Title: Bo Bo’s Groove; Artist: Tom Principato Band; Album: Raising the Roof (2008); Label: Powerhouse Records (00:37:30)
6. Song Title: Mother Earth; Artist: SOJA; Album: Peace in Time of War (2002); Label: DMV Records (00:37:30)
7. Song Title: Through the Eyes of Love; Artist: Walter Trout and the Radicals; Album: Notodden Blues Festival – The Best of People and Blues – Nbf, Vol. 3 (2004); Label: Bluestown Records (00:46:45)
8. Song Title: American Dream; Artist: J.S. Ondara; Album: Tales of America (The Second Coming) (2019); Label: Verve Forecast / Universal Music Canada (00:55:00)
AKANTU INSTITUTE: Visit Akantu Institute, an institute that Tiokasin founded with a mission of contextualizing original wisdom for troubled times. Go to https://akantuinstitute.org/ to find out more and consider joining his Patreon page at https://www.patreon.com/Ghosthorse.
Editor’s note: This piece draws links between struggles against extraction projects and other land destruction related to fossil fuels, nuclear power, and renewable energy technologies alike. Around the world, people are struggling to protect the land and water in global resistance to extractive industries. We encourage our readers to join these struggles—or to begin a new campaign if one is not already happening.
People the world over are opposing fossil fuel extraction in an incalculable number of ways. It is now clear that burning fossil fuels threatens millions of Life forms and could be laying the foundation for the extermination of Humanity. But what about “alternative” energy? As progressives stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those rejecting fossil fuels and nuclear power, should we despise, ignore, or commend those who challenge the menace to their homes and their communities from solar, wind and hydro-power (dams)? The Green Party of St. Louis/Gateway Green Alliance gave its answer with unanimous approval of a version of the statement below in May, 2021.
Global Conflicts Over Fossil Fuels, Nuclear and Alternative Energy
The monumental increase in the use of energy is provoking conflicts across the Earth. We express our solidarity with those struggling against extraction, including these examples.
We stand in solidarity with the on-going Native American protests at Standing Rock in North Dakota protesting environmentally irresponsible and culturally damaging pipelines that transport crude oil extracted from tar sand, destroying their ancestral lands. So-called “clean” and “renewable” energies depend on the climate killer oil for their production.
We stand in solidarity with the Movement for Survival of Ogoni People against Shell. The Niger-Delta was devastated and traditional culture weakened by soil, surface and groundwater contamination that makes farming and fishing impossible. Local communities still seek to receive denied compensation, clean-up, a share of the profits and a say in decision-making.
We stand in solidarity with the Centre for Policy Research in India as it opposes efforts by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to open 41 new coal mines because burning coal is a major factor in climate change, leads to asthma, premature births, and spreads toxins (including mercury) by air, water and land.
We stand in solidarity with the Green Party of Pennsylvania which has opposed fracking since 2008 when it realized that use of volatile chemicals could harm local communities and waterways and contribute to climate instability. Local residents have become ill and major waterways and delicate ecosystems have been damaged.
We stand in solidarity with the No Nukes Action Committee of the Bay Area who are demonstrating against the Olympic Games slated for Tokyo in order to raise awareness of the ongoing disaster of Fukushima nuclear power since nuclear power is deadly and intimately connected with the potential for nuclear war.
We stand in solidarity with “Solidarity Action for the 21 Villages” in Faléa, Maliagainst the French multinational COGEMA/Orano. After years of struggle, this NGO defeated a uranium mine through community mobilizing. Aware of the detrimental effects on health, environment, agricultural land, water sources and cultural heritage, they are still fighting to undo already done infrastructural damage.
We stand in solidarity with rural Klickitat County, WA residents who are being invaded by industrial solar facilities which would exceed 12,000 acres and undermine wildlife/habitat, ecosystems, ground/water, and food production because solar panels and lithium ion batteries contain carcinogens with no method of disposal or re-cycling and could contribute to wildfires from electrical shorts.
We stand in solidarity with the Broome Tioga Green Party’s fight against industrial wind turbine projects that would increase drilling and mining, dynamite 26 pristine mountain tops, and destroy 120,000 trees while requiring precious minerals and lithium for batteries and being dependent on fossil fuels for their manufacture, maintenance and operation.
We stand in solidarity with the indigenous Lenca people opposing the Agua Zarca dam on the Gualcarque River in Honduras whose leader Berta Cáceres was murdered for uniting different movements to expose how dams destroy farmland, leave forests bare, disturb ancestral burial sites, and deprive communities of water for crops and livestock.
We stand in solidarity with activists aiming to stop Lithium Americas’ Thacker Pass open-pit mine (Nevada). Essential for electronic devices including electric cars, the mine would destroy rare old-growth big sagebrush, harm wildlife including many endangered species and lower the water table. Its operation would require massive fossil fuel use and toxic waste ponds.
We stand in solidarity with the child laborers slaving and dying in Democratic Republic of Congo cobalt mines. Cobalt is an essential ingredient for some of the world’s fastest-growing industries—electric cars and electronic devices. It co-occurs with copper mining, used in construction, machinery, transportation and war technology worldwide.
If you would like to join those spreading the word regarding the need to challenge all forms of energy extraction because we can provide better lives for every society on Earth by reducing the global production of energy, please contact the author at the email below.
The oral traditions and origin stories of many Indigenous peoples, worldwide, include some stories of the endings of previous worlds. In such stories, the end of one world usually coincides with the beginning of a new world. Typically, the end of one world is the end of a grave error, the end of a world gone wrong. The life-endangering wrong way had to end for life to continue anew. To have a fresh start, venturing into many unknowns, might be somewhat scary, but it is really a wonderful gift.
In the early winter months of 2014, in Missoula, Montana, I was part of a coalition of climate activists and Indigenous Earth and water protectors who were trying to stop, or at least discourage, the transport of enormous pieces of mining equipment to the tar sands in Alberta, Canada, where it would be used in the largest and dirtiest oil extraction project on our planet. The equipment was so large that the companies that owned those things could only move them through cities in the middle of the night, at the time of least traffic use (around 2:00 a.m.). They could not transport these monstrosities on the freeways because they were too tall—even lying down on trucks—to go under the overpasses. We called them the “megaloads.” On four cold winter nights, in January through March, we walked out onto the largest street in Missoula as soon as we saw a megaload and its entourage of pilot cars and police vehicles approaching. We sang and round-danced in the middle of the street, carrying signs, and sometimes our crowd was big enough to make a circle that fit from curb to curb across the whole street. The police allowed us to continue for a short while (the longest time was 22 minutes), then they cleared us off the road. A handful of our people intentionally got arrested, but most did not.
Sometime after the fourth megaload blockade, the oil and equipment transport companies decided to refabricate the equipment for transport on the freeways. We had caused them a minor inconvenience and a little negative publicity regarding the tar sands industry and its impacts on the Canadian boreal forests, rivers, the health of humans and other species, and global warming. So they began transporting their destructive devices in smaller pieces, to be reassembled upon arrival in Alberta. That change in operations cost three companies (Exxon Mobil, Imperial Oil, and transport company, Mammoet) about two billion dollars altogether, or about one quarter’s profits (at that time, just before oil prices dropped and tar sands extracting became a little less profitable). When taking government subsidies and tax breaks given to oil corporations into account, they probably hardly even felt a pinch from our annoying actions and were actually able to expand their tar sands operations and increase their profits for a few years after the blockades. Our blockade coalition held together for a few months longer, waiting for the next megaload to come through Missoula, which never came.
During those weeks and months after the last megaload blockade, I spent a good amount of time analyzing and reassessing the value and effectiveness of street blockades and similar actions on the big picture. The big question on my mind, and in the minds of some of my friends, was, “What did we accomplish and what good did we do for protecting the Earth through our actions in the street?” We also wondered who even noticed what we did (most citizens of Missoula are asleep at 2:00 a.m. and we didn’t get much media coverage) and, for those that noticed, did anybody who wasn’t already in agreement with our views on protecting the natural world change their minds and decide to take action on behalf of natural life? How about the megaload transport workers, security guards and police, whom we forced to stop their work and sit there watching us for 15 or 20 minutes, reading our signs, and listening to our round dance songs and our vocal pleas for the end of fossil fuel use? Did any of them change their thinking or quit their jobs? Well, we never heard back from any of them on that, as far as I know, seven years later.
One thing that seemed pretty certain to me then, and I’m even more sure about now, is that humans who live in monetary-based economies (capitalist or socialist) will very rarely choose to cease engaging in activities that assure them that they will be rewarded with that most essential material tool: money. That includes fossil fuel workers, the corporate bosses who own their labor, and just about everybody else who lives within the constraints of modern industrial societies. Most people would not knowingly engage in toxic, life-destroying activities if they were not getting paid for it or benefitting from it in some other way, or if they did not feel that they had no choice other than to make money doing such things. As long as people are rewarded for destroying life on Earth, they will continue to destroy life on Earth. Just about a week before the first megaload blockade, in January, I had written an essay about how money and beliefs about money are at the root of all of the activities, systems, and structural devices that are destroying natural life on Earth, titled, “The Problem with Money.” In the months after the last blockade, I revised that essay into a new one, titled, The End of Money: The Need for Alternative, Sustainable, Non-monetary Local Economies, and began to bring the ideas therein into many public forums, mostly attended by other self-professed “environmental activists.” That essay is a combination of critique of the status quo and suggestions for alternative, EarthLife-centered, local economies and societal structures. At that point in time, I had come to the conclusion that it was futile to continue attempting to change the prevailing large-scale societies (nation states and corporate-controlled empires), working through the usual channels, and settling for the small increments and ineffective gestures toward change allowed by the systemic authorities. As I was learning more about the science regarding Earth’s bio-system tipping points and feedback cycles, I could see that we most likely do not have the time to move at such a snail’s pace, “barking up the wrong trees,” and make the types of major changes in human activities and social systems necessary for stopping the destruction of our interconnected Life on Earth and preventing more mass extinctions and ecosystem collapses. It had become clear to me then, and it is even clearer now, that the actual function of our political and economic systems is to perpetuate and protect the productive and consumptive mechanisms and so-called “way of life” that is destroying life on Earth, regardless of any official statements of purpose or intent to the contrary. The response that I received from most people to all of that was disappointing, but also enlightening. For a variety of understandable reasons, many people feel an immediate need to dismiss and block out not only the essay, but my entire perspective on necessary responses to our current crisis as “utopian dreaming,” or some similarly dismissive label.
When people read that essay or hear me say things like the economic and political structure of modern industrial societies is fundamentally wrong and that these societies must end most of their ways of being before they destroy most life on Earth, there are two responses that I hear most frequently, from the very few people who bother to talk with me about these ideas at all. Here are those responses:
“You are throwing out the baby with the bath water!”
“You are making the perfect the enemy of the good.”
My succinct reply to that first dismissive accusation can be found in the very short essay on this blog titled, “Who is the Baby?” That reply basically goes along the lines of asking people which baby they want to save, industrial civilization and their modern conveniences, or natural biological life on Earth, because we cannot save both. That is all I will say about that one now, as the point has also been made in my book review of Bright Green Lies, even better in the Bright Green Lies book itself, and by many others, including more and more climate-related scientists. (I will elaborate on this further, below). In this present essay, I would like to focus on that second dismissive accusation, which was actually the primary impetus for me to write this essay in the first place, along with my love for natural life.
There are many important questions to probe about the assumedly “perfect” and the allegedly “good.” Why do most people believe that utopian thinking is a quest for “perfection?” How did that claim originate? Whose interest does the claim that all utopian thinkers are unrealistic, irrational perfectionists serve? What is the difference between an imaginary, unattainable, “perfect” society and an ideal society? Are the societies that we (residents of all modern industrial nation states) live in now something that we can justifiably call “good?” When we call societies like these “good,” do we really mean that they are “lesser evils?” Very often, when people are told that their society is not good, or is unjust and harmful to life, they respond by comparing it to some other countries that they consider to be much worse. Is “good” and “lesser evil” truly the same thing? What should be the essential, required elements for a truly good or ideal society, especially in light of the current and near-future global crises? I would like to productively address all of the above questions in this essay and, by doing so, hopefully open up some possibilities for future interaction and deeper engagement with these core issues. Ultimately, I would like to persuade people that utopian thinking and actual creativity really is a useful, vital and even absolutely necessary exercise for us to engage in now, in order to be able to proactively and successfully deal with the challenges presented to us by the current and future, multi-pronged crises facing both Earth’s biosphere and the prevailing human societal frameworks.
Obviously, answering these questions will require some clarification of the definitions of several terms, especially “utopian.” So, in the interest of getting right to the point, let’s begin with that word. The word, “utopia,” was invented by Thomas More (Sir or Saint Thomas More, if you think that we should use one of those two titles that were bestowed upon him by the recognized authorities, when speaking of him), for his 1516 novel, “A little, true book, not less beneficial than enjoyable, about how things should be in a state and about the new island Utopia.” That was the original, long title (but in English, instead of the original Latin). There are six slightly different shorter titles used in some of the various English translations of the book, as follows:
On the Best State of a Republic and on the New Island of Utopia
Concerning the Highest State of the Republic and the New Island Utopia
On the Best State of a Commonwealth and on the New Island of Utopia
Concerning the Best Condition of the Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia
On the Best Kind of a Republic and About the New Island of Utopia
About the Best State of a Commonwealth and the New Island of Utopia
Why was it important for me to show you More’s actual original title of the book and the six commonly-used titles? Because none of the titles describe the fictional island nation called Utopia as “perfect” and the book is not a discussion of perfect societies at all, but rather of best or most optimal societies. More uses the word “perfect” six times in the book, but never as a descriptive term for Utopia.  Rather than calling Utopia perfect or flawless, More preferred words like “best” or “good.” In his original title, More suggests that Utopia is an example of “how things should be in a state,” or, in other words, an ideal—but not perfect—state. The word “best,” in the 16th century as well as now, is a relative term, defined as “better than all other examples of a certain type or class of thing.” Under that general definition, the thing referred to as best is also understood to be the best so far, or best that we know of, until something better of its type is either found, accomplished, or created. In no way is the best considered to be permanently best, flawless, without room for improvement, or perfect.
The meaning of the word “best” in the various English titles of the book, as outlined above, becomes even clearer when we consider the structure and style of this frame narrative novel. The book is divided into two parts, the first part being a discussion between More and a couple of fictional characters about both the flaws and the best aspects of European societies, including England, and the second part is a descriptive narrative by one of More’s fictional friends about a fictional island somewhere off the coast of South America called “Utopia.”  Much of the social structure, politics, economics (i.e., no private property in Utopia), beliefs and customs of Utopia are compared to those in Europe and found by More’s friend to be ideal, or at least better than those in Europe. But, not only does no character in the story assert that Utopia is perfect, More himself, as a character in his own novel, states in conclusion at the end of the book that, when listening to his friend describe Utopia, “many things occurred to me, both concerning the manners and laws of that people [the Utopians], that seemed very absurd,” and, after listing some of those disagreeable aspects of Utopian society, he says in his final sentence, “however, there are many things in the Commonwealth of Utopia that I rather wish, than hope, to see followed in our governments.” The literary device that More uses here, in which he places himself in conversation with the fictional characters that he created (his “imaginary friends?”), allows him to express ideas that might have been dangerous for him to propose directly, in his own voice, while representing himself as somewhat oppositional to the radical social ideas advocated for by the character who describes Utopia, Raphael Hythlodaye. This technique also allowed More to be somewhat mysterious, or publicly ambivalent, regarding his actual views about ideal societies (“plausible deniability”?), as he was considering finding employment in the court of King Henry VIII at the time when he was writing “Utopia.”
For the record, and to be absolutely clear, as I see it, and I think most of my readers would agree, Thomas More’s Utopia is no utopia or ideal society.
For the record, and to be absolutely clear, as I see it, and I think most of my readers would agree, Thomas More’s Utopia is no utopia or ideal society. Even though the Utopians have an economic system that is somewhat ideal and closely resembles the non-monetary, use value (rather than market or commodity value), need-based distribution, gift economy type of economic system that I and others have long advocated for, much of the rest of Utopia’s social order is abominable. For example, it is a patriarchal society with all of the political leaders being males, and the Utopians allow for and excuse colonialism and slavery (not race-based, but for convicts and prisoners of war). While they seem to keep their population within the carrying capacity of their island most of the time, when their population gets a little too large for that, they form temporary colonies on the neighboring mainland, with or without the permission of the people already living there, on lands that they call “waste land,” because the land is uncultivated or “undeveloped” by humans (a familiar excuse used frequently by European colonialists of the western hemisphere, in More’s time and long after). That perspective and practice also illustrates the crucial missing element of the Utopian economic system, which (if it actually existed) would doom it to unsustainability and failure: it is anthropocentric, or centered on human needs and desires only, and not on the needs and sustainable, regenerative order of their local ecosystems, including all species of Life. That has been the most significant flaw of most utopian communal experiments in western, Euro-based societies for centuries (a point that I will elaborate upon further, below).
One reason for the common claim that the Utopia in More’s book, or any proposed utopian society, is intended to be perfect and therefore can never actually exist, can be found in the debate over More’s intended meaning of the name. Thomas More invented the name, Utopia, based on one of two possible Greek prefixes. (The suffix is “topos,” which means “place,” and there is no debate regarding that.) The debatable possible prefixes are “ou” (pronounced “oo,” as in “boo” or “goo”), which means “no,” or “none,” and “eu” (pronounced like “you”), which means “good.” Depending upon which Greek prefix one thinks More incorporated for the name of his fictional society, Utopia can either mean “No place,” if the prefix came from ou, or “good place,” if it came from eu. The U in the word Utopia has long been pronounced like the Greek eu, which suggests that More possibly used that prefix to form the name, but, since we have no audio recordings of how utopia was pronounced by More and other early 16th century English speakers, we don’t know with any certainty that they pronounced it in the same way that we do now. The text of Utopia itself, was originally written in Latin by More (who left it to later, posthumous publishers to produce English translations), not Greek, so there is no assurance there as to which Greek prefix he meant. “Utopia” is the Latin spelling of the name. For some reason, possibly related to his personal career ambitions and even his personal safety (in a society in which people often unexpectedly or capriciously “lost their heads”), More left the question about the meaning of “Utopia”—no place or a good place—open to debate. There is a contextual clue on page 171 of the second English translation, but it does not definitively resolve the question. 
So, now we can leave that question of the origin and meaning of the word behind us and get to the more important question of why most people believe that utopian thinking is a futile, foolish quest for “perfection.” The short, most direct, and most likely answer is because that is what they have always been told. But, if that is not how the inventor of the word defined it, who decided to give us this other story, and why? Follow the interest and the benefit (not just the money). The powerful and wealthy, the rulers of the vast majority of human societies, find it in their interest to discourage their subject people from imagining or creating alternative societies that are no longer subject to their domain and no longer contribute toward generating enormous, disproportionate amounts of material wealth for themselves. Ever since human beings began to depart from living in local, indigenous, eco-centered, life-regenerating communities and started creating unsustainable mega-societies like nation states and empires, about 7,000 years ago, the rulers have worked hard (or hired and forced others to work hard) at producing and perpetuating many lies for the purpose of deluding or frightening their subjects into remaining submissive to their systemic power, wealth and control. Over this long span of time, the rulers became very adept at persuading people what to think and what not to think, and with the electronic technologies invented over the last hundred or so years, the subjected general public has been constantly bombarded with such messages. Commercial advertising, mandatory public schooling, peer pressure, parental love, fear of poverty, and the quest for equality, along with many other things, have all been used successfully by the ruling class as mechanisms for keeping people submissive and keeping wealth and power in the hands of a select social minority.
One of the saddest things that I have ever seen is children being taught to censor themselves from asking legitimate, important, and even vital questions, especially the big questions about the often illogical, counterintuitive and clearly unjust societal structure and traditions.
Not only are we told what to think, but also which topics to never think about seriously and which questions are too dangerous to ever ask. One of the saddest things that I have ever seen is children being taught to censor themselves from asking legitimate, important, and even vital questions, especially the big questions about the often illogical, counterintuitive and clearly unjust societal structure and traditions. The topics that the rulers would like to see eliminated from our thoughts and plans the most are those that threaten to end their power, wealth and social control. Thoughts, plans, and especially actions, for creating ideal, utopian societies must therefore be suppressed and eliminated, and the most effective mechanism used for that purpose, so far, has been to convince people that utopian societies can never exist because utopia means “perfect” and we all know that humans are not, have never been, and will never be, perfect. But, it is much harder for the rulers to convince us that we can’t become something much better than we are now, not just individually, but collectively, as a society, and therefore they cannot allow “utopian” to be defined as “better” or “best possible,” as the title and discourse in Thomas More’s book seems to suggest.
The more that subject people are rewarded, praised, honored, and awarded for their submission and service to the rulers and the system, the more difficult it becomes for them to question and resist the status quo. When the status quo systems are completely accepted as at least inevitable (“the only game in town”), if not unquestionable, and people are convinced that any apparent flaws in the system will eventually be corrected by the system, utopian creativity becomes unnecessary, dismissed, and considered a foolish waste of time and energy. Thoughts about reform—improving the system through the allegedly self-correcting mechanisms available within the system—are about as far as people are encouraged to reach in pursuit of social change. But the system, which is really a conjoined political, cultural and economic system, is primarily designed to self-preserve, not self-correct. What the system preserves most is the power of the wealthiest persons in the society, who control or strongly influence the politicians by use of lobbyists, bribery and threats to the politicians’ continued luxurious lifestyles or their actual safety. This happens at all levels of government, but is most structurally effective and most firmly established at the federal level. In the United States (and in other nations, as well to somewhat lesser degrees), the “revolving door” phenomenon, in which congresspersons who leave Congress are then hired by corporations to serve as lobbyists to their former colleagues in government, and sometimes later return to politics in higher public offices (such as presidential cabinet positions), is a prime example of this type of political corruption. A 2005 report by the non-profit consumer rights advocacy organization, Public Citizen, found that between 1998 and 2004, 43% of the congresspersons who left their government positions registered to work as lobbyists. Other reports show that another approximately 25% work as lobbyists without officially registering by becoming corporate “consultants” or lawyers. Besides the lobbying aspect of the system—If you need more evidence of the depth of the systems’ corruption and why it will most likely continue to self-preserve for the perpetuation of the mechanisms causing Earth’s biosphere collapse instead of self-correcting to the substantial degree now necessary to prevent such collapse—do some research and analysis on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” decision and on the “pay to play” system which all U.S. congressperson’s (of both political parties) must go through in order to get significant positions on law-writing committees or gain financial support from their party for their next re-election campaign. I could go on and on about the system’s corruption and its likely trajectory, but this is an essay about ideal paths forward and new possible systems, not so much about dystopia. I will only describe enough here about the current dystopian society and its contribution to the global crises to illuminate the need to abandon it and turn towards “utopian” creativity.
While much has been researched and written about the political and economic elements of the conjoined system, not as much has been dealt with regarding the cultural element, which is as much at the heart of the problem as the other two. One study that deals well with that cultural and ethical element, “The Ethics of Lobbying: Organized Interests, Political Power, and the Common Good”, by the Woodstock Theological Center (Georgetown University Press 2002), provides us with a very telling short quote from a corporate lobbyist they interviewed, who chose to speak anonymously: “I know what my client wants; no one knows what the common good is.” For utopian and alternative society thinkers and creators, it is this issue of the common good (which I expand further, below, to include the common well-being of all Life in Earth, not just humans), which the modern industrial political systems seem to have lost sight of, that matters most. A culture in which personal, individual self-interest, most often manifest in personal material accumulation and consumption, is the greatest concern for the vast majority of people, will consequently produce the types of political systems that we are subject to today. If one is familiar with and understands that type of culture, combined with the fact that getting elected to a political office now requires amounts of money that are inaccessible to the vast majority of aspirants to political office, then it should come as no surprise that the vast majority of politicians are more concerned with securing the financial assistance needed to keep their political power than they are with whatever may be the common good.
While it is true that utopian thinking has taken on all sorts of forms over the centuries—from moderately restructured or reformed societies that closely resemble the societies that their creators criticize or reject, to societies that are only different due to the invention and application of phenomenal new technologies or wonders of human innovation, to those societies which are completely, radically different from the status quo systems and culture that their creators have come to reject and refuse to perpetuate—when I think of the type of utopian societies that are needed today, I think of that latter type, not reformism or techno-fixes. I know that pursuing such a path could meet with much opposition and can be dangerous if our opponents ever think that we could actually succeed at creating enough independent, ideal societies to cause the prevailing system to become abandoned and defunct. Suggestions for abolishing and replacing the system with a new way of living that ends the usual limits on the distribution of power and wealth are discouraged, punished (through various social mechanisms, legal and illegal), and sometimes labeled as “treasonous,” a capital offense, which can provide legal justification for a government to end a person’s life. This has long been the case with empires and nation states, whether capitalist or socialist, so why is it so relevant and urgent to risk going in such a direction now? This is a time like no other before it, in which there has never been a greater need for widespread utopian creative thinking and action. If we carefully examine the likelihood of extreme danger for all life on Earth that would result from continuing with the same social, cultural, technological, political and economic systems, according to all of the best available science to date, it becomes clear that we must create and learn to live within some very different types or ways of social life, in order for life on Earth to continue and to minimize the number of extinctions of species that are already set to soon occur, under the present system and its current trajectory. It is a matter of likely consequences and unacceptable risks, like leaving a bunch of matches and highly flammable materials in a room of unmonitored, naturally adventurous little children—but on a much larger, global scale.
Before most people can seriously consider what follows in the rest of this essay, they probably need some more persuasive reasons why such drastic changes to their customary and comfortable “way of life” are necessary. Such reasons can be found within the scientific case for the futility and/or impossibility of successfully resolving the current and near future biosphere crises through current social, political and economic structures or with the use of any actual or imagined technological “fixes.” That case has already been made, increasingly, by numerous experts, in a growing number of scientific reports and publications, so, rather than repeat all of that here, I will just insert some links to some of the best sources for that information for your reference, examination and further evaluation. It is difficult to summarize the essential root of our predicament in just one or two sentences, but as a sort of hint as to what a thorough investigation would find, I will offer you this “nutshell” illustration: capitalist industrial manufacturers seek the most powerful fuel and engines to run their large-scale, earth-moving, industrial equipment as quickly and efficiently as possible, in order to successfully compete, attain or maintain a competitive edge, and maximize their profits. So far, no electric battery powered machinery comes anywhere close to providing the power that they get from fossil fuels. That includes the heavy equipment used to mine and manufacture so-called “green” technologies. The links and a little more information are in the following endnote: 
Although having a solid grasp on the latest scientific findings on our predicament is essential to determining our most effective response, many social scientists and psychologists say that the real barrier preventing most people from considering the scientific facts regarding the dire circumstances facing biological life on Earth, and the need for radical societal change, is what people are willing to accept and resign themselves to, instead of making such changes. What are people willing to settle for as “good enough?” That question brings us back to the discussion of how people define “good.” If the type of creative thinking that is now required of us does not mean that we have to come up with something “perfect,” will those who now protest that we utopian creativity advocates are “making the perfect the enemy of the good” switch their accusation to “making the best (or the better) the enemy of the good?” If so, I would still have to ask them, “How do you define ‘good’? How would you define a good society?” Can any society that was built on a foundation of colonialism, slavery, the predatory exploitation of all of the material natural world (including other humans), patriarchy, anthropocentrism, racism, sexism, justified greed, and many other life-destructive perspectives and practices actually become a good society through attempts at reform, especially when the people in power oppose and block nearly all necessary substantial reforms? In the history of the United States, the foundational flaws listed above were not just unfortunate, unintended by-products of a basically just and well-intended government, but, in actuality, the necessary elements for achieving its intended purpose: dominion over all of the human and non-human inhabitants of their illicitly-acquired lands and over any other lands that they might eventually take in the future. Has that fundamental intended purpose of the U.S. (and other human empires) disappeared or ever been relinquished?
One reason why transformational reform towards real justice, equality, and regenerative environmental sustainability is continuously prevented from occurring is that the social mechanisms deemed necessary to perpetuate an empire or large nation-state, including formal education, indoctrination (both religious and secular), economic bondage, and social peer pressure (leveraging the human need to belong), are used by the ruling class in such societies to promote patriotism and widespread belief in the righteousness of the nation’s foundation. It is completely understandable that people want to feel good about their ancestors, their society, and their culture, have a sense of innocence about it all, and not be burdened with a sense of guilt over what the vast majority feel is normal and unquestionable. Such widespread beliefs and comfort zones make it even harder for people to admit that their societies are fundamentally flawed. Even when social beliefs about right and wrong change, over the long span of time, and large numbers of people begin to recognize and assess the errors of their nation’s founders, there remains a need for the ruling class and their loyal subjects to either justify or deny those foundational errors. One of many examples of this practice in the U.S. is the attempt to justify the slaveholding practiced by founders such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington by referring to them as “simply men of their time,” while denying (or completely unaware of the fact) that 98% of the “men of their time” in the new nation did not hold any of their fellow humans in slavery and the majority of states in the new nation outlawed slavery in their original state constitutions. Another example, used to justify colonialism and the aggressive, often genocidal, separation of Indigenous peoples from their homelands, is the lie that the North American continent was mostly an uninhabited, unused by humans, “virgin wilderness wasteland, ripe for the taking,” at all of the various times and places in which European or Euro-descended people first arrived. For over a century, American academic anthropologists, in service to the ruling class, grossly underestimated the population numbers of Indigenous societies originally in the land now called the U.S., in order to perpetuate that lie. Such institutional social mechanisms stifle and obstruct any imagined or actual significant correctional mechanisms that people believe are built into the system. People who have been effectively taught that their societal system is designed to repair its own flaws (no matter how foundational or essential those “flaws” and outright atrocities are to its existence) through its authorized “proper channels,” that such processes for correction must take lengthy amounts of time (perhaps even generations, for major flaws), and that creating new societies built on better foundations is unnecessary, impossible, and maybe even “treasonous,” tend to accept the common assumption that their society is either “good,” “better than other countries,” or, at least something we can call a “lesser evil.” We have also been effectively conditioned to accept lesser evils in nearly every political election campaign, especially at the national level, and every time that we must transport ourselves somewhere that is too far away to walk or bike to, even when we would prefer not to use fossil fuels or toxically-mined and produced lithium at all. Is a “lesser evil” the same thing as “good?”
Is a society that is so destructive to life that the best rating that it could give itself on environmental sustainability is “lesser evil” actually a dystopia?
Unfortunately, it seems that most subject peoples of modern industrial nations have come to define “good” and “lesser evil” as basically the same thing. Maybe the two-word phrase that most people would use to define the state of our current societies and our assumed-as-necessary daily compromises with evil is “good enough.” To that statement of submissive resignation I just have to ask, “good enough for what?” Good enough to keep a sufficient roof over your head and food on your table, at least for this month? Good enough to put enough gas in your tank so that you can continue to drive to that job of yours that just barely pays you a “living wage?” For those who have been a little more fortunate, a little more submissive, compromising, and “well-adjusted”—and, therefore, better-rewarded—does “good enough” mean “at least I get to have all of these great toys and continue to consume way beyond what I really need?” Good enough to keep you binging and streaming your life away? To those who do not define a “good enough” society based solely on its material benefits to themselves, and think more about the well-being of all members of the society (or, what used to be called the “common weal,” or, “common good”), does a society where 5% of its members own 67% of the wealth have a “good enough” economic system? Is a society that is continuously engaged in illegal wars fought only for the purpose of generating financial profits for the owners of various industries “good enough?” Is a society of human beings whose minds are so twisted by the colonialist concept called “race” that they actually have no idea what a human being really is “good enough?” For those who care about preserving Earth’s natural systems that keep us alive, is a society in which the majority of its citizens are so out of touch with and alienated from the natural world that they do not realize that they need those interconnected natural systems (much more than they “need” money) in order to remain alive “good enough?” When confronted with the painful and repulsive fact that their society’s way of life is actually destroying life on Earth and bringing many species, including their own, rapidly towards extinction, some people reply, in attempted self-defense, that there are other nations which are doing more harm to the natural world than their own country is. Is a society that is so destructive to life that the best rating that it could give itself on environmental sustainability is “lesser evil” actually a dystopia? I think that any society that destroys their natural source of biological life simply by carrying out their normal processes of living, within the laws, customs, and ordered structures or systems of that society, and cannot bring themselves to stop doing so, is a dystopian society. Is living in a dystopian society “good enough?” But, again, let’s not get bogged down with endless examples of social dystopia. The only reason I am writing about dystopia here is to point out the need to move towards new (and some old) utopian, or actually ideal, ways of living. So, let’s proceed now in that direction.
What really is the “normal” way of human life in Earth, over the broad span of human history? The reason that I inserted the image above is to give everybody a sense of what is possible for the human species on this planet, and to de-normalize the ways we have been living for the last 5 to 7 thousand years, or 2.5% of our existence. Before we began to go the wrong way, disrespecting and exceeding the carrying capacity of our ancient ancestral homelands (and/or other people’s homelands, taken through conquest or colonialism), all of our various Indigenous ancestors practiced ways of life that were guided by local ecosystems and all of our interconnected and related fellow living beings. Those were harmonious, regenerative, sustainable, and (though not “perfect”) probably mostly joyful, peaceful, thankful and abundant ways of life. We are still that same species and this is still the same planet, even when we take into account all that has changed, and all the vital knowledge that most of our people lost long ago. We will not know what is possible, regarding a return to at least some aspects of the old normal, until we make our best attempts to do so.
Banner image: The Kogi village and tribal community of Tairona, in northern Colombia.
Part II follows tomorrow.
George Price (descendant of the Assonet band of the Wampanoag tribal nation of Massachusetts) has been living with his family on their five-acre organic, polyculture farm on the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana since the summer of 1985. He retired from a 33-year teaching career in 2018, which included teaching Native American Studies, American History, and African American Studies at the University of Montana for 20 years. Since he is no longer working “through the system,” he is devoting the remainder of his life to Earth/Water protecting, organic farming, food sovereignty, constructive communicating, and replacing industrial technophile capitalism with local, eco-harmonious, EarthLife-centric, cooperative, alternative communities.
 Beck, Peggy V., and Anna Lee Walters, The Sacred: Ways of Knowledge, Sources of Life, Navajo Community College Press, Tsaile, Arizona, 1992. Clark, Ella E., Indian Legends From the Northern Rockies, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1966, 1977.
 The recent COP 26 debacle, which intentionally excluded participation by many Indigenous and other heavily-impacted peoples from the global south, and the infrastructure bill passed by the U.S. Congress that same week provided us with fresh examples of that futility, which many of us have long realized is the case.
 To be clear and fair, the word, “perfect,” in 16th century English, usually meant “complete” or “absolute,” although in certain contexts could be interpreted as “flawless” or something more like the way we define “perfect” today.
 Raphael Hythlodaye, Thomas More’s fictional friend who tells the story of his time in Utopia, is said to have gone there with Amerigo (a.k.a., “Alberico”) Vespucci. More’s Utopia: The English Translation thereof by Raphe Robynson, printed from the second edition, 1556, page viii.
 As you may already know, More did eventually serve Henry VIII as a counselor, until Henry had him beheaded for refusing to publicly agree with him on the topic of divorce and remarriage.
 See, Anitra Nelson and Frans Timmerman, eds., Life Without Money: Building Fair and Sustainable Economies, London, Pluto Press, 2011.
More’s Utopia: The English Translation thereof by Raphe Robynson, printed from the second edition, 1556, page 171. One of the minor characters in the book writes a poem speaking on behalf of the nation of Utopia personified, saying, “Wherfore not Utopie, but rather rightely my name is Eutopie, a place of felicitie.”
 Perhaps the only way that the politicians of today would prioritize the needs of the people whom they allegedly represent, over the will of the corporations who lobby them, would be if the people could form their own “Lobby for the Common Good” and that lobby was funded well enough to surpass the enormous dollar amounts in bribery of all of the corporate lobbyists combined. But, increased corruption of the electoral process (gerrymandering, artificially-constructed “gridlock” through the invincible two-party system, “divide and conquer,” etc.) is also making the people’s voice and will less relevant to the concerns of politicians.
 The first scholar to clearly demonstrate the inadequacies of so-called “100% green energy” technologies for replacing fossil fuel energy at present scale (and much less adequate at future expanded scales) was Ozzie Zehner, an engineering professor at UC Berkeley, in his excellent 2012 book, Green Illusions: the dirty secrets of clean energy and the future of environmentalism, (University of Nebraska Press). In their 2021 book, Bright Green Lies:How the Environmental Movement Lost Its Way and What We Can Do About It, Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Max Wilbert echoed much of what Zehner had previously shown while updating the case and adding many more examples and reasons why the so-called green technologies are not nearly green enough to resolve our dire predicament, taking into account all of the fossil fuel energy, mining pollution, and CO2 emissions required to manufacture, transport, install and maintain those “green” technologies at the scale needed to continue with the industrial capitalist high-tech consumer societies. In their 2011 book, TechNo-fix : why technology won’t save us or the environment, Michael Huesemann and Joyce Huesemann describe in great detail the shortcomings and pitfalls of human technological “ingenuity,” including environmental pollution, the many harmful by-products and unintended consequences of many technologies, and the need to fix harm done by many techno fixes. The authors make a very strong argument against the notion that technology and “human innovation” can fix any problem or predicament. A very informative and well-researched study published by three science journalists earlier this year (2021) on exactly what it would take to run the current and growing industrial technological U.S. economy by switching from fossil fuel energy to solar and wind power apparently led to conclusions that were not nearly as rosy or optimistic as the authors had hoped for. The Race to Zero: can America reach net-zero emissions by 2050?, by Oliver Milman, Alvin Chang and Rashida Kamal, The Guardian, March 15, 2021, delivers some startling facts about how much environmentally degrading infrastructure that feat would require, including the need to cover 10% of the surface area of the continental U.S. with solar and wind farms, just to supply the electricity, not to mention all of the other energy productions now done using fossil fuels. We would also need “enough new transmission lines to wrap around Earth 19 times.” That article can be read at this link: https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/mar/15/race-to-zero-america-emissions-climate-crisis?utm_term=75ea2afeff5d052feec5683cc23a9e8f&utm_campaign=GuardianTodayUS&utm_source=esp&utm_medium=Email&CMP=GTUS_email&fbclid=IwAR2Y1IXwzzEzviZY_u8hJ6gcW0ffBiIucDHfbRkjNzDAr5v0mH2vRNGl2oE
Another good, recent scientific article about the inadequacy of “green energy” technologies for resolving our biosphere crises is found here: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-delusion-of-infinite-economic-growth/ Earth system scientists are experts at the big picture of our planet’s condition and trajectory of changes over the broad span of time. One of the best (at least most clearly explained, although there was a little wifi connection fuzziness) presentations on the reality of Earth system collapse was made in an interview with Earth system scientist, Joe Brewer, back in December of 2020. Here is the link for that: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j2L_JD2nxbE OK, that’s enough for one footnote—more, later. Of course, all of these cited items contain references to further sources of good information.
 Global CO2 emissions went down briefly, from March to May of 2020, during the big international shutdown of commercial and industrial activity at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, but have gone back up again continuously since then. Stats on emissions for 2021 should be published in February or March of 2022.
 See, Nash, Gary B., The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America, New York, Penguin Press, 2005, and Lynd, Staughton, Class Conflict, Slavery, and the United States Constitution: Ten Essays, Indianapolis, Bobbs-Merrill,1967.
 See, Thornton, Russell, American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492, University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, OK, 1987. Also, Mann, Charles C., 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2005.
 The time frame for the starting point of homo sapiens sapiens, or modern humans in their present form, ranges from 150,000 to 400,000 years ago, depending upon whom you ask. The longer ago that starting point was, the smaller the percentage of our existence that has been spent in unsustainable, life-destructive societies.
 All humans have ancestors who were, at some point in the past, indigenous to a particular place.
 In contrast to the negative, racist portrayals of all Indigenous peoples made by the ruling class colonialists.
Editor’s note: The preferred method to stop a coal port for hours or days would be anonymously, so as to “live to fight another day”. But this action does highlight the fact that this port exports 158 million tonnes of coal a year. This action shows just how vulnerable the system is. It can be stopped when two people have the courage to throw their bodies on the cogs.
We must fight empire “by any means necessary.”” —Frantz Fanon
A two-person protest halted operations at the world’s largest coal port early Wednesday morning, as two women scaled the Port of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia to protest their government’s refusal to take far-reaching climate action.
Hannah Doole and Zianna Faud—both members of the campaign group Blockade Australia—filmed themselves suspended on ropes attached to the port, where they forced the transport of coal to stop for several hours.
“I’m here with my friend Zianna, and we’re stopping this coal terminal from loading all coal into ships and stopping all coal trains,” said Doole.
Zianna says, “This is me choosing to not give away my political agency to a symbolic demonstration every four years. Just like climate and ecological collapse, political turning points are human-induced. They depend on us.” Watch the livestream here: https://t.co/fBJXEU8uxEpic.twitter.com/Oou8sKjtxk
The Port of Newcastle exported 158 million tonnes of coal in 2020, and its production is not expected to slow down in the coming years despite clear warnings from climate scientists that the continued extraction of coal and fossil fuels will make it impossible to limit global heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial temperatures.
“Another system is possible and we know that because one existed on this continent for tens of thousands of years,” said Doole. “It is now our duty to defend the biosphere that gives us life and to every person that Australia has forgotten and ignored.”
“In a system that only cares about money, non-violent blockading tactics that cause material disruption are the most effective and accessible means of wielding real power.”
On the heels of COP26, where world leaders agreed to a deal pledging to phase down “unabated” coal power, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday that the country will continue producing coal for “decades to come.”
Despite the state of emergency New South Wales officials were forced to declare less than two years ago as wildfires scorched millions of acres of land, destroyed more than a thousand homes, and killed nearly 500 million animals and more than a dozen people, Morrison claimed his continued commitment to coal extraction was akin to “standing up for our national interests.”
Morrison pledged last month to make Australia carbon-neutral by 2050, but his statement was denounced as a “political scam, relying on unproven carbon capture technology without phasing out fossil fuel extraction.
Organizers said Doole and Faud’s protest took place on Blockade Australia’s tenth straight day of direct actions targeting the Port of Newcastle as the grouo denounces the government’s plan to continue exporting the second-largest amount of coal in the world per year.
Earlier this week a woman prevented coal trains from entering the Port of Newcastle by locking herself to a railroad track, and on Tuesday two other advocates held a demonstration on machinery used to load coal at the port.
“In a system that only cares about money, non-violent blockading tactics that cause material disruption are the most effective and accessible means of wielding real power,” said Blockade Australia on Wednesday.
The two demonstrators were arrested after scaling the port for several hours. Faud appeared in court on Wednesday following the protest, where she pleaded guilty to charges of “hindering the working of mining equipment,” according to The Washington Post. She was ordered to pay a $1,090 fine, sentenced to community service, and ordered not to associate with Doole for two years. Doole is expected to appear in court on Thursday.
Blockade Australia is preparing to hold a large demonstration next June in Sydney, where the group plans to “participate in mass, disruptive action” in Australia’s political and economic center.
It’s been 10 months since I first arrived at Thacker Pass and began work to protect the land from a proposed open-pit lithium mine in earnest. Today I share this video reporting from the land and sharing reflections on where the movement to protect this place is at right now and where we are going. When we do fight, winning is not guaranteed. It takes a lot of people and a lot of hard work to even begin to have an impact.
But if we don’t fight, we will never win. We guarantee failure. Choosing to fight is important. So is fighting intelligently. Many battles are won or lost before there is any actual conflict. The preparation, planning, training, organization, logistics, and other behind-the-scenes work is where the magic happens.
I hope this video speaks to you and you find some inspiration. 🌎
Hello, everyone. For those who don’t know, I’m here at a place that’s known today as Thacker Pass. The original Paiute name for this place is Peehee Mu’huh. The history of this land has really come to light since we’ve been here.
It was January 15, that my friend Will Falk and I set up camp on this land. It was just two of us; we didn’t know if anyone would pay attention or if anything would come of it. And we still don’t know; we still don’t know if we’re going to win, we still don’t know if we’re going to protect this land, because a company called lithium Nevada plans to turn this entire landscape into an open pit lithium mine. They want to blow it up and turn it into a mine to extract the lithium and turn it into batteries.
There’s a huge booming demand for batteries–for everything from electric cars to grid energy storage to electric power tools and smartphones. Partly, this is a consequence of industry and forces that are beyond our control: powerful individuals and corporations like Tesla, Elon Musk, this company with him Nevada, and many others. And partly it’s a result of our consumer culture. Of course, these are inseparable. There’s a book called Manufacturing Consent that talks about the media, about advertising, and analyzes these systems and how they create demand.
So this entire place is under threat, and it has been under threat for a long time now. We’ve been fighting since January. We’ve been fighting in the realm of public opinion, talking to the media, making videos, writing articles, discussing the issues, educating people about the harms of this type of mining.
Mining is one of the most destructive industrial activities that humans have ever undertaken, and in fact, it goes back further than the Industrial Revolution. There are mines from the Roman Empire that are over 2000 years old, which are still toxic and poisoning the land around them. The air pollution that was released by Roman mines across Europe can still be measured in the ice in Greenland.
There’s no way around the base fact of mining: that you’re blowing up the land, destroying it, breaking into pieces, scooping it up, and taking it to turn it into products. To turn it into money ultimately.
This mine, according to the mine’s supporters, is a green mine, because this lithium will be used to build electric cars, and to build batteries to support so called green energy technologies like solar and wind. Now, I used to support these things. I used to think they were a great idea. I don’t anymore. It’s not because my values have changed. I still value the planet, I’m still very concerned about global warming, and the ecological crisis that we find ourselves in. And in fact, that’s the reason why I oppose mines like this.
Because those stories that tell us that mining a place like this will save the world are lies. They’re lies and they have been told to us in order to facilitate businesses taking land like this and destroying it and turning it into profit. This is a story that we have seen again and again, throughout the generations. The substance that’s being pulled out of the ground might be different, but for the creatures who live here, for the water, the air, the soil, the surrounding communities of humans, whether or not to oppose a mine like this is really a question of courage. Because the truth is, this is not a green mine. The Earth does not want this mine. The land, the water, the non-human species who live here–they don’t want this mine. Humans want it. And humans who are from a consumeristic, first world, wealthy nation want it, so that they can benefit from the consumer goods that would be produced.
A lot of people want to live in a fantasy and tell themselves that we can solve global warming and reverse the ecological crisis by producing millions of electric cars, and switching en masse from coal power to solar and wind and so on.
This is a lie.
And it’s the best kind of lie. Because it’s very convincing. It’s very convincing. It tells people that they can have their cake and eat it too, that they can still live this modern high energy lifestyle, that life can continue more or less as we have known it. And yet, we can fix everything, we can save the world. It’s not true, but it’s very convincing. It’s very comforting to many people.
So sometimes I feel like I’m out here just bursting people’s bubbles. A lot of people don’t want that bubble burst–they want to hang on to it. They want to hang on to it at all costs, and they will delude themselves, they will lie to themselves repeatedly. And they will lie to others to continue to have that fantasy. Because the truth is not so easy to face.
The truth is that over the last 200 years, and far longer, this culture has laid waste to the ecology of this planet. The natural world is crumbling, under the assaults of industrial culture, civilization, colonization, capitalism. Whatever terms you want to define the problem with, the issues are the same. The world is being destroyed for future generations, and nonhumans are living through an ecological nightmare right now. And it’s a nightmare of our own making. It’s a nightmare that this culture has created and perpetuates every day.
So we have to face this, like adults, like elders with wisdom, with the ability to not shy away from difficult situations. And that takes courage. It takes courage because you’re going up against not just the capitalists and the businesses, you’re going up against–in many cases–your own friends and family. You’re going up against the mainstream environmental movement. You’re going up against the Democratic Party and the progressives, and much of the socialist movement. You’re going up against a large portion of the culture. And of course you’re going up against the fossil fuel oligarchs and the old industrial elite as well.
You know, I’ve felt pretty lonely out here. It’s felt pretty lonely at times throughout this fight, when we’ve had trouble getting people to join us on the ground, when we’ve had trouble getting support. At other times that support has come and has been very strong, and people have joined us here. I hope more people will continue to join us not just here but start their own fights.
We’ve seen the fight against the lithium mine down in Hualapai territory in what’s now called Arizona ramping up after Ivan Bender came up here and visited this place and talk to us and we had some great conversations about how we’re doing it here and how we’re fighting. That’s what I want to see. That’s That means a lot to me to see that.
So it’s a beautiful night here, the sun setting, and I’m thinking about all the people who’ve worked on this campaign; the hundreds and thousands of hours that have been poured into trying to protect this land. Because if this mine goes in this place is ruined for generations. I don’t know how long but hundreds of years, at least, if it’ll ever come back, if it’ll ever be like it is now.
The Bureau of Land Management is the federal government agency that manages this land here. They’ve been lying throughout the process. They’ve been acting unethically. They’ve been harassing people, they’ve been misrepresenting the situation; misrepresenting the facts, and we think they’re violating multiple federal laws. Those laws aren’t that strong. The laws to protect this planet are not as strong as I wish they were. But they’re violating even those weak laws.
So we’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to keep fighting to protect this place. We’re going to keep fighting for this land. We’re going to keep fighting for what’s right. Because if you don’t, then what is your soul worth? Where’s your self respect?
You know, those are questions, we each have to ask ourselves. I can’t answer it for you. I don’t know what your life is; your situation. It’s so easy to defeat ourselves in our minds.
And the first step to any resistance; to any organizing; to any opposition like this–is to believe that we can do something about it. And the truth is we can. It’s the simple truth we can. We can change things. But if we don’t try then we’ll lose every time.
As the Glasgow climate conference begins, and the time we have to avert a climate crisis narrows, it is time to revisit successful First Nations campaigns against the fossil fuel industry.
Like the current fight to avert a climate catastrophe, these battles are good, old-fashioned, come-from-behind, David-versus-Goliath examples we can all learn from. The Jabiluka campaign is a good example.
In the late 1990s, a mining company, Energy Resources of Australia, was planning to expand its Kakadu uranium mine into Jabiluka, land belonging to Mirarr Traditional Owners in the Northern Territory. The adjacent Ranger Uranium mine had been operating for 20 years without Traditional Owners’ consent and against their wishes, causing long-term cultural and environmental destruction.
But the expansion of the mine ultimately failed, thanks to an extraordinary campaign by the Traditional Owners, led by Yvonne Margarula and a relative, the lead author of this article, Jacqui Katona (a Djok woman).
In recognition of our work, we shared the 1999 Goldman Environmental Prize, one of the most prestigious international grassroots environmental awards.
The campaign included a huge on-site protest camp, shareholder action and significant overseas support (including from the European Parliament, US Congress and an expert committee to UNESCO). It also included a blockade of the mine site – one of the biggest blockades Australia had ever seen.
These are valuable lessons for those wanting to take decisive action against the fossil fuel industry. Here are six ways to learn from our experience:
1. Put pressure on the financial sector
Continuous pressure on companies in the financial sector (such as banks), which are complicit in the success of fossil fuel companies, can have an impact. This can be done by exposing their involvement with fossil fuels and pressuring them to be held accountable for these partnerships.
One of the most successful actions of the Jabiluka campaign was the coordination of protests at Westpac, which financed the mine’s owner, Energy Resources of Australia. Not only did protesters raise awareness about Westpac’s investment at local branches, they created bureaucratic chaos by opening and closing bank accounts.
This resulted in a corporate shift in Westpac towards better accountability on issues affecting First Nations people. Coordinated protests like this are an effective way to empower people to participate in positive action for change.
First Nations campaigns against mining and other fossil fuel companies show the single most important factor in successful protests is leadership by politically powerful organisations or alliances.
In the Jabiluka campaign, Katona and Margarula were successful in large part because of their insistence on a Mirrar-led campaign forming strong alliances with powerful unions, environmental groups and other national and international organisations.
Shareholders were then able to have some influence over corporate responsibility and accountability, including the appointment of a sustainable development manager. While the government ultimately amended the Corporations Act to make such actions more difficult, this nevertheless shows that creative direct action can be successful in holding corporations accountable.
4. Win over the right people
When Rio Tinto detonated 46,000-year-old rock shelters at Juukan Gorge on the traditional land of the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura peoples last year, it was not only public outcry that led to the resignation of three senior executives, including the chief executive.
Katona led the Jabiluka campaign while a mother to two small children, juggling local work with international activism. She was jailed for trespassing on Aboriginal land. She was hospitalised with complications from lupus, which required a long recovery.
Be strategic about your participation in high-energy campaigns and find ways to support the efforts of key activists. But also know the fight against the fossil fuel industry takes more effort than just changing your social media profile picture.
There is no perfect time, or single solution, to campaigning for a better future. The power of people is a resource which often delivers inspiration to disrupt and needs to be nurtured.
6. Believe you can win
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have faced hundreds of years of colonisation, industrial desecration of their sacred lands, and destruction of their Country. However in many cases, they have won battles against the odds.
The Mirrar faced a discriminatory system which sidelined their interests in Kakadu for more than 20 years. But they continued their fight to protect Country, and ultimately succeeded in preventing Jabiluka’s expansion.
So take heart and don’t give up. This is a fight that can be won.