Industrialism: Addressing Humanity’s Addiction

by Liam Campbell

How bad is our current trajectory? Looking back through geologic history, there are a handful of examples of abrupt climate change and ecosystem collapse, periods when runaway feedback systems changed the planet so suddenly that biomes didn’t have time to adapt. These events were always accompanied by mass death. About 55 million years ago the Earth experienced an era of rapid ecosystem collapse called the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM), which was most likely triggered by a sudden increase in atmospheric CO2 and a cascade of self reinforcing climate feedback systems; this is eerily similar to what we’re witnessing unfold today.  One shocking difference between today’s events and the PETM is the rate of change. It’s estimated that the PETM released about 0.24 gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere per year, over the course of 20,000 to 50,000 years. By contrast, humans are now releasing over 37 gigatonnes of CO2 per year (~150 times more). Compared to the PETM, what’s unfolding today is more akin to an explosion, which means Earth’s ecosystems will have dramatically less time to adapt. Any reasonable person would conclude that we’re now in the midst of a global mass extinction, and that the only rational response is to cease all industrial scale ecosystem destruction in order to mitigate the harm.

Unfortunately, humans have developed an extreme addiction to industrialism, an addiction so severe that many people prefer to retreat into delusion rather than face the consequences of withdrawal. A common excuse for continuing the addiction is that “ceasing industrial-scale exploitation of Earth’s ecosystems would result in a lot of people dying.” While this is technically true, it blatantly ignores the obvious conclusion that continuing industrial scale ecological exploitation will result in essentially all people dying, alongside the vast majority of other species. These ridiculous mental gymnastics would be painful for a healthy person, but they are commonplace among addicts — after all, immense cognitive dissonance is less excruciating than consciously acknowledging that you are cannibalising your children’s futures in exchange for modern concenviences. How then are we supposed to mitigate ecological destruction in the midst of a planet ruled by irrational addicts? It seems reasonable to rule out the possibility of doing so via consensus. What about mass mobilisation against industrialism? Given the fact that any meaningful action would result in a significant decline in the quality of life of every “civilised” culture on the planet, mass mobilisation seems unlikely; most of these people will be easily distracted by delusions and false solutions, both of which will be sold at rapidly inflating prices. So that leaves us with asymetric and unpopular solutions — after all, the majority of the world is addicted and addicts become upset when you take away their drug.

Deep Green Resistance approaches the problem from this perspective, that any viable strategies must be executable by small numbers of people and must not require public support.


8 thoughts on “Industrialism: Addressing Humanity’s Addiction”

  1. ““ceasing industrial-scale exploitation of Earth’s ecosystems would result in a lot of people dying.” While this is technically true” – well, it’s true in every other respect, too. Are you happy to support mass deaths if we swiftly ended industrial civilisation? You’d probably die as well.

    As I see it, we’re in a corner. This much-maligned industrialism was the main factor driving the vast increase in the human population. It’s keeping us going. Yet this is destroying the natural world. How do we get off the hamster wheel while preserving a reasonable quality of life for everyone alive now? The lifestyles of pre-civilisation societies, exemplified now by a few Indigenous peoples around the world, cannot support 7.5 billion people. So what do we do?

    Your last paragraph appears to suggest global authoritarian government imposing a Green lifestyle on most people and ending democracy. I can’t go along with that. It’s a lack of democracy that’s part of the problem.

  2. > How bad is our current trajectory?
    Xcuse me while i snicker (to keep from crying).
    On the up-side: humankind is on it’s best way to soon have it gotten over with. For good.

  3. > Your last paragraph appears to suggest global authoritarian government
    it doesn’t appear so to me, for one

    > … and ending democracy
    Uhm, really? Is (any larger part of) the world more run as a democracy? Or more by an authoritarian (globalized on gun+cruise-missile point) system that tries to paint itself green itself ab/using the term “democracy”?

    > It’s a lack of democracy that’s part of the problem.
    I’d tend to go along with “It’s a lack of real democracy (the like of which the world has hardly seen on a larger scale, if ever, anywhere) that’s part of the problem.

    > How do we get off the hamster wheel while preserving a reasonable quality of life for everyone alive now?
    (1) it’s hard to preserve what doesn’t exist. Damned many people do not have anything close to “a reasonable quality of life” (or so it seems to me)
    (2) What can’t go on won’t.

  4. XLNT essay. The problem is that civilization teaches us how to grow and expand, but views downsizing and minimizing as pessimism and defeatism. “Technology has always found an answer,” we tell ourselves. “Somebody will think of something.”

    The solution is logically simple, but humanly unlikely. We could institute a global one-child policy; end the auto, airline, shipping, cattle, and fossil fuel industries; restrict trade to things that are essential, and can either be pulled by horses or put on sailboats; and we could abandon cities in favor of largely self-sustaining villages.
    “We could,” as Derick Jensen says. “But we won’t.”

    There are two basic sets of facts that every human needs to learn and accept if planet Earth is going to survive:

    (1) Population and resource use have been growing exponentially since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Plotted on a graph, it would look as if we’ve been consciously trying to create a dead and barren planet by 2100. Look at the numbers:

    In 1900. 1.6 billion humans used 7 billion tons of raw materials. By 2008, 6.76 billion of us used 62 billion tons. And by 2030, the prediction is that 8 billion people will use 100 billion tons, while producing 70 billion tons of waste. That’s 4.4 tons per person in 1900, over 9 tons 11 years ago, and more than 12 tons each, 11 years from now. That’s insane. But it’s the corporate world’s demand, and the American dream.

    Sometime between 2030 and 2070, we’ll no longer have the ores needed to make steel, or the sand needed to make concrete (desert sand is too eroded to stick together, so the sand has to come from beaches and riverbeds — 12 billion tons a year, and growing). And the absence of concrete and steel spells the end of modern construction.

    We also won’t have the water to sustain farming for the expected 9 or 10 billion people of coming genrrations. With glaciers melting, rivers running dry, and aquifers collapsing from overuse, mere drinking water will be a problem for most countries, as it already is for many. And with a third of the world’s topsoil destroyed in just the last 40 years (a process that continues), we won’t have the agricultural land to support our population — to say nothing of the millions of other species, struggling to survive our growth mania.

    (2) We must also understand that we can’t just plunder the earth and go on to rape other planets, moons, and asteroids. Colonizing Mars is theoretically possible for a few adventurers, who want to live on a planet with poisonous air, and an average temperature of -67°F. But it isn’t a resource for the many. The moon is far worse, with a midday to midnight temperature range of about 600°F. (Our astronauts visited in the early morning or late afternoon.) And while the asteroids may contain some useful minerals, their value to industry will never come near the costs of exploration and extraction, nor the years it would take to return a single container of ore to the Earth.

    The only apparent solution, as DGR has concluded, is to find the Achilles heel of civilization, and disable it to the point of creating a perpetual global recession, thus compelling industry into a perpetual downsizing mode.

    We don’t wish these hardships on the world. But the alternative, as Liam’s essay notes, is an industrial apocalypse of mass starvation, global resource wars, and an accelerating spiral of death and extinction.

    I don’t pretend that the genie of industrialization can completely be put back into the bottle. If we survive at all, a few vestiges of technology could endure on a limited scale. We might still have bicycles, wagons, eyeglasses, a few modern surgical procedures, and some sort of plumbing system in our villages, 200 years from now.

    But the ethos of “growth” and “progress” must be destroyed. Like elk, bison, eagles, frogs, and butterflies, we are who we are. And we must accept that reality or die. Change will come, but it must come slowly and naturally, as it has for millions of years.

    Evolution, yes. “Progress,” no.

  5. I’m ready to do something but I don’t know what and and don’t know people that understand the urgency in which we are, everybody I talk to ether thinks technology will save us or that it is still 50-100 years before we notice bad events…. It drives me crazy that everybody seems to be to busy working in jobs they hate to buy stuff they don’t need. 🙁

  6. I wouldn’t call it addiction. It’s more like entitlement, and it’s natural animal behavior. You can’t feed a grizzly because when the bear will feel entitled to being fed, and when the food runs out it will get angry and kill you (it’s also bad for the bear, an even more important reason not to feed them). I once tried putting my girlfriend’s cat on a diet (she said that he was getting fat), and he emptied every cabinet in our country kitchen looking for food. Etc. I consider this entitlement, not addiction.

    As to solutions, the best solution is major mental and spiritual evolution of humans. No one has figured out how to get that done, but it’s the best chance of stopping the ecocide and extinctions that humans have been and are still causing. If someone can find and exploit the Achilles heel of global industrial society, great, but I think that’s highly unlikely, as these systems are many and exist almost everywhere, and have some redundancies built in. Our goals and priorities are basically the same, but I’d rather humans give up wrecking the planet voluntarily because they start to prioritize all life instead of material things and ego trips.

  7. @SRH
    Sounds like you prioritize humans over everything else, which is diametrically opposed to DGR values.

    Aside from that, here’s some real democracy: Humans are only one of millions of species on Earth, so they get only one of millions of votes. Everything else on Earth (excluding unnatural human-bred animals that didn’t evolve naturally) votes not only for the end of industrial society, but for the end of human agriculture.

    Moreover, the end of democracy? The only real democracies are in hunter-gatherer societies, because the societal population must be low in order to organize and share power in that manner. Once people overpopulate, which started happening thousands of years ago, democracy became impossible. There is no country on Earth that has real democracy, though the governments of some are obviously more representative of their population than others.

  8. @Mark E Behrend

    I fully agree with what you wrote, except for this: Human overpopulation began 10-12,000 years ago when people started using agriculture. By the time humans began living industrially, the global human population had already increased to 100 times more than the natural level.

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