Environmentalists today have our work cut out for us. Caught between the urgency of the ecological crises and reactionary capitalist forces that continue to push (quite successfully) for ever more outrageous and egregious destruction, finding an effective and timely path forward is no easy task. There are a wide variety of strategies for change vying for our attention, broadcast to us by a diversity of folks with a diversity of motivations—some of which are mixed, others confused, and more that are dangerous. By and large, the strategies we’ve adopted for our movements go unchallenged and unquestioned.
But given where we find ourselves—in the middle of an irredeemably exploitative and cruel society fundamentally dependent on fossil fuels—and what we’ve been able to accomplish so far in the fifty-some years of the environmental movement, it’s time to stop a moment and reflect.
What we’ve tried so far—everything from alternative consumer choices, lobbying, and symbolic protests to education, and localized permaculture lifeboats—has proven incapable of addressing the scale and severity of the crises at hand and ineffective in forcing change. While these tactics can be used to achieve certain goals, and certainly have their place within a serious movement for justice and sustainability, they will never be enough to accomplish what we must in the end.
So with that in mind, the time has come to have serious conversations and ask ourselves serious questions. What do we want to achieve, and how can we best achieve it?
Do we want to perpetuate a way of life that affords some of us with incredible material prosperity? Are we merely looking for new ways to sustain the unsustainable? Or do we want first and foremost to stop the destruction and exploitation of the living world, and are we prepared to adjust our society—our way of life—to what that requires of us? Are we prepared to see and name that destruction for what it is,industrial civilization, and do what’s necessary to bring a halt to it?
If so, are we willing to face what’s necessary to be successful? Are we willing to work for that goal by any means necessary, including sabotage and property destruction? Will we support those who do? For if the ends don’t justify the means, what does?
Are we willing to set the health of Earth as the ultimate metric by which we will be judged? As many others have said, those who come after us will not be swayed or moved by how deeply we ached at the world dying around us. They won’t forgive us no matter how big our marches and rallies were, nor how clever our slogans and chants. The precise harmony and abundance of our permaculture gardens will be irrelevant to them if the forests, rivers, and fish are gone. The spiritual fulfillment and inner peace we’ve found we be meaningless and resented if all the mountains have been ripped inside out, the air and water filled with poisons.
Fighting the good fight may satisfy us emotionally, but are we more concerned with emotional fulfillment or the health of the planet?
Either we win, and permanently put an end to this cancerous way of life—in no uncertain terms, dismantle industrial civilization—or it’s game over; baked topsoil devoid of bacteria and oceans empty of even plankton.
As all the tried and tired strategies, the benign, begging and ineffectual hopes for change fail repeatedly, are we prepared to take a new path? Are we willing, as a movement, to revisit our long-sworn oaths against direct action, sabotage, and property destruction? Are we left any other choice?
This is not an exhortation to action, not a dictate on what our tactics can or should be. And it’s certainly not an effort to incite you into doing anything you aren’t comfortable doing. This is an attempt to open the conversation, to humbly consider different strategies and tactics. Because what we’ve been doing so far isn’t working.
On the contrary, as a whole, the environmental movement is playing directly into the hands of the established systems of power. The solutions put forward by the mainstream fail to challenge industrialism, capitalism or civilization, and the mostly center around consumerism and economic growth—whether or not the planet survives is a moot point and is confined to the realm of rhetoric. The tactics proffered and peddled to us pre-packaged in marketing glitz and glamour will never be enough to carry us to our goals, because they refuse to confront and dismantle the material systems that are waging a relentless war against life. Instead, we plead with those in power, hoping in vain that they’ll change their hearts and minds.
But it is material systems—physical infrastructure of extraction and production—that are doing the deforesting, the strip mining, the fracking, the polluting, damming, the trawling; it’s not a few bad apples or an “unsustainable consciousness.” We can change hearts and minds until the sun burns out, but if we don’t confront and dismantle the structures of power that necessitates the devastation wreaked upon Earth by this culture, those compassionate hearts and minds will be irrelevant and quickly replaced by those better fitting the demands of the dominant power systems.
One measure of insanity is to do the same thing over and over and to expect different results. It’s long past time to admit that things aren’t changing; in the last 30 years, there hasn’t been a single peer-reviewed study that showed a living community that was improving or stable.
A recent study found that it’s twenty times more likely that climate change will be more extreme than forecasted than less extreme. Clearly what we’ve been doing isn’t working, or things would be getting better instead of worse (and the rate at which they’re getting worse is accelerating).
So where does that leave us? If the safe and fun strategies—the non-controversial and the convenient; the “green tech,” the lobbying, the consumer lifestyle choices—don’t work, what do we do? If we know it’s not working, how can we continue along the same path and expect anything different?
With so much—everything—at stake, will we collectively step over the line of comfort and safety that is afforded to us in exchange for our compliance and use whatever means necessary to stop the literal dismemberment of the planet’s life-support systems? If not us personally, will we support those who do?
When we look back in history we find countless examples of past movements facing near identical questions, and all too often they came to the decision that the use of physical force was necessary for fundamental change.
From the women’s suffrage movement which used arson against politicians who opposed the woman’s right to vote, to labor movements in the coal fields of Appalachia where miners battled company thugs. From the Black liberation struggles’ unabashed armed self-defense, to indigenous sovereignty struggles which employed militant land reclamations. From the ANC in South Africa and EOKA in Cyprus sabotaging electric transmission lines, to resistance forces across Europe during WWII attacking rail and transport infrastructures, and liberation movements around the world since using whatever means necessary to fight against colonialism. Strategic sabotage and other forms of militant action are proven to possess incredible potential for social movements to materially undermine the foundations of abusive power.
What will we do with that knowledge? How long will it take to decide, remembering that with every setting of the sun, another 200 species disappear from the world forever? Aren’t we overdue to have these conversations, to stop and ask these questions?
There isn’t any more time to be lost; we have lots of potential tools—tactics and strategies—available to us, and we need to put them all on the table, rather than limiting ourselves to least controversial (and least effective) among them. We need to accept the use of militant tactics, and support those who do. Strategic sabotage against industrial infrastructure has been used by countless movements to fight exploitation, and is undeniably effective.
When nothing else is succeeding in stopping the physical destruction of industrial society, can we finally accept militant action in defense of Earth as a viable option? With what’s at stake, can we afford not to?
Time is Short: Reports, Reflections & Analysis on Underground Resistance is a biweekly bulletin dedicated to promoting and normalizing underground resistance, as well as dissecting and studying its forms and implementation, including essays and articles about underground resistance, surveys of current and historical resistance movements, militant theory and praxis, strategic analysis, and more. We welcome you to contact us with comments, questions, or other ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org