Our new autumn journal Dark Mountain: Issue 20 – ABYSS is now here!

Our new autumn journal Dark Mountain: Issue 20 – ABYSS is now here!

This story first appeared in The Dark Mountain Project.
We are excited to announce the publication of our twentieth book, available now from our online shop. This year’s special issue is an all colour collection of prose, poetry and art that delves into the subject of extractivism. Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing a selection of pieces from its pages. Today, we begin with the book’s editorial and cover by Lawrence Gipe.

No. 2 from Russian Drone Paintings (Mir Diamond Mine, Siberia) by Lawrence Gipe

The Pit

Standing on the brink, before the towering back wall of the Berkeley, whose  semi-circular sloping terraces resemble a gigantic Greek amphitheater, one is overtaken by a sense of doom…Viewed from the edge, the pit is a théâtre du sacrifice. The gateway to dominion is also a staircase to hell – Milton’s ‘wild  Abyss’, the womb and grave of nature.

– Edwin C. Dobb, ‘The Age of the Sacrifice Zone’, EXTRACTION: Art on the Edge of the Abyss

In 2016, tens of thousands of snow geese, midway through their winter migration from Alaska to northern Mexico, diverted from their route in order to avoid a storm. Many landed on a blue lake at the bottom of a deep crater. But the water was not right; it hurt. Within minutes the exhausted birds were dropping dead in their thousands. Officials from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, examining the corpses afterwards, found burns inside their bodies, evidence of the cadmium, copper, arsenic, zinc and sulphuric acid they had sought to shelter on. This deadly toxic soup was what filled Montana’s milelong Berkeley Pit, leftover tailings from Butte’s heyday as the copper mining capital of the world, now one of the largest environmental clean-up sites in the country.

In 2020, the poisoned rivers, the hacked, fracked and exploded ground, the countless wounds from the thousands of mining projects in the American West inspired Peter Koch, founder and director of the CODEX Foundation, a California-based arts nonprofit, to launch a project called EXTRACTION: Art on the Edge of the Abyss. This ‘multimedia, multi-venue, cross-border art intervention’ invited artists from around the world to examine all forms of extractive industry, from open-cast mines in Butte to the exploitation of water, minerals, timber, coal, sand, animal and marine life, and the innumerable other ‘resources’ that fuel the global economy. EXTRACTION co-founder Edwin C. Dobb, who passed away in 2019, called this the ‘age of the sacrifice zone’, after an official government term for the areas that are left despoiled as the accepted collateral damage of so-called ‘progress’.

Dark Mountain’s 20th issue, ABYSS, is a response to that project’s call, bringing an uncivilised eye to the mindset of extractivism: an  insatiable, pathological drive that has fuelled a seemingly endless expansion in energy use, manufacturing and economic activity. Just as our consumption appears to have no end in sight, there are no geographical limits: as mining or drilling operations shut down in one part of the world, having exhausted their seams or become economically unviable, new ones open up elsewhere – many of them to power the so-called ‘green’ technology boom.

Governments and billionaires dream of extending this frontier deeper and higher than ever before, from deep-sea mining on the ocean floor to plundering the minerals of other planets. Impelled by the need to take, take, take, the appetite of extractivism is all-consuming and unending.

In ABYSS , Alnoor Ladha and Martin Kirk write that we are living in the age of wetiko, an Algonquin term for a cannibalistic spirit that spreads like a virus. Amitav Ghosh draws the link between capitalist imperialism today and the 17th-century Dutch colonists in  Indonesia’s Banda Islands, who massacred the indigenous population in order to gain control over the trade in nutmeg. And in South Africa, colonised for its mineral wealth and fertile land, Sage Freda writes of how environmental and human exploitation are inextricably linked; the more we wreck and ravage the Earth, the more deeply we damage ourselves. As wetiko spreads across the world, all of us – and all other species – end up living and dying in the sacrifice zone.

From the Amazon to the Niger Delta, the Atacama Desert to the Minnesota wetlands, communities and indigenous people are attempting to defend the living world from devastation. Many contributors to ABYSS are part of the pushback against the pillage: from the protest  camp at the proposed lithium mine at Thacker Pass, Nevada, and from a deep-sea oil rig in New Zealand’s Great South Basin, we bring you stories from the activist front line. Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Max Wilbert take us to China’s giant black lake full of toxic run-off from the rare-earth metal mining that powers our laptops and phones. And we meet a Romanian peasant farmer whose fight against fracking and open-cast mining has helped to save one of Europe’s last medieval landscapes.

How do we remain fully human while so much  around us is being destroyed, especially as we (at least, some of us) enjoy so many of the material benefits that devastation brings?

Extractivism’s story can be told through these struggles, as it can be told through statistics: that China now consumes more sand for  concrete and cement every three years than the US consumed in the entire 20th century; that wild animal populations have decreased by 60% in the last 50 years. But this book also tells the story of how extractivism feels – how do we remain fully human while so much  around us is being destroyed, especially as we (at least, some of us) enjoy so many of the material benefits that devastation brings? The fiction and poetry in this book navigate this tricky terrain, from Claire Wahmanholm’s haunting depictions of glaciers melting on the page to Tacey Atsitty’s wrenching depiction of the poisoned water supplies of the Diné in the American Southwest.

Photography, observes Richard Misrach, is a profound means of bearing witness. Many images in this all-colour issue come from the EXTRACTION project, giving evidence of the otherwise invisible toll of our voracious appetites, from David Maisel’s turquoise lithium ponds in the Atacama Desert to Lawrence Gipe’s stunning cover image depicting the largest hole on the planet in Siberia. Noble views of sublime natural landscapes give way to surveys of industrial ravages, as artists behold the  world’s dams, tailing ponds, abandoned mines, oilfields, slag heaps and quarries, and the walls of granite, marble and coal that lie beneath. Among the litany of disappeared places, Jaime Black’s The REDress Project alerts us to the absences of indigenous women in Canada, while Aboriginal artist Betty Muffler shows the scale and beauty of the Earth repair required in her post-nuclear work, Healing Country. This is the world we do not see: the reality that powers the illusion of our spellbound lifestyles, with our sparkly wedding rings, our magical keyboards, our salmon and steak dinners, our electric cars gliding towards the emerald green cities of the future.

Once you start looking through the lens of extractivism, you start to see it everywhere – in the intellectual industries’ absorption of organic life and culture to feed its never-ending appetite for analysis and codification; in the teetering stacks of digital finance, each newly created layer of speculative instrument appropriating value from the one below it; and in the exploitation of ‘human resources’, making ever-greater demands on workers’ psychological and physical labour while demanding they carry ever more of the economic risk. And the suspicion arises that, behind all these manifestations of extraction, lies the same emotional and metaphysical vacuum – a hole in the heart as long and wide as the Berkeley pit: unappeasable, irrational, and ultimately incapable of ever being filled.

IMAGE: No. 2 from Russian Drone Paintings (Mir Diamond Mine, Siberia) Oil on canvas Courtesy of the artist

Gipe’s latest series, Russian Drone Paintings is based on images taken by drones for news programmes and surveillance posted on the government–run RUPTLY Network. Each painting consists of a frozen frame from this feed with subjects like pit mines in Siberia, bombings in Syria, ghost towns on remote mountains, towns abandoned because of radiation, and other residual evidence of interventions into nature.

Lawrence Gipe’s practice engages the postmodern landscape and the visual rhetoric of progress, in media that ranges between painting, drawing, video and collaborative curatorial projects. Gipe has had 60 solo exhibitions in galleries and museums in New York, Beijing, San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Munich, Berlin and Düsseldorf. Currently, he splits his time between his studio in Los Angeles, CA, and Tucson, AZ, where he is an Associate Professor of Studio Art at the University of Arizona.


Order Dark Mountain: Issue 20 – ABYSS now from our website for £19.99 (plus postage) – or take out a subscription to future issues of Dark Mountain and receive Issue 20 for £11.99.


15 Insurers Drop Trans Mountain Pipeline After Grassroots Pressure

15 Insurers Drop Trans Mountain Pipeline After Grassroots Pressure

This article originally appeared in Truthout.

By Truthout

Every morning, I walk along the waters of the Salish Sea on the Kitsap Peninsula in Washington State. Most days I am lucky enough to see the pink of the sunrise over Mount Rainier. This spring, millions of tiny herring eggs covered the beach, bringing with them a riotous cacophony of sound, including sea lions barking into the dead of night.

This place is the very heart of me. This coast is the solace that I seek when I am overwhelmed by the pandemic, by the everlasting wars, and the twisting fear of the climate emergency.

Today, the shores are smoky from fires raging across North America. I can’t see the mountains because of the smoke. The Salish Sea is threatened by the expansion of the single largest industrial project on the planet, the largest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions in North America: the Alberta tar sands. The Trans Mountain pipeline is slated to increase tanker traffic carrying 890,000 barrels of crude oil through this region, and the risk of an oil spill is significant.

We are fighting climate disruption that sets our homes on fire and covers us in a blanket of smoke for entire seasons. Smoke is putting my best friends and family members’ lives at risk because of severe asthma, compounding lung damage from COVID, and other health impacts. The herring, sea lions, and all the life I see on my daily walks are at risk too; thousands of sea creatures died in the last heat wave.

Over the better part of the last decade, communities have been giving their all to resist the pipeline that puts this place at risk. Indigenous people resist the pipeline on their territory because it destroys the sacred: grave sites, creation sites and drinking water.

Indigenous Secwepemc Land Defenders known as the Tiny House Warriors are providing solar-powered housing for their community members and asserting sovereignty through living in a tiny house village along the pipeline route on Secwepemc land. Tsleil-Waututh members and Coast Salish relatives, Mountain Protectors and allies continue to assert their laws at the Watch House, kwewkweknewtx, a grassroots coalition of activists who have constructed a traditional Coast Salish structure along a pipeline easement to assert Indigenous rights and keep a watchful eye on the pipeline and storage tanks in Burnaby, Canada.

As a thanks for the stewardship of their own land, these communities are being criminalized with constant state surveillance and increasing violence from police. Every time they try to silence us, our movement to stop this pipeline and all tar sands expansion projects grows. We will not stop fighting.

There is another group beyond governments and corporations that make this destruction possible: insurance companies. You might not think of insurers at first, but everything is insured: vehicles, your health, and even the Trans Mountain pipeline — a toxic, 68-year-old leaking pipeline and its related expansion.

Over the last five years, 26 of the world’s major insurance companies have limited their coverage for coal, and 10 for tar sands. Lloyd’s of London, an insurance giant, has committed to backing out of the tar sands sector at the end of last year. Recently, another insurance company ruled out coverage for Trans Mountain — the 15th in a wave of companies exiting the project.

Now, the pipeline company, Trans Mountain Pipeline LP, is petitioning the Canadian federal government to keep its remaining insurers secret. (The Canadian government stepped in to buy the pipeline company in 2018 from its previous owner, Kinder Morgan Inc., for $3.6 billion.)

The company is desperate to keep those insurers under wraps because they are increasingly responding to growing pressure from youth organizing direct actions at insurance offices and hundreds of thousands calling them out through petitions. During a week of action on Trans Mountain insurance, there were over 25 protests around the world, in countries as far away from the project as Uganda.

Insurers are facing costs for major oil spill as well as the costs associated with climate change; industry losses from natural disasters were $83 billion in 2020.

One of the companies backing Trans Mountain, Chubb, was the first North American insurer to rule out coal. Chubb’s policy ruling out coal reflected their “commitment to do our part as a steward of the Earth,” according to CEO Evan Greenberg. Yet, according to Reuters, Canadian regulatory filings showed Chubb increased the coverage it provides for Trans Mountain for its 2019/2020 certificate to $200 million. The company remains a top oil and gas insurer.

Greenberg and the insurers covering Trans Mountain know better than most the cost of climate chaos on communities by the numbers: Insurers are facing costs for major oil spill as well as the costs associated with climate change; industry losses from natural disasters were $83 billion in 2020. Yet, these insurers are continuing to invest in and underwrite fossil fuels, making multimillion-dollar deals to support the status quo.

As I walk along these shorelines, considering the impacts of this pipeline on all that I hold dear, corporate insurance boardrooms making multimillion-dollar deals are far away from the real impacts on communities, on the land and on these waters. The risks to this pipeline and supertanker project far outweigh its benefits — and CEOs like Greenberg are profiting off of the theft of this land and the destruction of this water while we watch it go up in smoke.

Forest loss in mountains of Southeast Asia accelerates at ‘shocking’ pace

Forest loss in mountains of Southeast Asia accelerates at ‘shocking’ pace

This article originally appeared in Mongabay.

  • Southeast Asia is home to roughly half of the world’s tropical mountain forests, which support massive carbon stores and tremendous biodiversity, including a host of species that occur nowhere else on the planet.
  • A new study reveals that mountain forest loss in Southeast Asia is accelerating at an unprecedented rate throughout the region: approximately 189,000 square kilometers (73,000 square miles) of highland forest was converted to cropland during the first two decades of this century.
  • Mountain forest loss has far-reaching implications for people who depend directly on forest resources and downstream communities.
  • Since higher-elevation forests also store comparatively more carbon than lowland forests, their loss will make it much harder to meet international climate objectives.

by Carolyn Cowan

Southeast Asia is home to roughly half of the world’s tropical mountain forests. These highland ecosystems support massive carbon stores and tremendous biodiversity, including a host of species that occur nowhere else on the planet. But new evidence suggests these havens are in grave danger. Conversion of higher-elevation forest to cropland is accelerating at an unprecedented rate throughout the region, according to findings published June 28 in Nature Sustainability.

By analyzing high-resolution satellite data sets of forest loss and state-of-the-art maps of carbon density and terrain, an international team of researchers quantified patterns of forest loss in Southeast Asia during the first two decades of this century. They found that during the 2000s, forest loss was mainly concentrated in the lowlands; but by the 2010s, it had shifted significantly to higher ground.

Between 2001 and 2019, the researchers calculated that Southeast Asia had lost 610,000 square kilometers (235,500 square miles) of forest — an area larger than Thailand. Of this loss, 31% occurred in mountainous regions, equivalent to 189,100 km2 (73,000 mi2) of highland forest converted to cropland and plantation in less than two decades.

Moreover, the study reveals an accelerating trend. By 2019, 42% of total annual forest loss occurred at higher elevations, with the frontier of forest loss migrating upslope at a rate of roughly 15 meters (49 feet) per year.

Particularly prominent shifts to mountain forest loss were found in north Laos, northeast Myanmar, and east Sumatra and Kalimantan in Indonesia — the country that experienced the most overall forest loss.

Terraces are cleared on a hillside in Malaysian Borneo to make way for an oil palm plantation. Image by Rhett Butler/Mongabay

Decades of widespread clearing of lowland forests to make way for rice, oil palm and rubber plantations has led the conservation community to perceive forest loss as an issue only affecting the lowlands, said Paul Elsen, climate adaptation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society and co-author of the study.

“To see through this study that forest loss is increasing and accelerating in mountainous areas throughout the whole of Southeast Asia was pretty surprising,” he told Mongabay.

The expansion of agriculture into higher elevation areas, despite sub-optimal growing conditions due to lower temperatures and steep slopes, spotlights just how scarce undeveloped land now is in lowland Southeast Asia.

“Just because we found that there’s a lot of increasing forest loss in the mountains does not mean that we’re not still seeing forest loss in the lowlands … we still have to worry about lowland forest loss,” Elsen said. “It is just shocking that [forest loss] is continuing to move up into places that we felt were safe by virtue of being rugged and remote and isolated.”

Natural hazards

Worldwide, more than 1 billion people live in mountainous regions. Forest loss in these areas has far-reaching implications for people who depend directly on forest resources and downstream communities.

Clearing forests in steep headwaters where rivers originate can increase the risk of catastrophic landslips and flooding in lower areas. It also exacerbates soil erosion and runoff, causing rivers to clog with silt and agricultural pollutants, reducing downstream water quality and availability. In 2018, many people blamed the devastating floods that struck southeast Sulawesi in Indonesia, displacing thousands of people from their villages, on upstream forest clearing.

“These impacts can kill people, of course, but they also disrupt roads and transportation access so goods and services can’t reach communities,” Elsen said. “That’s hugely impactful when you have increased soil erosion and instability following the removal of trees.”

Elsen said communities dependent on mountain forests are hit with a “double whammy” when trees are cleared, since they lose the safety net the forest provides against diminished crop yields, which also suffer from diminished water availability and quality. “Now that the forest has been removed, you have fewer products available for communities to rely on, so it also reduces their adaptation potential,” he said. “If left unchecked, this could be a really big environmental problem for the communities living both in the mountains and in the lowlands.”

Furthermore, a 2021 study showed that deforestation in the tropics can increase local warming by up to 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit). “Local communities living in these frontier zones will suffer much stronger climate warming due to the biogeophysical feedbacks driven by tree loss further compounding the effects of global warming,” Zhenzhong Zeng, associate professor at the Southern University of Science and Technology, Shenzhen, China and co-author of the new study told Mongabay.

Landslip Indonesia
A landslip in Indonesia caused by the removal of trees which has destabilized the steep slope. Image by Rhett Butler/Mongabay

Nowhere to go

If the forest loss continues to march upslope, the consequences for wildlife could be equally devastating. Recent studies suggest many species are shifting their ranges to higher altitudes in response to warming temperatures.

“The mountains of Southeast Asia are one of the most biologically rich regions of the planet and it’s incredible how many species of mammals, of birds, of amphibians are living only in the mountains and rely on forested ecosystems for their survival,” Elsen said. “So the removal of any of those forests will most likely reduce their abundances at a minimum and could potentially cause local extinctions because species that live in mountains often are very isolated in particular spots.”

“While it’s not surprising, unfortunately, that forest loss rates are moving up elevation in Southeast Asia, this study importantly quantifies this upwards acceleration,” Tim Bonebrake, a conservation biologist at Hong Kong University who was not involved in the study, told Mongabay in an email. He said the rate of upslope shift in the frontier of forest loss is very concerning and might hamper species’ ability to adapt to climate change.

“Not only do these losses of forest cover amount to losses in habitat for species, but the incursion of this forest loss up elevation will also impair biodiversity resilience to climate change,” Bonebrake said. “Forest species that may have otherwise been able to shift their distributions in response to warming will have less space to do so.”

White handed gibbon
White-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar) are among the many species that may have to shift their ranges further up into mountain forests in response to climate change. Image by JJ Harrison via Creative Commons (CC BY 3.0)

Global carbon budget

As part of the study, the researchers investigated how forest loss is affecting carbon budgets by overlaying forest loss datasets on high-resolution carbon density maps. They found that carbon stocks in steeper, higher-elevation forests are much greater than in lowland forests. This contrasts with patterns in Africa and South America where lowland forests account for more carbon sequestration. The Southeast Asia pattern is most likely due to greater levels of primary production and organic soil content in the region’s highland forests, say the researchers.

The team calculated that the total annual forest carbon loss across Southeast Asia was 424 million metric tons of carbon per year, which is equivalent to one-sixth of all the carbon absorbed by the world’s oceans each year. Mountain areas accounted for nearly one-third of that loss.

Their findings suggest that assumptions used in global climate change models, which consider all forest carbon emissions as equal, could be inaccurate. Moreover, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) climate models incorporate predictions that tree-dominated land cover will persist in Southeast Asian mountains. Not only are those mountains losing their forest cover, but the fact that the region’s mountain forests store comparatively more carbon than lowland forests means that their loss will disproportionately affect climate predictions.

The authors calculate that if the patterns of forest loss continue, annual forest carbon loss in the mountains will exceed that of the lowlands as soon as 2022. They also suggest that the continued loss of carbon-rich forests at higher elevations could eventually tip the scales, shifting Southeast Asia’s forests from being a neutral actor in the global carbon cycle to a net carbon emitter.

Ultimately, the loss of higher-elevation forest will make it much harder to meet international climate objectives to limit global warming to below 2° Celsius (3.6° Fahrenheit) by the end of this century. This is, according to Elsen, “A very simple message that we need practitioners and policymakers to understand.”


Feng, Y., Ziegler, A. D., Elsen, P. R., Liu, Y., He, X., Spracklen D. V., … Zeng, Z. (2021). Upward expansion and acceleration of forest clearance in the mountains of Southeast Asia. Nature Sustainability. doi:10.1038/s41893-021-00738-y

Why people are risking arrest to join old-growth logging protests on Vancouver Island

Why people are risking arrest to join old-growth logging protests on Vancouver Island

This article originally appeared in The Conversation.

By , Professor of Sociology, University of British Columbia

The RCMP has recently been arresting protesters who had set up blockades to prevent the logging of old-growth forests on Vancouver Island. Environmentalists say the Fairy Creek watershed, near Port Renfrew, is the last old-growth area left on southern Vancouver Island, outside of protected areas.

The contested forested areas lie close to the internationally known West Coast Trail, and within the unceded traditional territory of several First Nations, including Pacheedaht and Ditidaht.

Some of the trees are more than 1,000 years old and are part of rare ecosystems that some independent estimates suggest make up less than one per cent of the remaining forest in B.C. Close to 25 per cent of the world’s remaining temperate rainforest is in B.C., mainly along the coasts.

The demonstrators established the first blockade in August 2020 along the logging roads into the Fairy Creek watershed, where Teal-Jones has a “tree farm licence” to harvest timber and manage forest resources. Now dozens of people, including some First Nations youth, have been arrested for violating a B.C. Supreme Court order that restricts protesters from blockading the logging roads.

This dispute resembles the protests over Clayoquot Sound (also on the west coast of Vancouver Island). Dubbed the “War in the Woods,” more than 850 people were arrested in 1993 for blockading logging roads. That protest, sparked by a decision to allow logging in the area, was the largest act of civil disobedience in Canadian history and a seminal event in the history of the environmental movement.

As a researcher of social movement and environmental issues, I have been surveying the general public and environmental activists about their attitudes and behaviours for about three decades. I am particularly interested in environmental conflicts and the factors (such as social networks) that explain why people get involved incollective actions to protect the environment or to protest against such actions (pro-industry protesters).

This research can shed light on current and future conflicts. People who support the goals and values of a movement can be drawn into it, what social movement scholars call “the mobilization potential.” However, involvement is often contingent upon other factors, such as social ties to other participants.

‘War in the Woods’ redux?

The connection between Fairy Creek and Clayoquot Sound was highlighted when Tzeporah Berman — a high-profile environmentalist and a leader of the Clayoquot protests — was arrested at a road leading into the Fairy Creek watershed in May.

Berman, who is also the director of the environmental organization Stand.earth, co-ordinated the blockade in Clayoquot Sound 27 years ago. She was arrested then too, although the long list of charges was eventually dismissed on constitutional grounds. No large-scale industrial logging occurred in Clayoquot in the aftermath of the protests.

More recently, anti-logging protests focused on the old-growth forest in the Great Bear Rainforest. Environmentalists, the forestry sector, First Nations and the B.C. government eventually worked together to establish a 2016 agreement to protect the Great Bear Rainforest.

Since then, various environmental groups have continued to campaign to protect old-growth forests. But these efforts have often been overshadowed by protests against oil and gas pipelines and overarching activism about climate change.

Understanding beliefs about old-growth forests

An old-growth forest is one that has not been disturbed by large-scale human activities, such as industrial logging. In B.C., these forests have been growing since the last ice age, about 10,000 years.

They include gigantic trees such as red and yellow cedars, Sikta spruce, hemlock and Douglas firs, which are sometimes as tall as a football field or soccer pitch is long. One thousand-year-old trees may be the most iconic features of coastal old-growth forests, but the forests also promote biodiversity by providing habitat to numerous wildlife species, many of which do not thrive outside of old-growth forests.

Logging has contributed to the dramatic decline of B.C.‘s old-growth forests. One independent study suggested that the majority of B.C.’s productive old-growth forests have been logged, and there are plans to log the majority of what remains.

In a 2007 survey, my group found that 75 per cent of the general public completely or mostly agreed that “clearcut logging should not be allowed in old-growth forests.” So did 93 per cent of environmentalists.

We also asked about the statement: “Some forested areas should be set aside in order to protect endangered and threatened species (e.g., the spotted owl, the spirit bear).” Here, 94.2 per cent of the general public and 98 per cent of environmentalists completely or mostly agreed.

In 2005, >I members and supporters of the Friends of Clayoquot Sound, one of the main organizations involved in the protests. That study asked people about various types of civil disobedience, and found that 90 per cent of environmentalists believed that blockading logging roads greatly or somewhat helped the cause, and 84 per cent believed that occupying trees greatly or somewhat helped the cause.

It is difficult to assess the outcomes of social movements, but civil disobedience has been successful in the past. Media attention, changing public opinion and disruption can put pressure on governments to change course.

Growing protests

Protesters have been blocking access to logging roads and positioning themselves high in trees to disrupt harvesting operations in the Fairy Creek area, drawing the attention of the media and the public and putting pressure on government. The RCMP responded slowly at first, but recently began to enforce the court injunction and have restricted access to the protest sites.

While the protest has been going on since late last summer, its activities have recently heated up. Environmentalists want the government to adopt the recommendations from a new advisory report on old-growth forests. It seems likely that the protest will grow.

A large number of people see civil disobedience as being effective and are willing to do it. Once the B.C. government eases COVID-related restrictions, more people will likely become involved in protests. Pleasant weather and flexible summer schedules may encourage others to join. Satellite protests regarding the threat to old-growth forests will also continue in urban centres.

The RCMP says it has arrested more than 100 people already, and 75 seniors from the Victoria area have joined the protest at Fairy Creek. This may just be the beginning of another “War in the Woods.”

The Forest People: Life and Death under the Green Revolution

The Forest People: Life and Death under the Green Revolution

This article, originally published on Resilience.org, describes the dangers of the modern, western conception of “untouched wilderness” and its drastic consequences for the last human cultures still inhabiting dense forests. Calling the forests their home for millenia, they are not only threatened by mining and logging companies, but by modern “environmental” NGO’s and their policies of turning forests into national parks devoid of human presence, pushing the eviction of their ancestral human inhabitants.

Featured image: Pygmy houses made with sticks and leaves in northern Republic of the Congo

One of the oldest myths impressed into the minds of modern people is the image of the wild, virgin forest.

The twisted, gnarled and dense trees, complete with ancient ferns, silent deer and patches of sunlight through gaps in the canopy. In this vision there are no people, and this is a striking feature of what we mean by ‘wilderness’. We have decided that humans are no longer a natural part of the wild world. Unfortunately, these ideas have real world consequences for those remaining people who do call rainforests and woodlands their homes. Approximately 1,000 indigenous and tribal cultures live in forests around the world, a population close to 50 million people, including the Desana of Colombia, the Kuku-Yalanji of Australia and the Pygmy peoples of Central Africa and the Congo. This is a story about those people of the Congolese forests, about how their unique way of life is threatened by the very people who should be defending them and how rainforests actually thrive when humans adapt to a different way of life.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has to be amongst modernity’s greatest tragedies.

Almost no-one knows that the ‘Great African War’, fought between 1998 and 2003, saw 5.4 million deaths and 2 million more people displaced. Very few can grasp the bewildering complexity of armed groups, of the ethnic and political relationships between the Congo and Rwanda or the sheer scale of the conflict, which at its height saw 1000 civilians dying every day. And yet this is also a country of staggering beauty, a sanctuary to the greatest levels of species diversity in Africa. It is home to the mountain gorilla, the bonobo, the white rhino, the forest elephant and the okapi. Roughly 60% of the country is forested, much of it under threat by logging and subsistence farming expansions. The Congolese Pygmy peoples have been living here since the Middle Stone Age, heirs to a way of life over 100,000 years old. A note here on naming – the term Pygmy is considered by some to be offensive and the different people grouped under the title prefer to call themselves by their ethnic identities. These include the Aka, the Baka, the Twa and the Mbuti. The Congolese Pygmy people are grouped under the Mbuti – the Asua, the Efe and the Sua. In general these all refer to Central African Foragers who have inherited physical adaptations to life in the rainforest, including shortened height and stature.

The Mbuti people are hunters, trappers and foragers, using nets and bows to drive and catch forest animals. They harvest hundreds of kinds of plants, barks, fruits and roots and are especially obsessed with climbing trees to source wild honey, paying no heed to the stings of the bees. In many ways theirs is an idyllic antediluvian image of carefree hunter-gatherers, expending only what energy they need to find food and make shelters, preferring to spend their lives dancing, laughing and perfecting their ancient polyphonic musical tradition. Of course, this is an edenic view and the reality of their lives is much more complex and far more tragic, but it is worth highlighting the key environmental role they play as stewards and denizens of the forests. The Mbuti have been in the Congolese forests for tens of millennia, living within the carrying capacity of the land and developing sophisticated systems of ecological knowledge, based on their intimate familiarity with the rhythms and changes of the wildlife and the plants. Despite other groups of hunter-gatherers eating their way through large herds of megafauna, the Mbuti can live alongside elephants, rhinos and okapi without destroying their numbers.

In spite of this, the Mbuti and other Pygmy peoples have been attacked and evicted from their forests for decades.

In the 1980’s, the government of Congo sold huge areas of the Kahuzi Biega forest to logging and mining companies, forcibly removing the Batwa people and plunging them into poverty. To this day, many of their descendents live in roadside shanties, refused assistance from the State, denied healthcare and even the right to work. Many have since fled back to the forests. Alongside the mining and logging companies, conservation charities have been targeting the Baka peoples for evictions. In particular the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has been lobbying to convert the Messok Dja, a particularly biodiverse area of rainforest in the Republic of Congo, in a National Park, devoid of human presence. This aggressive act of clearance is rooted in the idea that a ‘wilderness’ area should not contain any people, thus rendering the original inhabitants of the forests as intruders, invaders and despoilers of ‘Nature’. The charity Survival – an organisation dedicated to indigenous and tribal rights – has been campaigning for WWF to stop their activities. In particular Survival has successfully documented numerous abuses committed by the Park Rangers, whose activities are funded by WWF and others:

“notwithstanding the fact that Messok Dja is not even officially a national park yet, the rangers have sown terror among the Baka in the region. Rangers have stolen the Baka’s possessions, burnt their camps and clothes and even hit and tortured them. If Baka are found hunting small animals to feed their families they are arrested and beaten”

Outside of the forest, the Baka and other Pygmy peoples face widespread hostility and discrimination from the majority Bantu population.

Many are enslaved, sometimes for generations, and are viewed as pets or forest animals. The situation is no better within the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where the endless cycles of violence have seen the most shocking abuses against the Mbuti populations. Even in the most peaceful areas, park rangers regularly harass and abuse Mbuti hunters and villagers, illegally cutting down trees for charcoal or shooting animals for meat. In some places the Batwa people have formed militias, often armed with little more than axes and arrows, to defend themselves against slaving raids by the neighbouring Luba people.

The worst events for the Mbuti people in recent years began during the Rwandan genocide, where the Hutu Interahamwe paramilitaries murdered over 10,000 Pygmies and drove a further 10,000 out of the country, many of whom fled into the forests of the DRC. Later, between 2002 and 2003, a systematic campaign of extermination was waged against the Bambutis of the North Kivu province of DRC. The Movement for the Liberation of Congo embarked on a mission, dubbed Effacer le tableau – ‘cleaning the slate’, which saw them kill over 60,000 Pygmies. In part this was motivated by the belief that the Bambuti are subhumans, whose flesh possesses magical powers to cure AIDS and other diseases. Many of the victims were also killed, traded and eaten as bushmeat. Cannibalism against the Pygmy peoples has been reported throughout the Congolese Civil Wars, with almost all sides engaging in the act.

Unsurprisingly under these pressures, the Mbuti and other groups have been displaced, broken up and scattered throughout Central Africa. In part this has always been the intention of these campaigns, for the Congo region is not an isolated backwater of the modern world, but an integral part of the material economy of advanced modernity. In particular Central Africa has been cursed with an abundance of precious and important metals and minerals, including: tin, copper, gold, tantalum, diamonds, lithium and, crucially, over 70% of the world’s cobalt. The intensive push for electric vehicles (EVs) by the EU and the USA has seen prices for battery components skyrocket. Cobalt in particular reached $100,000 per tonne in 2018. Tantalum is also heavily prized, as a crucial element for nearly all advanced electronics and is found in a natural ore called coltan. Coltan has become synonymous with slavery, child labour, dangerous mining conditions and violence. Almost every actor in the endless conflicts in DRC have been involved in illegally mining and smuggling coltan onto the world market, including the Rwandan Army, who set up a shell company to process the ore obtained across the border. Miners, far from food sources, turn to bushmeat, especially large primates like gorillas. An estimated 3-5 million tonnes of bushmeat is harvested every year in DRC, underlining the central role that modern electronic consumption has on the most fragile ecosystems. In this toxic mix of violent warlordism, mineral extraction, logging, bushmeat hunting and genoicide, the Mbuti people have struggled to maintain their way of life. Their women and children end up pounding lumps of ore, breathing in metal dusts, they end up as prostitutes and slaves, surviving on the margins of an already desperate society.

In Mbuti mythology, their pantheon of gods are directly weaved into the life of the rainforest.

The god Tore is the Master of Animals and supplies them for the people. He hides in rainbows or storms and sometimes appears as a leopard to young men undergoing initiation rites deep in the trees. The god of the hunt is Khonvoum, who wields a bow made of two snakes and ensures the sun rises every morning. Other animals appear as messengers, such as the chameleon or the dwarf who disguises himself as a reptile. These are the cultural beliefs of a people who became human in the rainforest, adapted down the bone to its tempos and seasons. They are a part of the ecosystem, as much as the gorilla or the forest hog. Their taboos recognise the evil of hunting in an animal’s birthing grounds, or the importance of never placing traps near fresh water. Breaking these results in a metaphysical ostracism known as ‘muzombo’, a kind of spiritual death and sometimes accompanied by physical exile from the village. As far as their voice has counted for anything under the deluge of horror that modernity has unleashed upon them, they want to be left alone, to hunt and fish in their forests, to live close to their ancestors and to raise their children in peace and safety.

The expansion of the ‘Green New Deal’ and the rise of ‘renewable’ industrial technologies may be the death knell for these archaic and peaceful people.

Make no mistake, these green initiatives – electric vehicles, wind turbines, solar batteries – these are actively destroying the last remaining strongholds of biodiversity on the planet. The future designs on the DRC include vast hydroelectric dams and intensive agriculture, stripping away the final refuges of the world. Now, more than ever, the Mbuti and other Pygmy peoples need our solidarity, an act which can be as simple as not buying that next iPhone.

Editor’s note on the last sentence of this otherwise well-written article: Personal consumer choices are no means of political action and will not save the planet. If you don’t buy the next iPhone someone else will. The whole globalized industrial system of exploitation which makes iPhones possible in the first place has to be stopped.