Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Thoughts on the Great Warming Swindle

Impressions after watching the Great Warming Swindle shown an the Brunswick
Theatre, followed by a rebuttal from Dr. Danny Harvey, Geography Dept. U of
T., by Paul York

After watching this film I have to admit to feeling demoralized. This is not
because I doubt the cause of fighting global warming or the scientific
consensus it is based on (and which is essentially irrefutable by any sane,
rational person), but because we (environmentalists, social justice
advocates, people of good conscience, and rational decent people) seem to be
up against such formidable and entrenched interests, which have now
developed powerful ideological defenses, as this film illustrates.

The issue is very similar to the entrenched ideology of those who exploit animals
systematically, based on an anthropocentric bias that can be explained as
"might equals right." The problem with such ideology is that it has a
preconceived end - justification of a position of power - which excludes the
possibility of open-minded discussion.

I am demoralized when I realize that reason and facts and empirical evidence will not move the ideologues and that they will continue to be committed to a culture of death. The risk of the loss of 50 per cent of the animal species on Earth due to climate change and factory farms have the same ideological underpinning of greed and criminal insanity.

Moulin in Greenland ice mass: 50 per cent of the Arctic ice has melted. Jim Hansen says we should start measuring sea rise in feet, not inches. 100 million people will be displaced (and many will die as a result of this displacement) as sea levels rise. South Pacific islanders have already been forced to move.

The latest incarnation of that ideological defense of an unsustainable status quo is the Bush Administration's promise of a technological quick-fix: "In recent years, the United States has been investing in new energy technologies that have the potential to overcome the challenge of climate change and transform our world. This has been the focus of our efforts here at home and the goal of our international diplomacy, where we have made a special effort to forge new partnerships with developing countries." - Condoleeza Rice. Source:

In other words, they have gone from denial to the so-called "integrated approach," which places great emphasis on the promise of technology, and which has the practical effect of de-emphasizing more environmentally friendly solutions such as conservation, energy-efficiency and renewables. Now others are promoting the "integrated approach," which is problematic for the reasons stated above.

In the face of great ideological, structural and military opposition to the obvious and overwhelming need for our species to enter into an "ecological age," it is easy to lose hope. In those moments, we can turn to the example of others who have gone through great trials of faith in the face of evil: Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind, but there are many others. Ken Saro-Wiwa of Nigeria, murdered by a
military junta in the employ of Shell, is a good example: he stood up for social and environmental justice to the end: "I'll tell you this, I may be dead but my ideas will not die." - Ken Saro-Wiwa, Port Harcourt Prison, November 1995.

Hope is a precious thing, but also very powerful. Hope, justice, love, beauty and truth -- all of these are not possible unless we find it in ourselves to include every being (human and non-human) within our scope of concern.

In the Swindle film, environmentalists were attacked, industrial development was promoted as a necessary good, and the cause of fighting global warming was undermined by the rhetoric of self-interest -- all by older white men (with the exception of the African economist) trying to protect their privelage and the ideology that supports it. Patrick Moore is a good example of this extreme self-interest and disengenuous rhetoric. Greenpeace has repeatedly disavowed him, but he keeps re-surfacing, using their name, paid by the oil companies to travel around and spread anti-environmentalist invective. Bjorn Lomborg is the latest so-called environmentalist who uses that title to attack environmentalism.

Tim Ball was also in the film, saying that he is not paid by oil interests, but that was an outright lie (see for disclosure on his financial complicity with Exxon Mobil. We knew that what he said was not credible, but it still hurts me to see someone sell anyone soul in that way, to make a deal with the devil for a few pieces of gold, to use the New Testament illustration. "Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness." - Martin Luther King Jr.

Hannah Arendt's famous thesis is that great evil is often the result of ordinary people trying to improve their careers and not thinking of how their actions negatively affect others. The comparison between the historical Holocaust and current climate crisis, famously made by George Monbiot, is entirely appropriate in my view.

George Patterson in "Eternal Treblinka" makes the case that the Holocaust would not have been possible without our historical exploitation of animals - the industrial methods used to slaughter animals was harnessed to slaughter human beings, and the separation of the man from nature has led to man's exploitation and
enslavement of women and other men. Human slavery is today as big a problem
as it was 300 years ago. Patterson's point is that animal slavery makes human slavery possible because it creates that separation in the mind between "us" and "them" - which allows for dehumanization.

The use of Africa in the Swindle fim is pariculary egregious. The claim is made that environmentalists are preventing development from occuring there, which is hurting Africans' chances of becoming industrialzed. The reality is that 1) global warming is already resulting in many deaths there due to drought and an increases in malaria which is traceable to temperature increases, and 2) African poverty is caused in large part by colonial exploitation, exacerbated by neo-colonial globalization in the form resource extraction by mining and oil multinationals (e.g. Shell in Nigeria, copper mines in the Congo, gold and diamond mining in South Africa, and inequity and exploitation such as that described in the documentary "Darwin's
Nightmare"), and 3) medical doctors and eco-psychologists are showing that industrialization causes (and is also the result of) physical and mental illnesses.

African activists protest global warming on the Dec. 8th day of Action, 2007

To blame the plight of Africans on environmentalists and solar power, as is done in the film, is an outrageous and hideous distortion of the truth. What Africa needs is not industrial development, following in our footsteps, but free AIDs drugs, funding for local sustainable development projects run by women (not imposed by Christian NGOs and extraction industries), medicine and hospitals (such as provided by Doctors Without Borders), a withdrawal of extraction industries and reparation for the
damage they've caused, and a ban on the import of weapons -- among other things.

Africa also needs to be free from the drought imposed on them by industrial CO2 produced here: Africans produce on average about 0.3 tonnes per annum and Canadians about 20 tonnes, yet they are dying as a result of the way we live! This global inequity and the North's role in contributing to African poverty was conveniently ignored in the film.

Also egregious was the idea that industrialization is somehow a great good: the field of eco-psychology questions that assumption. It says that we are natural beings, evolved within a natural setting, who damage ourselves by creating artifical environments. "What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another." - Gandhi.

My favourite example is road rage: car companies promote car sales with images of freedom and happiness, people purchase SUVs at great expense to themselves and the planet, and find themselves stuck in rush hour everyday, angry, isolated from the wider community and the natural world. It is racist to assume that our culture and way of life is best. I'm glad that Prof. Harvey noted that happiness cannot be bought and sold in the marketplace. I wish we had had time after the film to discuss such things, but it went on for too long; it was difficult to watch.

Prof. Harvey provided a good scientific rebuttal of the film's erroneous scientific claims, but the "Swindle" film deserves a thorough analysis which he did not have time to deliver. It gives a good insight into what is wrong with the world and our society. Pretty much all of its claims of hype and propaganda are accurate when applied to itself; in other words, there is a good case to be made that it is an example of psychological projection.

Jung's idea of the Shadow and the theory of "hostility displacement" is helfpul to describe this projection. One of the most helpful articles towards an understanding of the claim of censorship of scientists as a manifestation of psychological
projection is provided by Monbiot:
And here is Monbiot's take on the Great Warming Swindle.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The fate of animals under the heel of man - an eternal Treblinka

In all the of the following photos humans and non-humans are herded, enslaved and subjugated, through the use of force by men with guns or prods. The difference between the humans and non-humans is a conceptual category taught from an early age; in reality, human beings are but one species in the Animal Kingdom. We differ from the other animals insofar as we believe ourselves superior to them (and to one another), our capacity for willful cruelty and wanton destructiveness, and our ability to manipulate the environment in such a way as to systematically destroy life. We also have the capacity for good and enlightened behaviour, if we so choose.

Goats in a transport truck gasping for air and longing for freedom

Cattle car to Treblinka - the use of factory farm methods

A truckload of "comfort women" being shipped to the drontline for the japanese soldiers.

Modern cattle car (an eighteen wheeler) on the way to the slaughterhouse

Herding Palestinians through the use of force

Factory farm scene

"...[he] spoke a eulogy for the mouse who had shared a portion of her life with him and who, because of him, had left this earth. 'What do they know - all these scholars, all these philosophers, all the leaders of the world - about such as you? They have convinced themselves that man, the worst transgressor of all the species, is the crown of creation. All other creatures were created merely to provide him with food, pelts, to be tormented, exterminated. In relation to them, all people are Nazis; for the animals it is an eternal Treblinka.'"

- Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer, in The Letter Writer

"But for the sake of some little mouthful of flesh, we deprive a soul of the sun and light and of that proportion of life and time it had been born into the world to enjoy." -Plutarch

Put a small child in a playpen with an apple and a bunny. If s/he eats the apple and plays with the bunny, s/he's normal;but if s/he eats the bunny and plays with the apple, I'll buy you a new car. Somewhere along the line we must have been TAUGHT to do the wrong thing. --Maynard

"As long as man continues to be the ruthless destroyer of lower beings, he will never know health or peace. For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love" -Pythagorus

Most animal experiments have no social or medical benefit; they are conducted as part of a vast industry comprised of scientists, breeders, pharmaceutical companies, corporations, military contractors, and complicit government bodies, for the sake of profit and careers.

"All beings tremble before violence. All fear death, all love life. See yourself in others. Then whom can you hurt? What harm can you do?" - Buddha

"Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet" - Albert Einstein

"He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man..." - Isaiah 66:3

The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for whites or women for men. - Alice Walker

In China dogs are systematically murdered

Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it. - Mark Twain

The fate of animals is of greater importance to me than the fear of appearing ridiculous; it is indissolubly connected with the fate of men. - Emile Zola

A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral. - Leo Tolstoy

To my mind, the life of a lamb is no less precious than that of a human being. The more helpless the creature, the more that it is entitled to protection by man from the cruelty of man. - Mahatma Gandhi

Animals share with us the privilege of having a soul - Pythagoras

The squirrel that you kill in jest, dies in earnest - Henry David Thoreau

The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man - Charles Darwin

All cruelty springs from weakness. - Seneca

The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them, that's the essence of inhumanity. - George Bernard Shaw

The lives of animals are woven into our very being -closer than our own breathing-and our souls will suffer when they are gone. - Gary Kowalski

Statement of Earth First!

The very future of life on Earth is in danger. Human activities—from hunting to habitat destruction—have already driven countless species to extinction, and the process is only accelerating. The destruction of the Earth and its sustainable indigenous cultures has led to tragedy in every corner of the globe.

Meanwhile, scientists have confirmed what indigenous cultures have taught for thousands of years: all forms of life are vitally connected. Removing even a single strand from the web of life produces a widening ripple of catastrophe. On a more spiritual level, Earth First!ers under stand that we can never be the healthy humans that we were meant to be in a world without wilderness, clean air and the howling of wolves under the moon.

It is not enough to ask politicians and corporations to destroy less wilderness. We need to preserve it all, to recreate lost habitats and reintroduce extirpated predators. We need to stop and reverse the poisoning of our air, water and soil, as well as the modification of life's genetic code. It is not enough to oppose the construction of new dams and developments. It is time to free our shackled rivers and restore the land.

Earth First! formed in 1979, in response to an increasingly corporate, compromising and ineffective environmental community. It is not an organization, but a movement. There are no "members" of EF!, only Earth First!ers. We believe in using all of the tools in the toolbox, from grassroots and legal organizing to civil disobedience and monkeywrenching. When the law won't fix the problem, we put our bodies on the line to stop the destruction. Earth First!'s direct-action approach draws attention to the crises facing the natural world, and it saves lives.

Cutting down a corporate billboard

Guided by a philosophy of deep ecology, Earth First! does not accept a human-centered worldview of "nature for people's sake." Instead, we believe that life exists for its own sake, that industrial civilization and its philosophy are anti-Earth, anti-woman and anti-liberty. Our structure is non-hierarchical, and we reject highly paid "professional staff" and formal leadership.

To put it simply, the Earth must come first.

Monkeywrencher in action


Town in U.S. bans corporations and toxins. Yes!

(why can't we do that here ????)

Enacted to confront concerns about the proposed uranium mine in adjacent Pittsylvania County, the ordinance establishes strict liability and burden-of-proof standards for culpable corporations and government entities that permit and facilitate corporate bodily trespass. ...

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund
675 Mower Road
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania 17202

February 11, 2008

Virginia Town First in U.S. to Ban Chemical and Radioactive Bodily Trespass; Also Strips Corporations of “Rights”

Joins Growing List of Communities Recognizing
Rights of Nature

On February 7, 2008, the Town Council of Halifax, Virginia, voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance banning corporate chemical and radioactive bodily trespass. Enacted to confront concerns about the proposed uranium mine in adjacent Pittsylvania County, the ordinance establishes strict liability and burden-of-proof standards for culpable corporations and government entities that permit and facilitate corporate bodily trespass.

The ordinance also strips corporations of constitutional protections within the town. The Town of Halifax thus becomes the 10th municipality in the nation to refuse to recognize corporate constitutional “rights,” and to prohibit corporate rights from being used to override the rights of human and natural communities.

The ordinance adopted by the Halifax Town Council also recognizes the rights of natural communities and ecosystems to exist and flourish within the town and provides for the enforcement and defense of those rights, and prohibits corporations from interfering with the civil rights of residents, including residents’ right to self-government. The ordinance was drafted for the Halifax Town Council by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit law firm.

Zug Island, downriver of Detroit, Michigan - it has been likened to Mordor, in Lord of the Rings

Ben Price, Projects Director for the Legal Defense Fund commented that "The people of the Town of Halifax have determined that they do not consent to be irradiated, nor to be trespassed upon, by toxic substances that would be released by Virginia Uranium, Inc., or any other state-chartered corporation. The people have asserted their right and their duty to protect their families, environment, and future generations. In enacting this law, the community has gone on record as rejecting the legal theory behind Dillon's Rule, which erroneously asserts that there is no inherent right to local self-government.

The American Revolution was about nothing less than the fundamental right of the people to be the decision-makers on issues directly affecting the communities in which they live. They understood that a central government, at some distance removed from those affected, acts beyond its authority in empowering a few powerful men –privileged with chartered immunities and rights superior to the people in the community – to deny citizens’ rights, impose harm, and refuse local self-determination. The people of the Town of Halifax have acted in the best tradition of liberty and freedom, and confronted injustice in the form of a state-permitted corporate assault against the consent of the sovereign people."

Shireen Parsons, the Legal Defense Fund’s Virginia Organizer, commended the action of the Halifax Town Council, stating that, “The council members demonstrated courage and solidarity in their commitment to justice and their duty to govern in the interest of protecting and preserving the health, safety and wellbeing of the people from whom they derive their power. This is the beginning of something wonderful in Virginia.”

Toxic Trespass: a film about the hundreds of deadly chemicals put in our bodies by air pollution from vehicles and industry.

Halifax Town Council member Jack Dunavant said of the decision, “This is an historic vote. We, the people, intend to protect our health and environment from corporate assault. It’s time to invoke the Constitution and acknowledge the power of the people to protect our own destiny and end this era of corporate greed and pollution.”

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, located in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, has worked with communities resisting corporate assaults upon democratic self-governance since 1995. Among other programs, it has brought its unique Daniel Pennock Democracy Schools to communities in 26 states in which people seek to end destructive and rights-denying corporate acts routinely permitted by state and federal agencies. In Pennsylvania alone, more than 100 municipalities have enacted ordinances authored by the Legal Defense Fund.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The responsibility of intillectuals

"Intillectuals are in a position to expose the lies of governments, to analyze actions according to their causes and motives and often hidden intentions. In the Western world at least, they have the power that comes from political liberty, from access to information and freedom of expression. For a privelage minority, Western democracy provides the leisure, the facilities, and the training to seek the truth lying hidden behind the veil of distortion and misrepresentation, ideology and class interest through which the events of current history are presented to us. The responsibilities of intillectuals then, are much deeper than [the responsibility of other peoples] given the unique privelages that intillectuals enoy . . .

"It is the responsibility of intillectuals to speak the truth and expose lies. This, at least, may seem enough of a truism to pass without comment. Not so, however. Martin Heidegger writing, in a pro-Hitler declaration of 1933, that "truth is the revelation of that which makes a people certain, clear and strong in action in its action of knowledge" . . ." (Chomsky, 60).

Chomsky then goes on to expose the lies of the American government during the Vietnam era.

Source: Noam Chomksy, "The Responsibility of Intillectuals" in The Chomsky Reader, ed. James Peck. New York: Pantheon Book, 1987.

My commentary:

According to Heidegger, truth is that which serves the interests of the powerful. We find this distortion of the truth also prevalent in this culture in myriad forms, as noted by Jensen (next post). Clearly, our class and species' interests are protected by such distortions. But if, as moral persons, we recoil from this definition of truth - if instead we say that the truth involves morality - then is it not necessary to defend the truth from those that would so willfully distort it for their own ends? In other words, is it not necessary to become an activist for truth and goodness and to defend life against those that destroy it? Is it not necessary to move from the quiet complicity of inactivity to some sort of action, by using our intillectual skills to "expose the lies of governments [and other powerful entities, such as corporations], to analzye actions according to their causes and often hidden intentions"?

Chomksky says that he give "intillectual ammunition" to those who fight for social justice in the Middle East and elsewhere. An environmentalist has the same responsibility. During the 1930s intillectuals had the choice to go along with Hitler or renounce what he stood for; the same choices face us now with regard to issues such as natural resource extraction, foreign policy, energy policy, environmental policy, and consumerism -- all of which forces murder human beings and animals and the natural world that we are a part of, and are therefore fundamentally unjust. From a religious perspective, we are destroying God's Creation and making ourselves into gods - the worst sort of idolatry. Helping to dismantle this violence and insane civilization is the moral responsibility of every person who can think and act with reason.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Jensen's Endgame premises

Premise One: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.

Premise Two: Traditional communities do not often voluntarily give up or sell the resources on which their communities are based until their communities have been destroyed. They also do not willingly allow their landbases to be damaged so that other resources —gold, oil, and so on— can be extracted. It follows that those who want the resources will do what they can to destroy traditional communities.

Premise Three: Our way of living —industrial civilization— is based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy to those higher is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

Premise Five: The property of those higher on the hierarchy is more valuable than the lives of those below. It is acceptable for those above to increase the amount of property they control—in everyday language, to make money—by destroying or taking the lives of those below. This is called production. If those below damage the property of those above, those above may kill or otherwise destroy the lives of those below. This is called justice.

Premise Six: Civilization is not redeemable. This culture will not undergo any sort of voluntary transformation to a sane and sustainable way of living. If we do not put a halt to it, civilization will continue to immiserate the vast majority of humans and to degrade the planet until it (civilization, and probably the planet) collapses. The effects of this degradation will continue to harm humans and nonhumans for a very long time.

Premise Seven: The longer we wait for civilization to crash —or the longer we wait before we ourselves bring it down— the messier will be the crash, and the worse things will be for those humans and nonhumans who live during it, and for those who come after.

Premise Eight: The needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system.

Another way to put premise Eight: Any economic or social system that does not benefit the natural communities on which it is based is unsustainable, immoral, and stupid. Sustainability, morality, and intelligence (as well as justice) requires the dismantling of any such economic or social system, or at the very least disallowing it from damaging your landbase.

Premise Nine: Although there will clearly some day be far fewer humans than there are at present, there are many ways this reduction in population could occur (or be achieved, depending on the passivity or activity with which we choose to approach this transformation).

Some of these ways would be characterized by extreme violence and privation: nuclear armageddon, for example, would reduce both population and consumption, yet do so horrifically; the same would be true for a continuation of overshoot, followed by crash. Other ways could be characterized by less violence.

Given the current levels of violence by this culture against both humans and the natural world, however, it’s not possible to speak of reductions in population and consumption that do not involve violence and privation, not because the reductions themselves would necessarily involve violence, but because violence and privation have become the default.

Yet some ways of reducing population and consumption, while still violent, would consist of decreasing the current levels of violence required, and caused by, the (often forced) movement of resources from the poor to the rich, and would of course be marked by a reduction in current violence against the natural world.

Personally and collectively we may be able to both reduce the amount and soften the character of violence that occurs during this ongoing and perhaps longterm shift. Or we may not. But this much is certain: if we do not approach it actively—if we do not talk about our predicament and what we are going to do about it—the violence will almost undoubtedly be far more severe, the privation more extreme.

Premise Ten: The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life. [Note: Freud called this Thanatos]

Premise Eleven: From the beginning, this culture —civilization— has been a culture of occupation.

Premise Twelve: There are no rich people in the world, and there are no poor people. There are just people. The rich may have lots of pieces of green paper that many pretend are worth something—or their presumed riches may be even more abstract: numbers on hard drives at banks—and the poor may not. These “rich” claim they own land, and the “poor” are often denied the right to make that same claim.

A primary purpose of the police is to enforce the delusions of those with lots of pieces of green paper. Those without the green papers generally buy into these delusions almost as quickly and completely as those with. These delusions carry with them extreme consequences in the real world.

Premise Thirteen: Those in power rule by force, and the sooner we break ourselves of illusions to the contrary, the sooner we can at least begin to make reasonable decisions about whether, when, and how we are going to resist.

Premise Fourteen: From birth on—and probably from conception, but I’m not sure how I’d make the case—we are individually and collectively enculturated to hate life, hate the natural world, hate the wild, hate wild animals, hate women, hate children, hate our bodies, hate and fear our emotions, hate ourselves. If we did not hate the world, we could not allow it to be destroyed before our eyes. If we did not hate ourselves, we could not allow our homes—and our bodies—to be poisoned.

Premise Fifteen: Love does not imply pacifism.

Premise Sixteen: The material world is primary. This does not mean that the spirit does not exist, nor that the material world is all there is. It means that spirit mixes with flesh. It means also that real world actions have real world consequences. It means we cannot rely on Jesus, Santa Claus, the Great Mother, or even the Easter Bunny to get us out of this mess. It means this mess really is a mess, and not just the movement of God’s eyebrows. It means we have to face this mess ourselves. It means that for the time we are here on Earth —whether or not we end up somewhere else after we die, and whether we are condemned or privileged to live here—the Earth is the point. It is primary. It is our home. It is everything. It is silly to think or act or be as though this world is not real and primary. It is silly and pathetic to not live our lives as though our lives are real.

Premise Seventeen: It is a mistake (or more likely, denial) to base our decisions on whether actions arising from these will or won’t frighten fence-sitters, or the mass of Americans.

Premise Eighteen: Our current sense of self is no more sustainable than our current use of energy or technology.

Premise Nineteen: The culture’s problem lies above all in the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.

Premise Twenty: Within this culture, economics —not community well-being, not morals, not ethics, not justice, not life itself— drives social decisions.

Modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the monetary fortunes of the decision-makers and those they serve.

Re-modification of Premise Twenty: Social decisions are determined primarily (and often exclusively) on the basis of whether these decisions will increase the power of the decision-makers and those they serve.

Social decisions are founded primarily (and often exclusively) on the almost entirely unexamined belief that the decision-makers and those they serve are entitled to magnify their power and/or financial fortunes at the expense of those below.

If you dig to the heart of it —if there were any heart left— you would find that social decisions are determined primarily on the basis of how well these decisions serve the ends of controlling or destroying wild nature.

Radical solutons from Derrick Jensen

The problem ...

If we hold with the premise that civilization is built upon a massive degree of violence against the natural world and its weaker members (animals, the poor, etc), and the further premise that civilization is not likely to reform and will likely use up and destroy a good portion of the Earth before collapsing, where does this lead us (other than to despair)?

Derrick Jensen was recently in town and answer these kinds of questions. He is advocated a return to agrarian economies (called bioregionalism) and (controversially) destruction of insfrastructure which contribute to the destruction of life on Earth but which upon which our physical survival is not dependent (e.g. cell phone towers, dams - many more could be named).

Pretending that we are not facing the possibility of civilizational collapse due to climate change, natural resource depletion, war over scarce resources and peak oil seems to me to be wishful thinking, token reforms (such as the discussion over imposing carbon taxes) notwithstanding. How can one reform a civilization predicated on violence? I speak with a lot of people who believe it will all somehow resolve itself - that "they" (who is "they") will solve things. I would prefer not to rely on the benevolent "they" to the same degree. It is easier to pretend that some technological fix is in the works than to admit the possibility that it is not. Faith in technology to deliver us from evil flies in the face of historical evidence (nuclear weapons, coal factories, for example).

Furthermore, a great many so-called environmentalists believe that minor reforms are sufficient; I am often told that it "takes time" to effect reforms. In fact it doesn't, if we recall that within nine months the U.S. industrial economy had gone from a peace to a war economy after the bombing of Pearl Harbour (a point made by George Monbiot in _Heat_. See The climate scientists tell us that we do not have time to spare: the next five years are critical in determining the fate of innumerable species and billions of lives, yet climate talks are stalled and governments and corporations (and institutions such as U of T) either resort to denial or "greenwash" (disingenuous claims to be sustainable).

For the serious environmentalist the war against the natural world has reached such epic proportions that any reform which is implemented could be likened to a temporary reprieve from genocide: the violence is so immense that even the best reforms cannot be thought of as real solutions, but only a lessening of the violence. The world "sustainability" is so widely misused it has become laughable. When coal and nuclear energy can claim to be "clean" without widespread denigration from the public, Orwell's vision of a docile population ruled by "thought police" does not seem far off.

The efforts of those who valiantly attempt to reform society are routinely met with indifference and resistance. Whether nor not wind turbines are built or garbage bags are banned, factory farming, deforestation, mass extinction, and anthropogenic climate change continues unabated. Already we know that the coral reefs around the world are effectively dead, for they cannot withstand even a slight rise in temperatures. We also know that tens of thousands continue to perish in Africa due to drought caused by industrialization. In Canada, the tar sands and Arctic exploration and development are effectively unchallenged except by small numbers of protestors who the mass media ignore.

Given this state of affairs, how then are we to respond? It is not satisfactory to me to be one of the indifferent and culpable members of this society, and nor is it satisfactory to lapse into debilitating despair over this. One must do something, but what?

The solution ...

Jensen's lecture is available on video (below). It provides insight into one possible response that none of us, for various reasons, have chosen to engage in: going to agrarian lifestyles (in cities, through the use of green rooves); there is a growing movement in this direction as food prices increase and people find themselves psychologically and physically sick from pesticides, toxic air and water and the anxiety caused by car culture.

Jensen also advocates destroying the infrastructure that makes this unsustainable civilization possible (in order to save those parts of the natural world that are left), or beginning to prepare for the collapse by beginning to grow food and cultivate skills necessary to weather the collapse sustainably for the greatest number of people and animals. I am not given to false optimism regarding the fate of this civilization and so find this outlook refreshing and necessary, but the more radical tactics raise questions for me. Is he right to advocate blowing up dams and cell phone towers (or other forms of infrastructure which perpetuate violence against the natural world)?

Returning to agrarian communities is not a far reach (it is a logical necessity), but the idea of blowing up dams gives one pause for thought, and invokes debate over violent tactics. I have not found one person who agrees that this is the right thing to do, except one anarchist friend who is frequently in jail for such acts already. Certainly none of my Christian friends feel it is right. But is it right to allow this society to continue along the path to collective suicide?

Jensen provides an honest and plausible argument against non-violence. Clearly he invokes violence in defense of the sacred. Ought it to be considered "just war" to do so? Is violence against property rightly considered violence? What of the morality of endangering those who are dependant on unsustainable civilization? A common argument is that innocent people would be injured, but what of the fact they that are already being hurt?

Jensen refers to what is often called "institutional violence" such as the carcinogens in our systems (and in the systems of loved ones) as form of violence that we ought to resist. Is it immoral not to resist in some way (violently or non-violently)? Is Gandhian non-violent resistance a preferable option? If so, what more ought we to do to promote non-violent resistance? If someone is against violent tactics, does not help effect reforms, and is also against or does not contribute to non-violent forms of resistance, what are they really standing for, if anything?

These are the questions I have after watching Jensen speak. I am fortunate to be in a position, as a privelage human being and student, to explore them at length. These ideas are not even questioned by the untermenschen of this world: they would destroy what oppresses them in an instant if they could.

Jensen -- if you watch through the second part of the video -- has a response to these questions, but while I agree with his basic premises (that the status quo is unacceptable and things must change) I think we have to test his conclusions as philosophers. Complicating the task of doing so is the reality of our own complicity in human culture and the possibility of anthropocentric bias, not to mention a naturally healthy fear of the legal repercussions of challenging an inherently violent system!

This line of questioning also invokes the classic debates between proponents of social ecology and deep ecology. Yet even if we reject a deep ecology perspective, the field of eco-psychology points to the psychic damage caused by dependence on industrial civilization, and climate change predictions point to the necessity of substantially changing the way we live.

"The Mission" (with Robert DeNiro) raises the queston of violence vs. non-violence.

An honest critique of technological solutions available, points in the direction of the necessity of behavioral reform. Given that this reform is not forthcoming on the scale that is necessary to avoid catastrophe, this leads us back to the question of whether Jensen's solutions are worthy of serious consideration. This kind of discussion is normally avoided for obvious reasons, but given the state of the world, I believe it is worth raising.

Already, I know of a few people moving out of the city to the country to grow organic vegetables. This will be increasingly the path of thousands and then later millions as high gas and electricity and food prices, and the "growing gap," create urban ghettoes.

In asking these questions I am suggesting that this issue is worthy of serious thought for all conscientious people, and that the answer (if one can be determined) is critical for determining how we ought to respond to the onslaught of environmental devastation that show no sign of abatement.

See this essay as well. Though not excellent, it nonetheless addresses Jensen's thought from a Christian perspective and raises some good points.