Environmental groups are trying to build a critical mass around issues like global warming to inspire public action and encourage legislators to get their heads out of the sand. The Sierra Club is working to block new coal burning power plants, a new coalition is organizing actions against a tar sands pipeline, and folks in West Virginia are sitting in trees in an attempt to halt destructive strip mining. It’s great work, but what if it’s not enough? What if it’s too little, too late? What if we never get enough mass for it to ever reach that critical point?
A new book called Deep Green Resistance, by Aric McBay, Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen, says that we likely won’t have enough people interested in saving the planet before we run out of time. So, they’re calling for a change in strategy. You may know Jensen from his many books, including Endgame. McBay is the author of Peak Oil Survival: Preparing for Life After Gridcrash, and Keith is the author of The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice, and Sustainability. The three longtime activists have teamed up to offer a more radical approach to our environmental crisis.
They use words like “militant” and “resistance” a lot. And they critique the Left a lot. And they review the semantics of “violence.” “I would urge the following distinctions,” writes Keith, “the violence of hierarchy vs. the violence of self-defense, violence against actual people vs. violence against property, and the violence as self-actualization vs. the violence of political resistance.”
And if you’re firmly in the nonviolence-is-the-answer camp, don’t get scared off (yet), because there is a ton of crucial information in this book. And just because they mention violence doesn’t mean it’s the best policy. You may not want to sign up to lead their underground army, but you should hear them out. Because the planet is being destroyed. Each day 200 species go extinct, Jensen writes in the preface. And if you can’t wrap your head around that number, how about “90 percent of the large fish in the ocean are gone, there is ten times as much plastic as phytoplankton in the oceans, 97 percent of native forests are destroyed, 98 percent of native grasslands are destroyed …” and Jensen continues with the bad news from there.
In a couple of decades, we may be looking at the end of life as we know it on this planet. ”What is your personal carrying capacity for grief, rage, despair?” asks Keith in the first chapter. It’s not just global warming but a confluence of catastrophes that cannot be blamed on Republicans or climate deniers or rich people with their personal jets, but on all of us, together. The culprit is industrial civilization, say the writers. “This culture destroys landbases. That’s what it does,” writes Jensen. “And it won’t stop because we ask it nicely.”
And so how do we save the world (and along with it ourselves)? Well, naturally we take down industrial civilization, they say. Yeah, no small feat. Especially when so many of us actually live quite comfortably in this civilization — roofs over our heads, running water, flushing toilets, access to medical care, decent food to eat, cars to drive, electronics to play with, vacations to take. And, of course, the most powerful people live in a penthouse, far above relative standards of comfort and have zero desire to pack up and move out.
So this taking down of civilization will not be easy, of course. But according to Jensen, Keith and McBay, it is necessary because no other response out there even comes close to matching the scale of the problem we face. And we can no longer afford to simply make personal changes to bike more and eat local. And we can no longer afford to be grieved by polluted rivers or angered by short-sighted politicians without doing everything we can to stop it. So what do we do? Their 500-plus page book attempts to map out a strategy for their vision and also provide a critique of historical resistance movements — what works, what doesn’t work.
I suppose I know what I’m reading next. This should be interesting.