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Radical Environmentalism

[ 156 ] August 7, 2011 |

At Alternet, Tara Lohan has a really interesting long interview with radical environmentalists Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, and Aric McBay, who have published a new book where they call for the end to industrial civilization by any means necessary in order to save the planet.

I’m mixed on this kind of thing. On one hand, we really need people saying these things. As within the labor movement and in all social movements for that matter, we need environmentalists speaking truth to power. And with environmentalism, speaking truth to power is not recycling, is not solar panels, and is not wind turbines. It’s that modern civilization is literally destroying the planet and needs to end.

The message is harsh. Everything we have accomplished as an industrial civilization has to end. No more TV. No more computers. No more, well, anything. That is the only solution to saving the planet.

I want to condemn this out of hand. I can’t do that though. They are, by and large, right.

The central problem with radical environmentalism though is that this message is inherently anti-human. Jensen, Keith, and McBay don’t get into the fact (at least in the interview) of how many people can live on the planet in this back-to-the-land idea they have. When you are getting to the point where you are criticizing anything more than the most rudimentary agriculture, you are telling people they can’t live on the planet. And I don’t see how this can be politically successful. With the labor movement, you are looking at a more equitable distribution of resources. With racial or women’s movements, it is to end inequality and discrimination. These can all take on more or less radical forms, but they are obtainable by the actions of humans.

With this kind of environmentalism, the best human action is to die off.

And even though the authors are basically right, what am I supposed to do with that?


Comments (156)

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  1. Joe says:


    This sounds like the end of the movie Escape from LA.

  2. shah8 says:

    Man…those people are bugfuck.

    Not to deny that we’re basically annihilating ourselves, but I’m deeply sick and tired of the subtle, but virulent authoritarian strain in apolitical leftist thought. Everyone wanting to be conductor, or at least drum major, and nobody having sufficient imagination for conversation, bargaining, and all the other work of engaging in politics.

  3. Urban Garlic says:

    The problem I often have with extreme movements, of any stripe, is that they end up making a mockery of their premise.

    What exactly does “save the planet” mean to these people? Even a fully human-free ecology isn’t necessarily sustainable — the Sahara will continue to march southward, the Dead Sea will get saltier, and ten to one some south pacific volcano will wipe out an isolated ecosystem, rendering hundreds of unique species extinct.

    I have no problem with minimizing human impact, with preserving natural environments in which we’ve enmeshed ourselves. That’s not just recycling either, it’s regulatory burdens and economic inefficiency for the sake of longer-term sustainability, and that’s already a pretty hard sell.

    I guess I’m part of why the anti-human agenda is politically impossible, because I either don’t understand or don’t believe the “truth” that is being conveyed to the powerful here.

    • Scott de B. says:

      I agree. I mean, I’m a liberal secular humanist, and to me “humanist” has always meant putting humans first. Environmentalism is about making the planet more livable for humans in the long term. Without humans, there is literally no one to care.

      Moreover, industrial civilization has meant an incredible increase in the standard of living of humanity, even for those at the bottom. We could go back to a bronze-age level of subsistence (although even the Mycenaeans over-exploited their land and suffered for it), but that kind of existence sucked.

      • These people must know that, by favouring the mandatory transformation of the human economy to the pre-agricultural, they would be responsible for the deaths of nearly the entire Earth’s population, right?

        • Malaclypse says:

          That’s implied by footnote 591, I’m guessing.

        • WIll says:

          I’ve seen Jensen speak in person. It’s pretty apparent that he just assumes that he and his fellow enlightened people will live and all the stupid, red state, unworthy people will die off. Two for one.

          • Ch4rlie says:

            There’s such a silly millenarian strain in all this. End times are near! The vast mass of humanity is inherently sinful and polluted! We must pick the right side now! Also, this radical environmentalism is infused with nasty strains of misanthropy and noble-savage horseshit–look at how much they use the words “native,” “indigenous,” and “traditional.” I’d really like to know how they think we can recreate “traditional” societies and yet avoid many of their shortcomings. I don’t say this to pick on all “native” cultures–I’m just saying they’re seldom the egalitarian shangri-la societies that these “radicals” think they are.

            I’m highly critical of corporations and most industry, but we should never forget the laudable and yes, anthropocentric, goal of increasing the quality of people’s lives. And I’m personally believe that corporations are not entirely bad. They’re massive human organizations like states and organized religions. On the whole, they are generally coercive and unsavory things that need constant monitoring, criticism, and reform not to become dangerous and destructive. But they are nonetheless indelible institutions of our current age. And when they work well, and sometimes even in spite of their deep disfunction and problematic nature, they can produce some truly beneficial outcomes for humanity as a whole. Rather than trying to quixotically eliminate them, we should be prodding them by all sorts of means to do more good than harm, and many are capable of that.

  4. Walt says:

    Yes, finally! An argument not about Obama.

    I think the premise of the radical environmentalists is completely crazy. I’m now convinced that you need a certain number of crazy people taking extreme positions, since otherwise the “sane” comes to mean “whatever doesn’t inconvenience the powers-that-be more than slightly”, but I am opposed to the fundamental premise of this world-view.

    Modern industrial society is basically the purpose of human existence. If we never managed the industrial revolution, than everything that came before was basically a waste. And if our future is either “democratic, small communities that can obtain their food locally and use energy that the land around them can provide” or extinction, I vote for extinction.

    • Holden Pattern says:

      Walt, meet Brad. Brad, meet Walt.

      And I’ve just annihilated the world in a giant matter/anti-matter explosion.

    • Leeds man says:

      I think the premise of the radical environmentalists is completely crazy.

      If we never managed the industrial revolution, than everything that came before was basically a waste.

      Reasonable people can disagree on the definition of “crazy”.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      I largely agree with this, though I dissent pretty strongly from the teleology in that last paragraph:

      Modern industrial society is basically the purpose of human existence. If we never managed the industrial revolution, than everything that came before was basically a waste.

      I think the civilizations of the ancient world, the middle ages, the early modern period, etc. justify themselves just fine. I don’t want to go back to living that way, nor do I think we must as a species to survive (as the authors of the article appear to). I’m not even sure we could do so if we wanted to or had to.

      But we also cannot simply go on living the way we are now.

      Luckily, the story of human history is a story of constant change. Our current state of affairs is not the end of the story, nor is it where everything before necessarily headed. And just as we’ve conquered many diseases, we can conquer the faults of modern industrial society. It will take a lot of heavy lifting, however.

      I appreciate the fact that the article acknowledges a real problem that we basically have failed to acknowledge as a culture. Its proposed solutions, however, sound ridiculous.

      • Leeds man says:

        I don’t want to go back to living that way, nor do I think we must as a species to survive

        Who is this “we”? Most humans live “that way” now, and they are always the first to suffer any major changes in climate, economy, etc. I think there’s a fair bit of First World magical thinking going on here.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

          Again, it depends on what you mean by “that way.”

          Most humans do not have access to many first world gadgets. But they are still affected–if only indirectly–by modern transportation, communications technology, and medicine. And they are certainly affected by modern politics, as very few of them live under feudalism (which is not, in any sense, to endorse the more modern forms of oppressive regimes in which they live).

          No, most people don’t live in the first world. But people in the third world are also not living in the past of the first world. They’re living in the third-world present, which is its own thing.

      • BigHank53 says:

        Y’all do realize that if we continue to increase our energy* usage at the rate we have since about 1650, we’ll boil ourselves in about three and half centuries? No global warming crap here; just the waste heat from industry, transportation, and our toys.

        *Nuclear, solar, coal, it makes no difference.

        • Malaclypse says:

          But, you’ve picked a baseline where waterwheels are advanced technology, and most work is done by humans or other animals, and assumed that energy usage will increase at the same rate for the next 350 years.

    • But the democratic idylls that the authors interviewed imagine didn’t exist in actual fact. Authoritarianism and violence are at least as common in non-agricultural societies as not.

  5. Craig says:

    In the future that the authors envision, what exactly are we saving the planet for? It’s not for human civilization, obviously, since humans have been mostly eliminated and those who are left live at something close to subsistance level. So we’re saving it for, what, the rest of the biosphere? And if that’s the case, then, you know, why?

    If humans fuck up this planet to the point that it’s no longer habitable by us or, say, the vast majority of the species currently living, then that would obviously be very, very bad. But something would survive, and then thrive, and its descendants would eventually re-colonize the planet. By “saving” the planet by going back to some vision of pre-industrial human civilization, all we’re saving is a moment in time in this planet’s existence. And why, exactly, is that moment so special?

    If we’re not saving the planet for actual, real-life human civilization, the type that lives and thrives and creates, then I really don’t see why we would bother.

    • Tomk says:

      I don’t see the inconsistency of subsistence living and thriving and creating. My understanding is persons living in subsistence cultures had much more free time than those of us in the rat race. We are in many ways victims of our excess stuff. That said, the idea of the saving the planet is meaningless, and we are a part of nature, and our creations belong just as ant’s mounds belong.

      • Eli Rabett says:

        They did not have vaccinations, toilets, clean water and more. The did not have more time. They died, sometimes by violence, sometimes by disease.

      • L2P says:

        Yeah, you hae the free time to make all the fart jokes you want It’s not like your hunting and gathering community will spend its free time on the local particle collider. The cultures tend to have a few well-developed arts (dancing, music, something like that), and lots of ability in story telling. But the minute that old guy who knows all those cool stories dies, that’s it. Now we don’t remember as a culture who Hamilton was.

        This theoretical leisure is great, but it’s not like your adding it to an industrial society’s underpinnings.

      • red says:

        Sadly, the amazing amount of free time in subsistence cultures is largely a myth. It stems from poor coding of what time spent around the fire consisted of. Basically, early anthropologists decided that fire+talking=leisure, but if you spend the time talking with your son-in-law’s family to try to iron out issues in your daughter’s marriage, is that really leisure? Any marriage counselor would probably say no.

        Recoding the time spent to talking to account for negotiations vs. idle chat makes subsistence life much less leisurely.

  6. News Nag says:

    Re Joe’s comment: I agree, but I think Logan’s Run solves it more humanely.

    Re people thinking only humans count: I agree that ending human civilization as we know it is absurd and impossible by intention and undesirable, but, please, other species are just as worthy as we are. Thinking that if we the peeps can’t have our ball we’ll just blow it up and what does it matter anyway, I say you’re like spoiled teenagers who think everything’s about them. Grow up into your full humanity, embracing all of life and all lives fully.

    And, again, Logan’s Run!

    • Malaclypse says:

      Carousel! Carousel! Carousel!

      There is some irony that I doubt anybody under the age of thirty gets the reference.

    • Scott de B. says:

      “other species are just as worthy as we are. ”

      So is wiping out smallpox morally equivalent to wiping out humanity?

      • mpowell says:

        Apparently. I think this argument is very naive. An assumption of the superiority of our own species is ingrained into the very fabric of how we live our lives. I think it would be impossible for any species to survive if they did not function as such. It’s just that we’re the only ones who can think about it consciously. Our incredibly high productivity grants us the space to treat chosen species such as pets or other animals more humanely if we wish, but that would likely be less possible in a non-industrial world.

        • Marek says:

          I think you have it backwards. A species that ignores the importance of other species (which is what I assume you mean by superiority) ensures its own demise, when it becomes as numerous and resource-consuming as humanity is now. We shouldn’t care about the environment or other creatures as a hobby, but because we are part of the environment and rely on other species for our own survival.

          Nice strawman with smallpox upthread.

          • Scott de B. says:

            So you admit some species are clearly not worth the same as humans. Which ones, then, are?

          • John says:

            The point is surely not that we should short-sightedly destroy the environment for our own short-term enjoyment. It’s that environmental conservation should ultimately be done in order to benefit human beings in the long run.

            • mpowell says:

              Exactly. It’s pretty dishonest to argue that if I think humans are the most important species and deserve the highest level of consideration, that I also support destroying other species in a way that will make our species’ existence less enjoyable. It’s a classic bait-and-switch that has no part in a reasonable discussion.

      • Mike Schilling says:

        “other species are just as worthy as we are. ”

        Then let them worry about saving the Earth for a while.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Ugh, I hate this argument. “Literally” destroying the planet? Um, no. Life on Earth, maybe. The planet is just a giant chunk of rock. Nothing humans do is going to actually destroy it. It will be just fine long after everything on it is dead.

    And while that is certainly a valid question – whether or not modern civilization is sustainable or whether we will destroy the environment and all our various ecosystems to the point where the planet can no longer sustain life – we are not, in fact, going to the destroy the planet. (And honestly, once we’re all dead, who cares if the Earth still exists or not? It’ll kind of be moot at that point.)

  8. Patrick says:

    I don’t think they are right at all.

    We are within a couple decades of peak population, at which point the necessity of habitat destruction for agriculture and living space.

    It is also feasible to believe that some combination of renewable/nuclear/geothermal/fusion can supply our power needs within 50 years.

    Then , a space elevator with which to mine the heavens (asteroids) .

    The key is surviving the 50 years or so this will take. After that I don’t see a strong reason to think we will represent a significant blight on the planet.

  9. pts says:

    The argument is both bogus and dangerous.

    Bogus: A carbon-emissions free economy is perfectly compatible with computers and TV. We will have to make deep sacrifices in terms of lifestyle, but we don’t have to return to the Middle Ages.

    Dangerous: If people accept this argument, then they might (not completely unreasonably) say ‘screw it,’ why engage in any reform at all if the only reform that will do anything will make everyone miserable?

    • shah8 says:

      You are completely neglecting the whole, “Those guys are the eaters! Keeeeeeeelll Them!!” aspect to the dangerous column.

    • UserGoogol says:

      Those guys seem to be preferring the Stone Age to the Middle Ages. The feudal style of farming is a reasonably intensive sort of agriculture, and they’re quite explicit that they want no agriculture at all, but rather hunter-gathering or pastoralism or something. The stone age has certain advantages over the middle ages, (less labor intensive, no lords telling you what to do) but it supports even smaller populations, and it really does force society to be very very local.

    • Malaclypse says:

      Yep. This stuff allows Rush, Beck, et al to get up in the teevee and say that this is the slippery slope that CFL bulbs leads to.

      • DivGuy says:

        Eh. I mean, Jensen et al are wrong, and badly wrong, and dangerously wrong, but it’s hardly like Limbaugh and the rest of the propagandist right ever let a little thing like lack of evidence prevent them from propagandizing.

        These are the people who wrote that Hillary Clinton is a liberal fascist.

        • Walt says:

          Yeah, I almost think that the lack of prominence of actual extreme leftists is what allows them to get away with it. Even if you’re hate Obama because you are a conservative, if you’ve ever met an actual socialist you would know how stupid it is to call Obama one.

  10. M. Bouffant says:

    Screwed if we do, screwed if we don’t.

  11. mpowell says:

    I understand what you are saying with respect to the value of having radical voices speaking important truths and shifting the dialogue even if you don’t completely agree with their platform.

    But this is different. This kind of advocacy is not going to help anyone advance a secular, liberal humanist agenda. Their agenda is fundamentally anti-humanist, so their goals are diametrically opposed to our own, and their rhetoric is alienating to all those sane people out there who would like to improve their quality of living not make it worse.

    I think they’re also 100% wrong. As others have noted, we are not going to literally destroy the earth. We may destroy the currently existing ecosystem, but the only thing particularly special about our current ecosystem (to me) is that it contains a population of humans living meaningful lives at something above a substenance level existence. If that arrangement is impossible to sustain indefinitely, that’s unfortunate but certainly not a reason to hasten it’s end. And that’s relevant only if you assume that they are correct that the damage we our doing to our ecosystem will ultimately degrade the quality of life we enjoy. So far our experience does not support this claim and I believe that with setbacks, we will be able to continue to sustain high quality lives on this planet. In my opinion, the primary risks to that end are political not fundamental. And so for a variety of reasons, I find no reason not to condemn these kinds of groups.

    • Charlie Sweatpants says:

      “If that arrangement is impossible to sustain indefinitely, that’s unfortunate but certainly not a reason to hasten it’s end.”

      This. I slogged through the entire interview, and for all their talk about facing hard truths, all three of them strike me as hopelessly naive. Consider:

      A) They’re right, and industrialized society is inherently unsustainable in which case it will eventually collapse.


      B) They’re wrong, and with the right reforms and technological improvements there is a sustainable way to continue industrialized society.

      In the case of A, then the collapse is inevitable and none of their advocacy matters. In the case of B, collapse can be staved off, and by advocating collapse all they’ve done is remove themselves from participating in whatever reforms eventually make our presence on this planet sustainable.

      I’d add that sentences like this:

      “I want to live in a world that has more wild salmon every year than the year before.”

      And this:

      “I’m not speaking to mainstream America. I don’t know how to talk to those people, and there is no point in me trying.”

      Are self righteous to the point of being masturbatory. Ditto assertions like “Sustainable agriculture is an oxymoron”, which is ridiculous on its face. There are plenty of places, China and Britain spring to mind, that have been agriculturally productive for more than a thousand years.

      The repeated invocation of “indigenous” peoples and societies as perfectly wonderful is a dead giveaway that they’re talking about the world as they imagine it, not as it really is. Environmental millenarianism isn’t any more useful than the religious kind, and the piety on display is just as pointless:

      • mpowell says:

        Yes. One point I would make about wild salmon, however, is that it is a great example of something that could survive in a properly managed industrial society. Since Iceland has come up with a decent way of managing the normal tragedy of the commons with respect to fisheries, they have very profitable sustainable fishing practices. The depletion of the world’s fish is primarily a political problem, not a practical one.

        • Holden Pattern says:

          Alaska has actually done a great job in managing their salmon fishery. Fisheries can be managed, but it requires a lot of command and control regulation and pretty bloodthirsty financial penalties for vioation, which according to movement conservatives is just like communism under the Soviets when they created their sustainable fisheries and environmental paradises.

          Or not.

      • Erik Loomis says:

        I originally wrote this post slamming on the invocation of indigenous societies as at one with nature, but then thought it took away from the overall point. But yes, this is both historically inaccurate and dehumanizing towards native peoples.

      • firefall says:

        not self-righteous, sanctimonious. Otherwise, dead on target

  12. mb says:

    Seems pointless to focus on what cannot, and will not, be even if it would be best (and I am not sure the authors preference is what’s best.) We’re not going to put the genii of the industrial/digital revolution back in the bottle — just ain’t gonna happen. Plus the 3rd World is moving on up and that means more not less development. I think those are baseline realities that any environmentalist has to accept as given. Otherwise, it’s like trying to address the stalemate in the Senate with Plato’s Republic.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks says:

      I disagree. If anything we need more, not less, utopian thought. It’s very useful to define what would be the best, even if that best result appears to be politically impossible. And the left has been decidedly lacking in a utopian vision since at least the end of the Cold War.

      Having said that, I think the problem with the article’s view is that it’s not a very plausible candidate for the best society.

      (The problem with trying to address the stalemate in the Senate with Plato’s Republic is not the utopianism of that gesture, but the unattractive nature of Plato’s scheme.)

  13. NBarnes says:

    I think there’s a lot to be done that combines both improving human living conditions and building a more sustainable, less environmentally destructive human civilization. After all, we all like breathing clean air and drinking clean water.

    Given that there’s still so much low-hanging fruit to be had in terms of improving our ecological footprint, I think it’s pretty premature to be making actual policy suggestions based on assuming that we might or should simply choose to return to being East African Plains Apes.

    If this were a philosophical work, designed to bring into question assumptions about the inherent value of human civilization, that’d be one thing. But I’m not seeing here that there’s a lot of time given to that question. Does the book spend any time making the case that leaving the Earth to more natural patterns, rather than anthropogenic ones, is more valuable (to whom?) than a human civilization that is stumbling towards sustainability?

  14. Christopher says:

    I don’t know that it’s a problem, but certainly a feature of most radical ideologies is that because the people expounding them don’t want something, they don’t understand why anybody would want it.

    A conversation I’ve sometimes had with Objectivist types revolves around the fact that my family has been fairly poor, and my mother has had some very serious mental illness problems, and government housing assistance is what kept us living under the same roof.

    It’s hard to support an Objectivist utopia that gets rid of all that support for my family and replaces it with, if I’m lucky, a pat on the back and some sympathy.

    Environmentalist utopias have pretty much the same problem, from my perspective.

    Of course the whole point of a radical movement is to remove so much power from the people intent on preserving the current power structure that they can’t hold on to what they have even if they want to, so perhaps my objections are moot.

  15. Stag Party Palin says:

    Although I think they are serious, I get the feeling this is another “Modest Proposal” a la Jonathan Swift. Or in the words of John McEnroe, “You can’t be serious!”

    Unless you believe in the Great Sky Fairy, the questions are what kind of world you want to live in and what would you be willing to do to make it so. This stupid book proposes a world nobody would want to live in – therefore it doesn’t matter what their “solution” is.

    Plus, their idea of society is beyond utopian – it denies basic human nature. We are not going to devolve into Small Happy (read ‘mythical’) Indigenous living groups unless we are forced to at the point of a gun. And once we’re there, we’ll start over creating authoritarian industrial society again.

    If I were one of these guys I’d be looking for a researcher who could design a human fertility-reducing virus with a hit rate of, say, 95%, release it, alert the media and stand back.

  16. Bruce Baugh says:

    Setting aside questions of desirability, I find it much easier to believe in a future where humanity goes extinct sometime in the next very few generations than one in which we collectively rally and go on to a glorious future of sustainable industrial foundations, plentiful energy whose corollary problems get solved, and there are better and better lives for more and more people. We can – and should! – talk reasonably about the possibilities, but the enemies of humanity’s general welfare learn with each generation how to resist attacks of the sort that brought down their predecessors. I wish felt there were more grounds for actual hope for the future, but the weight of evidence seems to me on the side of the doomsayers – not because there are no solutions to be had, but because of what happens when it’s time to implement them widely enough to change any impending disaster.

  17. scythia says:

    “And even though the authors are basically right, what am I supposed to do with that?”

  18. ebogjonson says:

    Isn’t this how Battlestar Galactica ended? And that was basically the dumbest ending ever.

  19. […] Alternet has an interview with Aric McBay, Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen, authors of Deep Green Resistance. Via LGM. […]

  20. Eli Rabett says:

    On one hand, we really need people saying these things.

    You crazy or just stupid on weekends?

  21. Scott says:

    It’s not even really an environmental argument. I don’t think they’re motivated by environmentalism, other than at a superficial level. Their primary motivation seems to be simple misanthropy — they hate people, and they want them all dead for not grasping and celebrating their inherent superiority.

    • wiley says:

      My view, exactly. Misanthropy by any name stinks just the same.

      • DocAmazing says:

        Oh, hell, these guys aren’t any more ludicrous or offensive than Christian dominionists, and we all treat the Jesus freaks with respect.

        Having people say offensive things that push the envelope is classic Overton Window work–more necessary now than ever. If you’re going to get on the cases of the deep ecologists for their propensity to put off the gas-burners and cul-de-sac dwellers, then look at the record that the religious loons had pissing off everyone but their co-religionists (fairly few in number) and what they’ve been up to since.

        • Scott de B. says:

          we all treat the Jesus freaks with respect.

          We do?

          Having people say offensive things that push the envelope is classic Overton Window work

          The Overton Window is and always was bullshit.

          • DocAmazing says:

            We treat the Jesus freaks with absurd and unwarranted respect; rather than laughing in their faces, we behave as though their free excercise of religion was a good thing and nod along as religiosity is credited with making people more virtuous (see National Day of Prayer). Where’s the mainstream heckling of Rick Perry’s God-apalooza in Texas? That shit’s hilarious on its face, and commentators tiptoe around it.

            As to the Overton Window: you have, perhaps, another model for the establishment of the parameters of acceptable political speech?

  22. I suppose we all accept on some level that humans will wear out our environment and there will be a mass extinction, and there may or may not be a lifeform that evolves from us. It’s part and parcel of being a species—if you’re too successful, you end up out-reproducing what the environment can sustain. The question is how long can we put it off.

    • Scott de B. says:

      I certainly don’t accept it on any level, unless you’re talking millions of years down the road. Humans are incredibly resilient creatures, and it would be extremely difficult to do enough damage to the environment to render it completely uninhabitable. That’s not to say environmentalism isn’t important, of course.

      • Stag Party Palin says:

        Humans are incredibly resilient creatures, and it would be extremely difficult to do enough damage to the environment to render it completely uninhabitable. That’s not to say environmentalism isn’t important, of course.

        I’ll bet you didn’t know that this won the Bulwer-Lytton Prize in 1971.

    • ajay says:

      I suppose we all accept on some level that humans will wear out our environment and there will be a mass extinction, and there may or may not be a lifeform that evolves from us.

      Yeah, this is basically wrong (and also? you should look up the definition of “mass extinction”).

  23. wjts says:

    Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato all talked about how the world is being destroyed by agriculture…

    Aristotle, Politics 1343a:

    “Agriculture is the most honest of all such occupations; seeing that the wealth it brings is not derived from other men. Herein it is distinguished from trade and the wage-earning employments, which acquire wealth from others by their consent; and from war, which wrings it from them perforce. It is also a natural occupation; since by Nature’s appointment all creatures receive sustenance from their mother…”

    Plato, Republic, 333a:

    “Yes, it is useful.”
    “But so is agriculture, isn’t it?”
    “Namely, for the getting of a harvest?”

  24. Bitter Scribe says:

    Toward the end of its glory years, the National Lampoon ran a parody of the Whole Earth Catalog that included a bellicose manifesto on why everyone had to commit suicide immediately:

    If you live anywhere in North America, even if you consume nothing, kill nothing, hurt nothing, you’re living on land ripped off from the Indians. You’re a pig.

    If your body gives off any breath, you’re emitting carbon dioxide, and if you think that’s not a boss poison, try putting a plastic bag over your head and see how long you live, pig.

    If your body gives off any heat, you’re contributing to thermodynamic entropy…


    These folks sound slightly more practical and grounded than that parody. But only slightly.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Why haven’t I seen this?

      • Joey Maloney says:

        Because, sadly and somewhat incredibly, NatLamp’s classic issues are not available online. There’s a CD omnibus edition but the reviews of it on Amazon are terrible – apparently they just paid a monkey to run it through a scanner with no attempt to clean up the images or do OCR to make it searchable or anything and the resolution is so poor that a lot of it is literally unreadable.

        Not to mention that a fair amount of what I remember of the best content would be illegal under today’s insane anti-child-porn laws. I don’t know where Shari Flenniken is and what she’s doing these days, but I sure would hate to see her dragged into court over work she did 30 years ago.

  25. Mike Nilsen says:

    These people are wrong, and arrogantly so. They’re applying their own arbitrary standards as to what is the “right” way to live.

    We are destroying our current environment, certainly, and anything we can do to minimize or repair the damage, we’re morally obligated to do.

    These radicals propose that we kill off 95% or more of the current human population (an evil thing to wish for any way you look at it) to suit their sense of propriety. And I’m sure they envision themselves as being among the benevolent, wise leadership of their fantasy agrarian society, not among those killed of by the wars, pestilence and famine that are a necessary part of their vision.

    They also give right-wingers something valid to point at for their bullshit equivalency arguments. Progressives have enough of an image problem from the Foxification of the media already.

    The Earth will be alright. Nature will be alright. Humanity will pass when its time has come, and other life forms will dominate. Let’s try to live as cleanly as we can, expand as little as possible, and treat ourselves and other species with respect. No need to speed along our inevitable demise.

    • Leeds man says:

      And I’m sure they envision themselves as being among the benevolent, wise leadership

      Not really

      The authors of this book are not blithely asking who will die. In at least one of our cases, the answer is “I will.” I have Crohn’s disease, and I am reliant for my life on high tech medicines. Without these medicines, I will die.

      These folk have a lot to say which is worth listening to, even if you don’t agree with their proposed strategies. What I’ve seen in this thread is mostly putting hands over ears and going “la la not listening” and “technology will overcome” and “misanthropy!” and, as above, mind-reading. Very wingnutty. Very “too far outside my comfort zone to discuss rationally”.

      • MPAVictoria says:

        So you are saying what exactly? That we should allow people with serious medical conditions to die?

        • Leeds man says:

          Oh Lord. I’m saying maybe read what they have to say before dismissing them as nutjobs. From what I’ve read (here), a lot of their analysis (diagnosis, prognosis) is spot on.

          If you’re asking what I think, their “cure” is a pipe dream (nightmare) which has zero chance of being implemented. But I also think we’re fucked no matter what we do.

      • Njorl says:

        I’d bet that the things they say which are worthwhile are being said by other people who aren’t nuts. Can you point to anything worthwhile which they say which isn’t being said by someone sensible?

        • Leeds man says:

          I don’t know. Depends on who you think of as sensible.

        • Leeds man says:

          I will point out one example of people picking up the ball and carrying it enthusiastically the wrong way in this thread.

          Agriculture as practiced today is unsustainable. Our ancestors used to let fields lie fallow. We just pump nutrients into the soil. Some folk here jump to the conclusion that this means hunter-gatherer is the only alternative, which means they’ve never heard of permaculture. That’s what the “nutcases” are advocating.

          • Walt says:

            But they say in the interview that we should abandon agriculture for hunting and gathering. We’re not talking about some reasonable environmentalism. We’re talking about three people who sound, in the interview, like total nutters. Actually responding to the points made rather than to imaginary other points is not taking the ball the wrong way.

            • Leeds man says:

              No, that’s not what they say.

              TL: So then we would be going back to a hunting/gathering system for food?

              LK: You could have hunter/gatherer, you can have horticulturism, you could have pastoralism. In some way those are all variations on a theme. It’s based on perennial polycultures.

              • Malaclypse says:

                LK: You could have hunter/gatherer, you can have horticulturism, you could have pastoralism.

                Horticulture is not agriculture. They are eliminating the plow from allowable technology.

              • Walt says:

                I don’t see how your quote doesn’t prove my point. They’re not saying we should switch to sustainable agriculture. They’re saying we should abandon agriculture.

                Elsewhere in the interview they mock the very idea of sustainable agriculture.

                • Leeds man says:

                  Semantics. They don’t like the word “agriculture”, but they advocate sustainable land use. From what I’ve read and seen, permaculture can rival or exceed conventional farming yields.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Semantics. They don’t like the word “agriculture”, but they advocate sustainable land use.

                  “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”
                  “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
                  “The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master that’s all.”
                  Alice was too much puzzled to say anything, so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. “They’ve a temper, some of them—particularly verbs, they’re the proudest—adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs—however, I can manage the whole lot! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!”

                • Leeds man says:

                  Once again, judicious use of Dodgson saves the day for the forces of Reason!

                • Hogan says:

                  They don’t like the word “agriculture”, but they advocate sustainable land use. From what I’ve read and seen, permaculture can rival or exceed conventional farming yields.

                  So let’s see:

                  1) They don’t like the word “agriculture.”

                  2) I advocate permaculture, which is different from agriculture.

                  3) Therefore they advocate permaculture.

                  I think you’re missing some steps there.

                • Leeds man says:

                  I think you’re missing some steps there.

                  Yes, I’m missing the step which assumes you read what you criticize.

                  TL: I hear a lot of talk about sustainable agriculture. In your view, is there any kind of agriculture that is sustainable?

                  LK: No, and I’m going to quote both Toby Hemenway, the permaculture guy, and Richard Manning, who is a wonderful scholar of prairies.Both use the same sentence, which is: Sustainable agriculture is an oxymoron.

                  Yes, they don’t discuss permaculture much in the interview, because that’s not the topic. But if you look into the Deep Green movement, it is there. But why look when you can play word games?

                • Hogan says:

                  So even though the subject of alternatives to agriculture came up in the interview, it wasn’t a subject of the interview. And even though no one in that interview mentioned permaculture, someone else did at some other time, so the commenters here are being unfair to Jensen, Keith and M<cBay for not mentioning it. Got it.

                • Leeds man says:

                  And even though no one in that interview mentioned permaculture

                  So you advocate industrial civilization, but not literacy. Got it.

                • Leeds man says:

                  Look, if you actually read the fucking interview, and pretend you’re older than 10, it is quite clear what they mean by “agriculture” – the predominant form of land use currently practiced. It is also clear that they favour sustainable land use. Permaculture is not the topic of the interview, but it is mentioned in a passage which clearly shows what they mean by agriculture.

                  Instead, folk here say “look, they don’t want us to grow anything!”, with either a deliberate or ignorant misrepresentation of the interviewees’ intent.

                • Leeds man says:

                  Instead, folk here say “look, they don’t want us to grow anything!”

                  Actually, that’s a misrepresentation/exaggeration too. Sorry.

                • Walt says:

                  Hey, if we’re supposed to read the goddamn interview with a Secret Decoder Ring, they should have sent us one in the mail.

                  It seems more likely to me that a) they’re a bunch of nuts, but b) for whatever reason you’ve invented a translation of what they are saying that’s not nuts. But if they really aren’t nuts, then I suggest to them that they put in the minimal effort to sound not like nuts, like not giving words their own idiosyncratic meanings.

                • Leeds man says:

                  for whatever reason you’ve invented a translation

                  No, I read the interview. They quote a permaculture expert as saying “Sustainable agriculture is an oxymoron”. Is that really too subtle for you to figure out that what they mean by agriculture may not be what you mean? Thinkin’ is hard.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Is that really too subtle for you to figure out that what they mean by agriculture may not be what you mean?

                  Thank Cthulhu that you are here to tell us what the words they did not say mean.

                • Leeds man says:

                  Implicit. Just another confusing three-syllable word.

                • Walt says:

                  No, they’re crazies, and you’re trying to bullshit us for some perverse reason. Maybe you’re bored? Maybe you’re a fan of deep ecology and you’re embarrassed that your heroes botched the interview so badly?

                  I’m happy to hear you explain whatever it is you think we should do about agriculture, but your attempt to bullshit us on what they meant isn’t going to work.

                • Leeds man says:

                  Maybe you’re bored?

                  What, ascribing imaginary motives? I thought the au fait response of last resort these days was “I accept your tacit admission of defeat”.

                • Walt says:

                  I accept your tacit admission of defeat.

                • Anonymous says:

                  So, hi, Leeds Man.

                  You’re misunderstanding what the word “horticulture” means. They do not mean “sustainable agriculture.”

                  In common usage, the word “horticulture” is a synonym for “agriculture.” When used as an anthropological term of art, it’s nothing of the sort.

                  Everything state-level societies have done to make food since Sumer has been “agriculture” under the anthropological definition. “Horticulture” is basically dropping seeds in minimally cleared ground to supplement a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. This is not permaculture, and it does not anticipate the yields necessary to support any substantial fraction of the earth’s present population.

                • Leeds man says:

                  Anonymous, you’re picking and choosing words from the interview. In the same sentence which mentions hunter/gatherer, horticulture and pastoralism, LK mentions perennial polyculture.

                  There’s been much nit-picking about words and definitions here. Maybe the interviewees should have done more explaining, maybe they did and it was edited out. At worst, you could spend a couple of minutes googling to see whether they do indeed insist on hunter/gatherer/horticulture.

                • Anonymous says:

                  That’s an incredibly tortured, dishonest reading. He isn’t referring to the agricultural movement called “perennial polyculture.” He’s describing types of premodern subsistence practices as “perennial polyculture.”

                  You cannot possibly believe what you’re saying about this text. I cannot believe that anyone literate could accidentally mischaracterize something so badly.

                • Leeds man says:

                  It’s not a position paper, it’s an interview. That’s why I took a few minutes to look them up, rather than skim the interview and yell “ZOMG They say we have to be hunter/gatherers!” No doubt you saw that as an honest, untortured reading.

                  I can’t believe that anyone willing to spend time picking at word meanings from an interview isn’t prepared to spend a couple of minutes resolving one unclear answer, to find out that the Deep Green movement advocates sustainable land use.

                  No doubt, if you gave an interview, all your answers would be so complete, unambiguous and precise that no-one would have look up anything.

                  You demonstrate all the analytical depth of the idiots who raved about Kerry’s “flip-flop”.

                  Since you’re too fucking lazy to learn anything on your own, here’s a link for you.

      • ajay says:

        Very wingnutty. Very “too far outside my comfort zone to discuss rationally”.

        Unfortunately, the extinction of the majority of the human race and the reduction of the small remainder to a condition of abject and inescapable poverty is likely to be outside most people’s “comfort zones”.

      • Mike Nilsen says:

        Well, that’s one down, 5,999,999,999 to go.

        Of course, there are some candidate populations ready for convenient extermination: those already at risk from starvation, disease and lack of water. Say, Somalia or Bangladesh.

        Imagine, charity is now a vice.


  26. Lou says:

    Most of the native skills to go with this prescription died off with Noah. And the ark with all the 2s is largely degraded far beyond any capacity to support even a preagricultural population.

    The great reckoning will slam hard, and much harder had globalization not temporarily masked real local carrying capacities and moved the entire planet further on the branch of overshoot. What survives the cutting gauntlet no one can tell. Ironically we will react to our fall with a last gasp of burning even more fossil fuels, farming the oceans, turning more arable land and natural ecosystems into energy plantations, and deluding ourselves with mission of feeding 9 billion people.

    Those first Noahs might have seen it coming and resisted grain and domestic livestock fed domineering hierarchies by paddling their dugouts upstream where a diverse natural base of resources could support them. Now, there ain’t no ark for Noah anymore. We are all downstream now.

  27. Njorl says:

    This is like Swift’s essay on the Irish problem, right? It’s all a big trick to see who takes them seriously so we can discount those people in the future.

  28. David M. Nieporent says:

    It’s that modern civilization is literally destroying the planet and needs to end.

    I don’t think you understand what the word “literally” means.

    • Leeds man says:

      It’s that modern civilization is literally destroying all the ecosystems on the planet and needs to end.


      • Walt says:

        If it’s really the case that modern civilization needs to end, then I say fuck it, and let’s party. I’m buying two SUVs, one for each foot.

        • Leeds man says:

          Spoken like a true Homo sap! :)

          • Walt says:

            But who would take a different position? You, I presume, but how many other people? If the two options are either we voluntarily abandon modern civilization now and return to a premodern lifestyle, or use up the available resources, and then be forced to return to a premodern lifestyle later, then who in their right mind would choose the first one?

            • Malaclypse says:

              I think his argument would be that a premodern lifestyle chosen later will be worse than one chosen now.

              • Leeds man says:

                Your mind-reading needs more practice, Malaclypse. As I mentioned before, I think we’re fucked either way, and my preference is to live out my days in relative peace. I don’t agree with DGR’s prescription. I just object to misrepresentations of what they said.

  29. BradP says:

    And I don’t see how this can be politically successful.

    It’s not a recipe for political success.

    When they talk about cultivating a “culture of resistance” and expressing certain dichotomies concerning violence, they are advocating a bootstrapping cultural change which leads to spontaneous political change and order. Its creative-destructive anarchism.

    Of course it is pretty far fetched to think that you could create such a cultural upheaval in such a anti-human/pro-something-I-can’t-decifer manner. People just won’t buy in at all.

    • Leeds man says:

      Of course it is pretty far fetched to think that you could create such a cultural upheaval in such a anti-human/pro-something-I-can’t-decifer manner.

      Damn straight. It took thousands of years to get to the anti-human/pro-something-I-can’t-decipher culture we have now.

      • BradP says:

        Not all industrial society is a product of a rich/powerful group forcing another less powerful group to act slightly or well outside of their best interests or preferences.

        We are much more of a shared opinion on this issue than most on here would be, but this sort of change must be rooted ultimately in self-interest, not out of a desire to preserve nature as it is/was.

        • Leeds man says:

          this sort of change must be rooted ultimately in self-interest, not out of a desire to preserve nature as it is/was.

          Absolutely. The DGR gang are destined to become bitter, disillusioned old farts like me. However, it should also be recognized that the corporatocracy has a pretty firm boot on our necks now, and they will resist any change firmly, and if necessary, with violence.

  30. wengler says:

    Obviously water is a very near-term problem, but it is hard to take these radical environmentalists seriously. I say this as someone that has pointed out some rather apparent problems only to be shouted down and then later vindicated-when the time comes no one will care that you were right.

    I think that many people with this sort of outlook would do well to go live their words with the thousands of other people that are attempting to construct these type of communities. They don’t need to shun the outside world, but they need to realize that evangelizing may backfire. And with the always empowered rightwing looking for anything vaguely leftist that they can call “terrorism” anyone even remotely connected to any sort of eco-inspired property crime could be looking at decades in a SuperMax 23 hour a day lockdown in solitary confinement.

  31. Eli Rabett says:

    Why don’t they do something useful and just kill themselves?

    • Leeds man says:

      Finally. A compassionate liberal.

    • Leeds man says:

      You wish that these clowns, who see the world as it is and propose a stupid plan to fix it, should kill themselves. Maybe I missed the post where you wished that the clowns who actually run our society, killing millions and dooming millions more to die, should kill themselves.

  32. David Sucher says:

    Your basic premise
    It’s that modern civilization is literally destroying the planet and needs to end.
    — is asinine.

  33. […] Guns and Money takes a look at the unconvincing, and deeply anti-human, Deep Green ideology of Derrick Jensen. Calling human […]

  34. The point is not to cause human casualties. The point is to stop the destruction of the planet. The enemy is not the civilian population or any population at all but a sociopathological sociopolitical-economic system. Ecological destruction on this planet is primarily caused by industry and capitalism; the issue of population is tertiary at best. The point of collapsing industrial infrastructure is not to harm humans. The point is the reduce the damage as quickly as possible, and in doing so to account for the harm the dominant culture is doing to all living creatures, past and future.

    This is the question: Are you willing to accept the only strategy left to us? Are you willing to set aside your last, fierce dream of that brave uprising of millions strong? I know what I am asking. The human heart needs hope as it needs air. But the existence of those brave millions is the empty hope of the desperate, and they’re not coming to our rescue.

    Industrial civilization is more vulnerable than past empires, dependent as it is on such a fragile infrastructure of pipelines and overhead wires, on binary bits of data encoding its lifeblood of capital. If we would let ourselves think it, a workable strategy is obvious, and in fact is not very different from the actions of partisan resisters across history.

    So think resistance with all your aching heart, a word that must become our promise to what is left of this planet. Gather the others: you already know them. The brave, smart, militant, and, most of all, serious, and together take aim. Do it carefully, but do it.

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