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Water: Southwest Coalition Statement of Commitment and Call for Allies

By Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

            Whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting over. —Mark Twain

More than any other area of North America, the Southwest faces water shortages just as demands for water increase. These colliding forces are inevitable products of industrial civilization. Deep Green Resistance chapters across the Southwest recognize the imminent catastrophe. We view the protection of ground and surface water, and the protection of indigenous peoples’ rights to their water and landbase, as critically important. We declare water preservation and justice as our primary focus.

Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition is a confederation of DGR action groups located in the southwest region of North America. While each group focuses on ecological and social justice issues specific to their region, as a Coalition we work together to reinforce each group’s efforts. Our members include:

Deep Green Resistance Colorado Plateau

Deep Green Resistance Sonoran

Deep Green Resistance Colorado

Deep Green Resistance Great Basin

Deep Green Resistance Chaparral

Great Basin Spring, Goshute Reservation

Great Basin Spring, Goshute Reservation

The Increasingly Arid Southwest

The region is among the driest areas in the world. The southwest receives only 5-15 inches of rainfall a year[1] and nearly all climate models predict an increase in both aridity and flooding with global warming.[2] As increasing temperatures force the jet stream further north and more surface water is evaporated (notably in desert reservoirs like Lake Powell where an average 860,000 acre-feet of water—about 8 percent of the Colorado River’s annual flow—is lost every year),[3] overall precipitation is decreasing even as summer storms paradoxically become more intense. And there is no margin of safety from which civilization can draw—the Colorado River, for example, is already fully allocated; all the water is claimed.[4]

Agriculture is far and away the largest water consumer: California’s Imperial Irrigation District consumes 3.1 million acre-feet of Colorado River water every year, compared to the rest of Southern California, which gets only 1.3 million.[5] Large amounts of water are also used for oil and gas drilling—an estimated 100,000 gallons per fracked well[6]—and coal mining and burning.

Lake Mead water levels.  By Ken Dewey, Climate.gov

Lake Mead water levels. By Ken Dewey, Climate.gov

The water shortage is already wreaking havoc among wildlife. In California, the drought is partially implicated in the deaths of tens of thousands of native waterfowl. As water sources dry, birds congregate around remaining oases like fountains and irrigation ditches. In such close quarters, disease spreads quickly. Other victims of water scarcity in California include scores of thousands of bark beetle-killed trees—so much so that these results “herald a region in ecological transition.”[10] Unsurprisingly, 2015 is among the worst California fire seasons ever.This year, twelve western states declared drought emergencies.[7] On April 25, 2015, the largest US reservoir, Lake Mead, dropped to an historic low of 1,080 feet. That record surpassed the previous low set last August; Mead has never been lower since it was filled in the 1930s.[8] These conditions are unlikely to improve. In spring of 2015, snowpack in the Sierra Mountains measured at just 5 percent of normal.[9]

Desperate Measures

These unprecedented changes are driving ever more desperate and costly projects, such as the Southern Nevada Water Authority’s planned multi-billion-dollar pipeline project in eastern Nevada’s and western Utah’s arid basin and range country. If completed, the project would pump billions of gallons of groundwater to Las Vegas, threatening the Goshute Indian reservation, the livelihoods of ranchers, many rare endemic species, and the land itself.[11]

A proposed California water pipeline may move as much as 7.5 million acre feet of northern California water south a year. It was just revised to include only a third of the originally planned habitat protection, re-allocating water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Situated between California’s wetter north and its dry and populous south, the delta contains one of California’s largest remaining wetlands, home of green sturgeon, steelhead, and endangered Delta smelt.[12] More extreme are plans to siphon off some of Canada’s abundant water to California.[13] As drought and demand continue their increasing arcs, however, these desperate plans for massive water transfers become more acceptable to many.

The Only Sane Response

The government-industry axis takes water from the less powerful, regardless of any natural rights such groups may have.[14] This cannot continue, not even beyond the very short term. When the unstoppable force of increasing demand for water—continuing without limit—meets the immovable object of shrinking water supplies, environmental devastation and injustice swiftly follows.

DGR Southwest Coalition supports any protective or restorative action for ground and surface water, including the removal of dams and reservoirs by any means necessary. At the same time, we advocate for and support the dismantling of the systems (capitalism specifically and industrial civilization generally) as the only strategic way to safeguard the planet, and to keep it from degrading into a barren, lifeless husk. These are daunting tasks, no doubt, even if we limit our focus to the southwest; and yet, it’s a critical calling for all of us who care for life and justice.

We are reaching out to others who also view water protection and justice as values worth fighting for. For example, preserving instream flows (what’s left in a stream channel after other allocations) and groundwater protection—from fracking, from water mining, from surface contamination. We offer whatever expertise and resources we can muster, and all the passion we have, for our landbase. We’re ready to work with those who struggle with these problems; we’re also ready to take on whatever role is necessary in support of their fights.

This fight should be shared. Please contact us so we can network with you in pursuit of water, justice, and life.

swcoalition@deepgreenresistance.org

[1] C. Daly, R.P. Neilson, and D.L. Phillips, 1994. “A statistical-topographic model for mapping climatological precipitation over mountainous terrain,” J. Appl. Meteor., 33(2), 140-158, as displayed in http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/pcpn/westus_precip.gif

[2] Melanie Lenart, “Precipitation Changes,” Southwest Climate Change Network, September 18, 2008,  http://www.southwestclimatechange.org/node/790#references

[3] “Glen Canyon Dam,” Wikipedia, accessed December 10, 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glen_Canyon_Dam. An acre-foot is about 325,853 US gallons.

[4] Brett Walton, “In Drying Colorado River Basin, Indian Tribes Are Water Dealmakers,” Circle of Blue, July 1, 2015, http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/world/in-drying-colorado-river-basin-indian-tribes-are-water-dealmakers/

[5] Tony Perry, “Despite drought, water flowing freely in Imperial Valley,” Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2015, http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-drought-imperial-valley-20150412-story.html

[6] Rory Carroll, “Fracking In California Used 70 Million Gallons Of Water In 2014,” Huffington Post, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/04/02/fracking-california-water_n_6997324.html

[7] Elizabeth Shogren, “Senate considers legislation to help the West store and conserve water,” High Country News, June 3, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/california-farmers-fear-irrigation-water-will-go-to-salmon-instead

[8] Sarah Tory, “Canadian water for California’s drought?” High Country News, April 28, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/could-canadas-water-solve-californias-drought-1

[9] Ben Goldfarb, “Fowl play: California’s drought fingered in bird deaths,” High Country News, April 2, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/fowl-play-californias-drought-fingered-in-bird-deaths

[10] Keith Schneider, “California Fire Danger Mounts in Sierra Nevada Forests,” Circle of Blue, July 10, 2015, http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2015/world/as-california-drought-rebalances-sierra-forests-fire-danger-mounts/

[11] Stephen Dark, “Last Stand: Goshutes battle to save their sacred water,” Salt Lake City Weekly, May 9, 2012, http://www.cityweekly.net/utah/article-35-15894-last-stand.html?current_page=all

[12] Kate Schimel, “Gov. Brown slashes Sacramento Delta environmental protection,” High Country News, May 7, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/gov-jerry-brown-slashes-delta-environmental-protection

[13] Sarah Tory, “Canadian water for California’s drought?” High Country News, April 28, 2015, http://www.hcn.org/articles/could-canadas-water-solve-californias-drought-1

[14] Ed Becenti, “Senate Bill 2109 Seeks to Extinguish Navajo and Hopi Water Rights,” Native News Network, April 4, 2012, http://www.nativenewsnetwork.com/senate-bill-2109-seeks-to-extinguish-navajo-and-hopi-water-rights.html

 

Reflections on “Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization”

Editor’s Note: This article was first published December 17, 2014, by Deep Green Resistance Colorado.  We welcome your comments.
by bellmeadow
DGR Colorado Contributor
 

drought 2I am reading “Against The Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization ” by Richard Manning and it is an amazing book.

To begin: I have been thinking a lot lately about the issue of water and the disappearance of water, particularly out here in the Western Occupied territories. When I flew to California recently, I couldn’t help but notice the whole landscape beneath us looked like the surface of Mars, without the mystique. As with the Martian landscape, you could see where all the water used to run. I grimaced at the remnants of lakes that were, only a few years ago, full of water but were now dead or dying, at about 10% capacity. The scene was horrifying, and was compounded by the fact that the whole time we were in the air you could see smog, above the mountaintops, lining the ENTIRE trip. I’m sure the dying lakebeds and smog were unrelated. Even more terrifying than the reverse terraforming was the fact that the hundreds of people on the plane either didn’t pay attention, or care.

Back to the book: The following passage from Manning’s book really struck home on this particular topic, and articulated so well what is happening to our only home and to all that water that once was:

“If anything, modern irrigation has spawned a culture even more rigid and hierarchical than before–the social cost of the technology. The environmental cost, however, is even more pronounced. In the United States, for instance, the entire Colorado River basin has been appropriated, mostly for irrigation, so that the Colorado no longer flows into Mexico’s Sea of Cortez, triggering the death of that productive bay and its estuaries. The Oglalla Aquifer, which underlies about five states in the United States’ southern plains, is nearly depleted. The Columbia River no longer supports salmon, partly because of irrigation. China sends tankers to southeastern Alaska to load up with nothing more than river water for drinking, so scarce has freshwater become in the oldest surviving irrigated civilization.

In the United States and worldwide, the land now farmed has simply appropriated the natural water flow–the lifeblood–of other lands. The rain that falls in mountains and deserts once fed streams, once fed habitat. Now those regions are farmed–not directly, but for their water. Irrigation now accounts for 70 percent of the freshwater used by humans. Again, this appropriation did not grow in a long, continuous curve from the beginning of agriculture but is a modern phenomenon. During the last forty years, the amount of irrigated acreage in the world doubled. The doomsayers predicted famine in the late 1960’s, largely as a result of a swelling population’s bumping up against the intractable limit posed by the planet’s finite supply of arable land. We jumped that limit, but did so by spreading the footprint of farming to mine, sterilize and dewater the rest of the land, not to mention estuaries, gulfs, rivers, lakes and the atmosphere itself. We no longer grow crops just on land; we have plowed up the biosphere.” (pg. 102-103)

“There’s no free lunch.” “What goes around, comes around.” Pick your aphorism, friends; the point is, we’re well on our way toward becoming just like our 4thRock sibling, and amber waves of grain don’t signal what the songwriter thought they did.

Restoring Sanity, Part 4: Anxiety and Civilization

Editor’s Note: The first three installments of the Restoring Sanity series are An Inhuman System, Mental Illness As A Social Construct, and Medicating.

By Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, Deep Green Resistance

If you don’t want any more anxiety, get rid of all your intelligence and your creativity which would be a very dull life for all of us.

—Rollo May

Don’t worry, be happy.

—Bobby McFerrin

Anxiety is a normal and healthy aspect of human existence. Sören Kierkegaard said, “Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom,” an acknowledgment that we always have some choices to make in life. Each choice we make can bring us closer to our objectives, but can also close off other paths. Choosing is both a birth and a death, both being and non-being. This is why we are anxious. Anxiety begins at the time between being, which is what we experience as a result of our choices, and non-being, which is what we give up. Anxiety is part of becoming, of growing and changing. This is what it means to be alive.

Unhealthy anxiety comes when we are so plagued by worry, stressors, trauma and decisions that we lose tolerance for normal anxiety. We become paralyzed and can no longer act or choose. Thoughts of death may turn to despair and drown out life; we get depressed and apathetic. To be healthily anxious, on the other hand, is in many ways the opposite of depression and apathy. To live a satisfying and effective life is to learn to live with uncertainty. If we become so overwhelmed or intimidated by uncertainty that we avoid making choices, we have passively chosen apathy by default; life then becomes unfulfilling and meaningless. We may walk around and draw breath—feeling like we’re taking action by worrying—but without the opportunities that might have been found by actively choosing. In this way, anxiety and worry become avoidance behaviors that reinforce addictions or depression.

When it’s from fear of life choices or awareness of death, anxiety is not a symptom of a disease but a vigorous mind at work. This is healthy anxiety, finding perspective to make our choices in life or to find appreciation for life in the context of death. In its positive forms, anxiety is meant to motivate us to seek safety, worthiness, competence, and security. Without anxiety, our lives become empty. We wait, not knowing what for, avoiding the unavoidable destiny that comes at the end of our waiting. Healthy anxiety saves us from literal, emotional, and mental death.

Origins

Our previous essays[1] on the oppressive effects of individualism, depression, and addictions all involve an evaluation of the context of civilization. As with any modern mental health problem, a certain sort of anxiety is inherent to living in civilization.

By civilization, we do not mean the supposed social utopia of laws and democratic decisions—a pinnacle of human achievement—that the word has come to mean. Rather we are taking it to task at its root as the formation and maintenance of cities. We define a city as any settlement large enough in population to require the importation of resources.[2] The ancient civilization of Rome was a city that needed to expand its trade influence because it couldn’t grow, log, mine, or otherwise produce its material needs within the city’s immediate area.

While diplomacy and rule of law may play various parts in a civilization’s goals, the underlying requirement will always be force. Because trade is by definition voluntary, Rome’s needs couldn’t be entirely guaranteed by trade alone, so military force had to secure the city within a surrounding empire. Because the environmental and social impacts of agricultural and industrial extraction occur far from a city, it’s possible for civilized people to pretend their way of life is forever sustainable, when in reality it’s the very opposite. The fall of Rome came with the inevitable limits of empire.

To call the Hopi tribe of Arizona a civilization, then, would be false because they had no need to form an empire to acquire what they needed. They had no military because everyone was a warrior,[3] a defender of the high desert they’d made their home for centuries. Calling the Hopi “uncivilized” in the ordinary sense of the word is the worst sort of insult: a lie hidden in a false premise. The Hopi were intelligent, resourceful, fierce, and community-minded, but they were not civilized by the city’s necessity of war and acquisition.

Because nearly all humans alive now were born into civilization, it’s the only reality we know and we naturally take as a given all of its demands. Those include everything from war, deforestation, and global warming, down to the routines of work, money, and worry. Wherever we happen to fit in the wealth-generating scheme of civilization—rich, poor, dominator or oppressed—we assume we’re part of a wise and provident arrangement of humanity.

But civilization is only a destructive imitation of decent human society, a business plan enforced by violence. It is cruel and insane, in denial of the reality of a finite world. Without our knowing it all of civilization’s attributes and consequences have been internalized into our lives, on every level: material, spiritual, and mental. Anxiety, of a chronic and intractable sort, is one of the primary afflictions of the civilized human.

Imagine living in a scrubby, warm forest with a few meandering rivers and rolling meadows, a land so wide it seems to fill the whole of the world. There are no electric lights, no roads, no cars, no computers; only the wild, fecund land. You are a member of an egalitarian society whose food comes from a casual husbandry of small animals like goats and sheep, fishing, the hunting of wild game and gathering of wild plants. Though to a modern person this seems an impossibly distant and antiquated way of life, in fact it was a stable condition that maintained itself very well for many tens of thousands of years.

Agriculture ended that. Not restless inventiveness, not tribal warfare, not human nature, but a technological discovery that made empires possible. Grains can be stored and guarded, and this is what an army really is for, and what it needs more than weapons. As grain cultivation spreads, forests, scrub, and meadows are burned for fields. The grazing animals must go. The rivers must be diverted. The game and predators and wild plants must go, and so food security—for most—must also go. For civilization to produce food surpluses, the majority of people and land area must be enslaved.

The first foundation myth needed for a civilization is that cultivated annuals (wheat, corn, rice) are a more secure food source than hunted or grazed animals. Any monoculture is more prone to catastrophic disease than any polyculture, and requires the constant mining of topsoil to continue. Yet monoculture does produce more food for a limited time, and this allows populations to increase. More people need more food, so more forests fall, and more slaves are born to work more fields.

Generation by generation grain agriculture spread as it consumed topsoil, and agricultural societies adapted to acquire more land. Since their pastoral neighbors hunted, gathered, and fished the lands and waters agriculture needs, they had to go. To continue this way of life, war was no longer about territorial bickering but rather absolute necessity. So was slaving in the fields, and so was the enslavement of women as a resource to produce more slaves, forcing them to increase birthrates.[4] Civilization needs this ongoing control over one by another, and because agriculture requires labor as well as land it will always have many who suffer and toil and few who enjoy the resulting wealth. This social model has grown in sophistication and prevalence, but otherwise hasn’t changed since it began 10,000 years ago.

The Middle East is now stripped of topsoil and human rights and is the hottest furnace of modern war. From what we know about remaining indigenous cultures,[5] life in the pre-agricultural forests of the Fertile Crescent was not the struggle and horror it has become but a comparatively serene existence, with much less work, stress, and illness—physical and mental both. The human animal evolved as a hunting and gathering creature. We are ill-adapted to the civilized life. Its grain-based diet—the malnutrition food of the poor[6]—and constant work schedule keep us literally under the gun, and are the basis for our mental and emotional conditions. Though this condition seems beyond help, it’s not. And it’s here we’ll find answers to why we are always in psychological emergencies.

mn141101

Anxiety and Culture

The way we experience anxiety is framed by our culture. In civilization, we are conditioned to feel anxiety in relation to competitive ambition. We are trained to compete—in sports, in education, in wealth, in attractiveness, in popularity—and anxiety often results when our unrealistic visions of perfection aren’t reached. Why should security be tied to individual competition? As social animals, we humans have a need for social acceptance and security. Instead of ensuring this, civilization has conditioned us to accept that “winning” brings acceptance and security, and “losing” brings insecurity and social shunning. It is no wonder that anxiety is so pervasive among humans living within the system of civilization. In his book The Meaning of Anxiety, existential psychologist Rollo May writes: “The weight placed upon the value of competitive success is so great in our culture and the anxiety occasioned by the possibility of failure to achieve this goal is so frequent that there is reason for assuming that individual competitive success is both the dominant goal in our culture and the most pervasive occasion for anxiety.”

This competitive arrangement does not reflect a human quality but is rather a means of increasing production and concentrating wealth. Our hunger for security is so strong that those who suffer most from the abuses of a system based on property and coercion will tolerate and even defend the very system that causes their suffering. They will redouble their efforts using the same cultural assumptions, caught in a double bind, having to choose either ambition or poverty.

The more oppressed an individual is within the classes of civilization, the more anxiety they experience and the less likely they are to ever be in an advantaged position to compete. Women and people of color are less likely to be rewarded with high ranking positions because of racism and sex discrimination, which leads to higher rates of anxiety.[7] Success must be glorified, since who wants to compete in a system that is rigged for most of us to lose?

The dominant culture and the social roles into which we are coerced affect the self-esteem or self-worth of women in particular.[8] Women tend to view themselves more negatively than men, which is a major factor for many mental health problems.[9] Psychological disorders in general are 20-40% higher in women than men,[10] and anxiety disorders are most prevalent in women age 16-40.[11] Cognitive distortion[12] is also a symptom of both low self-esteem and pathological anxiety, and comes from living in a culture where economic and social injustice is so normalized as to be nearly invisible. Those on the bottom in this arrangement are the ones who suffer the most, as the powerless are robbed of choices in their own destiny.[13]

NCS-A_data-GAD-720_147947_1

As for those who “win” in this system, how can they ever be sure that their competitors won’t gain more wealth and power, possibly at their expense? Even the upper middle class can never obtain absolute security, since they are driven to always increase wealth. It is a vicious cycle of acquisition of power, one that is driven by chronic anxiety and misery.

Definitions

Stress and anxiety have similar effects on our bodies and minds. While either chronic anxiety or stress can disable or kill us, the difference between them becomes more apparent when managing symptoms.[14]

Modern civilized lifestyles burden us with many unavoidable stressors like work, inflexible social rules, and money and health worries. Stress can often be managed by giving the body and mind a rest, assuming one can make the time for it. Healthy lives require relaxation. To sit outside under a shady tree drinking tea and watching butterflies, for example. Stress can be reduced by eating well, exercising, and including enjoyable and healthy activities in our days. Some stress might only be resolved by making major life changes, such as eliminating toxic people from our lives, quitting a stressful job, or moving from a hectic and polluted city. Most people are unable to make these changes, of course, and so are subject to chronic stress, the root problem of many mental and physical health issues.[15]

AnxietyDisorders-CognitiveBiasesTowardThreat

Anxiety is an unpleasant feeling of nervousness, worry or unease, often about an unknowable outcome or from the fear of being evaluated negatively by others. Specific, acute anxiety keeps us safe from danger and vulnerability. Like pain, anxiety is not a problem itself—both warn us that we need to take some sort of action to reduce or eliminate the cause.

The line between healthy and unhealthy anxiety is vague and subjective. The American Psychiatric Association’s dubiously drug-happy classification handbook, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Volume 5, or DSM-5,[16] recognizes the following diagnosable anxiety disorders: phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, separation anxiety, panic disorder with agoraphobia, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and childhood anxiety disorders.[17] Anxiety disorders are the most common diagnosed mental illnesses in the US, affecting 40 million adults, about 18 percent of the population.[18] According to the National Institute for Mental Health, “Unlike the relatively mild, brief anxiety caused by a stressful event (such as speaking in public or a first date), anxiety disorders last at least 6 months and can get worse if they are not treated.” This is one way of delineating “healthy” from “unhealthy” anxiety. Another way of putting it might be “destructive anxiety” and “constructive anxiety,” though these are subjective terms too.

A more exact definition might be “pathological anxiety,” when danger and vulnerability is exaggerated.[19] If it’s misperceived or nonexistent, there is no action to take that can eliminate the cause of this kind of anxiety, and it can become chronic, generalized, and repressed. Chronic or repressed anxiety leads to apathy, a loss of will, a sense that we can’t obtain anything, and powerlessness. Chronic anxiety can also cause stress that results in physical symptoms like muscle tension, stomach ulcers, heart palpitations, or other physical disorders.[20]

A friend of ours who’s prone to chronic anxiety also has occasional panic attacks, and describes the complete helplessness they bring as “a crazy but certain fear of death.” More mundane moments of anxiety, he says, are more about an inability to perform the simplest tasks. “It’s hard for me to tell the difference between apathy and anxiety,” he explains. We the authors are a more fidgety breed, using anxiety as an engine of activity that often gets so out of control that relaxation is impossible, and our only rest comes from exhaustion. In its most extreme form, this constant stress probably led to Hyatt’s life-threatening autoimmune disorder.

What about positive thinking?

A well-meaning person, concerned about our pain over suffering and injustice, suggested: “What do you think of cultivating a mind where there is a peaceful separation of thought from emotional response?” This seems like a practical idea, encouraged by titles of self-help books like Anxiety Free: Stop Worrying and Quiet Your Mind, and of course it isn’t helpful to get upset about every sad or awful thing the dominant culture does to innocent beings. For one thing, that list is so terribly long; for another, emotions amount to little until they are engaged with action and there is only so much anyone can do, no matter how dedicated they are. But separating our emotional responses from our physical and mental experiences creates disconnection with reality and ourselves. The same is true of undiscriminating negativity.

Is it only by dissecting ourselves (mind from body, emotion from reason, thought from feeling) that we can live a decent life in a civilized world? This is like separating emotional knowledge that the earth is alive from practical knowledge of the minerals in its crust. The ore can be extracted and we don’t feel bad about it. We can then continue on with the lie that we are free. The well-being of our wider community, which must include other species, other cultures, whole biomes, is more important than our personal sense of peace. This is because any lasting freedom and peace—personal or otherwise—depends on functional communities (human and nonhuman both) to exist. It is a sign of our oppression that we must resort to positive thinking to avoid the need to engage a negative but healthy response to living in an unsustainable, toxic society.

When we react with anxiety to situations that we can neither eliminate nor attenuate, it does seem as if the only relief is to think positive thoughts or to feel nothing at all. Chemicals like alcohol and psychiatric meds can help this numbing; so can religion and spirituality. Avoiding the truth might eliminate anxiety or stress in the short term, but the global effects of civilization (deforestation, climate destabilization, ocean acidification, mass extinction, etc.[21]) are neither exaggerations nor the creations of our minds. It would not be healthy—or even rational—to try to cultivate a peaceful, unemotional mind and think positive thoughts when the living world is dying.[22] Avoidance behavior is one reason for this dying; it is also the core of depression, pathological anxiety, and many other disorders that define poor mental and emotional health.

Remedies

The long-term social solution to chronic stress and anxiety is to dismantle civilization and the toxic society resulting from this way of life, and to restore healthy landbases and human communities. Personal solutions for anxiety problems are also available, though they may seem no less daunting.

Remedies for the pathological anxiety of agricultural societies arose alongside the causes. Monotheistic religions are perhaps the best example. Their promotion of controlling behavior, unavoidable apocalypses, and the primary importance of individual salvation all serve the needs of empires. Even Taoism, among the least warlike of civilized doctrines, emphasizes the detachment from the real world that war requires. If starvation is a terrifying reality—as it surely was and will continue to be for many Chinese—it’s no surprise that such a belief system would evolve. Nor is it surprising that women might come to be hated by cultures driven to control their environment—such as those based on agriculture. Treating women as objects to extract resources from grows logically out of this type of culture, as does male violence towards women.

Durable solutions to human misery won’t be found in the usual responses of victim blaming, resource exploitation, and promising rewards in the afterlife, as civilized societies have always done. This is true on both a social and personal scale. Modern pharmaceuticals[23] are only another way civilization moderates its hurtful effects on humans. Helpful as psychiatric meds may occasionally be, they are not fundamentally different than Marx’s “opiates of the masses” or the many cheap and emotionally damaging distractions of pageantry and spectacle for sale anywhere one cares to look.   They’re all coping mechanisms engineered within systems of control that have the system’s needs in mind, not ours.

Denial of emotion is necessary for the dominant culture to function, and complements the way civilization treats every living being as an object. Yet we are alive, and we do feel. So what are we to do with all that worry and stress, if we don’t separate our emotional responses from our daily exposure to the cruelty and waste that civilization requires? Will we despair? Or even worse for civilization, work to take it down because it hurts so much? Will we find others who feel similarly, and organize to resist the destruction of the world and all that’s in it? In the meanwhile, how do we cope with our own worries? Awareness of circumstances and our reactions is a critical first step to healing.

A good way to begin might be to shrink the immensity of the problem to manageable parts, so we might get some short-term relief. When experiencing anxiety, it is essential to analyze the cause to determine if it can be eliminated. This might be as simple as finishing a difficult homework assignment or taking the next step towards completing a big project. If the source of anxiety cannot be eliminated or reduced, we may need to take steps to change how we feel. Some effective non-drug treatments are eliminating caffeine and alcohol, improving diet, and supplementing B and D vitamins. Our friend with panic attacks notes that these steps alone usually eliminate all sensations of pathological anxiety. Other helpful methods include psychotherapy, meditation, self-hypnosis, yoga, and various thought-stopping techniques.[24] These all involve a lot of trial and error, so it’s important to remember that failures do not reflect on who we are; they are rather only events, part of discovering, learning, evolving and adapting.

Anxiety has a positive and healthy aspect, and is not to be avoided. The constructive use of anxiety is how we create satisfying and effective lives, and perhaps influence the future of the world in a positive way. Anxiety is inseparable from love. When we love, we commit ourselves to action. Love is the motivation for social and environmental activism, for taking on responsibility, for finding ways to influence our society and world.   Anxiety is experienced as a possibility, the intermediate between potential and reality; it connects us to the world and drives us to protect those we love.

All these problems we now face, it’s no wonder that this is an anxious age because all these things, overpopulation, pollution are going on all at once… Now these things are all symptoms of what makes this an anxious age and I think that what we must do as far as we can is to shift our thinking from simply worrying about these different problems to the questions of what can we do about them? The point is to turn your anxiety into active affect, to overcome the situation.

—Rollo May

Susan Hyatt has worked as a project manager at a hazardous waste incinerator, owned a landscaping company focused on native Sonoran Desert plants, and is now a volunteer activist. Michael Carter is a freelance carpenter, writer, and activist. His anti-civilization memoir Kingfisher’s Song was published in 2012. They both volunteer for Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition.

Bibliography and Further Reading

American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing, 2013.

Beck, Aaron T., and Emery, Gary. Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective. New York: Basic Books, 1985.

Ehrenreich, Barbara. Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking in Undermining America. New York: Picador, 2009.

Friedman, Ariellad and Todd, Judith. “Kenyan Women Tell a Story: Interpersonal Power of Women in Three Subcultures in Kenya.” Sex Roles 31: 533-546, in Nanda, Serena and Warms, Richard L. Cultural Anthropology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Thomson, 2004, 387, 388.

Jensen, Derrick, Endgame Volume I: The Problem of Civilization, New York City, NY: Seven Stories Press, 2006.

Keith, Lierre. The Vegetarian Myth. Crescent City, CA: Flashpoint Press, 2009.

Leventhal, Allan M. and Martell, Christopher R. The Myth of Depression as Disease: Limitations and Alternatives to Drug Treatment. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2006.

Manning, Richard. Against the Grain: How Agriculture has Hijacked Civilization. New York: North Point Press, 2004.

May, Rollo. Freedom and Destiny. New York: WW Norton and Company, 1981.

_____. Love and Will. New York: Delta, 1989.

_____. The Meaning of Anxiety, Revised Edition. New York: WW Norton and Company, 1977.

Maybury-Lewis, David. Millennium: Tribal Wisdom and the Modern World. New York: Viking Penguin, 1992.

McKay, Matthew, Ph.D., and Fanning, Patrick. Self Esteem. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2000.

Sevillano, Mando. The Hopi Way: Tales from a Vanishing Culture. Flagstaff, AZ: Northland Press, 1986.

Online

Awais Aftab, MD, MBBS, “Mental Illness vs Brain Disorders: From Szasz to DSM-5,” Psychiatric Times, February 28, 2014, http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/dsm-5-0/mental-illness-vs-brain-disorders-szasz-dsm-5#sthash.hA4QwWSp.wptbyJ4M.dpuf

James Ball, “Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds,” The Guardian, May 22, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/may/22/women-men-mental-illness-study

Thomas B. Bramanti, W. Haak, M. Unterlaender, P. Jores, K. Tambets, I. Antanaitis-Jacobs, M.N. Haidle, R. Jankauskas, C.-J. Kind, F. Lueth, T. Terberger, J. Hiller, S. Matsumura, P. Forster, and J. Burger, “Genetic Discontinuity Between Local Hunter-Gatherers and Central Europe’s First Farmers,” Science 2009, as reported in Science Daily, September 4, 2009, http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/09/090903163902.htm

Levine, Bruce E., “Psychiatry Now Admits It’s Been Wrong in Big Ways—But Can It Change?” Truthout, March 5, 2014, http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/22266-psychiatry-now-admits-its-been-wrong-in-big-ways-but-can-it-change

Moore, Heidi, “Little surprise here: women expected to do more at home—and at work,” The Guardian, November 1, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/01/women-work-harder-favors-never-counted?CMP=twt_gu

Nauert, Rick, PhD., and Grohol, John M., Psy.D., “Beyond Antidepressants: Taking Stock of New Treatments,” Psych Central, February 18, 2014, http://psychcentral.com/news/2014/02/18/beyond-antidepressants-taking-stock-of-new-treatments/66071.html

Endnotes

[1] Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 1: An Inhuman System,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, February 6, 2014, http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/02/06/restoring-sanity-part-1-an-inhuman-system/

Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 2: Mental Illness as A Social Construct,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, March 13, 2014, http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/03/13/restoring-sanity-part-2-mental-illness-as-a-social-construct/

Susan Hyatt and Michael Carter, “Restoring Sanity, Part 3: Medicating,” Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition, May 20, 2014, http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/05/20/restoring-sanity-part-3-medicating/

[2]  “Civilization is a culture—that is, a complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts—that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities (civilization, see civil: from civis, meaning citizen, from Latin civitatis, meaning city-state), with cities being defined—so as to distinguish them from camps, villages, and so on—as people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.”  Jensen, 17.

[3] Sevillano, 38.

[4] Manning, 36.

Birthrates increased by a factor of four.

[5] Maybury-Lewis.

Millennium is an excellent, general reference on the comparative ease of hunting and gathering life, and an accessible introduction to the academic field of cultural anthropology. The book and accompanying film series describe several noncivilized cultures around the world, their customs and beliefs and general temperament. Chapter 2, “An Ecology of Mind,” (pages 35-62) is especially illuminating.

[6] John B. Marler and Jeanne R. Wallin, “Human Health, the Nutritional Quality of Harvested Food and Sustainable Farming Systems,” Nutrition Security Institute, 2006, accessed November 10, 2014, http://www.nutritionsecurity.org/PDF/NSI_White%20Paper_Web.pdf

[7] Mallory Bowers, “(en)Gendering psychiatric disease: what does sex/gender have to do with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?” The Neuroethics Blog, May 6, 2014, http://www.theneuroethicsblog.com/2014/05/engendering-psychiatric-disease-what.html

[8] “It’s certainly plausible that women experience higher levels of stress because of the demands of their social role – with that stress helping to trigger problems like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and insomnia. Increasingly, women are expected to function as carer, homemaker, and breadwinner ­– all while being perfectly shaped and impeccably dressed. Given that domestic work is undervalued, and considering that women tend to be paid less, find it harder to advance in a career, have to juggle multiple roles, and are bombarded with images of apparent female ‘perfection’, it would be surprising if there weren’t some emotional cost.

“It’s worth remembering too that women are also much more likely than men to have experienced childhood sexual abuse, a trauma that all too often results in lasting psychological and emotional damage,” Daniel Freeman, Ph.D. and Jason Freeman , “Know Your Mind” Psychology Today, June 2013, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/know-your-mind/201306/the-stressed-sex-1

[9] James Ball, “Women 40% more likely than men to develop mental illness, study finds,” The Guardian, May 22, 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/may/22/women-men-mental-illness-study

[10] Daniel Freeman and Jason Freeman, “Let’s talk about the gender differences that really matter – in mental health”, The Guardian, Dec 13, 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2013/dec/13/gender-differences-mental-health

[11] Beck and Emery, 83.

[12] McKay and Fanning, 61-87

[13] “In one study, researchers used a storytelling technique to evaluate three groups of Kenyan women: rural women in a traditional village, poor urban women, and middle-class urban women…traditional women almost always told very positive stories that usually had a happy ending. Middle-class urban women told stories that emphasized their own power and competence. Poor urban women’s stories were generally tragic and focused on powerlessness and vulnerability. The researchers note that many poor urban women have ‘lost the security and protection of the old [traditional] system without gaining the power or rewards of the new system,’” Friedman and Todd.

[14] “Chronic anxiety and chronic stress often share a lot in common. They have similar emotional symptoms, they result in similar physiological reactions, and can easily be confused with the other. In a fast paced world, experiencing stress and anxiety is common and frequently people experience them simultaneously; however, it is important to understand the etiology of the symptoms and luckily there are differences which can help tell them apart. Chronic anxiety sufferers who have experienced therapy are often aware of their triggers…” Michele L. Brennan, Psy.D, “Is It Anxiety or Stress?” Psych Central, accessed October 2, 2014, http://blogs.psychcentral.com/balanced-life/2014/01/is-it-anxiety-or-stress/

[15] “The long-term activation of the stress-response system—and the subsequent overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones—can disrupt almost all your body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including: Anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment.” “Chronic stress puts your health at risk,” Mayo Clinic, accessed October 14, 2014, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

[16] We discuss the primacy of medications in modern psychiatric care more thoroughly in the second essay in this series, “Restoring Sanity, Part 2: Mental Illness as A Social Construct,” http://deepgreenresistancesouthwest.org/2014/03/13/restoring-sanity-part-2-mental-illness-as-a-social-construct/

[17] Cara Santa Maria, “Anxiety vs. Stress: What’s The Difference?” Huffington Post, September 20, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/12/15/anxiety-stress-difference_n_1152590.html

American Psychiatric Association, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Ed.).

[18] “Anxiety Disorders,” National Institute for Mental Health, accessed October 6, 2014, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml

[19] Beck and Emory, 30, 68.

[20] “When the individual is burdened with anxiety over a long period of time and he feels he can’t do anything about it, then he may develop not only physical tension but he may develop physical symptoms—they may be heart palpitations or gastric ulcers or some other kind of physical symptom.” Rollo May, “Understanding and Coping with Anxiety,” Society for Existential Analysis, republished from Psychology Today, 1978, http://www.existentialanalysis.org.uk/assets/articles/Understanding_and_Coping_with_Anxiety_Rollo_May_transcription_Martin_Adams.pdf

[21] “Indicators of Ecological Collapse,” Deep Green Resistance, accessed October 1, 2014, http://deepgreenresistance.org/why-resist/ecological-collapse

[22] Madhusree Mukerjee, “Apocalypse Soon: Has Civilization Passed the Environmental Point of No Return?” Scientific American, May 23, 2012, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=apocalypse-soon-has-civilization-passed-the-environmental-point-of-no-return

“Species Disappearing at an Alarming Rate, Report Says. Watchdog Releases Annual ‘Red List,’ Warns Extent is Underestimated,” MSNBC.com, November 17, 2004, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6502368/ns/us_news-environment/t/species-disappearing-alarming-rate-report-says/#.T06Tsnn8l2I

[23] “Fluoxetine (Prozac®), sertraline (Zoloft®), escitalopram (Lexapro®), paroxetine (Paxil®), and citalopram (Celexa®) are some of the SSRIs commonly prescribed for panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, and social phobia. SSRIs are also used to treat panic disorder when it occurs in combination with OCD, social phobia, or depression. Venlafaxine (Effexor®), a drug closely related to the SSRIs, is used to treat GAD. These medications are started at low doses and gradually increased until they have a beneficial effect.” National Institute for Mental Health, “Anxiety Disorders,” accessed October 27, 2014, http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml#pub8

[24] Michele L. Brennan, Psy.D, “Is It Anxiety or Stress?” Psych Central, accessed October 2, 2014, http://blogs.psychcentral.com/balanced-life/2014/01/is-it-anxiety-or-stress/.

 

Max Wilbert: Plows and Carbon: The Timeline of Global Warming

By Max Wilbert, Deep Green Resistance

In June 1988, climatologist and NASA scientist James Hansen stood before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee in the United States Senate. The temperature was a sweltering 98 degrees.

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“The earth is warmer in 1988 than at any time in the history of instrumental measurements,” Hansen said. “The global warming now is large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship to the greenhouse effect… Our computer climate simulations indicate that the greenhouse effect is already large enough to begin to effect the probability of extreme events such as summer heat waves.”

Hansen has authored some of the most influential scientific literature around climate change, and like the vast majority of climate scientists, has focused his work on the last 150 to 200 years – the period since the industrial revolution.

This period has been characterized by the widespread release of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), and by the clearing of land on a massive scale – the plowing of grasslands and felling of forests for cities and agricultural crops.

Now, the world is on the brink of catastrophic climate change. Hansen and other scientists warn us that if civilization continues to burn fossil fuels and clear landscapes, natural cycles may be disrupted to the point of complete ecosystem breakdown – a condition in which the planet is too hot to support life. Hansen calls this the Venus Syndrome, named after the boiling planet enshrouded in clouds of greenhouse gases.

“If we also burn the tar sands and tar shale [low grade, high carbon fossil fuels], I believe the Venus syndrome is a dead certainty,” Hansen has said.

If humanity wishes to have a chance of avoiding this fate, it is important that we understand global warming in detail. Why is it happening? When did it start? What fuels it? And, most importantly, what can stop it?

How old is global warming?

New studies are showing that the current episode of global warming may be a great deal older than previously believed – which may entirely change our strategy to stop it.

While fossil fuels have only been burned on a large scale for 200 years, land clearance has been a defining characteristic of civilizations – cultures based around cities and agriculture – since they first emerged around 8,000 years ago.

This land clearance has impacts on global climate. When a forest ecosystem is converted to agriculture, more than two thirds of the carbon that was stored in that forest is lost, and additional carbon stored in soils rich in organic materials will continue to be lost to the atmosphere as erosion accelerates.

Modern science may give us an idea of the magnitude of the climate impact of this pre-industrial land clearance. Over the past several decades of climate research, there has been an increasing focus on the impact of land clearance on modern global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in it’s 2004 report, attributed 17% of global emissions to cutting forests and destroying grasslands – a number which does not include the loss of future carbon storage or emissions directly related to this land clearance, such as methane released from rice paddies or fossil fuels burnt for heavy equipment.

Some studies show that 50% of the global warming in the United States can be attributed to land clearance – a number that reflects the inordinate impact that changes in land use can have on temperatures, primarily by reducing shade cover and evapotranspiration (the process whereby a good-sized tree puts out thousands of gallons of water into the atmosphere on a hot summer day – their equivalent to our sweating).

So if intensive land clearance has been going on for thousands of years, has it contributed to global warming? Is there a record of the impacts of civilization in the global climate itself?

10,000 years of Climate Change

According to author Lierre Keith, the answer is a resounding yes. Around 10,000 years ago, humans began to cultivate crops. This is the period referred to as the beginning of civilization, and, according to the Keith and other scholars such as David Montgomery, a soil scientist at the University of Washington, it marked the beginning of land clearance and soil erosion on a scale never before seen – and led to massive carbon emissions.

“In Lebanon (and then Greece, and then Italy) the story of civilization is laid bare as the rocky hills,” Keith writes. “Agriculture, hierarchy, deforestation, topsoil loss, militarism, and imperialism became an intensifying feedback loop that ended with the collapse of a bioregion [the Mediterranean basin] that will most likely not recover until after the next ice age.”

Montgomery writes, in his excellent book Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations, that the agriculture that followed logging and land clearance led to those rocky hills noted by Keith.

“It is my contention that the invention of [agriculture] fundamentally altered the balance between soil production and soil erosion – dramatically increasing soil erosion.

Other researchers, like Jed Kaplan and his team from the Avre Group at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, have affirmed that preindustrial land clearance has had a massive impact on the landscape.

“It is certain that the forests of many European countries were substantially cleared before the Industrial Revolution,” they write in a 2009 study.

Their data shows that forest cover declined from 35% to 0% in Ireland over the 2800 years before the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The situation was similar in Norway, Finland, Iceland, where 100% of the arable land was cleared before 1850.

Similarly, the world’s grasslands have been largely destroyed: plowed under for fields of wheat and corn, or buried under spreading pavement. The grain belt, which stretches across the Great Plains of the United States and Canada, and across much of Eastern Europe, southern Russia, and northern China, has decimated the endless fields of constantly shifting native grasses.

The same process is moving inexorably towards its conclusion in the south, in the pampas of Argentina and in the Sahel in Africa. Thousands of species, each uniquely adapted to the grasslands that they call home, are being driven to extinction.

“Agriculture in any form is inherently unsustainable,” writes permaculture expert Toby Hemenway. “We can pass laws to stop some of the harm agriculture does, but these rules will reduce harvests. As soon as food gets tight, the laws will be repealed. There are no structural constraints on agriculture’s ecologically damaging tendencies.”

As Hemenway notes, the massive global population is essentially dependent on agriculture for survival, which makes political change a difficult proposition at best. The seriousness of this problem is not to be underestimated. Seven billion people are dependent on a food system – agricultural civilization – that is killing the planet.

The primary proponent of the hypothesis – that human impacts on climate are as old as civilization – has been Dr. William Ruddiman, a retired professor at the University of Virginia. The theory is often called Ruddiman’s Hypothesis, or, alternately, the Early Anthropocene Hypothesis.

Ruddiman’s research, which relies heavily on atmospheric data from gases trapped in thick ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland, shows that around 11,000 years ago carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere began to decline as part of a natural cycle related to the end of the last Ice Age. This reflected a natural pattern that has been seen after previous ice ages.

This decline continued until around 8000 years ago, when the natural trend of declining carbon dioxide turned around, and greenhouse gases began to rise. This coincides with the spread of civilization across more territory in China, India, North Africa, the Middle East, and certain other regions.

Ruddiman’s data shows that deforestation over the next several thousand years released 350 Gigatonnes of carbon into the atmosphere, an amount nearly equal to what has been released since the Industrial Revolution. The figure is corroborated by the research of Kaplan and his team.

Around 5000 years ago, cultures in East and Southeast Asia began to cultivate rice in paddies – irrigated fields constantly submerged in water. Like an artificial wetland, rice patties create an anaerobic environment, where bacteria metabolizing carbon-based substances (like dead plants) release methane instead of carbon dioxide and the byproduct of their consumption. Ruddiman points to a spike in atmospheric methane preserved in ice cores around 5000 years ago as further evidence of warming due to agriculture.

Some other researchers, like R. Max Holmes from the Woods Hole Research Institute and Andrew Bunn, a climate scientist from Western Washington University, believe that evidence is simply not conclusive. Data around the length of interglacial periods and the exact details of carbon dioxide and methane trends is not detailed enough to make a firm conclusion, they assert. Regardless, it is certain that the pre-industrial impact of civilized humans on the planet was substantial.

“Our data show very substantial amounts of human impact on the environment over thousands of years,” Kaplan said. “That impact really needs to be taken into account when we think about the carbon cycle and greenhouse gases.”

Restoring Grasslands: a strategy for survival

If the destruction of grasslands and forests signals the beginning of the end for the planet’s climate, some believe that the restoration of these natural communities could mean salvation.

Beyond their beauty and inherent worth, intact grasslands supply a great deal to humankind. Many pastoral cultures subsist entirely on the animal protein that is so abundant in healthy grasslands. In North America, the rangelands that once sustained more than 60 million Bison (and at least as many pronghorn antelope, along with large populations of elk, bear, deer, and many others) now support fewer than 45 million cattle – animals ill-adapted to the ecosystem, who damage their surroundings instead of contributing to them.

Healthy populations of herbivores also contribute to carbon sequestration in grassland soils by increasing nutrient recycling, a powerful effect that allows these natural communities to regulate world climate. They also encourage root growth, which sequesters more carbon in the soil.

Just as herbivores cannot survive without grass, grass cannot thrive without herbivores.

Grasslands are so potent in their ability to pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere that some believe restoring natural grasslands could be one of the most effective tools in the fight against runaway global warming.

“Grass is so good at building [carbon rich] soil that repairing 75 percent of the planet’s rangelands would bring atmospheric CO2 to under 330 ppm in 15 years or less,” Lierre Keith writes.

The implications of this are immense. It means, quite simply, that one of the best ways to reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is to move away from agriculture, which is based upon the destruction of forests and grasslands, and towards other means of subsistence. It means moving away from a way of life 10,000 years old. It means rethinking the entire structure of our food system – in some ways, the entire structure of our culture.

Some ambitious, visionary individuals are working in parallel with this strategy, racing against time to restore grasslands and to stabilize Earth’s climate.

In Russia, in the remote northeastern Siberian state of Yakutia, a scientist named Sergei Zimov has an ambitious plan to recreate a vast grassland – a landscape upon whom millions of herbivores such as mammoths, wild horses, reindeer, bison, and musk oxen fed and roamed until the end of the last ice age.

“In future, to preserve the permafrost, we only need to bring herbivores,” says Zimov. “Why is this useful? For one, the possibility to reconstruct a beautiful [grassland] ecosystem. It is important for climate stability. If the permafrost melts, a lot of greenhouse gases will be emitted from these soils.”

Zimov’s project is nicknamed “Pleistocene Park,” and stretches across a vast region of shrubs and mosses, low productivity communities called ‘Taiga’. But until 12,000 years ago, this landscape was highly productive pastures for a span of 35,000 years, hosting vast herds of grazers and their predators.

“Most small bones don’t survive because of the permafrost,” says Sergei Zimov. “[But] the density of skeletons in this sediment, here and all across these lowlands: 1,000 skeletons of mammoth, 20,000 skeletons of bison, 30,000 skeletons of horses, and about 85,000 skeletons of reindeer, 200 skeletons of musk-ox, and also tigers [per square kilometer].”

These herds of grazers no only supported predators, but also preserved the permafrost beneath their feet, soils that now contain 5 times as much carbon as all the rainforests of Earth. According to Zimov, the winter foraging behavior of these herbivores was the mechanism of preservation.

“In winter, everything is covered in snow,” Zimov says. “If there are 30 horses per square kilometer, they will trample the snow, which is a very good thermal insulator. If they trample in the snow, the permafrost will be much colder in wintertime. The introduction of herbivores can reduce the temperatures in the permafrost and slow down the thawing.”

In the Great Plains of the United States and Canada, a similar plan to restore the landscape and rewild the countryside has emerged. The brainchild of Deborah and Frank Popper, the plan calls for the gradual acquisition of rangelands and agricultural lands across the West and Midwest, with the eventual goal of creating a vast nature preserve called the Buffalo Commons, 10-20 million acres of wilderness, an area 10 times the size of the largest National Park in the United States (Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in Alaska).

In this proposed park, the Popper’s envision a vast native grassland, with predators following wandering herds of American Bison and other grazers who follow the shifting grasses who follow the fickle rains. The shifting nature of the terrain in the Great Plains requires space, and this project would provide it in tracts not seen for hundreds of years.

In parts of Montana, the work has already begun. Many landowners have sold their farms to private conservation groups to fill in the gaps between isolated sections of large public lands. Many Indian tribes across the United States and Southern Canada are also working to restore Bison, who not only provide high quality, healthy, traditional food but also contribute to biodiversity and restore the health of the grasslands through behavior such a wallowing, which creates small wetlands.

Grasslands have the power to not only restore biodiversity and serve as a rich, nutrient-dense source of food, but also to stabilize global climate. The soils of the world cannot survive agricultural civilizations for much longer. If the plows continue their incessant work, this culture will eventually go the way of the Easter Islanders, the Maya, the Greeks, the Macedonians, the Harrapans, or the Roman Empire – blowing in the wind, clouding the rivers. Our air is thick with the remnants of ancient soils, getting long overdue revenge for their past mistreatment.

The land does not want fields. It wants Bison back. It wants grasslands, forests, wetlands, birds. It wants humans back, humans who know how to live in a good way, in relationship with the soil and the land and all the others. The land wants balance, and we can help. We can tend the wild and move towards other means of feeding ourselves, as our old ancestors have done for long years. It is the only strategy that takes into account the needs of the natural world, the needs for a land free of plows and tractor-combines.

In time, with luck and hard work, that ancient carbon will be pulled from the atmosphere – slowly at first, but then with gathering speed. The metrics of success are clear: a calmed climate, rivers running free, biodiversity rebounding. The task of achieving that success is a great challenge, but guided by those who believe in restoring the soil, we can undo 8,000 years of mistakes, and finally begin to live again as a species like any other, nestled in our home, at peace and in balance, freed at last from the burdens of our ancestors’ mistakes.

Bibliography

Climate meddling dates back 8,000 years. By Alexandra Witze. April 23rd, 2011. Science News. http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/71932/title/Climate_meddling_dates_back_8%2C000_years#video

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Global Emissions. Accessed June 23rd, 2012. http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/global.html

The prehistoric and preindustrial deforestation of Europe. By Kaplan et al. Avre Group, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne. Quaternary Science Reviews 28 (2009) 3016-3034.

‘Land Use as Climate Change Mitigation.’ Stone, Brian Jr. Environmental Science and Technology 43, 9052-9056. 11/2009.

‘Functional Aspects of Soil Animal Diversity in Agricultural Grasslands’ by Bardgett et al. Applied Soil Ecology, 10 (1998) 263-276.

Zimov, Sergei. Personal Interviews, June/July 2010.

DIY Resistance: I love you, Dad

IMG_0744By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

“Your mother and I are worried about you,” my dad said looking down into the beer his hands cradled on a wood table in the Morris Inn at the University of Notre Dame.

We came to Notre Dame to honor two now decades-old father and son traditions. The first, seeing Fighting Irish football games together, serves to support the second, honest face-to-face communication in a comfortable environment.

I traveled all the way in from Victoria, BC. My dad came in from San Francisco. For a family that has moved as much as ours, Notre Dame comes as close to representing home as anywhere.

“We’re just worried about you,” my dad said again. “We’re worried you’re not going to be able to support yourself.”

I understood his concerns. In fact, no one worries more about me than, well, me. I’m a volunteer activist in a foreign country living completely on the goodwill of others. I rely on others for sleeping space, for food, and even for the beater bike stuck in the same gear that I grind up hills in Victoria. Someone at US Bank must like me because it’s a minor miracle they haven’t shut my account down by now for being perpetually overdrawn.

Every time I come home, my mother presents me with a stack of unopened bills that have arrived for me at their address. The student loan companies never stop. The Milwaukee ambulance company wants the $1,000 they decided it cost to transport me the two miles from my bedroom to the emergency room one of the nights I tried to kill myself. Of course, I was unconscious and couldn’t possibly consent to the ride.

I often ask my parents for money and they’ve been wonderful about helping. I am sure it is beyond annoying to see my name appear on their phone and automatically wonder if I’m calling to ask for money. On top of this, my dad’s older brother – unemployed, uninsured, and living with my grandparents – just suffered a severe stroke that is going to leave him paralyzed.

I write this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series to encourage individuals – especially young settler individuals from middle class backgrounds – to take the personal steps necessary to free themselves for serious resistance.

I write this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series to encourage individuals – especially young settler individuals from middle class backgrounds – to take the personal steps necessary to free themselves for serious resistance. One of the biggest impediments to engaging in full-time resistance that I hear from young settlers is a worry for the anxiety it will cause their families.

It is true that engaging in serious actions against the dominant culture could cause your family to worry, could cause your parents to be angry with you, could even cause your family to desert you, but, in a time when your family’s well-being is at stake, is it more important that your family is happy with you or that the possibility of a healthy future for your family is protected?

***

My father is a Type-2 diabetic. I cannot pretend to know what that feels like. I’ve seen him prick his finger with a mechanical needle to draw a drop of blood to measure his blood sugar thousands of times. I’ve seen him wince as he inserts a syringe into his belly to deliver the effective insulin his body cannot produce. I’ve heard him describe the dizziness that accompanies low blood sugar and the strange tingling sensations he sometimes feels in his feet. I’ve imagined the fear he must feel when we get the news that a diabetic family member has had some toes amputated.

If there was any possible way to take this disease away from my father, I would do it. Of course, there is nothing I can do to take diabetes away from him, so I work for the next best thing. I combat the economic and agricultural system that causes widespread diabetes.

Diabetes has been described as a disease of civilization. While many scientists claim the causes of diabetes are unclear, they explain genetics, physical activity, and diet are factors in the development of diabetes. Additionally, type-2 diabetes has been found to be extremely rare in pre-Western dominated indigenous cultures around the world. The active life-styles of non-civilized peoples with diets high in proteins and low in carbohydrates meant diseases such as diabetes were virtually unknown.

It would be one thing if civilization and the destructive agriculture that accompanies it were simply an inevitable development in human evolution. If diabetes was simply an unfortunate coincident with the so-called comforts of civilization, then perhaps I could live in peace with my father’s disease. My dad would simply be unlucky enough to bear one of the bad side effects of the culture of progress. But, this is not what is happening.

The same omnicidal processes that massacre indigenous peoples on their lands, that require mass deforestation of old growth forests to fuel this ever-starving machine, that produces the pollutants that are poisoning so many around the world are responsible for both the diet and the difficulty to maintain regular physical activity characterizing life in this culture of death.

Civilization is at the root of the problem. Derrick Jensen’s definition of civilization in two-volume work, Endgame, most accurately describes the predicament we find ourselves in. He defines civilization as a “complex of stories, institutions, and artifacts that both leads to and emerges from the growth of cities.” He goes on to explain what’s wrong with cities defining them as “people living more or less permanently in one place in densities high enough to require the routine importation of food and other necessities of life.”

People living in cities exhaust the resources where they live and then are forced to constantly acquire the necessities of life from somewhere else.

People living in cities exhaust the resources where they live and then are forced to constantly acquire the necessities of life from somewhere else. But, what happens when your neighbors – both human and non-human – are unwilling to give you what you require? What happens, for example, if your way of life depends on fossil fuels that you cannot access from the land you occupy? The answer to these questions form the history of colonization.

Agriculture is nothing more than the colonization (and annihilation) of non-human communities. Author and activist Lierre Keith often encourages her audiences to think about what agriculture does to the land with a simple, common sense progression. I’m paraphrasing her ideas, but she asks audiences to picture a healthy natural community.

Take the prairie lands of the American Midwest, for example, where thousands of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria once thrived. It’s not too hard to remember the tens of millions of bison that once thundered through the prairies. It’s not too hard to hear the cheerful conversations of hundreds of millions of prairie dogs. It’s not too hard to feel the song the wind played on never-ending seas of grass. And, what has agriculture done to these prairies? It has cleared the soil of every living thing – all the way down to the bacterial systems – to grow one crop (often corn or soy or wheat) on land that used to teem with life.

Is it so hard to believe, then, that many of the products spawned in this destruction like high fructose corn syrup are linked to the causes of something so damaging to humans as diabetes?

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It was not until I visited Unist’ot’en territory in central so-called British Columbia that I truly understood the connection between civilization and unhealthy diets.

It was not until I visited Unist’ot’en territory in central so-called British Columbia that I truly understood the connection between civilization and unhealthy diets. One of the first things that struck me about the forests in the region was the number of dead and rotting trees. I do not believe I am exaggerating when I say one in three trees standing in Unist’ot’en forests are dead – killed by beetle infestations.

Climate change is producing winters that end earlier allowing the pine beetles to spawn earlier and at greater numbers. These beetles are literally destroying the forests. This destruction is keeping moose from ranging into Unist’ot’en territory depriving the Unist’ot’en of a staple winter protein. Traditionally, the Unist’ot’en were able to live in balance with their land eating food that they could find on their territories. But, now they’re forced to get their food from somewhere else.

This is, of course, why there are supermarkets everywhere. Civilization has progressed (in the way cancer progresses) to the point where most of us simply cannot survive on food we produce on our own land base – if we even have access to soil to produce our own food. The destruction of the land’s ability to support us and the conversion of the land from self-sustaining natural communities into monocrop dead zones results in high fructose corn syrup being cheaper and easier to acquire than moose.

Just like we know that civilization requires the combustion of fossil fuels creating climate change, we know that civilization requires destructive agriculture creating dangerous diets. Unist’ot’en forests are under attack from fossil fuels in the form of beetle infestations caused by climate change and Unist’ot’en homes are under attack from fossil fuels in the form of proposed pipelines that would gash through their territories if not for their incredible bravery.

The processes threatening the Unist’ot’en threaten my family, too. The processes threatening the Unist’ot’en are undermining the world’s ability to sustain life. I cannot take my father’s disease away, but I can join people like the Unist’ot’en on the front lines as they combat the destruction.

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Environmentally induced cancers are murdering our loved ones at staggering rates, suicide is taking too many of us, and widespread social collapse is not so much a question of if, but when.

I began this series weeks ago imploring my readers to fall in love. I think most of us are already in love with someone, though. We love a partner, a child, our parents, our siblings, a dear friend. We love them so much we worry how our activist lifestyle might negatively affect them. The truth is our loved ones are literally under attack. Environmentally induced cancers are murdering our loved ones at staggering rates, suicide is taking too many of us, and widespread social collapse is not so much a question of if, but when.

I listen respectfully when my parents express their worries to me. I’ve put them through a lot over the years. They gave me life and have loved me unconditionally. But, at this time of crisis, I cannot help but think of the lessons my dad has taught me. My father is a man that gets uncomfortable when I say, “I love you, Dad.” He rarely says it back and that’s ok because his actions have shown me he loves me.

I hope that families supporting those who want to devote their lives to activism can see the love in our actions. I love my parents, I love my sister, I love my friends, and I love this magical world filled with so much beauty. I refuse to see my family destroyed. I refuse to see this living world drained into a lifeless desert. That’s why I can tell my dad I love him, or I can follow his example and let my actions speak for me.

Browse Will Falk’s DIY Resistance series at the Deep Green Resistance Blog