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Time is Short: Resistance Rewritten, Part 2

Editor’s Note: This article originally ran August 8, 2013, in the Deep Green Resistance News Service.  We are republishing the entire Time is Short series, and welcome your comments.

By Lexy Garza and Rachel Ivey / Deep Green Resistance

Humans are storytelling creatures, and our current strategy as a movement is a story, with a beginning, middle, and end.  We need to ask whether that story matches up with reality, and with the way social change has happened throughout history.

Resistance Rewritten part II

So here’s the story as it stands:

  • By raising awareness about the issues, we will create a shift in consciousness.
  • A shift in consciousness will spark a mass movement.
  • A mass movement can successfully end the murder of the planet by using exclusively pacifist tactics.

We all know this narrative, we hear it http://localhost/chapters/ns/resistance/strategy/time-is-short-resistance-rewritten-part-ii/referenced all the time, and it resonates with a lot of people, but we need to examine it with a critical eye along with the historical narratives that are used to back it up. There are truths behind these ideas, but there is also the omission of truth, and we can decipher the interests of the historian by reading between the lines. Let’s take each piece of this narrative in turn to try and find out what’s been omitted and those interests that omission may be concealing.

So let’s start with the idea of “a shift in consciousness.”  The idea that we can educate society into a new and different state of consciousness has been popularized most recently by writers like David Korten, who bases his analysis on the idea:

“The term The Great Turning has come into widespread use to describe the awakening of a higher level of human consciousness and a human turn from an era of violence against people and nature to a new era of peace, justice and environmental restoration.”

Another way that this idea is often mentioned is in the form of the Hundredth Monkey myth. A primatologist named Lyall Watson wrote about a supposed phenomenon where monkeys on one island began teaching each other to wash sweet potatoes in the ocean before eating them. Myth has it that once the hundredth monkey learned to do it, monkeys on other islands who had no contact with the original potato washing monkeys spontaneously began washing potatoes, exhibiting a kind of tipping point or collective jump in consciousness. The existence of this phenomenon has been thoroughly debunked, and even Watson himself has admitted that he fabricated the myth using “very slim evidence and a great deal of hearsay.” This hasn’t stopped optimistic environmentalists from invoking the hundredth monkey phenomenon to defend the idea that through raising our collective consciousness, by getting through to that hundredth monkey, we’ll spark a great turning of humankind away from the behaviors that are killing the planet.

Unfortunately, this line of thinking doesn’t pan out historically. Let’s take the example of resistance against the Nazi regime and the genocide it committed. And let’s look at some omitted historical information. In 1952, after the Nuremberg Trials, after all of the information about the atrocities of the holocaust had become common knowledge, still only 20% of German citizens thought that resistance was justifiable during wartime which, under the Nazis or any other empire, is all the time. And mind you, the question was not whether they personally would participate in the resistance; it was whether they thought any resistance by anyone was justifiable.

At the time that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, 80% of Southern whites still disapproved of giving legal rights to black people. So, raised awareness of the atrocities of the holocaust and of American slavery did not translate into an increased willingness to support resistance.  It was not a shift in consciousness that got the civil rights act passed – it was the hard and dangerous work of organizing, protesting, and putting pressure on the government not by changing its mind but by forcing its hand. [1]

This same unfortunate trend is true about current efforts to educate about climate change. A recent Yale study found that raised awareness about the facts of climate change is not the most powerful influence on someone’s attitude about the issue. Far more powerful on an individual’s attitude are the attitudes of their culture and their community. Right now, the culture we live in here in the US is dedicated to downplaying the risks and tamping down any kind of resistance. Our way of life depends on the very technologies that are causing climate change, and it’s difficult to make someone understand something if their salary, much less their entire way of life, depends on not understanding it. [2]

Pointing these things out is not intended to devalue education efforts. If we didn’t think education was important, we wouldn’t be writing this, and every social justice movement that’s had a serious impact has been very intentional about education. But it’s important to put education in perspective as just one tactic in our toolbox. If we’re looking to education and raising awareness as a strategy unto themselves as many seem to be, history tells us that we’re bound to be disappointed.

So who is served by the dominance of this narrative?  Those who are profiting from the destruction of the planet are the ones whose interests are served by this because the longer we wait for the mythical great turning, or the hundredth monkey, or the next level of consciousness, the more time we give this system to poison the air and water, gut the land, and chew up what little biodiversity we have left.

Ideas can be powerful, but only if they get people to act.  History tells us that more awareness often does not translate into more action.  Let’s take the focus off trying to change people’s ideas about the world, and start focusing on changing material circumstances.

Mass Movement

Part and parcel with the idea of a consciousness shift is the hope that such a shift will lead to a mass movement, and this idea is extremely prevalent among many environmentalists.

We have Bill McKibben saying things like, “I can’t think of anything we can do except keep trying to build a big movement. There’s nothing else that’s ever going to do it.” – Bill McKibben

This is a very absolute statement, and it shows that folks like McKibben who have the most clout in the mainstream environmentalist crowd are telling us in no uncertain terms that building a mass movement is the only hope that we have to halt the destruction of the planet. I would hope that if he’s so sure about that, he has history and some evidence on his side to back it up.

And to be certain, there are examples throughout history of times when numbers mattered. Strikes, the Montgomery Bus Boycott – the key factor in some victories has been numbers.  But the omitted history here is that a mass movement is not the only thing that has ever worked.

One of the most successful movements against oil extraction to date has been MEND, which stands for Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. The area was being ravaged by Shell, and just a few hundred people took on both the Nigerian military and Shell’s private military. They’ve won popular support among the Niger Delta community, and more importantly, those few hundred people have managed to make significant reductions in the oil output from the region, which is something that mainstream environmental movement can’t boast by any stretch of the imagination.

The French Resistance to German occupation during WWII played a significant role in facilitating the Allies rapid advance through France, and active resisters to the Nazi occupation of France was composed of about one percent of the population. Supporters, judging by how many people were reading the underground newspaper, were as much as ten percent of the population, but the active resistance – those who were organizing strikes, gathering intelligence on the German military, sabotaging arms factories, attacks on the electrical grid, telecommunications, attacking German forces and also producing underground media about these activities – these folks were a very small segment of the population, about one percent, hardly a mass movement.

The Irish Republican Army, which fought the British occupation of Ireland, is a similar case with regard to the numbers.  At the peak of the IRA’s resistance, when they were the most active, they had 100,000 members, which was just over 2% of the population, only 15,000 of which were guerilla fighters.  And they had 700 years of resistance culture to draw on, while our modern environmental movement has been losing ground steadily in the fifty years since its birth.

This is not to say that broad popular support isn’t something we should hope for or something we should value, but we do need to call into question the idea, an idea that people like Bill McKibben seem to completely buy into, that a mass movement is the only scenario we can hope for.  The history of resistance tells us otherwise, it tells us that small groups of committed people can be and have been successful in resisting empire.

Who is served by the dominant mass movement narrative?  The people who are murdering the planet are served by this narrative. They are the victors, and they will continue to be the victors until we stop buying into their version of history and their vision of the future.  While we wait for a mass movement, they are capitalizing on our paralysis and our inaction.  And another 200 species went extinct today.

Dogmatic Pacifism

Recently we’ve seen the rise of the term eco-terrorist to define groups or individuals who use tactics involving force.  We’ve even seen recent legislation, like House Bills 2595 and 96 in Oregon, used to redefine tree sits and other nonviolent forest defense tactics as terrorism.  The FBI defines eco-terrorism as “”the use or threatened use of violence of a criminal nature against people or property by an environmentally oriented, subnational group for environmental-political reasons, or aimed at an audience beyond the target, often of a symbolic nature.”

When I hear the term eco-terrorism, I’m reminded of a bumper sticker that my friend has on her car, which says “they only call it class warfare when we fight back.”  In this case, they only call it terrorism when people fight back.  US imperialism, police violence, and the eradication of 200 entire species every single day – to the FBI, these things don’t count as terrorism.  But the destruction of property, even if it harms no humans at all, gets condemned not only by the FBI, but by mainstream environmental organizations as well.

“The Sierra Club strongly condemns all acts of violence in the name of the environment,” said Bruce Hamilton, Sierra Club conservation director. “That type of criminal behavior does nothing to further the cause of promoting safe and livable communities.” I would like to hear Bruce Hamilton tell that to the living communities who are still alive today because of the use of forest defense tactics.  I think they would disagree.

A side note on the Sierra Club: Between 2007 and 2010 the Sierra Club accepted over $25 MILLION in donations from Chesapeake Energy, one of the biggest gas drilling companies in the US and a firm heavily involved in fracking. Of course, the higher ups in the Club kept this from the members. At the time they ended their relationship with Chesapeake Energy in 2010, they turned their back on an additional $30 million in donations.  We have to ask if a corporation, which like all corporations is singularly capable of focusing on profits, would donate any money much less that much money to a group using tactics they felt would be remotely likely to put a dent in their revenue.

So people like Hamilton are not only condemning acts they calls violent, but they’re condemning criminal behavior in the name of the environment.  The problem with that is that the government, and the corporations that run it, THEY decide what is criminal and what isn’t, and they are increasingly criminalizing any action that has a chance of challenging their power or profits.

As activist Tim DeChristopher found out, something as nonviolent as bidding on land against oil companies is criminal.  As occupy protesters found out, occupying public space is criminal.

If activists accept the line between legality and criminality as a line that cannot be crossed, they accept the idea that activists should only take actions sanctioned by the very people whose power we should be challenging.  The state tends to criminalize, or classify as “violent,” any type of action that might work to challenge the status quo. Let’s keep that in mind as we look at the historical examples that are often used to back up this emphasis on the exclusive use of nonviolent tactics.

The fight against British occupation led by Gandhi is often the first and most prominent example used to promote exclusive nonviolence. Gandhi gained notoriety by leading large nonviolent protests like marches, pickets, strikes, and hunger strikes. He eventually was allowed to engage in negotiations with the occupying British who agreed to free imprisoned protesters from prison if Gandhi called off the protests.  Gandhi is sometimes portrayed as single handedly leading a nonviolent uprising and forcing the British to make concessions, but we have to ask – what is the omitted history here?

The truth is that the success of the movement against the British occupation was not solely the result of pacifist tactics; it was the result of a diversity of tactics.  While Gandhi was organizing, a socialist named Bhagat Singh became disillusioned with what he saw as the ineffectiveness and hypocrisy of Gandhi’s tactics.  Singh went on to lead strikes and encourage militancy against the British occupation, and is considered one of the most influential revolutionary leaders in India, more revered by some in India than Gandhi.  The combination of economic tactics, peaceful and symbolic actions, cultural revival, and yes, militancy, had an effect together.  Most in the West, the activists that I’ve met that look to nonviolence as the primary guiding principle for their tactics have never heard of Bhagat Singh.

George Orwell had this to say on the topic of Gandhi: “Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist. This is elementary common sense. If others imagine that one can somehow ‘overcome’ the German army by lying on one’s back, let them go on imagining it, but let them also wonder occasionally whether this is not an illusion due to security, too much money and a simple ignorance of the way in which things actually happen. As an ex-Indian civil servant, it always makes me shout with laughter to hear, for instance, Gandhi named as an example of the success of non-violence. As long as twenty years ago it was cynically admitted in Anglo-Indian circles that Gandhi was very useful to the British government. Despotic governments can stand ‘moral force’ till the cows come home; what they fear is physical force.”

Another prominent proponent of nonviolence was Martin Luther King Jr. For a people terrorized by the violence of poverty, police violence, white supremacist terrorism, and other horrors, the power of King’s words and the importance of his work, his significance to the civil rights movement, cannot be overstated.  Other nonviolent groups and action like the freedom riders were very effective in demonstrating the reality of racist brutality.  However, the gains made by the movement during that time were not solely the result of nonviolent tactics.

The Black Panther party and other groups were advocating for self-defense tactics and militancy, and they were widely censured for it by more mainstream elements within the movement, much like militant environmental defense is being censured by the mainstream today.  A group called the Deacons for Defense and Justice was training black communities in armed self-defense tactics.

Again, in the case of the civil rights movement, it was not nonviolent tactics alone that produced the gains of that era; it was a diversity of tactics.

We already mentioned MEND, and MEND is not a nonviolent group.  They are an armed militia, and they use tactics from sabotage to kidnapping oil executives in order to defend their land and their people. The land is being utterly decimated by oil extraction.  The people live in poverty despite the Nigerian government making millions from the oil rich area.  The tactics MEND uses are a last resort.  Before MEND, the resistance in the Niger Delta was primarily nonviolent, and it was led by a man named Ken Saro-Wiwa.  Ken Saro-Wiwa and his group, Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People, never deviated from their commitment to nonviolence, even as Ogoni resistance leaders were being routinely murdered, both by oil company thugs and legally, through state execution.  In 1995, despite a massive human rights outcry from around the world, Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed on false charges by the Nigerian government, along with eight other Ogoni resistance leaders.  As Orwell pointed out, the Nigerian government and the oil companies it serves can stand “moral force” until the cows come home, it has no effect.  But the physical force of MEND’s tactics was able to reduce oil output by one third between 2006 and 2008.

The movement for women’s suffrage is another movement often misremembered in the popular imagination as being won solely by nonviolent means.  In Britain, women started out with pickets, and lobbying, and letters to the editor. But when these tactics failed, some suffragists moved on to direct action, such as chaining themselves to the railings outside the prime minister’s home, and to actually going and casting ballots illegally, which got them arrested.  After a protest in 1910 turned into a near riot due to brutal police beatings of protesting women, the movement began to wage guerilla warfare, orchestrating systematic window smashing campaigns and arson attacks.  The slogan of this movement was “deeds, not words.” They were imprisoned and tortured for their efforts, but in 1918, they won the right to vote.  Again, this fight was won by a diversity of tactics.

So there’s a pattern here to which parts of history become mainstream, and which parts become marginalized and even forgotten.

Whose interests are served by omitting militancy from the historical record? It is in the interest of governments and corporations that we never seize the physical force to actually stop them.

However, plenty of people around the world ARE seizing that physical force, and they have been throughout history.  Instead of haggling with Monsanto over ineffective regulations of GMO crops, and the labeling of GMO products, Hungary decided to burn all of Monsanto’s GMO corn fields within their borders to protect the integrity of their other crops.  Another example of GMO resistance is that this past June in Southern Oregon, 40 Tons or 6,500 sugar beet GMO crops were destroyed by hand and the field burned over a three night period. There has been a complete media blackout of this in response, perhaps to avoid inspiring more folks from taking this type of action.

Fracking equipment was set ablaze around so called New Brunswick in Canada two weeks later. This is coming at a time of increased indigenous resistance to hydraulic fracturing in the region, after numerous direct actions, midnight seizures of drilling equipment, and a local man being struck by a contractor’s vehicle.

Another example of resistance through physical force is that instead of accepting the Brazilian government ignoring their voices and sentencing their way of life to be destroyed, hundreds of indigenous demonstrators occupied and began to manually dismantle Belo Monte Dam construction.

So let’s look again at the narrative we began with:

  • By raising awareness about the issues, we will create a shift in consciousness.
  • A shift in consciousness will spark a mass movement.
  • A mass movement can successfully end the murder of the planet by using exclusively pacifist tactics.

I hope that we’ve been able to demonstrate that while there are underlying truths here, this narrative leaves out a lot of important information, and as a result, a strategy based on this narrative is not working.

Here’s a version of those ideas that incorporates some of the omitted information that we talk about today.

  • Education is vitally important, but we can’t expect raising awareness to galvanize most people into action, especially when action would threaten their privilege and entitlement.
  • Popular support is valuable, but resistance has often been carried out by small groups of determined people, not by mass movements.
  • Nonviolence can be a powerful tactic, but winning strategies are marked by a diversity of both peaceful and militant tactics.

What does this mean for our actions?  How can we incorporate this information into our strategy?

  • Vocally challenge these narratives
  • Support extra-legal resistance
  • Support political prisoners
  • Adhere to security culture

We tried really hard as we were writing this to not sugarcoat any of this.  When I’ve spoken frankly in the past about biodiversity collapse, catastrophic climate change, and the horror I feel in response to them, I’ve had some people say “tone it down.  Don’t be so doom and gloom, you’ve got to give the people hope.”  Let me say now for the record – fuck hope.  We don’t need it.  As one author put it, “hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency.”  In other words, you only need hope in situations where you have no control, no power.  Those who do have power, who are using that power to murder the planet, have written a narrative that masks the power we could wield, that lies in order to make sure we never claim the tools to challenge their profits.

Every day that we abide by their rules and accept the narrative that serves their power is a day we waste.  But every day is also a new chance to rewrite that narrative, to change the story.  With a truer understanding of the past we can form a more effective strategy for the present.  With a more effective strategy in the present, we can reject a future on the dying planet they have us headed toward.

With everything, literally, at stake, it’s time to do what we can with what we have, and it’s time to claim the legacy of resistance that these and other examples of silenced history could teach us.


[1] http://books.google.com/books?id=kKv8PXwIiFkC&pg=PA237&lpg=PA237&dq=civil+rights+gallup+polling+1960&source=bl&ots=-TTg7n7EbO&sig=odTF9mCzMqJkuPH2xZoRYCDPYaI&hl=en&ei=HkLgS-WcFpKwNtWsmKsH&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=6&ved=0CCAQ6AEwBQ#v=onepage&q&f=false

[2] http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1981907

This is the second part of a two piece series on strategic resistance by Lexy Garza and Rachel Ivey. The first piece is available here: Resistance Rewritten, Part 1.

DIY Resistance: Grasp Things at the Root

Many thanks to San Diego Free Press, who first published this article.

By Will Falk, Deep Green Resistance

Tree roots

I recently attended another sustainability conference at a local university. The experts sat in a half-circle facing their audience in rank-and-file foldable chairs. I, like most of the audience, hoped to hear a brilliant solution to the ongoing destruction of the living world. The amount of experience and knowledge assembled in the experts’ panel was formidable.

There was an organic farmer, a local politician, a Christian minister, an executive director of an environmental NGO, a scientist, a green engineer, and a young indigenous woman representing the Native Students Union. My expectations were high.

Finally, the question we all came to hear answered was asked, “So, what do we do to stop this environmental catastrophe?”

The typical conversation topics were covered. “Is climate change real?” “What does ‘being green’ mean to you?” “What is sustainability?” I was prepared to sit through these questions patiently as the answers from the experts represented an introduction to Environmentalism 101 because I knew the pay-off question was coming.

Finally, the question we all came to hear answered was asked, “So, what do we do to stop this environmental catastrophe?” People took long draws from their coffee cups, cocked their heads forward, and scooted to the edge of their seats waiting for the words that would blow their minds and blow pipelines back to the hell they come from and cause. We wanted to find some enlightenment, some direction each one of us could take to stem the tide of destruction.

The organic farmer answered first. “If you care about the environment,” he said, “Never, ever go into a supermarket.” I looked around at the audience to make sure I heard that correctly. Was he suggesting that we could stop the destruction of the world by not shopping at the supermarket?

I noticed the young indigenous woman glaring at the organic farmer and knew I must not be completely crazy for disagreeing with the man. I settled myself down. I wasn’t going to let one insane answer ruin the conference for me.

The next answer came from the minister. “We need to recognize the connectedness of all living beings.” I waited for more and I started to get impatient. Yes, I understood. We are all connected. But, how is a spiritual process occurring exclusively in my own heart going to affect anything in the real world?

Then, it was the scientist’s turn to answer. When they handed him the microphone he paused for effect looking down the long ridge of his nose and over his glasses. His gaze was so intent and his pause so long that I felt we were finally going to be shown the way to environmental redemption. But, instead of answering the question, the scientist asked, “How many of you voted in the last election?”

“Voting!?” I thought. “His answer to the destruction of natural communities and the ongoing genocide of colonized peoples is…voting?”

We are going to stop the destruction of the world by stopping the destruction of the world. … Stopping the destruction means literally stopping the physical forces that are destroying the planet.

My head sank into my hands. My throat tightened in that mysterious spasm between wanting to burst into tears and wanting to burst into maniacal laughter. By the time I regained my composure enough to listen, I found the young indigenous woman berating the organic farmer for thinking the people most vulnerable to environmental disaster – the world’s poor – could afford to feed themselves on the wares of organic farmers.

She then, thankfully, turned on the scientist for claiming that anyone should consent to rule by an illegitimate, imperial government through the act of voting in that government’s elections.


We are not going to stop the destruction of the world by voting. We are not going to stop the destruction of the world by shopping. We are not going to stop the destruction of the world by opening our hearts to the reality of our connection to everything. We are going to stop the destruction of the world by stopping the destruction of the world.

You read that correctly. It’s a simple idea, but it’s true. Stopping the destruction means literally stopping the physical forces that are destroying the planet. This is not something we can wish away, pray away, write away, or vote away. Chainsaws need gas or electricity to run. Take away the gas and electricity and they cannot cut down trees. Mining companies need bridges and roads to access mines. Block the bridges and the roads and they cannot mine.

Governments need soldiers to drive indigenous peoples from their lands to access resources. Stop the soldiers and keep land bases in the hands of peoples who know how to live truly sustainably as evidenced by their existence on specific land bases for thousands of years.

Another way to think about this is to envision the typical, mainstream approach to political action. Say you’ve realized that fossil fuels are a problem. Say you’ve realized that climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels is one of the most pressing problems facing the world today. Say you’ve realized that stopping pipelines carrying fossil fuels to be burned in communities around the world is essential for the survival of life on this planet. What can you do to stop these pipelines?

Yet another way to look at this is to analyze any of your proposed actions for whether or not they depend on someone else to stop the problem.

Well, you can do your best to wade through the rhetoric spat at you by political candidates to find who might espouse the most responsible stance towards pipelines and cast an informed vote. Of course, your candidate might lose the election. Or, your candidate might win and then decide that jobs are more important than breathable air. Never mind the fact that voting turns your voice, your body, yourself into simply a vote cast – one number in thousands.

Meanwhile, corporations are preparing their right-of-ways for their pipelines. They’re buying up land, clear-cutting it, and surveying it for the cheapest route.

Maybe your vote didn’t work out like you wanted it to so you circulate a petition. Worded with your most vitriolic political language, you gather thousands of signatures and send it to your elected representative hoping that he or she even sees it – much less reads it. While you’re doing this, more of the forests on the proposed pipeline routes are clear-cut. Hundreds of thousands of trees, millions of birds, and countless insects lose their lives.

After several months trying to get through to your elected representative, you decide to escalate your tactics. It’s time to take this issue to the courts. First, you have to find an attorney willing to take your case. Then, you have to raise the requisite retainer. Once you find a suitable attorney, you begin work on your arguments. The research begins to cost more and more money as your argument gets more and more complex.

Finally, you get the case in front of a judge and start the years-long process of litigation. In the end, of course, you’ll be relying on the skills of your attorney and the wisdom of the judge to decide in your favor and stop the pipelines.

In the end, the judge congratulates you and your attorney for making such a valiant effort while apologizing that the law is unfortunately squarely on the side of the oil corporations. You lose in court and have exhausted all political and legal means to stop the pipelines. What can you do?

You can deprive the ability of the government, of politicians, of lawyers, and judges from making the wrong decision. You can make it physically impossible to build the pipelines. The goal is not to vote for the right candidate. The goal is not to buy the most eco-friendly soap. The goal is not to put thousands of names on a nasty letter to your politician. The goal is to stop the pipelines.

The survival of life on earth is being threatened. Every day that passes brings us closer and closer to the black precipice of utter destruction.

Yet another way to look at this is to analyze any of your proposed actions for whether or not they depend on someone else to stop the problem. When you place your hopes in voting to stop environmental destruction, you’re depending on politicians to do the stopping.

Do we need to talk about politicians and their environmental record? When you place your hopes in a petition to stop social injustice, you’re depending, again, on politicians to do the stopping. When you depend on the courts to make the right rulings, you’re depending on judges to do the stopping. Maybe the courts have a slightly better environmental record than their counterparts in the executive branches of government, but with a livable planet at stake, are we willing to place our survival in the hands of judges?

This brings me to the main point. The survival of life on earth is being threatened. Every day that passes brings us closer and closer to the black precipice of utter destruction. While scientists are arguing over the planet’s capacity to support human life in terms of years or decades, we simply cannot wait around for someone else to stop the destruction.

We wouldn’t write letters to a known serial killer asking him to stop murdering; we’d just go and stop him. Why aren’t we doing the same thing for the planet?


Lately, I’ve been receiving messages from readers of this Do-It-Yourself Resistance series asking me for specific advice on how to engage in resistance. I hesitate before writing back because, truthfully, I’m not very smart, I’m not very experienced, and I’m not very wise. Sometimes, I get lucky and write an essay someone likes, but I’m really just writing from the heart trusting that honesty is helpful.

On top of this, I only know what’s going on in a few small corners of the world. It’s hard to tell someone in New York City, for example, how to resist because I do not know the land and its fight for survival in New York City.

If you feel inclined to vote, vote, but please don’t let voting be the only thing you do.

This essay represents my attempt to fashion a common-sense analysis for thinking about where to direct your precious time, money, and body in the fight to save the world. If it’s not clear already, I am radical. I hate that the term ‘radical’ has come to represent extremism in popular circles and I’ve heard it asked, “Is it so radical to desire clean drinking water?”

Angela Davis, the great civil rights activist, pointed out that radical “simply means ‘grasping things at the root.’” The major dictionaries back her up.

“That’s great, Will,” you might be saying, “but do I have to become a radical to engage in effective resistance?” Well, yes and no. You may not be cut out for the sort of front line direct action that at least some of us must be willing to do to stop the murder of the planet. You must, however, learn to grasp the environmental problems at their roots. You must develop an analysis that lets you see where the pressure points in this ecocidal system exist.

Most importantly, you must direct your resources at those pressure points. If you cannot occupy the front lines, make sure the front lines are well supplied and well supported. If you feel inclined to vote, vote, but please don’t let voting be the only thing you do. Please don’t restrict your activities to those already sanctioned by the State. They are sanctioned because they are ultimately no threat to the status quo.

If you sink your shovel through the decaying bones, rotting flesh, and pooling blood that fertilizes the soil growing this abomination we call civilization, your shovel will strike the physical processes – the roots – allowing the murder to continue. If you want to be an effective resister direct all your energies at stopping those physical processes. Grasp the roots and yank them out.

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

Deep Green Resistance – Liberal vs Radical Part 3 of 3

Don’t miss Liberal vs Radical part one and part two.

(Video captions available in English, Russian, Portuguese.  Contact us if you would like to translate this or other Deep Green Resistance videos to another language.)

Video Transcript:

Once people realize that bad things are happening most of us are called to action. I would say these are the four main categories of response.

Response Categories

The take home point here, if you remember nothing else from this, is that all four of these categories can be either liberal or radical.

None of them are inherently liberal or radical. It depends how we use them. They all have strategic strengths, they all have strategic failings. So it depends what we want to do with them.

This is the realization to which radicalism brings you. My two favorite people again.

Liberal vs Radical quotes

Social change requires force. Why? Because it’s not a mistake out of which the powerful can be educated. Don’t misunderstand me that when I say “force”, that does not have to equal violence. Whether or not to wage your struggle using violence or nonviolence is a decision that comes way later, way down the pike.

Nonviolence is a very elegant political technique if it is understood and used properly. I don’t think that it is being used properly on the left right now but this is not a division between violence and nonviolence. It is only to recognize that power is not a mistake, I mean, not unless you’re a liberal.

Again, if you want to be a liberal, great, if that’s the framework that works for you, it’s your decision. I mean really, some of my best friends, right?

[Lierre Keith and audience laugh]

Back to our categories.

The first one is legal, for obvious reasons. A lot of activist groups really focus on making legal changes to the social power. And, to quote Catharine MacKinnon, “Law organizes power”, so it makes sense that a lot of us will sort of gravitate to that. The trick is we got to do that as radicals and not as liberals.

Basic question: Does this initiative, whatever it is, does it redefine power? Not just who’s at the top of the pyramid, but does it actually redefine power? Does it take power away from the powerful and redistribute it such that we all have some control over the material conditions? That would make it a radical action. But a lot of people, they give up on the legal stuff, or it doesn’t appeal for whatever reason.

Direct action, also tried and true. You can totally bypass the legislative arena and get a lot done. Usually that’s some kind of civil disobedience. It can be letter writing, petitioning, some kind of pressure but it really kicks into gear when you hit them economically.

Great example is the Montgomery Bus Boycott. It was not a legal campaign, it was “we’re going to hit them economically”, and they did. They brought the bus company to their knees and made them stop segregating the buses. So it can be very effective.

Your basic insurrection would be another good example of direct action. That covers a lot of ground from very liberal things to very successful movements on up to really profound change.

Number three is withdrawal. Now this is a tricky one. The main difference between withdrawal as a successful strategy and withdrawal as a failed strategy is whether that withdrawal is seen as adequate in itself or whether it’s seen as necessary, connected to a larger political struggle. And that distinction hinges exactly on the difference between liberal and radical. Because issues of identification and loyalty are crucial to resistance movements but they’re not enough because your emotional state is not actually what’s going to create political change.

The withdrawal has to go beyond the intellectual, beyond the emotional, beyond the psychological. It’s got to include a goal, actually winning justice by withdrawing.

Withdrawal may give solace but ultimately it will change nothing. Living in a rarefied bubble-world of the already converted is a very poor substitute for freedom and it will not save our planet.

This is Gene Sharp, who I think is marvelous, and you should go to the library, get every book he’s ever written, keep you busy for a year. He makes a very similar point. The people who he calls “utopians” I would call “withdrawalists”.

Utopians Gene Sharp

They’re often especially sensitive to the evils of the world, they crave certainty and purity, they reject the evil as firmly as possible, they don’t want to have any compromise, and they await this new world, which will come into being by either an act of God, a change in human spirit, autonomous changes in conditions, some kind of spontaneous upheaval… but all of these are beyond deliberate human control.

The most serious weakness of this response to the problem of this world is not the broad vision or the commitment of the people who believe in it. The weakness is that these believers have no effective way to reach the society of their dreams. That about sums up my youth.

[L.K. and audience laugh]

I’ve heard the phrase “secular millennialism” and that’s exactly what he’s getting at.

So the left has these vague notions that our actions will inspire others, that even more vaguely these will accumulate into some kind of meaningful social change, or kick off a spontaneous insurrection.

There’s a nonviolent version which is usually lifestyle stuff like diet. There’s the more militant actions like the Weather Underground. Those are the two poles of secular millenialism. Change will happen because it MUST or because the Great Turning narrative says it will, or because the fires of our righteous rage will make it be so.

Given that revolution is not actually inevitable, I think we would be wise to understand the basic principle of resistance. “Dislodging injustice requires”, in the words of Andrea Dworkin, “organized political resistance”.

This brings us to the next category which is spirituality.

Withdrawalists’ stance is usually based on despair but it’s an answer that relies on faith, not on strategy. Which is to say, it’s an emotional response, an emotional solution, and it’s not a material solution. This merges right into Millenarianism.

Millenarianism is any religious movement that predicts the collapse of the world order as we know it, to be replaced by this wonderful time of justice and whatnot. There are lots of examples across history of desperate people taking this up. I highly recommend reading up on this.

Much of the left has been infected by this kind of thinking. We’re going to meditate to stop global warming, we’re going to orgasm our way to peace…

If all else fails, which it will, December 2012 is coming up, right? How many of these have we lived through? I’m 46, I think I’ve lived through 4? Every 10 years there’s another one, right? It’s not going to happen.

The worst examples in history that we know of: the Xhosa Cattle Killing Cult. The Xhosa are cattle-herding people in eastern South Africa. In the 1700s there’s various colonial invasions, displacement, genocide, war, all these horrors. By 1854 there’s this terrible lung disease and a whole bunch of the cattle die so the people are just incredibly vulnerable at this point, and somebody has a vision.

A teenage girl has a vision, and the vision is, if we kill all the cattle, destroy all our food stocks, even our cooking pots, everything, then this great thing will happen. The dead are going to return, the food supplies will just spring up overnight, there’s going to be gigantic cattle that you’ve never even seen before, they’re so big, and the spirit warriors will drive the British out and we will have our land again.

This vision starts to spread, everybody starts having visions, it’s just like this mass visioning is happening everywhere.

People believe it, more people believe it, they start killing the cattle. At some point so many cattle are killed that the carrion birds can’t even keep up with it. There’s so many corpses rotting in the sun. 400,000 beasts are slaughtered by the end of this.

The first deadline comes, does anything happen? One guess… no.

And of course the unbelievers are blamed. This is always where it ends with this kind of millenialism. It’s YOUR fault ’cause you didn’t believe it. So the very last cattle have to be killed.

A few people are hanging on, “nah, I’m just going to keep this one cow for some milk”. You can’t do it. So every last cattle has to be killed.

So, what happens? Mass starvation ensues. All its attendant atrocities and horrors, people ate corpses, people ate grass, people ate their children. I mean it’s just absolute hell. The population at one point was 105,000 and it collapses to 26,000 people, a lot whom had to escape into cities ’cause they were just starving in the countryside.

150 years of imperialism could not defeat the Xhosa but 2 years of millennial fever almost did.

So, bad example.

The Boxer Rebellion is another one, just as horrible. They called themselves the Righteous Harmony Society. This was a religious society in northern China that was absolutely a response to the Opium Wars and British Imperialism. You get why people are desperate.

They did martial arts, diet and prayer and they believed they’d be given the power to fly if they did this. And absolutely, they had special garments, protection against bullets and swords. You find that theme a lot. You’re going to wear this special garment and they won’t be able to kill you.

There was going to be an army of spirit soldiers that was going to arrive to save the day and drive out the British. They never appeared. The entire thing ends in complete disaster for China. Very evil stuff. How the British responded was just appalling.

Anyway, two examples and it is really worth, I think, knowing more about this because I just see these tendencies all the time and it’s not going to end well for us either.

Divine intervention has never yet stopped a system of unjust power across the entire sweep of human history. As a political strategy it is a complete failure and we really need to get over this one.

This is not in any way to dismiss the role of spirituality in a resistance movement. Spirituality is so often the core of any culture, and it is often the cradle of the resistance movement.

A lot of people talk about the black churches as the beginning of the Civil Right Movement, the Anti-Apartheid Movement also, the churches play this huge role. All across the world you can find how the Tibetans and the Buddhism, how this all comes together. It gives people incredible dignity and strength, you can get yourself respect through your spiritual practice. It absolutely helps communities stay together under really brutal conditions, helps set community norms.

All that is incredibly important. My point, really, is that faith is not a political strategy.

The only miracle we’re going to get is us.

Don’t miss Liberal vs Radical part two.

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Deep Green Resistance – Liberal vs Radical Part 2 of 3

Watch part one and part three.

(Video captions available in English, Russian, Portuguese.  Contact us if you would like to translate this or other Deep Green Resistance videos to another language.)

Video Transcript:

People withstand oppression using 3 psychological methods: denial, accommodation, and consent. So if they had but known they were slaves.

Anyone on the receiving end of domination learns early in life to stay in line or risk the consequences. And those consequences only have to be applied once in awhile to be effective. From that point forward the traumatized psyche will police itself.

We have a saying in the battered women’s movement, “One beating a year will keep a woman down” so once in awhile is all it takes. Any show of resistance is met on the continuum that starts with derision, social derision, all the way across to violence, including murder, and that’s how oppression works. We end up consenting.

But resistance does happen, somehow. Despite everything people WILL insist on their humanity.

Here is “tank-man”. I love this. We still don’t know this man’s name, we don’t know if he’s alive, but he did this.

[Male voice from audience: ] No, he was killed.

[Lierre Keith:] He was killed?

[Male voice from audience mumbles something in agreement]

[Lierre Keith:] They’re pretty sure he was killed? ‘Cause he WAS pulled out of the street but they don’t know whether it was by police or whether it was by other citizens who were trying to save him ’cause they were like, “he’s going to get murdered” and so they dragged him out, yeah…

[Man in audience mumbles:] …killed.

[Lierre Keith:]…killed, yeah. It’s a big mystery, we’re not quite sure what happened to him in the end but he said “over my dead body”, that’s quite clear.  And frankly that’s what we all need to be doing, right? In one way or another.

The final difference is the approach to justice. With power being invisible on the liberal side, justice is therefore served by adhering to these moral principles that are abstract.

For radicals justice cannot be blind. Domination will only be dismantled by taking away the rights of the powerful and redistributing those rights to the rest of us.  So you’re going to have to name the harm and then think up a specific redress and then go ahead and do it.
By having it be blind it means that you’re really only supporting the powers that be that are already in place.

One really great example of this is: there’s a famous sex discrimination case, it was a class action case against Sears and Roebuck.  Women came forward, had a whole bunch of stories about how they were being denied promotions, and whatnot, at Sears. This was heard by a federal court.  One of the problems was that women weren’t getting maternity leave.  They were being discriminated against ’cause they don’t have maternity leave.
The court denied all their claims. For women, this is a huge loss. WalMart is doing the same thing now. It has not changed in 30 years.

The part that gets you always is the federal judge then says, “This is not discrimination against women because if men got pregnant too, they also would not have maternity leave.”  This is a federal judge. You could not find a more abstract principle.  “If men got pregnant…”  Men DON’T get pregnant, that’s the point!  That’s WHY it’s discrimination against women.

[audience laughs]

So here we’ve been using these words like “oppression”.  We haven’t defined this yet.

dgr-quotes-Frye-OppressionDefinition-articlesizeIf you did your reading you will have come across Marilyn Frye.  [Oppression is] “…a system of interrelated forces and barriers which reduce, immobilize and mold people who belong to a certain group, and effect their subordination to another group.”  Now that is radicalism in one elegant sentence.  Oppression is not an attitude, it’s about a system of power.  And one of the harms of that system is that is creates subordination in that group.  It creates that consent in the oppressed.

The image that she uses is the birdcage.  If you are a liberal you’re only going to see random bars.  They’re not connected into that interrelated set, right?  What keeps that bird in that cage is the fact that all those bars work together. It’s the interrelated forces and barriers.  So if you’re a liberal, why is that bird in that cage?  Oh I don’t know, there’s nothing keeping that bird in that cage.  You don’t see the forces and barriers.  It either has to be voluntary, “the bird wants to be in that cage”, or it’s natural, “well it’s just in that bird’s nature to be in that cage”.

We’ve got another word here we should talk about which is “subordination”. We’ve got some very smart people who’ve come before us.

This is Andrea Dworkin, Four Elements of Subordination:


Hierarchy: group on top, group on the bottom. Of course the people on the bottom have a lot fewer rights, resources, blah, blah.

Objectification: some human beings are seen as less than human.  In whatever way they are used as objects, they are bought and sold as objects, it’s appropriate to treat them as objects.

Submission: so here we go again. You have to submit in order to survive. And this is always the rock and the hard place that you’re up against when you are being oppressed.
You are objectified and because you then have to submit that’s used as proof that you in fact deserved that oppression or you’re somehow made for that oppression, it doesn’t hurt you when you’re oppressed.  But in fact it’s really just the only option you’ve got, if essentially, you don’t want to die.

Finally there’s violence: of course committed by the people on top against the people on the bottom. It’s totally natural, in fact, they have a right to do it.  It’s when people start fighting up from the bottom that you’ve got trouble.

All 4 of these elements work together to create this hermetically sealed world, psychologically and politically.  Where oppression is normalized and is almost as necessary as air for the whole society to function.

Coming to political consciousness is not a painless task.  To overcome that denial, the accommodation, the consent, it means facing the everyday normative cruelty
of the society in which you live, in which millions of people are participating in this.
A lot of them get direct benefits from it, others of them get benefits as bystanders. It’s really hard to face that.  It’s also really hard to face your own collusion in your own oppression. It’s not a fun moment.

A friend of mine remembers the first person in her family who ever went to college grew up in really extreme poverty and her first year in college she kind of had a mental breakdown and it was over this one sentence:

She said, “I realized there were rich people and there were poor people and there was a relationship between the two”.

That whole year was just coming to grips with that.

Knowledge of oppression starts from some kind of baseline recognition that subordination is always wrong, that oppression always hurts real people, and that we can do something about it. I would submit that knowledge, and the skills that we acquire in analyzing the situation that we’re in can be emotionally freeing, certainly intellectually freeing and ultimately spiritually freeing.  It can give us the kind of courage we need to go forward, so, we gotta do it.

Watch part one and part three.

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This is what I said at Radfems Respond


1. Female people are a distinct social class with unique experiences, and members of that class experience specific forms of oppression under male supremacy based on the fact that we are female.

2. Gender is an inherently oppressive caste system that serves to facilitate and maintain the exploitation of female people under male supremacy.

In the last year, my experiences have made it clear to me that these two ideas are tantamount to Orwellian thoughtcrime in our current political climate around gender. And my question – yet again – is why. What is it about these two ideas that justifies the level of threats, backlash, and silencing that we receive just for daring to speak them out loud?

With each of these, I want to talk about their significance to feminism – the reasons that I think it’s important that we state them out loud despite the consequences –  and I also want to honestly address some of the criticisms that I’ve heard directed at them.

Of course, most of radical feminism’s detractors don’t even bother to engage with this discussion. It’s a lot easier to threaten women, to make us afraid, than to actually have a constructive adult conversation. It’s a lot easier to dismiss radical feminism as outdated, a relic from an earlier time, as many choose to, than to acknowledge and engage with our points. This argument, if it can even be called an argument, falls completely flat for me and so many radical feminists of my generation. We’re not clinging to relics, we’re reaching for a politics that actually addresses the scope of the misogyny and male supremacy that we are forced to live within.

Read more:  This is what I said at Radfems Respond

Deep Green Resistance – Liberal vs Radical Part 1 of 3

Watch part two and part three.

Video Transcript:

Two of my favorite people from history. My dad gets upset because they don’t really teach science anymore in the public schools, and this is mostly because the Right Wing can’t bear the thought of evolution. My mom gets sad ’cause they don’t really teach history anymore and my sister fairly weeps because you don’t get art anymore in the school system. But me, I’m like, ‘they just don’t teach revolution anymore in those public schools’.[audience laughs] Am I right? Right?

So this is like the basic political education that really, we all should have gotten, and really most of us didn’t. And I start here with liberals and radicals because I think this is the main division.

I think this is important because a lot of times in our friendships and our activist networks and even in our groups, and across broader movements, there are these tensions that can be really painful and profound and a lot of it really comes down to the difference between liberals and radicals. I, in the end, don’t care which side of this you decide to land on you got to figure out which, you know, which world view actually describes the world as you know it (and that’s up to you really). But it can really help to understand where these different perspectives are coming from because then when you have these conflicts suddenly you go, ‘right, that’s liberal and I’m radical, and that’s why we’re never going to meet in the middle’ because these are profound differences, politically. Doesn’t mean we can’t work together; lots of coalitions need to happen.

I mean, I am not trying to demonize anybody here but these ARE different positions that people can take across the spectrum. I would say the main division between liberals and radicals is individualism.

Liberals believe that society is made up of individuals. That’s the basic social unit. In fact individualism is so sacrosanct that in this view, to be identified as a member of a group is seen as an affront; that’s the insult.

Totally different for radicals over on the other side of the chart. Society is not made up of individual people, it’s made up of groups of people. In Marx’s original version this was class, it was economic class. This is the debt that all radicals owe Karl Marx. It doesn’t matter if you are a Marxist or not, he figured this out. It’s groups of people and some groups have power over other groups. That’s what society is made of.

In the radicals’ understanding being a member of a group is not an insult. In fact it’s the first primary step you have to take coming to a radical consciousness and then ultimately having effective political action, you have to identify as a member of that group. You’ve got to make common cause with the people who share your condition. That’s how political change happens. This is both an active and a critical embrace of that group identity.

We radicals get accused all the time of creating this kind of ‘victim identity’, but that’s not what’s going on. We are more than what they’ve done to us, and we do have agency. But we do have to recognize that there is power in the world and we’re on the receiving end.

The other big division is between the nature of social reality. Liberalism is what’s called idealist. Social reality, for them, is made up of attitudes, of ideas; it’s a mental event. And therefore social change happens through education. Through changing people’s minds.

Materialism, in contrast, over on the radical side: society is organized by concrete systems of power, not by thoughts and ideas. By material institutions. And the solution to oppression is to take those systems apart brick by brick.

The liberals will say, ‘we have to educate, educate, educate’, and the radicals will say, ‘actually we have to stop them’.

Political movements need education, this is an educational event, here we are. And you need active proselytizing, the oppressed need mechanisms to understand political oppression, consciousness raising. This is all really profoundly important.

But for radicals alone that does not change social reality. Because the world is not an internal state. It’s not a mental state. The point of education is to build the movement that can take down those oppressive structures and bring about some kind of justice.

If you remove power from the equation oppression looks either natural or voluntary.

If you’re not going to see that people are formed by these social conditions how else are you going to explain subordination? Well either those people aren’t quite human, so they’re naturally different than us — that’s why they’re subordinate, or they’re somehow volunteering to be subordinate. Those are the options that you’re left with.

For instance race and gender are seen as biological. These are supposed to be physically real. Well they’re not, they’re politically real.

It’s brutal, vicious subordination that creates those things. But it’s ideology, and it is the ideology of the powerful that says this is biological. They make that claim that this is biological because how are you going to fight God or Nature or 4 million years of evolution? Well you’re not.

There are physical differences between people who are from northern Europe and people who live at the equator, just like there are differences between males and females but those differences only matter because power needs them to. It is power that creates the ideology and it’s a corrupt and brutal arrangement of power.

These are unjust systems that we are going to have to dismantle, and these are social categories we are going to have to destroy.

Just like naturalism operates in the service of power, so does volunteerism. If you are not going to go the biological route, all you are left with is volunteerism as a concept.

This is the thing that liberals do not understand. With power removed from the equation, if it looks voluntary you are going to erase the fact that it’s social subordination.

So here is Florynce Kennedy, ‘without the consent of the oppressed.’ 90% of any oppression is consensual. That’s what it does. It does not mean it’s our fault, it does not mean we are responsible, it doesn’t mean it will somehow crumble if we withdraw our consent. All it means is that the powerful — the capitalists, the white supremacists, the masculinists, whoever — they can’t stand over vast numbers of people 24/7 with guns.  Luckily, for them, depressingly for the rest of us, they don’t have to.


Watch part two and part three.

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Sustainability is Destroying the Earth

By Kim / Stories of Creative Ecology

By Kim / Stories of Creative Ecology

Don’t talk to me about sustainability.  You want to question my lifestyle, my impact, my ecological footprint?  There is a monster standing over us, with a footprint so large it can trample a whole planet underfoot, without noticing or caring.  This monster is Industrial Civilization.  I refuse to sustain the monster.  If the Earth is to live, the monster must die.  This is a declaration of war.

What is it we are trying to sustain?  A living planet, or industrial civilization?  Because we can’t have both.

Somewhere along the way the environmental movement – based on a desire to protect the Earth, was largely eaten by the sustainability movement – based on a desire to maintain our comfortable lifestyles.  When did this happen, and why?  And how is it possible that no-one noticed?  This is a fundamental shift in values, to go from compassion for all living beings and the land, to a selfish wish to feel good about our inherently destructive way of life.

The sustainability movement says that our capacity to endure is the responsibility of individuals, who must make lifestyle choices within the existing structures of civilization.  To achieve a truly sustainable culture by this means is impossible.  Industrial infrastructure is incompatible with a living planet.  If life on Earth is to survive, the global political and economic structures need to be dismantled.

Sustainability advocates tell us that reducing our impact, causing less harm to the Earth, is a good thing to do, and we should feel good about our actions.  I disagree. Less harm is not good.  Less harm is still a lot of harm.  For as long as any harm is caused, by anyone, there can be no sustainability. Feeling good about small acts doesn’t help anyone.

Only one-quarter of all consumption is by individuals.  The rest is taken up by industry, agribusiness, the military, governments and corporations.  Even if every one of us made every effort to reduce our ecological footprint, it would make little difference to overall consumption.

If the lifestyle actions advocated really do have the effect of keeping our culture around for longer than it would otherwise, then it will cause more harm to the natural world than if no such action had been taken.  For the longer a destructive culture is sustained, the more destruction it causes.  The title of this article isn’t just attention-grabbing and controversial, it is quite literally what’s going on.

When we frame the sustainability debate around the premise that individual lifestyle choices are the solution, then the enemy becomes other individuals who make different lifestyle choices, and those who don’t have the privilege of choice.  Meanwhile the true enemy — the oppressive structures of civilization — are free to continue their destructive and murderous practices without question.  This is hardly an effective way to create a meaningful social movement.  Divide and be conquered.

Sustainability is popular with corporations, media and government because it fits perfectly with their aims.  Maintain power.  Grow.  Make yourself out to be the good guy.  Make people believe that they have power when they don’t.  Tell everyone to keep calm and carry on shopping.  Control the language that is used to debate the issues.  By creating and reinforcing the belief that voting for minor changes and buying more stuff will solve all problems, those in power have a highly effective strategy for maintaining economic growth and corporate-controlled democracy.

Those in power keep people believing that the only way we can change anything is within the structures they’ve created.  They build the structures in a way that people can never change anything from within them.  Voting, petitions, and rallies all reinforce the power structures, and can never bring about significant change on their own.  These tactics give corporations and governments a choice.  We’re giving those in power a choice of whether to grant our request for minor reform.  Animals suffering in factory farms don’t have a choice.  Forests being destroyed in the name of progress don’t have a choice.  Millions of people working in majority-world sweatshops don’t have a choice.  The 200 species who became extinct today didn’t do so by choice.  And yet we give those responsible for all this murder and suffering a choice.  We’re granting the desires of a wealthy minority above the needs of life on Earth.

Most of the popular actions that advocates propose to achieve sustainability have no real effect, and some even cause more harm than good.  The strategies include reducing electricity consumption, reducing water use, a green economy, recycling, sustainable building, renewables and energy efficiency.  Let’s look at the effects of these actions.


We’re told to reduce our consumption of electricity, or obtain it from alternative sources.  This will make zero difference to the sustainability of our culture as a whole, because the electricity grid is inherently unsustainable.  No amount of reduction or so-called renewable energy sources will change this.  Mining to make electrical wires, components, electrical devices, solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal plants, biomass furnaces, hydropower dams, and everything else that connects to the electricity grid, are all unsustainable.  Manufacturing to make these things, with all the human exploitation, pollution, waste, health and social impacts, and corporate profits.  Fossil fuels needed to keep all these processes going.  Unsustainable.  No amount of individual lifestyle choices about electricity use and generation will change any of this.  Off grid electricity is no different – it needs batteries and inverters.

Water conservation

Shorter showers.  Low-flow devices.  Water restrictions.  These are all claimed to Make A Difference.  While the whole infrastructure that provides this water – large dams, long distance pipelines, pumps, sewers, drains – is all unsustainable.

Dams destroy the life of a whole watershed.  It’s like blocking off an artery, preventing blood from flowing to your limbs.  No-one can survive this.  Rivers become dead when fish are prevented from travelling up and down the river.  The whole of the natural community that these fish belong to is killed, both upstream and downstream of the dam.

Dams cause a lowering of the water table, making it impossible for tree roots to get to water.  Floodplain ecologies depend on seasonal flooding, and collapse when a dam upstream prevents this.  Downstream and coastal erosion results.  Anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in dams releases methane to the atmosphere.

No matter how efficient with water you are, this infrastructure will never be sustainable.  It needs to be destroyed, to allow these communities to regenerate.

The green economy

Green jobs.  Green products.  The sustainable economy.  No.  There’s no such thing.  The whole of the global economy is unsustainable.  The economy runs on the destruction of the natural world.  The Earth is treated as nothing but fuel for economic growth.  They call it natural resources.  And a few people choosing to remove themselves from this economy makes no difference.  For as long as this economy exists, there will be no sustainability.

For as long as any of these structures exist: electricity, mains water, global economy, industrial agriculture – there can be no sustainability.  To achieve true sustainability, these structures need to be dismantled.

What’s more important to you – to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for a little longer, or the continuation of life on Earth, for the natural communities who remain, and for future generations?


We’re made to believe that buying a certain product is good because the packaging can be recycled.  You can choose to put it in a brightly-coloured bin.  Never mind that fragile ecosystems were destroyed, indigenous communities displaced, people in far away places required to work in slave conditions, and rivers polluted, just to make the package in the first place.  Never mind that it will be recycled into another useless product which will then go to landfill.  Never mind that to recycle it means transporting it far away, using machinery that run on electricity and fossil fuels, causing pollution and waste.  Never mind that if you put something else in the coloured bin, the whole load goes to landfill due to the contamination.

Sustainable building

Principles of sustainable building: build more houses, even though there are already enough perfectly good houses for everyone to live in.  Clear land for houses, destroying every living thing in the natural communities that live there.   Build with timber from plantation forests, which have required native forests to be wiped out so they can be replaced with a monoculture of pines where nothing else can live.  Use building products that are slightly less harmful than other products.  Convince everyone that all of this is beneficial to the Earth.

Solar power

Solar panels.  The very latest in sustainability fashion.  And in true sustainability style, incredibly destructive of life on earth.  Where do these things come from?  You’re supposed to believe that they are made out of nothing, a free, non-polluting source of electricity.

If you dare to ask where solar panels come from, and how they are made, its not hard to uncover the truth.  Solar panels are made of metals, plastics, rare earths, electronic components.  They require mining, manufacturing, war, waste, pollution.  Millions of tons of lead are dumped into rivers and farmland around solar panel factories in China and India, causing health problems for the human and natural communities who live there.  Polysilicon is another poisonous and polluting waste product from manufacturing that is dumped in China.  The production of solar panels causes nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) to be emitted into the atmosphere.  This gas has 17 000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Rare earths come from Africa, and wars are raged over the right to mine them.  People are being killed so you can have your comfortable Sustainability.  The panels are manufactured in China.  The factories emit so much pollution that people living nearby become sick.  Lakes and rivers become dead from the pollution.  These people cannot drink the water, breathe the air or farm the land, as a direct result of solar panel manufacturing.  Your sustainability is so popular in China that villagers mobilise in mass protest against the manufacturers.  They are banding together to break into the factories and destroy equipment, forcing the factories to shut down.  They value their lives more than sustainability for the rich.

Panels last around 30 years, then straight to landfill.  More pollution, more waste.  Some parts of solar panels can be recycled, but some can’t, and have the bonus of being highly toxic.  To be recycled, solar panels are sent to majority-world countries where low-wage workers are exposed to toxic substances while disassembling them. The recycling process itself requires energy and transportation, and creates waste products.

Solar panel industries are owned by Siemens, Samsung, Bosch, Sharp, Mitsubishi, BP, and Sanyo, among others.  This is where solar panel rebates and green power bills are going.  These corporations thank you for your sustainable dollars.

Wind power

The processing of rare earth metals needed to make the magnets for wind turbines happens in China, where people in the surrounding villages struggle to breathe in the heavily polluted air.  A five-mile-wide lake of toxic and radioactive sludge now takes the place of their farmland.

Whole mountain ranges are destroyed to extract the metals.  Forests are bulldozed to erect wind turbines.  Millions of birds and bats are killed by the blades.  The health of people living close to turbines is affected by infrasound.

As wind is an inconsistent and unpredictable source of energy, a back-up gas fired power supply is needed.  As the back-up system only runs intermittently, it is less efficient, so produces more CO2than if it were running constantly, if there were no turbines.  Wind power sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work in practice.  Another useless product that benefits no-one but the shareholders.

Energy efficiency

How about we improve energy efficiency?  Won’t that reduce energy consumption and pollution?  Well, no.  Quite the opposite.  Have you heard of Jevon’s paradox?  Or the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate?  These state that technological advances to increase efficiency lead to an increase in energy consumption, not a decrease.  Efficiency causes more energy to be available for other purposes.  The more efficient we become at consuming, the more we consume.  The more efficiently we work, the more work gets done.  And we’re working at efficiently digging ourselves into a hole.

The economics of supply and demand

Many actions taken in the name of sustainability can have the opposite effect.  Here’s something to ponder: one person’s decision not to take flights, out of concern about climate change or sustainability, won’t have any impact.  If a few people stop flying, airlines will reduce their prices, and amp up their marketing, and more people will take flights.  And because they are doing it at lower prices, the airline needs to make more flights to make the profit it was before.  More flights, more carbon emissions.  And if the industry hit financial trouble as a result of lowered demand, it would get bailed out by governments.  This “opt-out” strategy can’t win.

The decision not to fly isn’t doing anything to reduce the amount of carbon being emitted, it’s just not adding to it in this instance.  And any small reduction in the amount of carbon being emitted does nothing to stop climate change.

To really have an impact on global climate, we’ll need to stop every aeroplane and every fossil-fuel burning machine from operating ever again.  And stopping every fossil-fuel burning machine is nowhere near the impossible goal it may sound.  It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely achievable.  And it’s not only desirable, but essential if life on this planet is to survive.

The same goes for any other destructive product we might choose not to buy.  Factory-farmed meat, palm oil, rainforest timbers, processed foods.  For as long as there is a product to sell, there will be buyers.  Attempting to reduce the demand will have little, if any, effect.  There will always be more products arriving on the market.  Campaigns to reduce the demand of individual products will never be able to keep up.  And with every new product, the belief that this one is a need, not a luxury, becomes ever stronger.  Can I convince you not to buy a smartphone, a laptop, a coffee?  I doubt it.

To stop the devastation, we need to permanently cut off the supply, of everything that production requires.  And targeting individual companies or practices won’t have any impact on the global power structures that feed on the destruction of the Earth.  The whole of the global economy needs to be brought to a halt.

What do you really want?

What’s more important – sustainable energy for you to watch TV, or the lives of the world’s rivers, forests, animals, and oceans?  Would you sooner live without these, without Earth?  Even if this was an option, if you weren’t tightly bound in the interconnected in the web of life, would you really prefer to have electricity for your lights, computers and appliances, rather than share the ecstasy of being with all of life on Earth?  Is a lifeless world ruled by machines really what you want?

If getting what you want requires destroying everything you need – clean air and water, food, and natural communities – then you’re not going to last long, and neither will anyone else.

I know what I want.  I want to live in a world that is becoming ever more alive.  A world regenerating from the destruction, where every year there are more fish, birds, trees and diversity than the year before. A world where I can breathe the air, drink from the rivers and eat from the land.  A world where humans live in community with all of life.

Industrial technology is not sustainable.  The global economy is not sustainable.  Valuing the Earth only as a resource for humans to exploit is not sustainable.  Civilization is not sustainable.  If civilization collapsed today, it would still be 400 years before human existence on the planet becomes truly sustainable.  So if it’s genuine sustainability you want, then dismantle civilization today, and keep working at regenerating the Earth for 400 years.  This is about how long it’s taken to create the destructive structures we live within today, so of course it will take at least that long to replace these structures with alternatives that benefit all of life on Earth, not just the wealthy minority.  It won’t happen instantly, but that’s no reason not to start.

You might say let’s just walk away, build alternatives, and let the whole system just fall apart when no-one pays it any attention any more.  I used to like this idea too.  But it can’t work.  Those in power use the weapons of fear and debt to maintain their control.  The majority of the world’s people don’t have the option of walking away.  Their fear and debt keeps them locked in the prison of civilization.  Your walking away doesn’t help them.  Your breaking down the prison structure does.

We don’t have time to wait for civilization to collapse.  Ninety per cent of large fish in the oceans are gone.  99 per cent of the old growth forests have been destroyed.  Every day 200 more species become extinct, forever.  If we wait any longer, there will be no fish, no forests, no life left anywhere on Earth.

So what can you do?

Spread the word.  Challenge the dominant beliefs.  Share this article with everyone you know.

Listen to the Earth.  Get to know your nonhuman neighbors   Look after each other.  Act collectively, not individually.  Build alternatives, like gift economies, polyculture food systems, alternative education and community governance.  Create a culture of resistance.

Rather than attempting to reduce the demand for the products of a destructive system, cut off the supply.  The economy is what’s destroying the planet, so stop the economy.  The global economy is dependent on a constant supply of electricity, so stopping it is (almost) as easy as flicking a switch.

Governments and industry will never do this for us, no matter how nicely we ask, or how firmly we push.  It’s up to us to defend the land that our lives depend on.

We can’t do this as consumers, or workers, or citizens.  We need to act as humans, who value life more than consuming, working and complaining about the government.

Learn about and support Deep Green Resistance, a movement with a working strategy to save the planet.  Together, we can fight for a world worth living in.  Join us.

In the words of Lierre Keith, co-author of the book Deep Green Resistance, “The task of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much personal integrity as possible; it is to dismantle those systems.”

Original article by Kim, Stories of Creative Ecology

Shared from Deep Green Resistance New York