Decisive Ecological Warfare Strategy
The ultimate goal of the primary resistance movement in this scenario is simply a living planet—a planet not just living, but in recovery, growing more alive and more diverse year after year. A planet on which humans live in equitable and sustainable communities without exploiting the planet or each other.
Given our current state of emergency, this translates into a more immediate goal, which is at the heart of this movement’s grand strategy:
Goal 1: To disrupt and dismantle industrial civilization; to thereby remove the ability of the powerful to exploit the marginalized and destroy the planet.
This movement’s second goal both depends on and assists the first:
Goal 2: To defend and rebuild just, sustainable, and autonomous human communities, and, as part of that, to assist in the recovery of the land.
To accomplish these goals requires several broad strategies involving large numbers of people in many different organizations, both aboveground and underground. The primary strategies needed in this theoretical scenario include the following:
Strategy A: Engage in direct militant actions against industrial infrastructure, especially energy infrastructure.
Strategy B: Aid and participate in ongoing social and ecological justice struggles; promote equality and undermine exploitation by those in power.
Strategy C: Defend the land and prevent the expansion of industrial logging, mining, construction, and so on, such that more intact land and species will remain when civilization does collapse.
Strategy D: Build and mobilize resistance organizations that will support the above activities, including decentralized training, recruitment, logistical support, and so on.
Strategy E: Rebuild a sustainable subsistence base for human societies (including perennial polycultures for food) and localized, democratic communities that uphold human rights.
In describing this alternate future scenario, we should be clear about some shorthand phrases like “actions against industrial infrastructure.” Not all infrastructure is created equal, and not all actions against infrastructure are of equal priority, efficacy, or moral acceptability to the resistance movements in this scenario. As Derrick wrote in Endgame, you can’t make a moral argument for blowing up a children’s hospital. On the other hand, you can’t make a moral argument against taking out cell phone towers. Some infrastructure is easy, some is hard, and some is harder.
On the same theme, there are many different mechanisms driving collapse, and they are not all equal or equally desirable. In the Decisive Ecological Warfare scenario, some of the mechanisms are intentionally accelerated and encouraged, while others are slowed or reduced. For example, energy decline by decreasing consumption of fossil fuels is a mechanism of collapse highly beneficial to the planet and (especially in the medium to long term) humans, and that mechanism is encouraged. On the other hand, ecological collapse through habitat destruction and biodiversity crash is also a mechanism of collapse (albeit one that takes longer to affect humans), and that kind of collapse is slowed or stopped whenever and wherever possible.
Collapse, in the most general terms, is a rapid loss of complexity. It is a shift toward smaller and more decentralized structures—social, political, economic—with less social stratification, regulation, behavioral control and regimentation, and so on. Major mechanisms of collapse include (in no particular order):
- Energy decline as fossil fuel extraction peaks, and a growing, industrializing population drives down per capita availability.
- Industrial collapse as global economies of scale are ruined by increasing transport and manufacturing costs, and by economic decline.
- Economic collapse as global corporate capitalism is unable to maintain growth and basic operations.
- Climate change causing ecological collapse, agricultural failure, hunger, refugees, disease, and so on.
- Ecological collapse of many different kinds driven by resource extraction, destruction of habitat, crashing biodiversity, and climate change.
- Disease, including epidemics and pandemics, caused by crowded living conditions and poverty, along with bacteria diseases increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
- Food crises caused by the displacement of subsistence farmers and destruction of local food systems, competition for grains by factory farms and biofuels, poverty, and physical limits to food production because of drawdown.
- Drawdown as the accelerating consumption of finite supplies of water, soil, and oil leads to rapid exhaustion of accessible supplies.
- Political collapse as large political entities break into smaller groups, secessionists break away from larger states, and some states go bankrupt or simply fail.
- Social collapse as resource shortages and political upheaval break large, artificial group identities into smaller ones (sometimes based along class, ethnic, or regional affinities), often with competition between those groups.
- War and armed conflict, especially resource wars over remaining supplies of finite resources and internal conflicts between warlords and rival factions.
- Crime and exploitation caused by poverty and inequality, especially in crowded urban areas.
- Refugee displacement resulting from spontaneous disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, but worsened by climate change, food shortages, and so on.
In this scenario, each negative aspect of the collapse of civilization has a reciprocal trend that the resistance movement encourages. The collapse of large authoritarian political structures has a countertrend of emerging small-scale participatory political structures. The collapse of global industrial capitalism has a countertrend of local systems of exchange, cooperation, and mutual aid. And so on. Generally speaking, in this alternate future, a small number of underground people bring down the big bad structures, and a large number of aboveground people cultivate the little good structures.
In his book The Collapse of Complex Societies, Joseph Tainter argues that a major mechanism for collapse has to do with societal complexity. Complexity is a general term that includes the number of different jobs or roles in society (e.g., not just healers but epidemiologists, trauma surgeons, gerontologists, etc.), the size and complexity of political structures (e.g., not just popular assemblies but vast sprawling bureaucracies), the number and complexity of manufactured items and technology (e.g., not just spears, but many different calibers and types of bullets), and so on. Civilizations tend to try to use complexity to address problems, and as a result their complexity increases over time.
But complexity has a cost. The decline of a civilization begins when the costs of complexity begin to exceed the benefits—in other words, when increased complexity begins to offer declining returns. At that point, individual people, families, communities, and political and social subunits have a disincentive to participate in that civilization. The complexity keeps increasing, yes, but it keeps getting more expensive. Eventually the ballooning costs force that civilization to collapse, and people fall back on smaller and more local political organizations and social groups.
Part of the job of the resistance movement is to increase the cost and decrease the returns of empire-scale complexity. This doesn’t require instantaneous collapse or global dramatic actions. Even small actions can increase the cost of complexity and accelerate the good parts of collapse while tempering the bad.
Part of Tainter’s argument is that modern society won’t collapse in the same way as old societies, because complexity (through, for example, large-scale agriculture and fossil fuel extraction) has become the physical underpinning of human life rather than a side benefit. Many historical societies collapsed when people returned to villages and less complex traditional life. They chose to do this. Modern people won’t do that, at least not on a large scale, in part because the villages are gone, and traditional ways of life are no longer directly accessible to them. This means that people in modern civilization are in a bind, and many will continue to struggle for industrial civilization even when continuing it is obviously counterproductive. Under a Decisive Ecological Warfare scenario, aboveground activists facilitate this aspect of collapse by developing alternatives that will ease the pressure and encourage people to leave industrial capitalism by choice.
There’s something admirable about the concept of protracted popular warfare that was used in China and Vietnam. It’s an elegant idea, if war can ever be described in such terms; the core idea is adaptable and applicable even in the face of major setbacks and twists of fate.
But protracted popular warfare as such doesn’t apply to the particular future we are discussing. The people in that scenario will never have the numbers that protracted popular warfare requires. But they will also face a different kind of adversary, for which different tactics are applicable. So they will take the essential idea of protracted popular warfare and apply it to their own situation—that of needing to save their planet, to bring down industrial civilization and keep it down. And they will devise a new grand strategy based on a simple continuum of steps that flow logically one after the other.
In this alternate future scenario, Decisive Ecological Warfare has four phases that progress from the near future through the fall of industrial civilization. The first phase is Networking & Mobilization. The second phase is Sabotage & Asymmetric Action. The third phase is Systems Disruption. And the fourth and final phase is Decisive Dismantling of Infrastructure.
Each phase has its own objectives, operational approaches, and organizational requirements. There’s no distinct dividing line between the phases, and different regions progress through the phases at different times. These phases emphasize the role of militant resistance networks. The aboveground building of alternatives and revitalization of human communities happen at the same time. But this does not require the same strategic rigor; rebuilding healthy human communities with a subsistence base must simply happen as fast as possible, everywhere, with timetables and methods suited to the region. This scenario’s militant resisters, on the other hand, need to share some grand strategy to succeed.