Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist

Scenes from a younger life # 1:

I am twelve years old. I am alone, I am scared, I am cold, and I am crying my eyes out. I can’t see more than six feet in either direction. I am on some godforsaken moor high up on the dark, ancient, poisonous spine of England. The black bog juice I have been trudging through for hours has long since crept over the tops of my boots and down into my socks. My rucksack is too heavy, I am unloved and lost and I will never find my way home. It is raining and the cloud is punishing me; clinging to me, laughing at me. Twenty-five years later, I still have a felt memory of that experience and its emotions: a real despair and a terrible loneliness.

I do find my way home; I manage to keep to the path and eventually catch up with my father, who has the map and the compass and the mini Mars bars. He was always there, somewhere up ahead, but he had decided it would be good for me to “learn to keep up” with him. All of this, he tells me, will make me into a man. Needless to say, it didn’t work.

Only later do I realize the complexity of the emotions summoned by a childhood laced with experiences like this. My father was a compulsive long-distance walker. Every year, throughout my most formative decade, he would take me away to Cumbria or Northumberland or Yorkshire or Cornwall or Pembrokeshire, and we would walk, for weeks. We would follow ancient tracks or new trails, across mountains and moors and ebony-black cliffs. Much of the time, we would be alone with each other and with our thoughts and our conversations, and we would be alone with the oystercatchers, the gannets, the curlews, the skylarks, and the owls. With the gale and the breeze, with our maps and compasses and emergency rations and bivy bags and plastic bottles of water. We would camp in the heather, by cairns and old mine shafts, hundreds of feet above the orange lights of civilization, and I would dream. And in the morning, with dew on the tent and cold air in my face as I opened the zip, the wild elements of life, all of the real things, would all seem to be there, waiting for me with the sunrise.

Scenes from a younger life # 2:

I am nineteen years old. It is around midnight and I am on the summit of a low, chalk down, the last of the long chain that winds its way through the crowded, peopled, fractious south country. There are maybe fifty or sixty people there with me. There is a fire going, there are guitars, there is singing and weird and unnerving whooping noises from some of the ragged travelers who have made this place their home.

This is Twyford Down, a hilltop east of Winchester. There is something powerful about this place; something ancient and unanswering. Soon it is to be destroyed: a six-lane motorway will be driven through it in a deep chalk cutting. It is vital that this should happen in order to reduce the journey time between London and Southampton by a full thirteen minutes. The people up here have made it their home in a doomed attempt to stop this from happening.

From outside it is impossible to see, and most do not want to. The name calling has been going on for months, in the papers and the pubs and in the House of Commons. The people here are Luddites, NIMBYs (“not-in-my-backyard” grumblers), reactionaries, romantics. They are standing in the way of progress. They will not be tolerated. Inside, there is a sense of shared threat and solidarity, there are blocks of hash and packets of Rizlas and liters of bad cider. We know what we are here for. We know what we are doing. We can feel the reason in the soil and in the night air. Down there, under the lights and behind the curtains, there is no chance that they will ever understand.

Someone I don’t know suggests we dance the maze. Out beyond the firelight, there is a maze carved into the down’s soft, chalk turf. I don’t know if it’s some ancient monument or a new creation. Either way, it’s the same spiral pattern that can be found carved into rocks from millennia ago. With cans and cigarettes and spliffs in our hands, a small group of us start to walk the maze, laughing, staggering, then breaking into a run, singing, spluttering, stumbling together toward the center.

Scenes from a younger life # 3:

I am twenty-one years old and I’ve just spent the most exciting two months of my life so far in an Indonesian rainforest. I’ve just been on one of those organized expeditions that people of my age buy into to give them the chance to do something useful and exciting in what used to be called the “Third World.” I’ve prepared for months for this. I’ve sold double glazing door-to-door to scrape together the cash. I have been reading Bruce Chatwin and Redmond O’Hanlon and Benedict Allen and my head is full of magic and idiocy and wonder.

During my trip, there were plenty of all of these things. I still vividly remember klotok journeys up Borneo rivers by moonlight, watching the swarms of giant fruit bats overhead. I remember the hooting of gibbons and the search for hornbills high up in the rainforest canopy. I remember a four-day trek through a so-called “rain” forest that was so dry we ended up drinking filtered mud. I remember turtle eggs on the beaches of Java and young orangutans at the rehabilitation center where we worked in Kalimantan, sitting in the high branches of trees with people’s stolen underpants on their heads, laughing at us. I remember the gold miners and the loggers, and the freshwater crocodiles in the same river we swam in every morning. I remember my first sight of flying fish in the Java Sea.

And I remember the small islands north of Lombok, where some of us spent a few days before we came home. At night we would go down to the moonlit beach, where the sea and the air was still warm, and in the sea were millions of tiny lights: phosphorescence. I had never seen this before; never even heard of it. We would walk into the water and immerse ourselves and rise up again and the lights would cling to our bodies, fading away as we laughed.

Now, back home, the world seems changed. A two-month break from my country, my upbringing, my cultural assumptions, a two-month immersion in something far more raw and unmediated, has left me open to seeing this place as it really is. I see the atomization and the inward focus and the faces of the people in a hurry inside their cars. I see the streetlights and the asphalt as I had not quite seen them before. What I see most of all are the adverts.

For the first time, I realize the extent and the scope and the impacts of the billboards, the posters, the TV and radio ads. Everywhere an image, a phrase, a demand, or a recommendation is screaming for my attention, trying to sell me something, tell me who to be, what to desire and to need. And this is before the internet; before Apples and BlackBerries became indispensable to people who wouldn’t know where to pick the real thing; before the deep, accelerating immersion of people in their technologies, even outdoors, even in the sunshine. Compared to where I have been, this world is so tamed, so mediated and commoditized, that something within it seems to have broken off and been lost beneath the slabs. No one has noticed this, or says so if they have. Something is missing: I can almost see the gap where it used to be. But it is not remarked upon. Nobody says a thing.

What took hold

It is nine-thirty at night in mid-December at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. I step outside my front door into the farmyard and walk over to the track, letting my eyes adjust to the dark. I am lucky enough to be living among the Cumbrian fells now, and as my pupils widen I can see, under a clear, starlit sky, the outline of the Old Man of Coniston, Dow Crag, Wetherlam, Helvellyn, the Fairfield Horseshoe. I stand there for ten minutes, growing colder. I see two shooting stars and a satellite. I suddenly wish my dad were still alive, and I wonder where the magic has gone.

These experiences, and others like them, were what formed me. They were what made me what I would later learn to call an “environmentalist”: something that seemed rebellious and excitingly outsiderish when I first took it up (and that successfully horrified my social-climbing father — especially as it was partly his fault) but that these days is almost de rigueur among the British bourgeoisie. Early in my adult life, just after I came back from Twyford Down, I vowed, self-importantly, that this would be my life’s work: saving nature from people. Preventing the destruction of beauty and brilliance, speaking up for the small and the overlooked and the things that could not speak for themselves. When I look back on this now, I’m quite touched by my younger self. I would like to be him again, perhaps just for a day; someone to whom all sensations are fiery and all answers are simple.

All of this — the downs, the woods, the rainforest, the great oceans, and, perhaps most of all, the silent isolation of the moors and mountains, which at the time seemed so hateful and unremitting — took hold of me somewhere unexamined. The relief I used to feel on those long trudges with my dad when I saw the lights of a village or a remote pub, even a minor road or a pylon, any sign of humanity — as I grow older this is replaced by the relief of escaping from the towns and the villages, away from the pylons and the pubs and the people, up onto the moors again, where only the ghosts and the saucer-eyed dogs and the old legends and the wind can possess me.

But they are harder to find now, those spirits. I look out across the moonlit Lake District ranges, and it’s as clear as the night air that what used to come in regular waves, pounding like the sea, comes now only in flashes, out of the corner of my eyes, like a lighthouse in a storm. Perhaps it’s the way the world has changed. There are more cars on the roads now, more satellites in the sky. The footpaths up the fells are like stone motorways, there are turbines on the moors, and the farmers are being edged out by south-country refugees like me, trying to escape but bringing with us the things we flee from. The new world is online and loving it, the virtual happily edging out the actual. The darkness is shut out and the night grows lighter and nobody is there to see it.

It could be all that, but it probably isn’t. It’s probably me. I am thirty-seven now. The world is smaller, more tired, more fragile, more horribly complex and full of troubles. Or, rather: the world is the same as it ever was, but I am more aware of it and of the reality of my place within it. I have grown up, and there is nothing to be done about it. The worst part of it is that I can’t seem to look without thinking anymore. And now I know far more about what we are doing. We: the people. I know what we are doing, all over the world, to everything, all of the time. I know why the magic is dying. It’s me. It’s us.

How it ended

I became an “environmentalist” because of a strong emotional reaction to wild places and the other-than-human world: to beech trees and hedgerows and pounding waterfalls, to songbirds and sunsets, to the flying fish in the Java Sea and the canopy of the rainforest at dusk when the gibbons come to the waterside to feed. From that reaction came a feeling, which became a series of thoughts: that such things are precious for their own sake, that they are food for the human soul, and that they need people to speak for them to, and defend them from, other people, because they cannot speak our language and we have forgotten how to speak theirs. And because we are killing them to feed ourselves and we know it and we care about it, sometimes, but we do it anyway because we are hungry, or we have persuaded ourselves that we are.

But these are not, I think, very common views today. Today’s environmentalism is as much a victim of the contemporary cult of utility as every other aspect of our lives, from science to education. We are not environmentalists now because we have an emotional reaction to the wild world. Most of us wouldn’t even know where to find it. We are environmentalists now in order to promote something called “sustainability.” What does this curious, plastic word mean? It does not mean defending the nonhuman world from the ever-expanding empire of Homo sapiens sapiens, though some of its adherents like to pretend it does, even to themselves. It means sustaining human civilization at the comfort level that the world’s rich people — us — feel is their right, without destroying the “natural capital” or the “resource base” that is needed to do so.

It is, in other words, an entirely human-centered piece of politicking, disguised as concern for “the planet.” In a very short time — just over a decade — this worldview has become all-pervasive. It is voiced by the president of the USA and the president of Anglo-Dutch Shell and many people in between. The success of environmentalism has been total — at the price of its soul.

Let me offer up just one example of how this pact has worked. If “sustainability” is about anything, it is about carbon. Carbon and climate change. To listen to most environmentalists today, you would think that these were the only things in the world worth talking about. The business of “sustainability” is the business of preventing carbon emissions. Carbon emissions threaten a potentially massive downgrading of our prospects for material advancement as a species. They threaten to unacceptably erode our resource base and put at risk our vital hoards of natural capital. If we cannot sort this out quickly, we are going to end up darning our socks again and growing our own carrots and other such unthinkable things. All of the horrors our grandparents left behind will return like deathless legends. Carbon emissions must be “tackled” like a drunk with a broken bottle — quickly, and with maximum force.

Don’t get me wrong: I don’t doubt the potency of climate change to undermine the human machine. It looks to me as if it is already beginning to do so, and that it is too late to do anything but attempt to mitigate the worst effects. But what I am also convinced of is that the fear of losing both the comfort and the meaning that our civilization gifts us has gone to the heads of environmentalists to such a degree that they have forgotten everything else. The carbon must be stopped, like the Umayyad at Tours, or all will be lost.

This reductive approach to the human-environmental challenge leads to an obvious conclusion: if carbon is the problem, then “zero-carbon” is the solution. Society needs to go about its business without spewing the stuff out. It needs to do this quickly, and by any means necessary. Build enough of the right kind of energy technologies, quickly enough, to generate the power we “need” without producing greenhouse gases, and there will be no need to ever turn the lights off; no need to ever slow down.

To do this will require the large-scale harvesting of the planet’s ambient energy: sunlight, wind, water power. This means that vast new conglomerations of human industry are going to appear in places where this energy is most abundant. Unfortunately, these places coincide with some of the world’s wildest, most beautiful, and most untouched landscapes. The sort of places that environmentalism came into being to protect.

And so the deserts, perhaps the landscape always most resistant to permanent human conquest, are to be colonized by vast “solar arrays,” glass and steel and aluminum, the size of small countries. The mountains and moors, the wild uplands, are to be staked out like vampires in the sun, their chests pierced with rows of five-hundred-foot wind turbines and associated access roads, masts, pylons, and wires. The open oceans, already swimming in our plastic refuse and emptying of marine life, will be home to enormous offshore turbine ranges and hundreds of wave machines strung around the coastlines like Victorian necklaces. The rivers are to see their estuaries severed and silted by industrial barrages. The croplands and even the rainforests, the richest habitats on this terrestrial Earth, are already highly profitable sites for biofuel plantations designed to provide guilt-free car fuel to the motion-hungry masses of Europe and America.

What this adds up to should be clear enough, yet many people who should know better choose not to see it. This is business-as-usual: the expansive, colonizing, progressive human narrative, shorn only of the carbon. It is the latest phase of our careless, self-absorbed, ambition-addled destruction of the wild, the unpolluted, and the nonhuman. It is the mass destruction of the world’s remaining wild places in order to feed the human economy. And without any sense of irony, people are calling this “environmentalism.”

A while back I wrote an article in a newspaper highlighting the impact of industrial wind power stations (which are usually referred to, in a nice Orwellian touch, as wind “farms”) on the uplands of Britain. I was e-mailed the next day by an environmentalist friend who told me he hoped I was feeling ashamed of myself. I was wrong; worse, I was dangerous. What was I doing giving succor to the fossil fuel industry? Didn’t I know that climate change would do far more damage to upland landscapes than turbines? Didn’t I know that this was the only way to meet our urgent carbon targets? Didn’t I see how beautiful turbines were? So much more beautiful than nuclear power stations. I might think that a “view” was more important than the future of the entire world, but this was because I was a middle-class escapist who needed to get real.

It became apparent at that point that what I saw as the next phase of the human attack on the nonhuman world a lot of my environmentalist friends saw as “progressive,” “sustainable,” and “green.” What I called destruction they called “large-scale solutions.” This stuff was realistic, necessarily urgent. It went with the grain of human nature and the market, which as we now know are the same thing. We didn’t have time to “romanticize” the woods and the hills. There were emissions to reduce, and the end justified the means.

It took me a while to realize where this kind of talk took me back to: the maze and the moonlit hilltop. This desperate scrabble for “sustainable development” was in reality the same old same old. People I had thought were on my side were arguing aggressively for the industrializing of wild places in the name of human desire. This was the same rootless, distant destruction that had led me to the top of Twyford Down. Only now there seemed to be some kind of crude equation at work that allowed them to believe this was something entirely different. Motorway through downland: bad. Wind power station on downland: good. Container port wiping out estuary mudflats: bad. Renewable hydropower barrage wiping out estuary mudflats: good. Destruction minus carbon equals sustainability.

So here I was again: a Luddite, a NIMBY, a reactionary, a romantic; standing in the way of progress. I realized that I was dealing with environmentalists with no attachment to any actual environment. Their talk was of parts-per-million of carbon, peer-reviewed papers, sustainable technologies, renewable supergrids, green growth, and the fifteenth conference of the parties. There were campaigns about “the planet” and “the Earth,” but there was no specificity: no sign of any real, felt attachment to any small part of that Earth.

The place of nature

Back at university, in love with my newfound radicalism, as students tend to be, I started to read things. Not the stuff I was supposed to be reading about social movements and pre-Reformation Europe, but green political thought: wild ideas I had never come across before. I could literally feel my mind levering itself open. Most exciting to me were the implications of a new word I stumbled across: ecocentrism. This word crystallized everything I had been feeling for years. I had no idea there were words for it or that other people felt it too, or had written intimidating books about it. The nearest I had come to such a realization thus far was reading Wordsworth as a teenager and feeling an excited tingling sensation as I began to understand what he was getting at among all those poems about shepherds and girls called Lucy. Here was a kindred spirit! Here was a man moved to love and fear by mountains, who believed rocks had souls, that “Nature never did betray the heart that loved her” (though even then that sounded a little optimistic to me). Pantheism was my new word that year.

Now I declared, to myself if no one else, that I was “ecocentric” too. This was not the same as being egocentric, though some disagreed, and while it sounded a bit too much like “eccentric,” this was also a distraction. I was ecocentric because I did not believe — had never believed, I didn’t think — that humans were the center of the world, that the Earth was their playground, that they had the right to do what they liked, or even that what they did was that important. I thought we were part of something bigger, which had as much right to the world as we did, and which we were stomping on for our own benefit. I had always been haunted by shameful thoughts like this. It had always seemed to me that the beauty to be found on the trunk of a birch tree was worth any number of Mona Lisas, and that a Saturday night sunset was better than Saturday night telly. It had always seemed that most of what mattered to me could not be counted or corralled by the kind of people who thought, and still think, that I just needed to grow up.

It had been made clear to me for a long time that these feelings were at best charmingly naïve and at worst backward and dangerous. Later, the dismissals became encrusted with familiar words, designed to keep the ship of human destiny afloat: romantic, Luddite, NIMBY, and the like. For now, though, I had found my place. I was a young, fiery, radical, ecocentric environmentalist, and I was going to save the world.

When I look back on the road protests of the mid-1990s, which I often do, it is with nostalgia and fondness and a sense of gratitude that I was able to be there, to see what I saw and do what I did. But I realize now that it is more than this that makes me think and talk and write about Twyford Down to an extent that bores even my patient friends. This, I think, was the last time I was part of an environmental movement that was genuinely environmental. The people involved were, like me, ecocentric: they didn’t see “the environment” as something “out there”; separate from people, to be utilized or destroyed or protected according to human whim. They saw themselves as part of it, within it, of it.

There was a Wordsworthian feel to the whole thing: the defense of the trees simply because they were trees. Living under the stars and in the rain, in the oaks and in the chaotic, miraculous tunnels beneath them, in the soil itself like the rabbits and the badgers. We were connected to a place; a real place that we loved and had made a choice to belong to, if only for a short time. There was little theory, much action, but even more simple being. Being in a place, knowing it, standing up for it. It was environmentalism at its rawest, and the people who came to be part of it were those who loved the land, in their hearts as well as their heads.

In years to come, this was worn away. It took a while before I started to notice what was happening, but when I did it was all around me. The ecocentrism — in simple language, the love of place, the humility, the sense of belonging, the feelings — was absent from most of the “environmentalist” talk I heard around me. Replacing it were two other kinds of talk. One was the save-the-world-with-wind-farms narrative; the same old face in new makeup. The other was a distant, somber sound: the marching boots and rattling swords of an approaching fifth column.

Environmentalism, which in its raw, early form had no time for the encrusted, seized-up politics of left and right, offering instead a worldview that saw the growth economy and the industrialist mentality beloved by both as the problem in itself, was now being sucked into the yawning, bottomless chasm of the “progressive” left. Suddenly, people like me, talking about birch trees and hilltops and sunsets, were politely, or less politely, elbowed to one side by people who were bringing a “class analysis” to green politics.

All this talk of nature, it turned out, was bourgeois, Western, and unproductive. It was a middle-class conceit, and there was nothing worse than a middle-class conceit. The workers had no time for thoughts like this (though no one bothered to notify the workers themselves that they were simply clodhopping, nature-loathing cannon fodder in a political flame war). It was terribly, objectively right wing. Hitler liked nature after all. He was a vegetarian too. It was all deeply “problematic.”

More problematic for me was what this kind of talk represented. With the near global failure of the left-wing project over the past few decades, green politics was fast becoming a refuge for disillusioned socialists, Trots, Marxists, and a ragbag of fellow travelers who could no longer believe in communism or the Labour Party or even George Galloway, and who saw in green politics a promising bolthole. In they all trooped, with their Stop-the-War banners and their Palestinian solidarity scarves, and with them they brought a new sensibility.

Now it seemed that environmentalism was not about wildness or ecocentrism or the other-than-human world and our relationship to it. Instead it was about (human) social justice and (human) equality and (human) progress and ensuring that all these things could be realized without degrading the (human) resource base that we used to call nature back when we were being naïve and problematic. Suddenly, never-ending economic growth was a good thing after all: the poor needed it to get rich, which was their right. To square the circle, for those who still realized there was a circle, we were told that “social justice and environmental justice go hand in hand” — a suggestion of such bizarre inaccuracy that it could surely only be wishful thinking.

Suddenly, sustaining a global human population of 10 billion people was not a problem at all, and anyone who suggested otherwise was not highlighting any obvious ecological crunch points but was giving succor to fascism or racism or gender discrimination or orientalism or essentialism or some other such hip and largely unexamined concept. The “real issue,” it seemed, was not the human relationship with the nonhuman world; it was fat cats and bankers and cap’lism. These things must be destroyed, by way of marches, protests, and votes for fringe political parties, to make way for something known as “eco-socialism”: a conflation of concepts that pretty much guarantees the instant hostility of 95 percent of the population.

I didn’t object to this because I thought that environmentalism should occupy the right rather than the left wing, or because I was right-wing myself, which I wasn’t (these days I tend to consider the entire bird with a kind of frustrated detachment). And I understood that there was at least a partial reason for the success of this colonization of the greens by the reds. Modern environmentalism sprang partly from the early-twentieth-century conservation movement, and that movement had often been about preserving supposedly pristine landscapes at the expense of people. Forcing tribal people from their ancestral lands, which had been newly designated as national parks, for example, in order to create a fictional “untouched nature” had once been fairly common, from Africa to the USA. And, actually, Hitler had been something of an environmentalist, and the wellsprings that nourished some green thought nourished the thought of some other unsavory characters too (a fact that some ideologues love to point to when witch-hunting the greens, as if it wouldn’t be just as easy to point out that ideas of equality and justice fueled Stalin and Pol Pot).

In this context it was fair enough to assert that environmentalism allied itself with ideas of justice and decency, and that it was about people as well as everything else on the planet. Of course it was, for “nature” as something separate from people has never existed. We are nature, and the environmentalist project was always supposed to be about how we are to be part of it, to live well as part of it, to understand and respect it, to understand our place within it, and to feel it as part of ourselves.

So there was a reason for environmentalism’s shift to the left, just as there was a reason for its blinding obsession with carbon. Meanwhile, the fact of what humans are doing to the world became so obvious, even to those who were doing very well from it, that it became hard not to listen to the greens. Success duly arrived. You can’t open a newspaper now or visit a corporate website or listen to a politician or read the label on a packet of biscuits without being bombarded with propaganda about the importance of “saving the planet.” But there is a terrible hollowness to it all, a sense that society is going through the motions without understanding why. The shift, the pact, has come at a probably fatal price.

Now that price is being paid. The weird and unintentional pincer movement of the failed left, with its class analysis of waterfalls and fresh air, and the managerial, carbon-über-alles brigade has infiltrated, ironed out, and reworked environmentalism for its own ends. Now it is not about the ridiculous beauty of coral, the mist over the fields at dawn. It is not about ecocentrism. It is not about reforging a connection between overcivilized people and the world outside their windows. It is not about living close to the land or valuing the world for the sake of the world. It is not about attacking the self-absorbed conceits of the bubble that our civilization has become.

Today’s environmentalism is about people. It is a consolation prize for a gaggle of washed-up Trots and, at the same time, with an amusing irony, it is an adjunct to hypercapitalism: the catalytic converter on the silver SUV of the global economy. It is an engineering challenge: a problem-solving device for people to whom the sight of a wild Pennine hilltop on a clear winter day brings not feelings of transcendence but thoughts about the wasted potential for renewable energy. It is about saving civilization from the results of its own actions: a desperate attempt to prevent Gaia from hiccupping and wiping out our coffee shops and broadband connections. It is our last hope.

The open land

I generalize, of course. Environmentalism’s chancel is as accommodating as that of socialism, anarchism, or conservatism, and just as capable of generating poisonous internal bickering that will last until the death of the sun. Many who call themselves green have little time for the mainstream line I am attacking here. But it is the mainstream line. It is how most people see environmentalism today, even if it is not how all environmentalists intend it to be seen. These are the arguments and the positions that popular environmentalism — now a global force — offers up in its quest for redemption. There are reasons; there are always reasons. But whatever they are, they have led the greens down a dark, litter-strewn, dead-end street where the rubbish bins overflow, the light bulbs have blown, and the stray dogs are very hungry indeed.

What is to be done about this? Probably nothing. It was, perhaps, inevitable that a utilitarian society would generate a utilitarian environmentalism, and inevitable too that the greens would not be able to last for long outside the established political bunkers. But for me — well, this is no longer mine, that’s all. I can’t make my peace with people who cannibalize the land in the name of saving it. I can’t speak the language of science without a corresponding poetry. I can’t speak with a straight face about saving the planet when what I really mean is saving myself from what is coming.

Like all of us, I am a foot soldier of empire. It is the empire of Homo sapiens sapiens and it stretches from Tasmania to Baffin Island. Like all empires, it is built on expropriation and exploitation, and like all empires it dresses these things up in the language of morality and duty. When we turn wilderness over to agriculture, we speak of our duty to feed the poor. When we industrialize the wild places, we speak of our duty to stop the climate from changing. When we spear whales, we speak of our duty to science. When we raze forests, we speak of our duty to develop. We alter the atmospheric makeup of the entire world: half of us pretend it’s not happening, the other half immediately start looking for new machines that will reverse it. This is how empires work, particularly when they have started to decay. Denial, displacement, anger, fear.

The environment is the victim of this empire. But the “environment” — that distancing word, that empty concept — does not exist. It is the air, the waters, the creatures we make homeless or lifeless in flocks and legions, and it is us too. We are it; we are in it and of it, we make it and live it, we are fruit and soil and tree, and the things done to the roots and the leaves come back to us. We make ourselves slaves to make ourselves free, and when the shackles start to rub we confidently predict the emergence of new, more comfortable designs.

I don’t have any answers, if by answers we mean political systems, better machines, means of engineering some grand shift in consciousness. All I have is a personal conviction built on those feelings, those responses, that goes back to the moors of northern England and the rivers of southern Borneo — that something big is being missed. That we are both hollow men and stuffed men, and that we will keep stuffing ourselves until the food runs out, and if outside the dining room door we have made a wasteland and called it necessity, then at least we will know we were not to blame, because we are never to blame, because we are the humans.

What am I to do with feelings like these? Useless feelings in a world in which everything must be made useful. Sensibilities in a world of utility. Feelings like this provide no “solutions.” They build no new eco-homes, remove no carbon from the atmosphere. This is head-in-the-clouds stuff, as relevant to our busy, modern lives as the new moon or the date of the harvest. Easy to ignore, easy to dismiss, like the places that inspire the feelings, like the world outside the bubble, like the people who have seen it, if only in brief flashes beyond the ridge of some dark line of hills.

But this is fine — the dismissal, the platitudes, the brusque moving-on of the grown-ups. It’s all fine. I withdraw, you see. I withdraw from the campaigning and the marching, I withdraw from the arguing and the talked-up necessity and all of the false assumptions. I withdraw from the words. I am leaving. I am going to go out walking.

I am leaving on a pilgrimage to find what I left behind in the jungles and by the cold campfires and in the parts of my head and my heart that I have been skirting around because I have been busy fragmenting the world in order to save it; busy believing it is mine to save. I am going to listen to the wind and see what it tells me, or whether it tells me anything at all. You see, it turns out that I have more time than I thought. I will follow the songlines and see what they sing to me and maybe, one day, I might even come back. And if I am very lucky I might bring with me a harvest of fresh tales, which I can scatter like apple seeds across this tired and angry land.

Paul Kingsnorth is the author of several books, including Savage Gods, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays, and Alexandria.


  1. Obviously temperatures are rising, and carbon is more evident that it used to be.

    The climate is warming back to times when it was even warmer, before it was colder. The North Pole may become completely liquid … but then, it has been before, and all of Coca-Cola’s polar bears made it anyway.

    What we don’t know is everything else, like how much carbon is too much, what happens at what stage and will that be a bad thing, etc.

    So far in the Obama age, we know that trying to have government promote solar or wind power production is just one more crooked way to pay back donors and bundlers of political money. Obama nad Steven Chu have blown through maybe 50 Billion dollars and gotten us next to nothing.

    I feel about this effort exactly how I feel about long-distance space travel or the next nifty airplane or defense system:
    We now know how to do things REALLY expensively. Now, let’s figure out a way to do it sustainably – that is, to not wreck the national or global economy in doing a good thing, unless everybody here likes hoeing gleen bean plants and milking cows ala the 1800 economy.

  2. We are nature, and our relationship with nature has changed and is changing (as Paul Kingsnorth states). Just like our relationship with each other,our relationship with everything has various shades of utility and interpretation, including our relationship with nature (ourselves and each other). Changing that relationship to one that benefits us more equally is essential for well being and even survival (as Kingsnorth suggests) as well as well as for the well-being of the rest of the world we are part of. Understanding ourselves as a fluid entity and not a consumer or other market-driven identity benefits our entirety. No need to constrain this reality with the “environmentalist” go-words and popular concepts that Kingsworth calls into account in his article.

  3. Very good essay. I’ve been feeling similar angst lately. I think it was Wendell Berry who said in an interview that you’re really not a conservationist until and unless you live as one. Very few of us are and very few of us do. To think otherwise is just blowing more smoke and carbon.

  4. This is an astounding article. Astounding because it gets to the heart of the matter that has been forgotten in the last 30 years. We are animals, dependent on a habitat that we are quickly destroying. It is too late to do anything of consequence about climate change. The renowned biologist Edward O. Wilson has stated that forces have been set in motion that will take centuries to play out and we can’t stop it. What we can do is save some of the wild places that will be needed in the future to remind us of what we are. If we are still around. Chief Seattle said it best for me: “The Earth doesn’t belong to us. We belong to the Earth.”

  5. Bravo! Coincidentally, I very recently read a 1996 interview with Kirkpatrick Sale when his book about the Luddites came out in paperback. He emphasizes that “sustainable development” is a “most odious oxymoron”.

  6. This is a wonderful essay. But an important fact is left out, and that is that wind turbines do little to nothing to reduce CO2 emissions. In fact, WIND TURBINES DO NOT PROVIDE RENEWABLE ENERGY! Not one coal or gas plant the world over has been decommissioned because of IWTs…and eliminating our dependence on fossil fuels is their raison d’etre. To quote an expert: “Because wind blows intermittently, electric utilities must either keep their conventional power plants running all the time to make sure the lights don’t go dark, or continually ramp up and down the output from conventional coal-or gas-fired generators (called “cycling”). But coal-fired and gas-fired generators are designed to run continuously, and if they don’t, fuel consumption and emissions generally increase.”

  7. Excellent article Paul. Thanks. Keep walking and wondering.

  8. Beautiful piece Paul, but did you leave without waiting for those of us who would like to walk with you and more reverently on the land? Are you still there, can you hear our answers?

    The issue, like poetry, is not in deconstructing the words or writing better “equations” of sustainability. It is in the knowledge of where in each of us centers the felt understanding of the sanctity of life and for life, that is the soul of any true “environmentalist”. And human child.

    It really was there before we advertised and “digitized” it out. Many now take drugs to re-find that emotional truth about themselves and their world, that only nature can remind by her “wild” knowing, healthily.

    This is “natural intelligence”, a type of “emotional intelligence” or what healers and witches who knew nature best and worked in closest concert with it to “heal”, had to develop in the deepest sense. It is an intelligence you got to learn in your wild walks of childhood Paul, that your dad unknowingly reinforced. And in this piece therefore, managed to find the words to relay that felt, deep understanding. Then walked away, knowing the words are for people — nature needs none to speak so clearly.

    So here is my romantic counter to your ending despairing note that all agree may be a more probable outcome, just doing the “cognitive” math alone: Emotional/Natural intelligence CAN be enhanced in the human child, just as it obviously can be destroyed. The answer is in the wind, and teaching the wind’s language to those who hear it already as music, before they “download” the drowning noise. It is in our teaching the nature of nature to the human child who as you say, is herself just a part of that whole.

    If your despair becomes too acute, realize that teaching like that is still possible, if we don’t break the heart to “educate the mind”.

    On your long walk, try and find a time to watch children at play in nature; I think then you might see — it is not all lost. Not if we can learn from them, to remember to teach, what they know already. What some of us, like you, while even learning the “words” never lost the inner feeling for understanding: we are all connected and most deeply connected to this planet and ALL nature. Raping her, no matter how “sustainably”, destroys all the meaning and the force of that love and leaves one with just the grey, pornographic pictures and horribly worse — no longer able to tell the difference.

    Listen still to children laugh as they “play” in nature if any such children can be found and I think you will realize, there is still hope.

    Bring that back from your travels in order to keep teaching them and us all, how to remember that hope and “play” in nature together again.

  9. This hit home. In Vermont, USA, where I live, and where heretofore we have been touted as Luddite granola-eaters, our governor helped to fast-track a string of wind turbines atop a pristine mountain range in the northeastern part of the state (which is less peopled). They are blasting off the tops of the mountains, and our despair is useless. I came here because I thought such things would never happen. There is no place else to go.

  10. I am sorry to read of the mountaintop deal in VT. Talk about skewed priorities!

    Having been to leftist and right-wing reader comment sections, I have to say that the small gathering here is quite “homey” and makes me feel like I’m in a group of readers back at college. Except for the being sober part, this is the tops! LOL

    Happy New Year and Old Earth~~!

  11. I rode a bike around South Africa not too long ago. The essay is superb. I also want to get out again and go journeying in the places they haven’t killed yet. Everyone should.

  12. I believe that this romantic essay, though beautiful, forgets the fundamental contact with reality. The magazines we are reading, the PCs we are using, the medicines we take, and so on, need energy and produce pollution.

    How to provide them with the tiniest impact? Sustainable development is the better mainstream answer produced until now. Sadly to say, for mainstream problems only mainstream answers can be applied. No one wants really live as indigenous people – certainly not who writes articles and who reads them in the industrialized side of world.

    It is obvious that sustainability HAS to be achieved smartly: we have to recover damaged environments, not destroy new ones.

  13. Very compelling. Looking forward to more from you.

  14. Thank you so much for this compelling article. Beautiful, sad and true.

  15. I hear you. Kudos for so beautifully saying some ugly truths out loud. But I don’t agree with your conclusion, to walk away.

    What can that mean, anyway?

    First of all, I don’t think you can. There is no away. As McKibben says (as *you* say), there is now only Eaarth.

    These ugly truths are truths that we must live with. To “walk away” from them is just as much to collude with them and, ultimately, to give up on human life.

    Is that what you are advocating: that humankind dies off, and nature can again thrive?

    I only have to look at my daughter, who is six. How could I make that decision for her? It is my human *nature* to keep on fighting for her.

    (My fight is in Transition work, i.e., “darning socks” and “growing carrots”).

  16. Thanks Paul. It needs to be said…

    Kaat… I don’t think he means that kind of walking away. He means walking away from “this civilization” and evolving something else as we walk. And that is what I think we need to do, if those children are to have a livable future.

  17. the concept of “environmentalism” was a baby step on the way to a global understanding of the unity of life that will be the work of this century.

    “everything begins in mysticism and ends in politics” – charles peguy, perhaps describes your growth pattern relating to the term.

    the next step awaits.

  18. A beautiful and intelligent article. If there is a better refutation of the pragmatic hypocrisies of sustainable development, I’d like to see it.

    As an idealistic young person, much of what you’ve described in your life’s course resonates with my own feelings now. But my desire to help make things better often switches to a despair that things will ever change, and a wariness of the reduction of the many human abuses of life on earth to the single doom of “global warming”.

    Part of me looks forward to a time when civilisation has stalled, and when life returns to a more ecocentric balance. That said, there are key innovations I hope we can carry with us – such as basic medicine, for example, or social liberalism – into that new “dark age”. I’m also concerned at the number of deaths that the end of civilisation would bring. I do not wish anybody dead, but it seems that a holocaust is coming either way – be it of humankind, or the nonhuman.

    I guess it’s not up to me. All I can do is prepare myself, and protect that which I love.

  19. Quote: “But my desire to help make things better often switches to a despair that things will ever change…”

    Do you remember the dude in the story walking along the shore tossing sea creatures back into the sea so that they could survive at least a while? Even though it is a small act that is swallowed up in the entirety of the sea and of time, it still defines that individual and tells us where he stands.

    What we choose to do matters because what will remain after this world is forgotten will remain with us. We show ourselves and others what we want and are willing to work toward.

    The cynic will say that change must come from nationwide or worldwide permanent change or it comes to nothing. I say, we all still remember Anne Frank. She did little but stood for all of us, and stands for all humanity as we say that this is where we stand and this is what defines us.

    Then, just go convince one person at a time until you’ve changed everybody. It is ALL in the individual. All of space and time and eternity is inside the human heart, and the human heart will remain after all else is a whisp of memory.

    So, what do you stand for? Let your actions speak for you. THAT will echo forever.

  20. a beautifully written expose of the dynamics of despair~

    we all need renewal.

    and none of us really have the option of walking away. where do we walk to or from? rather we nourish ourselves and return to the heartbreak of it all. and then renew ourselves once again. have your read “coming back to life” by joanna macy? one of the best and realistic approaches for those of us who love so much~

  21. Thank God. Someone has finally articulated, beautifully and compellingly, what’s been knocking around at the back of my mind in recent years.

    I’ve been involved in sustainability efforts from local to international scales for over two decades, and have in recent years withdrawn from almost all of it because of “sustainability creep.” Sustainability advocates seem to eventually take over all the nature-related communities I’ve been connected with.

    I do believe that thinking in terms of sustainability is both positive and critical in many areas. But it feels like engineering. And you can be a highly effective sustainability worker without ever knowing what native plants might be growing (or might never grow again) outside your back door, or when local baby owls start walking along high branches outside their nests, or what sedimentary layers in the nearby park tell you about ancient worlds. Where’s the intimacy, where’s the awe, where’s the love of natural beauty for its own sake? Seems like there’s no time for contemplation and wonder any more.

    Maybe I’ll see Paul on one of the walks I take regularly in nature to rediscover and try to heal my soul.

  22. way too wordy. we are over 7 billion humans and it will continue to be about us until the conversation and the actions include condoms and religion. christopher hitchens: religion poisons everything.

  23. This article is total nonsense. I’m an ecologist and I think this is probably the most useless article one could write today. Nothing here represents critical thought. I’m sorry to have read it.

  24. Literally got goosebumps reading this, as I just experienced this exact sentiment the other day in an overwhelming way. Oh – and I’m a 19 year old college student, so this way of thinking is definitely not lost on the younger generation.

  25. Quote: “christopher hitchens: religion poisons everything.”

    Wow. Don’cha wish we could get a quick interview with CH today about what he has found out? We could see if his pithy temperament still serves him.

    While people always have and always will mess up – just look at your love life or your credit history – that doesn’t mean we abandon anything people disagree about. Kids still go to school, people still buy airplane tickets, and millions still find answers and fulfillment in their faith relationships.

  26. Too wordy and self involved. The author may have made significant environmental contributions in his life, but this tome is not one of them. Usually it’s better to simplify to get back on track. We need to limit human population and greed, and respect all non-human life enough to want to preserve it. Probably better to do it out of respect than out of passion, which is a fleeting feeling.

    And the “sustainability” problem is simply this: most environmental organizations, especially large ones, have the sustainability of their organization as the primary goal. Real environmentalists actively work toward and look forward to the day when they are no longer needed and are out of business because they succeeded.

  27. Kingsnorth is right on the money and as others have said, he put into words the uneasy feeling I’ve had about all of this “sustainability” crap that people and corporations have been flinging around. I was pretty sure it was bullshit and now I know that it is.
    I was active in the environmental movement in my younger years but these days I find myself aligned more with the late, great George Carlin:
    Life is short, get out there and enjoy the natural world while YOU still can. Don’t worry so much about Earth, it will still be here after we are gone.

  28. Beautifully written. Do you feel that, today, as consumerism has become the lifeblood of our common experience, all decisions are viewed through the lens of commercial value? That is, all value is a matter of exchange, including the environment. And is it possible to replace consumerism, with its viral spread, with a message of value in and for itself?

  29. to meredith and steve: i suggest you read “What Love Looks Like” on the Orion Homepage. TERRY: I remember having a conversation with Breyten Breytenbach, who wrote The True Confessions of an Albino Terrorist, who spent time in prison in South Africa for being anti-apartheid. We were in a bus driving to Mexico City, and he said to me, “You Americans, you’ve mastered the art of living with the unacceptable.”
    they speak of the “hard work”. for me, the questions I have on the wall of my home-”how shall we live and what shall we live for?”
    as for CH- there is no evidence that he is anything other than dead.
    “that doesn’t mean we abandon anything people disagree about.” let’s just scrutinize those mythological beliefs that are not science, reason based. be as honest about our origins, as after the “hard work” we finally were about the Sun revolving around the Earth, the Earth as center of the universe, that blacks are inferior to whites, etc.
    meredith: you are 19. I’m in agreement with tim dechristopher – wilderness.

  30. This is an interesting article. I find myself responding to a lot of what is said with a nod of recognition. But by the end I wonder if it isn’t missing the point a bit. At least the point as I see it.

    I think there remains a real thread of ecocentrism in environmentalism. I think place-based movements like Transition Towns are an intriguing combination of practical efforts toward powering-down and still maintaining a passionate love of specific parts of the earth.

    I think that the powerful push toward renewable power sources is…well, it’s a good thing! And yet I do sympathize with the fact that it’s still destructive of wilderness. That’s true, but it’s less-bad than business as usual. I think it really does represent a significant departure therefrom. Since when has business ever considered its own sustainability? And I’m not giving that word more weight than it is due. I mean an industry that realizes that environmental impacts will hinder its success in the future taking steps to avoid those impacts and ensure its future success! There’s nothing green about that impulse, but if the green movement has “inspired” or forced industry to be a little less-bad…and that’s all we should really expect from industry…then we’re on the right track. Or at least we’re on a slightly righter track.

    Now, on the other side, I think a lot of what you’re describing as problematic forces within the green movement…are not coming from within the green movement at all! In the US we have these things called “Green Festivals”. They’re put on by Equal Exchange and some other organizations, and they’re (in my opinion) a perfect example of the ridiculous combination of green with rampant consumer culture. They’re, to be frank, disgusting. But I see the proliferation of green-washed consumer goods as inevitable.

    There’s a real power to the appeal of the green movement, to living more in accordance with “nature”, to using less-toxic goods. Okay, now enterprising folks who make ends meet by selling crap to other folks are merely co-opting this power to sell their crap! Sorry. It’s not all crap, I’m sure. And I even think that some of the ridiculous consumer products flavored by the green-impulse are likely less-bad than the conventional products they’re trying to out-maneuver in the marketplace. But green-washed crap is still crap. Crap in theoretically biodegradable containers is still crap. Crap being sold to masses of people with no connection to place, who shop compulsively because it’s stimulating and what the hell else are we to do…is still crap.

    It’s a big green ball of hooey, and it won’t “save the world” any more than me typing this too-long comment will!

    But I don’t place the blame with the heart of the green movement. I place it with those who are short-sightedly using that heart to sell things now, and screw the future.

  31. It was inevitable that the environmental movement became a corporatized institution most interested in sustaining itself or working as the greenwashing arm of industry.

    Environmentalists need to reassert their outlook. Adding a differentiating adjective is one way, as in “deep green”. Or perhaps a new term, much as the term “veganism” was necessary after “vegetarianism” had come to include eggs and dairy (or even fish!).


  32. All the devoted environmentalists I knew as a young person were farmers. I know that today’s somewhat corrupted political climate in college and even HS campuses sees farmers as scary strangers, but once you get to know them, they show themselves to be quite serious about keeping the land safe for us and wildlife.

    Since our political scene in D,C, may end with a LOT of us growing our own food again one day, I would encourage those who worry about what we are doing to the planet to try to get to know some people whose lives are bound up with the soil. I never had the guts to bet my life on the weather and on livestock markets, but applaud those who do – several times a day, actually. These families live and breathe the environment.

  33. I too have been pondering this dilemma for some time now. My life as an environmental artist devolved into that of an ecofriendly products merchant, a path of no intention. Creating art from found man made materials washed onto our local beaches became the medium for my obsessively passionate attempt to educate people about their behaviour within the environment, especially in our pristine tourist location (Still receiving it’s fair share of ocean transported man-made litter). I did succeed in evoking their awareness. Then followed their sense of guilt resulting in a desire to be change and be forgiven for their ignorant sins. I then somehow received the dubious task of offering more acceptable consumer solutions.

    My efforts to help them appease their souls, resulted in years spent researching products and supplying these and gradually losing touch with my creativity and the earth. Not exactly how I wanted things to go. So as you say Jennifer – I may appear as one of those “screwing the future”. But balancing the ecocentric ethics of this has always deeply challenged me.

    During these years I have met many people who truly care. Suppliers who are genuinely trying to make a difference and have a big picture approach. Thoughtful customers who are forlorn about our society’s apparent lack of custodianship of our earth and who take the opportunity to discuss their concerns with me. But these people also choose wisely and purchase very little and I know they are the ones who truly do get it. They are my favourite customers – we feel the same connection.

    But sadly I have observed that few do put the planet first, but rather their own personal wellbeing motivates them. I have been amazed at what people will spend on themselves in their efforts to preserve their own body, something that is most certainly finite. Many people just don’t consider that their physical form will be long gone but their careless attempts to discard their consumerism will remain wrapped in plastic in landfill for future archaeologists to discover and ponder – this strange 20th century ritual. I really don’t get this at all and it is a growing trend. I hear them silently cry – “I will change if it is good for ME or my POCKET”.

    As “ecofriendly products” burgeon I increasingly question what is valid and what is just another attempt to milk the cow of “environmentalism”.

    For me, too much time spent in front of a computer and my increasing scepticism has led to a sense of sadness and hopelessness. Lack of connection with the planet is an insidious way to stop noticing and caring.

    So like Paul Kingsnorth, I too am kicking off my shoes again and touching, smelling and embracing the natural around me. Unlike these eco products, our world evolves slowly, gracefully and symbiotically. My sense of hopelessness fades amidst this overwhelming endurance and I trust once again that mother nature will conquer human nature in the end.

  34. Cheryl,
    I was speaking pretty sweepingly, but I know you’re right. There’s something so poignant in the green-consumer notion, and you point this out. I think people cling to buying things because we don’t have a lot else to do to take action! We’re told to “vote with our dollars”, although that’s a pretty sad possibility too…not exactly “one man, one vote” is it?

    And I hear what you’re saying too, about people hoping to heal their bodies…while they’re so fleeting.

    I put some stock, well perhaps a lot of stock, in some aspects of the local food movement, if only because it really has to be rooted in the dirt at SOME level! And yet that too gets commodified and translated into marketing nonsense.

    I think I fault not the smaller-scale entrepreneurs for greenwashing, but the big guys who know they’re faking it. Or would if they looked honestly at their impacts.

    And yet…I don’t know, if you’re going to sell an idea, selling the green idea is better than some.

    Such a fascinating conversation! Endlessly inspiring…if sometimes rather dispiriting too.

  35. Enjoy your recovery! Everyone gets burnt out from the inevitable compromises of engagement with politics, and its good to catch one’s breath, and maybe even move on and leave politics to others. Politics really should be avocational, after all.
    But my reaction to this piece is that in fact, what motivates a lot of the people most engaged with work on carbon reduction (myself at any rate) really is preservation of wildlands, and that the emphasis on human impacts comes from a desire to build coalitions, by pointing out to people that even if you don’t care much about wilderness, you still have something to lose from carbon pollution.

  36. And what if the rosey future of so-called sustainable growth is merely vaporware?

    Cheer up Paul, the oil is running out, and faster everyday. Unless we get a last minute stay from God, the laws of thermodynamics are still in play. You can wish on a star all you want, but you are not going to run this sucka on wind, solar or used french fry oil. More and more grok that everyday. What we are witnessing is only the end stage of grief acceptance. When we reach a critical mass of understanding, we’ll be well on our way to a better life for everyone.

    The job of darning your socks and growing your own carrots will soon have only a couple alternatives. Namely, going sockless and not eating carrots.


  37. Wonderful comments. It seems to me that after all the selfish fantasy, magical thinking and ideological idiocy are set to one side, we can see something plainly: the human community faces a superordinate challenge which will unite the human family as never before to confront a common peril, a challenge so enormous, ominous and oppressive that every person who perceives the global predicament we have precipitated would agree that s/he has responsibilities to assume and duties to perform. The awareness we have to raise and the science we have to share widely among the family of humanity are indeed unpopular, even terrifying. To catch sight of something so unanticipated and awesome overthrows the worldview of most people. Even so, none of this subjective discomfort relieves us who ‘see’ the Leviathan (ie, the presence of a gigantic human population on Earth) of the requirement to do the right thing, I suppose, according to the lights we possess.

  38. Civilizations rise and fall, and one has to wonder how long before our hubris and inability to see what we are doing to the wilderness that has sustained us for millenia will bring about our downfall.

    I think Agent Smith said it best in The Matrix: ” I’d like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species, and I realised that humans are not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment; but you humans do not. Instead you multiply, and multiply, until every resource is consumed. The only way for you to survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern… a virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer on this planet, you are a plague”.

    People need to wise up, but it won’t happen. How long do we have? Not long. What you sow is what you reap.

  39. Re: “Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment.”

    It seems to me that this is not so much voluntary as imposed by Mother Nature. So it will be with us. It is just that, like a smart-alecky student, we have avoided learning the lesson as long as possible.

    I feel very bad that it is my generation (I am in my 60s) who is the most to blame.

  40. The author hits the key point of our modern tragedy exactly. What profit do we gain if we somehow turn the world and ourselves into smooth functioning units in a vast machine, if in the process we lose our own souls? Our sickness is deeply spiritual, and will not be solved by technologies or social engineering.

  41. Dear Paul,
    Thank you for your honesty; you have strengthened the call to live truthfully.
    May we overcome our dis-ease spiritual and find hope to quell the despair.

  42. Paul, thank you for writing that. It really affected me, had a way of making me feel less alone in my internal struggles of this kind. Mine are of a different focus, but with the same sense of “What am I to do with feelings like these? Useless feelings in a world in which everything must be made useful.” I experience the same dismissals. The same spontaneous responses, called idealistic by others, but increasingly tainted by cynicism as I grow older.

    I also have no answers, but I am so happy I stumbled upon your article. Thank you for writing it so beautifully and with so much heart. – Gen

  43. Preserve what is natural and green from more rampant construction of Towers of Babel and ‘concrete jungles’. Everywhere we look there are virtual mountains of evidence to be found of the clever manipulation of human intellect by ‘the brightest and best’, usually for the purpose of securing selfish interests. Self-proclaimed masters of the universe, their many highly educated sycophants and absurdly enriched minions are established experts at ignoring ‘reality’ when it serves their pragmatic desires. The step that makes it possible for human beings with feet of clay to subordinate personal interests so as to see what is before their eyes, is not an easy one. All of us get use to seeing the world in certain ways, according to what is logically contrived, politically correct, economically expedient, socially agreeable, religiously tolerable, culturally prescribed and ubiquitously shared through the mass media. Most of the time popular ways of viewing the world are sufficiently reality-oriented. But occasionally advances in science disturb even the most widely held and consensually validated understandings with regard to the way the world we inhabit works as well as about the placement of the human species within the natural order of living things. Perhaps we are witnesses to such a scientific advance, or maybe not. Whatever the case, whatever the ‘reality’ of human population dynamics, let us make sure that the Orion community is not simply and plainly just one more academic bastion of intellectual cowardice. When the subject is human population dynamics, it seems to me that there are currently enough “ivory towers”, professional societies and international organizations whose members favor intellectual dishonesty, hysterical blindness, willful deafness and elective mutism.

  44. Perhaps this long essay and its commentary inadvertently make it clear how environmentalism has lost its focus. A profundity of words and nary a one about real solutions to the mess we are in.

    How about this:
    1) A change in the tax code in the U.S. removing the deduction for having offspring.
    2) A token measure, but a start, to recognize limits — prohibit any further airport expansion in the U.S.
    3) Limit greed (and the constant drumbeat to consume) by limiting corporations. We urgently need a constitutional amendment stating corporations are not people and money is not free speech.

  45. We can preserve the planet by starting small and putting our signature on whatever we can preserve.

    Ironically, the capitalist system will allow more restorations of our natural environment that any other. Sure, people mess up and take advantage of whatever is in front of them, just like they always have; but I am certain that person-to-person efforts, working from the bottom up is sure to maintain more change than anything imposed by an isolated government from its ivory towers.

  46. Hello Steve Salmony — Good to hear from you. Keep up your good work. The population problem is a critical subset of the general cultural myth that says more is always better. The ultimate heresy to believers in this myth is to say that sometimes less is better. In their minds less is always worse. And they will go to extraordinary lengths to *prove* their ridiculous axiom. When one recommends that less people would put less pressure on finite resources, these partisans of the religion of more will respond with unproven dreams that somehow future scientific breakthroughs will make it possible to support infinite numbers of humans.

    The problem here is one of psychological/spiritual blindness. The solution is for large numbers to wake up from their deluded state, and make the simple changes needed to alter a clearly disastrous course. How to promote this awakening is the major problem facing humankind. There are ways. Will we choose them?

  47. Thank you for the excellent essay! You’ve expressed so eloquently what I have started to feel myself in the past few months. It’s disheartening and troubling, but this strong kindred connection with nature is incredibly powerful, and it’s a shame so few seem to feel it any more.

    I wonder if you have read any Bruno Latour and his work on nature and the modern? I may be more of a radical marxist than you ever were but he advocates a form of anarcho-primitivism that is an enjoyable mental exercise, though it’ll never happen.

  48. Oh, good! Another ideologue. Can you not just stop whining? You want to roll the world back to your youth and damn the billions that would perish in the process. But why stop there? Why stop with the moors and long walks or living the the jungles? How is your childhood epiphany the most relevant? Why not the childhood of earlier egoists? Why not return to their tribalism or hunter gatherer dreams?

    You seek stasis in some long lost past utopia and somehow equate that with a world where man fits with nature. You know the past never returns yet you waste your time dreaming of recapturing it.

    Like all ideologues you hold a radical position but dare not embrace the consequences of its uncertainty. All we can do is accept our fallible humanity and try to move on causing as little pain to others as possible.


  49. Great essay, reminding me of Edward Abbey, which reminds me that the best thing we can do for our children is to take them outside and walk in the mud and watch the stars and listen to the birds.

  50. #53 — All we can do is accept our fallible humanity and try to move on causing as little pain to others as possible. Sounds like an ideology of resigned stasis to me. I prefer to dream a better world. And I am not the only one.

  51. #55
    “…I prefer to dream a better world…”

    And is that “better” world before the wheel? After fire corrupted humankind?

    There are no “dreams” in this article. It is just unrelenting nightmarish lamentation for a lost youth and romanticized memories of things past.


  52. @#56, Your fury at the dreamers sounds terrible for you. The fact is this chap is absolutely right. Withdraw your focus from the industrial nightmare, and focus on the cleaner ways of living. Living with plants. Whatever else we do we will have to find a way to live side by side with many other organisms. Plant plants and nurture them. make it a life philosophy. The answers are so simple and staring us all in the face. Live your high tech lifestyles surrounded by plants that’s all

  53. I’d like to thank everyone for this conversation. With a few unthinking exceptions (L.F. File, you know who you are ;-)) it is fascinating. I’m glad the piece has stimulated a debate, and I hope some of you will be able to join me, Lierre Keith and David Abram for the phone discussion about it on the 18th.

    In the meantime, the work which was stimulated by this article, and which also stimulated it, continues over at the Dark Mountain Project, which I’m sure some of you will also find fruitful – and will hopefully be able to contribute to.


  54. Thanks so much for what you have shared Paul. You reminded me of my own long solo stays in wilderness, that did so much to tell
    me who I really am, and what I am here for. This kind of learning could not have happened through any other means, and remains a most precious gift in a life that has known its share of alienation and confusion. Nature remains a great spiritual teacher if we go to her in humble openness. I pray more of us will seek these deep experiences in this time of unraveling…

  55. So beautiful this piece. Sort of like a suicide note. The machine will not accept anything less than continued cancerous growth, and environmentalism will only cave to that final limit.

    Bollocks, cos. Buck up.

    I don’t see any sort of “radical response to global warming” or “saving our oceans from extinction” from my vantage, whatever your progressive papers are telling you up there.

    Cuz the windpower people are getting called Luddites, too, and it aint like we’re seeing a great change. So, my perspective: end the machine. If you ever want to see a wild river again or drink untainted water.

    Cancel your trip. I’ll clue you in: they’re destroying the rainforest at breakneck pace and there aren’t any windmills to obstruct the view. Use your wild inclination to strike against the beast.

    Fight. And maybe we’ll see a generation that can do something other than gluttonously consume the impoverished and nature, until it gets time for the next Prozac.

  56. Oh what to do?
    A sad tale you spin…
    We live in an age of excitement. Miraculous and filled with wonders both natural and anthropogenic. Embrace it and do what you can to contribute.

  57. The only consolation we have is that most of the natural world will continue on its evolutionary path without humans. As for those of us alive today, we need to acknowledge not only the compromised self styled leaders and groups and their failure, but to understand and counteract the irrationality that is part of our psyche and how it is emerging again – through religion, counterculture conspiracy theories, postmodernism, New Age indifference to political change and the prevalence of false
    gurus and snake oil salesmen. Yes, direct immersion in Nature is imperative, but we need to change the way we interact with Nature and human society by respecting and reviving science, rationalism, secularism and all the things we inherited from the Enlightenment and the scientific revolution.
    Above all we need to reinforce the study of evolution not only for ethical reasons but because evolutionary principles pervade nearly all of society. Without a broad scientific education, and without the guidance of the “laws of Nature”, humans will continue to be ruled by arbitrary and capricious ideologies, both religious and secular. Deference to Nature is one of the most powerful ways of defeating tyranny.

  58. There is nothing like a walk through undisturbed nature to reinvigorate you.

    If you think about it, religious faith does not have to be opposed to the things we observe in nature like natural selection, evolution, and the best guesses we have for the age of Earth & the cosmos. If Allah/God/YHWH is as patient as we are told, what’s to keep Him from letting the process Carl Sagan loved to highlight from serving His purposes just as well as the timetable given us by Moses?

    If I were going to somehow create a world or a universe, I wouldn’t leave hints that I had done it either. I’d have people understand the clues I gave them or the people I sent them and let them decide on their own, whether “them” is mankind or every sort of sentinent life – maybe even octopuses someday, referring to my fave story from Orion so far.

  59. Steve, I appreciate your gentle invitation to consider the relationship between the material and spiritual. Indeed, such relationship has been/is intrinsic to indigenous groups in the world who live in spiritual and resonably healthy relationship with the planet (eg Australian indigenous people’s).
    I believe that attempting to remove what is spiritual from conversations such as this, would not only be near-sighted and lacking in wisdom, but would overlook more than half the world’s human population whose religions suggest some sort of personal responsibility for “creation” and who we would be wise to inspire toward the same end – human reconcilliation with the planet and, therefore, restoration of wholeness and health for our planet and it’s surrounds (for we are also littering Space!).
    Allowing spirit to remain in the conversation and process will also allow hope to shine – albeit tenuously.

  60. In response to Kate’s pleading for spirituality, I believe that those who rely on spirituality usually only come up with spiritual solutions, not political ones. It will take an eternity and then some before everyone on earth comes around to that view. If there were world enough and time….but there isn’t. And there are probably many more in the industrialized world who would categorically reject it anyway. If someone wants to meditate, pray or exhort the rest of us to abandon our evil ways, like the leftist Christian flaggelant called Chris Hedges or his righteous fellow Pastor Bill McKibben’s tiresome religious effluvia,that’s their choice, but that’s the easy way out of a situation that requires a lot more.

  61. Anarchy
    — The childish impulse to break things when you don’t get your way.

  62. Nice piece Paul. I share a lot of your feelings. And no windmills are not going to save us. The arrogance of human utility as a dominant philosophy is deadly and denies our kinship with our cousin species.

    Funny though you didn’t, except for a passing reference, address the most raw evidence of our colonizing arrogance – our endless growth in numbers.

    Oddly this requires that we do something that no other species has ever done as far as I know – voluntarily limit reproduction.

    Talking to the wind is great but insufficient. There is a place for cold logic applied.

  63. Anarchy: a society of free individuals without centralized governmental authority.

  64. Good discussion but I hope one thing stands out: it is not enough to talk, ruminate, philosophize, hope, believe, pray or dream. Environmentalists must develop real solutions and act. For example:
    1) If we want to limit population, we should end the tax incentive-deduction for having offspring.
    2) As a start to recognizing limits — we should prohibit any further airport expansion in the U.S.
    3) To limit greed and the constant drumbeat to consume we will need to limit corporations. We should be working on a constitutional amendment stating corporations are not people.
    The best estimates are that between 10 and 20 percent of all species will be driven to extinction in the next 20 to 50 years due to humans. It is our responsibility to do something about it now.

  65. #68 Rosa — Our main problem as I see it is not centralized government per se. The chief difficulty is that the vast majority of us are not free in any meaningful sense, even if government should cease to exist. Real freedom is not something that we naturally have in the absence of external restraints. Real freedom requires intensive work to rid ourselves of all the false beliefs we have accumulated in our minds that operate as a dense cloud of delusions between ourselves and reality. Removal of these obscuring clouds is the purpose of real spiritual practice. Minus these thick veils of ignorance and falsehood, we could be able to order our lives and relationships in an optimal manner, through transformed forms of government and other means.

  66. These pages are full of excellent ideas about what we should do to change our world for he better. However, the fault is not in our stars, nor our government, or corporations, polluters, etc. — but in ourselves. Only better people can make a better world. The colorful patchwork of innovative solutions cannot cover the source of nearly all our problems — ourselves. Until we face this reality, and take up the tools that have been developed over history to deeply change ourselves, there will be no end to the ongoing avalanche of disasters we will continue to create, often in the name of fixing problems we previously created.

  67. Rosa — I admire the ideals of some anarchists, it is their methods of achieving those ends that I question. Derrick Jensen in many ways fits this dubious category. Tear civilization down in order to save it, and cross your fingers that something better will follow it.
    Before one tears something down, one should ask if they are qualified to do something that will cause enormous suffering in the short term. Then one should consider if the deconstructive activities will really do more harm than good in the long run. I find this consideration lacking in most anarchistic types, who on the contrary are so full of righteous hubris leading them to believe that they know what they are doing, that they scorn the questions I have asked.

  68. As for anarchism, no government, I don’t even know what that means other than being completely alone and self-supporting under that condition. I have approximated that and there is a lot to be said for it but I understood it to be a temporary condition. Once you are living with others rules become necessary and hierarchies form. You bear a burden to show otherwise. An ideal without present day or historical examples is pretty much pie in the sky.

    I appreciate the value of self-reflection but it is not a substitute for some sort of action that we who care about having a future can plug into. The walk-abouts unfortunately didn’t save the aborigines.

    To start with something simple(ultimately answers have to be simple), that might provide a general hopeful focus, here is mine – details to be worked out.


  69. I have been reading what Guy Mcpherson has to say..that only the nearly here financial collapse will slow global warming…so with Peak everything Industrial agriculture ends…You will not have to work for anarchy…govt will be very small,like your neighborhood..Mcpherson writes that one study was published that reports ONLY the coming financial collapse can effect GW(Climatic Journal I think)and the science is bullit proof

  70. I am surprised to see that the purist Romantic paradigm — the notion that ‘nature’ is something essential and separate from human and society — is alive and well and being used to argue for misanthropy. Nature’s not dead, Romantic nature is, and that’s not such a bad trend.

  71. ‘Ecoreason’ –

    Given that the kneejerk responses you have given vent to are specifically anticipated in the article (precisely because they are so unthinking and so predictable), maybe you want to read it again, and come back with something a bit smarter …?

  72. #Ecoreason
    Yes, however, nature is an asset and the current situation calls for preservation.

  73. Clyde – Knowing the holes that exist in an ‘argument’ and this author clearly does is not the same as having a better argument. As I don’t believe he does. But neither is this an article, rather it’s a trope. A narrative exposition designed to evoke nostalgia at the permanent loss of something once cherished and present. Nostalgia is deadly, as it distracts from the actual efforts at reform. Environmentalism is dead, long live environmentalism. 🙂

  74. Ecoreason

    You made two demonstrably false claims about the article here. One that it promulgated the concept of a ‘nature’ separate from humans – in fact it explicitly states the opposite. Two, that an emotional response to non-human nature somehow equates to ‘misanthropy’.

    Given that there are no grounds for these criticisms, it’s easy to suspect that you have your own reasons for promulgating them which have little to do with the article in question. Which of course is your business.

  75. All due respect, Paul, the whole piece rests upon a belief in this idea (‘nature’ as that essential other that one encounters ‘out there,), it has no power as a narrative without it. There’s no loss in this tale otherwise. Your stating the opposite is a rhetorical turn, not your actual argument.

    Don’t het me wrong, you’re a gifted essayist and this is a beautifully written piece. But it does not escape from the nostalgia that weighs down efforts toward genuine change.

    Is it possible that you’re using this narrative of loss, your eroded faith that you are going ow to restore, as an excuse from having to do the real work necessary if you want a world where wild places thrive too?

  76. A Romantic, a nostalgic misanthrope and a gifted essayist? I am being flattered today.

    There is no contradiction between an ecocentric worldview – which after all is what we’re talking about here – and a personal, emotional connection to non-human nature. In my experience, the second often follows from the first.

    Certainly any form of environmentalism which negates or scoffs at such an emotional connection and relies on ‘reason’ instead is likely to be both dishonest and dangerous in my view. There are plenty such examples out there at the moment and it’s clearly the way the wind is blowing.

    As for ‘doing the real work necessary’ – you sound like you know precisely what this work is and how to push it forward. I am impressed, and I hope you’ll share the details with us.

  77. What about a form of environmentalism that simply doesn’t not believe “ecocentrism” to be a genuine ethical position because it is based on a false assumption about the natural world (and it tends to mask power and deny history)?

    I mean, basically you’ve called me knee-jerk, accused me of making false claims, and implied that my ideas are dishonest and dangerous, and in the end, you are in fact arguing for precisely the bi-furcated notion of ‘nature’ (that great whole emotionally satisfying radical other available for your personal consumption, er, uh, experiences) that I originally criticized. We’ve come full circle.

    I’ve been an environmentalist since I was in diapers. I think you’ve missed an important turn in the movement and are mistaking your own wishful nostalgia for a more general tendency afoot in the movement. “Sustainability” is bigger and more complex than your essay suggests, and the hopeful and productive pieces of the environmental movement, in my experiences over the past five years, are more hopeful and productive than anything I’ve seen in my 45 years.

    Move past Romanticism, it’s not scary, it’s the best thing we can do. 🙂

  78. Hopefully not, Rosa. It is certainly embraced by *some* Romantics and it cannot help but carry some of the baggage that come with being associated with environmentalism, but at its best, sustainability seems to recognize the dead ends of Romantic thought.

    Change is uncomfortable. But we all know it’s necessary. 🙂

  79. Ah, but sustainability isn’t really about change, is it. It’s about maintaining things pretty much just as they are, just with cooler attitudes and products. It’s a means of obfuscating our guilt.

    So much of it — not all, mind you, your peace garden being one exception — is merely a romanticization of technology.

  80. ‘Ecoreason’

    It’s a little tricky at this point for you to complain about name-calling, don’t you think? I mean, having accused me of hating the entirety of humanity and all.

    You have a lot of accusations to make, but very little in the way of concrete suggestions, ideas, critiques or proposals. You cling to notions of ‘change and ‘sustainability’ without stopping to explain what these terms mean, and you denigrate ‘Romanticism’ and ‘misanthropy’ on the same basis. I’ve had countless conversations like this over the years and they have helped convince me that Rosa is right: the Romantics these days are all embracing the future, not the past: clinging to ill-defined notions of progress because they are having trouble adjusting to unfolding reality.

    The Dark Mountain Project, from which this essay springs, is all about embracing change. For sure, we are all going to have to do that; including the greens. Good luck.

  81. There are large private interests that have defined “sustainability” as the same consumption of the same energies by the United States, and many individuals who buy into that belief. But I would argue that such a view by no means defines the most hopeful elements of the idea and it is inaccurate to present it as such an essential and stark set of options.

    I agree with all of your concerns about enlisting guilt and worshipping technology, but there are more choices than those. Guilt is useless. Technology is not. Gardens are technologies, too, as are beaver dams. It’s not, in my experience, the use or non-use of technology on which reform will pivot, but the ability to reason through an ecology of technology: To know the limits of control and to understand the subtle relationship between technology and social power.

  82. Paul – When someone hasn’t called you names and in fact quite accurately describes your attitude toward humanity (I’ve looked at your material on Dark Mountain, apocalyptic stuff), you have not been called a name. So, no it’s not tricky at all. I find it amusing rather than insulting, but I resubmit my complaint about your tendency to call names.

    Back to Dark Mountain: The premise is this. You and a bunch of other writers have figured out that we use stories to construct our realities and that the story of progress is one that has done much harm. I’m with you to that point. But your solution is to write your own stories that you believe will “reflect clearly and honestly on our place in the world.”

    I admire the ambition and the intentions. But you seem unaware (all of you related to this Dark Mountain site) of the fact that your critique applies to your own work as well. You can rewrite stories of human society, we do it all the time, but why make a concerted effort to foist an apocalyptic vision? That’s the story I object to. It’s the old story. There’s nothing new about it. And it gives you traction to proceed.

    The best stories are not imagined they are worked. Taking a leisurely retreat in which to perfect your narration of humanity’s great failings is not work. I’m quite certain about this. 🙂

  83. Those who are wedded to a philosophy of pragmatism and so called realism will always chafe at others who are courting the mysterious beauty and truth of the less quantifiable dimensions of life. They are contemptuous of those of us that value our deep emotions and intuitions of things beyond the ordinary surface of life. They bridle at the to them meaningless concerns of folks who resonate and are inspired by the profound presence behind the outward forms of nature in the wild. Spiritual consciousness to them is seen as the unprofitable and useless delusions of people devoid of reason and hard headed judgment.

    Let them go their way. It is useless to try to persuade them of other perspectives. They are fundamentalists of the practical and its endless, soulless repetitions .

  84. Mike — you are more than welcome to “court the mysterious beauty and truth of the less quantifiable dimensions of life.” And more than welcome to make your own meanings.

    But if what you are seeking is change in the ways that human society comports itself on earth, you’re gonna need more than “deep emotions and intuitions.” Less hand-wringing, more handiwork.

    It’s a convenient fiction to pretend that I am failing to understand the real gesture you are making. I get it. And I disagree. 🙂

  85. I didn’t agree with much in this essay. Kingsnorth’s primary argument is basically a straw man—-he posits that there’s this new “sustainability” movement that only cares about carbon, and has nothing to do with the roots of the environmental movement, being outside, enjoying nature, a spiritual connection.

    There are two problems with that. First, it’s incorrect. Think of just some of the leaders of the climate/sustainability movement that focuses on carbon: people like McKibben, Lovins, David Suzuki, Bobby Kennedy Jr. They all have profound connection and roots to traditional outdoor environmentalism. Lovins was first a hiker and a photographer, under the wing of David Brower. McKibben has hiked extensively in the Appalachians. Kennedy is a lifelong outdoorsman, birder, rafter, kayaker and skier. He’s written about how every major religious epiphany has happened in the wilderness. And so on. So the author’s main point simply isn’t true, in fact, it’s the reverse of true: the modern climate movement evolved obviously and necessarily from the traditional environmental movement and modern climate hawks own the link to the spiritual deep ecology of the 60s and 70s.

    Which brings us to the second big flaw in the essay. It belies a lack of background or understanding of climate science. Kingsnorth is saying we’ve got these technocrats focused on carbon solutions. Well, yes, because if you care at all about any environmental issue—oceans, water, forests, air quality, population—and you don’t solve climate, you can kiss it all goodbye. And the situation is dire right now. It’s as if the author hasn’t really read the new, shocking science from Hansen, Lonnie Thompson and others, even though he claims to understand the problem.

    Kingsnorth argues that these technocrats are trying to continue growth, just in a different way. So instead of coal, we have wind turbines. But that misses the focus of the movement to solve climate. Key aspects of that movement would include programs—-like a carbon tax—-that would necessarily control or steer growth, even slow or eliminate it—-in a sustainable way. An appropriate carbon tax would fully eliminate certain egregiously carbon intensive aspects of modern life, like air travel. Yes, some say we need to continue economic growth, just in a cleaner way. But that’s not a universal opinion, and the issue gets at something the author never answers: what are we to do?

    I don’t fault Kingsnorth for not providing answers, since I’m often guilty of that, but I do fault him for arguing, effectively, that with the modern climate movement, we’re selfishly trying to maintain all we have but do it in a different way, while his ending statement is fundamentally the quintessential act of environmental selfishness: hiding himself in the mountains, to paraphrase the Chinese poet Han Shan. His giving up—and going to enjoy nature—doesn’t do anything for the world, and it reveals, in its raw selfishness, the great flaw with the old environmental ideology he so admires. It fails to recognize, as Ed Marston has observed, that “there is no salvation for the individual, only for the group.”

  86. I’m chuckling at the exchanges between the Romantic and the Sustainable Industrialist here(to paraphrase their respective tags for one another). In my opinion, it is a classic exercise in the limits of binary thinking. Here’s the tertiary guys: Nostalgia for Paradise Lost, or regret that we are not already driving around burning used french fry oil will be superseded by a much different reality. In other words, Dick Cheney was right. The American way of life is not negotiable. Reality is not subject to negotiation. Dig it.

  87. McKibben, Lovins, David Suzuki, and Bobby Kennedy Jr all support installing giant wind turbine arrays in wild areas, which doesn’t betray a very profound fellow-feeling for the natural world.

    Advocating new destruction of nature in the hope of redeeming (while wholly depending on) old destruction characterizes this sustainability movement.

    They are building giant mmonuments to their vision a la Rapa Nui to ward off environmental disaster, not really doing very much to actually help things.

    Without carbon emissions, humans would still operate in an exploitative way toward nature (as well as each other).

  88. In other words, saying no to carbon (and methane) emissions is good, but it addresses only one symptom. It is far from “the final no” before the yes of a new day.

  89. Sound and fury my friends, sound and fury. The brilliant minds of our time (and I see many represented here, and I most assuredly don’t include myself) are locked in debate over an illusory future, fueled by “unobtanium”. What a waste. We have eco-utopians and windmill tilters in learned disposition over how we’ll keep the party rolling, while the idiot uncle locked in the cupboard under the stairs keeps pounding on the door, disrupting the repartee. You would think some of the more left leaning amongst them would be embarrassed to align their magical thinking with the worst of the so-called conservatives, whose fantasy du jour is either Balkan shale gas (Hundreds of years of it!) or the arbitrage of cheap natural gas to cook Alberta tar sands at exceedingly small net energy returns. But really, are they any different than those flogging the illusion that if we’d just pave New Mexico with solar panels we’ll all be living in an Ed Begley paradise? Does it surprise anyone that a scary-big proportion of our populace is really now quite certain that the USA is a net exporter of petroleum? That this demographic doesn’t have the ability to know the difference between refined distillates and crude is even scarier.

    What gets quashed in all this smoke shoveling is ANY serious discussion of appropriate technology, or how economic decline is already at hand, or population control, or getting serious about how we move ourselves about and occupy the land. Yeah, I know. THAT is REALLY scary, and frankly, it just ain’t as much fun. Carry on.

  90. It may have been garbled by some in confusing energy and just the electrical portion of it, but the U.S. does indeed export much more oil than it uses for electricity (which is hardly any).

    So paving the deserts with solar panels and clearing the mountaintops for wind turbines isn’t going to do anything about tar sands, Alaska and Gulf drilling, or importing oil from even farther afield.

  91. What got garbled Rosa was the news that the U.S. now is able to export refined crude. A much different thing than saying we can export oil. A number of people who should know better exalted over America’s new energy independend.

    This is due to the freeing up of domestic refinery capacity brought on by softening demand. That oil we are exporting in a refined state, was imported oil. As always.

  92. I agree with Mr. Kingsnorth. Environmentalism focused on carbon capture, ‘sustainability’, the construction of a new generation of nuclear power plants, and the destruction of our last open lands for alternative energy development is a complete sham.

    What needs to happen is to break the monopoly of the oil, gas and coal companies and the electrical utilities, and reduce or eliminate the model of the giant central power station in favor of a decentralized power generation model, so that power is generated on the rooftops and within the boundaries of the urban areas in which it is consumed.

    The centralized utilities and energy companies currently have the law in their favor, and the first order of business should be to change the legal constraints under which our current power systems operate, to allow development of a new decentralized model.

    I simply don’t see any major environmental organizations working towards that goal.

  93. Randy…would your expectation be that such a configuration as you’ve describe it would offer up a standard of living to the entire population of the globe that would be comparable to the current U.S. standard of living? If so, I think you are going to be sorely dissapointed. Now, if you’re willing to accept a decreased energy consumption budget to go with that idea…a VERY decreased energy consumption budget…why then, you may just feel comfortable in 2025. Make it

  94. Ecoreason #98 — Your position that deep love of nature and sadness and anger at its wanton destruction for selfish and trivial purposes is irrelevant in motivating people to go to bat and work to save it for its own sake, not simply as resources to feed out of control human appetites, does not hold water. I guess all those who have spent their lives influencing others to feel with awe the wonder of nature and its beauty are simply wasting their time. Maybe you really believe they should rather set to work about how to maximize our sustainable exploitation of these resources. Are you afraid, for example, that coming to love and respect trees would impair our ability mindlessly destroy them for our trivial usages?

  95. Ecoreason — Further, instead of approaching Paul’s confession of his sensitive feelings (which many of us concerned folks have felt in our own ways) with compassion and understanding, you chose to question his right to have such feelings, and dismissed his essay as irrelevant and false. Those of us who are realizing that changed hearts and minds are the keys to a better world need sharings like this to process our own problems with burnout, despair and isolation. You might consider how minor a factor reason often is in raising an effective movement among our sleeping compatriots. We are not robots without feelings and dreams after all. You may find your narrow approach wins few hearts or minds to your vague call to action.

  96. Thank you, Paul, for a beautiful essay. I read it to my wife last night and it moved us both to tears for something precious that has been lost, and might be possible to regain. A decade ago we both spent the majority of our lives outside, listening, watching, gleaning what we could of nature’s lessons for us. Now we spend our time indoors, and especially at computer screens.

    We did not choose this. We were swept into it by a culture that demands this form of being “connected.” But real connection is lost. I think we are only just realizing what has happened to us, and we will now be consciously moving back to outdoor mode. If we can. Our liberal, environmentalist Governor (of Vermont) not only wants industrial wind projects on the mountain ridgelines, he also wants to “blanket the state” with broadband and cell service. The places we used to go for quiet and solace and real education in nature are invaded now with those same technologies. We seek the voice of the Earth, and hear mostly the human part, no matter where we go. The sadness of this is beyond words, but you have come very close to expressing it.

    I too seek to recapture the listening life. If we can not listen, what we have broken can not possibly heal.

  97. I am vexed by the notion that a deep spiritual, aesthetic or philosophical connection to Nature has no validity. And I say this as a super-rationalist secular atheist evolutionist who writes in a purely political vein. The notion that a movement to save he earth must be purified and distilled down to political anger is absurd. People come to movements and realizations from different directions. There is no doubt in my nonreligious world that the alienation of humans from Nature – a result of technology and materialism, among other things – bears a major responsibility for the earth’s degradation and terminal illness. And this alienation has been reinforced by both the Right and the Left, with the Left being more reprehensible in its long-standing belief that human needs supersede those of nonhumans. This has led to an instrumental view of Nature and its commodification, to its being regarded only as “resources” that supposedly should be used to end poverty and inequality. This is the most vile result of the separation of humans from Nature and one which the left still adheres to. In this respect our worst enemies are those we have considered allies, not those who feel and express their connection to Nature. Not everyone will be a political activist, but those who choose not to be are nevertheless important in spreading a new philosophy that regards nonhuman species and systems as equally important. Those who are unfamiliar with Nature or are in infrequent contact with it can be persuaded by the experience and insights of those ike Kingsnorth. Political change is imperative but worthless without the appropriate philosophical and ecological

  98. Less handwringing, more handiwork.

    Yes, John, you did choose it. And some of it for good reasons. This kind of forum, for example, and the ability to communicate shared concerns across indeterminate space is incredibly valuable. All is not broken and nothing is lost.

    The narrative of the lost golden age is also a very old story (just ask Raymond Williams). It is emotionally compelling (I think because it tacks nicely to the arc of the human life so it has emotional familiarity), but it’s has shaped our environmental stories for too long. We need new stories.

    Authentic stories come from work. We new new work. Renewed handiwork.

    It’s not a lack of compassion, mike k. It’s genuine compassion. 🙂

  99. I agree with you Ecoreason that we need a new story, a new narrative, to explain what is happening to us now. Our cognitive dissonance is overwhelming us, and it is brought about by the fact that our old narrative doesn’t fit the reality we are seeing, and we’re casting about for scapegoats and magical resolutions….and yes…I think that does include a yearning to return to the garden, to an epoch that never was. What is this old narrative? Well, especially for the citizens of the USA, it is the idea that the arc of progress is always up, never down. The fact that we’ve been confronted with ample evidence that our profligate spending of the earth’s resources…primarily fossil oil…is winding down, and we have no ready replacement waiting in the wings is something that your average person is not equipped to absorb. I see that happening all around. I’m somewhat surprised to see it amongst the readers of a magazine like Orion, but there it is.

  100. True confessions, then. I’m not a reader of Orion. I received a link to this article via a listserv I participate in with other environmental studies scholars in the United States (among them are, I’m sure, multiple Orion readers).

    And I think you misunderstand me. I am not denying the presence of historic and unprecedented social and biological challenges. And I belief the consensus and have no doubt that global weirding will raise new challenges that we haven’t even yet imagined.

    But I don’t think that’s the interesting story at all. Or worth doing much more than acknowledging in the work you do. The real stories are being written by a wide gamut of compassionate, thoughtful, and ambitious reformers across the globe. People hard at work doing things and filled with optimism.

    Emerson wrote that ‘the ruin or the blank that we see when we look at nature is in our own eye.” I think he’s right. 🙂

    I see humanity as our only ethical route.

  101. @ Ecoreason..sorry, I was not meaning to single anyone out for that accusation. Really, I include myself in the category, on some days. It is the most crucial piece of news in the last 100 years or so, and the average mind’s ability to absorb its implications is very, very limited. But, we’ve all got to start to try.

    It even supersedes, I think, the imperative to throw ourselves in front of the bulldozers. After all, if the arc of un-progress continues (and there is nothing on the horizon to show that it won’t), there not only won’t be much of a need for bulldozers, but you’ll not find anything for them to run on anyway. While the Masters of the Universe and the Ecowarriors continue their pas de deux, under the old narrative, the reality that dictated that opposition is slowly and gradually dissipating. The newest party to the fray, the “Sustainable Industrialist”, is just as irrelevant, at least to the extent that he/she believes we can have it all, and progress can continue if we just employ the latest so-called green solution. Oh, and if we suspend the laws of thermodynamics too.

    There is a beautiful symmetry in this slowly revealed outcome. I’ve expended considerable energy in a personal struggle to keep my contribution to progress and the ecological degradation that comes with it to a minimum. Mostly, I’ve failed. Others have expended a lot more energy, both personal and social, and they have failed too. The proof is a self-evident thing. If it helps you or anyone else to continue this fight against a self-correcting reality…then by all means have at it. I do. But, don’t think there aren’t other, monumental forces at work that just might do the job better.

  102. It does depend on what you consider the “job” to be. Because, of course, there are gargantuan unstoppable forces in the universe and on earth. Humans got nothing on the brute force at play. But I refuse to embrace the nihilism of personal failure. 🙂

  103. Something I’ve been saying for some 35 years, ever since I was offered my Sierra Club credit card, and cancelled my membership in that organization.

  104. Eco…The “embrace the nihilism of personal failure?” Baaah, I’m saying nothing of the kind. As I said, I believe in the good fight, for it’s own sake. As for gargantuan forces….this one just happens to be one we’ve unleashed on ourselves. Ain’t no disaster like a man made one, I say. Maybe this is one of the reasons that our comprehension is so slow to catch up with the reality.

  105. I am noticing what is a common problem in our approaches to today’s problems in our current discussion. Those who are involved and invested in a certain discipline or angle of approach tend to be dismissive of other approaches that may be from quite other disciplines or perspectives. The artist is at odds with the engineer, the realist with the idealist, the economist scoffs at the humanitarian.

    Perhaps we could recognize that a wide range of disciplines will be needed to effectively deal with our multiple complex problems. And although all methods need to be criticized when they step beyond the range of their usefulness, we should honor them within the areas where they are competent and useful. Putting our own favored way up as the one and only way may deprive us of the wisdom inhering in other bodies of knowledge and practice.

  106. If Einstein’s supervisor at the Swiss patent office had chanced to observe him gazing out the window while supposedly at work, and asked him what he was doing, and Einstein had told him he was imagining what it would be like to ride a beam of light, most probably he would have been fired. And yet, this and other ‘thought experiments’ eventually played a crucial part in the revolutionary theory of relativity, with far ranging changes in the outer world. In light of this and countless other examples of creative idleness, who are we to say that Paul may discern a new and powerful way to solve the global problems we are faced with.
    Wandering without aim in the wilderness was how the Taoist sages came to some of there most profound understandings. What Paul proposes to do in his essay may not sound like our usual ideas of what constitutes research, but who knows, maybe those ideas are to narrow. What if the world all the doers are busy trying to construct is the wrong world?

  107. I hear you Mike. I’m always very shy of anyone who proposes a “unified” theory of anything, and I resisted giving any credence to the facts that I and others have begun to tease out of the trend of the late 20th, early 21st centuries. Understand, I’m not discounting anyone’s view, calling or ambitions. What I am suggesting is that in another 20-30 years, all of what we see as being oh so vital today will seem monumentally quaint. I had a tough time accepting that looming (present?) reality, and I expect others will as well. Hell, I know they do when I take a look around me. When you’ve got folks with money throwing up preposterous energy fantasies like the ones found in “Thrive”, and folks (apparently) believing them, that is your signal that we as a society have our collective head up our collective posterior. This is a political, conspiratorial, racial, economic and environmental-neutral position. If fact, it is neutral in all aspects except the one that always matters most, the intersection of our lives and the reality the universe dishes to us.

    Now I’ll shut up about it.

  108. To me that sounds less like an essential meta-neutral truth about existence and more like a convenient and situated excuse to do nothing. But I’m often critical in that way.

    And now to tend the gardens.


  109. Do nothing? Dude, it is very much quite to the contrary. If you’re heading for your garden, you know it as well as I do. Rock it.

  110. One could easily make a case that all these doers are the cause of the mess we are in.

    When Ouspensky asked Gurdjieff what we should do, he answered — Do??! Man cannot do. As people are now, they can do nothing. They only repeat the mechanical impulses that ceaselessly move them in an endless and meaningless circle. Real doing is far from us: first one has to BE.

  111. The idea of anarchy as a way to protect nature has appealed to me, but them I remember how the gold rushers destroyed so much of what may have needed saving in California with their mindless pursuit of riches. They actually washed out hills with hoses or redirected streams to erode dry soil. Perhaps we could hang on to enough government to maintain ground rules.

  112. The appeal of anarchy is as an alternative to bad government. Good government is far superior to anarchy. If people cannot make a success of democratic self governance, what makes us think they will do any better under anarchy? Dysfunctional people will create dysfunctional government, no matter what system they choose. Only truly sane functional people can create a good system of governance.

  113. I am a journalist, a published author and a lefty, and this is simply the very best piece on environmentalism I have read anywhere. I am going to circulate it to all I know.
    I too am very nervous about wind farms and their impact on birds and insects. I too, feel we mean well but have lost their way. At the local big grocer the organic food section is filled with ‘organic’ grapes from Chile, figs from Turkey – as if all we fools who buy them think that no fuel was used in the planes that bring them. No fuel to fish our excessive consumption of salmon and tuna instead of eating seasonal, locally produced foods. Our greed will destroy us, our need to appear politically correct and our failure to truly respect nature. Thank God for the writer’s father. I want to read more…

  114. The mess we have created is a result of our shallow thinking. When we bethink ourselves to clear it up, alas we employ the same short term superficial thinking that landed us here.

  115. Who is this Royal “We” doing all this messing up?

    From my own perspective, I find it paralyzing to suggest that the issues of human habitat confronting the present generation are understood as having a singular unified cause.

    “We” don’t act as one. A few fine distinctions seem critical. 1. The United States stands alone as a profligate consumer of global resources (a role it plays far out of proportion to its population numbers. 2. Within the United States income, and thus the ability to mobilize natural resource cum commodities, is equally disproportionately concentrated. 3. There are significant and meaningful counter-trends to profligate consumption in United States society.

    In the United States (where we Statians ought to focus our best work) there are a minority of powerful actors, a huge chorus of unreflective participants, a smaller chorus of unwilling participants, a large active subgroup of dissenters, and a growing gaggle of non-participants.

    All is not hopeless, but you must construct the problem with more accuracy to recognize this condition.


  116. The Royal We is a conceit reserved to Royals. The more inclusive we is used in the sense of we humans. Such use does not imply that all included are equally or solely responsible for the mess we humans have created on Earth. We humans each have some share in creating this mess that we are all involved in.

  117. It is also true that not all our problems are created by us humans. There are planetary and cosmic problems impinging on all living beings that are not our doing. The problems that we are causing by our own bad behavior are the ones most susceptible to alteration, if we choose to work on them.

  118. Ecoreason — Although much of your sharing has a reasonable ring to it, there is also within some of it the voice of a nit picking argumentative fault-finder that can be rather off-putting. Your last brief comment reminds me of the schoolyard taunt “Is too!” If you had read my last comment about the usage of ‘we’ objectively you might have realized that your construction of it was simply your own interpretation read into it, and in no way inherent in the bare statement itself. This is the equivalent of putting words in a persons mouth which they have not spoken. If you want to have a civil and meaningful discussion with others, you might reflect on your own manner of sharing.

  119. Thanks for the lessons in discourse, Mike. In that spirit, can you help me understand how the use of the word “we” intended, as you say, to mean “we humans” collectively. And use it in a sentence like “The mess we have created is a result of our shallow thinking.” Dos not imply everyone? I’m not the brightest light on the chandelier, so I may be missing something, but I don’t see an nuance to that statement. Any opening for some of this “we” to object to the totalizing classification, or for directed strategies that effect high leverage changes. It sounds like you mean you and me and everyone else human has thought shallowly and made this “mess.” Help me understand the missing logic.

  120. A superb discussion. I especially like the way the author participates in the conversation.

    As many in the Orion community know, we have an overpopulation problem on Earth because the near exponential growth of the human species has been legitimized and allowed to become a patently unsustainable Ponzi scheme. In the face of this colossal problem deniers and ‘business as usual’ enthusiasts often say cavalierly, “Have the courage to do nothing.” That ideas of this kind are ever associated with
    word, courage, is the height of dishonesty and duplicity. Such expressions are also the most profound examples of self-serving thought and individual cowardice I can imagine. That such a point of view is broadcast by the mainstream media is a sign to us of its wrongheadedness.

    Let us not fail for another year to examine and report on extant research of human population dynamics/human overpopulation. The refusal of many too many experts to assume their responsibilities to science and perform their
    duties to humanity could be one of the most colossal mistakes in human
    history. Such woefully inadequate behavior by deniers, as is evident in the collusion of many too many experts, will soon enough be replaced with objective observations and truthful expressions from those in possession of clear vision, intellectual honesty and moral courage.

    Why not acknowledge science regarding human overpopulation and, by so doing, take a path toward sustainability? If we keep repeating the mistakes made in the past by denying science, nothing new and different can happen.
    Without an open acknowledgement of the root cause(s) of what is ailing the human family, how are we to move forward to raise awareness of the global
    predicament? Once awareness is raised among a critical mass of people, it becomes possible to organize for the purpose of formulating policies and actionable programs. Denial has kept us and continues to keep us from gaining momentum needed to address and overcome the human-driven challenges that currently threaten human well being and environmental health.

  121. Eco — You have a valid point. However, my own feeling is that we are all without exception at some depth of shallow, under water and lacking the true depth that would allow us to heal our burgeoning difficulties. In my opinion — which of course is not absolute truth (I don’t exclude myself from shallowness) — there is no one person or category of persons on our planet today who have the depth of wisdom that will be required to fish us out of the ongoing disaster that is our “civilization”. I think that the best we can hope for is to find individuals or groups who are capable of effectively seeking the deeper knowledge we desperately need. We really don’t have this knowledge now; we need to form small groups devoted to discovering/creating and implementing such deeper understanding. I am critical of much that is being done to address our situation, as is the author of the article we are discussing, as much of it merely seeks to use the same old failed means to meet problems that need new solutions based on deeper understandings. It seems we have evolved now to the point where our intelligence has been capable of creating scenarios we are impotent to address at our present level of competence. Sorcerer’s
    Apprentice type stuff…

    Thanks for your comments. I apologize for taking a chiding tone towards you. My bad.

  122. In some ways the logic seems rather simple. If we are not wise enough to keep from driving ourselves off a cliff then there should be less of us around. We are a sinful species.

    So the question becomes how much should we reduce before our inherent sinfulness is not overly stressful to ourselves and the planet? And then how do we get there?

    Answer, the goal should be self-sufficient communities so we get the feed backs that tell us when we are going over the line. We get there by having a present standard of no more than one kid per couple and keep at it until we arrive at that self-sufficient community ideal. Then we can adjust from there.


  123. Ugh. Please. Nihilism is fine for the individual, but it only sounds desperately misanthropic when you presume to include the whole of humanity in such self-loathing statements. If you are convinced that there should be fewer human beings on earth, the only ethical choice is suicide, Period. Stop telling. Start doing.

  124. Seems to me I’m offering a positive way out. You offer nothing. You’re the nihilist and come across as definitely misanthropic. Anybody who endorses a planet with more than 7 billion and growing at 200,000 plus a day is no friend of humanity.

    If my suicide would help I’d be happy to offer myself, but I have the outlines of a good plan and am not going to add anybody to the planet thank you.


  125. Eco — I for one have had enough of your malicious craziness. Your response to Dingo60 was irrational garbage. You are just a troll in my book. Your only aim is to harass our intelligent dialog with spiteful nonsense. I recommend others on this blog to ignore your ravings, and follow the tried and true rule of online blogs: DON’T FEED THE TROLL!

  126. Dingo60 — More trees, less people is an excellent slogan. If this should come to pass, it would be most welcome and salutary. However, in order for this to happen large numbers of people need to hear it, understand the need for it, and act to make it happen. How to create the appropriate means that will cause these things to happen then becomes the problem. Any ideas?

  127. That’s all it comes down to – press on or not. Our plight is such that power will always exact the negative reinforcement. This is what we’ve become. We are emergent and our potential is great. You are just bummed. Cooperation and moving forward is the human experience. Your piece here reveals a very real side of us – but you also present only a bifurcated perspective, when what we really are is more fractal-like. We are a solipsism – but we can get to beautiful places, provided we keep our metaphorical eyes open and feet moving. Your ending is just bleak. But beautiful nonetheless.

  128. Those with the courage to look deep into the dark side will always come in for simplistic attacks from optimists and believers that patience and small gains achieved through working within the system, or loudly protesting the worst excesses of the elites, will slowly change things for the better. This kind of gradualism is actually quite well tolerated by the system, which knows that such things give an outlet for dissident’s energies, while doing little to alter the onward thrust of pillage and enslavement.

    Bright Sided by Barbara Ehrenreich elucidates how corporations use all the positive thinking methods to demobilize those they are firing. And yet those of us who strive to understand the really deep changes that will be necessary to stop the juggernaut of a culture of lies violence, are attacked as unrealistic visionaries or out of touch apocalyptic fanatics. Still, true things are not always nice, and nice things are not always true.

  129. Ah, yes. Name calling. Nice.

    I think it takes courage to act rather than complain, and double the courage to take responsibility for oneself. Predicting the end of the world is just fantasy and excuse. Not work. 🙂

  130. Mike K, first I agree, the troll is mainly a waste of time but sometimes they provide the opportunity to make a point.

    “Dingo60 — More trees, less people is an excellent slogan. If this should come to pass, it would be most welcome and salutary. However, in order for this to happen large numbers of people need to hear it, understand the need for it, and act to make it happen. How to create the appropriate means that will cause these things to happen then becomes the problem. Any ideas?”

    A goal generally understood is half the battle. We have now the one child per couple example of China which even though it was coerced seemed to arouse little collective resistance unlike many other things going on there now. This gives hope that education on the matter is generally attainable.

    There is a lot that can be done internationally to bring family planning type clinics into areas where they are wanted and needed.

    Ultimately though the idea of the self-sufficient community, region, nation is going to have to be made into a conscious goal with a deliberate reduction in population and reforestation etc. as being the path there. Building early communities that are self-supporting would be one good way of modeling the future. Expanding our parks and national forests and other natural protected areas would be another.

    People with expertise in the matter could set rough population targets for various regions or maybe bottom up feedbacks would be better. Set good goals broadly agreed on and how we get there will work itself out.


  131. Thank you : )

    Everyday, I feel the dissonance of living in a city and being an animal on Earth. I am 20 years old and have no idea what the future will be. With those thoughts, I want to increase our capacity and capabilities to grow food and recycle our waters. Whether I do that amidst the trees and grasses or amongst buildings and lots of people, is left to be answered. I have very little trust in how our lives our supported at the moment, and it scares me and leaves me impatient. I do always remember that life is beautiful.

    A wise man once told me, “The world’s fine. It’s the people that are going crazy!”

  132. Cassandra — Thanks for sharing your perspective. You might enjoy reading Pinkola Estes’ Letter to a Young Activist (online).

  133. I am moved to send the first paragraph of this beautiful letter”

    “Letter To A Young Activist During Troubled Times

    Mis estimados:
    Do not lose heart. We were made for these times.
    I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now. It is true, one has to have strong cojones and ovarios to withstand much of what passes for “good” in our culture today. Abject disregard of what the soul finds most precious and irreplaceable and the corruption of principled ideals have become, in some large societal arenas, “the new normal,” the grotesquerie of the week. It is hard to say which one of the current egregious matters has rocked people’s worlds and beliefs more. Ours is a time of almost daily jaw-dropping astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.”

  134. Pinkola Estes is so right on when she says don’t lose heart.

    The Buddhist monk, Cealo, once said to an activist, “You don’t have to save the earth. You just have to love it. When you love something, you take care of it.”

    When the trajectory is so dire, it is natural to numb from that love, and for me the first order of business is addressing the numbness that such enormous challenges bring on. It takes a warrior strength to listen to the kind of news we’re getting and feel the feelings that are the natural response. Any solutions we think up without full access to our hearts are just going to add to the problem.

    I’m grateful to Paul for the emotional bravery in this essay. So important and so moving. It inspired me to write my own confessions on my blog–“Confessions of a recovering consumer.”

  135. Having read this piece a week ago impressed with an impending sense of dread, a week later and a flurry of comments, I have had time to gather some thoughts. Your ending left me with images of an Ostrich with it’s head buried in the sand, happy to ignorantly hide from the danger at hand.
    We, humans, are as much a part of nature as the trees you lovingly refer to and the natural order of things is as it is. Live in the now and revel in it as each day is a gift and should be enjoyed.
    You mock sustainability, why? This , in part, is a crucial element to saving us all. Tropical forests in central Africa are being degraded at an alarming rate to feed an ever growing population. Is a sustainable solution not a solution or should we just continue with our heads in the sand? There are many challenges ahead and preserving what we have is essential. I believe the folks in the environmental movement are on the correct path, moving towards a green economy. Progress might be slow and cumbersome but that is the nature of things, in the end what will be will be, any ecosystem will balance itself out – with or without our help. The future is bright my friend and environmentalism is not dead.

  136. Flamingseed — Thanks so much for your wise comments. Your blog is really beautiful. I especially appreciated your method of doing tonglen. As a dipper in many sources and traditions, I resonate with the scope and depth of your spiritual search and discovery. Many in the environmental movement are missing the crucial role that spirituality can bring to their activism. I think this is a central point that Paul is sharing in his essay. I would encourage anyone with a love for the earth and all its beings to go to your blog for inspiration and support. I happily subscribed to your future email sharings…

  137. @ Clyde…Just so I understand the basis of your optimism Clyde, and what you see in our future: Do you envision a world where we are able to maintain our standard of living in N.America, and even bring the rest of the planet up to that level of prosperity? If so, what energy source are you counting on to make this possible?

  138. Optimism…not quite how I would put it, things are indeed dire. I am saying we should try to be positive and enjoy what we have and to contribute where possible. Energy is another issue and with current tech we are struggling, who knows what the future holds? For all we are, we are smart…on some levels – referring to scientific endeavour. As for the American way of life – western culture – not sustainable under the current status quo. Mother earth is viscous bitch when need be and I believe things will change in the near future – her bark is nothing like her bite. A tipping point if you like.
    True change will come through necessity, when people of the earth unite and say NO! I like what is happening in Nigeria, way to go “people power”.
    North American prosperity, really? Not prosperous at all…think about it. When we favour respect and compassion over wealth and self gratification we will be getting somewhere.

  139. Clyde — “Your ending left me with images of an Ostrich with it’s head buried in the sand, happy to ignorantly hide from the danger at hand.”

    It is wonderful to see how each of us brings our own unique presuppositions and framings to what we read. In rereading the last paragraphs of Paul’s essay I came to quite different understandings than your thoughts quoted above. What I came away with was that this man after deep reflection and extensive experience in the activist dimensions of the environmental movement, came to feel that there was something deep and important that many in that movement were missing. He then decided to go deeper into that missing element, saying that if he could discover something there to helpfully share, he would return to the community with it.

    There is no hiding here. Rather, there is a willingness to face the truth, whatever it may be. This takes courage, not its opposite. In truth this is the hero’s journey as so beautifully described by Joseph Campbell. That journey is not a selfish evasion, but a quest undertaken for the benefit of all of us.

  140. Mike – yes, we are all so different and yet the same. I am grateful for this blog, a new experience that will hopefully give me a better understanding of our world and the people that live in it.

  141. Usually it takes time to realize that the real source of most of our problems is within our own hearts and minds. There have always been some who have been called to go into the wilderness, far from the busy hubub of humankind and its cities, to make themselves available to a deeper level of knowing. Those who are addicted to and identified with the ceaseless churning activity of the mass of humankind have always looked askance at these wanderers or hermits, and marveled at the strange wisdom sayings they bring back with them, thinking that they must surely have gone mad in the desert or deep forest. Perhaps it will always be so, and the wisdom of the few will find no home among the many. History awaits the answer.

  142. Clyde — I admire your openness to this free-for-all discussion,
    which can sometimes get rather turbulent! For all that, it has been a source of stimulating new ideas and directions for me also. Welcome aboard our ship of fools and wizards and ordinary folk…

  143. @mike, let’s hope that’s not true. Maybe the strange marriage of technology and nature can help, and those heading off into the wilderness can now communicate with everyone else via the internet. When I was treking in a remote region of the Himalayas along a narrow pass with a 10,000 foot drop on one side, my guide actually stopped to answer his cell phone!

    Thanks for your comments about my blog. I agree that environmentalists would be served by drawing on spirituality for sustenance. My sense is that many already have a strong spiritual core–otherwise they wouldn’t care so much about the earth. This natural spirituality has nothing to do with religion. Tonglen could really serve–maybe it would be the main practice in an environmentalist’s “church”–done as a group. We really do need to ventilate all the feelings that come up from staying awake to these issues.

  144. Clyde…I certainly agree that things look dire in some directions. I also agree that the modern world would do good to come up with a better measure of GDP….one that takes into account the less tangible quality of life gains/losses. My reference to prosperity was an economic reference, of course. But, it can’t be discounted so easily, I don’t think. After all, it includes modern sanitation, access to medical care (and yes, not for all, but to most), central heating and air, plentiful and very cheap food, and, most especially: Personal, private and on demand transportation.

    You said: “Energy is another issue and with current tech we are struggling, who knows what the future holds?” To say we are struggling with it is like saying the Titanic was “struggling” with sea water before it went down. If you want to punt the ball to that escape clause of “something will come along”, well, you are in the majority. OTOH, if you want to face the reality barreling down on all of us, I’d just presume to suggest that you consider what happens when “it” doesn’t arrive on schedule.

  145. flaming seed — I am sure you are aware of the irony of all these advanced means to communicate at a time when people have very little ability to share in deeply meaningful ways. Not to speak of our unwillingness to look within, where the answers we desperately need are waiting.

    Small groups can operate as a place to learn the skills of openness and deeper sharing, and also to practice meditative inwardness. A sort of sangha to save ourselves and the earth. A church of the deeper wider reality. The truth will set us free, but it needs to be the deeper Truth, and that requires inner and outer Work, a spiritual path.

    I know that you are aware of these things, but I need to say them for others who are still focused on outer changes, which will be inadequate to solve the problems we have created with our cleverness. Our inner wisdom lags so far behind our outer achievements. Our souls languish in an age of technological wonders. We need to create intensive environments where the needed changes within our selves can be quickened, preparing us for the outer transformations that are necessary. Thanks for your work.

  146. Perfect.

    (That is all, but the high-tech, anti-spam system won’t allow me just to write one word. It seems one word is not enough in civilization.)

  147. A wonderful piece Paul. Enjoy your walk. Just a few quick comments if I may:

    Clearly your father did “make you into a man” with the route marches of your youth; that was surely where your die was cast?

    In case you or your readers don’t know it, John Seymour’s book “The Ultimate Heresy” explores one of your themes – mankind’s so-called separation from and domination of nature.

    I take issue with your rebuttal of “social justice and environmental justice go hand in hand” because – don’t laugh – the climate change workgroup at OccupyNorwich came up with an almost identical resolution in the early days of that movement and I felt quite proud to have been part of the group which arrived at the conclusion.

    Finally, to allay your despair, it should be noted that organisations like Radical Routes and Chapter 7 which (as I understand) sprang out of protests such as Twyford Down are carrying their work forward even now, and crucial it is too. Perhaps with 2012 being flagged as the year of co-operatives and some supportive noise coming out of Westminster lately your early influences will have their day?

  148. Hearts, minds, soul searching… and all the rest. Walking through the woods with splif in hand connecting with nature and true self. Hippies 🙂 I feel the time for this is over. Talk to a mother in East Africa who has just watched her child starve to death, do you not think she has done her share of soul searching? For the most part her tragedy is anthropogenic; climate change, war, economic policies, political influences, exorbitant food costs due to biofuel…the list goes on. You suggest inner reflection? To what end? How will your thoughts move the rulers of this world. The time is ripe for action not inner reflection.

  149. Nice one Paul. Have to say I think you may be overdramatising the tension.

    Are we as a species embarked on a process that is ‘hollowing us out’ and trapping, taming, killing the wild? Yes, and it’s tragic and we should talk about it and how we reconnect. I think as you’ve argued elsewhere it’s almost intrinsic to our society that we do so and we can best approach this by reigniting our understanding of nature and thinking about how society will cope or otherwise with the collapse ahead.

    BUT we also have major social justice issues within our society and the physical impact of environmental challenges will make them worse. I don’t want to save the world. i do want to make it a (tiny) bit fairer. I do want to cut the power of our fossil fuel addiction, which causes all kinds of harm. I do want to encourage new ways of getting energy and allowing human activity to take place that we can consider as being sustainable and more long-term. However I work on climate change and I wouldn’t call myself an environmentalist. I love nature but I don’t go to work to serve it. Frankly I think ‘the environment’ in that sense is pretty doomed.

    Does that mean there’s no poetry in a struggle that is about questioning how we organise ourselves and why?

  150. Clyde — Inner development should take place along with outer work to change our world. Spiritual work is meant to get at and change the seeds of selfishness, unlove, and violence within us. Also, this is not meant to be a solo effort. To develop a group process of awakening is the point. You have to understand that action without prior reflection is often counterproductive. Unintended consequences of hasty doing can lead to worsening conditions. The vast majority of us are spiritually unfit to create and inhabit a truly just and loving world. Failure to realize this is a major obstacle to doing the things that would qualify us to save our world from unconscious self-destruction. Our level of being attracts our life. Unevolved people will inevitably make a deeply flawed society. Their futile attempts to fix things will only make them worse. The old Greek tragedies had it right: a man’s character is his fate. Know thyself, or suffer the consequences of your unconsciousness. We are meant for higher things than our present flawed expressions. Unless we become better people, we will never have a better world. Does not the fact of our miserable failure to create a decent society for everyone tell us something? In a world where spirituality is held in contempt by so many, is it any wonder that we are moving closer to total global disaster?

  151. Mike – Total global disaster? Gloomy indeed.
    Real problems require real solutions and inner reflection and spirituality just won’t cut it. I like what you are saying but must admit it is a bit naive. The fact of the matter is that people respond to need and strength. Are you hungry? Do this…and I will give you food, the reaction will be favourable. Or, trade in your SUV for a more efficient vehicle or I will tax you, again a favourable reaction. Or, car pool or I will charge you a toll, again a favourable reaction.
    The alternative; please reflect upon your gas guzzling greenhouse gas producing SUV and find it within yourself to trade it in, please. Not a very favourable reaction…and so it goes on.
    In addition the spirituality you refer to is not shared by all that inhabit this planet and “they” do require strength and need in order to coax a favourable response.
    You say, “To develop a group process of awakening is the point” Was the development of Christianity a group process? I believe it was, but this process, as I understand it was not without a measure of strength. Those who opposed it were killed.

  152. Clyde — We are in fact already experiencing a total global disaster. Maybe you have not noticed what is happening around the world today. If you equate spirituality with the distorted manifestations of Christianity, then we are not on the same page. Your prescriptions for getting people to behave as you imagine they should sound entirely feasible for a collection of lab rats, but hardly appropriate for producing free conscious loving behavior in human beings. Maybe you think there is no other way to a better humanity and a better world. I disagree. I am not trying to persuade you, or even refute you; that would be futile. I use this forum to express my own thoughts, and hear from others. Thanks for sharing.

  153. You want more spirituality? Then you need less people to have the space to be spiritual. There are contingencies that go with spirituality. Take away the untamed landscape and you have no John Muir or Thoreau, both interestingly strongly political.

    Communion with nature tells us where we want to be spiritually. Unfortunately it doesn’t supply the path to get there collectively. Malthusian population mathematics, a real narrative history of homo sapien’s interactions with the environment, successful and unsuccessful, and strong lessons in self-sufficient community building and sustainable wilderness protection does.

    Solutions need to be simple, explainable and practical. Then they need to be modeled so people have some place to go when things break down. Getting everyone to the Buddha level just isn’t in the cards.


  154. “Solutions need to be simple, explainable and practical. Then they need to be modeled so people have some place to go when things break down. Getting everyone to the Buddha level just isn’t in the cards.”

    Your solution certainly is simple: a slogan. You haven’t explained how to get there; that is not going to be simple or easy.

    It is not clear how you propose to provide “some place for people to go when things break down.”

    I am not simple minded enough to propose “getting everyone to the Buddha level.”

  155. Dingo60 — BTW I too consider population reduction a necessary condition for a better world. I also favor more trees, and have planted several hundred myself. I also made a conscious decision not to reproduce. Its just that I have concluded that people need a change of mind to a somewhat clearer, deeper level if we are to hope they will at to implement these laudable goals. A Buddha level (whatever that might be) should not be necessary to reach that much sanity.

  156. Great essay, and the phone call today was tremendous. Thank you.

    One thing that’s been nagging me–it seems you’ve oversimplified what “sustainability” is. It is not just about carbon, although I get your point.

    John Ehrenfeld, author of Sustainability by Design, and professor at Marlboro College’s MBA in Managing for Sustainability states: “Sustainability is the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever. Reducing unsustainability, although critical, will not create sustainability.”

    To him, our program, and many of us who are drawn to “sustainability,” we are concerned about caring for the sacred in all its diversity. A word is a word is a word is a word–and just because many have lost touch with it does not mean it is lost on us all. I agree that the sacredness of a word, of a concept, of language can be destroyed through overuse, sacrilege and perversity. But sustainability need not be the victim of such, just yet. Not until I hear a damn good alternative.

    I do agree that climate change often takes center stage. But sustainability is not, to me, about carbon, nor is it about human survival. It is about planetary flourishing…flourishing of life implies ecological integrity.

    Everything’s essence (a word, a concept, a relationship) becomes distorted in reality–that’s what happens in a subjective world of diversity–but we can hang onto our sacred. Sustainability can and should and is something bigger. It is THE THING the planet is grappling with.

  157. Galen, Paul hasn’t oversimplified the meaning of “sustainability”, he has criticised the oversimplification of its meaning in civilization, just as so many other words are bastardised to fit into the Culture of Maximum Harm (like “civilized” being a universally good way of being, or “development” being something we have to all strive for).

    Oh, and Dingo60, it’s “MORE TREES, *FEWER* PEOPLE” – we aren’t just one homogenous mass…

  158. Now available in our multimedia section: hear the author of “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist” read from this article, debate key pieces of it with a panel of other ecocentric thinkers, and answer listener questions:

    – or –

    It was a great, wide-ranging debate last night. Worth a listen!


  159. Confessions of a recovering environmentalist

    This story I really identify with. I spent most of my youth wandering around the hills and district around Tamworth NSW Australia. It was a great adventure.

    Now that I am 58 I am looking to going back to my youth and have one more adventure this time a walk of several thousand kilometers on the east coast of Australia.

    I want to be part of what is nature and to live and survive in a natural space. It is something I have yearned for something I have to do. I want to connect with something that we have lost a connection with nature

  160. Ian — In discovering Great Nature, we discover ourselves. For me, the point of Paul’s essay was not that it offered a blueprint for saving the world, or even a suggestion that each of us should undertake a journey such as he contemplates for himself. His life, his sharing through the essay have value in and of themselves. To move to nourish one’s soul needs no justification, and in a sense is beyond the possible criticism of others. I admire what you plan to do Paul and Ian. If I were physically able, I would undertake my own revisiting the glorious wilderness that I explored in my youth. I will be with you in spirit. Have a glorious adventure!

  161. Geoff — Yes, Paul has beautifully expressed what some of us have felt in our hearts about our intimate relationship with Nature. The philosopher Heidegger has said that in this modern age we take everything as equipment. Nothing is seen as a value in itself, but only in the context of what we can make from it, or do with it. When someone bares their soul, it is not appropriate to ask them “but what is it good for?”

  162. Keith, I get the argument. I’m just not willing to relinquish “sustainability” just yet. It’s mine to keep. 🙂

    But what a mess–the only “solution” is too live with much much much less.

    We are all posting on the internet…including the essayist. For now, we will require wind turbines across expanses to do so. Carbon is a big part of what we need to think about. So, what to do? Least worst options are all we have.

  163. Galen — “the only solution” is a loser, a counsel of despair. There is no one solution. There are many known solutions; the problem is how to get them implemented. There are also many as yet unknown solutions that we need to create/discover.

  164. If change is to happen each and everyone of us that is concerned has to act in what ever way they can and no matter how small your action maybe it just has to be continuous. I have been taking action for the last 40 years and I have not given up. There have been times when I have despaired but I have not called it quits I still fight on

    Toward Sustainable Futures
    About People
    Sustainability is all About People

  165. What do you mean by “defamatory”, Mike? In my dictionary that implies what was said is not true, and based on your explanation mark, what was said about Bill McKibben was a complete lie? So what was the lie?

  166. Hi Keith — My remarks were directed to Lorna Salzman, page 9 of this thread #66. She said, in part: “If someone wants to meditate, pray or exhort the rest of us to abandon our evil ways, like the leftist Christian flaggelant called Chris Hedges or his righteous fellow Pastor Bill McKibben’s tiresome religious effluvia, that’s their choice, but that’s the easy way out of a situation that requires a lot more.”

    I don’t know what dictionary you are using, but my Webster’s Collegiate says to defame means: “to attack the reputation of; calumniate; slander or libel.” There are no other definitions given.

    In my opinion that is just what Lorna did here. In ordinary parlance this is called taking a cheap shot. In a debating situation it is simply referred to as an unsupported accusation. At the time that she posted it, I held my tongue, since it seemed so outrageously false, it didn’t really merit a response. But when I read Chris’s column on Truthdig today, something rose up in me that couldn’t let her gross misrepresentation go by unanswered.

    I don’t know what Lorna’s idea of a “lot more” is, but these two guys have put a lot of themselves on the line for years to try to save our world from its disastrous unfolding. Maybe Lorna is of the persuasion that only those blowing up dams, pulling down cell phone towers, or crippling the electrical grid are really doing anything effective to usher in a better world? Although Derrick Jensen’s Endgame has much important material in it, I remain unconvinced that violent means will be successful in getting us where we would like to go.

  167. It’s interesting how every idea is quickly turning in its parody as soon as it goes mainstream and involves considerable amounts of money. Environmentalism has turned into a full time job for too many and they are no longer interested in advancing the real agenda by keeping the semblance of activity to retain and improve their salaries.

  168. Ever wanted to have dinner with Derrick Jensen, discuss philosophy and resistance over the phone or webcam, or pore over the original manuscripts of masterpieces such as Endgame, Dreams, or What We Leave Behind? This is your chance! Help raise money for Deep Green Resistance and enter the raffle to win fabulous prizes! Ticket prices are not too high.

  169. Mike K, since you are putting up definitions of words, would you like to comment on your “definition” of the word Anarchy on the same page as Lorna’s comment? I believe it was along the lines of “the childish urge to break things if you don’t get your own way” – a slander on everyone who considers, in all gravity, themselves to be an anarchist, including myself who subscribes to the common view that it is simply the refusal to accept hierarchy or de facto leadership.

    On the other hand, my comment that Defamation implied lying is completely backed up by your given definition of “to attack the reputation of; calumniate; slander or libel” – no other definitions are necessary.

    As it happens, Lorna is not far off the mark – Bill regularly points out his Christian “credentials” (I do not know enough about Chris Hedges to comment) and resorts to the Mythology of Hope more than most. From a number of leaked emails I have seen, it appears the Christian Gospel is central to much of Bill’s thinking.


  170. Keith — You got me! I did the same thing to the vast diversity of anarchists that I felt Lorna did to the equally varied set(s) of Christians. Perhaps it reminded me of the more impassioned attacks on all religionists I used to make as a proud fundamentalist atheist. (Not implying anything about Lorna.)

    When folks venture to enter into dialogue with others, sometimes clever put-downs and other unfortunate expressions pop out of our mouths, that on second thought we would rather not have uttered. So I apologize for such eggs as I did lay.

    All this reflection on over-the-top expression aside, I do have more serious reasons to question the usefulness of anarchism as I have encountered it to solve the deep problems of mankind. For example, I am dismayed how this no government or effective laws idea has been espoused by so-called libertarians as a cover for their essentially right wind agenda which is disguised as a quest for individual freedom. I see it instead as a ruse to eliminate all restraint on the dominance of the rich and powerful. This exaggerated hatred of government operates as camouflage for the operation to rob people blind and reduce the vast majority of folks to slavery, with the rich and powerful as the only government or real rulers of mankind. To my mind, the cure for bad government is good government, not no government.

    I have other reasons to doubt the viability of anarchism to solve our problems, but that is enough for now. Thanks for sharing.

  171. You seem like a good guy Mike, we should talk more. I agree that anarchism isn’t a solution as such but it seems to be a necessary stage on the way to self determination and the organic development of whatever structure suits the situation you are in. Government, as we know it, *is* a solution, not to the problems of humankind and ecocide, but to the “problem” of how to keep humans under control…

  172. — Thanks Keith for your recent comments. We need to keep the door open to folks who may have some areas of disagreement with us, but at the same time are seeking solutions to our common problems. I have read some of your writings and agree with most of your analysis of the dysfunctionality of civilization as we have known (suffered!) it.

    This dysfunction has permeated the consciousness of all of us, to the extent that it takes some major work on our minds in order for us to see clearly what is really going on in the world. The very language we use to relate with each other and think within our own minds is a deeply distorted and deluding product of the flawed culture of civilization. A word like “government” elicits all kinds of associations running the gamut from horrible forms of tyranny to romantic visions of impossible utopias of effortless bliss. What a real functional government might be, we don’t have a clue. If we are willing to acknowledge this, then we realize that is vitally important that we create/discover/ field test what real government that serves the deepest needs and values of all human beings could be.

    There is not a single element of our language or the institutions based on its supposed meanings that has escaped total distortion, often at the hands of those who profit from spinning it to their advantage. Language is the ultimate propaganda weapon to control peoples minds and behavior. The first step in awakening people to reality is to help them penetrate the lies that have been inculcated in them by distorting the meanings attached to words.

    The American Dream and Civilization are words that conceal and distort what is actually an ugly nightmare destroying the lives and happiness of untold millions. As long as we believe these lies, we will be unable to effectively confront the need to dismantle our flawed culture, and work to create something truly worth pursuing and sharing.

    The mechanism I propose to foster our mutual awakening is small groups dedicated to this deconstruction and reconstruction of our lives on a truer basis. To flesh out how those groups or cells would operate is a whole other story, that would take more space to elucidate.

  173. “We are it; we are in it and of it, we make it and live it, we are fruit and soil and tree, and the things done to the roots and the leaves come back to us.” I live in a region where earthquakes are common. I imagine the earth trying to shake off this annoying creatures: us. Any harm we cause to our home we inflict on ourselves, and we are blind enough not to have realized that yet.

  174. I stumbled across this quote today. Struck by its beauty, I thought the forum might enjoy it. Truthfully, it is my rather lame attempt to thank everyone that participates in these ever lively discussions. It was written by a seventeenth-century Briton, Thomas Traherne:

    “You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself flows in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you.”

  175. Gabriela — Beautifully expressed! I wonder where the quote is from? I love your image of the Earth trying to shake us off.

  176. MarkS — Thanks for the Traherne quote expressing his experience of cosmic consciousness. Those living that level of understanding are the hope of the world.

  177. Jos — The path to that solution passes through fields of doubt, but emerges in an ocean of light.

  178. Keith — Interesting article by Chris Hedges on the Black Bloc Anarchists, with comments by Derrick Jensen. It was these type of anarchists that I was referencing in a previous comment here. My apology to more constructive anarchists still stands.

    I am pleased that Jensen is modifying (although he would never admit it) his more bellicose rhetoric. We are hopefully all growing in our thinking and actions concerning the revolution our world desperately is seeking.

  179. as I always open my lecture about coral reefs” coral reefs were here thousands of years ago and they will be thousands of years after we leave”. We are only a species passing by.

  180. Mike
    There is a way, there always is.
    I do not equate spirituality and religion. The quip about Christianity was merely to assist in conveying an idea. Rome had the right idea…”Resistance is futile”
    Human diversity resulting in diverse spirituality – your obvious western educated approach very different to a Muslim living in North Africa. Different, not incorrect.
    Lab rats – yes! Are we not all part of the great experiment called life? LOL! We are poked, prodded and fed all sorts of chemicals on a daily basis while scientists look on frantically take notes.
    You seem to want change; our environmental issues are woven into the fabric of our existence, change will result from need, global life changing events that inspire people to compassion and respect. There is no changing the current status quo through small groups of like minded individuals who choose to try and make a difference – not enough of them at the mo!
    I endeavour to understand the world we live in and walk a path leading to a more “educated” understanding of the global situation. Holistic solutions, I hope to find answers and aspire to be part of the process.
    At this stage I can only think that the naughty rats will have to be beaten into submission.

  181. Yes! I’ve had the same concern, that environmentalism has become all about carbon. For instance, it has taken so long for mainstream enviro groups to see the threats posed by biofuels–that diverting land for biofuels would drive up commodity prices, leading to more wild lands being brought into production. (I’m involved in farming so saw it coming years ago.)

    Agricultural expansion is probably the greatest modern threat to natural habitats around the world. Farmers can quickly convert so much land, permanently–they don’t even need to plow the ground, they can kill the native vegetation with herbicides.

    It’s hard to measure the impact of that expansion on climate change, but very easy to measure the direct habitat loss. We’re losing the last of the North American prairies, for instance. South America, Africa, Eurasia, you’re next. When the landscape is all cornfields and cities, who cares what the weather’s like over such a sterile lifeless planet?

  182. Michael, the farmer
    Agriculture has the greatest environmental impact – no doubt! That said, do you realise everything is connected? We are where we are today because of readily available cheap food, if you are lucky…not if you live in East Africa.
    So, farmers produce food for the ever growing population and are incentivised to do so; subsidised fuel,water, and so on. In the process profits are generated and the economy thrives – capitalism.
    Western type behaviour is excessive – we eat too much and too much of the wrong food. Beef – an environmental agricultural disaster! In South Africa recent statistics show more of the population dying from non communicable diseases that are diet related, obesity and related illness ranked at the top. Eating too much of the wrong food is killing more people than HIV and TB combined.
    Environmentalism is not all about carbon as you perceive it – I assume you are talking about carbon in the sense of emissions – there is a lot of other work going on and the “experts” are studying all the aspects affecting the environment.
    Current statistics indicate 30% of land on this planet at risk of desertification – the land dies…this is part due to incorrect agricultural practices. This land is home to 15% of the global population…trouble lies ahead. The situation is far more complex than one might think.
    And yes, you will lose the last of the North American Prairies, we are hungry and there are profits to be made….30% of food “made” goes to waste due to storage and transport issues.
    Carbon! Of course, it is pretty much in everything.

  183. Mike K. read the Chris Hedges article which, at first, seemed to make sense, although I have yet to hear what Derrick Jensen feels about the context of his quotes. But I also felt uneasy that CH was attacking something on the basis of its *lack of organisation* – first, why is that necessarily a problem; second, how do you get into the position of being able to cause damage if you aren’t well organised?

    Then I found this critique of the CH article which puts things into context:

    The most instructive quote, I think is as follows:

    “Some of this is personal to me, in the interest of full disclosure. I have friends in Oakland. They’re brave and awesome. Seeing them stand up to police repression and attempt to take an empty building while people sleep in the streets was exciting and invigorating for me. It was a welcome sight in today’s age of non-violent fundamentalism, where so many are beset with the crippling belief that if we just get beat up badly enough we’ll attract “the masses” with our moral superiority and somehow the wealthy and powerful will recognize the error of their ways and give us the world back that they’ve so successfully turned into their nightmarish, authoritarian, and wasted playground. My friends were gassed, beaten, given broken faces, broken dreams, and locked in cages for their bravery. And now they’re being denounced by a comfortable journalist who wasn’t there who refers to them as a “cancer”.

    “I don’t want to suggest that they shouldn’t be critiqued. Self-critique is important for any improvement of practice—if it’s honest.

    “But here I feel betrayed. When Hedges wrote about the Greeks, notorious for their black blocs, he praised them for “getting it.” Indeed, according to Hedges, they knew what to do. In Hedges own words:

    “They know what to do when they are told their pensions, benefits and jobs have to be cut to pay corporate banks, which screwed them in the first place. Call a general strike. Riot. Shut down the city centers. Toss the bastards out. Do not be afraid of the language of class warfare—the rich versus the poor, the oligarchs versus the citizens, the capitalists versus the proletariat. The Greeks, unlike most of us, get it.

    “Apparently for Hedges, that’s good enough for the Greeks. But, by God, don’t you dare bring this filthy resistance to his home! You might accidentally (horror of horrors!) break a window! Perhaps it might belong to Hedges! Well, I passed around his piece on Greece thinking that perhaps there was, in fact, a journalist that “gets it.” I was wrong and I feel betrayed.”

  184. We have an IPCC consensus among Nobel Prize-winning scientists worldwide regarding human-induced global warming and climate change. Still, the obstructive opinions of deniers hold sway in public policy formulation and program implementation. Do we have a tiny minority of ideologically-driven, self-proclaimed masters of the universe and their intellectually dishonest minions, who control most of what is presented by mainstream media, to thank for this situation?

    Can you imagine what might happen if scientists were given ‘permission’ to examine, report findings and discuss the deliberately ignored and consciously avoided science of human population dynamics/overpopulation the way the IPCC rigorously scrutinized the extant science of climate change? Clever ideologues and other sycophants of the super-rich and powerful would probably deploy the same deceitful strategies that have been employed by the deniers of human-driven global warming and climate change.

  185. Keith — In the rebuttal to Hedges article, you picked the one part that is more relevant than mere name-calling, the part about the praise for some violent Greek rioters, in light of his condemnation of similar tactics in Oakland and elsewhere. That was an accurate and needed criticism. Chris, like many of us who want to use non-violent protest as a mechanism to create positive changes in society, has I think a (usually) repressed anger and desire to strike out at our oppressors. Guess we are all human, huh? We just aren’t as perfect in our manifestations as our ideals would like us to be. Not condoning, just observing. Hedges and to some degree Jensen are trying to resist in the most effective ways they can now come up with. I think both of them have weighed the utility and effectiveness of breaking windows and throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the cops, and found it not only useless, but profoundly counter-productive in terms of achieving long term deep changes in our way of life.

    The author of that article never puts himself in the shoes of the folks finally willing to begin peacefully demonstrating against their oppressive government, and being gassed and beaten for their trouble. And don’t tell me that this first hand experience of police abuse will have a salutary and radicalizing effect on them, transforming them into new recruits for the Real Work of raising hell and fighting the cops. Guess what, you are not going to beat the cops at that game.

    The other thing that came through to me was the fundamentalist tone of his article. It was an our way is the only way, and anything else needs to be ridiculed and totally rejected. There is no “let a thousand flowers bloom” in the field of resistance, or let’s help each other whatever our differences in tactics may be. It’s strictly
    our way our the highway. Exactly what Chris’s article found to be divisive and counter-productive.

    It would help to look at what is happening in Egypt now in the wake of so much protest marred by violence on both sides. Meet the new boss (the army) same as the old boss. Revolutions throughout our history have repeated the same sad story of high hope and dashed expectations. Our present situation is the result of inumerable fiascos like this. Isn’t it time to try some new approaches?

  186. Thank you for an extraordinary, profound, elegiac piece. Important, sad… Homo sapiens must reverse population growth, abandon the paradigm of economic growth, and fall in love with the beauty of which we are a part, as Kingsnorth eloquently describes.

  187. Right on Jen. The problem is how to get people to your level of understanding, and willingness to take action to make these ideals effective in saving our world. I have a vision of a large scale small group movement to accomplish this, but people are so reluctant to try anything new that might be slightly outside their comfort zone, that the question is how to get their interest and attention. We are trapped in the endless repetitive loops of our usual options — the very ideas and actions that are part and parcel of our failed culture.

    Only better people can make a better world. How many are willing to make the efforts needed to become those awakened better people? How many will choose to be part of a creative venture to discover and enact the changed behaviors that lead to the world we dream of?

  188. Beautiful essay, and right on target. Here’s the big problem. All species overshoot if conditions are right. All conscious species want to reproduce and thrive. It’s simply the Darwinian imperative. As Kingsnorth points out, we are animals. And so the Darwinian imperative rules us like it does every other species. There is only one way for us to stop overshooting of our own volition, and that is with tyranny. Allow freedom and we will overshoot. We simply can’t resist. We can try to do it more “intelligently” (e.g. green energy), but in the end we will overshoot until something – either tyranny or nature herself – forces us to stop. I am not saying we need tyranny, or that tyranny is good. But without it, there is nothing left but to watch the show as nature steps in – too late, of course – and clips our wings. It will be a very good show, good in the sense of gripping and dramatic, but incredibly painful. Painful to us and to all species. But after the deluge, the rainbow. Nature will come back. But will we come back with her?

  189. From Tim. “All conscious species want to reproduce and thrive. It’s simply the Darwinian imperative.”

    Well some countries are reproducing at less than replacement. I think you are confusing the sexual imperative with an inherent procreative wish.

    To change the focus a bit. I would love to see the best minds in a country get together and decide what population level constitutes a sustainable number of people and why. Then we can at least have a thoughtful debate on the subject.

    I would also like to see a list of the real subsidized cost of things like say oil so can make an honest assessment of what price we are actual paying. This would take us beyond the usual meaningless mantras of the free market, which lacks any real cost foundation.

    Calling for tyranny puts the cart before the horse. Even a tyrant requires a rational basis for action if he is going to be successful.

  190. A very well written article and quite right in its view of the environmentalist movement.

    Personally I do not feel angst on the behalf of Nature because I do not think humans have the capacity or future resources to truly damage the natural world. Nature wins in the long-term and will force us to co-operate with it.

    I can only really feel worried for the society I live in and the future of my immediate descendants. Once modern society runs out of cheap energy we will find ourselves increasingly dependent on the health of the natural world – soil fertility and healthy forests. The more we damage those resources today (which we are doing), the more sorry our children and grandchildren will be later.

    We don’t rule Nature, it rules us and we need it. It’s only the extravagance of fossil fuels that’s made us arrogant enough to forget this.

  191. The world is such a beautiful place-it’s really a shame it has people on it.

  192. Kwazai — The world is such a beautiful place, it would be a shame if their were no people to appreciate it. Of course better people would do a better job of loving and nourishing our precious planet. Let’s work to become those people.

  193. Tim — The human species are perhaps the only living beings who have the possibility to make choices beyond ‘the Darwinian imperative’ you speak of. We are not helplessly determined by some such inevitable and unchallengeable rule. Besides, cooperation is a much undervalued aspect of the diverse forces that make up what we refer to as evolution.

    That you have no angst in the face of the human cased holocaust among thousands of species going extinct at this time amazes me. Your embellishing Louis XIV’s “apres moi le deluge” with a pretty rainbow fails to leave me with a smile on my face regarding the doom of so many beautiful sentient beings.

  194. Tim — I confused your expression of detached sangfroid in contemplating global disaster with the ‘lack of angst’ mentioned in Oskar’s comment. Both attitudes seemed quite similar to me, and not uncommon among many who seek some relief from our ongoing grim disaster. Sorry for the false attribution of language.

  195. This article blesses my day, with its exquisite expression of my own orientation.That is the writer’s work, in a nutshell…

  196. We don’t have an environmental problem, we have a population problem. More people need more space. More people need more food. More people need more energy.

    Carbon is only a decoy. If only we could cut our carbon emissions… Only we can’t because every efficiency is gobbled up by new people.

    Let me install my efficient light bulbs and drive me efficient car…whoops, the neighbors just had their 7th baby – who will need a 1/4 acres of land, a house, a car, and 21 light bulbs.

  197. A Grandma here, not nearly so eloquent nor intelligent as many of you; however, my opinion is: Don’t you DARE get depressed and stop the effort of protecting our Earth. Her water, Her air, Her land need our protection so that my grand children have a good place to live.

    My husband and I don’t mind being without a car, a cell phone, a microwave. THAT is NOT going back. We enjoy living off of the land, gardening, recycling rain water, composting. But, regardless of how we feel about these things, we do it mostly for our precious grand children, great grandchild to-be AND yours, too.

    Please, don’t give up because some of the environmentalists are not all you wish them to be. We are a greedy and power-hungry species; but, hopefully, some of us can live beyond that short-sightedness and love & preserve this Mother Earth as She deserves.

  198. Jan Rose, you are every bit as eloquent as others commenting here, and then some! Thank you for your thoughts. I couldn’t agree with you more that giving up is NOT an option! After all, there is no alternative to hope, for us and all our children and grandchildren.

  199. Jen, re: “there is no alternative to hope”

    I beg to differ, as was stated in this very magazine back in 2006:

    “The more I understand hope, the more I realize that all along it deserved to be in the box with the plagues, sorrow, and mischief; that it serves the needs of those in power as surely as belief in a distant heaven; that hope is really nothing more than a secular way of keeping us in line.

    “Hope is, in fact, a curse, a bane. I say this not only because of the lovely Buddhist saying “Hope and fear chase each other’s tails,” not only because hope leads us away from the present, away from who and where we are right now and toward some imaginary future state. I say this because of what hope is.

    “More or less all of us yammer on more or less endlessly about hope. You wouldn’t believe—or maybe you would—how many magazine editors have asked me to write about the apocalypse, then enjoined me to leave readers with a sense of hope. But what, precisely, is hope? At a talk I gave last spring, someone asked me to define it. I turned the question back on the audience, and here’s the definition we all came up with: hope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency; it means you are essentially powerless.”

  200. This is just too cranky and overthought for me, Keith. I appreciate Buddhist philosophy, which, by the way, does not entail renouncing efforts for change! To say, as you do, that to find the courage to continue to engage in a struggle for the environment aligns one with “those in power” or those who “believe in a distant heaven” is just way too, what, sectarian for me. C’mon. Let’s all give each other a chance to breathe and join in in ways that make profound sense to us, rather than needing to put each of us in lock-step with the other! I don’t think that is Orion’s mission, that’s for sure, but if it is, I can’t “relate.”

  201. Jen, hope *is* conformity. Removing hope gives people the space to breathe rather than constantly delegating to whatever higher power or belief system the future is entrusted to. This is my take on things, as per


    November 4, 2008, might not seem to be a particularly significant date in the annals of world history; yet it is perhaps the single most important day in the history of political grassroots activism. Here is part of the speech the person in question made on that November date:

    “…to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of our world – our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand. To those who would tear this world down – we will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security – we support you. And to all those who have wondered if America’s beacon still burns as bright – tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from our the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding hope.

    “For that is the true genius of America – that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”

    In that speech Barack Obama, 44th President of the United States of America, used one particular word in such a way that there was no doubt what had swept him to power. The day Obama accepted victory was the day the Hope rhetoric fully engulfed America; the posters, still crackling freshly in the Chicago breeze were emblazoned with the same word; button badges and sweatshirts adorned with slogans playing on this word were already for sale online.

    What is actually significant is not that someone of mixed race and cultural origins completely atypical for the historical position, assumed power; not even that the route to victory was paved with the shoulders of millions of genuinely passionate, normally disenfranchised people. No, what was significant is that no one seemed to understand the victory had been won by exposing a concept for what it really was; in a way that no satirist, no author and no activist had ever been able to do. Finally the sinuous mantra of the social optimist had been beaten into a circle, and promptly swallowed its own tail.

    No one who follows the course of world events – even the “world” events that assume a totally parochial outlook on mainstream USA news channels – can doubt the Obama Presidency is just business as usual for the oil barons, warlords and media tycoons of the industrial world. The posters have since been overpasted, landfilled and recycled; the button badges no longer proudly displayed by the hopeful millions. The irony is that anyone who has paid attention to events that change world history would have known what was happening all along, had they not been swept away by the frenzied election coverage. Hope is anything but a world-changer: it has never been anything other than a means of sublimating the will to create change.

    It is clear that few people in the world of grassroots activism understand what a hollow ring that word still has, even in the wake of the Obama Presidency; which is a terrible shame, because there is some genuine value in Hope, used in its proper sense, as a means of bringing people together at critical times. Even as a committed “hope sceptic” there is no campaign or action I do not embark upon without some small sense of hope attached, but as writer and co-founder of The Dark Mountain Project, Paul Kingsnorth, states:

    “We need to get real. Climate change is teetering on the point of no return while our leaders bang the drum for more growth. The economic system we rely upon cannot be tamed without collapsing, for it relies upon that growth to function. And who wants it tamed anyway? Most people in the rich world won’t be giving up their cars or holidays without a fight.

    “Some…believe that these things should not be said, even if true, because saying them will deprive people of “hope”, and without hope there will be no chance of “saving the planet”. But false hope is worse than no hope at all.

    False hope is the application of a wish, a secular prayer if you like, upon something that with its own momentum is unlikely to succeed. Rather like a Green Party candidate in a British constituency that has voted Conservative for the last 60 years, the only likelihood of success is with the removal of all other potentially successful candidates. On the other hand, a Green Party candidate in a constituency that has a history of liberal voting, backed by a platoon of activists and the support of the local press, may be justified during the vote count when nothing more can be done, in hoping for victory. Unfortunately, as Caroline Lucas, the first ever Green Party Member of Parliament in the UK has been witness to, becoming a member of a behemothic, corporate-led system, in the hope that change can be made is about as effective as throwing a coin into a fountain and hoping to water the parched trees of the Brazilian Amazon.

  202. Keith, we don’t disagree. Yes, language is important. Yes, theory is important. Yes, work and action are important. Yes, Obama is in bed with the oil barons, and deliberately and cynically betrays the messages of hope and idealism he ran on in his campaign. He does this every day. No, I don’t want to assist the forces of darkness by invoking hope, rather than Hope. I can relate to Jan Rose’s role as a grandmother. As a mother of a committed, young eco-activist, I struggle with how to communicate to her that though there is little hope, there is every reason to think and act. I am not one to delegate or entrust faith to higher powers or belief systems. But like many of the young Occupy activists, and the pro-democracy activists in the Middle East and elsewhere, like thoughtful Orion readers and writers and activists such as yourself, I find “hope” and reason for carrying on. In what, I don’t know, but certainly not in sound bites or false promises or “leaders.” We don’t disagree. I do not equate hope (my version of it), with conformity, though I understand the argument you are making, and essentially agree with it. Language is essential, language is limiting, language makes “it” possible, for good and ill. Let’s find ways to keep the earth alive, in all its wild beauty… without spending inordinate amounts of time online, rather than in the streets, or better yet, the forests… and without becoming such self-hating humans that we are paralyzed and the World Bank wins.

  203. Bravo Jen! Your clarity is much needed. One of the basic functions of the small groups I am working to start is to penetrate the confusing fog of our usual use of language, which is loaded with unseen baggage of false cultural assumptions. We find ourselves unwittingly supporting things we should oppose, and ignorantly attacking persons and institutions that deserve our support. Much of Plato’s dialogues deals with clarifying what we mean by the terms we loosely throw around like justice, love, truth, peace,
    Democracy, etc. When he said that the unexamined life is not worth living, he asked us to consider what the words we use really mean. Sophists, the spin doctors of his day, had people totally under their spell, much as is the situation today.

    Keith, thanks so much for all you have done to bring out and share a deeper level of understanding of our global nightmare, and what we might do to transform it. Any criticism I might express of some isolated fragment of your work should be placed in the context of my support for the overwhelming body of your sharing. I am in the process of reading your book that you just shared with us so generously. These are the kinds of books I would recommend for small groups intending to generate a new level of consciousness in their members, in order to initiate a new level of activism based on deeper, clearer understandings of our real position, and what might be the most effective actions we must take to open the possibility for a better world.

  204. Thank you for your kind words Mike. Constructive criticism is always welcome: everything is a work is progress, even people 🙂

  205. Thanks both Keith and Mike, for your articulate dedication to stuff that means so much. Keith, I am browsing around in the Underminers site, and enjoying it tremendously.

  206. Jen, exquisite video of our beautiful mother on your Sanctuary website.
    Yes, let’s learn to accept/love our diverse universe – one way, many ways. We’ll all get there in our own time.
    And let’s especially be thankful for thoughtful and deeply lived expressions of our conundrum such as Paul Kingsnorth has given us here.
    The mere fact that we don’t simply turn over and hibernate is demonstration enough that something similar to hope is alive in us.
    You go your way; I’ll go mine.

  207. What to make of this essay? I’m going walking now? I don’t like ‘washed-up’ Trots? I have no answers. Utilitarian environmentalism or romantic naturalism? Is the point, really, I give up? I’m tired. Let’s carve out some isolated spot on the heath and hope.

    I am a walker too, and value my time in the woods, on the lake and on the trail. Most people who value nature have this background. Yes, wind and solar are not going to solve the problems of humanity. Yes, population IS actually a vast problem. Yes, we have to talk about simplicity and a lowered standard of living. Yes, corporations have co-opted ‘green’ language without actually doing anything. None of this is new. The only new thing here is that one fellow is very tired. Good for you. You’re 37? Ha ha ha ha.

  208. That essay was tiresome. Yes, in the end, he has no solutions. And he makes the wind/solar engineer into the enemy even though he knows renewable energy is better than fossil fuel based energy. Because it is not perfect, however, he dismisses it completely. When he comes back from his next trip into nature, I think he will write the exact same essay. Meanwhile, the world will have moved on, drenched in the realism of the problem rather than tangential to it. We will be working tirelessly to find solutions that we know will only, in the best case, asymptotically approach a reversion to “Gaia”, and in the worst case, simply allow us to save “our coffee shops and broadband connections”. Oh, Paul, you got me… now run along and play in the bogs.

  209. I found Kingsnorth’s article to be both affirming and offensive. Affirming because, yes, all of us wish that the world were different and that the new paradigm of our relationship with the rest of the life on this planet were different. And we need to live that way right now – not in some future. But I found it offensive in its assumption that we can only think one way and that we only need one strategy. We can pretend that climate change is not happening and go for long walks, but without serious strategic work, public work, we won’t have any nice places to go and walk. So why do you have to recover? Why don’t you both enjoy your connection with the natural world and fight to preserve the other-than-human world? No false choices.

  210. 233,4,5 — I guess as co-founder of the Dark Mountain Project Paul Kingsnorth was doubtless not unprepared for the outraged criticism his essay was bound to provoke from many who are wedded to the ‘promise’ of the various ideas and activities they think will save us from ourselves, or at least permit us to have a couple more decades before the final collapse of our miserable ‘civilization’ that has proved such a curse and abominable failure on this planet. No wonder that shamans sought first of all to retrieve the lost souls of those they tried to treat.

    I doubt that those confident critics of Paul’s reasoned withdrawal from the shallow and ineffective activities he gave so much precious time to will ever wonder whether the automatic response to our crisis that exhorts us to do more, might be a big part of all of the problems we have created for ourselves. To those of this (conditioned) mindset more frantic activity is the only ‘real’ response to any problem.

    For me, to wake up to the fact that one’s efforts in a certain cause are inadequate, failing, and in fact counterproductive is a profound insight. To then repair to a solitude conducive to seeking deeper solutions is to follow an ancient path to real wisdom. Thanks for your sharing, but I have a greater respect for Mr. Kingsnorth than you have evinced.

  211. It is easy to confuse tragedy with unfortunate necessity where politics is concerned precisely because it is easy to forget that there are lots and lots of other people, all of whom possess their own deeply-felt emotional connections, their own value judgments, their own autonomous desires, their own context and culture. “I just really feel that the earth is inherently valuable and wind turbines are sacrilege” is no more persuasive than “I just really feel that work is inherently valuable and factories and material goods provide real value to humans” if I do not already accept your point of view. When we enter the political arena, we give up the ability to assert our own values as primary. Politics cares nothing for your values; it cares about the ability to generate outcomes, the worth of which might be accepted by multiple perspectives, and are therefore have the potential to be broadly persuasive. Of course, it must ultimately bottom out in values – most people presumably values their own continued existence, if nothing else – but one must be willing to attempt to establish a point of view with _some_ inter-subjective force.

    The religion of nature has failed to win enough converts, so now we must adopt the religion of the economics of nature. I’m sorry for your loss.

  212. Aaron — Your comment was somewhat confusing to me. But if you are saying one should defer to political expedience as more ‘realistic’ than one’s soulful longings, I think not. This so-called political realism is a factor in the creation of the mess we are in. It is better to follow one’s heart than cave in to lower motivations, even if no one understands or supports you. We need people who answer to something higher than the values of the political market place.

  213. Kingsnorth and the “Dark Mountain Project’ are deep ecologists, it seems. Which means to hell with human society. What this really means is that I’m going to retreat to my cabin in the woods. Good for you.

    Existentialism teaches that you are what you do – it doesn’t matter whether you succeed or not. I’m 60 and I’ve been fighting the ‘system’ since I was very young, in many different ways. Tired at 37? Guess what, you’re really going to be tired at 85.

    I think Mr. Kingsnorth should write environmental stories – and that, perhaps, is his best contribution. Everyone has to find what they do well. And politics is certainly not his forte.

  214. Speaking of people who have retreated to their cabins – Will Steger has a nice place up around Ely, Minnesota, USA. No running water, no electricity, no roads – and no wife anymore. Anyway, Will, who crossed the Arctic and Antarctic on dogsleds, is deeply committed to fighting global warming. You can catch his educational tour of Greenland and the melting ice-caps on the Net.

  215. Gregory — “Kingsnorth and the “Dark Mountain Project’ are deep ecologists, it seems. Which means to hell with human society. What this really means is that I’m going to retreat to my cabin in the woods.” Your uninformed slur against deep ecologists reveals that you have little knowledge of these excellent and sincere defenders of our world. Your presumed superiority to Mr. Kingsnorth is a little hard to swallow. Your remarks make it clear that you did not understand his essay in the least, but simply made up a version of it that you could lambaste. Classic straw man maneuver.

  216. I did understand his essay. That is the problem. It is not really couched in mysterious language. I think Mr. Kingsnorth would make a good writer. Most people do not have the personalities for politics, nor the real aptitude. I’ve seen his same reaction from people who’ve joined other small religious or political groups, then backed out later. Kingsnorth feels violence has been done to his personality, and that is probably true. So he’s tired and disgusted. Fine and thanks.

  217. Gregory — You seem to believe that ‘politics’ is the real solution to our problems. Doesn’t the total corruption and failure of that illusion concern you? The trouble with ‘realists” is that their solutions not only do not work, they make things worse. Maybe you need some time alone deep in nature to get some new perspectives?

  218. I liked this article a lot and much of it – especially on the reasons for becoming an environmentalist – were familiar to me.

    However – and I work in forest carbon projects so I am biased – I felt that the ultimate message might miss the point. Imagine a large area of untouched primary rainforest, with high biodiversity, indigenous people, and all the rest of the ecosystem and carbon “commodities” that a forest can produce. It doesn’t matter if this is preserved in the name of “sustainability” – nurtured by carbon credits from the fat cats’ wallets – or surrounded by dreadlocked hippies holding hands with spliffs. It is being preserved, and that’s what matters.
    “Sustainability” can be a tool, it’s nauseating when the term is constantly bandied about vacuously, but it is a language humans currently understand.

  219. Huh. This is kind of “problematic” (lolz). It’s an attempt to collapse a bunch of contradictory positions into one “anthropocentric pseudo-environmentalism,” which it can then oppose. All leftists and people who give a fig about justice for humans are declared to be pro-growth, “because the poor need it to get richer.” He seems to be dimly aware that he is actually criticizing two very distinct and opposed non-Romantic green tendencies, namely ecosocialism and green capitalism: “Today’s environmentalism is about people. It is a consolation prize for a gaggle of washed-up Trots and, at the same time, with an amusing irony, it is an adjunct to hypercapitalism: the catalytic converter on the silver SUV of the global economy.” His problem is that he’s so culturally alienated from the left-greens, with their inexplicably loathesome “End-the-War signs and Palestinian solidarity scarves” and their theoretical jargon, that he doesn’t stop to consider that they are NOT the same as the capitalist or “bright” greens, and that he’s actually in agreement with a lot of their premises. For instance, he balks at the philosophical “problematization” of the concept of nature, but then he reiterates it approvingly in plain-language terms: “the ‘environment’—that distancing word, that empty concept—does not exist. It is the air, the waters, the creatures we make homeless or lifeless in flocks and legions, and it is us too. We are it; we are in it and of it, we make it and live it…” Sure, it’s a bit silly to dismiss ideas about “nature” because they’re “middle-class.” But what’s behind those critiques is mostly the need to undermine the notion that humans are not part of nature.

    In the lengthy and mostly fluffy comments thread, one poster calling her-/himself “Ecoreason” makes some good, if flame-y, points. Ecoreason points out that the author’s project of writers trying to create new narratives (which makes me think of Center for Whole Communities back when I was there in ’06) is apocalyptic and hence not new, but rather an old way of evading the responsibility for social action in tough times. I agree. I would also point out that all this postmodern talk about “narratives constructing social reality” is dangerous when it loses sight of what leftist theory calls the materiality of ideology: “narratives” or whatever we call social ideas have to be promulgated, sustained, reproduced, rennovated and enforced by material institutions and relations of power. Even a postmod like Foucault says that “theory is practice.” New narratives are only as useful as the material, organizational structures you can create to enact them. Stories and ideas are certainly necessary, but idealist Romantics like Kingsnorth are falling into the very fallacy they locate in the “materialist” left-greens who have no respect for feelings and stories, but only concrete power and production relations. These idealists believe that ideal and material are separate; otherwise they wouldn’t ascend into the hills to tell stories, and imagine that the forces destroying the planet (which have a very efficient combination of narrative and material power) will magically fall before their ghostly armies of narrative.

    The false dualities of idealism/Romanticism/emotivism vs. materialism, and social vs. “ecocentric” green politics, are all that enable Kingsnorth to build up any kind of rhetorical smoke-and-mirrors game that makes left greens and bright greens, who are really mortal enemies, look like the same thing. The problem with Kingsnorth’s duality-propagating Romanticism is that it cannot distinguish between these two critically opposed wings of green politics, and thus it can only retreat from the fray into a bitter, nostalgic mountaintop irrelevance, at a time when to desert the fight is the highest imaginable treason against humanity and the planet.

  220. Hi Robert, I don’t think Paul is “dimly aware” of anything – “starkly aware” is much closer to the truth. He is probably far better read than you or I on political matters, and also practically knowledgeable having experienced all sorts of politically-charged and divisive movements at first hand. Always check your targets before criticising, and don’t put your own words or project your own ideas into peoples’ heads – it’s very impolite.

  221. Robert — One problem with the critics of Paul’s essay is that most of them suppose that he is putting forth some sort of agenda that others should follow. This essay is a highly personal reflection on his own lifetime of experiences in nature, and deep involvement in the environmental movement. It includes some critiques of aspects of modern environmentalism, but does not condemn it wholesale. It tells the story of how he gradually awoke to having lost the inner reason for becoming part of the save the earth movement. In working to fight the earth destroying systems of society he had become enmeshed in the very psychology and loveless materialism that was really a root cause of our mindless self-maiming of the biosphere that birthed us and sustains our life.

    One of the fatal conceits of our culture is that if you just work and fight hard enough and long enough, then you can solve any problem through concentrated effort. Parallel to this misguided belief is a contempt for everything that is quiet and inward and hard to quantify. Inner work towards transforming one’s self is ridiculed as navel gazing, and of no value. The wisdom traditions of mankind are regarded as so much wishful thinking, while the real men and women of the world are busy doing practical work and actually shaping the world.

    What has been the result of all this ‘realistic’ activity on the part of the majority of humans? You are living in it now. If that reflection is lost on you, then you are mindlessly committed to pursuing the same failed methods that have landed us in this mess called civilization. Would you say that all this ferment of activity and counter activity has given rise to a world based on wisdom? Einstein said something to the effect that our problems cannot be solved by thinking based on the same level that gave rise to them. Isn’t it time to take a step back and discover some deeper basis for the world we dream of? Paul has not come up with the answer to our difficulties, but he has decided to look deeper for answers that we do not currently have. Godspeed.

  222. Mike, this is beautifully put, though perhaps so succinctly that what you are saying will be “lost” on some. Certainly it would be lost on the “average” person on the street. I wonder if many of us following this dialogue generated by Paul’s piece, which is a good in itself, are grappling in their lives with how to combine wisdom traditions with activity informed by those traditions — rather than going inward and seeking wisdom for its own sake, or frenetically engaging in “realistic activity” for its own sake, finding a way to combine the two. Time is so short, not just for Homo sapiens, who, some may argue, “deserve” to suffer what they have wrought in their lack of wisdom, but for all species. And of course, the poorest Homo sapiens, those least responsible for the literally mind-less activity that has spawned so much destruction, will suffer first and most, though I’m sure those who think/hope their wealth will protect them are living in a dreamland. At any rate, how, in a short space of time, to generate activity born of and informed by, wisdom?

  223. Thanks for your feedback, Jen. You say: how, in a short space of time, to generate activity born of and informed by, wisdom? This is an excellent summation of our present problem.

    The popular understanding of wisdom is that it takes time, lots of time. The usual image is of a very old man with a long beard. First of all, everything (process) takes time. Any other approach to our situation will take time to achieve its desired effects. Secondly, we do not and cannot know in advance how long it will take for a given process to yield positive results. New approaches will be creative and experimental, often developing in as yet unexpected ways. There are promising precedents that we can learn much from, but our approach today will be in its own ways unprecedented.

    So, one can offer no guarantees or time lines in advance. The desperateness of our situation is potentially our greatest asset, spurring us to undertake a bold journey into the unknown. All we can offer is a chance, an adventure, a possibility. What interests me is the potential inherent in linking together several proven methods of inducing rapid deep change in persons, that can result in their becoming those who can initiate a new way of being in themselves and in their world.

    I could say more about what I have in mind, although so far I have not managed to evoke much response to my ideas, other than misunderstanding, indifference, or simple rejection. It may be that what I have in mind will never get off the ground. I am not cut out to be a good salesman. Without support or collaborators my ideas will probably live and die on these pages. The reason that I continue to post here is the same reason an inveterate fisherman keeps casting his lure into the water in spite of not having had a nibble for quite a long time.

  224. Well, Mike, why not go for it? What do we all have to lose? I, for one, would like you to flesh out the following: “What interests me is the potential inherent in linking together several proven methods of inducing rapid deep change in persons, that can result in their becoming those who can initiate a new way of being in themselves and in their world.” I suspect Paul Kingsnorth does not write in order that his words be lost in a void. No writer/thinker does! What could honor his effort more than following up and following through with thinking and dialogue and experiment?

  225. Jen, I can put it in a few words: “Undermine the Tools of Disconnection”, and more specifically: “Undermine the Veil of Ignorance”.

    The details are at

    You should really read the proceeding chapters first as this is a potentially irreversible process, at least in the short term. K.

  226. Hello Jen — Thanks for your question. My answer will be only a general sketch. A lot more has been done and worked out, but it cannot be delivered briefly. More questions would help bring the outlines of this idea out more clearly, like a picture in a darkroom developing bath…

    Basic to the process of deep personal awakening is the small group of those pursuing this goal together. Much that we need to learn can only happen in interaction with others. We also need each other’s support in any deep transformative process. So gathering such a group and designing it in a way that maximizes our creative awakening is a first order of business. Ideally such a group catalyzes and accelerates the growth of all within it.

    The fundamental purpose for coming together is to awaken fully to the critical situation on Earth, and find ways to avoid the tragic disaster that is unfolding around us. A guest from afar has just arrived here, so I must break away, but please feel free to elicit more complete views from me…

  227. As for the reluctance of people to get up off their comfortable couches and start small learning, sharing, activist groups to deal with our global crisis, this is a telling measure of the ‘educated’ population’s state of somnolence and evasion of their obvious responsibilities. When a population is this ovine, the rulers feel no need for more repressive actions. The herd polices itself by its total lack of constructive responses.

  228. For those in denial, the most obvious things are the most difficult to see.

  229. I kept putting off reading this article, maybe because I knew what it said and wasn’t quite ready to hear it. Now that I have read it I realize that the author has put into words to my own growing feelings of despair over what “environmentalism” has turned out to be. It really is just “save the Earth for the humans” and I feel that my disillusion with it is nearly total.

  230. Scientists like David Owens have good work to do that is best accomplished by being uncompromisingly honest in the reporting of their research as well as by being unambiguously objective and forthcoming in reporting their findings with regard to the research of others. When honesty and effectiveness are viewed in opposition to one another, honesty must prevail over effectiveness in science. Finding a balance between them is not sufficient. Sacrificing honesty in order to maintain professional effectiveness is inadequate.

    With regard to the science of human population dynamics, intellectual honesty appears not to have prevailed over professional effectiveness. That convenient rationalizations in support of effectiveness have been deployed by too many experts who have refused to be fully honest and open about such a vital matter of concern, seem somehow not right. Science is not compatible either with less than the ‘whole truth’, according the lights and best available empirical data we possess, or with the collective avoidance by professionals of research regarding what could be real. Science is an expression of truth, is it not? There can be no room for compromise between honesty and effectiveness where science is concerned.

    It appears that we have a lot work to do… Endless growth of the immense ‘artificial reality’ will end either as a function of intelligent human thought, the best available science and morally courageous action or else the colossal artificial reality (aka economic colossus, aka global political economy) will somehow expand until it implodes because an endlessly growing, gigantic global economy in a finite world like the one we inhabit cannot be sustained much longer on a planet of the size, composition and frangible ecology of Earth. To put this situation in another way, if we keep up our reckless overconsuming, relentless overproducing and unbridled overpopulation activities, then a point in human history will be reached when some unimaginable sort of cataclysm can be expected to occur. Allow me to deploy words from A. Schweitzer. We need a new ethics based upon “reverence for life”. To revere an ethical system based upon idea that ‘greed is good’, the idea we see governing and dominating so much human activity on our watch, needs to be appropriately criminalized rather than ubiquitously legitimized, socially sanctioned and made lawful.

    If faith in the goodness of science is ever lost, then I fear the future of children everywhere, life as we know it, and Earth as a fit place for habitation by coming generations, that we think we are preserving and protecting in our time, could be ruined utterly. Somehow the honesty of science must come to prevail over professional effectiveness and the pernicious silence of too many of ‘the brightest and the best’ on one hand and the specious, intellectually dishonest, deceitful, cascading, ideologically-driven chatter of clever ‘talking heads’, overly educated sycophants or other minions in the mainstream media who selfishly serve the primary interests of self dealing masters of the universe among us on the other.

    There is nothing ever insignificant to be gained from science and nothing trivial about truth. This is especially so with regard to science that indicates: human population numbers are a function of food availability (not, definitely not, the other way around) and human population dynamics is essentially similar to the population dynamics of other species. From my perspective, the science tells us something vital about ourselves, our distinctly human creatureliness and our ‘placement’ as the top ranking creature among the living beings on Earth. For all the miraculous and occasionally unique attributes of the human species, the research shows us that the human species is not, definitely not, most adequately or accurately placed “a little lower than angels” in the order of living things. Although such an attractively elevated and self-aggrandizing position for the human species sets human beings apart from other species, this view appears to be a widely shared, consensually validated and culturally-prescribed illusion. Rather human beings are assuredly situated within all that is living on Earth. Homo sapiens is an organism that is an integral part of the natural world, not apart from it. We see science once again ‘cutting’ from under us ‘the pedestal’ upon which we believe stand as we oversee, steward and dominate life on Earth.

  231. Thanks for your comments Steve S. You are right on target as usual.

  232. If anyone in the Orion community is attending the Population Under Pressure conference in London this week, please ask someone, any expert at all, to comment on the ‘global predicament’ posed humanity on our watch by the unbridled growth worldwide of distinctly human overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities we can see overspreading the surface of Earth. What Andy Revkin describes as “humanity’s growth spurt” appears to minimize, even trivialize, a grave situation that is becoming harder and harder to acknowledge, address and overcome because human global overgrowth activities are overwhelming the finite physical resources and frangible ecology of the celestial orb we call our planetary home. The colossal presence of humankind on Earth in our time is much more formidable and fearsome than some sort of adolescent growth spurt. To describe the explosion of absolute global population numbers in such terms is jejeune and represents a subtle form of denial of what primarily threatens future human well being and environmental health.

    Thank you,

    Steve Salmony

  233. Dear Mike k,

    Many thanks for all you are doing…

  234. The article above was by Sandra Steingraber, Orion contributor.

  235. If scientists will choose to speak truth to the powerful, perhaps they will encourage other stonewalling leaders to do the right thing. At the moment many too many elders are remaining electively mute and appear unwilling to confront ‘the powers that be’ with the best science available regarding either the ‘placement’ of the human species within the order of living things on Earth or the most adequate understandings of the way the world we inhabit actually works. Such willful refusals by so many knowledgeable elders to assume their individual responsiblities to science and fulfill their well-established, collective duties to humanity are indefensible. Before it is too late for human action to change the perilous, human-induced course of unfolding and fulminating ecological events in our planetary home, perhaps enough people will speak out loudly and clearly in ‘one voice’ about what they believe to be real (according to the knowledge and the ‘lights’ they possess) regarding clear and imminent dangers to future human well being and environmental health that are visible on our watch. By so doing a global, internet-driven transformation of consciousness could literally spring up, as if out of nowhere, among human beings with feet of clay. Because the finite and frangible ‘reality’ of the natural world we inhabit has got to become more evident to people everywhere, day by day, and because the biological and physical limitations of the natural world will become obvious to people everywhere during the timeframe when humanity will face ‘peak everything’, humankind could sooner rather than later reach a point in space-time when a critical mass of people see and agree that ‘the endless growth’ paradigm that is so powerful and prominent in the human world in our time is, in fact, the telltale mark of insanity. Then the human (not the natural) world will have to change, the seemingly unassailable force of self-proclaimed masters of the universe, their global political/economic endless growth regime and mass media notwithstanding. Human overpopulation, overproduction and overconsumption activities would be reasonably, sensibly and humanely regulated worldwide. Human beings with feet of clay would not even be able to think in good faith of ourselves as Homo sapiens, much less behave as if there were no limits to growth on a planet with the size, composition and ecology of Earth. Such circumstances would compel all of us at least to try and change behavior that can be seen readily as distinctly human and patently unsustainable lunacy. With regard to the construction of the ‘economic colossus’ we call a global political economy, the outrageous per capita overconsumption of limited resources and skyrocketing increase of absolute global human population numbers, change toward sustainable lifestyles and right-sized corporate enterprises would begin to occur ubiquitously. After all, there have got to be limits to the insanity of constructing any unsustainable human world by a species calling itself Homo sapiens sapiens. Somehow, somewhere, at some moment the leading elders in the human community must agree to limit something, some human activity. Any activity at all will work well. By so doing we change the endless growth paradigm and choose a new path, ‘a road less traveled by’, to the future. Until at least one human activity is meaningfully restrained, if not altogether halted from growing (at least momentarily), the unsustainable game of Ponzi we are recklessly and relentlessly playing will eventually lead to global destruction and degradation of a colossal, incalculable sort, I suppose.

  236. Excellent points you make about our unrestrained growth addiction, Steve. Some have likened our plight to one suffering from cancer, which is a disease of uncontrolled growth.

  237. Our (homo sap’s) position is not the plight of one suffering from cancer – the planet/biosystem (or Gaia, if you prefer) is the one suffering from cancer – we are the cancer!

  238. Awesome piece. It is incredibly powerful to read your personal beliefs when it is presented in such an articulate fashion. I too have withdrawn and fine it much nicer to “listen to the wind”.

    Get out and live

  239. Mike and all the rest
    Besides sharing thoughts and talking about what needs to be done. Is there anything tangible y’all are up to? Be specific, I would like to understand a bit more as the discussion seems, to me, like a dream…

  240. Tremendous piece of writing, somehow you have put your finger on the inchoate rumble of discontent…something is wrong…the human world is upside down, both nature and against it, but finally, little respect for wildness or wilderness. Thank you.

  241. John — I can’t find your comments. What # was it on the thread?

  242. OK. The long blank space beneath your brief question fooled me. I went down and read the link below it…

    “I really care about humans and their happiness and I care much less about non-sentient concepts like nature.”

    Humans, happiness, non-sentient, concepts, and nature are all concepts expressed by words which are symbolic. The crux of your difficulty is that you do not perceive nature to be sentient. You are deeply identified with the materialist outlook. You will be unable from that stance to really appreciate what Mr. Kingsnorth is sharing.

  243. Keith — Nothing conversational about it? I find it amazing that one as verbally skilled as you who write books that seek to encourage people to respond and change their viewpoints, awakening to a new vision of their world and their place in it, could say that. You seem to ignore that only a new mind will lead folks to new actions. The sharing that takes place in any ®evolutionary group process is a central feature determining its effectiveness. Why pretend that blind action is all that is needed? This pretence that thinking about deep change is unnecessary or irrelevant is misleading and confusing.

  244. Thank you Paul, for encapsulating in words what I’ve been feeling for some time now. What I’m going to do about it I have no idea, but at least the feelings now have a form. Thanks again.

  245. Dear. Thank you for a great article. It sums up a bit of my personal history too. I was an activist in my younger years as well;-). And, from my perspective, the issue of environmentalism is secondary, the primary being overpopulation.
    All the best,

  246. where did the real environmentalists go? they stopped being born, or rather, raised on the unspoiled lands. suburbs replaced the last bastions of rural life and children ceased to see beavers making dams and salmon in streams. i am blessedly fortunate to be among the last americans raised on a virgin beach surrounded by untameable ranchland (turning into a windfarm as we speak… and texas is #1 in american wind)… now i live in a small town in illinois near a creek, where my parents used to follow trails carved by the generations before. the trails are still there, but only deer use them. todays children are too busy playing xbox to be bothered with such things. these are the environmentalists of the future. theyll never have a story about the spider that saved their life and they wont know what it feels like to look around and see the world laid bare without a touch of humanity.

  247. Sad but true, jessi. We have been cut loose from Nature, and delivered into the hands of our own hubris. Wise people ages ago predicted our fate would be at our own ignorant hands. Too smart for our own good. Without humility or compassion, we plunge to our doom.

  248. We are going to make a difference. Thanks for all you are doing. It is so refreshing to be among people who are seeking knowledge of human population dynamics/overpopulation, rather than obstructing that effort or else plainly, consciously and deliberately playing stupid in a ‘rear-guard’ defense of a catastrophe-in-the-making status quo.

  249. Beautiful and heartfelt essay, Paul. You speak for many, in your honesty and sense of something precious being cast aside. May you be blessed on your travels, and return in peace and in health.

  250. Fellow Sharers — Scott Walker has been laid off at Orion. Hence the recent commercial and nonsense spam on our threads. Scott’s job included filtering this garbage out. I am trying to contact Orion about this situation.

  251. Nice article. I liked walking in the woods when I was younger. Everything was interesting: not interesting enough to make me into a naturalist, but close.

    I wouldn’t worry too much about the ‘new sustainable energy’ business. It costs a lot and will die stillborn.

    If it had been attempted 40 years ago the buildout might have happened then again it might not have. Solar panels and mirror arrays are best suited to rooftops. The big central solar stations are very expensive and usable only in desert countries.

    Wind turbines have the same economic vulnerabilities as do other centralized power supplies. They are entirely credit- and petroleum dependent.

    Right now (May, 2012) Greece has been de-fueled and Spain is next on the fuel chopping block. It looks as if the fuel price will fall below the lifting price by the end of Summer. The outcome of that will be shortages.

    I suspect by the end of the year there will be a lot of people sitting in their houses looking at their cars w/ empty gas tanks asking each other, “WTF just happened?”

    In 5 years I expect most of the wind turbines to be broken and useless, most without vanes. No petrol no maintenance. No credit, no replacement parts, no new vanes or alternators, nobody to do the work.

    Stock up on wool sweaters and blankets.

  252. Better yet, invest in insulation. LOTS of it! And switches to turn off appliances that use vampire power (microwave, stereos, TV, etc.; most have a red LED on them, indicating that they are consuming power).

  253. Steve from Va — The collapse of an Empire or a Civilization is certain over time, but short term predictions are hard to make. Your warnings are nevertheless a needed shot across the bow for those asleep in the dream that everything is going to go on ‘as it always has’. J.M. Greer’s book The Long Descent gives reasons to believe that the process may take a lot longer than those wedded to the dramatic ending scenarios like to believe. Too many disaster movies?

  254. Thanks for an engaging and thoughtful essay, Paul. Your concluding paragraphs helped me make sense of why I have been feeling unengaged with the popular conversations about how to save the world. My friends don’t understand why I have withdrawn from those dialogues that used to be so important to me. You have added a piece to my own understanding of that dynamic.

    Inspiration will come again when it will – the natural world has its own rhythms. We will be patient.

  255. David — My own response to Paul’s essay was to withdraw my energy from the conventional political, materialist approaches, but to reinvest that energy in more soulful and in depth possibilities to our destructive orgy. After all, most of our serious problems come from within our own minds — so why not devise ways to change our thinking? A lot of intelligent thought has gone into warping our minds into the self-defeating loops that they currently move in. We obviously need a second education to move beyond our present morass. We could devise a small group process to awaken folks to a new vision of possibilities, and a clearer understanding of the present crisis. This could become an effective movement. I really don’t see how any scheme that keeps people’s deluded understandings intact has a chance to deliver a real lasting solution to anything. Most people in the US and the world generally are so out of touch with the realities of our situation, and their own (mostly) unconscious part in enabling our ultimate self-destruction, that they are useless to participate in the real changes that are needed.

  256. Excellent and sad article, the sense of hopelessness the author felt allowed an honesty to come through in the writing that is rare to find.

  257. If we agree to “think globally”, it becomes evident that riveting attention on GROWTH could be a grave mistake because we are denying how economic and population growth in the communities in which we live cannot continue as it has until now. Each village’s resources are being dissipated, each town’s environment degraded and every city’s fitness as place for our children to inhabit is being threatened. To proclaim something like, ‘the meat of any community plan for the future is, of course, growth’ fails to acknowledge that many villages, towns and cities are already ‘built out’, and also ‘filled in’ with people. If the quality of life we enjoy now is to be maintained for the children, then limits on economic and population growth will have to be set. By so doing, we choose to “act locally” and sustainably.

    More economic and population growth are no longer sustainable in many too many places on the surface of Earth because biological constraints and physical limitations are immutably imposed upon ever increasing human consumption, production and population activities of people in many communities where most of us reside. Inasmuch as the Earth is finite with frangible environs, there comes a point at which GROWTH is unsustainable. There is much work to done locally. But that effort cannot reasonably begin without sensibly limiting economic and population growth.

    To quote another source, “We face a wide-open opportunity to break with the old ways of doing the town’s business…..” That is a true statement. But the necessary “break with the old ways” of continous economic and population growth is not what is occurring. There is a call for a break with the old ways, but the required changes in behavior are not what is being proposed as we plan for the future. What is being proposed and continues to occur is more of the same, old business-as-usual overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities, the very activities that appear to be growing unsustainbly. More business-as-usual could soon become patently unsustainable, both locally and globally. A finite planet with the size, composition and environs of the Earth and a community with the boundaries, limited resources and wondrous climate of villages, towns and cities where we live may not be able to sustain much longer the economic and population growth that is occurring on our watch. Perhaps necessary changes away from UNSUSTAINABLE GROWTH and toward sustainable lifestyles and right-sized corporate enterprises are in the offing.

    Think globally while there is still time and act locally before it is too late for human action to make any difference in the clear and presently dangerous course of unfolding human-induced ecological events, both in our planetary home and in our villages, towns and cities.

  258. Breaking with the old ways of doing business-as-usual has got to mean something more, something very different from rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic…

  259. There are too many of us using too many resources in a linear progression of waste and destruction to the very environment that has span our being……

    The answer is too late and will never be instituted. Like an empire that has expanded beyond what it can support……our population has expanded beyond what our planet can support……….

    The answer will come with species overshoot…….us and all the rest of the species we kill with us.

    In time it will happen regardless of our actions……..we cannot stop what we have intiated.

    Humans nature is that we learn after our mistakes………not before.

    And this is one mistake that you cannot be wrong about more than once…….

  260. Perhaps there is another path to the future….

    Ioannes Paulus PP. II
    Karol Wojtyla

    “The unforgiveable sins this earth must confront and overcome are Nationalism, capitalism, and hoarding. The idea of every nation should be forgot, price should be struck from the commons, and princes should be seen for the devils they are. The sins include our church, secret societies, and other religions which make of the spirit of God a divide.”

    The Holy Father’s last rites declaration – 2nd April 2005

  261. Thanks Paul K, for your real and useful insights. Kudos for dissolving eco-pretensions, and for proposing no remedy.

    Perhaps we cannot see any road forward because there simply isn’t one.

  262. Lj — “Perhaps we cannot see any road forward because there simply isn’t one.” There is no way a priori to conclude that a road is not possible. We must try to imagine and enact many possible roads forward until we find one(s), or die trying.

  263. There IS a road (starting with boycotting fossil fuels and motor vehicles). All we have to do is TAKE it!

  264. Mike V. — Road construction always involves attention to many problems. Boycotts need really large numbers of people to persist in often difficult behaviors, like forgoing the use of fossil fuels. Not many folks are going to do that. That road lacks a solid foundation, without outlining ways to meet the numbers requirement.

    In the initial stage of presenting proposals for a new road, all ideas, however visionary, need to be considered. In the next stage they need to be vetted by a concerned and reasonably objective group for feasibility, before allocating time and energy to their further investigation and possible trial tests. Thanks for your suggestions.

  265. When I began opposing highway expansion, I was totally alone. I was soon joined by Jan Lundberg (of the Lundberg Letter (“Bible of the Oil Industry) family). Recently, walking, bicycling, and public transit are making a gradual but unrelenting comeback. In fact, the pendulum is swinging TOO far, creating environmentally destructive things like mountain biking and high speed rail.

  266. Dear Paul,

    What was missing from your essay, it seemed to me, was any description of what you expect to come. What you intimate I would describe as the end of nature, and that would be the end.

    So, if you can indeed “get away”, don’t come back; stay away amidst the joy and mystery that is to be found in and as a part of nature.

    And even tho you probably can’t escape, there is the joy and excitement of trying, isn’t there? At least you will have made the attempt.

    Perhaps you have found “the answer” after all – for yourself.

    Good luck and best wishes on your walk,


  267. I don’t think there is any necessity to have some great emotional connection with nature to understand where we need to go. You can be some convict living in solitary and get it.

    If we have a diminishing population and expanding natural wilderness everything is possible. With a persistently expanding population and diminishing wilderness finally nothing is possible.

    I know there are committed techno-fix folks that would argue with me, or carbon tax folks, efficiency folks, nuclear folks, or redistributionists that have their arguments but I’ve checked them all out and without a serious population drop none of them no matter how positive seem sufficiently up to the challenge.

    But I’d love to be proven wrong.

  268. In the book The National Parks of Northern Mexico, the author made a good point: the impacts are a product of human NUMBERS and human BEHAVIOR. If everyone lived like the residents of Kerala, our impacts would be much smaller. Neither factor can be ignored.

  269. I would agree, neither factor can, but with continuous population growth the benefits from constraints on behavior are lost.

    A thought on behavior. If you shifted to technologies that were regionally self-supporting along with economies that were locally self-sufficient the feedback from such a cultural arrangement would itself have built in behavioral restraints, ie. restraints against overuse of resources and the feedback from dumping wastes into your own backyard.

    Relatedly I think we need a discussion on the business of being dependent on goods and services that are far away and our ability to directly impact far away regions. This would certainly get into trade and many of the darker spin-offs from that.

    Human beings with all their abilities seem to need corresponding restraints to keep their destructive capabilities in check.

  270. The things people need to do are obvious and simple. Like have less kids, consume less, refuse to support war, vote for people who support these principles. But the truth is that most people are not interested in doing these things. Most of us are complicit in our fate. This fact is very disheartening to activists who would like to see an awakening response. The people resist taking any significant part in saving our world. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Our populace has embraced the know-nothing do-nothing lifestyle that is destroying the world and refuses to take the simple measures that could save us all. The truth is that we are doomed by our unwillingness to acknowledge some very simple truths that are right in our face. It’s the tragic flaw of hubris and denial at the heart of the classic Greek tragedies.

  271. PK in an interview said he supported collapse, sort of cleaning house so we could start all over.

    From one perspective one could say we are usefully here to provide a time capsule, a guide to future survivors as to how to get it right during the next go-around and avoid the bad choices that led us to our present impossible dilemma.

    We all have one death coming anyway. It would still be nice to associate myself with a successful future.

  272. David M — Something along the lines of A Canticle for Leibowitz, eh? The problem is that we need to solve our problems now, or most probably never. Postponement of those solutions to a supposedly more favorable post apocalyptic future is a form of avoidance. Conditions now, as difficult as they are, are far more conducive to the inner changes needed than they will be post collapse. To dream otherwise is without any basis in reality. Love or perish is a cosmic law that is just as binding now as it always has been and will be. Our salvation from the profound errors we are perpetrating cannot wait. Now is the appointed time to deal with our mess.

  273. Mike, let’s just say I’m playing the probabilities as I read them. Like PK I doubt you can solve much by simply modifying the present.

    But I respect the effort anyway and in my own way try to contribute to it.

  274. David — The only way to modify the future is to modify the present. We don’t have the ability to act in the future, bypassing the present. Even a time capsule must be created in the present. My remarks were to suggest that we have no way to predict that deferring present actions to an imagined more favorable future time for doing them assumes that in some way people will be awakened and ready to act in sane and loving ways due to the shock that our inevitable collapse will deliver. I wouldn’t bet on it. My long experience in AA tells me that only in the presence of a lot of very favorable circumstances, such as an effective program and knowledgeable people ready to provide a lot of assistance, does it become possible to turn hitting bottom into a healthy recovery process. Even then such an effort is pretty touch and go.

    My own reading of history past and present tells me that we are heading into a very dark time. That is not to say that this very day is not a dark one in terms of the historic struggle between light and darkness. But what is unfolding now will be far worse. No person, idea, technology, or movement can now avoid this. It is not simple or easy for those of us who have proved willing to face this grim truth to decide how we will shape our lives to meet these world shattering changes. But there is a certain inner satisfaction to be gained through doing the best we are capable of in the light of our clearest spiritual understandings.

    Thanks for your sharing. I respect anyone who is willing to give serious attention to these difficult matters.

  275. What do you imagine Galileo is doing tonight? My hope would be that the great man is resting in peace and that his head is not spinning in his grave.

    How, now, can Galileo possibly find peace when so few leaders and experts speak out clearly and loudly regarding whatsoever they believe to be true about the distinctly human-driven predicament that could soon be confronted by the family of humanity which results directly from the unbridled overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities of the human species now overspreading the Earth and threatening to ravage the planetary home God has blessed us to inhabit? Many too many leaders and a predominant coterie of the’ brightest and best’ experts are choosing to remain silent. Please consider how the elective mutism of so many of the most fortunate and knowledgeable elders among us could be contributing mightily to the ruination of Earth as fit place for human habitation.

    Where are the leaders and experts who are willing to openly support science that is being presented in solid research and validated empirical data? Look at the dismaying disarray in which we find ourselves now and how far we have to travel in a short time to move the human community away from precipitating some unimaginable sort of global ecological wreckage.

    What would the world we inhabit look like if scientists like Galileo had chosen to adopt a code of silence? In such circumstances, Galileo as well as scientists today would speak only about scientific evidence which was deemed by the super-rich and most powerful people of the day to be politically convenient, religiously tolerable, economically expedient, socially correct and culturally prescribed. By so doing, Galileo and modern-day scientists would effectively breach their responsibilities to science and duties to humanity to tell the truth as they see it, as best they can report it. If science does not overcome silence, then everything the human community believes we are preserving and protecting could be ruined.

    Perhaps there is something in the truthful reports of research from intellectually honest and moral courageous scientists regarding the colossal environmental and geological impact of the rapidly growing human population on the Earth that will give Galileo Galilei moments of peace.

  276. what a lovely offering … this written libation that pours itself like honey over the life of this world. Thank you … thank you.

  277. Debra — Thanks for your thanks. It must be heartening to Paul K. to know that there are people out here who appreciate what he has shared. People like that are our only real hope in the midst of this almost universal ignorance, denial, and loss of Soul.

  278. Calling sustainability journalists and advocates everywhere to investigate the ‘no man’s land’ of human population dynamics. A cascade of ecological events with unforeseen consequences is occurring around us in our planetary home. There are multiple causes. But human overpopulation of Earth is the prime factor.

    Climate scientists are speaking out. Where are the population scientists? Why are they not more vocal?

    The deliberate silence among population scientists with unfulfilled responsibilities to assume and duties to perform with regard to their skillful examination and careful reporting of extant research on “human population dynamics” cannot be excused by the recognition that such woefully inadequate behavior “exists in all professions”. There is much too much at stake. Scientists have to stand up and consciously speak out about what is true to them, according the ‘lights’ and scientific knowledge they possess.

    Solzhenitsyn reported, “One word of truth overcomes the world.” Could it be that for the lack of one word, one word by people in possession of truth, as their lights and science indicate ‘what is’, the world and life as we know it is being destroyed before our eyes? As the sages of old said, perhaps it is time, finally, now and here to “speak the truth as if you are a million voices, for your silence is killing the world.”

  279. Thanks for the informative link Steve. Your population project is vital to our survival.

  280. I’m getting the response from my previous attempted post that I might be sending spam. I can’t imagine why. Maybe they need to kick up the entry code to a new level of difficulty if they are having filter problems.

  281. Well since my concern about the spam block went through I’ll try again.

    SES, I agree that any solution is a dead end without dealing with population growth. Most folks want to avoid it and chuck it off into some demographic never-never land, with the impossible promise that by scaling up every poor person’s living standards we will achieve population sustainablity. Also thanks for the terrific link.

    Not nice to think about but this talking slide show sublink makes the point that unless we cease increasing the food supply and therefore the population, even though it is below theoretical present carrying capacity we will end up tanking the whole ecological system, apparently even if one fails to include climate change. One need not worry if some of the graphs accompanied by explanations seem obscure as they did me. There is enough redundancy here to make their point quite clear.

    Check link within SES’s panearth link saying ‘World Food and Population Growth’. When I post the actual link here they treat the post as possible spam.


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  283. Along the lines of Kingsnorth’s drop out essay environmentalist Lynn Lau decides to cease her efforts in her piece – ‘Why this ecowarrior is retiring’.

    These first 2 paragraphs set the tone.
    “Environmental movement, this is goodbye. For the past 21 years, I have been greening, proselytizing and otherwise straining to Save the Planet.

    Environmentalists who inspired me have burned out, become reclusive or even committed suicide. Little wonder: It’s a thankless, deeply depressing affliction to care about the environment.”

    Well Lynn there have been some successes. Think national and state parks and the catalytic converter.


  284. Thanks for the link David. Lynn joins those of us who have faced the bad news. We are all going down, way down. This civilization is going to fail spectacularly. Just when the bottom will be reached is impossible to predict, but it will inevitably happen. Realizing this means a changed worldview. In this light various options emerge for navigating the colossal failure of humankind and its devastating impact on all living systems on Earth. Accepting that the jig is up does not mean that one’s responsibilities and possibilities came to an end, but that a whole new set of problems appear and need our attention. The energy that was wasted trying to stop this runaway train called culture can now be deployed in service of more realistic activities. Anyone approaching the realization that our culture is doomed might want to read Carolyn Baker’s book Sacred Demise, Walking the Spiritual Path of Industrial Civilization’s Collapse.

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  287. The article was very interesting and very inspiring! a real eye opener, god bless the author for this inspiring work!

  288. I didn’t see a single negative comment in response to this article and am amazed! Are negative reactions filtered out? This seemed to be a self-serving whine–Poor me! I’m the only person sensitive enough to really love nature in the proper way! Does Kingshorn really believe no other “environmentalists” came to their positions from loving the beauty of nature? I believe they all did.

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    Page 2

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  290. Pam Sorrell
    “I didn’t see a single negative comment in response to this article and am amazed!”

    Apparently you didn’t read far enough. Try #26, 27 & 30 just for starters.

  291. Pam Sorrell: apparently you didnt’ read the entire article either. The last portion of the article states “I generalize, of course….” Get over yourself.

    Paul: Beatiful article that touches me deeply. My love for nature came about similarly to the way yours did, and now I work in solar power. (I specifically promote distributed solar as opposed to centralized solar.) I wanted to work in a field where I could exercise my environmentalism/ecocentrism, but also make a paycheck. Now stuck in Los Angeles, I often daydream of taking my future children to wild spaces.

  292. sustainable development is only good if based on sound science and logical thinking, not emotional responses. sustain means to maintain (per dictionary) and development means to make better bigger and more useful. I am all for being enviromentally responsible, but it is foolish to think tht we can have zero impact on the enviroment.Even animals don’t have zero impact. people need to see how man’s developments have helped the enviorment instead of always focuses on the so called destruction.
    we need to use the enviorment, benefit from it with respect, trying to turn back time to a earlier time means going back to when life was harsh, lifespans short and life was a struggle, not very happy times then. people should be able to benefit from the present technology and knowledge gained not be condemned for it because of some damage done to the enviornment that can be reversed given enough time and advancements in science and technology.
    humans are not over populating the earth, they are however overpopulating locally, people need to live more spread out, not pushed futhur and furthur into high density living cities which aer a plague as far as I am concerned of man’s welfare and happiness. enviromentalism is being used as a tool to destroy industrailized west not because of damage but because it means prosperity and freedoms that many elites do not want us to have, they know how wealth is created, so they have to try to stop it using any way they can. how do you suppose they got their wealth? do you think they cared about the harm their wealth accumulation caused? nope, enviromentalism and sustainable development is only for the wealthy, not the poor or working classes.

  293. Humans are not a good judge of harm — too biased. To judge harm, we must look at it from the other species’ point of view. They aren’t shy about telling us. Why do you think they always run away? It’s certainly NOT because they love having us around. Humans are native to Africa, and everywhere else a newcomer (exotic species). We should act according: with the good manners of a guest. As the last to arrive, it’s absurd to pretend that we have the right to do whatever we want. In particular, we should set aside as much habitat as possible to be human-free. It’s the least we can do!

  294. Roberta

    “I am all for being enviromentally responsible, but it is foolish to think tht we can have zero impact on the enviroment. Even animals don’t have zero impact.”

    Talk about a strawman. I think the conversation is about killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. Then sustainability goes right down the drain. Human beings are changing the entire earth biosphere. I don’t know any other life form that is doing that. The only competition I can even contemplate is one we could create – say some sort of carbon crunching nano critter that turns all life into grey goo.

    As for overpopulation it is manifestly severely impacting our environment in a negative way. The fact that some folks are clearly having more impact than others doesn’t change that. That seems obvious but for some reason folks get stuck on the unfairness business. Remove the rich and well to do from the equation and maybe(maybe not) you get a temporary easing of the problem but in short order you will have a filling of the breach. Or maybe you guarantee that no person can impact the environment above a certain level. What happens? Population growth simply eats away that advantage and you are back to square one.

    As for spreading people out, within our own industrial paradigm that makes them greater consumers of resources than living concentrated in an urban area.

    Yeah everything is a conspiracy of the elite. I have found that paranoid conspiracy theories are the main chosen way of not having to face up to fundamental realities. Cultures are made by millions of daily choices, not simply a bunch of puppet masters at the top. Leaders can’t proceed except by tacit agreement from a much wider population. We have a lot better shot at improving our choices if we give ourselves the greater space of not being so population burdened.

    No question there are other matters to concern ourselves with but if we don’t solve the overpopulation juggernaut the rest won’t make any difference.


    “it’s absurd to pretend that we have the right to do whatever we want. In particular, we should set aside as much habitat as possible to be human-free. It’s the least we can do!”

    I agree with the sentiment but would state is as limiting human impact generally. And of course the key to that is lowering the human population level.



  295. I;m glad to visit your post. I’ve been feeling same angst lately. I think it was Wendell Berry who said in an interview that you’re really not a conservationist until and unless you live as one. Very few of us are and very few of us do. To think otherwise is just blowing more smoke and carbon.

  296. The human population bomb blew up but scientists either failed to notice the profound implications or else remained electively mute about why it has been exploding.

    Steven Earl Salmony
    AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population,
    established 2001
    Chapel Hill, NC

  297. Thank you for this beautiful and soulful piece!!

  298. Amazing that Orion has dispursed this! I find no fault in it.
    I skimmed rather a lot of it, and did not notice any reference to the professionalism of environmentalists. It is a job, and nothing need be accomplished ( and could anything really be accomplished? ). Except a sinecure.
    Me, I live in a Northern wilderness – i have run away & can cultivate my own garden.
    The big perspective is that it’s all about aesthetics: we prefer a world of beauty. But that’s human-centered. The globe will continue 1 way or another, ultimately without us. Plenty of suffering ahead tho.

  299. You abhor the wind turbine but do not mention the greater horror – solar farms, which deface acres and acres of agricultural land and are hugely less productive than windmills. Windmills have been part of our heritage for years – why not use them to generate electricity rather than grind corn? They are more beautiful than pylons, which we take for granted, less harmful to health than Mobile phone masts, which we also don’t object to it seems, and leave room for grazing animals or crops, which continue to provide food for our growing population.

  300. “…leave room for grazing animals or crops, which continue to provide food for our growing population.” More food equals more people equals massive population overshoot equals mass starvation.

  301. Great article, and an especially great headline. I totally understand where the author is coming from. I happen to be somewhat of a “recovering environmentalist” myself.

  302. I have never walked physically on the moors. I followed Eustacia Vye, Tess, and Hardy’s other characters in fictional places to find roots on the moors. But I love them, having only seen them once, perhaps as much as others who have lived on them, and walked them every day.
    What have we done to our sacred imagination ?
    At over 50, nostalgia has welled up, and it is not a bad experience. Time is getting shorter, and death is at the end of my journey, as it (still) is at the end of everyone’s journey.
    It is exquisitely sad that we have lost so much in the race to make progress, and better ourselves…
    This article speaks strongly to me, and obviously, to many others at this time.
    It reminds ME, at any rate, of what only I can do for myself, at this time, outside of any “empowering” organization or institution.
    Thank you, Mr Kingsnorth for saying these things in such a way that they moved my heart, mind, and soul.

  303. This may be the best writing on ecological movements I’ve encountered. Beautifully conceived and done though it is, it matches my sense of despair for the human world and the biosphere it roots in.

  304. One of the excellent medical projects of the day is to comprehend how and why plants die. It may seem like a query that would have been responded to many years ago, but it was not — at least not at a specific physical stage.

  305. I wish you a wonderful pilgrimage Paul. I hope nature will tell you that you are not alone. But most of all I hope nature will tell you how grateful she is for everything you have done when speaking for her. Maybe she is speaking through me now when I say: Thank you.

  306. Wonderful! I have long since concluded that only too much of “environmentalism” is based upon the idea that somehow, somehow clever homo sap can keep on consuming at current rates.

    Too, I am wryly aware of how convenient it is to comment by COMPUTER……

  307. I love this essay – it has shifted my thinking. Thank you so much Paul 🙂


    Our deafening silence about what is happening and why it is happening with regard to the unbridled growth of the human population on our watch serves to give consent to preternatural pseudoscience of economists and demographers that is broadcast in the mainstream media without objection. By not speaking truth to the powerful, according to the best available science and ‘lights’ we possess, we become accomplices to their ubiquitous abuses.

    Extant scientific research regarding the population dynamics of Homo sapiens has to be openly acknowledged, objectively examined and honestly reported. Population scientists and ecologists have been shown to be as vulnerable to denial of apparently unforeseen and unfortunately unwelcome scientific evidence as well as to capitulation to the entreaties of all who choose favorable unscientific research to be spread by the mass media without meaningful objection from many too many members of the scientific community. It is a deliberate breach of responsibility to science and humanity for population scientists and ecologists not to object to the spreading of false knowledge and thereby, to fail in the performance of the fundamental duty of disclosing what could somehow be real and true about Homo sapiens and the workings of the existential world we inhabit, according to the best available scientific research.

    Let us recognize the willful denial of the ecological science of human population dynamics. Where are the population scientists and ecologists who are ready, willing and able to attest to or refute empirical evidence that human population dynamics is essentially similar to, not different from, the population dynamics of other species; that human population numbers appear as a function of food supply; that more food for human consumption equals more people, less available food to consume equals less people and no food equals no people? No exceptions! Are these scientists blind, deaf and electively mute in the face of new scientific knowledge. Most reprehensibly, their refusal to accept responsibilities and perform duties as scientists has made it possible for pseudoscientists to fill the mainstream media with false knowledge about the way the world we inhabit works as well as about the placement of the human species within the natural order of living things.

    Is it not science, and science alone, that most accurately allows us to confirm our perceptions as objective correlates of reality and truth? Without science, thought leaders and power brokers in cultures everywhere are free to widely transmit attractive ideas at will, regardless of the extent to which the ideas bear a meaningful relationship to what could be real and true. For example, a preternatural factoid like “food must be produced in order to meet the needs of a growing population” is deceitfully given credence as a scientific idea although it reflects the opposite of the actual relationship between food supply and human numbers. Findings from science indicate population numbers are the dependent variable and food the independent variable, just like the population dynamics of other species. By increasing the food supply, we are in fact growing the human population, are we not?

    The idea that human exceptionalism applies to the population dynamics of Homo sapiens, that human population dynamics is different from (not essentially similar to) the population dynamics of other species, is a pseudoscientific factoid, bereft of an adequate foundation in science. Overwhelming scientific research regarding the human population indicates that human population numbers appear as a function of food supply. For many this scientific idea is on the one hand irrefutable and on the other hand unbelievable. So completely are many too many professionals enthralled by the notion of human exceptionalism. Exploding human numbers in the past 200 years are the natural result of the dramatically increasing production and distribution capabilities of food for human consumption that occurred with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and later on during the Green Revolution.

    Please consider that demographers and economists are not scientists. They are presenting false knowledge that is appealing because it presents what all of us wish to believe about the way the world in which we live works as well as about the exceptional nature of the human species. Human beings are mistakenly believed to be outside (not within) the natural order of living things. The false knowledge regarding human species’ exceptionalism with regard to its population dynamics is determined de facto by whatsoever is politically convenient, economically expedient, socially desirable, religiously acceptable and culturally syntonic. Such de facto determinations of what is real about human nature and the existential world are based primarily upon ideology, not science.

    Refuse to be duped by clever, absurdly enriched vendors of words and highly educated sycophants. These ‘talking heads’ duplicitously claim they are scientists and then promulgate preternatural ideas and pseudoscientific theories that are passed off as well-established results of scientific research without objection from scientists.

    Let us examine the false knowledge from conventional, Neoclassical Cornucopian Economics and the Demographic Transition Theory. These theoretical perspectives are not connected to the foundation of science. The speciousness of what is presented by demographers and economists and then broadcast ubiquitously by the mainstream media is in need of correction by scientists. Ideas of endless resources availability in a finite world and an indestructible ecology that is in fact frangible are fabricated. Automatic population stabilization; a benign end to population growth soon; a glorious world by 2050 when the entire human community will reap the benefits you and I enjoy now because everyone in the human community will have entered the fourth and last stage of the demographic transition, all of these notions are fanciful and ideologically-driven. Such false knowledge as we find in the pseudoscientific disciplines of economics and demography needs to be eschewed. The best available scientific evidence must to be our guide because science stands alone as the best method by far for apprehending what could be real and true. Science needs to be categorically distinguished from all that is not science. Then, perhaps, we will be able to see more clearly how the existential world we inhabit actually works and more accurately perceive the placement of Homo sapiens within the natural order of all living things.

    The imprimatur of science has been not so surreptitiously usurped by pseudoscientific disciplines in which professional research is primarily underwritten by wealthy power brokers and corporations. Economic and demographic research is designed and the findings presented so as to comport with the transparent self interests of the rich and powerful. Where are the scientists who will speak out to correct such widespread misunderstanding and reckless wrongdoing? The conscious silence of scientists serves to give consent to ubiquitous unethical professional behavior that cannot be tolerated any longer because of the confusion it engenders among those in the human community who are rightly seeking an intellectually honest understanding of the global predicament we face and a path to a sustainable future that can only be derived from the best available scientific research. The disciplines of demography and economics are prime examples of what science is not. Perhaps the findings of demographic and economics research will soon be widely recognized and consensually validated as preternatural pseudoscience.

    “Speak out as if you were a million voices. It is silence that kills the world.” — St. Catherine of Siena, 1347-1380

    Steven Earl Salmony
    Chapel Hill, NC

    Steve Salmony is a self-proclaimed global citizen, a psychologist and father of three grown children and three grandchildren. Married 42 years ago. In 2001 Steve founded the AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population to raise consciousness of the colossal threat that the unbridled, near exponential growth of absolute global human population numbers poses for all great and small living things on Earth in our time. His quixotic campaign focuses upon the best available science of human population dynamics in order to save the planet as a place fit for habitation by children everywhere.

  309. This is beautiful. I like the way you express your thought so bluntly – about how most of us are thinking that human is the central of everything, and so the non-human living creatures are only the ‘support system’. As a matter of fact, I also don’t think that human is the minority, so I just think that the BALANCE has to be there. We, human as the ‘thinker and actor’ should pay our respect and spread our love not just for our own kind, but live in harmony with all the living things. I agree that we have to quickly evolve so we can be smart, i don’t oppose the ‘sustainability act’. I have hope that we can be smarter than just think about carbon emission reduction, because it cannot be reduced anymore (because in terms of the absolute number, it will keep increasing) – BUT it has to be stopped. I have read some smart move that hopefully can be applied in the near future, human can massively use the green alternative energy from their own waste to provide their required energy. Balance the love — we can live, and nature can also be protected.

  310. This article perfectly sums up the dissillusionment I have with the environmental movement. There is a lot of hypocrisy, and too many people are drawn to easy answers.

  311. “I withdraw, you see. I withdraw from the campaigning and the marching, I withdraw from the arguing and the talked-up necessity and all of the false assumptions. I withdraw from the words. I am leaving. I am going to go out walking.”

    You do that, dude. On Monday I’ll be in front of our County Commissioners trying – for the final time – to get them to use the law – that flawed social compact – to protect prairies in our county, endangered but obscure ecosystems. Even if I’d rather be out walking. Because if I don’t I won’t have any place to go walking. And then 6 weeks later, when they don’t, I’ll file a legal appeal and spend 300 hours argung it over the next 6 months.

    Self-absorbed egocentric monks may feel righteous, but their angst doesn’t accomplish squat. I frankly don’t believe in the law, but I’m good at it and its a very useful tool sometimes. Be pragmatic, Use what works in your situation to defend nature. But all this essay really does is say “I give up.” Personally, I’ve lost some and I’ve won some. Where I live I see places that would have been trashed if it wasn’t for me. And when I lose I pick myself up and start all over again. This guy is just a quitter. He’s the guy who when people sit around trying to decide what to do is always ready to argue about why whatever the idea is, it won’t work; nothing will work. And in that way he’s just a tool of status quo.

  312. I can only wish I truly and deeply understand the words flowing in this article. I do some. In others I wish to try to stop the hole humanity digs for itself. The hope is in vain. I try every day to make decisions conscious of the squirrel sitting on the tree limb outside my window. I only wish I could put a hope of change to come but pessimistic views color my world.

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