I WAS IN THE LOCAL PUB with my friend Mark. We meet every Tuesday night in this tiny village in the west of Ireland to drink Guinness and play chess. I usually lose.
As we played, the oversized television on the wall began broadcasting the nightly news bulletin. The first item was the death of an Irish gangster in an American prison. The second was a scandal involving government plans to improve national internet access. Due to the possibly illegal behavior of a government minister, it was reported that Irish people would have to wait longer than planned to access low-cost, high-speed broadband.
It is estimated that the internet will consume a fifth of the world’s electricity by 2025.
The third item on the news was the publication of a report on the state of life on Earth. The report said that humanity had killed off 60 percent of all mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles since I was born in the early 1970s. This unprecedented massacre of nonhuman life was a result of humans colonizing most of the planet’s surface for their own use. The most dramatic decline was found in Central and South America, where wildlife populations have collapsed by 89 percent in less than half a century.
The collapse of the industrial economy is, in all likelihood, the only remaining way to prevent the mass destruction of life on Earth.
“This is far more than just being about losing the wonders of nature, desperately sad though that is,” said a man from the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), which produced the report. “This is actually now jeopardizing the future of people.”
That “far more” was telling, I thought, especially from a wildlife charity.
Since the rise of human civilization, 83 percent of all wild mammals have been eliminated by people. Extinction rates are currently up to one thousand times higher than prehuman levels. Even if these rates returned to normal within the next half century, it would still take an estimated 5 to 7 million years for the natural world to recover.
The report about the report lasted for around three minutes.
Brendan the landlord leaned over the bar toward us. “Throw some more turf on the fire, will you, lads?” he said. I broke a briquette away from the long, compressed peat log on the hearth and chucked it onto the wood stove.
Peat is the world’s most polluting fossil fuel, with an emissions intensity higher than that of coal. Ireland is home to three peat-fired power stations.
Ninety-nine percent of Ireland’s original peat bogs have been destroyed for fuel.
The Irish government recently reversed a public commitment to increase its modest carbon tax on peat, coal, and oil for fear of a public backlash. Ireland is currently failing to meet any of its international climate change targets.
After losing at chess I cycled home in the moonlight. I noticed empty plastic fertilizer bags stuffed into hedges and ditches and wisps of black silage wrap wafting from winter branches like the ghosts of long-dead rooks. I nearly cycled into a large pothole in the dark road, made recently by a tractor. Tractors around our way have now grown so large that they regularly damage the roads, requiring hedges and roadside trees to be radically cut back, sometimes almost to ground level, so that they can pass by.
The biggest tractor currently in use in Ireland is the Case IH Quadtrac. It delivers a peak output of 682 horsepower and includes Automatic Productivity Management software, which can adjust the engine and transmission speeds according to preprogrammed instructions.
Ireland is the least forested country in Europe.
The news about the elimination of most living things by the human species came three weeks after the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report on climate change. The issuing, and the subsequent ignoring, of IPCC reports has become an international diplomatic ritual over the last three decades. Like all previous IPCC reports, this one was met with a flurry of headlines and hashtags for a day or two before falling off the news agenda into a pit of forgetting.
The IPCC report warned that to meet the agreed target of preventing global warming of more than 1.5 degrees Celsius, global greenhouse gas emissions would need to fall to zero within thirty years. This would require “rapid and far-reaching” transformations across the world in the use of land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, cities, and virtually everything else.
If every nation in the world met its existing emissions reductions commitments, which nobody expects to happen, the planet’s temperature would still rise by three degrees Celsius. The last time the world was three degrees warmer was during the mid-Pliocene epoch, about 3 million years ago.
The likely impacts of three degrees of warming include: the total collapse of the Amazon rainforest ecosystem; perennial drought in southern Africa; a 50 percent reduction in rainfall in Central America; cascading species loss across all the world’s ecosystems; widespread drought, and thus crop failure, in subtropical regions, leading to the migration of hundreds of millions of refugees; the irreversible melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet, leading to major sea level rises; and the melting of the Himalayan glaciers, resulting in a 90 percent reduction of water flow in the Indus valley, on which up to 2 billion people rely for drinking water.
Much of this could happen within the lifetime of my two young children.
The IPCC report came almost a decade after the 2009 Copenhagen climate change summit. Copenhagen was the last big climate jamboree, widely publicized as the “last chance” to stop any of this from happening. Thousands of people flew and drove from all over the world to the summit venue, to take part in it or to protest about it. It was a ritual, in the first decade of the twenty-first century, this flying off to international summits. For a while, back at the end of the liberal age, we thought that international summits could change things.
Hope was the currency in those days. Everybody wanted to be seen to be hoping, especially the corporate sponsors. CocaCola even produced a climate change–themed ad especially for the summit. It was a big picture of a bottle of their brown sugar water, labeled A BOTTLE OF HOPE.
The Copenhagen summit collapsed without agreement. The United States and China, the world’s two biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, refused to sign up to any binding targets.
There is currently more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than at any time since Homo sapiens evolved.
Copenhagen, in retrospect, represented Peak Hope. It has been downhill ever since. The recent IPCC report was not accompanied by any declarations of hope. The atmosphere had changed irrevocably in that short decade. Nobody is hoping now. Now, we are all digging in.
“Hope,” writes Derrick Jensen, “is what keeps us chained to the system. . . . [H]ope is a longing for a future condition over which you have no agency; it means you are essentially powerless.”
Recently, a post-hope campaign sprang up in Britain. It’s called the Extinction Rebellion. It declares that we are now living through a “planetary emergency,” and that the time for marching, petitioning, and hanging banners symbolically from chimneys is past. Extinction Rebellion organizes mass civil disobedience in public places to highlight the ongoing collapse of life on Earth.
In November 2018, Extinction Rebellion organized an act of mass civil disobedience in London, shutting down five of the city’s bridges. Six thousand people took part, and eighty-five were arrested. This, said the organizers, was just the beginning. Their ultimate aim is to “cause economic disruption which brings the authorities to the negotiating table,” forcing the government to take radical action to protect the earth.
On the same day, another act of mass civil disobedience took place in France. Two hundred and eighty thousand people took part, in more than two thousand different locations across the country. More than four hundred people were injured, and one woman was killed. It was all part of a nationwide protest against a rise in fuel prices. The government had raised diesel taxes in an attempt to wean France off fossil fuels.
While both these protests were going on, the most destructive wildfires in California history were raging across the west coast of the United States Fueled by strong winds and exacerbated by record droughts, the biggest of them—the Camp Fire—killed eighty-five people, destroyed almost 19,000 human structures, and razed over 62,000 hectares of land. The fires took several weeks to contain, burning a total of 676,311 hectares across the state. As of December, some people are still reported missing.
Future atmospheric conditions across California, created by human-induced climate change, are expected to favor more regular and destructive fires, according to research published two months before the latest fires began.
The wildfire plumes were visible from space.
The American President responded to the fires on his Twitter account, suggesting that bad forest management, rather than climate change, was to blame for their unprecedented ferocity and range. He said he would withhold federal funds from California unless they did things differently.
Thousands of people who disliked The American President responded on their own Twitter accounts, explaining how wrong he was, what a disgusting human being he is, how catastrophic climate change is, and how something should be done about it urgently.
Microsoft computer scientist and author Jarod Lanier has estimated that if everyone in the world deleted all their social media accounts, it would make a major contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Internet data storage facilities currently emit roughly the same amount as the entire global aviation industry.
The conservationist Aldo Leopold died in 1948 while battling a grass fire on a neighbor’s property in Wisconsin. His book A Sand County Almanac, a collection of essays about conservation that now seem innocent enough to bring the reader to tears, was published posthumously the next year and has since become an ecological classic.
Leopold is perhaps most famous for what he called his “Land Ethic”—a call for a sane and moral relationship between human civilization and the rest of life on Earth, written at a time when the consumer society was just out of the gates and picking up speed.
A thing is right, runs Leopold’s Land Ethic, when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
The impetus behind this deceptively simple statement, explained Leopold, was the need to extend the moral community beyond the human. “The land ethic,” he explained, “simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land. . . . [A] land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow members, and also respect for the community as such.”
Since Leopold’s death, his land ethic has become famous, much quoted, admired, imitated, and in practical terms, almost entirely ignored.
“[W]ild things were taken for granted until progress began to do away with them,” wrote Leopold in the same book. “Now we face the question whether a still higher ‘standard of living’ is worth its cost in things natural, wild, and free. For us of the minority, the opportunity to see geese is more important than television, and the chance to find a pasque-flower is a right as inalienable as free speech.”
Neither pasque flowers nor free speech seem very inalienable any more. Television is not doing so well either. There are, however, expected to be over 5 billion smartphone users by 2019.
The effects of regular smartphone use on the human brain include the regular triggering of physiological stress and fear responses originally designed to help us evade predators; dopamine addiction; depression; a reduction in analytical thinking capacity; and the malfunctioning of the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which can lead to unpredictable and sometimes dangerous behavior.
When I was young, I thought that the world was divided into good and bad people, and that I was one of the good ones. Later, slightly older, I thought it was divided into informed and ignorant people, and that I was one of the informed ones. Older still, though still not nearly old enough, I thought it was divided into Bad Elites and Good Masses, and that since I had no money or power, I must belong to the second category.
Since Leopold’s death, his land ethic has become famous, much quoted, admired, imitated, and in practical terms, almost entirely ignored.
For a number of years, I believed that this second category was made up of people who, if they knew the truth about the human massacre of nonhuman life, would demand significant changes to society, and be prepared to make sacrifices accordingly.
I was an idiot.
Now I think that humans like ease, material comfort, entertainment, and conformity, and they do not like anyone who threatens to take these things away. I think that even the people who say these things should be taken away in order to prevent the collapse of life on Earth do not really mean it.
I live on a smallholding and grow my own food. I plant a lot of trees. I own a compost toilet. I also own a car, a camper van, a laptop computer, a stereo system, hundreds of books made of wood pulp, and three shelves of compact discs made of oil.
“You’re on Earth,” advised Samuel Beckett. “There’s no cure for that.”
Ninety-six percent of Earth’s mammals, by biomass, are humans and livestock. The remaining 4 percent are wild creatures.
Since we began to measure that mass wipeout of wildlife in 1970, there have only been two occasions when the world’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen rather than risen. The first was the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990. The second was the near collapse of the global economy in 2008.
The only thing in my lifetime that has come close to slowing down the ecocidal death machine that we call the “global economy” has been collapse. Accidental collapse.
All of our promises of change have come to nothing. We have only stopped our rampage when things have gone wrong.
From the point of view of Earth as a whole, rather than the parochial point of view of industrialized humans, the conclusion seems as inescapable as it is bleak. The collapse of the industrial economy is, in all likelihood, the only remaining way to prevent the mass destruction of life on Earth.
Hell, we’ve tried everything else.
Inspired by Aldo Leopold, I have been thinking a lot recently about the ethics behind this reality. I’ve been thinking we need a new set of guidelines. Some moral signposts for the age of ecocide. Something that encompasses our own complicity and the global state of emergency. A horrorcene ethic.
Something like this:
A thing is right when it tends to obstruct the progress of the human industrial economy. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.
This has the virtue of simplicity, but it does not, I think, provide enough cover against those who would claim that ends justify means. After all, blowing up airliners full of people would hinder the progress of the economy. We need to be careful. We are dealing with humans here.
Any action which hinders the advance of the human industrial economy is an ethical action, provided it does not harm life.
Any action which knowingly and needlessly advances the human industrial economy is an unethical action.
This is better.
“Provided it does not harm life” provides no get-out clause for would-be Unabombers. And that “knowingly and needlessly” means we can still eat, and put the fire on in winter. It will keep the moral philosophers of the future busy, too, which is an unfortunate side effect.
Can anybody live up to this? Probably not. I still love the smell of peat smoke on a winter night. But what else is there? Tell me your better idea, friend. Lay your realistic proposal before me.
I’m all ears.
I would amputate all my fingers if I thought it would save another species from extinction. I would not lift a finger to save this civilization from collapse. Not now. Not any more.
That’s how I feel today. We’ll see if it changes tomorrow.
It is okay to be confused. It is okay to be small. It is okay not to know what to do. Really, the only thing that is not okay is turning away.
We know what the problem is. The problem is what we are all doing. The humans. Not just the rich, not just the poor, not just the West, not just the East. Not just the bad elites or the bad presidents. Not Them. Us. All of us.
None of this is really anybody’s fault. Still, here we are. Life versus the machine. We always knew it would come to this. We knew it a long time ago.
We are as gods, but we have failed to get good at it, and now we have run out of time. And we are not the gods we thought we would be. We are Loki, killing the beautiful for fun. We are Saturn, devouring our children. We are Moloch: come, feed your newborn into our fires.
How much more will we burn?
Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something. Sometimes it is the other way around.
Sometimes a wrench must be thrown into the gears with as much accuracy and determination as you can muster, even if it may mean you are thrown out of a moving vehicle.
Root your feet down now, in the earth where you are. Stop talking. You don’t know anything, and none of your words matter.
Pay attention. Give love. Give shelter.
Dig out your wrenches.
Do your work. O
I do have a “realistic proposal,” but I need your help and I need a law firm. Please read on. I will explain why we can be successful proceeding in this fashion.
I have what amounts to the only practical way to respond to what we both know, and what you eloquently describe in your article, is the greatest intellectual challenge our species has ever faced. Furthermore, I have a bona fide way to pay for this unique approach using corporate dollars. You are extremely well informed and your writing is passionate. Therefore, this is test to see if you, your colleges, and you contacts near and far, can help me to translate our mutual passion, and my ever so practical approach, into action. As you well know, this action will not save our civilization but perhaps we, being the sapient animal we are supposed to be, will be able to find a way for some of our species to continue into a future sans industry and without the use of carbon in any way.
Every scientist and every academic on the planet, including you, and including myself until recently, have been presenting climate change to the general public in the wrong way. For the past 23 years I have lectured at universities and government organizations by presenting the ever more dire consequences of climate change. I have done this, just as you have, by describing what is called “The long-term statistical analysis of climate data.” The problem is not data, the problem is what I call the Carbon Ration. This is vastly easier for the public to understand. If you will contact me we can share a Power Point over the phone. I have never been successful explaining this to anyone over the phone before but, your understanding of our problem is so comprehensive, I think you will easily see the subtle difference between climate data, and the Carbon Ratio. I also think you will understand that this subtle difference will have a profound impact.
History is a difficult thing to see when one is in the middle of it. Those of us who are somewhat more circumspect, people like you and like me, must admit that two things are needed. First, the world, especially America, needs to know the truth about what is happening as the earth continues to warm, supra. Once the public is made aware the world needs leadership in order to respond. As Gandhi said, “If the people will lead, the leaders will follow.” Like it or not, America is still the only country in the world with the capacity to lead, but this ability is fading face with the current administration. If we, you and I, are ever going to implement a plan of action, we must go around the US Congress and appeal to the public.
To get the public attention we must implement The Earth Ship Program (www.earth-ship.org) This has not been updated since I landed on the best way to tell the public about what is happening, i.e. explain the Carbon Ratio. I already know corporations will pay to be a part of the ESP and I will explain it all to you when we speak. (Skype: dcanderson4 I do not use this much so it will take so doing to get us talking). With the help of the ESP we have garnered the public’s attention, now what do we do about it. First, we simple explain what we both know, we then tell them our only hope is to reduce consumption of all kinds, as much as any family can, and few will be able to do as well as you have. Then we will explain to the public that it is possible to fix the US Congress, without asking Congress for their help, and without touching the scared US Constitution. Once the general public begins to understand they can – in fact – take back control of the US democracy, they will take action. Here is why, Article I, Section 4 US Constitution. (www.fixyourcongress.org)
Unfortunately, I have been trying unsuccessfully to get corporate America to wake up to all this. I had the same problem prior to becoming the first man in 125 years to put auxiliary wind propulsion on modern merchant ships. (Go to YouTube and search Sail Freight International). The numbers were smaller back then, and there was no Internet causing and overwhelming deluge of information. Back then, people interacting face to face, it seems to me it was easier to get people to consider new ideas.
But I no longer have to beg corporations for their attention, let alone cooperation. Using the Carbon Ration I will be able to bring suit against any corporation in this country, or the UK. This needs more explanation then I can put in this message but, in brief, I will base this suit on the immutable laws of physics, for which there is no counter argument, and no defense, and not on the variable and easily disputable “long term statistical analysis of climate data.”
I have gone on at some length but, based on your article, and based on the fact that you agreed to be, “all ears” I trust I will get a prompt response. Thank you for your time thus far.
Paul, thank you. Someone has to say it.
Captain Anderson (and all who are frantically looking for solutions that are rooted in the current systems that caused this annihilation): you remind me of my children when they didn’t want to go to bed. The same fear drives this need to “do something.”
That time has long passed.
We are a wave breaking upon the shore.
Hush now. Be still.
The day is done. Meet its end with a sigh, and eyes unclouded by fear.
I enjoyed reading this article, and wondering if you ‘awoke’ on “the ides of March” from your Guinness infused revelation still offering your fingers for a species. A great thing for me to read after the student protests of yesterday. I appreciated your critique of the current situation and have dusted off my Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder. In addition you woke me to Deep Green thinking and have articulated the problem, which as POGO says, “I have seen the enemy and it is us.”
In addition I will be subscribing to Orion. thanks, and keep writing. some of us are listening.
Paul – you write so well, it’s not necessary for me to write. Thank you for that, it leaves me the option of doing something else useful. I have some thoughts about your ethical guidelines.
Side note: It’s not important that I think their might be other ethical or unethical actions – for instance, simply killing someone for no reason, or simply being kind to one person.
I have a concern about your guidelines below, and will comment as well as I can.
Any action which hinders the advance of the human industrial economy is an ethical action, provided it does not harm life.
Any action which knowingly and needlessly advances the human industrial economy is an unethical action.
“Provided it does not harm life.” This simply needs to be clarified. Sure, I’m opposed to killing humans, and to stepping on ants too. I’m opposed to destruction of whole forests and genocide against whole peoples. I don’t have a concise solution, but I ask you to come up with a phrase that excludes bombing every industrial center on the planet (for instance) while allowing something that would ground all airplanes or bring the Internet to a screeching halt (for instance). I’m thinking you might have read Derrick Jensen’s Endgame Part 2, in which he explores some options.
I’d love to share your definition, once tweaked. (And I do appreciate your thoughts and writing.
This is a really good article which “tells it like it is.” I may be naive but I’m still hopeful that the light will eventually turn on and humanity will take steps to prevent total catastrophe. But I fear that by that time, things may already be so far gone that effective international efforts at global cooperation may be nearly impossible. We really can’t predict but the trends are very unsettling. There are some hopeful signs, however. The cost of renewable energy has fallen to the point where it is really does not make sense to burn fossil fuels. And in many,parts of the world, there are wildlife preserves that will keep some species going. And finally, more young people are waking up to what is happening and see the need for major change.
To borrow a phrase from the Quakers, Paul K’s work consistently “speaks my mind..” I was drawn to Quaker thought by the Friends’ ethic of simplicity, and still feel that simplicity – having less stuff, acquiring less stuff, doing less that requires consumption – is one of the keys to living ethically in our time and slowing the rate of destruction. Yet contemporary Friends love their world travel (to choose one example) as much as anyone. And I know of no one in my circles who has voluntarily reduced their air travel for business and/or pleasure.
I align with thinkers like Kingsnorth and Derrick Jensen who take a darker view of the state of things – not because I’m in love with catastrophe, but because there is satisfaction in clear seeing. Thanks to Orion for publishing these writers.
Great article, as usual. I’m only going to quibble with one thing, which is your characterisation of the Gillets Jaunes in France as “a nationwide protest against a rise in fuel prices”. This is how they have been portrayed by the mass media, but the reality is apparently very different… for an eco-radical reading of the movement, take a look at https://winteroak.org.uk/the-gilets-jaunes/
I don’t disagree that most people will resist having their comforts taken away, but I still have a faint hope that people prefer discomfort to death, if they understand that this is actually the choice they’re facing.
Once again, I much appreciate Paul Kingsnorth’s sanity. And, for me, this is the pivotal line: “Now, I think that humans like ease, material comfort, entertainment, and conformity, and they do not like anyone who threatens to take these things away.” Of these four subjects, conformity seems the most significant. After all, humans like happiness, health, security, beauty, freedom, community, a sense of belonging, meaningful and lasting traditions and countless others things as well, but the culture of industrial modernity does not indoctrinate us to expect and demand them. Ease, material comfort, and entertainment, on the other hand, serve to maintain conformity to a system that generates huge profits by selling ease, material comfort and entertainment as the most important things in life. Talk about a self-reinforcing loop. This conformity is then rendered even more intractable when the populace is conditioned not only to take ease, material comfort and entertainment for granted, but to expect of tomorrow even more ease, material comfort and entertainment than is available today. We are also conditioned to believe there are no real consequences associated with having ever more of these things. The resultant overall awareness is then reinforced 24/7/365 on every form of social media and drives us to promote such follies as Mars colonization, fracking, geoengineering etc. rather than consider a much needed reprioritization of our desires.
However, the very real and devastating consequences are now becoming increasingly undeniable. At some point, likely sooner than later, we may even start to like the people who, rather than threatening to take away our conformities, nonetheless expose them, thereby opening us to other opportunities to regain the many aspects of our humanity that have been sacrificed on the alter of ease, material comfort and entertainment.
The danger in trying to help hasten this process of awakening through direct opposition to present norms is the likelihood of triggering a backlash of lost sympathy and redoubled devotion to conformity. The Unabomber serves as an extreme case in point. Yet, for many pursuers of modernity’s promises, any negative appraisal of the chosen path, no matter how sensible and sound, is too much. Against the social reinforcements and immediate benefits of conformity, no negative message or climatic cataclysm wields sufficient power to provoke the needed response.
So, instead of attempting to hinder the advance of the industrial economy, I propose that, at every realistic opportunity, we commit to finding and promoting positive, enticing, ecologically-sound alternatives to the offerings of the industrial economy. Not only are such opportunities multiplying every day, they serve to withdraw our energy from service to the machine, a far more significant impact than fighting it on the one hand while feeding it with the other. And if that energy is then redirected toward life-affirming actions or, perhaps more importantly, non-actions that result in our slowing down, scaling down, localizing, having enough, the benefit is two-fold.
Who knows, without my or your little inputs, the advance of the machine might falter just a few seconds sooner than it otherwise would. And perhaps those few seconds will be the seconds preceding another extinction. Consequently, that extinction won’t happen. And life’s resurgence will commence all the sooner.
In “Life versus the Machine” Paul Kingsnorth statistically paints a nightmarish and foreboding picture of what has become, and likely will become, of planet Earth. It is undeniable that the mess human beings have created on planet Earth is overwhelming, and even unbearable at times, and Kingsnorth’s selection of data tidbits instills this gravity. Yet, I can’t help but feel a sense of outside angst, and even forceful pressure, applied by his writing and expression of ideas. The angst eventually turns into high gear towards the conclusion, leaving me, the reader, with little opportunity for my own rumination upon the course of earthly destiny, and my part in it – a grave error in my opinion.
What is it today, that makes us believe, that in gathering information, an individual doesn’t just inherit the right to distribute that information onward, but also the right to distribute the preferred decisions that should result from any person who comes in contact with the information? A denial of the opportunity for (free) thinking is what this represents.
I believe Kingsnorth carries out this privilege precisely. In his gathering and enumerating of statistical evidence, he invisibly gathers enough authority to bear him the privilege of bestowing also a healthy battle cry, loud enough to be heard by any stirring, or unsatisfied, Orion reader (which is probably all of us). Unfortunately, I also feel a sense of desperation, pretty well self asserted by Kingsnorth actually, that predominates over any insight for a way forward that could actually be considered clarity.
Here is the principal dilemma lying behind the content presented by Kingsnorth:
Those of us who believe the Earth is a living, and therefor intelligent being itself (as it would seem Kingsnorth would), are forced to treat it as a being that is predetermined to follow whatever human generated statistical models seem fit for the time rather than as a being with a living impulse within itself; and then even moreso, we are obliged to act in response according to these vary models. Well in that case, what we have done is already adopted the same position as the materialists (or the industrialists) which strives to dominate the Earth through the same technological advancements they hope to prolong its productive capacity with.
Because Kingsnorth appears to have adopted this mentality, treating the Earth as if its destiny is tied to statistical models, he leads us to a disastrous battlefield which no amount of care, concern, or perhaps even reverence, for this Earth will compensate for such weighty bias. He leads his readers to a battlefield they are sure to die upon, with little to no impact on the course the Earth currently tends. Why? Because any human action which hinders the advance of the human industrial economy is NOT inherently an ethical action. Even if it doesn’t “harm life” (an impossibility to begin with). To simplify such complex matters as our economic system in this manner is merely a clever trick, used quite often these days to persuade others to act in a way that is in accordance with the writers/speakers personal sentiments towards life on planet Earth.
Kingsnorth’s closing paragraphs, in their forcefulness, remind me of what is missing from his piece; the importance of small acts, free decisions, and unnoticeable changes in disposition eventually leading to noticeable changes in habit. If we are to change course, perhaps it is not from “peak hope”, nor from a “horrorscene ethic”, but from a lively intelligence beating in a patient heart that has developed from years, perhaps even lifetimes, of quietly persevering through the outside noise.
You can read my full critique of this article here: https://medium.com/@colinjay_46510/a-critique-of-the-thought-behind-the-extinction-rebellion-and-paul-kingsnorths-life-versus-the-448b1574f4ef
I agree with much of this article, except the idea that “all humans” are complicit. If that’s the case, then we’d might as well undertake voluntary human extinction. But the problem is not biological (ie. with our species), it is cultural. Modern culture is the problem. Other cultures in the past have been problematic too. And many others have managed to survive and thrive in harmony with the natural world for millennia. That’s who the rest of us need to learn from.
I appreciate the sentiment of this article and found it well written; however, it would seem most obvious way to slow the expansion of the human industrial economy to slow the expansion of….humans. The author mentions having two young children and I’d be curious how one can simultaneously suggest we should allow civilization to collapse while presumably still desiring safety and comfort for one’s children in their lifetimes.
I have observed similar contradictions in many environmental writings. It would seem that often people’s rational assessment of our planet’s ecological woes is not enough to deter their desire to procreate and nurture offspring. I’m not making a judgement, just observing that even the most environmentally aware and concerned among us may not be able to break the patterns of human behavior required to reduce human impacts on this planet.
More and more scientists are now agreeing with Prof. Guy McPherson that it is already too late to save the planet even if industrial civilization does collapse. In fact, they explain, the evidence shows that such a collapse would make global warming far worse in the short term.
Great Article, Paul & Orion, ‘cept I’m with some of the commentators below and with Greta who said this at the Davos gathering in Switzerland a few months back.
“We are facing [an] existential crisis, the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced,” the 16-year-old said. “If everyone is guilty, then no one is to blame, and someone is to blame… Some people, some companies, some decision makers in particular know exactly what priceless values they have been sacrificing to continue making unimaginable amounts of money, and I think many of you here today belong to that group of people.”
The new ethical principle is easily simplified to this: *Does it help or hurt the E-air-th*
“Any action which hinders the advance of the human industrial economy is an ethical action, provided it does not harm life.”
This could be true and is a noble aim but I find it a difficult proposition. There are no quantum leaps to such ethical actions and in the very nature of humankind resisting it, conflict, and ultimately wars would (and probably will) ensue. We see a cameo picture of this today as the US and other economies persist the consumerist Xanadu for false comfort and security of its peoples. Change is difficult, people covet, power corrupts ethical and rational thinking.
I propose that to reach the objective of retarding the industrial economy, war (which is coming) will harm a great many people, who will learn that wisdom through loss.
I (hope and) wish it were different.
“Any action which knowingly and needlessly advances the human industrial economy is an unethical action.”
“Its a struggle. ” Nellie McKay on being a vegan.
The work of Aldo Leopold was not all the saintly ethics many attribute to him. I read his work A Sand Country Almanac in college. I noted that he had a major impact in transforming the Middle Rio Grande with an irrigation system built on a huge earthen dam. He also was an avid hunter in the Rio Grande flyway. Used a boat called the Bindle Bat to pole out to the old flooded marshes that disappeared once they were converted into farmed fields.
All we have to do is plant a trillion trees!
It seems we are all hypocrites in this matter. All complacent in our actions to degrade the earth, regardless of our intentions.
“Any action which hinders the advance of the human industrial economy is an ethical action, provided it does not harm life.
Any action which knowingly and needlessly advances the human industrial economy is an unethical action.”
Turning on the lights can be argued to advance the human industrial economy, as our lights are fueled by fossil fuel power. On this very laptop I write on, it was assembled by mining lithium and aluminum, required industrial labor to be assembled together, then flown over to the store I bought it from.
Its an admirable ethic, but almost impossible to follow fully.
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