I think I’m dying. My heart is beating too fast, I’m too weak to get out of bed most days, and some days I don’t even have the energy to eat. It’s been like this for years. It’s been getting gradually worse.

I haven’t read a book, taken a walk, watched a movie, visited a friend, or done anything useful in months. I can’t focus, can’t even think most of the time.

I’m not the only one. Many of my friends are also ill. I see the sickness all around me. Every year there are less fish in the sea, less birds in the trees, less insects. The air smells more toxic, the industrial noise is getting louder. Every day, 200 species become extinct. Most rivers no longer support any life. Around half of all human deaths are caused by pollution. We’re all dying of the sickness.

My own illness can be attributed to heavy metal and chemical toxicity, from mining, vaccines, vehicle exhaust, and all the chemicals I’m exposed to every day, indoors and out. They’re in my food, in the air, in the water I drink. I can’t get away from them. There’s no safe place left to go. I can’t get any better while these are still being made, being used, being disposed of into my body.

It’s not just chemicals, but electromagnetic fields, from powerlines, phones, wifi and cell phone towers. The food of industrial agriculture, grown in soils depleted of nutrients and becoming ever more poisoned, is all I can get. It barely provides me with the nutrients I need to survive, let alone recover. Let food be thy medicine, but when the food itself spreads the sickness, there’s not much hope for anyone.

When the soil life dies, the entire landscape becomes sick. The trees can’t provide for their inhabitants. They can’t hold the community of life together. The intricate food web, the web of relationships that holds us all, collapses.

Will I recover? With the constant assault of chemicals, electromagnetic fields, and noise, it seems unlikely. Will the living world recover, or will it die along with me, unable to withstand the violent industries that extract the lifeblood of rivers, forests, fish and earth, to convert them into a quick profit?

Western medicine can’t help me. All it can offer is more chemicals, more poisons. And new technology can’t help the land, the water, the soil. It only worsens the sickness.

If I am to heal, the living world must first be healed. The water, the food, the air and the land need to recover from the sickness, as they are the only medicine that can bring me back to health.

The machines need to be stopped. The mining, ploughing, fishing, felling, and manufacturing machines. The advertising, brainwashing and surveillance machines. The coal, oil, gas, nuclear and solar-powered machines. They are all spreading the sickness. It’s a cultural sickness, as well as a physical one. Our culture is so sick that it barely acknowledges the living world, and has us believe that images, ideas, identities and abstractions are all we need. It all needs to stop. The culture needs to recover, to repair.

I need your help. I can’t do this myself. I’m close to death. To those who are not yet sick, those who have the strength to stand with the living, and stop the sickness: I need you now. Not just for me, but for everyone. For those close to extinction, those who still have some chance of recovery. We all need you.

Today is the last day on Earth for many species of plants and animals. Every day, the sickness consumes a few more of us. If I didn’t have friends and family looking after me, I wouldn’t be alive today. When the whole community becomes sick, there is no-one left to take care. This is how extinction happens.

It doesn’t have to happen. It can be stopped. Some people, mostly those in the worst affected areas, are taking on the sickness, fighting because they know their lives depend on it. They see the root cause of the affliction, not just the symptoms. They are taking down oil rigs, derailing coal trains, and sabotaging pipelines and mining equipment. They’re blockading ports, forests, mine sites and power stations, and doing everything they can to stop the sickness spreading further. They are few, and they get little thanks. They need all the help they can get. With a collective effort, the sickness can be eradicated, and we can all recover our health.

Book Review: This Changes Everything

this-changes-nothing-xlg-2Naomi Klein’s latest book, This Changes Everything, is based on the premise that capitalism is the cause of the climate crisis, and to avert catastrophe, capitalism must go. The proposed solution is a mass movement that will win with arguments that undermine the capitalist system by making it morally unacceptable.

This premise has many flaws. It fails to acknowledge the roots of capitalism and climate change, seeing them as independent issues that can be transformed without taking action to address the underlying causes. Climate change cannot be avoided by building more infrastructure and reforming the economy, as is suggested in the book. The climate crisis is merely a symptom of a deeper crisis, and superficial solutions that act on the symptoms will only make the situation worse. Human-induced climate change started thousands of years ago with the advent of land clearing and agriculture, long before capitalism came into being. The root cause—a culture that values domination of people and land, and the social and physical structures created by this culture—needs to be addressed for any action on capitalism or climate to be effective.

I’ve long been baffled by the climate movement. When 200 species a day are being made extinct, oceans and rivers being drained of fish and all life, unpolluted drinking water being largely a thing of the past, and nutritious food being almost inaccessible, is climate really where we should focus our attention? It seems a distraction, a ‘look, what’s that in the sky?’ from those that seek to profit from taking away everything that sustains life on the only planet we have. By directing our thoughts, discussions and actions towards gases in the upper atmosphere and hotly debated theories, rather than immediate needs for basic survival of all living beings, those in power are leading us astray from forming a resistance movement that could ensure the continuation of life on Earth.

This book is a tangle of contradictions. An attempt to unravel the contradictions and understand the thinking behind these arguments is what drew me in to reading it, but in the end I was left confused, with a jumble of mismatched ideas, vague goals, and proposals to continue with the same disjointed tactics that have never worked in the past.

This Changes Everything advocates for socialism, then explores why socialism won’t stop fossil fuel extraction. It is against capitalism, yet insists ‘there is plenty of room to make a profit in a zero-carbon economy’. Renewable energy is promoted as an alternative, yet the objections of people whose land and livelihoods are destroyed by these developments is acknowledged and respected. The book promotes the rights of indigenous people to live on their land in traditional ways, and at the same time claims they need jobs and development. It sees the extraction and burning of fossil fuels as the main cause of the climate crisis, yet recommends solutions that require more of the same. It supports economic development while opposing economic growth. It says that ‘compromised, palatable-to-conservative solutions don’t work’ yet is selling exactly that.

One chapter is devoted to promoting divestment from fossil fuel companies, even though this is openly acknowledged to have no economic effect. Apparently it will ‘bankrupt their reputation’ rather than actually bankrupt them. This strategy is unlikely to work, as corporations spend millions on PR campaigns, and control the media, so anyone outside this system will struggle to have any real effect on their reputations. And corporations are powered by money, not morals, so moral campaigns on their own can’t shut down a company. And if they did, this targeting of specific companies, rather than the entire economic system, will only create space for others to take their place.

Another chapter explains why ‘green billionaires’ won’t save us, which seems unnecessary in a book arguing for dismantling capitalism—of course more capitalism won’t help. Strangely, Klein is disappointed that Virgin CEO Richard Branson, despite investing many millions of dollars to invent or discover a ‘miracle fuel’ to power his ever-expanding airline, did not achieve this impossible goal. What difference would it make if he had been successful? Whatever this fuel might be, it would still need to be extracted from somewhere, and burned. Unless money really can buy a genuine religious miracle, and even then, the airline industry requires massive amounts of land, mining and manufacturing, and a globalised economy. If fuel costs were not a limitation, these industrial processes would expand more quickly, destroying everyone and everything in their path. A miracle fuel still leaves us with a culture of travelling the world at jet speed, rather than a localised culture of dialogue and relationship with nature. This is the disconnected thinking that comes from engaging with climate as an isolated issue.

The book concludes with a call for a nonviolent mass movement, and ‘trillions [of dollars] to pay for zero-carbon, disaster-ready societal transformations.’ The requested transformations are a transition to renewable energy, and building more infrastructure. These won’t stop capitalism or climate change, and would make the situation worse. A mass movement would require a mass of people who both share these goals and believe that a mass movement is the way to reach them. Given the compromised and conflicted goals, and the corporate influence on the climate movement recently, this is unlikely to happen.

Mass movements using only moral arguments have never changed systems of power in the past. The global Occupy movement is a recent example. While a great deal was achieved, the capitalist system is still with us, and it will take more than peaceful demonstrations to take it down. The infrastructure of capitalism needs to be physically dismantled, using a diversity of tactics, and the culture of domination that legitimises extraction and exploitation must be confronted, and replaced with land-based cultures that value relationship with all living beings.

Originally posted at Deep Green Resistance News Service

Image from

What’s wrong with renewable energy?

burning wind turbine

Ten things environmentalists need to know about renewable energy:

1.    Solar panels and wind turbines aren’t made out of nothing. They are made out of metals, plastics, chemicals. These products have been mined out of the ground, transported, processed, manufactured. Each stage leaves behind a trail of devastation: habitat destruction, water contamination, colonization, toxic waste, slave labour, greenhouse gas emissions, wars, and corporate profits. Renewables can never replace fossil fuel infrastructure, as they are entirely dependent on it for their existence.

2.    The majority of electricity that is generated by renewables is used in manufacturing, mining, and other industries that are destroying the planet. Even if the generation of electricity were harmless, the consumption certainly isn’t. Every electrical device, in the process of production, leaves behind the same trail of devastation. Living communities—forests, rivers, oceans—become dead commodities.

3.    The aim of converting from conventional power generation to renewables is to maintain the very system that is killing the living world, killing us all, at a rate of 200 species per day. Taking carbon emissions out of the equation doesn’t make it sustainable. This system needs to not be sustained, but stopped.

4.    Humans, and all living beings, get our energy from plants and animals. Only the industrial system needs electricity to survive, and food and habitat for everyone are being sacrificed to feed it. Farmland and forests are being taken over, not just by the infrastructure itself, but by the mines, processing and waste dumping that it entails. Ensuring energy security for industry requires undermining energy security for living beings (that’s us).

5.    Wind turbines and solar panels generate little, if any, net energy (energy returned on energy invested). The amount of energy used in the mining, manufacturing, research and development, transport, installation, maintenance and disposal of these technologies is almost as much—or in some cases more than—they ever produce. Renewables have been described as a laundering scheme: dirty energy goes in, clean energy comes out. (Although this is really beside the point, as no matter how much energy they generate, it doesn’t justify the destruction of the living world.)

6.    Renewable energy subsidies take taxpayer money and give it directly to corporations. Investing in renewables is highly profitable. General Electric, BP, Samsung, and Mitsubishi all profit from renewables, and invest these profits in their other business activities. When environmentalists accept the word of corporations on what is good for the environment, something has gone seriously wrong.

7.    More renewables doesn’t mean less conventional power, or less carbon emissions. It just means more power is being generated overall. Very few coal and gas plants have been taken off line as a result of renewables.

8.    Only 20% of energy used globally is in the form of electricity. The rest is oil and gas. Even if all the world’s electricity could be produced without carbon emissions (which it can’t), it would only reduce total emissions by 20%. And even that would have little impact, as the amount of energy being used globally is increasing exponentially.

9.    Solar panels and wind turbines last around 20-30 years, then need to be disposed of and replaced. The production process, of extracting, polluting, and exploiting, is not something that happens once, but is continuous and expanding.

10.    The emissions reductions that renewables intend to achieve could be easily accomplished by improving the efficiency of existing coal plants, at a much lower cost. This shows that the whole renewables industry is nothing but an exercise in profiteering with no benefits for anyone other than the investors.

Edit 27 June: Further Reading

Zehner, Ozzie, Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism

Philippines Infotour

Read stories from my speaking tour of the Philippines here.

The Infotour took place in February 2014. Speakers from Mobile Anarchist School and Deep Green Resistance travelled to Manila, Davao, Tacloban and Marinduque to share skills and ideas with a range of audiences.

The aims of the tour were to build international solidarity, learn from each other, disseminate radical ideas more widely, and strengthen our activist movements.

We presented to activist collectives, high school students, farmers, college students, and neighbours of the infoshops.

We spoke on permaculture, autonomous response to disaster, ecological crises, connecting with the natural world, civilization and resistance.

We travelled to Manila, Davao, Leyte and Marinduque.

In San Miguel, Leyte (a village close to Tacloban) we ran activities for the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda. This was the third mission that MAS has done in this village.



In general, people in the Philippines are well aware of environmental issues. For them, environmentalism is not a choice, but a matter of life and death. They are totally dependent on the land and sea for their food and livelihood, so any harm caused—by mining, plantations, industry, development, commercial fishing and tourism—impacts them directly.

When I spoke about the industrial system in its entirety as the cause of the current environmental crisis, rather than individual industries and lifestyle choices, people understood this already. No-one ever argued in favour of technofixes, development and sustainability.

This document has more details about the environmental issues in the Philippines, and resistance movements defending land and indigenous rights.

A Sustainable Population

A sustainable population ensures that the population of all other species who share the land where they live is also sustained.  A population that causes the extinction of another species is not sustainable.  Earth’s current human population causes the extinction of 200 species per day.

A sustainable population can endure indefinitely.  This is the definition of sustainability.  The number of people that can truthfully be called “a sustainable population” is not something that can be decided by popular vote, by argument, by economics, or by force.  It is decided by the carrying capacity of the land on which it lives.

Ninety per cent of large fish in the ocean are gone.  Ninety nine per cent of old growth forests, gone.  That’s ninety nine per cent of the habitat that can sustain a human population.  This means that as of now, a sustainable population of humans on this planet is one per cent of the population that a pre-industrial planet has sustained.

The civilization that most humans currently live in is not a sustainable habitat, as it requires stealing from the surrounding land to maintain itself.  And as the civilized area grows to take over everything, and the land left available to steal from therefore shrinks to nothing, the whole project inevitably dies.

And the maximum possible population for any piece of land is not desirable for that population, as there is no chance for that population to survive in the face of disaster, environmental change, flood, or drought.  An optimal population allows for some redundancies in providing for its needs.  A population below carrying capacity will also be more peaceful, as it has everything it needs, and some to spare for others travelling or migrating.  An optimal population doesn’t need to be constantly on guard to defend its landbase.  Although this is conditional on the populations of surrounding areas also being optimal for their own landbases, rather than expanding and colonising.

A population’s ability to sustain itself isn’t a function of the number of people, but the relationship between the people and the land they live on.  If the people exploit the land, taking more from it than they give in return, then regardless of the number of people, they will soon reach a point where the land no longer sustains them, and they either move on or starve to death.  And in the present world, moving on means forcefully invading the land of others.  Causing them to starve to death.

A population that has reciprocal relationships with the land, plants and animals that provide for their needs, and takes responsibility for the wellbeing of these others, may not even need to consider the question of population, or population may be regulated by an intuitive understanding of these relationships.

In the current context of global population overshoot, any strategy that addresses population as an isolated issue is bound to fail.  Putting the cart before the horse.

It isn’t possible for a government that exists within the paradigm of economic growth to effectively address the issue of population.

Economic growth leads population growth.  More people buy more stuff.  Even if economic growth is possible without population growth, the economy still undermines its own foundations (quite literally in the case of mining taking over agricultural land) and will lead to whole populations of humans collapsing, regardless of the number of people.

So to see population as an issue that needs addressing is to miss the point.

Sustainability is not an abstract concept, or an optional extra for rich people to feel good about.  Sustainability is by definition the capacity to continue to exist.  If something is not sustainable, it will soon cease to exist.  Any policy or argument that claims sustainability as a virtue without understanding this core meaning will benefit no-one, and only lead to a more chaotic collapse.

Often at policy discussions, someone will mention population and use the phrase “the elephant in the room” as if they’ve said something terribly clever and important, and done their bit to address the issue.  I’ve never heard a proposal for any real action to either reduce global population or stop it from growing.  Here’s some policy options: mass murder, forced sterilisation, a deadly virus, one-child policy, withhold food so that people starve.  I can’t imagine anyone wanting to be on the receiving end of any of these, although there may be willingness to accept a one-child policy.

Stopping population growth is not in the interest of any government, especially not one elected on four-year term.  Governments want as many people as possible – to grow their economy, fight their wars, work their industries, buy products, pay taxes.

Attempts to influence governments to instate policies on population are unlikely to be effective.  Governments need to act in the interests of their corporate investors (or employers, or shareholders, depending on how you look at it).  To influence a government requires influencing the corporations that control it.

A corporation has profit-making as its core business.  No matter how convincing an argument may be, a corporation won’t act on it if its not profitable.  And reducing population, the market for their products, can never be profitable.

Corporations can’t be challenged by legal means, as they have power over the legal system.  So anyone wanting to challenge a corporation can only do so illegally.

By thinking strategically, and having the goal of preventing a corporation from doing business, its not all that hard to bring it down.

A corporation is a vulnerable thing.  It can’t work without electricity, internet, phone connections, transport systems, workers, and money.  If the supply of any one of these things is cut off, business stops.

By refusing to acknowledge the underlying causes of population growth, the debate on population is feeding and breeding the metaphorical elephants it so loves to talk about.

What I see is an overpopulation of elephants in the room.

Letter to Resurgence/Ecologist

I wrote this letter to the editor of Resurgence/Ecologist magazine.  It wouldn’t surprise me if it doesn’t get published, since it picks holes in the editor’s arguments.

isimg_276I agree with Satish Kumar (in the editorial for the Jan/Feb issue) that caring for our environment is a moral imperative.  However, there are many flaws in the arguments that follow.

He claims that “Our task now is to show that ecology and economy are not in contradiction to each other.”  The industrial economy is powered by the extraction, destruction and consumption of the natural world.  It is fundamentally opposed to ecology.  The economy treats the planet as a resource to be used, which will soon end with the destruction of every living thing.

He then states “environment and employment can – and do – complement each other.”  Yet there is no form of employment that benefits the environment.  There is no money to be made in protecting and regenerating the land.  The majority of those working in the environmental field are employed by those who profit from destroying it, so are – despite their best intentions – merely placing a “green” façade over the harm being caused.

He claims we can harvest our energy from the sun, wind and rain, which is true if we harvest this energy directly, but if we place solar panels, wind turbines or dams in the way, we are responsible for the mining, pollution, waste and demise of living rivers that these technologies cause.  This will never be sustainable.  And anything that can’t be sustained will surely come to a halt.

Kumar claims that “the western world is not in an economic crisis. The banks have vast reserves of finance.”  However, in 2011, the Bank of England told the chief executives of Britain’s largest banks that there was a serious chance that the whole financial system would collapse before Christmas.

“The land is still producing food” is next, while farmland becomes desert, honeybees are on the verge of extinction, aquifers are collapsing, soil is eroded and depleted, urban sprawl takes over the land, and corporations and machinery control the entire global food system, which could collapse at any moment.  The UN predicts a global famine this year.

And then “We have been endangering the lives of millions of creatures”.  Every day, 200 species become extinct.  80 per cent of the world’s rivers no longer support life.  98 per cent of old growth forests have been destroyed.  This is not endangering lives, it is ecocide.

If the industrial economy is allowed to continue, there is likely to be no life on the planet 40 years from now.  No animals, no plants, no microbes.

Now is not a time for denial, or hope.  It is a time for action.  If we do not act now to stop the whole industrial system in its tracks, there will be no environment left to care for.

And, to echo Kumar’s closing words, it is as simple as that.

Link to the editorial,   The Great Challenge.

Reconciliation. A letter to empire.

I’m not sure how I feel about writing this in the first person.  I’m taking the voice of those who have experienced things I’ll never know, and twisting it for my own ends.  I could write it from the other side, but that voice is in every news story and history book.

This is not my story.  It was told to me by a voice that demands to be heard.

So you want reconciliation?  You really think we can make this relationship work? After all you’ve done?

You came here, onto my land, into my home, you were never invited.  Do you know how important it is here to be invited before going onto someone else’s land?  No, of course you don’t.  You never asked.

You stole everything I have.  My food, my homeland, my family.  My traditions, which have been honoured since the beginning of time.  Even my name.  You destroyed it all.

You raped me, beat me, massacred my people.  You took me as a slave.  You took my children away.  You severed me from the spirits of my ancestors.

You took away my singing, my dancing, my dreaming.  My everything.

You wanted me dead.  Not just dead, extinct.  You wanted all my wisdom, all my history, to be forgotten, forever.

You destroyed my home.  You said it was no good, you’d make me a new one.  Then you made me pay for it.  This is no home, it’s an empty shell.  There is no life, no feeling in it.

And you are always here.

And now you want reconciliation.  You want me to say everything is fine, of course you can stay.  You want me to forgive.  You won’t even acknowledge what you’ve done.  You say you’re sorry, but I know you don’t mean it.  If you were sorry, you’d give back everything you’ve stolen.  If you were sorry, you’d leave.

You abuse me still.  To you it’s normal, it’s the way you are, the way life is.  You don’t hear my cries.  You don’t care at all.

I never chose this relationship.  I never wanted you in my life.  I fought you all the way.  But you were always stronger, more violent.  You had all the weapons.  You took mine away.

I will not reconcile with you.  I will make you leave.  Enough of my people have been killed.  Now it’s your turn.  Leave this land or you will die in it.

Leave this land or you will die in it.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Who am I, as someone who was born into, and continues to live in the colonist culture, to speak for those abused by this culture?

Yet, who am I, as someone who has heard the stories and views of many indigenous people, to keep these to myself?  They need to be spoken far and wide.

And who am I to silence the voice that told me this story?  This is a voice that demands to be heard.

Degeneration, sustainability and regeneration

 degenerative regenerative

Sustainability is the mid-way point on a scale between degenerative and regenerative.  It’s not an end point of anything.  As an aspiration, its not saying much to achieve sustainability.  For an activity to be sustainable, just means that you can keep doing it over and over again indefinitely.  Its not saying you’re doing it well, just that it can continue to happen.  We can do better than that.  And to aspire to be “more sustainable” is an even lower ambition.  It only requires shifting in the direction of the centre point, without ever intending to reach it.

With sustainability as our greatest ambition, the possibility of doing something well, of healing, repairing, making things better, this isn’t even considered.  More sustainable is just less harmful, it isn’t beneficial to anyone.  To aim for sustainability is to believe that all human activity is harmful, and to aim for the neutral point between harmful and helpful is the best we can do.

Aiming for sustainability rather than regeneration, this is like aiming to improve your state of health from terminal illness to a hardly-better state of being able to continue to live (to sustain life), while still being extremely ill.  As a civilization, we have been so ill for so long that we can’t even imagine being in a state of health, and no longer desire it.  Our illness is our identity.

So lets try for regeneration.  For healing from the sickness.

Regeneration or sustainability can’t be achieved while there is any degenerative activity going on.

So for either of these to be possible, all harmful activity must be stopped first.

To look away from the harm, this is like trying to build more storeys on a building while the ground level is being demolished.  You can’t build something sustainable on a degenerating foundation.  The foundation needs to be repaired first.degeneration graphIf all degenerative activity stops now, this is the range of possible scenarios.  If it doesn’t stop, follow the descending curve to zero.

The graph isn’t an exact measurement of degeneration.  Given that 98 per cent of old growth forests have been destroyed, 94 per cent of large fish in the ocean are gone, and 80 per cent of rivers worldwide no longer support any life, and the rate of destruction increasing exponentially, I’d say it’s a reasonable representation of recent history.

Once degeneration stops, regeneration may happen quickly, or slowly.  The point of no return for the complete collapse of the biosphere may have already passed.

Degenerative is anything that destroys life at a greater speed that it replenishes it.  This includes mining, manufacturing, commercial fishing, land clearing, agriculture, war, cities, dams, and anything that doesn’t enhance life.

Regeneration is the return to life, the recovery that happens when harm stops.  This part’s easy, life regenerates by itself.

No one person, or one community, can be sustainable while the rest of the world burns.  We all live on the same planet.  Act local, sure, but don’t lose sight of the bigger picture.

– – – – – – –

Footnote rant about sustainability:

Products that claim to be sustainable are nothing of the sort anyway.  They are responsible for just as much pollution and resource use as any alternative, they just hide it better.  Think solar and wind energy, cloth shopping bags, bamboo fibre, recycling, light bulbs, shower heads, and imported organic foods.  Sustainable is just a marketing ploy to appeal to a certain target market.  It’s about the image of being “green”, which has no connection to reality.  Even if these products were less harmful, something has still been destroyed in the making.  You can’t make something out of nothing.  The only way a product could ever be sustainable is if plants or animals are harvested from the wild at a lesser rate than they reproduce, and any processing is done with hand-made tools, and the product is transported by walking only.  Good luck making a sustainable solar panel.

Why did the Australian aborigines never adopt agriculture?

Why did the Australian aborigines never develop agriculture?

This question was posed in the process of designing an indigenous food garden, and I could hear the underlying assumptions of the enquirer in his tone.  Our culture teaches that agriculture is a more desirable way to live than hunting and gathering, and agriculturalist is more intelligent and more highly evolved than a hunter gatherer.

These assumptions can only be made by someone indoctrinated by civilization.  It’s a limited way to look at the world.

I was annoyed by question, and judged the person asking it as ignorant of history and other cultures, and unimaginative.  Since many would fit this label, I figured I’m better off answering the question.

This only takes some basic logic and imagination, I have no background in anthropology or whatever it is that would qualify someone to claim authority on this subject.  You could probably formulate an explanation by asking yourself: How and why would anyone develop agriculture?

First consider the practicalities of a transition from hunting and gathering to agriculture.

What plants would be domesticated?  What animals?  What tools would they use?  How would they irrigate?

Why would anyone bother domesticating anything that is plentiful in the wild?

To domesticate a plant takes many generations (plant generations, and human generations) of selecting the strongest specimens, propagating them in one place, caring for them, protecting them from animals and people, from the rain and wind and sun, keeping the seeds safe.  This would be incredibly difficult to do, it would take a lot of dedication, not just from one person but a whole tribe for generations.  If your lifestyle is nomadic, because food is available in different places in different seasons, there is no reason to make the effort to domesticate a plant.

Agriculture is high-risk.  There are a lot of things that could destroy a whole crop, and your whole food supply for the year, as well as your seed stock for the next.  A storm, flood, fire, plague of insects, browsing mammals, neighbouring tribes, lack of rain, disease, and no doubt many other factors.  A huge amount of work is invested in something that is likely to fail, which would then cause a whole community to starve, if there isn’t a back-up of plentiful food in the wild.

Agriculture is insecure.  People in agricultural societies live in fear of crop failure, as this is their only source of food.  The crops must be defended.  The tools, food storage, water supply and houses must also be defended, and maintained.  Defended from people, animals, and insects.  Growing and storing all your food in one place would attract all of these.  Defence requires weapons, and work.

Agriculture requires settlement.  The tribe must stay in one place. They cannot leave, even briefly, as there is constant maintenance and defending to do.  Settlements then need their own infrastructure:  toilets, water supply, houses, trading routes as not all the food needs can be met from within the settlement.  Diseases spread in settled areas.

Aboriginal people travel often, and for long periods of time.  Agriculture is not compatible with this way of life.

Agriculture is a lot of work.  The farmers must check on the crop regularly, destroy diseased plants, remove weeds, irrigate, replant, harvest, save seeds, and store the crop.  Crops generally are harvested for only a few weeks or months in the year, and if they are a staple, must be stored safely and be accessible for the rest of the year.

Domesticated animals require fencing, or tethering, or taming.  They would be selectively bred for docility, which is a weakness not a strength, so a domesticated animal would be less healthy than a wild animal.

The people too become domesticated and lose strength with the introduction of agriculture.  The wild intelligence needed to hunt and gather would be lost, as would the relationships with the land and other beings.

Agriculture requires a belief in personal property, boundaries, and land ownership.  Australian aborigines knew that the land owned the people, not the other way around, so would never have treated the land in this way.

Agriculture needs a social hierarchy, where some people must work for others, who have more power by having more wealth.  The landowner would have the power to supply or withhold food.  Living as tribal groups, aborigines probably wouldn’t have desired this social structure.

Cultivated food has less nutrition than wild food.  Agriculturalists limit their diet to plants and animals that can easily be domesticated, so lose the diversity of tastes and nutrients that make for an ideal human diet.  Fenced or caged animals can only eat what is fed to them, rather than forage on a variety of foods, according to their nutritional needs.  Domesticated plants only access the nutrients from the soil in the field, which becomes more depleted with every season’s crop.  Irrigation causes plants to not send out long roots to find water, so domesticated plants are weaker than wild plants.

Agriculture suggests a belief that the world is not good enough as it is, and humans need to change it.  A land populated with gods, spirits or ancestors may not want to be damaged, dug, ploughed and irrigated.

Another thought is that agriculture may develop from a belief in scarcity – that there is not enough food and it is a resource that needs to be secured.  Indigenous belief systems value food plants and animals as kin to be in relationship with, rather than resources to exploit.

Agriculture isn’t an all-or-nothing thing.  Indigenous tribes engage with the landscape in ways that encourage growth of food plants.  People gather seeds of food plants and scatter them in places they are likely to grow.  Streams are diverted to encourage plant growth.  Early explorers witnessed aboriginal groups planting and irrigating wild rice.  Tribes in North Queensland were in contact with Torres Strait Islanders who practiced gardening, but chose not to take this up on a large scale themselves.

A few paragraphs from Tim Low’s Wild Food Plants of Australia:

“The evidence from the Torres Strait begs the question of why aborigines did not adopt agriculture.  Why should they?  The farming life can be one of dull routine, a monotonous grind of back-breaking labour as new fields are cleared, weeds pulled and earth upturned.  The farmer’s diet is usually less varied, and not always reliable, and the risk of infectious disease is higher…It is not surprising that throughout the world many cultures spurned agriculture.

“Explorer Major Mitchell wrote in 1848: ‘Such health and exemption from disease; such intensity of existence, in short, must be far beyond the enjoyments of civilized men, with all that art can do for them; and the proof of this is to be found in the failure of all attempts to persuade these free denizens of uncivilized earth to forsake it for tilled soil.’ ”

After all this, I’m amazed that anyone ever developed agriculture.  The question of why Australian aborigines never developed agriculture is easily answered and not as interesting as the question it brings up for me: why did twentieth century westerners never develop hunter-gatherer lifestyles?

The twin sides of the fossil-fuel coin – climate change and energy decline

Guy McPherson presents some projections for an economic crash, peak oil effects and climate change impacts in the near future.  Total economic collapse is expected within months, and climate change expected to lead to the extinction of all sea and land life (yes, that does include you) and leave the planet without oxygen, by 2050.

Resistance to global power structures is the only strategy available to us that could save at least some living beings from this annihilation.  Sustainable living, renewable energy, nonviolent protest, or a few cans of beans in the pantry, won’t help anyone.  Guy doesn’t say this.  He says plant a radish.  I don’t reckon a radish would be at all useful in the face of total global destruction.  Let’s start thinking outside the vegie garden box.

from Nature Bats Last