The Black Death

I’m standing on the cliff overlooking Christies Beach after a brief downpour.  Suddenly a surge of black water bursts from the outlet pipe below me.  It thunders over the rocks, and fans out across the beach.  The white beach becomes black.  The ooze reaches the sea, and forms a dark mass that moves south through the water, across the reef.  The Black Death.  A blob of motor oil, organic matter, topsoil, garden chemicals, and plastic trash.  Killing everything in its path.

The suburbs smell fresh, look clean and new.  The downpour has washed away the dust and debris.  Washed into someone else’s home.

Cleaning the streets is killing the neighbours.

This is happening in my home.  This is where I swim and snorkel the reef.  The reef-dwellers – fish, kelp, shellfish and starfish, rocks and rays – are my friends and neighbours.

I imagine their feelings as the black death arrives.  An inescapable, oily, choking cloud appears with the rain.  Breathing and feeding stops.  Many die quickly.  The poison stays.

The abundance of life on the reef has visibly diminished the last few years.  I see nowhere near as many fish this year as I did last year.  Bright green algae (or seaweed, I’m not sure of its name) is more prominent than it has ever been.

When I was ten years old, I wrote a story very similar to this.  It was about returning to visit Jervis Bay, where I had lived as a younger child, and enjoyed swimming in a pristine lagoon.  On my return, the beach had changed.  The lagoon was smaller, and darker, and sported a warning sign – polluted water, no swimming.  I remember my feelings of anger and sadness at seeing the impact of the industrial world on a place that I was attached to, that was so far away from the cities and factories.  An untouched beach, neighbouring bushland.  Now too toxic to touch.

And now, 25 years later, it’s the same story all over again.  But a whole lot worse this time.

It’s not just this outlet that’s spewing black death into ocean communities.  It’s every creek and stormwater drain along the Adelaide coast.  Maybe the whole gulf will soon be a dead zone.

And the same must be happening in every city in the world, after every rain.  Coastal cities are massacring their marine communities.  Inland cities murder their rivers, with the black death going all the way to the sea, harming all human and natural communities who live downstream.

No-one left alive.  This is biological warfare.

This is my breaking point.

This is real.  This is my home.

I considered blocking the outlet, but realised that the result would be that the black water would just flow over the street and the cliff and then onto the beach and into the sea.  So I scrapped that idea, as I’d just be polluting the land above the beach.  Mycoremediation or a wetland could filter the water.

A more practical response would be to prevent chemicals from entering the catchment [watershed], and every catchment, which would require preventing chemicals from being manufactured in the first place, and also directing water into the ground rather than sending it out to sea.  And that takes acknowledging and challenging global power structures.

I can’t do that by myself.  Will you help me?

Making rapid progress toward a crash

By the end of the century, the planet we live on will likely be uninhabitable by humans, mammals, and nearly all living things.  And yet nothing has been done to avert this disaster.  How is it that I never knew about this before?  Why is no-one talking about this?  This claim comes from the UK government chief scientist.  It was published in a prominent newspaper.  Is it just too much for people to comprehend, so we collectively ignore it?  Are our delusions so large that we cannot accept that we require a living planet?  Does this information just not fit in the conversations we have about the way we live?

I feel like I’m in a speeding car.  It’s only metres away from hitting a brick wall.  The driver has his foot full on the accelerator.  Maybe he doesn’t see the wall, or maybe he doesn’t want to see it.  Acceleration is the whole of his identity.  His identity is more important to him than his life.  In his world, speeding is all there is. In his world, speeding is what everyone wants, what everyone needs.  Solid walls that will destroy him, his car, and his passengers, cannot be seen.  The millions of living beings he’s running down with the car, they too cannot be seen.  Economic growth at all costs.

Next to him, the shotgun passenger is suggesting easing off the acceleration.  He sees the wall, but doesn’t understand the effect of hitting it at speed.  He can’t grasp that it’s a solid object.  He’s not suggesting slowing, or stopping, but continuing at a steady speed.  In his world, the wall might disappear into the distance, maybe it can be driven away with some new technology, or if we think about it differently.  Sustainability.  Steady state economy.

Behind him, another passenger sees the wall.  He knows we can’t continue at this speed.  He suggests slowing.  Degrowth.  Transition.  Energy descent.

I’m sitting behind the driver.  I can see that the only way to survive the crash is to stop as soon as possible.  A gentle deceleration will be too little, too late.  And even if it were a good idea, it would require convincing the driver, who refuses to hear.  Voices from the back seat are a threat to his identity.  I suggest we passengers kill him, and slam on the brakes. He’s clearly not going to stop the car himself, as he values his identity more than his life.  Resistance.

The other two are shocked.  You can’t stop the car, they say.  That would stop our progress.  How can you not want progress?  And you can’t kill him, they say.  He’ll lose control of the car.  And how dare you not be grateful to him for driving us all this way?

He’s driving us into a wall, I say.  He’s already out of control.  How can I be grateful? 

You can’t kill him, they say.  That would be violent.  You don’t want to be violent.

He’s killing all of us, and everyone in his path, I say.  If I kill him, I’m stopping the violence.  They don’t want to hear.  They don’t want to stop. 

I lean forward.  I put my hands around the driver’s throat.  I kill him.  I slam on the brakes.  The car jolts.  The brakes scream.  The windscreen shatters.

The crash is inevitable.  Some may survive.

 

 Image

Image credit  Top choice from an image search for “economic crash”.  There are a disturbing number of books with titles like “how you can profit from an economic crash”.

The Zero Food Pop Quiz

Zero Weedkiller and Coke Zero

One of these products claims to be food, the other to kill all food plants it comes in contact with.  Can you tell the difference?

Match the ingredients list to the product.

–    Phosphoric acid, Acesulfame potassium and Sodium benzoate

–   N-(phosphonomethyl)glycine andHexahydro-1,3,5-tris(2-hydroxyethyl)-S-triazine

What are these ingredients made from?  How are they made?

Which product contains the most nutrients?

Which tastes better?  This one’s entirely subjective, I’m not willing to taste either product to form an opinion.  The weedkiller smells slightly sweet, according to the safety data sheet, so might come out ahead in this one.

Which has a higher LD-50 (lethal dose)?

Which is more effective at killing plants?

Which kills the most humans?

Which would cause the most harm if spilt on skin?

Are these products identical, with only the packaging and the slight variation in name to tell them apart?

Would you drink something that was advertised as having no nutritional value, and contained no ingredients derived from food sources, and several ingredients known to be harmful to human health?

Would you drink weedkiller if it was marketed as a food product?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, and I’m not bothered to do the research to find out.

Four minute shower

I was taking a shower, thinking about saving water, and shower timers, and the idea that a four-minute shower is the solution to the problem of wasting water.  And how this can only make sense when a five-minute shower and a four-minute shower are the only possible options.  This solution makes no sense at all if any other factors are taken into account.  Factors like the possibility of taking a three-minute shower, or a bath, or not showering at all, or flushing the toilet, or collecting rainwater, or using shower water on the garden, or using shower water to flush the toilet. Or mining industries that use billions of times the amount of water any one person could ever use at home.  Billions of times the amount that all the people in the world could ever use at home.  If everyone in the world cut back showering time, the amount of water being wasted would hardly change. In a world where irrigators deliberately waste water so as to use their whole allocation, and not lose their allocation for next year, a concern about showering time seems misplaced.

Then there’s all the larger factors: the infrastructure required to make showering possible. The dams, pipes, pumps, sewers, chemical treatment, electricity, mining and pollution that showering could never happen without.  Damming a river destroys whole natural communities, living beings both upstream and downstream, and impacts on the livelihoods of everyone who depends on the river.  Reducing showering time has no effect on any of this.

Most of our water use happens not in the shower, but as embodied water – the water used to produce the things we buy.  A 200mL glass of milk requires 200L of water to produce, a hamburger 2400L, an egg 135L, an A4 sheet of paper 10L.  How much water in a round of golf?

You could install a low-flow showerhead, which is claimed to save 16 000 litres of water a year.  This happens to be the same amount of water it takes to produce one kilogram of beef.  The showerhead advocates don’t say how much water it takes to produce the showerhead.

Are our cultural beliefs around showering and access to unlimited water more important than the lives of those who depend on the rivers we are stealing from?  How long can we sustain our beliefs before either these others fight back, or we disrupt natural processes to the extent that this water is no longer available?  I was going to include “until we poison our water supply so badly that its no longer safe to shower in it” but then realised this is already the case.  Here is South Australia our water supply contains pesticides at well above the safe level recommended by World Health Organisation, but this doesn’t make news.  I’m literally being showered in toxic chemicals.

Even if none of these factors are taken into account, a four-minute shower, rather than being the solution to water waste, is still wasting four-fifths as much water as a five-minute shower.  So for this solution to make sense, you’d need to not only ignore all other factors, you’d need to first make these assumptions:

  1. showering every day is essential for everyone
  2. showering requires at least four minutes
  3. showering is always done using mains water
  4. shower water must go into the sewer
  5. stealing water from other watersheds is a human right
  6. polluting water and dumping it in the water supply of others is essential
  7. none of these assumptions can be acknowledged or challenged.

I thought all this through while I was in the shower for somewhere between four and five minutes, which, if I was to make the above assumptions, would leave me somewhere between being the solution and the cause of the problem.

Waste water and energy! Install this completely unnecessary shower timer, which required more water and energy to manufacture than you could use in months of showering! Only $275!

A forest dream

Forest of Tonquin, Vancouver Island, Canada

I dream of beautiful trees.  They are my friends.  I sit in the branches of one, and hold it around the trunk.  The branches spread wide and low, and the patterns in the bark have a texture that glows with life.  A group of environmentalists sit under the trees, discussing the best way to cut them down.  I get upset that they want to cut them down. Can’t they see the beauty, and feel love for the trees?

They say, “it’s okay, you don’t need to worry, we’ll cut them down in an ethical and sustainable way.”

I cry and scream.  “No!  You can’t just make everything okay by saying a couple of bullshit words.  That doesn’t justify murder.”

They try to calm me and reassure me that there is nothing inherently bad about destroying the trees.  They suggest I make myself an earring out of the timber of the tree, as a memento, to keep the memory of it always in my skin.

I scream and cry.  I yell at them, “These are my friends you’re talking about.  You’re going to kill them, and you want me to then take their bodies and cut them up to make an earring?  Would you cut up your dead friends and put their pieces in your skin?  I don’t want a memory of them, I want them to live!”

They still don’t understand.  They can’t hear what I’m saying at all.  They try again to calm me.  “We won’t cut all of them down.  Some of them we’ll just cut off their limbs.”

I look down at the limb I’m sitting on, run my hands over the bark.  It’s beautiful.  It’s alive.  It speaks to me.  I don’t want it to be cut off.

I say, “How would you feel if I said that to you?  ‘I won’t kill all of you, some of you I’ll just cut off your limbs.  Nothing to be concerned about.’ How can you say such a thing of my friends?”

I scream and cry louder.

A shady dealer sidles up to me to negotiate a price.  “I can give you a good deal.  Where I’m from we don’t have much timber, we really need it to rebuild our economy.”

I scream at him, “It’s not me who wants to kill and sell them, they are my friends. It’s those people who want to sell them.”

I cry and cry.  I’ve never felt such grief.

 

I wake up from this dream and look around my house.  I see murder and slavery.  Now everything in my house is the dead and enslaved bodies of friends.  Every sheet of paper is a mangled piece of tree-friend.  Every piece of timber an amputated limb.

A saucepan was a being that was peacefully in the earth, was taken far from home, extracted, extruded, boiled and burned.  What must it feel like to go through such torture?

What was yesterday a plastic bucket is now grotesque, the bodies of the buried gone through such pain and torment as to no longer be recognisable.

The house fills with the death-cries of pain and suffering.

I can’t live with this.  Now that I’ve heard the screaming, I’ll never be able to ignore it.

I can’t live with it, and this makes me want to not take my life, but give it.  I give my life to the cause of stopping the torture.  I dedicate my life, and am ready to lose it, if that will end the suffering.

I want to give you this dream.  I want you to have this feeling of kinship with all beings, this sense of their pain.  I want this to be always with you.  I want this to be worth more to you than the life you have now.

 

This dream has changed my sense of alive-ness and dead-ness.  All of Earth is now alive, and feeling.  What we consider dead is merely becoming a different form of life.  Becoming the landscape.

Who speaks for the land?

Who speaks for forests, for mushrooms, for birds and the sea?  For all those whose home we share?

I hear only the voices of money and genocide, of those who believe themselves entitled to destroy all living things to make luxuries for themselves.

I shall speak for the beings of the Earth.

“We want to live.  Now, and in the future.  We don’t need technology.  We don’t need progress.  We don’t need renewable energy.  We don’t need a low-carbon future.  We need the destruction to stop.  We are being killed at a rate of 200 species a day.  We are quickly being consumed, bulldozed and poisoned out of existence.  What we need is a home, community, clean water and air.  Sustainability won’t help us.  Transition won’t help us.  Fighting back to defend ourselves and our home will.  We need your help.

“We don’t care if people are alienated.  We don’t care if our fight harms the economy.  Our lives are more important.  We ask you to always act in our interest.  As you belong to our community, what is in our interest is also in yours.

“Ask us what we need, and what you can do to help us.  We are all around you, we are living in your neighbourhood, as you are living in ours.  We are the trees, the rivers, the mountains and plains, the mammals and reptiles, the rocks and the wind.

“Please help us stop the destruction.  The mines, the economy, the electricity, the burning of our ancestors, it all needs to stop if we are to live.  We invite you to come home.  Join us.”

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

For anyone wanting to develop their ability to listen to the land, I recommend participating in a Council of All Beings, and studying Kamana Nature Awareness.

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

A quote from Derrick Jensen, in Endgame: “I’ve heard that before making important decisions, members of many native cultures would ask, ‘Who speaks for wolf? Who speaks for salmon?  I ask that here.”

Let’s start involving all who are affected by our actions in the debate and decision making.

Image

photo credit

The magical thinking of Richard Heinberg

I heard Richard Heinberg speak last night in Adelaide, and was amazed at the extent of his delusions.  He spoke about the end of growth – the combination of energy, debt and climate as factors in the demise of the industrial system.  He was going well until he started on solutions.  His conclusions did not follow from his arguments.

Is acknowledging the implications of the end of growth a taboo topic, that no one dares speak of?  Or are we all so well educated to the myth of growth and progress that we are not capable of imagining an alternative?  Or is it just that books that offer simple but impractical solutions to all the world’s problems sell better than honesty?  I suspect the second, but all three are possible.

I find it odd that people who claim to oppose growth still promote it as the only option.

It makes no sense to say that it’s growth in consumption that is causing a problem, and the solution is to maintain consumption at a steady rate.  Consumption requires destruction of the earth that feeds us. If we want to survive, we can’t afford any consumption.  The very concept that the earth is a resource to be consumed, rather than a living community to be a part of, is not sustainable.

The same with population.  To suggest stabilising the population as a solution is ridiculous.

Population is already in overshoot.  A population that eats from its land faster than the land can regenerate will very soon starve to death, and destroy every living thing on the land in the process.  Hardly sustainable.

Right now is not a good time for this magical thinking.  We’re at a point where 99 per cent of old growth forests are gone, and the arctic ice cap is only a few years away from disappearing completely.  There’s nothing left to consume.  Any more destruction will catalyse a sudden collapse of the biosphere.  It’s not just an easily expendable economy that’s at stake here.  It’s all of life on Earth.

With this flawed logic, I can say that if I drive a car at a steady speed of 100km/h, I’m not consuming any fuel, and will never run out of gas.  My driving is sustainable.  I can go on like this forever.  It’s only if I continuously accelerate, and double my speed every hour, that I will have to consider the possibility of the gas tank becoming empty.

The earth is not infinite.  A car’s fuel tank does not have an infinite capacity.  The only way to avoid coming to a sudden halt a long way from home is to not drive the car.

This analogy could be quite useful.  Let’s stretch it further.  Is a car (a global economy, a large population) a useful way to get anywhere?  Where are we going with this anyway?  Are we even looking where we are going?  Why are we so keen to go anywhere?  Why are we so scared of home?  The myth of progress decries any steps towards home, to the forest, to community and connection, as backwards, unthinkable.

Most of those who challenge the story of growth and progress advocate for maintaining the existing structures of power and consumption.  Keep the car going.  No-one dares call for going home.  Just slow it down a little.

Let’s turn the car around.  I want to go home.  I don’t want to spend my whole life in a speeding machine.  I want to live in the world.

 

He mentioned during the Q&A session that he aims to save the earth and civilization, as if it were possible to have both.  Civilization in its very nature destroys living communities.  Choosing to save civilization will lead to the death of everything, which will mean the death of civilization.  It’s not worth the bother.  Civilization doesn’t benefit anyone, I reckon we’d all be better off without it.

 

Here’s my notes from Richard’s talk.

Economic growth has only been going on for a few decades.  It’s not the way the world has always been.

Growth requires constantly increasing consumption, which means increasing energy consumption.

The CSIRO has predicted that the global industrial system will collapse partway through the 21st century.

There are three factors that are relevant to the end of growth: energy, debt and climate.

 Energy

The amount of work embodied in a litre of oil is the equivalent of one month of hard labour for a person.  A litre of oil costs around $1.50.

The discovery of new oil peaked in the US in the 1930s, and globally in 1964.  Very few new oil fields have been discovered since 1980.

A price of around $100/barrel is required for it to be worthwhile to develop production of new oil fields.  A price of $100/barrel is also likely to trigger a recession.  That’s checkmate on extracting more oil.

Debt

After WWII, the excess production from factories required buyers, and this led to advertising and planned obsolescence.  Then consumer credit (debt) became the tool to get people to buy more stuff.

Outsourcing labour to the global south made production cheaper.

A factory worker’s wage now is the same as it was in 1973, so this worker does not have an ever expanding wage to feed the ever expanding economy.  The economy deals with this by giving the worker an ever expanding debt.

Consumer spending is 70% of the economy.

Debt is growing at three times the rate of the economy.  Debt feeds the growth of the financial industry.

In the 2008 global financial crisis, trillions of dollars disappeared.  Bailouts were seen as the only option to prevent the economy from imploding.  $16trillion was pumped into the global economy by the US.  This is larger than the US annual GDP.

US deficit spending is now $100billion/month.

We have hit a limit to debt.

Climate

Drought has decimated the US Midwest corn and soy crops this year.

Polar ice caps are melting, and are likely to be gone completely by 2020, and possibly as early as 2016.

This will lead to a positive feedback loop, of ever expanding climate chaos.

Climate will impact our capacity to grow the economy.

 

China is currently experiencing economic growth of 7-10%pa, which gives the economy a doubling time of seven years.  So every seven years, China’s economy doubles in size.  China is currently using half the world’s coal.  China exports to Europe and North America, and as those economies collapse, China will have no buyers for it’s products, so will itself collapse.  As China is the primary customer of Australia’s mining industry, the Australian economy will soon collapse too.  It’s a domino effect, and once it has started, nothing can stop the collapse.

 

These are Mr Heinberg’s tips for getting off growth.

Develop indicators of wellbeing other than GDP, such as Bhutan’s gross happiness index.

Alternative currencies.

Worker ownership of industries.

Population reduction.

Halt the growth of consumption, ie keep consuming at the rate we are now.

Develop renewable energy industries.

Probably a few other things I didn’t write down because I was trying to make sense of the last two.

 

What I’ve written is probably not an accurate representation of what he said, and may not make much sense on it’s own.  Read The End of Growth to get the real story.  I’m not promoting the book, I haven’t read it, just guessing it might explain my notes in more detail.

 

 

Food Skills Day

Snails, wine, sundried olives, yogurt, weeds, sauerkraut, green smoothies, paneer and sourdough.  All in a Saturday afternoon.

Ferment, cook, eat, share, experiment, learn, enjoy and play!

Elise and I organised a food skills day to share skills, recipes and ideas with anyone who would care to join us.

On the invitation, the event was declared to be a self-organising, DIO (do it ourselves) event.
I took a chance on the idea of collaborative learning, and asking participants to bring recipes they had never tried before, so we can all learn how to do it together.  Bringing tried and tested recipes was welcome too.
Here’s a couple of recipes that were new to me.

Escargot

I gathered a few snails from my garden and front verge.  Regular garden snails are the same as the ones in the fancy French restaurants.  They are nocturnal, so easier to find and collect when they are out at night.  After rain is a good time.  They develop a lip on the front of the shell when they are mature.  Gather only mature snails.

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Letting them out to play before they are cooked is entirely unnecessary.  They seemed in a playful mood as they came out of the jar, and the water took a few minutes to boil, so we released them onto the playground.

Before cooking, give the snails a rinse.  Then throw them in a pot of boiling water and let them simmer for 15 minutes.  Skim off the foam that forms on the surface of the water.

Take the snails out of the pot, and out of their shells.  A fork and a twist should do it.

Give them another rinse.

Fry ’em up in garlic butter.  We served them with pasta and spinach because it was available, but bread and salad could be good too.

This recipe is a composite of several found on the internet.  I knew nothing about cooking snails before this, and had never thought to eat them.

Paneer

Paneer is Indian-style cottage cheese that is really easy to make, it needs no fancy ingredients or equipment.  The whole process takes 15 minutes.

Bring 1 litre of full-cream milk to the boil.  Add lemon juice or vinegar and turn the heat to low.  The quantity of lemon juice required varies from half a teaspoon to half a cup in the recipes I’ve read, and apparently depends on the type of lemon, as some are more acidic than others.  I guess use the amount of juice that causes the milk to separate.

Stir continuously as the milk curdles.  It should take about two minutes for the milk to separate into curds (the solids) and whey (a clear yellowish liquid).

Place a muslin cloth in a colander, which is over a large bowl.  Strain the mixture through the cloth, then hang it above a bowl for a few minutes to let all the liquid drain out.

Place the cloth full of cheese between two dinner plates, with something heavy on top.  This will squeeze out any remaining moisture, and form the paneer into a firm block.

Paneer is traditionally used in Indian recipes, both curries and desserts.  We fried it in butter and ate it with salt.  It should keep for a few days in the fridge.

Sustainability is destroying the Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Electricity

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

Water conservation

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

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

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

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

The green economy

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

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

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

Recycling

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

Sustainable building

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

Solar power

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

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

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

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

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

Wind power

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

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

As wind is an inconsistent and unpredictable source of energy, a back-up gas fired power supply is needed.  As the back-up system only runs intermittently, it is less efficient, so produces more CO2 than if it were running constantly, if there were no turbines.  Wind power sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work in practice.  Another useless product that benefits no-one but the shareholders.

Energy efficiency

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

The economics of supply and demand

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

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

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

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

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

What do you really want?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 So what can you do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Jenga Economy

The global economy is a giant game of jenga – it only gets bigger by undermining its own foundations, and will inevitably collapse.

You know how to play jenga, right?  Build a tower with wooden blocks, then extract blocks that give the tower stability, and use them to make the tower larger, until the whole thing topples with a satisfying crash.  Winners and losers don’t matter, the whole point is to build the tower, and watch it fall.

You know how to grow the economy, right?  You get a whole bunch of forests, rivers, mountains, animals and people – a whole planet’s worth – and collectively name them ‘resources’.  Kill or enslave all these things and turn them into money.  Definitely don’t ask them if they want to play.  They are the blocks, not the players.  They don’t have a choice.  Build a tower of money, on a foundation of resources.  The only way to make the tower bigger is to destroy its foundations, the real things that make it possible for the towering economy to exist.  It will of course topple down, as it reaches a point of no longer having the strength to hold its weight.

The foundation has already largely decayed.

Those who find themselves living on the higher storeys of the tower – those who have become dependent on money, rather than forests, mountains, rivers, animals and people – are unlikely to survive the fall.

The players of the economy game don’t want to see the precarious nature of their construction.  They want to believe it can keep getting bigger forever.  Their attention is so focussed on the top of the tower that they can’t or won’t see its rapidly crumbling base.

I’m all for spoiling their game, knocking it down right away.  I don’t want to play, or be played.  The rules of this game don’t make sense anyway.

I know I’m not the first person to compare the global economy to a game of jenga.  There’s even someone selling Jenga Economy t-shirts.  Buy now.  Your purchase will remove one more block from the foundation, add one more block to the top of the tower, and bring the point of collapse just that little bit nearer.