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Q: Will civilization just reassemble itself?

Derrick Jensen: I have several answers to that. The first is that, no, this is a one-time blowout. The easily accessible reserves of oil are gone. There will never be another oil age. There will never be another natural gas age. There will never be another Iron Age or Bronze Age. Further, there will never be—or not for a very, very long time—an age of tall ships, for example, because the forests are gone. This culture has destroyed so much that there will not be the foundation upon which a similar civilization could be built. Topsoil is gone. No, there will never be another rise of a civilization like this. There might be—presuming humans survive—some small-scale civilizations, but there will never be another one like this.

Second, I don’t really think that’s the right question. It’s like waking up in the middle of the night and hearing the screams of your family as they’re tortured, and then you look up and you see an ax murderer standing over your bed. You turn to the person sleeping next to you and you say, “Darling, honeybunch, how can we make sure that ax murderers don’t break into our home tomorrow?” Right now, we have a crisis and we need to deal with that crisis. I wish we had the luxury to worry about whether civilization will rise again in the future, but we don’t have that luxury. Right now, we need to stop this culture from killing the planet and let the people who come after worry about whether it’s going to rise again.

This question reminds me of another I was once asked: “How much time do you think we have left?” I gestured toward the person next to her. “Pretend she is being tortured in that room over there. We can hear her screaming. How much time do you think she has left before we need to act? How much time should we allow the torturers to continue before we stop them?” There are injustices happening right now. Two hundred species went extinct today. And how much time did they have? None. The question for them is not, will civilization rise again? The question is what can we do to protect them right now. If we see these injustices, we need to stop them.