by Lierre Keith
We know that relying solely on argument we wandered for forty years politically in the wilderness. We know that arguments are not enough … and that political force is necessary.
—Christabel Pankhurst, suffragist
The hour is late. It’s too late for the creatures who went extinct today. Somewhere a tiny green frog sang the song of his species one final time. A small bird found no mate, and her last ovum is withering inside her. Another eighty-one million tons of carbon were added to the fragile blanket of our atmosphere, that long, ancient work of our good, green ancestors who made animal life possible.1 A cascade of starvation strained the links of the food chain again, from plankton to salmon to grizzly bears; it’s anyone’s guess how long it will hold.
Our exploration of other plans for social transformation is informed not by a vague, protoutopian hope in a spiritual transformation passed from book club to bumper sticker, or a belief in the goodness that lies deep in every human heart, or, most especially, not in a deus ex Akhashica. In the simplest terms, a viable plan requires stopping the destruction that is civilization, actively repairing the damage done to biotic communities across the globe, and renewing and repairing human cultures that are truly sustainable—all within a framework of human rights.
None of this is technically difficult. Socially, politically, psychologically, even spiritually difficult? Sure. But what needs to happen to save this planet is not hard to understand.
Its damage to the atmosphere is hell waiting to happen; its extraction, from drilling for oil to mining for coal, creates a swath of sludge and destruction that are essentially permanent on any scale that matters; and the easy energy it releases makes the rest of industrial civilization’s horrors possible.
This includes clear-cutting forests, plowing up prairies, overgrazing grasslands, draining wetlands, damming rivers, vacuuming the oceans, and mining. It includes agriculture and it includes life in cities. All of those activities reside in one word: civilization. Instead, humans need to get sustenance as participants inside intact biotic communities, and not as destroyers of them.
And drastically so. Since it’s the rich countries doing most of the consuming, the rich’s ability to steal from the poor is what must be confronted and stopped. Their resource transfer is currently organized into a system called capitalism and institutionalized into systems of law around the globe. Law is, of course, backed by the armed power of the state. Comprehending this is not intellectually difficult. With capitalism as one of the dominant religions of the planet, it is certainly psychologically and politically challenging. But this is a challenge to which we must rise if our planet is to have any hope of survival.
If we don’t do it voluntarily, the world will reduce it for us. Even at Stone Age, solar-fueled levels of consumption, there are billions more people than the planet can support.
There is hope for our worn and weary planet, but to qualify as hope it must apprehend the facts. Without reality, hope is only a story for grown-up children. The people—animal, vegetable, and mineral—being consumed don’t have the luxury of fairy tales. The privileged doing the consumption seem content to accept a happily ever after of wind, solar, and recycled tote bags. And the powerful are pleased that no one is threatening their conversion of the last of the living biomes into their own private wealth. Hope—real hope—is for the brave, because hope’s only true action is to be that threat.