In this final scenario, militant resistance would have one primary goal: to reduce fossil fuel consumption (and hence, all ecological damage) as immediately and rapidly as possible. A 90 percent reduction would be the ballpark target. For militants in this scenario, impacts on civilized humans would be secondary.
Here’s their rationale in a nutshell: Humans aren’t going to do anything in time to prevent the planet from being destroyed wholesale. Poor people are too preoccupied by primary emergencies, rich people benefit from the status quo, and the middle class (rich people by global standards) are too obsessed with their own entitlement and the technological spectacle to do anything. The risk of runaway global warming is immediate. A drop in the human population is inevitable, and fewer people will die if collapse happens sooner.
Think of it like this. We know we are in overshoot as a species. That means that a significant portion of the people now alive may have to die before we are back under carrying capacity. And that disparity is growing by the day. Every day carrying capacity is driven down by hundreds of thousands of humans, and every day the human population increases by more than 200,000.15 The people added to the overshoot each day are needless, pointless deaths. Delaying collapse, they argue, is itself a form of mass murder.
Furthermore, they would argue, humans are only one species of millions. To kill millions of species for the benefit of one is insane, just as killing millions of people for the benefit of one person would be insane. And since unimpeded ecological collapse would kill off humans anyway, those species will ultimately have died for nothing, and the planet will take millions of years to recover. Therefore, those of us who care about the future of the planet have to dismantle the industrial energy infrastructure as rapidly as possible. We’ll all have to deal with the social consequences as best we can. Besides, rapid collapse is ultimately good for humans—even if there is a partial die-off—because at least some people survive. And remember, the people who need the system to come down the most are the rural poor in the majority of the world: the faster the actionists can bring down industrial civilization, the better the prospects for those people and their landbases. Regardless, without immediate action, everyone dies.
In this scenario, well-organized underground militants would make coordinated attacks on energy infrastructure around the world. These would take whatever tactical form militants could muster—actions against pipelines, power lines, tankers, and refineries, perhaps using electromagnetic pulses (EMPs) to do damage. Unlike in the previous scenario, no attempt would be made to keep pace with aboveground activists. The attacks would be as persistent as the militants could manage. Fossil fuel energy availability would decline by 90 percent. Greenhouse gas emissions would plummet.
The industrial economy would come apart. Manufacturing and transportation would halt because of frequent blackouts and tremendously high prices for fossil fuels. Some, perhaps most, governments would institute martial law and rationing. Governments that took an authoritarian route would be especially targeted by militant resisters. Other states would simply fail and fall apart.
In theory, with a 90 percent reduction in fossil fuel availability, there would still be enough to aid basic survival activities like growing food, heating, and cooking. Governments and civil institutions could still attempt a rapid shift to subsistence activities for their populations, but instead, militaries and the very wealthy would attempt to suck up virtually all remaining supplies of energy. In some places, they would succeed in doing so and widespread hunger would result. In others, people would refuse the authority of those in power. Most existing large-scale institutions would simply collapse, and it would be up to local people to either make a stand for human rights and a better way of life or give in to authoritarian power. The death rate would increase, but as we have seen in examples from Cuba and Russia, civic order can still hold despite the hardships.
What happens next would depend on a number of factors. If the attacks could persist and oil extraction were kept minimal for a prolonged period, industrial civilization would be unlikely to reorganize itself. Well-guarded industrial enclaves would remain, escorting fuel and resources under arms. If martial law succeeded in stopping attacks after the first few waves (something it has been unable to do in, for example, Nigeria), the effects would be uncertain. In the twentieth century, industrial societies have recovered from disasters, as Europe did after World War II. But this would be a different situation. For most areas, there would be no outside aid. Populations would no longer be able to outrun the overshoot currently concealed by fossil fuels. That does not mean the effects would be the same everywhere; rural and traditional populations would be better placed to cope.
In most areas, reorganizing an energy-intense industrial civilization would be impossible. Even where existing political organizations persist, consumption would drop. Those in power would be unable to project force over long distances, and would have to mostly limit their activities to nearby areas. This means that, for example, tropical biofuel plantations would not be feasible. The same goes for tar sands and mountain-top removal coal mining. The construction of new large-scale infrastructure would simply not be possible.
Though the human population would decline, things would look good for virtually every other species. The oceans would begin to recover rapidly. The same goes for damaged wilderness areas. Because greenhouse emissions would have been reduced to a tiny fraction of their previous levels, runaway global warming would likely be averted. In fact, returning forests and grasslands would sequester carbon, helping to maintain a livable climate.
Nuclear war would be unlikely. Diminished populations and industrial activities would reduce competition between remaining states. Resource limitations would be largely logistical in nature, so escalating resource wars over supplies and resource-rich areas would be pointless.
This scenario, too, has its implementation and plausibility caveats. It guarantees a future for both the planet and the human species. This scenario would save trillions upon trillions upon trillions of living creatures. Yes, it would create hardship for the urban wealthy, though most others would be better off immediately. It would be an understatement to call such a concept unpopular (although the militants in this scenario would argue that fewer people will die than in the case of runaway global warming or business as usual).
There is also the question of plausibility. Could enough ecologically motivated militants mobilize to enact this scenario? No doubt for many people the second, more moderate scenario seems both more appealing and more likely.
There is of course an infinitude of possible futures we could describe. We will describe one more possible future, a combination of the previous two, in which a resistance movement embarks on a strategy of Decisive Ecological Warfare.