Preamble: Decisive dismantling of infrastructure goes a step beyond systems disruption. The intent is to permanently dismantle as much of the fossil fuel–based industrial infrastructure as possible. This phase is the last resort; in the most optimistic projection, it would not be necessary: converging crises and infrastructure disruption would combine with vigorous aboveground movements to force those in power to accept social, political, and economic change; reductions in consumption would combine with a genuine and sincere attempt to transition to a sustainable culture.
But this optimistic projection is not probable. It is more likely that those in power (and many everyday people) will cling more to civilization even as it collapses. And likely, they will support authoritarianism if they think it will maintain their privilege and their entitlement.
The key issue—which we’ve come back to again and again—is time. We will soon reach (if we haven’t already reached) the trigger point of irreversible runaway global warming. The systems disruption phase of this hypothetical scenario offers selectivity. Disruptions in this scenario are engineered in a way that shifts the impact toward industry and attempts to minimize impacts on civilians. But industrial systems are heavily integrated with civilian infrastructure. If selective disruption doesn’t work soon enough, some resisters may conclude that all-out disruption is required to stop the planet from burning to a cinder.
The difference between phases III and IV of this scenario may appear subtle, since they both involve, on an operational level, coordinated actions to disrupt industrial systems on a large scale. But phase III requires some time to work—to weaken the system, to mobilize people and organizations, to build on a series of disruptive actions. Phase III also gives “fair warning” for regular people to prepare. Furthermore, phase III gives time for the resistance to develop itself logistically and organizationally, which is required to proceed to phase IV. The difference between the two phases is capacity and restraint. For resisters in this scenario to proceed from phase III to phase IV, they need two things: the organizational capacity to take on the scope of action required under phase IV, and the certainty that there is no longer any point in waiting for societal reforms to succeed on their own timetable.
In this scenario, both of those phases save lives, human and nonhuman alike. But if large-scale aboveground mobilization does not happen once collapse is underway, phase IV becomes the most effective way to save lives.
Imagine that you are riding in a streetcar through a city crowded with pedestrians. Inside the streetcar are the civilized humans, and outside is all the nonhuman life on the planet, and the humans who are not civilized, or who do not benefit from civilization, or who have yet to be born. Needless to say, those outside far outnumber the few of you inside the streetcar. But the driver of the streetcar is in a hurry, and is accelerating as fast as he can, plowing through the crowds, maiming and killing pedestrians en masse. Most of your fellow passengers don’t seem to particularly care; they’ve got somewhere to go, and they’re glad to be making progress regardless of the cost.
Some of the passengers seem upset by the situation. If the driver keeps accelerating, they observe, it’s possible that the streetcar will crash and the passengers will be injured. Not to worry, one man tells them. His calculations show that the bodies piling up in front of the streetcar will eventually slow the vehicle and cause it to safely come to a halt. Any intervention by the passengers would be reckless, and would surely provoke a reprimand from the driver. Worse, a troublesome passenger might be kicked off the streetcar and later run over by it.
You, unlike most passengers, are more concerned by the constant carnage outside than by the future safety of the streetcar passengers. And you know you have to do something. You could try to jump out the window and escape, but then the streetcar would plow on through the crowd, and you would lose any chance to intervene. So you decide to try to sabotage the streetcar from the inside, to cut the electrical wires, or pull up the flooring and activate the brakes by hand, or derail it, or do whatever you can.
As soon as the other passengers realize what you are doing, they’ll try to stop you, and maybe kill you. You have to decide whether you are going to stop the streetcar slowly or speedily. The streetcar is racing along so quickly now that if you stop it suddenly, it may fling the passengers against the seats in front of them or down the aisle. It may kill some of them. But if you stop it slowly, who knows how many innocent people will be struck by the streetcar while it is decelerating? And if you just slow it down, the driver may be able to repair the damage and get the streetcar going again.
So what do you do? If you choose to stop the streetcar as quickly as possible, then you have made the same choice as those who would implement phase IV. You’ve made the decision that stopping the destruction as rapidly as possible is more important than any particular program of reform. Of course, even in stopping the destruction as rapidly as possible, you can still take measures to reduce casualties on board the streetcar. You can tell people to sit down or buckle up or brace themselves for impact. Whether they will listen to you is another story, but that’s their responsibility, not yours.
It’s important to not misinterpret the point of phase IV of this alternate future scenario. The point is not to cause human casualties. The point is to stop the destruction of the planet. The enemy is not the civilian population—or any population at all—but a sociopathological sociopolitical and economic system. Ecological destruction on this planet is primarily caused by industry and capitalism; the issue of population is tertiary at best. The point of collapsing industrial infrastructure in this scenario is not to harm humans any more than the point of stopping the streetcar is to harm the passengers. The point is to reduce the damage as quickly as possible, and in doing so to account for the harm the dominant culture is doing to all living creatures, past and future.
This is not an easy phase for the abovegrounders. Part of their job in this scenario is also to help demolish infrastructure, but they are mostly demolishing exploitative political and economic infrastructure, not physical infrastructure. In general, they continue to do what they did in the previous phase, but on a larger scale and for the long term. Public support is directed to local, democratic, and just political and economic systems. Efforts are undertaken to deal with emergencies and cope with the nastier parts of collapse.