All of this will come to nothing without direct action against infrastructure, without an actual resistance. Dissidence has never yet brought down a system of power, and it never will. We know what will happen without resistance: it’s happening now as mountains fall to monstrous greed, and this day dawned across oceans turned empty and acid.
And so, a story. It doesn’t begin with once upon a time, because it didn’t happen long ago. This is a story of a future, a future as fragile as the first line of dawn. Our protagonists aren’t built of blood and bone. They’re made of words gathered from whispers and dreams. And the rules of our grammar will rise as despair refuses its own eschatology. Because life wants to live: sturdy fact and fledgling miracle both. Life wants to live: our communion and our battle cry.
Our story begins on a day like today. Somewhere, the question happens: will you join me? The question is a risk, but weighed against the aching despair of another 200 species and twenty-nine degrees of heat, the risk is taken. The test of intellectual agreement and the trust of character will already have been established. All that’s left is for someone to ask it: will you join me?
The question is asked again, and then again, six times, ten times. The first meeting is held, tactics discussed, tasks disbursed. Someone’s job is to keep asking that one question, to find others, to multiply outward until there are enough.
Enough doesn’t mean just numbers. Enough means trained bodies, disciplined habits, dependable behavior, an unshakable moral core. Our lack of purpose is not our strength, it is our profound downfall, and this revolution is not for the hell of it. Enough means courage and an acceptance of the sacrifices that may well lie ahead. And enough also means thoroughly understanding the strategy we are proposing.
We are not the Weather Underground or the Red Army Faction. Jeremy Varon, in his history of both, writes, “1960s radicals were driven by an apocalyptic impulse resting on a chain of assumptions: that the existing order was thoroughly corrupt and had to be destroyed; that its destruction would give birth to something radically new and better; and that the transcendent nature of this leap rendered the future a largely blank or unrepresentable utopia.”31 DGR is not secular millennialism. The revolution is not nigh, general chaos is not going to bring it on, and essentially symbolic attacks on people or on property are of no strategic use. Cross those attacks—all of them—off the list now. This is true whether the targets are large or even monumental, or small and accessible. DGR is not a desperate call to act on whatever targets are at hand. If this is a struggle against an opponent with a scorched earth policy, then our strategy has to aim a wee bit higher than the windows of your local corporate outpost. So put away your bricks and spray paint: those are not weapons for the serious. From this point forward, we aim to be effective.
And because our detractors will be determined to misunderstand: DGR is also not a call for an armed insurgency. The idea is absurd. A few radical environmentalists could not possibly take on the US military. A DGR strategy does not include pitched battles, ever, or Theodore Roszak’s “fistfight with the nearest cop.” Our goal is not to bring down the US government or any government. The realm of broad and transformative political change is best left to the aboveground groups working on scales from the local to the international. Such campaigns demand mass movements and, in all probability, nonviolent tactics, and there are examples from around the world for study.
DGR is a fight against a singular enemy: industrial civilization. This makes us different from every other struggle in history. It has some similarities with the original Luddites (news flash: they were right). It also has overlap with indigenous peoples trying to forestall displacement—extinction—due to dams and mining. But those indigenous are mostly having to fight while rooted in place, protecting their land and their survival. They cannot win in pitched battles against the might of armies in the service of capitalist profits. MEND offers a more successful model for DGR, using the flexibility and surprise that are the strengths of a guerrilla strategy.
But because the enemy is not a military, we are left with wrenching ethical decisions. If there are people between us and our targets, they are not soldiers. We can say that civilization is a war against the living world, but that does not answer the moral dilemma of putting living beings at risk. I have no answer, only an emergency the size of land, sea, and sky. I never asked to be in this position. Insisting that there is still somewhere a win-win solution that leads the civilized to that voluntary transformation is a stance of willful denial against all the facts, and I cannot turn away from my moral agency to ease my moral agony. I am forced to weigh the fact that actions have consequences, sometimes dramatic and unpredictable ones, against Oxfam’s words on climate change: “The prospects are very bleak for hundreds of millions of people, most of them amongst the world’s poorest.”32 This is not a dilemma that I created. It is the dilemma I am trying with all I have to stop. I can’t put my longings for emotional ease and innocence above the emergency—biotic and human—to which history has abandoned us. All I can do is beg the people who might read this book: please do everything you can to spare all sentient life.
To those of you shaking your heads in horror: do you have enough bodies to shut down one-third of the oil industry and drive BP from this land? How about the whole industry and mountain-top removal along with it?
And I know that loosening our basic moral precepts also has consequences, especially when mixed with youth, fanaticism, and masculinity. The Remembrance Day bombing is an incident that stands in for too many. On November 8, 1987, the IRA exploded a bomb in Enniskillen (County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland) during a ceremony to honor veterans who fought in the British military in World War I. Eleven people died, most of them elderly women, and sixty-three people were injured. Danny Morrison, Sinn Fein’s spokesperson, said, “I was shattered, as I think many of our supporters were, to find the IRA was involved.”33 A second bomb, four times larger, mercifully failed to explode at another ceremony, this one led by Boys’ and Girls’ Brigades. The IRA’s strategy, as stated in their Green Book training manual, includes “a war of attrition against enemy personnel.” That would be the British army, not the Girls’ Brigade. There was a “universal wave of anger and disgust” along with statements of outrage from politicians in the Republic of Ireland.34 It would take fourteen years for Sinn Fein’s electoral support to recover. The IRA leadership disavowed the bombing and the entire Fermanagh Brigade was stood down. Three IRA units were behind the bombs, and as many as thirty IRA volunteers were involved in setting up the explosives. Out of all those men, not one thought to talk sense into the others?
The communiqué from the IRA claimed that British army troops and Royal Ulster Constabulary were the intended targets. No one accepted their rationale. This action didn’t go wrong—it was wrong. Neither a willful targeting of civilians nor such callous disregard for collateral damage are morally acceptable. To refer back to our earlier diagram, this action was neither just nor strategic.
There is no reason for a resistance to make these mistakes. But even in writing this, I am reminded of a commentator who, in regards to the Enniskillen bombing, spoke of “the grimly metaphysical tone of the debates about death … that tries to distinguish between justified and unjustified political killings.”35 I know all the ways this can go wrong, how easily extremism unmoors its own moral compass. And I also know that my planet is dying, with the most vulnerable always first in line.
No one who does not feel the burden of the moral risks of serious action should be making these decisions. Extremism has its own addictive thrills; violence feeds masculinity too easily, and the human heart is quite capable of justifying atrocity. And I also know that decisions have to be made, life-and-death decisions, the decisions of the desperate. For those without the stamina, better work awaits. But for the desperate, pick leaders with more character than charisma, and never forget the goal, the strategy, and the real target. A forester once said to me, “The day you stop being afraid of a chainsaw is the day you stop using one.” Remember explosives directed at the Girls’ Brigade: the day you go numb to morality is the day to stop making moral decisions.
DGR has a very different goal from anticolonial struggles. The Green Book, for instance, puts the goal of those struggles clearly: “To make the six counties … ungovernable except by colonial military rule.” This has no parallel in the Decisive Ecological Warfare strategy we are describing: none. DEW has only that one goal at the heart of its strategy: to disrupt and dismantle industrial civilization and to thereby remove the ability of the powerful to exploit the powerless and to destroy the planet.
Our actionists are not trying to change consciousness. They’re not trying to get press. They’re not after a new government or a seat at a political table. They are trying to stop the burning of fossil fuels and industrial-scale destruction of the life-support systems of their planet. That is the goal of DGR, and DEW is their strategy.
The infrastructure of industrial civilization is both vulnerable and accessible, but the environmental movement is not used to thinking in terms of infrastructure. This is the language of war, not petitions. But it is long past time for this war to have two sides. To date, environmentalists have not suggested the level of engagement that we’re discussing here, though surely in the long hours between midnight and dawn others have longed for it.
And surely there are some that don’t just long, but believe. If those few start thinking like a resistance, it might be possible. And that possibility holds the whole future.
The underground cells that form are unlikely to connect into a single network, given the realities of surveillance technologies and the atomized nature of modern life. But a few networks the size of MEND could easily be built, backed up by stand-alone affinity groups. Those cells and networks would take their training, their leaders, and their security seriously. Resistance is not a game for hopeful children or overwrought adolescents of whatever age. Above all, these groups would understand the grand strategy of DEW.
The resistance’s organization is likely to be fractured. The unconnected networks will not be able to coordinate but they can still act in concert and multiply each other’s efforts. They can only do this, though, if they understand the overall strategy of DEW, which is why strategy is the beating heart of our actionists’ training.
The infrastructure of fossil fuels would be their highest priority, and the nodes with the densest criticality are their best targets. Those targets have two factors that have got to be weighed. The first is access: can it be reached? The second is moral: should it be done? Are there risks to sentient life that are unacceptable? And what counts as unacceptable?
The deepest wish of my weary soul is that that question could answer itself with the simple relief of never, that no action that included such risks should be considered. I understand people who need to answer with that, and I respect that our ultimate decisions both ache and diverge. I also know that the strategy that eases that ache will not work in the time our planet—200 species today—has left.
Ten minutes on the Internet will tell anyone where the oil comes from, where the tankers dock, where the refineries blister in clumps along the coasts. All of this information is easy, and public, and obvious.
And right now, as I write this, the BP Deepwater Horizon accident is still pouring oil into the ocean, unleashing a smothering hell. The first seabird, a brown pelican, recently taken off the endangered species list, was found covered in oil, the first leatherback turtle found gasping for air. By the time this book waits in your hands, who knows how many casualties there will be, the collateral damage of everyday life in this culture.
And the part no one is talking about, the facts that mean nothing because the environmental movement doesn’t think like a resistance: a year after Katrina, 12 percent of the oil and 9.5 percent of the natural gas production had stopped for good.36 The facilities haven’t been rebuilt because the reserves left aren’t worth the costs of construction. But you and your fictional friends understand: actions against infrastructure will get less desultory every year.
In our story, both the laws of physics and the reality of economics hold true. A few more minutes of research will yield maps, gas and oil pipelines, the rail lines that carry coal. A few more, the addresses of corporate headquarters. Another search reveals a tiny handful of factories that make the monstrous equipment for mountaintop removal. Once more: those sites could be shut down using civil disobedience, but unless you have a nonviolent army of thousands, all that you and your twenty friends will accomplish is a morning of symbolic action. But thinking like a resistance, you and your twenty friends could stop mountaintop removal.
Will they build it back? A lot of it. And the resistance will bring it down again because that’s what resistance movements do. Will someone get caught? Probably, but there are others ready to take their place. Will there be consequences and fallout that no one foresaw? Yes. Releasing mink from European fur farms has devastated ground-dwelling birds and native mink populations. Someone more knowledgeable could have predicted that, but the liberators didn’t know and didn’t ask. DEW requires cadres, not just combatants, people who will research, study, and think. But in the end, all the planning in the world will not save DGR actionists from the moral grief and adult sorrow that our responsibilities hold.
What would be the unwelcome consequences of industrial sabotage? Flammable materials do not always play well with others, so utmost care must be taken if oil and gas infrastructure are targeted. Environmentally, the risks could be quite minimal, as pipelines have control houses as well as shut-off valves. Washington State, as one example, requires leak detection systems that can locate a leak of 8 percent of maximum flow within fifteen minutes or less. In some places, the figure is 2 percent.
Targeting the Internet would take more specialized skill, so its accessibility is limited, but it’s a target that involves no risks to sentient beings. To be clear: the Internet does not exist so people can tag each other on Facebook. It was originally created for the military, and was quickly adopted by corporations. It’s what makes the vast and instant transfer of capital possible; without it, there would be no globalization. And the electric grid is 300,000 critical kilometers of accessibility. Even intermittent disruption could bring industrialization to a near halt.
And every day of that halt is that much less carbon in the sky, that much more breathing room for bison and black terns, that much more of a chance for the poor the world over whose lives and lands are being gutted by weapons made of power and wealth. Poor people are not hungry for lack of American imports. They’re being driven off their land and into starvation by the dumping of cheap agricultural commodities. Six corporations essentially control the world food supply, and they’ve wrecked self-sufficient subsistence economies the world over. The sooner the imports of the grain cartels are stopped, the more likely it will be that the impoverished can reclaim their land and their lifeways. Remember that the poor are impoverished because the rich are stealing from them. On our planet right now, the wealthiest 20 percent (that would include you and me) account for 76.6 percent of all private consumption. The poorest fifth get just 1.5 percent.37 The authors of this book have been accused of suggesting genocide: meanwhile, the genocide is happening now. Anything that stops the rich can only ease the burdens on the poor, including the burden of starvation.
And every disruption in daily life in the rich countries helps break through the denial that this way of life is stable and permanent. Remember, the end is inevitable: anything that encourages people to start preparing will ease our collective way into energy descent with less suffering. Nothing that our actionists do is going to bring industrial civilization crashing down in twenty-four hours. DEW will not result in sudden mass starvation, here or abroad. It will result in disruptions, and if it works, those disruptions will become more or less permanent over a few years’ time.
The disruptions of DEW will give the global rich an opportunity to realize the vulnerability inherent in their dependence on industrial civilization, and start rebuilding the resilient communities that are the core project of the Transition Town movement. The need for those local economies and local democracies is urgent from the impending reality of peak oil and catastrophic climate change. The faster we can make the industrially cushioned feel that urgency, the more time they will have to prepare. It takes time to learn to grow food, to accumulate skills, and build the required infrastructure. It takes even more skills and infrastructure to create a functioning democracy.
And never forget there are other people being hurt right now, people who have no choice about oil or coal or iPods, starting with a brown pelican and a leatherback turtle. They have a right to not be choking on sludge, and they have a right to a future for their children as well. They have no choice about denial or preparation, and no possible transition to a way of life on a planet too many degrees hotter than anything their ancestors knew.