Notes from Earth at Risk and the Green Festival
by Adam Robbert
Yesterday I attended the fully-packed conference Earth at Risk: Building a Resistance Movement to Save the Planet at UCB’s Wheeler Auditorium. The talks were moderated by Derrick Jensen and featured other speakers including Lierre Kieth, Stephanie McMillan, Thomas Linzey, Aric McBay, Waziyatawin, and Arundhati Roy (Chris Hedges was also scheduled to speak but was unable to due to an illness).
Now, if you are familiar with any of the above named speakers, then you already have a sense of the tone and feeling of this conference. This was a conference designed for activists — people working in social justice movements for whom simply legislating and advocating are not enough. The general motif here being that physical and economic action, enacted through blockades, protests, and the dismantling of infrastructure, are the just and necessary moves a green resistance movement needs to make in order to have an impact on the trajectory of the current ecocrisis.
It is worth mentioning that, on the other side of the bay and occurring at the same time, was the decidedly more consumer-friendly “bright green” event happening at San Francisco’s annual Green Festival (an event I have attended in several years past). These two groups are an interesting case for comparison not so much because I think we should be policing emergent forms of “green” living — please the more the merrier — but rather because it just goes to show how diverse and situated ecological movements are.
I suspect, at the end of the day, we would find many points of commonality between the two events (I think we can call agree, for example, that mass extinction and climate change are both real events, are caused by industrial globalization, and need to be dealt with as soon as possible). But there are underlying differences here that one could point to, points which raise important and unresolved arguments about how to proceed as a society into the 21st century.
The Green Festival, for example, features “corporate sponsors” and “media innovators” ranging from Cliff Bars to Ford Trucks. Meanwhile, across the bay, the Earth at Risk folks are talking about physically dismantling industrial infrastructure, building above and underground networks of resistance, and emphasizing the importance of learning strategy through a thorough reading of history’s resistance movements (we heard historical anecdotes from indigenous resistance movements in the U.S., abolitionist activists during the civil war, the French resistance during the Nazi occupation of France, and the Jewish resistance within Nazi occupied Germany).
So, on the one hand, we have a kind of “green capitalism” being advertised within the usual channels, suggesting that capitalism (green capitalism is still just capitalism as far as I can tell) can stay if only we modify it slightly by giving consumers options to “go green,” and on the other we have a kind of “militant green anti-capitalism” which suggests we should make the recent Oakland general strike a regular pass time in our daily activities.
Without denying the important elements within both of these modes of ecological thinking (we do need coordinated, unsanctioned activism in the streets and we also need to understand how to interface the demands of an ecological society with the existing industrial and political infrastructure — it’s not going to disappear anytime soon) I think we can raise some criticisms.
First, I think its clear that if “green capitalism” means giving Ford trucks a pass because they use a limited amount of biodiesel fuel in their newer –and more expensive trucks — then we are in big trouble. Its not just that the idea of replacing fossil fuels with biofuels is empirically ridiculous but because biofuels raise their own own host of issues (e.g., the food vs. fuel debate, biodiversity loss, soil erosion, and deforestation etc.). These issues, of course, also have their own class dimensions (how are the burdens and benefits distributed throughout the world agricultural economy? Turning food into fuel has potentially highly destabilizing effects on global food distribution).
Likewise, if our best response to climate change and mass species extinction is to simply dismantle, by force, the Richmond Refinery (for example) then we are still going to be left with a mass of broken, malfunctioning industrial machinery (disaster after disaster has shown us that when big industrial machines break, everyone loses). What, then, is to be done with all of these enduring objects? If we dismantle all industrial machines, they will continue to sit, like cathedrals to industrialization, for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years on our hilltops and in our oceans, are we prepared for the damage that might occur when these machines stop working?
In many ways I find the appeal to this kind of aggressive dismantling unacceptable. Bringing down or transforming the industrial landscape, it seems, must be done with the same kind of mechanical precision with which it was initially constructed — a task that might be better served by an appeal to the ingenuity the Green Festival likes to promote. To be sure, no one at the conference was stressing violence against any individuals or groups (nonviolence was, somewhat ironically, raised as an important value more than once), yet the rhetoric seemed to ignore the potential complications of this kind of activism.
What is the way forward then? It is unclear. What is clear is that we will need a combination of activism physically altering the flow of resources through society and changing political policy at the populist level, combined with an innovative activist/design population building up alternatives that can be used by extant industrial populations to reduce their carbon footprints without magnifying the completely unacceptable, racist, and genocidal impacts of the world economy. And for heaven’s sake lets let the scientists help shape policy in the United States and abroad!
I have attached my notes from the conference below. There is some great stuff in there on postcolonial theory and activism, and on decolonizing the psyche. There are really deep issues happening at those interactions that people are only just beginning to untangle.
Earth at Risk – November 13th, 2011, Berkeley
Wheeler Auditorium, w/ Derrick Jensen
- 1. Aric McBay
- What would actually work? What strategies can be put in place? Petitions, electoral politics, signage/protesting. Environmentalists don’t think strategically – they don’t know what they want.
- Eliminating false hopes/illusions. Four different scenarios
i. No effective ecological resistance
- Rapid decline of industrial viability; increasing cost and decreasing supply of energy; market turmoil; economic contraction; intensification of exploitation, feudalism, fascism, slavery;
- Solar or wind power will not but sufficient, not feasible; most large scale manufacturing used on war, TVs, and cars.
- Biofuels/alternative energies funneled to the affluent at the expense of the rest of the world.
- Ecological remediation/climate mitigation will be impossible; global warming will become self-sustaining; resource wars between superpowers, nuclear strikes, drone battles. Ecological recovery measured into tens of millions of years; Earth shifts into a new climactic equilibrium.
- What does a plausible/victorious struggle look like?
- Remove the ability of the rich to steal from the poor; disrupt/dismantle industrial civilization.
i. Blockades, protests
- Defend and rebuild just and sustainable human communities. [Media ecology of cities???]
i. Growing food, rebuilding community and cultures of resistance.
iii. Combinations of political, economic, and physical force.
iv. Concrete and immediate goals/immanent harm = catalyst for action.
- “Decisive Ecological Warfare” Four phases (militant and moderate, underground and above ground, low risk and high risk); war mongering? All major resources (raw materials) are taken by force.
i. Phase 1: Networking and mobilization – building up a culture of resistance; extending diffuse networks that coalesce.
ii. Phase 2: Sabotage and Asymmetric Action – target selection criteria, training and real-world experience; Decisive actions are limited in scope and impact (above and underground); Demonstrate the feasibility of resistance.
iii. Phase 3: Target key points of specific industrial and economic systems to disrupt and disable them; accelerate industrial collapse; local foods and production become real alternatives; effect a measurable decrease in industrial activity.
- Activist Security Culture – Security Culture, a Handbook for Activists; “Don’t Talk to Cops Part 1, 2”
i. Above-ground and under-ground groups; firewall – no one should be a part of both organizations
- movements vs. networks; compartmentalized cells;
- The problem with “lifeboats” – the crisis is not short term.
- The small percentage of people on frontline resistance; about 2% as militant resistance.
- Empires coming to the end of their supply of surplus raw resources; decisive resistance built into the end of petroleum era.
- Stages of collapse; how will civilization cope? Industrial agriculture consumes only 2% of North American energy supplies where half of the food gets wasted;
- [Incrementalism vs. Revolutionism]
- Industrial collapse is better than ecological collapse; guiding the collapse in a constructive direction; changing consciousness takes too long; not a likely emergence of a mass movement in culture, proximity to dominant culture is too paralyzing in action.
- Can we build new infrastructure?
- 2. Waziyatawin
- Abstraction of the enemy; colonization of territory; active phases of colonization; ongoing genocide;
- Connection to abstractions; who is the enemy? How do you engage in resistance if you can’t identify the enemy?
i. The assumption that oppression is carried out by people, rather than objects.
ii. What does the face of an enemy look like?
iii. Economic imperialism; Religious imperialism; Militant Imperialism; Educational imperialism – distorts what the face of the enemy looks like.
- The installation of physical infrastructure “not the enemy” the people who put it there is [can we expand upon this OOO style?]
- The danger of the abstraction is that it becomes normalized, natural, permanent, and inevitable.
- The abstraction changes the nature of resistance; self-subjugated becomes internalized, self-perpetuating; modes of resistance when physical resistance becomes impossible; subject to the processes and bureaucracies of the colonial state; creating more distorted relationships with other beings in the “land base.”
- A diffusion of who is the enemy, is this part and parcel of the presence of dominant culture? Is a corporation diffused to the point of non-entity, Adolf Eichmann and the management of railroads to Nazi Germany. What is the impact of enormous bureaucratic states?
i. Differentiated from previous resistance/decolonization movements where the expansion of territory was more obvious [Language, Counter-Memory, and Practice – counter-memory as resistance].
ii. Building a culture of resistance attentive to the abstraction of the enemy
- What is right? What is the right action? Transition from “military” resistance to “prayer-based” resistance.
i. Blame on the resisting factions. Is the process of colonization similar to the process of prostitution/exploitation psychologically?
ii. When resistance is the lease desirable option. The effect of constant dread.
iii. The continual placing of indigenous, colored, and marginalized peoples on the frontline in both colonialist and anti-colonialist warfare. Settler populations that never want to risk anything.
- Not just the protection of plants, animals, top soils, but also people, their rituals, languages, and worldviews. [No undermining or overmining].
- How does the desire for justice get blunted? Material affluence can hide internal decay. A desire to continue enjoying prosperity without being disturbed. Numbness and the entertainment industry.
- Decolonizing our hearts and minds, decolonization of the self. What does this mean? The impact of colonization on indigenous peoples and the role of abstraction. Colonial oppression becomes naturalized and unrecognized and invisible. Oppression in another context can be easier to see then the oppression in your own mind, in the colonization of your own society.
- 370 million indigenous people around the world still practicing carbon-neutral social lifestyles. The impossibility of self-subsistence on colonized lands that have been exploited, stripped of natural abundance.