Deep Green Resistance: Going Beyond a Sustainable Lifestyle
"The task of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much personal integrity as possible; it is to dismantle those systems." -Lierre Keith
As a teenager, I considered myself globally conscious, following my mom’s advice to recycle for the sake of future generations, and donating to the World Wildlife Federation so I could get my cool set of stickers. In college, I joined Model United Nations and took a course on Environmental Policy, and I learned about how First World countries were helping Third World countries become agriculturally self-sufficient. I read Lester Brown’s books on saving the planet and dealing with the earth’s overpopulation.
After living in Austin for thirteen years, I’ve amped up my sustainable lifestyle. Instead of simply recycling, I try to reuse. Instead of buying a hybrid car (that I can’t afford anyway), I drive a 1983 Mercedes-Benz diesel that I hope one day to run on used cooking oil. When it breaks down I walk, bike or take the bus. Instead of buying misleadingly labeled organic packaged food from the corporate-owned supermarkets, I buy sustainably and locally grown meat, dairy and produce from the farmers markets and CSAs. I conserve electricity, water and gas at my house as much possible.
Because I’ve been making personal choices to lead a “greener” lifestyle, I felt I was being a responsible citizen of the planet. Recently, I learned about the group Deep Green Resistance, which has chapters throughout the United States and the world. Austin’s Deep Green Resistance states that the organization is for “Austinites who want to defend and rebuild just and sustainable human communities nestled inside repaired and restored landbases.” Deep Green Austin has held discussions on radical environmentalism, as well edible and medicinal plant walks.
I also discovered the book, by the same name, published in 2011 by the movements’ leaders: Aric McBay, Lierre Keith and Derrick Jensen. If you consider yourself an environmentalist and activist, or even an eco-friendly enthusiast, you must read Deep Green Resistance – it will change your views on how to protect our planet from human destruction.
The book begins by pointing out that 200 species a day are going extinct (Edward O. Wilson, The Future of Life, 1992 and Dan Olson, “Species Extinction Rate Speeding Up,” Minnesota Public Radio, 2005). Between the time that I started reading the book, and the time you are probably reading this article, it’s possible nearly 10,000 more species have gone extinct.
A polar bear should weigh 650 pounds to make it through the winter – in some areas, a female’s weight before hibernation has dropped to 507 pounds (“Two-Thirds of Polar Bears At Risk of Extinction by 2050,” Mongabay.com, 2007). The ice is evaporating like wetlands. Imagine a polar bear waking to impassable waters. She, and her babies, will drown. In parts of the Pacific, plastic outweighs plankton 48 to 1 (Jessica Leber, “Trash Course,” Audubon, 2008). If you don’t believe it, look up “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” on the Internet for some unimaginable photos.
One of the book’s authors, Aric McBay, reports that “tropical forests are being wiped out at a rate of 160,000 square kilometers per year…to walk that scar from end to end would take you eighteen months.” And it’s not just our animals and our land that we are killing. According to a 2007 article by ScienceDaily.com, researchers at Cornell University blamed 40 percent of all human deaths on water, air and soil pollution.
“But we can’t consume our way out of the environmental collapse; consumption is the problem,” says Lierre Keith. Lifestyle change doesn’t address the root of the problem. Even after considering all the “green” choices I’ve made, I am still consuming and using fossil fuels and participating in the industrialized system. I recently bought a pair of tennis shoes made in China. I am still guilty of taking unnecessarily long showers. I am still driving my car. The bus I take has carbon emissions. The bike I ride consumed energy and petroleum during its production.
If you go to the Earth Day 2012 website www.earthday.com, some of the top Take Action items include planting a garden at school or home, changing out your light bulbs, organizing an Earth Day event, eliminating the use of pesticides and toxic cleaning products and eating more local food. But we cannot simply take little steps when we feel inspired (once a year) and hope it will change the world. As Keith puts it, just because we do these things, “Polar bears everywhere [will not be] weeping with relief.” Refilling our tires and filling our dishwashers aren’t enough to keep the ice caps from melting – we have to act faster and with more impact than that.
“Green” and “sustainable” are merely buzzwords these days. “For ‘sustainable’ to mean anything,” says Keith, “we must embrace and then defend the bare truth: the planet is primary.” And our industrialized civilization is at complete odds with the planet. We cannot keep up this pace of living without ultimately destroying the earth. At best, by living sustainably, all we are doing is slowing down the process of destruction.
Many people, including some environmentalists, are banking on the hope that the masses will take voluntary action to save our planet. But how easily, and how soon, will people stop using electricity, driving their cars, or wanting access to cheap and convenient goods? The authors and leaders of Deep Green Resistance say that the only solution with any real impact is to dismantle industrial civilization. They believe the “the vast majority of the population will do nothing unless they are led, cajoled or forced.”
Some environmentalists believe it’s inevitable for the planet to, in a sense, wipe its slate clean and start over. After all, the history of civilizations is defined by collapse. These people feel nothing can be done beyond personal and local community preparation for energy descent. Some advocate building a lifeboat and hoping to come out of it alive.
Yet Deep Green Resistance authors Jensen, Keith and McBay feel that passively waiting for collapse shirks our responsibility toward future generations.
It’s a disturbing concept to consider, especially after I’ve grown up being taught by my family and society that one person can make a big difference. But once you start peeling away the top feel-good green layer of the “eco-friendly” movement, you realize there is a lot of environmental devastation that cannot be fixed easily, or quickly enough, with reusable grocery bags or solar panels. I used to have hope that a sustainable lifestyle would become trendy, and everyone in the world would be as giddy as I am about composting and learning to build tiny homes out of cob.
I understand what the leaders of the Deep Green Resistance mean when they say that voluntary action is not likely. Even at the office where I work, full of innovative start-ups and brilliant entrepreneurs, where everyone is college educated and supposedly progressive, most people are too lazy to walk ten feet to recycle a can. Do I try to keep chasing after everyone to put paper in the blue bin and bottles in the gray bin, and proselytizing about local food, or do I take my environmental efforts to the next level of radical action – ranging from political, social and economic noncooperation, to direct confrontation and conflict (which does includes violence).
It’s a difficult choice. Then again, revolutions were never won through Tweeting and signing petitions.