*Originally published in the Earth First! Journal in 2008
I hope it’s become obvious that civilization is ravaging the planet—and has been since its demonic spawning. Dead zones, caused by fertilizer runoff from industrial agriculture, are spreading across the world’s oceans. There are currently more than 400 documented examples. One, at the decayed mouth of the Mississippi River as it leads into the Gulf of Mexico, is approximately the size of New Jersey.
Fertilizer doesn’t stop fertilizing when it leaves a farm; it creates blooms of algae that suck oxygen from the water, making the area largely uninhabitable for other aquatic life. Coral reefs—biodiversity hotspots and “the rainforests of the ocean”—are dying and declining at alarming rates. We all know what’s happening to forests worldwide. We’re in the throes of the sixth mass extinction of plants and animals in Earth’s history. Not since the time of the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago, have species disappeared this fast. Earth went through numerous ice ages, as well as periods of tremendous fluctuation of temperature and topography, without such a plethora of extinction. To say, as a recent article in the EF! Journal did, that capitalism is the root of our ecological crisis is a massive oversight.
While capitalism is awful, it is hardly the root cause. Ask yourself: To house this ever-expanding, overblown human population, wouldn’t habitat and open spaces still be evaporating? If food were still being grown to feed billions of humans (and domesticated animals), with about 75 million more humans added every year, wouldn’t dead zones still be spreading, regardless of how egalitarian and non-hierarchical and “organically” the farms were run? You have to have petroleum-based fertilizers to feed this many mouths. And fertilizers equal dead zones.
Agriculture was the original ecological and cultural sin. With it came the widespread domestication and co-modification of animals, the origins of patriarchy, and fuel for the population crisis. As Collapse author Jared Diamond has said, agriculture is “a catastrophe from which we have never recovered.” Let’s face it, no matter which umbrella we huddle under, whether it’s capitalism, socialism or even anarchism, so long as civilization stands, the deluge will continue. Earth and all of her inhabitants will ultimately lose.
Let me make it absolutely clear that it is not my intention to disparage the fantastic work being done by those trying to reform aspects of the system. Gays do deserve equal rights. Forests do need to be saved from the chainsaw’s violence. Animals shouldn’t be tortured and killed in laboratories (or anywhere else). But the enormity of the situation we face requires steadfast honesty with others and ourselves. So, to be honest, now is really not the time to be fighting for table scraps on the deck of the Titanic. The fact is that life on Earth doesn’t have time for us to educate and convince the masses. Civilization needs to come down as soon as possible.
It sounds impossible—monolithic. The enormity of the task may threaten to crush us into submitting to the allure of reform, but we must resist. No compromise, right? Luckily, there are rays of life-giving sunlight shining through the dark clouds that envelop us all. The first is that the collapse is already happening on its own, and has been for a long time through climate chaos, topsoil depletion, peak oil, and so on ad infinitum. To use a Derrick Jensen phrase, civilization is indeed collapsing under the weight of its own ecological excesses. Earth is doing her damnedest to shrug the concrete and its ilk off her skin, to say nothing of the global financial meltdown!
The second piece of good news is that civilization’s armor is by no means impenetrable. It is like a steel rhinoceros standing on flamingo legs. Monolithic, but extremely vulnerable. Disrupt or destroy the cheap and smooth flow of just a few key resources—like ammonia and other necessities for industrial agriculture, electricity for computers and therefore the functioning of the global economy, oil for everything—and it crumbles apart more rapidly.
The full-on collapse is imminent. The critical questions are how many species and how much biodiversity will be left when this happens? How painful and prolonged will the recovery process be? How poisoned will the water, the air, the soil be? The longer civilization stands, the more unpleasant the answers will be. Many environmentalists and anarchists seem unwilling to consider an anti-civilization praxis. Whether this stems from ecological naiveté or some kind of cultural Stockholm syndrome (whereby we identify more with our industrial captors than with our land base and our communities) is irrelevant. Let’s start to think and, more importantly, act in ways that truly address the full gravity of the situation. The future of all life is at stake.