An Open Letter to Fellow Environmentalists

19 Mar

This open letter was written by a member of Deep Green Resistance Colorado, and was influenced and informed by Deep Green Resistance and the work of Paul Kingsnorth, Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Aric McBay, and Jack Forbes, among many other sources and experiences.

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The earth isn’t dying; it is being killed. And “clean energy” will only make things worse.

I should probably begin by introducing myself; my name is Alex, and I’m a recovering renewable energy advocate. For years, I was a victim of desperation and hope; I petitioned and parlayed, chanted and canvassed; I brimmed with excitement at the prospect of “green jobs” and a “renewable energy economy.” I still see much of myself in many of you.

I know what it’s like. I know exactly how it feels to look around and see a world not just dying but being suffocated, being tortured and maimed, sacrificed on the twin altars of profit and production. As a young person today, I know what it’s like to fear the future, to fear for my future. I—like many of you—have read all the studies and reports I need to see to know what’s coming, what disaster is now screaming, all but unchallenged, down the track upon us.

I know what it’s like to want a way out, a path from this desert of despair to something, anything that will shift us from the deadly course our society is on, some simple solution, the kind of sane idea that even a politician could support.

Like many of you, for years I thought “clean energy” was the answer to the despair that weighs heavier on our collective shoulders and conscience every day. It seemed realistic. It seemed achievable. It seemed aesthetic. And most importantly, I thought it would save the planet.

And I was dedicated whole-heartedly. When I was 14, I volunteered with The Climate Project, a grassroots climate-education initiative created by Al Gore to “awake the masses” to the threat of global warming. I went to classrooms, churches and community centers for years, preaching the good gospel of “green” energy, that we just needed to elect some compassionate democrats. I wrote letters to the editor, hoping to inspire people to be climate voters. I went to city council to beg, and organized protests to demand that the authorities swap the local coal plant for some 21st century renewable energy.

I could see it in my dreams and the artistic renderings of would-be developers; big white windmills peppered across the rolling plains and prairie, slowly making their dutiful rotations & smooth revolutions, a clean and green revolution themselves. All buildings could be fitted with solar panels and to a biker passing by, the deep blues of the PV’s would roll by like the bottoms of the oceans no longer choking in oil. It was beautiful.

Unfortunately, none of it was—nor is—true. Those visions and daydreams were—and are—entirely out of touch with reality, for nothing is made in a vacuum.

My dreams didn’t include the tens of millions of migratory birds and bats massacred each year by windmills1, whose deaths are not justified by my being able to watch ‘Jersey Shore.’

My dreams didn’t include the reality that sun and wind conditions are ever changing and “renewable” generation systems must be run in synch with fossil fuel systems in case the wind stops or it gets cloudy2.

They didn’t include the mining of the minerals necessary to build these magic energy machines, which permanently destroys mountains and landscapes, leaching mercury and lead into watersheds.

They didn’t include the radioactive and carcinogenic waste produced by the manufacture of wind turbines, nor the Chinese farmers who’ve seen their land, animals, and families drop like too many flies from the pollution3.

They didn’t include the inevitable dilemma of an economic system that requires constant and endless growth with the reality of a finite planet (and thus finite amounts of gallium, indium, and silicone).

My perfect world was anything but; nevertheless, for some reason, I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that a world run by solar and wind power (or hydro or geothermal or biofuels or every other potential source I’ve ever heard of) would of necessity be a world with a global industrial mining infrastructure, along with all the horrible pollution and problems it encompasses. It would also, of necessity, be a world with a global industrial manufacturing industry. It would, again of necessity, be a world with a global transportation infrastructure.

Now step back for a moment; these are all things that we’re already protesting, destructive agendas which we’re already fighting—and losing—battles. Mining, manufacturing, and global transportation—these are all inherently destructive and polluting.

For the past 5 years, I believed in the “inspiring audacity” of renewable energy with a passion to rival Al Gore or Bill MicKibben.

Yet if we preach a holy trinity of “wind, sun and hydro” because we believe they provide relief from an already collapsing biosphere, where does this leave us?

We call ourselves environmentalists; we call ourselves guardians and protectors, defending against the likes of Exxon-Mobil. But what is it you’re defending? Is it civilization? Is it the economy? Is it the sterile and plastic world you now call home?

Or are you defending—with your words, actions, and body—life? Maybe, like some of us, you’re fighting for a world where children can breathe the air and drink the water; a world where their bodies aren’t bombarded with chemicals and carcinogens from the day they’re born. Maybe, what you want is a world without deforestation, a world where forests are recognized for the living communities that they are. Maybe you want a world that isn’t being destroyed, but is more alive each year than the year before.

In the words of a recovering environmentalist, “destruction minus carbon does not equal sustainability.4” Destruction minus carbon is still destruction, and it is destruction upon which industrial civilization is based.

Erecting wind turbines won’t stop the systematic deforestation of the Pacific Northwest or desertification of the Amazon; it won’t stop fresh-water wells from drying up in India; it won’t stop trawlers from vacuuming up ocean life and replacing it with plastic; it won’t stop Monsanto from “Monsanto-ing.”

Building wind turbines will, however, force us to destroy whole mountain ranges with explosives and bulldozers to get the needed minerals and metals; it will create 5 mile-wide lakes of carcinogenic and radioactive sludge that will seep into the land, poisoning animals and people, and it will kill hundreds of millions of birds each year.

Coincidentally, it will also require us to build and maintain coal or natural gas plants, because wind output isn’t reliably consistent5; hence I find it difficult to see ANY good coming from wind power.

Solar is the same way. Paving the American southwest or the Sahara with photovoltaics and wiring the world won’t stop cotton growers in Arizona from draining the Colorado River dry; it won’t stop vivisectors from torturing dogs, cats, rabbits, monkeys and countless others in the name of “progress”; it won’t stop the ceaseless march of cities and development across what little wild remains in this world.

However those same solar panels will expand slave labor in the Congo6. They (I say “they” as if solar panels were somehow more alive and sentient than the very real and very living beings whose homes are destroyed to make room for them) will require a global industrial transportation and manufacturing infrastructure. They will foster more economic imperialism2.

And just like those messianic wind turbines, solar PV output is unpredictable and inconsistent, meaning that we’ll have to keep our fossil fuels anyway2!

It’s time to stop the lies. It is time to see support for “renewable energy” for what it is—the continuation of a dominating and oppressive economic and social system that murders and enslaves people around the world, and that is systematically destroying and dismantling life on earth.

As much as it may hurt, it needs to be said; renewable energy will destroy the natural world as surely as Chevron. There are no industrial or technologic solutions to the death machine of industrial society that is swallowing whole what remains of this planet’s—our planet’s—most   vital and fundamental life support systems.

Before the arrival of industrial civilization on this continent, you could breathe the air and drink the water. A short 500 years later, every single mother in the world has dioxin (a chemical commonly called “the most toxic in the world”) in her breast milk, 98% of forests have been destroyed, half of all men and one third of all women now get cancer7, and the Colorado River no longer reaches the ocean. Neither wind farms nor a “Solartopia™” will fix any of these things.

We cannot afford to waste any more time or energy. We must confront the reality of our situation, that industrial civilization is predicated on the death of the natural, living world.

For us, the question now becomes; do we want hairdryers, or do we want safe water? Do we want HD televisions, or do we want migratory songbirds? Do we want ten episodes of “The Simpsons” at the click of a mouse, or do we want mountains? Do we want “e-readers,” or do we want a world without lakes of radioactive waste? Do we want our lifestyles of privilege and consumption, or do we want a living planet? Because in spite of our daydreams and delusions, we can’t kill this planet and live on it too.

I write this as an open letter to environmentalists, but to be honest, it isn’t truly an open letter. Many  of you (probably most)will continue to call for these unsustainable forms of energy, despite knowing that to do so is to beg murder upon the migratory birds, the (very few remaining) unpolluted streams, rural Chinese farmers, and ultimately upon what remains of the living world. Many of you don’t want a truly sustainable way of life, but to sustain a functionally unsustainable civilization. Many of your salaries and personal identities depend on “clean energy,” and you won’t dare challenge it. And for me, this is incredibly saddening and disheartening, as I know many such people. So this letter is not written to you.

This letter is addressed with the utmost intimacy to those of you who are like I am; who yearn for a just world, a world without cancer, and lakes of toxic sludge, imperialism, or murdered birds.  This letter is addressed to those of you who want a living world, to those who know in the most profound places of your heart that the needs of the natural world MUST come before the needs of an economic system.

In the end, I can only speak for myself. I know what I choose; I choose a world that has wild trout and bison. I choose a world with mountains. I choose a world where I can breathe the air and drink the water and see the stars at night. I choose a world with more monarch butterflies each year than the year before. I choose a world where no one dies or is killed so I can play fantasy football—and if that means a world without fantasy football (SPOILER ALERT: it does), then so be it.

Our collective fantasy of renewable energy as a savior come to forgive us of our sins is just that; a fantasy, and whether we want to acknowledge it or not, this way of life is over, and “clean energy” is totally and entirely incapable of saving it.

Industrialism, with its imperatives of growth & production, must be abandoned. Those systems which are destroying the planet—industrial agriculture, the extractive industries (industrial mining, fishing, logging, etc), the fossil fuel infrastructure, and exploitative systems of power—must be strategically dismantled and replaced by independent cultures of direct democracy that are fully integrated with their land bases and local ecosystems. The Earth cannot afford any alternative, for the alternative is to let the dominant culture consume what little remains of the natural world.

Preserving life—in any meaningful sense of the word—will require bringing an end to the perceived entitlement to live in a way that destroys the living systems of the earth. As Lierre Kieth says,

“For ‘sustainable’ to mean anything, we must embrace and then defend the bare truth: the planet is primary. The life-producing work of a million species is literally the earth, air, and water that we depend on…If we use the word ‘sustainable’ and don’t mean that, then we are liars of the worst sort: the kind who let atrocities happen while we stand by and do nothing.8

What do you want? Because we can’t have it all.

Where do you draw the line? Because ultimately there can be no justice—for humans or the earth—in an industrial society.

Where does your loyalty lie? These aren’t theoretical questions; they are some of the most important things we need to be asking ourselves right now. What is sacred to you—a living world, or central heating? Hold that question close, and whisper it to your heart; it’s time for an answer.

And it’s time to act on that answer, to carve out our purpose and forge resilience, to plant our feet firmly on the earth and defend our only home with our lives; for nothing else will do.

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(1) Canada Free Press. “Spanish wind farms kill 6 to 18 million birds & bats a year.” Canada Free Press: Conservative, News, Politics, Editorials, Newspaper. http://www.canadafreepress.com/index.php/article/43904 (accessed March 5, 2012).

(2) Leith, Lierre, Aric McBay, and Derrick Jensen. “Other Plans.” In Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, 201-204. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011.

(3) Parry, Simon, and Ed Douglas. “In China, the true cost of Britain’s clean, green wind power experiment: Pollution on a disastrous scale | Mail Online.” MailOnline. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1350811/In-China-true-cost-Britains-clean-green-wind-power-experiment-Pollution-disastrous-scale.html (accessed March 5, 2012).

(4) Kingsnorth, Paul. “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist | Orion Magazine.” Orion Magazine. http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/6599 (accessed March 5, 2012).

(5) American Daily Herald. “Two-year Study in UK Finds Wind Power Unreliable and Inefficient.” American Daily Herald. http://www.americandailyherald.com/world-news/europe/item/two-year-study-in-uk-finds-wind-power-unreliable-and-inefficient?category_id=140 (accessed March 5, 2012).

(6) Leslie, Zorba, Jody Sarich, and Karen Stauss. “The Congo Report: Slavery in Conflict Minerals.” Free the Slaves. www.freetheslaves.net/Document.Doc?id=243 (accessed March 4, 2012).

(7) American Cancer Society, Inc.. “Lifetime Risk of Developing or Dying From Cancer.” American Cancer Society :: Information and Resources for Cancer: Breast, Colon, Prostate, Lung and Other Forms. http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerBasics/lifetime-probability-of-developing-or-dying-from-cancer (accessed March 7, 2012).

(8) Keith, Lierre, Aric McBay, and Derrick Jensen. “The Problem.” In Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, 25. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011.

34 Responses to “An Open Letter to Fellow Environmentalists”

  1. john salko March 19, 2012 at 7:09 pm #

    I think the above article is the way it really is and we are in a catch 22. Large industrial systems require large amounts of rescources and so do people and there lies the problem. Its really impossible to change anything and even if we could, what would we change? We are trapped by time and events much like the Earth is captured by the sun.

    • D G March 21, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

      So, besides endless hand wringing, what are real solutions? What exactly is being attacked by abandoning “industrialism”? I get the vague impression that it is the beyond human scale of machines, and of society. If so, how many people must die to achieve a pastoral carrying capacity? Will you be one to go willingly? Sometimes, I think writers like this want the end to be nigh, for me, but not for them.

      Maybe we can turn our backs on civilization, join a closed sustainable non-mechanical farm and do nothing about the rest, letting them die off on their own. The collapsitarian agenda of Orlov, Kunstler, and Jensen is barren. Believe me, I have lived it before.

      So, my parting question is, is the Long Descent something collapsitarians want, or just see as inevitable? If it is something you want, great. Just let me know before I expend anymore time thinking about dystopia. I will take a more optimistic approach of a managed descent. Using less solar and wind power and dematerializing our society, while recycling everything into a more reasonable level of comfort is my plan.

      The rate of population growth is turning down everywhere there is policital stability. More and more people are practicing transition lifestyles, relearning community and enjoying our way to a better, less materially obsessed future. That is my utopian hope!

      Imagine turning all the old fossil fuel infrastructure into less of everything. That is a conversation that’s worth having!
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_wind_power

      • Prof SK April 5, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

        I didn’t find any reference in the article to killing people or living on non-mechanical farms. That said, DG, I understand your reactionary response. Clean energy mythologies are what we tell ourselves when we either don’t know what to do, or when we don’t like the simple truth of what we must do.

        The actions and decisions made today according to our immediate perspectives will be the history of people in the future. I think our reformed environmentalist and clean energy advocate has found out the hard facts about something that he “believed” in. People always need to be careful about the line between knowledge and belief.

        Facts: human activities can and perhaps necessarily do cause damage to the environment.

        The rational approach to these facts is self control of the activities to mitigate the damages to a level the environment can recover from.

        Activism for Change: Say NO.
        Be very clear that LESS coal use next year and every year after is the objective. (Not more wind turbines, less coal).
        Be very clear that regeneration of environments, one river or reef or forest valley at a time, is the goal, and that every single square meter of remaining natural environment left is too precious to allow ANY kind of development.
        Be very clear that less mineral extraction next year and every year after is the objective.
        Be very clear that less water use and less waste disposal every year is the goal.
        These types of up-stream requirements are easy to evaluate, regulate, monitor, measure, achieve through policy. Quotas. Then the economy will work out how to deal with it, and if it makes sense to have some kind of i-phone in that context of declining inputs, then they will be in the market. The ratcheting quota system would have to continue until the risks are reduced to a manageable level.

        If all of the “clean energy” activists of the past 30 years had been focusing their energies on upstream solutions, hard resource constraints and quota implementation, then there might have been change in the right direction. I didn’t seen the light either. Like so many others I was distracted by more efficient, cleaner, more optimistic un-sustainability. Now I work in a focused way on reducing and eliminating what is the most dangerously un-sustainable rather than thinking that there is anything that is sustainable.

      • Iuval Clejan April 12, 2012 at 1:34 pm #

        “So, besides endless hand wringing, what are real solutions?”
        There are three that I’m aware of. The first is going back to a pre-industrial technology, village scale. There are several places that are serious about this, the one I know in the US is near LaPlata MO.
        There are a few in europe, the oldest ones were started by a disciple of Ghandi by the name of Lanza del Vasto. The one in MO is called the Possibility Alliance. They have made great strides in agriculture and non-violent human interactions, but still not much in terms of grains and beans and food from cattle. And their technology infrastructure is still in its infancy (e.g. no blacksmiths yet).
        The second is primitivism, but as far as I know it is mostly theoretical at this point. People are trying to relearn ancient technical survival skills. But they are not anywhere close to creating sustainable human populations.

        Both of these might actually take generations to produce a livelihood independent of industrial technology and it seems like they may not produce the carrying capacity needed to sustain current population levels.

        The third solution is what I call the Luddite Manhattan Project. Instead of building a weapon, let us collaboratively and intensely build a solution to the enviro-social-spiritual problems we face. Let us use the tools of the prison to get out of prison (didn’t Jensen say this at some point?). Let us use computers to figure out, in a place-dependent manner, how a village-scale technology ecosystem, can interact sustainably with the natural ecosystem, and also produce basic needs (while computers, bicycles, solar panels, batteries, and solar/hydro/wind electronics, and cars can continue to be produced by current industrial system, but at a much smaller rate, partially because this solution will ensure a much smaller rate is needed) for its human inhabitants. I want to get Will Wright to help create SimVillage. It will calculate how to satisfy caloric needs, soil fertility needs, material needs for shelter and clothes, how to store and transport water, how to make medicine, and most importantly, how to network the hundreds or thousands of people producing basic goods in this village so that everyone is employed in a humane way and all basic needs are satisfied. It’s a technological networking problem, not an economics problem, though the game could include economic scenarios as well. It will include mostly pre-industrial technology, but maybe some innovations too (e.g. rocket stoves). For a fuller description of what I have in mind, and how it can go beyond simulation into real life implementation, please email me: clejan.iuval@gmail.com. I would also like feedback and welcome discussion from people who disagree with this approach.

    • carter glass May 24, 2017 at 6:13 am #

      I am fully aware of what would happen if we became violent before the Government were to attack. They would impose martial law. But if they attack us first in a blatant and obvious way, we have the right and obligation in order to dismantle the system that is oppressing us. Violence is the last resort.

  2. Dave Ewoldt April 4, 2012 at 12:19 pm #

    It’s good to see more people waking up and realizing that slapping band-aids on symptoms instead of dealing with the root cause isn’t going to change much–if anything–for the better.

    But it’s also not going to do us any good in the long run to go to the other extreme. Humans are naturally innovative and inquisitive. Progress is actually part of the direction of life. What we’ve allowed to occur is for the industrial mindset to subvert this reality to its exclusive benefit. What we must do is put it back into service for life.

    Energy production in a sustainable future will be clean and renewable. But it must occur within a truly sustainable framework. Which means it must start with an honest carrying capacity analysis, and an honest conversation of the differences between standard of living and quality of life.

    As this post should make clear, industrial renewable is an oxymoron. Anything that keeps the centralized distribution of national grids humming along is a bad idea. Distributed generation at the neighborhood level using vertical shaft wind turbines is one possible alternative. This can be combined with micro-hydro and various types of solar along with a storage technology designed to be non-toxic and recyclable–which themselves must be combined with a redevelopment of the built environment to be harmoniously integrated into a living world. Richard Register’s ecocities and permaculture design principles provide a starting point for this necessary work.

    But we must also let the human population naturally fall to sustainable levels instead of supporting a paradigm that demands pumping out ever more producers and consumers. It must also be understood that the majority of the stuff produced by the Industrial Growth Society serves no purpose but generating profit. And infinite profit on a finite planet means that wars of imperialism will be necessary until there is no one left to fight them and nothing left to fight for. Steady-state or ecological economics provide an alternative here.

    Consumption (this used to be considered a disease) has been accepted as an acceptable substitute for psychological and spiritual health and well-being. The concept that humans can “own” the Earth, or even small pieces of it, is another basic flaw that is ingrained in our jurisprudence. The alternative here is basing our governance on an Earth jurisprudence.

    So, to me, whether or not we produce energy, renewable or otherwise, can’t be dealt with until we’re willing to address population, consumption, and ownership. Because I fully agree with a basic premise of this post: The manner in which green jobs or a green economy is being presented by mainstream enviros today is just a way to protect and perpetuate the status quo of a death culture. A culture that continues to see Earth as an endless supply of resources and a bottomless pit for waste is fundamentally at odds with the fundamental laws of physics, and has no future.

    True justice is not possible without sustainability, and without justice there will be no peace. In order to meet an ecologically sound definition of sustainability, our future must be based on ecological integrity, social justice, economic equity, and participatory democracy. It must function in adherence with the core natural systems principles from which sustainable ecosystems emerge, and must be congruent with the prime activity of living systems–the tendency to self-organize into mutually supportive relationships that support the web of life.

    And because humans are a natural part of nature, not apart from it, we embody the wisdom to do so. Yes, it is badly atrophied, but it’s still there, and can be rekindled.

  3. dido April 7, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

    alex go for it the world needs to hear this. you are a great writer and can say it in a way that works. i want to hear more from you. can you write more about what it would look like to you, if we create some way of living that works for our planet? i believe one thing we don’t have enough of is visions of what we can create, that is an alternative to growth economics. if more people could see another way, we might get more hopeful action happening.

  4. John Saunders April 10, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Wow like the effort and passion as a maybe a bit older man I see it from the view of a person that grew up with the cold war as a back drop. So I view any hope as an improvement. I have very out of this world ideas of our potential energy production. I do agree with your emphasis on positive living and the necessity for it. I hope the author of this can contact me so we can expand on our ideas.

  5. Jonathan Hontz May 8, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    I agree with you on pretty much every point except one. It’s more semantic than anything else, but we are not actually killing the planet: we are killing ourselves and probably a good number of other living things (however we define the word “living”). The planet will survive us, no matter how inhospitable or uninhabitable we ultimately make it. It may resemble Venus when we’re done with it, but in a few million years’ time it will probably return to life and vigor until the sun decides it’s time to quit.

    For all practical purposes, I suppose it could be said that we’re killing the planet, but it’s not as precise as I think we should be. The import of such a distinction is that rather than working to protect the planet in the we’re-killing-it phrasing, we would work to protect ourselves. It turns out that the ultimate way to do that is to respect that we all come from Earth and return to it. The more careful we are to ensure that Earth is able to support us, the better off we are.

    I prefer to view the earth not as a victim, but as our source. We are the victims of our own foolishness. The earth will go on.

  6. Forrest Palmer May 13, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    Beautiful…nothing more needs to be said…period…except, THANK YOU…

  7. Garrett Connelly May 13, 2012 at 7:58 pm #

    Write on beautiful writer.

  8. klem May 14, 2012 at 10:26 am #

    I couldn’t agee more. I am an old school environmentalist, and I am against wasteful wind turbines, solar panels, nuclear power,etc. All the things that todays greenies hold dear. We used to protest nuclear power, and we were successful. No new nuclear staions were built, but coal power stations were built instead. Now todays environmentalists protest the coal stations and now nuclear power stations are going to be built. All of our work was for nothing.

    I can’t stand by and watch birds being choppped to ribbons by wind turbines. My green brethren remain silent about this. I can’t. So I don’t fit in with today’s environmental movement, I’m a turn coat, I’m scum. But I still want clean air, land and water. I’m old school.

  9. Get real, focus on the stuff that works May 17, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    First: I have an Msc in Environment and Natural resources.

    That being said, I find your “open letter” completely rubbish. Full of factoids, references to media only (NO scientific publishing whatsoever!) and a twisted, reactionary view of the real world (which won’t serve anyone any good). I only hope that most people reading your post will also wish you a happy recovery, and beg that you are less biased and better informed the next time you post.

    I will make my list of “exposed errors” short, but inviting anyone to investigate further each claim (remember, look at each case from different angles, leave your emotions out of it, and double-check any source you are gathering information from. Much of the environmental debate in the media is politisized, and almost always biased one way or the other. Go to the source: scientific papers and basic books about chemistry, physics, ecology and other fields of importance (economy usually have it’s fair share of saying)).

    I a. Wind mills alone won’t cover the energy need. Solar, wind, hydro, geothermal and nuclear COULD. Any structure/facility/energy we add to the world will have some sort of impact on the environment, but it will not be devastating. Lesson: Learn about base load, intermediate load and top load. Take an energy course in university.

    I b. Nuclear IS the key to a low carbon future, although it has the obvious issues with radioactive waste. FBR (fast breeding reactors) and thorium reactors could levy the impacts from RW.

    I c. Steel and a few rare minerals are needed for wind mills. However, calculate how much of the world’s steel production 10.000 wind mills require. Do the math, the amount of iron/steel extraced/produced won’t be more devastating for the environment than mining is today already. THe upside: Around 90 % of the steel can be recycled and reused. After the initial extraction, only 10 % is needed for the 2nd generation of wind mills. You will have to think long term if you’re going to save the environment. It is quite possible. It takes fossil fuels to initiate most renewable energy structure constructions, but the second round is close to “renewable”.

    II, FIght ANY kind of non-sustainable mining. Do not buy a gold ring for your wedding if you want to keep this a priority. Try to recycle all and any metal you use (from tin cans to your old car). Recycled metal uses only 5-10% of the energy required for virgin metal! (and it saves water, chemicals etc). Transparency and consumer awareness CAN and WILL be the choice of weapon for environmentalists picking this fight (and I hope we all do!).

    III. Energy consumption. The best way to reduce fossil fuel consumption is to reduce YOUR consumption of ANY GOODS. Take your latest electronic gadget made in china, or your latest “on sale” jackhammer from Walmart. These kind of products pollute through it’s whole life chain: 1) production requires energy and extraction of metals, 2) transport requires fossil fuels, 3) using the product requires energy, 4) at the end of the product’s life, it will need transport to the land fill or recycing facility (and will probably leak a few micrograms of brominated flame retardants every year if it’s ending its life on the land fill).

    Solution to the problem: Don’t buy stuff just because it’s cheap. Don’t buy stuff unless you REALLY need it. If you need that jackhammer for only 1 week/1 job, lease or borrow it. Do you really need 3 TVs and 2 PCs at home? No. Look at the back-of-the-envelope calcuations done in “Without the hot air” : http://www.withouthotair.com/ . Check how much impact your consumer goods actually have!

    IV. Energy efficiency. If you really have to buy a new car, or keep your indoor temperature at 75 F, look at energy efficiency. You don’t need to use 100 % pure electricity to generate heat at 75 F, use a heat pump, solar collector or other means. The car: Find one that use less than 1 litre/mile, it should be easy. Don’t go buy those old american wrecks made by GM.

    I could go on and on. My final point is: You, We, CAN do something about the big challenges that lay ahead of us. There ARE positive forces focusing on necessary means- energy production that is moving towards sustainabliity, consuming less while being happier still etc etc – to meet our goal – a thriving planet for plants, animals and humans.

  10. witsendnj May 17, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    Very well put, the only thing I would add is that the other side of the overconsumption coin is overpopulation. That’s a tough one, too!

    I have been at odds with climate change activists since the day I woke up and realized it’s an existential threat. It’s a popular myth anyway that clean energy can ever come close to replacing the concentrated power of fossil fuels, that contain millions of years of accumulated solar power. But your larger point, that switching to “clean energy” doesn’t address the environmental destruction, is why there is such a divide between climate change activists and environmentalists.

    I began to learn about climate change initially because I noticed the trees are dying, and I assumed the only agent wide-spread enough to explain that was drought from global warming. After about a year I realized that cannot be the explanation because even plants that are being watered exhibit the same damage to their foliage as untended trees growing in forests. That was when I figured out the the underlying reason they are dying is pollution. (If anyone’s interested, I wrote a free book – Pillage, Plunder & Pollute, LLC – about this: http://witsendnj.blogspot.com/p/pillage-plunder-pollute-llc.html

    I presented my concerns to numerous climate change activists and scientists since after all, without the carbon sink of trees, global warming will accelerate dramatically. You’d think they would be interested. At best their response was total disinterest and denial – at worst, downright hostile and insulting.

    Wondering why that should be led me to understand what you wrote about – they want the fantasy that switching to clean energy will enable industrial civilization to proceed uninterrupted.

    Thanks Alex for this clarifying and personal perspective.

  11. curtis morrison June 13, 2012 at 7:28 pm #

    Well done

  12. Kim June 22, 2012 at 6:46 am #

    I’ve made a printable version of this article in zine format, the pdf is at http://storiesofcreativeecology.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/an-open-letter-to-fellow-environmentalists.pdf
    Let me know if there is a problem with this, I’d be happy to make any changes or take it down.

    • garrettconnelly June 25, 2012 at 5:28 am #

      Well written accurate assessment. This is a good introduction to proposed action. Slipping on my amateur editor’s cap, find words to replace one or two of the personal pronoun; even though good and true, there are a couple too many. Shall we work together to layout an attainable vision and action plan for construction of a new world that heals the planet with human rights?

  13. dgrcolorado June 23, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    Wow! Thank you Kim! I think it looks great! The only thing we might add would be the contact information about DGR on the back of the cover. Would you be willing to send us the editable version for us to make those additions? Thank you again for making this!!!

  14. Peter van Lieshout June 28, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    I am at present designing and building a 400 lot ” off the grid” “sustainable village”. Location , about 1 hour from the gold coast of Australia and in the rich subtropical caldera of the Tweed Valley. The question I constantly ask is , what’s the least amount of energy you can comfortably live on ? Excellent small house design and the added bonus of this location not needing cooling or heating within the house , makes me think that maybe 6 solar panels and the use of natural gas for cooking could easily make that the maximum ecological impact . Together with the plan to grow all our own food and the use of a 20 year old plantation forest next to the village for our building materials , this village ( Nightcap) could end up being a good example of what can be done as long as there are enough people out there who are prepared to live a slightly more minimilistac simple life.

    • Dave Ewoldt June 29, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

      DGRColorado makes a good point in his reply in this part of the thread. As Roy Morrison says in “Ecological Democracy” you can’t build little eco-islands of sustainability surrounded by the toxins of industrial culture. It must be stopped, and it must be replaced.

    • Iuval Clejan June 30, 2012 at 7:01 pm #

      OK, so do you know anyone who wishes to help with this specific practical project I mentioned? It is a bit different than lifeboat communities in its scope and timescale. I thought I left links here a while ago, but let me know if you need more info.
      Iuval

  15. garrettconnelly June 28, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    Hi,

    I lived 15 years with six panels and a gas stove, plus a homemade galvanized pipe on plywood hot water panel. I never once felt deprived.

    • dgrcolorado June 29, 2012 at 1:32 pm #

      Living a simpler life, more in tune with the needs and limits of earth and the land where we live is a great thing, but it’s also important to keep in mind how it is almost exclusively people of privilege who have access to this kind of lifestyle. For the vast majority of people, the ‘homestead’ remains virtually unattainable.

      On a related note, we need to remember that living simpler lives as individuals won’t ever be enough to stop deforesters or Monsanto. It’s absolutely a good thing to minimize the impact our individual lives have on the planet, but as long as the industrial economy–and civilization itself–remains intact, the destruction will continue. Derrick Jensen wrote a great article about this, entitled “Forget Shorter Showers,” which can be found here: http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/4801/

      • dgrcolorado June 29, 2012 at 5:16 pm #

        You’re absolutely right, Luval! Thanks for commenting. Most of those involved in these initiatives don’t even “think beyond consumption”. By going “off the grid”, they prefer to build their own electric grids (albeit smaller ones). They aren’t going off grid; they’re just moving to their own grid. Most of these efforts are still dependent upon industrial resources and materials (“solar panels, metal pipes, farming tools, etc” as you rightly say). Where will they go when they need to replace a solar panel, or when their tools break? Where do they get the wiring and piping, where do they get the natural gas from? Only by dismantling the entirety of industrialism and civilization can we hope to defend and preserve the living world. More sustainable and “lifeboat” communities (whether they are definitively sustainable on their landbases or not) can help to achieve this goal, both by creating alternative ways of meeting peoples’ needs and by being communities that embrace, encourage and enable the resistance that is needed to dismantle the death machine of industrial civilization.

        • garrettconnelly June 29, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

          Granted, there is such a thing as an effete snob with the money to buy cool stuff and make regular people feel like turds; that is not the subject here; we are considering and planning emergency replacement of consumer based corporatism, survival is not guaranteed.

          We live at a time when the economy is facing friction from a badly wounded earth, remember this, it was just a few short years ago when mother earth handed out free lunches to her well loved humans.

          We have a real and urgent need to establish independence from corporatists who will plunder our earth until nothing is left living. These needs include sanitation, water, shelter, food and a fully functional democracy to focus our human knowledge on the problems, discuss and select solutions, and then plan and implement direct actions which promote prosperity and heal the planet while defending and expanding human rights. I am an applied economist who has devoted many years and much study in preparation for this time of drastic change when survival of our specie hangs in the balance.

          The first and quickest direct action is to plant food, turn it into a social occasion and let the wealth flow to our new civilization we are building to replace the madness of world destruction over plastic fantastics. I am a farmer and can tell you without doubt that eco-agricultural techniques outproduce corporate factory farms at almost twice per hectare and at the same time build back the topsoil lost to mechanized chemical farms.

          Applied economic development research at ferrocement.com includes (1) shelter, the $5 per square foot house, (2) sanitation, the flycatcher compost toilet, eliminates water use of centralized sewage systems, and (3) rainwater collecting water tank roofs, for daily use and to harvest hurricanes and save the emergency distribution of water after the storm.

          All these subjects are shared on the internet here : no claim to be definitive last word, open source for you, please share experience

          http://www.ferrocement.com/Shelter-2010/post-1_5-2010.html … shelter 2010

          http://www.ferrocement.com/tankBook/ch14.en.html … rainwater

          http://www.ferrocement.com/Compost_Toilet/compost-toilet-elements.en.html … Compost toilet elements

          http://ferrocement.com/Compost_Toilet/compost-toilet-2010.en.html … Compost toilet production feasibility test

          http://www.ferrocement.com/biofiber_rain_gutter/rain-gutter-1.es.html …. rain gutter spanish

          http://www.ferrocement.com/biofiber_rain_gutter/rain-gutter-1.en.html …. rain gutter english

          Cordially,

          Garrett Connelly

          Manuals suitable for technical community schools may be purchased here

          http://www.ferrocement.com/bookSales/purchaseBooks.en.html

          Sets for non-profit libraries are occasionally available on request, subject to very limited current funds

  16. Mitch W. September 3, 2012 at 6:49 am #

    Are we really running out of silicone? This will be disastrious for porno industry ! Or did you mean silicon? The earth’s crust is 27.7%, by weight, silicon. Aluminum, 8.1%, Iron, 5.0%.

    And, now Dioxin is the most toxic chemical in the world. Boy, just a few years ago, plutonium, followed by mercury were. Never mind compounds and substances like arsenic,cyanide, botulism or ricin or polonium.

    It was suggested that you do the math. Good advise.

    Psst. Dioxin is really a group of related compounds whose toxicity varies by a few orders of magnitude from one to the other.

  17. Irwin Hill October 24, 2012 at 4:06 pm #

    Your critique of what we have now is clear and compelling. But what I don’t see is a vision of a new world not based on industrialism. For example, will there be an Internet? Will people who live far from wheat-growing areas have bread? Will there be electricity? I understand that centuries ago, Indians lived without iPhones, imported food, gasoline, plastic, etc. But their population was smaller, and the natural resources greater. Perhaps
    there’s an article or a book that envisions the new world. If so, I’d like to read it.

    Right now, for example, have you been able to live in a way that is not predicated on industrialism? I’ve been trying to figure it out for myself.

    Thanks

  18. MC Kali August 13, 2013 at 11:23 am #

    Slow clap. Stellar work Alex.

    Many indigenous peoples live happily and well outside of industrial civilization, as did all our recent ancestors. It’s possible to do indeed! Even such things as purposefully powering down our home electricity every night at sundown, or going offline at least one day a week, can be helpful in freeing up our ingenuity for learning different ways of living.

    You’re right, we can’t “have it all,” as it has been marketed. And we have a narrow window of time to commit to the natural world before the whole planet’s temperature rises and kills off all life, frankly – this is what the inter-disciplinary overview, so well articulated by Nafeez Ahmed PhD and Guy McPherson, is telling us.

    Thank you for also articulating how the largescale renewable industry fantasy is an addictive mindset that is holding environmentalists back from our human potential to really stand with the natural world. The key question is, like you said, asking ourselves what is really sacred to us —a living world, or central heating (or cooling, if one lives in the southwest)? May ALL of us (scholars, parents, sysadmins, students, midwives, artists, lovers) hold that question close, and whisper it to our hearts. The time to stand with the natural world is now. Now is the only time we have.

  19. Mike Barnard August 19, 2013 at 2:48 am #

    Mr. Budd is entitle to his opinion, but his extraordinary pessimism and complete lack of reality is not something worth listening to.

    He doesn’t lay out a solution explicitly, but his agrarian fantasy would require elimination of roughly 5 billion humans. This cataclysmic upheaval would not only cause the deaths of the 5 billion, but enormous reduction of the lifespans and health of the remaining 2 billion.

    And of course it would require a complete and utter reversal of human nature.

    As I said, deeply pessimistic, deeply unrealistic and not worth listening to.

    For all of the reasons why wind power, to pick one single example out of his ill-informed diatribe, is a tremendous choice, please see my site barnardonwind, which debunks all of the myths Mr. Budd has bought into.

  20. shastatodd July 16, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    this is precisely why, after 35 years of championing the solar industry… i have stopped designing, installing and maintaining pv systems.

    it used be that people did this because it was “the right” thing to do, wisely implementing conservation/ frugal consumption/ energy audits BEFORE having systems installed. most conscious/ efficient homes were able to operate on 3 to 6 kWh/day (1 to 2 kW STC system).

    now that solar is less expensive, people are using it to “put lipstick on their pigs”, justifying their waste with “green” power. typical systems are now powering 35+ kWh/day (~8+ kW STC system). this means “magic green energy” is now powering waste and unconscious consumption… which is why i am retiring, as solar is now a huge part of the problem.

    this will not end well…

  21. E.A. April 11, 2015 at 6:56 am #

    I find it odd that the original post describes the ills of mining for wind turbine components, but doesn’t seem to acknowledge wind turbines themselves as destroying the landscape. Maybe I need to re-read it for some detail, but it seems like a glaring oversight.

    The sheer size and acreage spread of wind turbines is most people’s biggest problem with them. Same goes for solar mirror plants that hog large swaths of desert land. But wind turbines are worse due to their vertical footprint and motion. They are essentially skyscrapers in the countryside where skyscrapers don’t belong, except in the minds of monomaniacs who’ve decided that the landscape is expendable.

  22. Annette McGee Rasch April 17, 2015 at 8:53 am #

    Nice job. Harsh realities that even most environmentalists don’t want to hear.

    An earlier comment reads: “… deeply pessimistic, deeply unrealistic and not worth listening to.” This sad fact of human nature: ‘that because the news is bad and threatens modern society; it must be wrong-minded,’ remains the huge stumbling block to re-configuring human societies toward true sustainability.

    Truth hurts. The carrying capacity of this planet has been far-surpassed. We’re losing 100-200 species of life a day while human population grows. And even with alternative energy technology (that indeed, much of which remains wedded to destructive technical processes) we still continue to spew increasing amounts of Co2 into the atmosphere.

    All my adult life has felt like walking among the living dead. Zombies everywhere. I eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations, scan the newspapers, monitor radio and TV channels, scroll around online – seeking signs of mass true awakening. And there are these hopeful hints… but nothing close to the huge systemic shift needed to stave off disaster.

    The modern human race is defective. We have a fatal flaw; one that developed in tandem with busting the mold that confined other animals to living within the dictates of their habitats — and this fatal flaw seems to involve wanting to feel good about stuff. Environmentalists are a downer. We depress people. The truth depresses people – so therefore it must be avoided.

    Many say: “But what can I do about it?” And once they’ve let themselves off this biggest of hooks, they plug into the matrix and consume. All too soon, there won’t be much we can do about climate change, ocean acidification, mass extinctions, befouled waterways, disappearing bees, unchecked spread of GMO’s altering the DNA of plant life, etc. We’re a race that created and swallowed its own Kool-aid. Our manifest destiny has become a mindless corporate machine crushing every daisy in its path.

    Nature tries to teach; but we don’t listen. Perhaps our walls, floors and ceilings are too good at keeping the elements out. Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina (made gigantic because oceans waters are warmer due to climate change) wiped out communities – yet storm victims who boldly proclaim their intentions to rebuild in the same spots are lauded for their folly…

    Humans. The smart ape? The illogical ape. Perhaps we evolved too fast. Perhaps we found fire, formed the wheel, and then the internal combustion engine too fast for our consciousness to wholly grasp the implications… so instead, we’ve got these stone age emotions and animal-like aggressive tendencies fatally juxtaposed upon our 21st century technical capabilities.

    Lemmings with Uzi’s. Driving ourselves to the edge. Many cry that we expound upon the doom and gloom but offer no solutions. That’s not what I see. We offer solutions, but lemmings don’t listen so good.

    And it seems to oppose modern human nature to grok the reality that we need to live in smaller homes, we need to ax global trade and consume bio-regionally, we need to shut the damn lights off at night, we need to use far fewer gadgets… lemmings, oh, I mean people, don’t want to hear that…

    .

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  1. Open Letter to the UK Environmental Movement from Deep Green Resistance UK | Deep Green Resistance UK - January 18, 2014

    […] advocate transitioning to a sustainable society with clean energy. Alex Budd explains in his article why this is unrealistic. We do not have the time. See this recent report by James Hansen, who has […]

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