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BREAKDOWN: Substitutability or Sustainability?

By Joshua Headley / Deep Green Resistance New York

By Joshua Headley / Deep Green Resistance New York

“Sustainability” is the buzzword passed around nearly every environmental and social justice circle today. For how often the word is stated, those who use it rarely articulate what it is that they are advocating. And because the term is applied so compulsively, while simultaneously undefined, it renders impossible the ability of our movements to set and actualize goals, let alone assess the strategies and tactics we employ to reach them.

Underneath the surface, sustainability movements have largely become spaces where well-meaning sensibilities are turned into empty gestures and regurgitations of unarticulated ideals out of mere obligation to our identity as “environmentalists” and “activists.” We mention “sustainability” because to not mention it would undermine our legitimacy and work completely. But as destructive as not mentioning the word would be, so too is the lack of defining it.

When we don’t articulate our ideals ourselves we not only allow others to define us but we also give space for destructive premises to continue unchallenged. The veneer of most environmental sustainability movements begins to wither away when we acknowledge that most of its underlying premises essentially mimic the exact forces which we allege opposition.

Infinite Substitutability

The dominant culture currently runs on numerous underlying premises – whether it is the belief in infinite growth and progress, the myth of technological prowess and human superiority, or even the notion that this culture is the most successful, advanced and equitable way of life to ever exist.

These premises often combine to form the basis of an ideological belief in infinite substitutability – when a crisis occurs, our human ingenuity and creativity will always be able to save us by substituting our disintegrating resources and systems with new ones.

And by and large, most of us accept this as truth and never question or oppose the introduction of new technologies/resources in our lives. We never question whom these technologies/resources actually benefit or what their material affects may be. Often, we never question why we need new technologies/resources and we never think about what problems they purport to solve or, more accurately, conceal entirely.

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BREAKDOWN: The Time Lag of Irreversible Change

By Joshua Headley / Deep Green Resistance New York

If you’ve been a sentient being for the last few months, you’ve probably been watching some of the most curious weather events happening throughout the world.

Of particular concern for many scientists has been the Arctic sea ices melt, which dropped to its lowest level on record last summer. In the first few months of this year, large cracks were witnessed in the sea ice, indicating a great possibility that it has entered a death spiral and will disappear completely in the summer months within the next two years.

The rapid melt (and eventual disappearance) of the ice is having drastic affects on the jet stream in the northern hemisphere, creating powerful storms and extreme weather events, largely outside the comprehension of many scientists.

Jeff Masters, meteorology director at the private service Weather Underground states: “I’ve been doing meteorology for 30 years and the jet stream the last three yeas has done stuff I’ve never seen. […] The fact that the jet stream is unusual could be an indicator of something. I’m not saying we know what it is.”

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BREAKDOWN: Industrial Agriculture

By Joshua Headley / Deep Green Resistance New York

By Joshua Headley / Deep Green Resistance New York

In no other industry today is it more obvious to see the culmination of affects of social, political, economic, and ecological instability than in the global production of food. As a defining characteristic of civilization itself, it is no wonder why scientists today are closely monitoring the industrial agricultural system and its ability (or lack thereof) to meet the demands of an expanding global population.

Amidst soil degradation, resource depletion, rising global temperatures, severe climate disruptions such as floods and droughts, ocean acidification, rapidly decreasing biodiversity, and the threat of irreversible climatic change, food production is perhaps more vulnerable today than ever in our history. Currently, as many as 2 billion people are estimated to be living in hunger – but that number is set to dramatically escalate, creating a reality in which massive starvation, on an inconceivable scale, is inevitable.

With these converging crises, we can readily see within agriculture and food production that our global industrial civilization is experiencing a decline in complexity that it cannot adequately remediate, thus increasing our vulnerability to collapse. Industrial agriculture has reached the point of declining marginal returns – there may be years of fluctuation in global food production but we are unlikely to ever reach peak levels again in the foreseeable future.

While often articulated that technological innovation could present near-term solutions, advocates of this thought tend to forget almost completely the various contributing factors to declining returns that cannot be resolved in such a manner. There is also much evidence, within agriculture’s own history, that a given technology that has the potential to increase yields and production (such as the advent of the plow or discovery of oil) tends to, over time, actually reduce that potential and significantly escalate the problem.

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BREAKDOWN: The Efficiency of Green Energy

By Joshua Headley / Deep Green Resistance New York

By Joshua Headley / Deep Green Resistance New York

There are, at present, many myths about green energy and its efficiency to address the demands and needs of our burgeoning industrial civilization, the least of which is that a switch to “renewable” energy will significantly reduce our dependency on, and consumption of, fossil fuels.

The opposite is true. If we study the actual productive processes required for current “renewable” energies (solar, wind, biofuel, etc.) we see that fossil fuels and their infrastructure are not only crucial but are also wholly fundamental to their development. To continue to use the words “renewable” and “clean” to describe such energy processes does a great disservice for generating the type of informed and rational decision-making required at our current junction.

To take one example – the production of turbines and the allocation of land necessary for the development, processing, distribution and storage of “renewable” wind energy. From the mining of rare metals, to the production of the turbines, to the transportation of various parts (weighing thousands of tons) to a central location, all the way up to the continued maintenance of the structure after its completion – wind energy requires industrial infrastructure (i.e. fossil fuels) in every step of the process.

If the conception of wind energy only involves the pristine image of wind turbines spinning, ever so wonderfully, along a beautiful coast or grassland, it’s not too hard to understand why so many of us hold green energy so highly as an alternative to fossil fuels. Noticeably absent in this conception, though, are the images of everything it took to get to that endpoint (which aren’t beautiful images to see at all and is largely the reason why wind energy isn’t marketed that way).

Because of the rapid growth and expansion of industrial civilization in the last two centuries, we are long past the days of easy accessible resources. If you take a look at the type of mining operations and drilling operations currently sustaining our way of life you will readily see degradation and devastation on unconscionable scales. This is our reality and these processes will not change no matter what our ends are – these processes are the degree with which “basic” extraction of all of the fundamental metals, minerals, and resources we are familiar with currently take place.

In much the same way that the absurdities of tar sands extraction, mountaintop removal, and hydraulic fracturing are plainly obvious, so too are the continued mining operations and refining processes of copper, silver, aluminum, zinc, etc. (all essential to the development of solar panels and wind turbines).

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BREAKDOWN: A Convalescent Collapse

By Joshua Headley / Deep Green Resistance New York

By Joshua Headley / Deep Green Resistance New York

Talking about collapse can prove to be quite alienating. Most people quickly denounce those of us who start these dialogues as “alarmists” in an attempt to nullify all arguments and keep us safe from all evil and depressing thoughts.

An obvious reason to dismiss talk of collapse is that there are far too many examples of groups who come along and yell about the end of the world only for their “insight” to turn out rather dubious. But I don’t choose to speak out about collapse for the sake of “the end of the world” or to preach my morals – I bring it up because there are real, tangible limits to a globalized industrial civilization and this intrinsically implies there will be a peak and subsequent fall. This is inevitable and we cannot escape it no matter how long we choose to not talk about it.

No one can say absolutely when collapse will occur but we can say with a degree of certainty, based on current levels of complexity, diminishing marginal returns, and the latest climate science, that we are much more likely to experience collapse in the near-term rather than in the far and distant future. This is not meant to scare anyone into submission, religious folly, or isolating despair – it is simply meant to allow us to start seriously discussing our situation, its implications, and how to move forward.

How can we manage to proceed through this process in any meaningful capacity if we keep ignoring and denying its possibility?

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