An Open Letter to Fellow Environmentalists

By Alex Budd

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 McKibben.

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 technological 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 Keith 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.


(1) Canada Free Press. “Spanish wind farms kill 6 to 18 million birds & bats a year.” Canada Free Press: Conservative, News, Politics, Editorials, Newspaper. March 5, 2012).

(2) Keith, 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. (accessed March 5, 2012).

(4) Kingsnorth, Paul. “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist | Orion Magazine.” Orion Magazine. (accessed March 5, 2012).

(5) American Daily Herald. “Two-year Study in UK Finds Wind Power Unreliable and Inefficient.” American Daily Herald.

(6) Leslie, Zorba, Jody Sarich, and Karen Stauss. “The Congo Report: Slavery in Conflict Minerals.” Free the Slaves. (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. (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.

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Originally posted by DGR Colorado.

27 thoughts on “An Open Letter to Fellow Environmentalists

  1. MC Kali

    Slow clap. Stellar work Alex.

    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.

  2. Richard

    I agree with the article. It is hard to let go, but I see no other option. I see collapse as the answer to stopping the evil, but I think the people can use the shock doctrine as well. If we have parallel systems of barder, trade, local food production, etc., then as the big system falls apart, we will be a lifeboat for the stragglers.
    Just one note, cats are the biggest bird killers, up to 3.7 billion per year just in North America…

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  5. Sarah

    So your answer is to let the perfect be the enemy of the good? If you wish to put your beliefs to the test, you are welcome to move off the grid and try to live as sustainably as you can. I have done that, and I know too well where that path leads. After those experiences, I am more determined than ever to work cooperatively and incrementally within community to build practical, sustainable solutions that meet human needs without sacrificing the environment. Because I live in the real world, the solutions I advocate and work for will involve alternative energy. They will not require anyone to play fantasy football.

  6. Sam

    I’m with Sarah here. I see no proposed solution here other than living completely off the grid in the countryside which, though it sounds awesome, will only be the norm if our way of life completely and immediately collapses. I think your article has good points, but I also think it has some fear-mongering in it. You ask a lot of questions, but do not follow up those questions with solutions, and they begin to sound self-righteous as a result. We’re in this together, as you point out. So, fine; alternative energy isn’t the solution? What is? I think we should start teaching people to be more self-reliant. To be happier so they consume less, and create less waste. Make all of our waste products a part of a sustainable system that feeds itself, and does not contribute to the degradation of the environment. Make our system work TOGETHER with the environment. Encourage people to have fewer children, or no children. We cannot wind the clock back 500 years to the way the environment was. Today is the beginning, today is what we have. So instead of being nostalgic for the way things were, we have to look at everything we have now, the conditions of today, as square one and say, how can we move forward to make the world a place we want to live in? It is a question I ask myself every day, and I don’t usually have an answer. But I still try to make everything I do count.

  7. Paddy

    I’m neither a green energy advocate, nor an opponent. This article had me until you hit the point of there being finite supplies of silicone…

  8. Pingback: Renewable energy – is it really “sustainable”? | Sustainable Communities South Australia Inc.

  9. scott22

    Aaaah welcome young Padawan. Seriously though, this awakening reveals the importance of a sturdy spiritual life. Everything you say is true and many, many people know this. Probably most of us, at least in our hearts, see this future. You appear to speak in the language of science. I have come to believe that the answers to all of life’s challenges, especially the inhumane, brutal ones, (like the health of the planet) must first be steeped in love and then good science is likelier to follow. And make no mistake, to authentically love everything takes great courage and a willingness to sacrifice everything. It is not for wimps. This requires great spiritual growth, an awakening or whatever you want to call it! It also requires a humility rarely found in people. If we act out in anger or frustration, authentic change is unlikely. There is just not enough time for the glacial pace of reasoned argument. We seek inspiration.

    I became or was led to become a Zen Buddhist after many years of meditation and contemplation of my fear for the Earths and Mans future. I was that kid and then teenager and finally adult that is wounded by how we treat each other and all we touch. That worrying had turned to anger and then to depression which follows extended justifiable resentments. For me Zen thinking revealed the true nature of all problems. The answer to this priceless, inescapeable truth posed by you so thoughtfully, is spiritual In nature. We need a massive cultural shift. Only a few things can accomplish that in a short time frame. An atomic bomb blast. The wheel, the light bulb, etc. Technical solutions will not work here. We need to evolve into humans that value life in a way that does not call for constant distraction. We need to be called into the present by a wonderful vision. We need to be gently shaken out of an ancient need to survive the elements. We have dominated the elements. That time is passed. It is time for the great survival. Where the elements are surfed, not conquered. To see this The World needs a compassionate, non-consumerist Martin Luther King. Someone who understands this relationship to our space ship while appealing to our best nature. someone whose vision is way beyond just another anti-industrialist. An environmental Ghandi who disarms with humor and wit and uncommon sense Someone who conveys the great dignity of all life while gracefully and with love in their heart taking all of us to task to protect the Earth by truly recognizing our relationship to it. Unifying us behind an ideal larger than any one of us or the largest government or corporation. We need an ‘All men are created equal” moment on behalf of the planet. There is something out there and in all of us that is undeniable and universal and forever. We need to tap into that. That vision will inspire us to accept this universal truth that the Earth is our Mother and Father. We are of the Earth, not just living here . It will be forged by the godlike power of love but expressed in the most human terms. It is our only hope. We need to find a way to make our ‘enemies our brothers and sisters. We cannot beat them at their own game. Science will help immeasurably. But it is hearts that have been broken open and filled with humility that will turn the tide.

  10. Carolynne

    I understand the point here, but what exactly is the solution? How exactly are humans supposed to get energy, even in “independent cultures of direct democracy that are fully integrated with their land bases and local ecosystems”? Even in small communities people will still need to heat their homes in the winter. Exactly how do they do that? By burning wood again? Then we are getting right back to air pollution and deforestation. What do we do with our human waste? Back before the industrial age, it’s not like human communities were pristine places. People threw their waste from their chamberpots out into the street and disease was rampant. I appreciate the idealism here, but I don’t see how you can apply it to reality.

  11. Joe

    Yeah, good points are being made here, but there are some serious issues with what I would hesitate to call your “solution.” We drop everything and live in the countryside like the pilgrims of old? The landscape is dotted with primitive city-states that use no electronics, consume no resources, and then what? Everyone gets lemonade? The great Pacific garbage patch just disappears? The our old cites fly away and are replaced by rainforests and polar bears? The billions of people that rely on advanced irrigation to keep themselves alive just…die?

    We have used the tools on an industrial civilization to destroy our world. We will need to use the same tools to fix it. You like your mountains? So do I. Let’s give NASA a bunch of money so that they can strip-mine the moon. We can use the metals and minerals to build our solar arrays. Heck, lets bring some water, bacteria, and manure, so that we can start living up there. Let’s think big. Let’s not go back to the days where our lives were ruled by disease, famine, and superstition. If we do, then we ignore the past 1000 years of social and scientific development, We ignore what we have learned about the world that we are now trying to save. You can try to chase the past if you want, but I believe in the future.

    1. Joe

      Sorry, that came off as being more than a little harsh. I understand your concern and I think you make some really good points about the problems that we face. I just think that you’ve voiced some issues about our grip on reality while loosing your own in the process.

  12. Skip Thrasher

    By this logic Native Americans were also destroying the planet. Mining for trace minerals is different than mining for something to burn. The latter requires massive amounts of material daily. The former requires small amounts infrequently. We can slow the destruction by eons or burn it up quickly. Environmentalists are trying to chose the path least offensive.

  13. Darin De Stefano

    I have spent most of my adult life serving machines as a technician. But I have, while thus enslaved, studied nature and human intelligence in uncommon ways. One thing I am certain of is this, the ‘new age’ idea that free or clean energy will ‘save’ anything at all is a deadly one.

    We need actual intelligence. Radical ways to catalyze and develop it. At the collective scale.

    Our relationship with technology is and has been, in large and momentous portion, precisely opposed to that necessity. Free energy would obliterate life on Earth in a very brief period of time, given our current state of nearly absolute relational, ecological, philosophical and intellectual retardation at the scale of the collective (nation/corporation/etc).

  14. Myles

    In a book I read about the coming “apocalypse” the author visited some of the few remaining traditional shaman in the northern Russia, Siberia area for research. He asked multiple shaman from different regions, all individually, “Why is the modern western society doomed to collapse”? they all had very similar answers. They suggested the reason why our society is going to run itself into the ground is because we no long honor our ancestors. In a spiritual sense this could mean that since we do not pay homage to the spirits of our dead ancestors they will cause a spiteful influence on our fate. Although this may be the surface interpretation which could be easily passed off by most as nothing but native folklore. I interpret a much deeper meaning. In a literal sense, if we do not honor our ancestors, such as native cultures do through prayer and ceremonies and shrines, then death has no meaning. When you are raised to believe that after death you will be forgotten, then you will fear death. If you believe that you will live on forever in the stories and hearts of those that remain to honor you, you would not fear death so much, and would not do such terrible things to our planet to simply live. When death has no meaning, neither does life. One major issue is that we have too many people for everyone to be remembered. But if we all lived as if even after death we still lived on forever in one way or another then maybe we would not have such greed and ignorance for profit. And perhaps people would be more willing to devote their life to a selfless existence, or even a selfless sacrifice of their own life for the greater good of all people and the planet. Don’t hate, don’t be afraid and don’t take more than you need. Good luck everybody.

  15. Sue Muller

    good insight Myles, so little respect for anything anymore, self centerednes, self preservation and I want it now attitude is destroying us all………I do agree that wind and solar will never run an industrialized society, it is a scam run by large corps to steal our money through subsidies, producing less than 4% of our energy and being promoted by fear mongering, The wind doesn’t always blow and I see them sit idle almost as often as they move, this is why they were given up on 150 years ago

  16. Ken McMurtrie

    Reblogged this on The GOLDEN RULE and commented:
    A breath of fresh air, in comparison with much of the published information.
    “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.”

  17. Pingback: “New Age” Idea that Renewable Energy will Save the Planet is a Deadly One | Quixotes Last Stand

  18. Admin

    I’m glad to see one Greenie give up on the myth, scam, fraud of Renewable Energy! No energy is renewable, except maybe nuclear fusion (but that won’t happen). Anyway, the Laws of Physics are bendable but not breakable and too many who want “renewable energy” think that they are. Have to agree with comments by Carolynne: what’s the solution?

    1. Kay Kiser

      “Before the arrival of industrial civilization on this continent, you could breathe the air and drink the water.”
      Response: lung problems caused by smoke from open cooking/heating fires and parasites/bacteria/mosquitos in the water.
      “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.”
      Response: Are you going to cook or warm yourself? Untreated water = giardia parasites or dysentery and severe intestinal discomfort or death.
      “Where do you draw the line? Because ultimately there can be no justice—for humans or the earth—in an industrial society.”
      Response: Obviously a de-growth believer and a socialist who believes in utopian dreams of a pristine, primitive world of love and harmony. Reality: someone always has to clean the latrines, bury the garbage, weed the garden and kill dinner.
      “What is sacred to you—a living world, or central heating?”
      Response: A false choice. Higher standard of living is cleaner and more responsible than are primitive societies.
      PS. The planet is just fine. How arrogant of you to think you can “Save the Planet.” Of course we want to be good stewards of our world and do all we can to protect it. You might have awakened to the truth about wind and solar power, but you are still buying into a myriad of environmental myths, lies, half-truths and propaganda. Check out your assumptions. Many don’t stand up to the light of day.


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