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Earth Day 1970

Let This Earth Day Be The Last

Wen Stephenson / The Nation

“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle.” 
—Frederick Douglass, 1857

Fuck Earth Day.

No, really. Fuck Earth Day. Not the first one, forty-four years ago, the one of sepia-hued nostalgia, but everything the day has since come to be: the darkest, cruelest, most brutally self-satirizing spectacle of the year.

Fuck it. Let it end here.

End the dishonesty, the deception. Stop lying to yourselves, and to your children. Stop pretending that the crisis can be “solved,” that the planet can be “saved,” that business more-or-less as usual—what progressives and environmentalists have been doing for forty-odd years and more—is morally or intellectually tenable. Let go of the pretense that “environmentalism” as we know it—virtuous green consumerism, affluent low-carbon localism, head-in-the-sand conservationism, feel-good greenwashed capitalism—comes anywhere near the radical response our situation requires.

So, yeah, I’ve had it with Earth Day—and the culture of progressive green denial it represents.

* * *

But why Frederick Douglass? Why bring him into this? And who am I to invoke him—a man who was born a slave and who freed himself from slavery, who knew something about struggle, whose words were among the most radical ever spoken on American soil? Who the hell am I? I’ve never suffered racial or any other kind of oppression. I’ve never had to fight for any fundamental rights. I’m not even a radical, really. (Nor am I an “environmentalist”—and never have been.) All I want is a livable world, and the possibility of social justice. So who am I to quote Frederick Douglass?

Let me tell you who I am: I’m a human being. I’m the father of two young children, a 14-year-old son and a 10-year-old daughter, who face a deeply uncertain future on this planet. I’m a husband, a son, a brother—and a citizen. And, yes, I’m a journalist, and I’m an activist. And like more and more of us who are fighting for climate justice, I am engaged in a struggle—a struggle—for the fate of humanity and of life on Earth. Not a polite debate around the dinner table, or in a classroom, or an editorial meeting—or an Earth Day picnic. I’m talking about a struggle. A struggle for justice on a global scale. A struggle for human dignity and human rights for my fellow human beings, beginning with the poorest and most vulnerable, far and near. A struggle for my own children’s future—but not only my children, all of our children, everywhere. A life-and-death struggle for the survival of all that I love. Because that is what the climate fight and the fight for climate justice is. That’s what it is.

Because, I’m sorry, this is not a test. This is really happening. The Arctic and the glaciers are melting. The great forests are dying and burning. The oceans are rising and acidifying. The storms, the floods—the droughts and heat waves—are intensifying. The breadbaskets are parched and drying. And all of it faster and sooner than scientists predicted. The window in which to act is closing before our eyes.

Any discussion of the situation must begin by acknowledging the science and the sheer lateness of the hour—that the chance for any smooth, gradual transition has passed, that without radical change the kind of livable and just future we all want is simply inconceivable. The international community has, of course, committed to keeping the global temperature from rising more than two degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above the preindustrial average—the level, we’re told, at which “catastrophic” warming can still be avoided (we’ve already raised it almost one degree, with still more “baked in” within coming decades). But there’s good reason to believe that a rise of two degrees will lead to catastrophic consequences. And of course, what’s “catastrophic” depends on where you live, and how poor you are, and more often than not the color of your skin. If you’re one of the billions of people who live in the poorest and most vulnerable places—from Bangladesh to Louisiana—even 1 degree can mean catastrophe.

But the world’s climate scientists and leading energy experts are telling us that unless the major economies drastically and immediately change course—leaving all but a small fraction of fossil fuel reserves in the ground over the next four decades—we are headed for a temperature rise of four or five or even six degrees C within this century. The World Bank has warned that four degrees “must be avoided.” But we’re not avoiding it. Global emissions are still rising each year. We’re plunging headlong toward the worst-case scenarios—critical global food and water shortages, rapid sea-level rise, social upheaval—and beyond.

The question is not whether we’re going to “stop” global warming, or “solve” the climate crisis; it is whether humanity will act quickly and decisively enough now to save civilization itself—in any form worth saving. Whether any kind of stable, humane and just future—any kind of just society—is still possible.

We know that if the governments of the world actually wanted to address this situation in a serious way, they could. Indeed, a select few, such as Germany, have begun to do so. It can be done—and at relatively low cost. And yet the fossil-fuel industry, and those who do its bidding, have been engaged in a successful decades-long effort to sow confusion, doubt and opposition—and to obstruct any serious policies that might slow the warming, or their profits, and buy us time.

As I’ve said elsewhere, let’s be clear about what this means: at this late date, given what we know and have known for decades, to willfully obstruct any serious response to global warming is to knowingly allow entire countries and cultures to disappear. It is to rob the poorest and most vulnerable people on the planet of their land, their homes, their livelihoods, even their lives and their children’s lives—and their children’s children’s lives. For money. For political power.

These are crimes. They are crimes against the Earth, and they are crimes against humanity.

What, are you shocked? The same industry, the same people committing these crimes—while we subsidize them for their trouble—have been getting away with murder along the fence lines and front lines for generations.

What is the proper response to this? How should I respond?

Remain calm, we’re told. No “scare tactics” or “hysterics,” please. Cooler heads will prevail. Enjoy the Earth Day festivities.

Fuck that.

The cooler heads have not prevailed. It’s been a quarter-century since the alarm was sounded. The cooler heads have failed.

You want sweet, cool-headed reason?

How about this? Masses of people—most of them young, a generation with little or nothing to lose—physically, nonviolently disrupting the fossil-fuel industry and the institutions that support it and abet it. Getting in the way of business as usual. Forcing the issue. Finally acting as though we accept what the science is telling us.

Um, isn’t that a bit extreme? you ask.

Really? You want extreme? Business as usual is extreme. Just ask a climate scientist. The building is burning. The innocents—the poor, the oppressed, the children, your own children—are inside. And the American petro state is spraying fuel, not water, on the flames. That’s more than extreme. It’s homicidal. It’s psychopathic. It’s fucking insane.

* * *

Coming to grips with the climate crisis is hard. A friend of mine says it’s like walking around with a knife in your chest. I couldn’t agree more.

So I ask again, in the face of this situation, how does one respond? Many of us, rather than retreat into various forms of denial and fatalism, have reached the conclusion that something more than “environmentalism” is called for, and that a new kind of movement is the only option. That the only thing, at this late hour, offering any chance of averting an unthinkable future—and of getting through the crisis that’s already upon us—is the kind of radical social and political movement that has altered the course of history in the past. A movement far less like contemporary environmentalism and far more like the radical human rights, social justice and liberation struggles of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Does that sound hopelessly naïve to you? Trust me, I get it. I know. I know how it sounds.

And yet here I am. Because I also know that abolishing slavery sounded hopeless and naïve in 1857, when Frederick Douglass spoke of struggle.

What I’m talking about is not a fight to “solve the climate crisis.” That’s not possible anymore. But neither is it simply a fight for human survival—because there are oppressive and dystopian forms of survival, not to mention narcissistic ones, that aren’t worth fighting for.

What I’m talking about is both a fight for survival and a fight for justice—for even the possibility of justice. It’s a fight that transcends environmentalism. It requires something of us beyond the usual politics and proposals, the usual pieties. It requires the kind of commitment you find in radical movements—the kind of struggles, from abolition to women’s, labor and civil rights, that have made possible what was previously unimaginable.

Because our global crisis—not merely environmental but moral and spiritual—is fundamental: it strikes to the root of who we are. It’s a radical situation, requiring a radical response. Not merely radical in the sense of ideology, but a kind of radical necessity. It requires us to find out who we really are—and, nonviolently, in the steps of Gandhi and King and many others, to act. In some cases, to lay everything—everything—on the line.

And it requires us to be honest, with one another and with ourselves, about the situation we face. We’ll never have a movement radical enough, or humane enough, until we are.

That is, until Earth Day is buried—and a day of reckoning begins.

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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Rare-earth mining in China comes at a heavy cost for local villages

By Guardian Weekly / The Guardian

By Guardian Weekly / The Guardian

From the air it looks like a huge lake, fed by many tributaries, but on the ground it turns out to be a murky expanse of water, in which no fish or algae can survive. The shore is coated with a black crust, so thick you can walk on it. Into this huge, 10 sq km tailings pond nearby factories discharge water loaded with chemicals used to process the 17 most sought after minerals in the world, collectively known as rare earths.

The town of Baotou, in Inner Mongolia, is the largest Chinese source of these strategic elements, essential to advanced technology, from smartphones to GPS receivers, but also to wind farms and, above all, electric cars. The minerals are mined at Bayan Obo, 120km farther north, then brought to Baotou for processing.

The concentration of rare earths in the ore is very low, so they must be separated and purified, using hydro-metallurgical techniques and acid baths. China accounts for 97% of global output of these precious substances, with two-thirds produced in Baotou.

The foul waters of the tailings pond contain all sorts of toxic chemicals, but also radioactive elements such as thorium which, if ingested, cause cancers of the pancreas and lungs, and leukaemia. “Before the factories were built, there were just fields here as far as the eye can see. In the place of this radioactive sludge, there were watermelons, aubergines and tomatoes,” says Li Guirong with a sigh.

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Wind farms will create more carbon dioxide, say scientists

By Andrew Gilligan / The Telegraph

By Andrew Gilligan / The Telegraph

The finding, which threatens the entire rationale of the onshore wind farm industry, will be made by Scottish government-funded researchers who devised the standard method used by developers to calculate “carbon payback time” for wind farms on peat soils.

Wind farms are typically built on upland sites, where peat soil is common. In Scotland alone, two thirds of all planned onshore wind development is on peatland. England and Wales also have large numbers of current or proposed peatland wind farms.

But peat is also a massive store of carbon, described as Europe’s equivalent of the tropical rainforest. Peat bogs contain and absorb carbon in the same way as trees and plants — but in much higher quantities.

British peatland stores at least 3.2 billion tons of carbon, making it by far the country’s most important carbon sink and among the most important in the world.

Wind farms, and the miles of new roads and tracks needed to service them, damage or destroy the peat and cause significant loss of carbon to the atmosphere, where it contributes to climate change.

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Sustainability is destroying the Earth

By Kim / Stories of Creative Ecology

By Kim / Stories of Creative Ecology

Don’t talk to me about sustainability.  You want to question my lifestyle, my impact, my ecological footprint?  There is a monster standing over us, with a footprint so large it can trample a whole planet underfoot, without noticing or caring.  This monster is Industrial Civilization.  I refuse to sustain the monster.  If the Earth is to live, the monster must die.  This is a declaration of war.

What is it we are trying to sustain?  A living planet, or industrial civilization?  Because we can’t have both.

Somewhere along the way the environmental movement – based on a desire to protect the Earth, was largely eaten by the sustainability movement – based on a desire to maintain our comfortable lifestyles.  When did this happen, and why?  And how is it possible that no-one noticed?  This is a fundamental shift in values, to go from compassion for all living beings and the land, to a selfish wish to feel good about our inherently destructive way of life.

The sustainability movement says that our capacity to endure is the responsibility of individuals, who must make lifestyle choices within the existing structures of civilization.  To achieve a truly sustainable culture by this means is impossible.  Industrial infrastructure is incompatible with a living planet.  If life on Earth is to survive, the global political and economic structures need to be dismantled.

Sustainability advocates tell us that reducing our impact, causing less harm to the Earth, is a good thing to do, and we should feel good about our actions.  I disagree. Less harm is not good.  Less harm is still a lot of harm.  For as long as any harm is caused, by anyone, there can be no sustainability. Feeling good about small acts doesn’t help anyone.

Only one-quarter of all consumption is by individuals.  The rest is taken up by industry, agribusiness, the military, governments and corporations.  Even if every one of us made every effort to reduce our ecological footprint, it would make little difference to overall consumption.

If the lifestyle actions advocated really do have the effect of keeping our culture around for longer than it would otherwise, then it will cause more harm to the natural world than if no such action had been taken.  For the longer a destructive culture is sustained, the more destruction it causes.  The title of this article isn’t just attention-grabbing and controversial, it is quite literally what’s going on.

When we frame the sustainability debate around the premise that individual lifestyle choices are the solution, then the enemy becomes other individuals who make different lifestyle choices, and those who don’t have the privilege of choice.  Meanwhile the true enemy — the oppressive structures of civilization — are free to continue their destructive and murderous practices without question.  This is hardly an effective way to create a meaningful social movement.  Divide and be conquered.

Sustainability is po Continue reading

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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