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Derrick Jensen: Consumer Culture Is Killing the Planet -- We Need to Build a Culture of Resistance

Derrick Jensen on why a society built on non-renewable resources cannot last.

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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that any way of living that’s based on the use of non-renewable resources won’t last. In fact, I would say it takes anybody but a rocket scientist to figure that out. And likewise, it doesn’t take someone who’s very smart to figure out that if every year there are fewer salmon returning than the year before, that eventually there won’t be any left. I mean, there were so many passenger pigeons that they would darken the sky for days at a time. There were six times as many passenger pigeons than all the birds in North America. Do we know why there aren’t any penguins in the northern hemisphere? The great ox? They were destroyed. And my point is that any way of life that’s based on the hyper-exploitation of renewable resources won’t last. In the book, What We Leave Behind, what we came to for a definition of "sustainability" is leaving the physical world in a better place than when you were born, that the world is actually a better place because you were born.

A lot of definitions of "civilization" that we see are not really very specific, and the definition I like the most, which is defensible both linguistically and historically, is civilization is a way of life characterized by the growth of cities—once again, defensible both linguistically and historically. A city, I’ve defined as people living in numbers large enough to require the importation of resources. And what this means, that the Tolowa didn’t live in cities, because they didn’t require the importation of resources. They didn’t live in cities; they lived in villages, camps, and they ate salmon. They ate what the land gave willingly.

And two things happen as soon as you require the importation of resources. One is that your way of living can never be sustainable, because if you require the importation of resources, it means you denuded the land base of that particular resource, and as your city grows, you’ll need an ever larger area. And the other thing it means is that your way of life must be based on violence, because if you require the importation of resources, trade will never be sufficiently reliable, because if you require the importation of resources and the people in the next watershed over aren’t going to trade you for it, you’re going to take it. And one of the problems with this whole system is that destroying your land base gives you a competitive advantage over the other cultures who don’t. The forests of North Africa went down to make the Phoenician and Egyptian navies. And if you destroy your land base, if you don’t care about the future, you can turn this into immediate power and then use it to conquer, and which is something you have to do, because you’ve destroyed your own land base. And as time goes on, you have to keep expanding. And that’s not a very good idea on a finite planet.

AMY GOODMAN: Derrick Jensen—part two of our conversation coming up later this week—author of Resistance against Empire, A Language Older than Words, Deep Green Resistance, coming soon.

Amy Goodman is the host of the nationally syndicated radio news program, Democracy Now! .

 
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