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Do We Need a Militant Movement to Save the Planet (and Ourselves)?

Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Aric McBay call for new strategy to stave off environmental catastrophe.

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Aric McBay: If we are talking about a post-industrial society, then I think we have to draw on the examples of traditional, indigenous societies, so I think the answer will look very different, depending on where you live and what your landbase is. So, if I'm here on an island in the St. Lawrence River, where I am now, then my answer to that question will be very different than if I live where Lierre and Derrick are on the coast of California, or if I live in the Amazon rainforest. I think one of the problems with industrial society in general is that it tries to come up with some answer that it can impose everywhere on the planet, and that just doesn't work. But in general, I think that the kind of society we would envision is based on democratic, small communities that can obtain their food locally and use energy that the land around them can provide.

The future that we want isn't going to come about automatically or accidentally. People have to think about where this culture is leading us and what we have to do to get a livable future. If we continue on with business as usual, which is the drawdown of freshwater supplies, the destruction of soil, the burning of every fossil fuel source that can be dug or ground out of the planet, then the endpoint is something that looks like what is happening in the Horn of Africa right now. I mean, that's what happens when colonialism reaches its endpoint and the soil and water are destroyed. That is the kind of future that is going to happen if we don't take action and effective resistance.

Global warming is not the sort of thing where you can delay action and say, "OK, when it gets bad, we'll stop burning fossil fuels," because the planet's climate just doesn't work that way. If we pass certain tipping points that we're already passing, then global warming will become irreversible even if we stop burning fossil fuels. Tipping points like methane being melted and released from the floor of the Arctic ocean, which is already happening now. Or the Amazon rainforest, which produces its own climate, drying out and turning into a desert. There have been prolonged droughts already there. We are really on the edge of when we can take action and still be effective. Of course, that is the business as usual scenario but there are other scenarios where people take action and disrupt the system that is exploiting the poor globally and destroying the planet. And then we have a chance to build the kind of communities that not only will be sustainable but will meet the basic human needs that so many people aren't having met right now.

LK: The grasslands are 98 percent gone, and the prairies of the world are 99 percent gone, and they've been destroyed for agriculture. So, if we can repair those perennial polycultures, especially the grasslands, and return them to the prairies, they would be with their full community members. In this country, that would be the bison. Those are the animals that need to be here. If we could do that over 75 percent of the world's trashed-out rangelands, it would take about 15 years, but we could sequester all of the carbon that's been released since the beginning of the industrial age. That's a tremendous amount of carbon, but that's how good prairies are at building topsoil. The basic building block of soil is carbon. This is not hopeful. There is a lot of hope, though, in terms of learning to participate once more with the planet as members of those biotic communities, but it means we have to stop destroying and remember what our place really is in that cycle of life.

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