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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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TL: I hear a lot of talk about sustainable agriculture. In your view, is there any kind of agriculture that is sustainable?

LK: No, and I'm going to quote both Toby Hemenway, the permaculture guy, and Richard Manning, who is a wonderful scholar of prairies.Both use the same sentence, which is: Sustainable agriculture is an oxymoron.

TL: So then we would be going back to a hunting/gathering system for food?

LK: You could have hunter/gatherer, you can have horticulturism, you could have pastoralism. In some way those are all variations on a theme. It's based on perennial polycultures. But the moment that you clear away those biotic communities, you destroy those perennial plants. Then, you are talking about agriculture, and that is inherently destructive.

DJ: The important thing to remember through all of this is that the land is primary. Indigenous people in California and certainly elsewhere have changed their landscape, but they did so with the recognition that they're going to be in that place for the next 500 years. If you are planning on living in place for the next 500 years, you're going to make radical land-use decisions. I can't imagine anyone who would plan on living in place for 500 years who would allow mountaintop removal or agriculture, for that matter, or who would allow rivers to be poisoned or dammed. We have to recognize that life is based on the land and that one can't allow the land to be destroyed, because if the land is destroyed, then you're destroyed.

TL: The foresight that people seem to have today is about the length of an election cycle. How can we get folks to take a longer view?

DJ: So many indigenous people have said to me, the first thing we need to do is decolonize our hearts and minds. Another way to look at this is to say, "What is it that you want?" If what you are wanting is the results of an extractive economy, then you're facing an insoluble problem, because you can't have the financial benefits of empire without empire. So one of the reasons we lose so often is that I think a lot of us are not very clear about what we want. So the first thing is for people to be clear on what they want. I want to live in a world that has more wild salmon every year than the year before.

A lof of environmentalists want to protect a piece of ground but do not question why the land is being destroyed. If they do, that leads to the question of why is land in general being destroyed, and then that leads to the question of why do you have an economy where more land always needs to be destroyed. But different questions will also lead you to the same direction. If you ask why do men rape women, and you keep asking that question, it is going to lead you to the foundation of the patriarchy. If you ask about racism, what are the roots of it, keep asking the question. You end up going back to some fundamental problem.

The whole point is that people increasingly recognize that we don't live in a democracy and that the government actually serves corporations instead of human beings. I ask people all the time — does the U.S. government better serve individual human beings or corporations? Nobody ever says individual people, nobody. When I go talk to a local computer store owner, I don't talk about salmon, because he doesn't care. What I talk about is Walmart, because he now has to get a second job in addition to his computer store. And this is true — he now has to get a second job as a guard at prison because Walmart can sell computers cheaper than he can buy them. So Walmart has essentially driven him out of business. We can find those wedges. We don't just have to get people thinking long-term. The first thing I think we have to do is to find a way — that they already hate the system, and use that as an entree to begin talking.

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