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 popular with corporations, media and government because it fits perfectly with their aims.  Maintain power.  Grow.  Make yourself out to be the good guy.  Make people believe that they have power when they don’t.  Tell everyone to keep calm and carry on shopping.  Control the language that is used to debate the issues.  By creating and reinforcing the belief that voting for minor changes and buying more stuff will solve all problems, those in power have a highly effective strategy for maintaining economic growth and corporate-controlled democracy.

Those in power keep people believing that the only way we can change anything is within the structures they’ve created.  They build the structures in a way that people can never change anything from within them.  Voting, petitions, and rallies all reinforce the power structures, and can never bring about significant change on their own.  These tactics give corporations and governments a choice.  We’re giving those in power a choice of whether to grant our request for minor reform.  Animals suffering in factory farms don’t have a choice.  Forests being destroyed in the name of progress don’t have a choice.  Millions of people working in majority-world sweatshops don’t have a choice.  The 200 species who became extinct today didn’t do so by choice.  And yet we give those responsible for all this murder and suffering a choice.  We’re granting the desires of a wealthy minority above the needs of life on Earth.

Most of the popular actions that advocates propose to achieve sustainability have no real effect, and some even cause more harm than good.  The strategies include reducing electricity consumption, reducing water use, a green economy, recycling, sustainable building, renewables and energy efficiency.  Let’s look at the effects of these actions.

Electricity

We’re told to reduce our consumption of electricity, or obtain it from alternative sources.  This will make zero difference to the sustainability of our culture as a whole, because the electricity grid is inherently unsustainable.  No amount of reduction or so-called renewable energy sources will change this.  Mining to make electrical wires, components, electrical devices, solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal plants, biomass furnaces, hydropower dams, and everything else that connects to the electricity grid, are all unsustainable.  Manufacturing to make these things, with all the human exploitation, pollution, waste, health and social impacts, and corporate profits.  Fossil fuels needed to keep all these processes going.  Unsustainable.  No amount of individual lifestyle choices about electricity use and generation will change any of this.  Off grid electricity is no different – it needs batteries and inverters.

Water conservation

Shorter showers.  Low-flow devices.  Water restrictions.  These are all claimed to Make A Difference.  While the whole infrastructure that provides this water – large dams, long distance pipelines, pumps, sewers, drains – is all unsustainable.

Dams destroy the life of a whole watershed.  It’s like blocking off an artery, preventing blood from flowing to your limbs.  No-one can survive this.  Rivers become dead when fish are prevented from travelling up and down the river.  The whole of the natural community that these fish belong to is killed, both upstream and downstream of the dam.

Dams cause a lowering of the water table, making it impossible for tree roots to get to water.  Floodplain ecologies depend on seasonal flooding, and collapse when a dam upstream prevents this.  Downstream and coastal erosion results.  Anaerobic decomposition of organic matter in dams releases methane to the atmosphere.

No matter how efficient with water you are, this infrastructure will never be sustainable.  It needs to be destroyed, to allow these communities to regenerate.

The green economy

Green jobs.  Green products.  The sustainable economy.  No.  There’s no such thing.  The whole of the global economy is unsustainable.  The economy runs on the destruction of the natural world.  The Earth is treated as nothing but fuel for economic growth.  They call it natural resources.  And a few people choosing to remove themselves from this economy makes no difference.  For as long as this economy exists, there will be no sustainability.

For as long as any of these structures exist: electricity, mains water, global economy, industrial agriculture – there can be no sustainability.  To achieve true sustainability, these structures need to be dismantled.

What’s more important to you – to sustain a comfortable lifestyle for a little longer, or the continuation of life on Earth, for the natural communities who remain, and for future generations?

Recycling

We’re made to believe that buying a certain product is good because the packaging can be recycled.  You can choose to put it in a brightly-coloured bin.  Never mind that fragile ecosystems were destroyed, indigenous communities displaced, people in far away places required to work in slave conditions, and rivers polluted, just to make the package in the first place.  Never mind that it will be recycled into another useless product which will then go to landfill.  Never mind that to recycle it means transporting it far away, using machinery that run on electricity and fossil fuels, causing pollution and waste.  Never mind that if you put something else in the coloured bin, the whole load goes to landfill due to the contamination.

Sustainable building

Principles of sustainable building: build more houses, even though there are already enough perfectly good houses for everyone to live in.  Clear land for houses, destroying every living thing in the natural communities that live there.   Build with timber from plantation forests, which have required native forests to be wiped out so they can be replaced with a monoculture of pines where nothing else can live.  Use building products that are slightly less harmful than other products.  Convince everyone that all of this is beneficial to the Earth.

Solar power

Solar panels.  The very latest in sustainability fashion.  And in true sustainability style, incredibly destructive of life on earth.  Where do these things come from?  You’re supposed to believe that they are made out of nothing, a free, non-polluting source of electricity.

If you dare to ask where solar panels come from, and how they are made, its not hard to uncover the truth.  Solar panels are made of metals, plastics, rare earths, electronic components.  They require mining, manufacturing, war, waste, pollution.  Millions of tons of lead are dumped into rivers and farmland around solar panel factories in China and India, causing health problems for the human and natural communities who live there.  Polysilicon is another poisonous and polluting waste product from manufacturing that is dumped in China.  The production of solar panels causes nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) to be emitted into the atmosphere.  This gas has 17 000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Rare earths come from Africa, and wars are raged over the right to mine them.  People are being killed so you can have your comfortable Sustainability.  The panels are manufactured in China.  The factories emit so much pollution that people living nearby become sick.  Lakes and rivers become dead from the pollution.  These people cannot drink the water, breathe the air or farm the land, as a direct result of solar panel manufacturing.  Your sustainability is so popular in China that villagers mobilise in mass protest against the manufacturers.  They are banding together to break into the factories and destroy equipment, forcing the factories to shut down.  They value their lives more than sustainability for the rich.

Panels last around 30 years, then straight to landfill.  More pollution, more waste.  Some parts of solar panels can be recycled, but some can’t, and have the bonus of being highly toxic.  To be recycled, solar panels are sent to majority-world countries where low-wage workers are exposed to toxic substances while disassembling them. The recycling process itself requires energy and transportation, and creates waste products.

Solar panel industries are owned by Siemens, Samsung, Bosch, Sharp, Mitsubishi, BP, and Sanyo, among others.  This is where solar panel rebates and green power bills are going.  These corporations thank you for your sustainable dollars.

Wind power

The processing of rare earth metals needed to make the magnets for wind turbines happens in China, where people in the surrounding villages struggle to breathe in the heavily polluted air.  A five-mile-wide lake of toxic and radioactive sludge now takes the place of their farmland.

Whole mountain ranges are destroyed to extract the metals.  Forests are bulldozed to erect wind turbines.  Millions of birds and bats are killed by the blades.  The health of people living close to turbines is affected by infrasound.

As wind is an inconsistent and unpredictable source of energy, a back-up gas fired power supply is needed.  As the back-up system only runs intermittently, it is less efficient, so produces more CO2than if it were running constantly, if there were no turbines.  Wind power sounds great in theory, but doesn’t work in practice.  Another useless product that benefits no-one but the shareholders.

Energy efficiency

How about we improve energy efficiency?  Won’t that reduce energy consumption and pollution?  Well, no.  Quite the opposite.  Have you heard of Jevon’s paradox?  Or the Khazzoom-Brookes Postulate?  These state that technological advances to increase efficiency lead to an increase in energy consumption, not a decrease.  Efficiency causes more energy to be available for other purposes.  The more efficient we become at consuming, the more we consume.  The more efficiently we work, the more work gets done.  And we’re working at efficiently digging ourselves into a hole.

The economics of supply and demand

Many actions taken in the name of sustainability can have the opposite effect.  Here’s something to ponder: one person’s decision not to take flights, out of concern about climate change or sustainability, won’t have any impact.  If a few people stop flying, airlines will reduce their prices, and amp up their marketing, and more people will take flights.  And because they are doing it at lower prices, the airline needs to make more flights to make the profit it was before.  More flights, more carbon emissions.  And if the industry hit financial trouble as a result of lowered demand, it would get bailed out by governments.  This “opt-out” strategy can’t win.

The decision not to fly isn’t doing anything to reduce the amount of carbon being emitted, it’s just not adding to it in this instance.  And any small reduction in the amount of carbon being emitted does nothing to stop climate change.

To really have an impact on global climate, we’ll need to stop every aeroplane and every fossil-fuel burning machine from operating ever again.  And stopping every fossil-fuel burning machine is nowhere near the impossible goal it may sound.  It won’t be easy, but it’s definitely achievable.  And it’s not only desirable, but essential if life on this planet is to survive.

The same goes for any other destructive product we might choose not to buy.  Factory-farmed meat, palm oil, rainforest timbers, processed foods.  For as long as there is a product to sell, there will be buyers.  Attempting to reduce the demand will have little, if any, effect.  There will always be more products arriving on the market.  Campaigns to reduce the demand of individual products will never be able to keep up.  And with every new product, the belief that this one is a need, not a luxury, becomes ever stronger.  Can I convince you not to buy a smartphone, a laptop, a coffee?  I doubt it.

To stop the devastation, we need to permanently cut off the supply, of everything that production requires.  And targeting individual companies or practices won’t have any impact on the global power structures that feed on the destruction of the Earth.  The whole of the global economy needs to be brought to a halt.

What do you really want?

What’s more important – sustainable energy for you to watch TV, or the lives of the world’s rivers, forests, animals, and oceans?  Would you sooner live without these, without Earth?  Even if this was an option, if you weren’t tightly bound in the interconnected in the web of life, would you really prefer to have electricity for your lights, computers and appliances, rather than share the ecstasy of being with all of life on Earth?  Is a lifeless world ruled by machines really what you want?

If getting what you want requires destroying everything you need – clean air and water, food, and natural communities – then you’re not going to last long, and neither will anyone else.

I know what I want.  I want to live in a world that is becoming ever more alive.  A world regenerating from the destruction, where every year there are more fish, birds, trees and diversity than the year before. A world where I can breathe the air, drink from the rivers and eat from the land.  A world where humans live in community with all of life.

Industrial technology is not sustainable.  The global economy is not sustainable.  Valuing the Earth only as a resource for humans to exploit is not sustainable.  Civilization is not sustainable.  If civilization collapsed today, it would still be 400 years before human existence on the planet becomes truly sustainable.  So if it’s genuine sustainability you want, then dismantle civilization today, and keep working at regenerating the Earth for 400 years.  This is about how long it’s taken to create the destructive structures we live within today, so of course it will take at least that long to replace these structures with alternatives that benefit all of life on Earth, not just the wealthy minority.  It won’t happen instantly, but that’s no reason not to start.

You might say let’s just walk away, build alternatives, and let the whole system just fall apart when no-one pays it any attention any more.  I used to like this idea too.  But it can’t work.  Those in power use the weapons of fear and debt to maintain their control.  The majority of the world’s people don’t have the option of walking away.  Their fear and debt keeps them locked in the prison of civilization.  Your walking away doesn’t help them.  Your breaking down the prison structure does.

We don’t have time to wait for civilization to collapse.  Ninety per cent of large fish in the oceans are gone.  99 per cent of the old growth forests have been destroyed.  Every day 200 more species become extinct, forever.  If we wait any longer, there will be no fish, no forests, no life left anywhere on Earth.

So what can you do?

Spread the word.  Challenge the dominant beliefs.  Share this article with everyone you know.

Listen to the Earth.  Get to know your nonhuman neighbors   Look after each other.  Act collectively, not individually.  Build alternatives, like gift economies, polyculture food systems, alternative education and community governance.  Create a culture of resistance.

Rather than attempting to reduce the demand for the products of a destructive system, cut off the supply.  The economy is what’s destroying the planet, so stop the economy.  The global economy is dependent on a constant supply of electricity, so stopping it is (almost) as easy as flicking a switch.

Governments and industry will never do this for us, no matter how nicely we ask, or how firmly we push.  It’s up to us to defend the land that our lives depend on.

We can’t do this as consumers, or workers, or citizens.  We need to act as humans, who value life more than consuming, working and complaining about the government.

Learn about and support Deep Green Resistance, a movement with a working strategy to save the planet.  Together, we can fight for a world worth living in.  Join us.

In the words of Lierre Keith, co-author of the book Deep Green Resistance, “The task of an activist is not to navigate systems of oppressive power with as much personal integrity as possible; it is to dismantle those systems.”

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Originally posted by Stories of Creative Ecology here.

86 thoughts on “Sustainability is destroying the Earth

  1. Here’s a problem – without industrial civilization, we won’t have modern birth control. Without birth control, the population will expand exponentially, well past the ability to feed itself. How would that be sustainable?

    • Well, it’s also important to remember that while population is a problem, it is a secondary problem at best – resource consumption and the failure to accept limits being larger, primary problems. Reduction in population won’t necessarily mean much if we don’t also significantly address problems of overconsumption.

      Also: industrial civilization does not have a monopoly on medicine. There are certainly many herbs and plants that have historically been used by many cultures for purposes of birth control. While keeping this possibility in mind, one of the most effective ways in which birth control can be implemented is by giving all women full control over their own bodies in the first place.

      • I wasn’t implying that consumption isn’t a problem. Obviously, even if the entire developing world disappeared, we’d still be on track for catastrophic climate change based on US, Australia and Europe’s emissions alone, especially considering what we outsource to Asia, and ecosystems would still be collapsing from pollution The paradox I brought up is that without modern contraception, the population will eventually become unsustainable whether it’s industrialized or not and then the ultimate outcome is that people will cut down every forest to plant food and burn the last tree for fuel.

        Also, I have seen no evidence that there are herbs and plants that are effective for population control, because if there were, I doubt we would have a history of continually going into overshoot. I was a teenager before abortion was legal and if there was any “natural” way of preventing pregnancy, nothing would have stopped me and the girls I knew from using it. Giving women full control over their bodies only works if they have the means for contraception. Therein lies another paradox which is that without the trappings – the judicial institutions of modern civilization- women are less, not more likely to be free of domination.

      • A quick Google search for natural contraceptives can provide many examples of herbs and plants that can effectively be used. Here is but one example: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/natural-birth-control-using-herbs/

        Of course, the practice of using such herbs is not a history of industrial civilization, or even most civilizations. This culture is based on the science and reason of (white) men so it shouldn’t be a shock that we don’t necessarily carry the traditional knowledge of herbal medicines. Our lack of experience with this knowledge doesn’t make it any less true or viable, however.

        One of the more unfortunate side affects of living in this culture is that it makes us sick and we are dependent on its science and medicine to cure the diseases it creates itself. The end of industrial medicine will of course have severe consequences for the many people who are dependent on its perpetuation in order to live, but that doesn’t make the end of industrialism any less necessary.

      • From a arithmetic perspective population is a equal problem to over-consumption. Both problems needs to be addressed. But there is also some differences. If we ignore ecological limits consumption has its own limits, even people in wealthy nations get satisfied at a certain point. On the other hand population size doesn’t have an equal limit.

        Also it’s easier to lower consumption than to lower population. If the human footprint exceeds the biocapacity we can change our consumption levels. However if we are many people with already low consumption levels the same scenario will lead to an ecological collapse of the human population. Not a very pretty scenario.

        If we take human egoism into the calculation over-consumption is most likely a smaller problem than over-population.

        And many academics agree on that: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/04/090418075752.htm

      • the moment we pull the plug, turn off the electricity… the mortality of the infants will rise up, and also mortality of the sick… it will balance itself back to what it was 100 years ago… when families had 10 children but only 2 or maybe 3 survived the adulthood…
        anyway, it will also bring back the same problems we had 100 years ago… farms will need to be passed on to only one child, and the rest will work for food… but then, we’re going in that direction anyway…

    • Gail: I hope your comment isn’t meant to mean, “If we do this, population might get worse, so let’s not.”

      Didn’t population start increasing exponentially with the rise of industrialism? So a eduction in industrial civilization should entail a reduction in population, all else being equal.

      • There is going to be a reduction in both whether we plan for it or want it or not. Sure after we discovered fossil fuels for energy and particularly their application as chemical fertilizers, the population exploded. But it was inexorably rising anyway and there were many collapses – Ireland is only one example. It was only a matter of time before the entire globe went into overshoot with or without fossil fuels (barring a pandemic).

      • It amazes me that under UN Agenda 21 somehow governments find Monsanto and mega-corporate agriculture with all the pesticides, herbicides and GMOs ‘sustainable’ and small family farms, where stewardship of the land is historically more likely to occur, unsustainable.

      • No, exponential growth began with the origin of agriculture. But demographic (exponential or logarithmic) growth can happen without it or any other technological or social innovation.

    • With correct living, without eating and exploiting animals, birds and fish, and without wars, this earth is perfectly capable of accommodating up to 20 billion people, not just 7.
      And if you can give up mains water and electricity, you can be more careful about when and with whom you indulge in sexual activity, plus you won’t NEED tons of children as life insurance for your old age, as happens in the ‘developing’ countries..

      • “Perfectly capable of accommodating up to 20 billion people.” I feel to conceptualize, believe and assert this possibility reveals a misunderstanding of what is “correct living.” I don’t understand how claiming the earth can accommodate 20 billion people is in any way a positive thing. Can you clarify what you mean and explain how you feel it is a positive thing? Thank you.

    • Give me an obsidian scalpel & I’ll give the man in your life a vasectomy without relying upon industrial civilization. The first condoms were made from sheep’s bladders. I’ll bet a skilled latex extractor could create diaphragms & condoms without hurting the trees or relying upon modern machinery.

    • Is that why the population only started exploding when industrial civilisation came along?

      Human populations, just like ALL other populations, are generally limited by food availability. Industrial civilisation has increased the food availability (although much that is known as food today shouldn’t be allowed to carry that name) drastically. So far that now other factors are starting to limit populations here and there. In the ‘wealthy’ west, children have become financial burdens, whereas in poor nations children are a helping hand to increase the income and food for the family. The overproduction in the rich nations is sold or ‘given’ to the poor nations, where it directly contributes to the population explosion there.

      Industrial civilisation out of the window would most definitely not result in more population.
      Arthur Sevestre

    • Population density is directly related to power: who has it and who uses it. it has been shown that when women are empowered through access to education and jobs, they have fewer children. Birth control is a necessary but secondary aspect in this matter

    • Without industrial civilization we also won’t have all other modern medicine (it’s not just modern contraception that we lose) so more children and mothers will die without fancy medicine and hospitals, the fittest will be more likely to survive, strengthening the gene pool, the weak would die and not breed more weakness, the population would not expand exponentially because more natural population control like famine and disease would keep us in check.

      • Humans started out in Africa and, with only a few exceptions, colonized just about every nook and cranny on earth no matter how inhospitable the climate, and we did it all before the industrial revolution.

      • um, what? This naive over-simplifcation of a pre-industrialised world and natural selection is so ridiculous I feel like any argument I try to make will only get lost. Alas, I’ll try: one-third of women died from childbirth before we had “fancy” hospitals (sometimes painfully and slowly), does that make them weak? It happened until we created equipment to slow that from happening which means our natural selection until that time had seemingly failed because we were still producing women who would die in childbirth. They must’ve been genetically weaker, according to your theory. I don’t know how you think this ‘natural selection’ would actually work and give us less “weakness” (whatever the hell you think that means anyway) when, most of the time, it’s an absolute question of luck rather than good genes that determines whether you live or die. What about humans killing each other? Accidents? Are those people “weaker”? Is a murderer stronger than its victim? Sure, you could claim that if we just stopped hurting each other we’d claim some utopian world of perfection but humans are just not capable of that. We’ve proven that through our entire existence.

  2. Not the meaning of sustainability that means anything to me. True sustainability is Sustainability of the Bioshere and any human endeavour that fails to acknowlwdge that is therefore unsustainable. Humankind takes exploitation of the biosphere for granted and rarely even plays lipservice to the contribution of the planet itno it’s economic equations. As a fine and glaring example if mankind carrie on exploiting the protein bounty in the oceans at the current rate there will very quickly be no bountiful oceans as they will be devoid of life as we know and knew it. Eco9systems evo9lved over millions of years to be in balance and as soon as that balance is disturbed then the ecosystem will be changed forever. in most of the world, top carnivorous predators have been externimated, resulting in a rise of herbivorous grazers that remove everything but the most mature trees even without the introduction of specially bred herbivores like sheep. Humankind owes planet Earth a huge debt which is never going to be repaid It is the task of all of us that care to stop this relentless trashing of our planet so that there will be a future for at least the next few human generations.

  3. Pingback: Sustainability is destroying the Earth | The Vital Awaress Project

  4. “Only one-quarter of all consumption is by individuals.  The rest is taken up by industry, agribusiness, the military, governments and corporations. ” … perhaps, but “the rest” are producing and securing goods that individuals are using. I agree that the solution isn’t just about individual actions, but individuals make up the system. Most of us are not to blame for how dysfunctional all of it is, that’s the doing of a greedy few. We need to work together to change the system which also includes changes to individual habits.

  5. Although your premise is true, how does your missive inspire people to change their behavior? People don’t respond positively to brow-beating, in fact many respond with even more forceful opposition. So yes, let’s engage in a conversation about what “sustainability” means and whether it is a worthy objective. However, you ‘ll be much more successful if you give people simple ways of starting the process of leaving their over-consumption and self-centered relativism behind. Shaming them and cajolling them into giving up everything cold-turkey will only harden them against a very important message: we all need to change the way we live, we all need to learn how to be free of the consumer lifestyle, and we all need to understand our place in the ecology of our planet.

  6. Bicycles are a key transformation tool. They’re not perfect, but they are such an improvement over cars. A bike is actually faster than a car if you count the time you spend earning your vehicle. Not only does the move from cars to bikes improve the health of the planet, but it will improve your personal health. You can become “fit for the struggle” if you Bike4Peace.

      • I’ve been car-free year round for 18 years, Kenny. Since I’ve turned 50, I’ve cycled through 33 states, crossing the USA north, south, and center, down both coasts, and up the Mississippi. Cars are a relatively recent phenomenon. The vast majority of people who’ve walked this planet have gotten around fine without them. We can keep trains, but cars have got to go, if we want our progeny to survive.

    • Consider this: the biggest polluter in the city of Portland is SAPA Extrusions, an aluminum production company that focuses on the production of bicycles. So while one bicycle may seem like a revolution, the industrial production of thousands of bicycles looks more like 995,962 pounds of Sulfuric acid pouring into the air.

      • Ok, so if we remove every aspect of industrialization, exactly how will society look? How do you stop the economy? And how would you get the majority of humans to agree to dismantle it? Is stopping the economy even possible?

      • We’ve obviously got a lot of work to do, but I’ll bet the cars in Portland produce way more pollution than SAPA. Globally, cars are near the top of the list for polluting air, water, and soil, not to mention noise, light, and social disintegration. Getting rid of cars is a great first step.

    • i love bikes.. but more sustainable than that are working horses. and even more lovable too! they can log your timber, transport your produce, building materials etc, provide excellent fertiliser AND carry you around comfortably, bit like a big warm sofa with a gorgeous musty smell. never thought i’d move on from my love for bicycles to something even better!

      • I have a lot of experience with horses and I can assure you, a bicycle is far lower maintenance. A horse is excellent in the right circumstances but impractical in a suburban environment and impossible in an urban one. Horses go through shoes faster than a teenage boy and that requires massive amounts of either iron or urethane (or whatever the rubbery shoes are made of); an explosion in horse ownership would also drive an explosion of monocropping oats, corn, and hay. A horse poop compost heap can spontaneously catch fire in the warm sun; in winter months, it won’t break down quickly at all and you end up not with compost but a giant pile of frozen poop. When they die, they require a crane and a big truck to remove. When they’re injured, they require even more money and time and special foods and supplements but they cannot contribute to anyone’s transportation needs for weeks or months. I love horses, I really do, but I have a great fear that people are going to think they’re like living motorcycles and there will be a massive number of abandoned and throw-away horses when people realize they’re not machines.

  7. The only way to save the Earth is to eliminate the Human population completely. Humans are a very destructive species and always will be no matter how much they “try” to change and be better; they are intrinsically greedy and gluttonous and that’s just the start. Humans would much rather be drinking champagne, eating prime rib while sitting in their mansion watching a movie on their 70″ TV then sitting on a dirt floor in the dark getting eaten by bugs, cold and picking their butts with nothing to do but make more babies or fight with each other. The world of which you wish to have is completely impossible and you know it. The human race is on a path of destruction; the Earth will survive, humans will not.

    • Actually, most humans are not destructive, just primarily the few humans in the ruling class, the dominant group with power and control who dominate the narrative of “how humans are naturally.” If we believe the narrative that humans are naturally destructive, we will give less resistance to all the destructive projects of the ruling class. Humans, are, in fact, extremely creative and imaginative. We are no more naturally greedy and gluttonous as we are prone to any opposite behavior. But, we live in an arrangement of power and control that encourages bad behavior because it perpetuates profit, all the incentives are lined up in the for-profit system and unhealthy behavior benefits it. What doesn’t benefit from destructive behavior and nihilistic philosophy is the natural world. If nothing that we do matters, why didn’t everyone just wake up this morning and kill themselves? Because we live in a world with tremendous meaning and purpose and determination to live. Our path has been hijacked by civilization for THEIR greed, for THEIR gain, for THEIR power and control. It is our responsibility to take back control of our path in this one-time experiment of human life on the planet. We certainly can remain in denial, unaware of the problems because there are certainly a lot of beliefs and philosophies out there justifying any and every possible position. It’s a matter of whether you believe you actually have a choice to wake up out of bed in the morning and to do things you believe you are choosing to do because you believe in freewill or do you believe your life is already determined for you and you are just a pre-programmed being. You are right, the earth will survive, eventually, regardless of what we do. This is just our greatest opportunity for us as a life form to demonstrate whether we will allow ourselves to live a path of pre-determination because we know the destination of the direction we are currently heading OR can we express a freedom of our will to survive as a group, a species and change our path and prevent the extermination of a huge portion of all life on the planet. It’s a matter of do you feel any sense of responsibility to protect other living beings that cannot defend themselves from the ravenous appetite of the consumption of civilization? I would claim most people do not feel any responsibility and so that’s the challenge–helping people understand that responsibility and feel a sense of empathy and connection to life. How many centuries, how many religions, how many governments has civilization taught humans to be separate from nature? I find it awesome and inspirational to remove the lies of civilization and see reality more truthfully, more honestly, regardless of the implications of odds.

  8. When reading this, I agree, we need to change things, but we need to be presented with pathways in which to change off the bat instead of being shamed into it. This is exactly the same reason why a lot of science is not turned into action — because it is presented in such a shameful way.

    As a biologist, my viewpoint is this — even if we destroy the world as we know it, life will go on one way or another. It existed long before we did and probably will after we are gone. What we want to preserve is the world the way we know it because we know it supports our existence nicely (nice temperatures, food, water, shelter, etc.). As humans, environmentalism is purely a selfish (and well it should be) movement to preserve our species. We don’t know how to survive in any other state than the one our world is in currently. Bacteria, rats, jellyfish and cockroaches, on the other hand, certainly do. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to preserve it, but we should consider that we are not trying to save Earth for Earth’s sake but really for our own sake. I believe that is key in getting people to understand why taking care of the Earth benefits them as well as our future generations.

    • Exactly. This isn’t about “saving the planet”, it’s about “saving the humans”. Ironically, to follow through with the logic of the OP means the death of billions of people, because industrialization is what allows us to produce the food required, extract the energy required, ship these things and other goods where they are required… to dismantle all that would lead to severe resource shortages in most of the world. Really the OP wants to just start over with a . OK, I understand that impulse. But I certainly wouldn’t want to start over, being led by someone who’s pathway to eden is “destroy everything”. I read this and I think “Animal Farm”.

      A much more sane pathway is the above – educate people that the sanctity of the environment is inherently about self-preservation. We may be doomed either way, but we might not be. Predicting the end of civilization is nothing new, nor is it particularly difficult to argue. And yet here we are, still going.

      • I agree, there could have been a much more constructive and useful argument made here. Even as someone who agrees with a lot of what’s written, I read this essay and thought: misanthrope. Following the author’s prescription would, in addition to dismantling what I agree is a murderously destructive system, also dismantle much of the good that humans have produced in our history. (Things good for humans, I mean — and correct me if I’m wrong but most of us are also interested in preserving humanity, not just as a species but as a culture.)
        I also read this essay and felt fear and violence, and frustration at yet again the invocation of fear and violence in radical discourse. Those are components of the tool box of the power structures, let’s please all stop using them.
        Education and discussion of individual lifestyle choices still has a place in the ecology movement. By brushing off all that as useless, the author is essentially arguing for an imposition (by whom?) of a post-scarcity lifestyle which, though I agree we need it, does not work through imposition.
        The only practical course of action based off the author’s words here is something like to go bomb the power grid, and I for one am not going to get on board with that kind of proposition.

  9. Pingback: Nothing we do is sustainable….. been saying it for years now. | Damn the Matrix

  10. The most important thing not mentioned in this document is that changes and drastic ones that are necessary require one vital desire. The desire to change ourselves.
    We can focus on changing this and that and even society but how much work is done about changing who I am?
    If we want to dismantle everything we need to know what that means. We need to dismantle our conditioning; what we think we need and want; we need to dismantle our personality and our belief systems that keep us conforming with the whole joke of life.

    Does anyone know what that feels like?
    A bit like death really. Sure with a beautiful rebirth awaiting but does anyone desire that death; that change?
    And who can propose some decent practices which will help provoke those much needed internal changes so that we can honestly desire all the external ones with authenticity?
    Billions of people live without knowing that there is a different way to live and most don’t look to change themselves nor wish to do so sincerely.
    If you can help spark not just the fire of change in people but the acceptance of death, then the world transforms.

  11. Pingback: Udržitelnost zabíjí Zemi | deepgreencz

  12. If we don’t try to make a difference as individuals, what will it matter. Big corporations want you to think it doesn’t matter, so they can continue to pollute and destroy the Eco-system. What we do, and the pressure we put on Corporations and other Countries DOES matter, and I don’t agree with all the above in the article. If we did, what would be the point? Should we just continue trashing the planet without regard? Holding nobody accountable for their actions? I think not, many people make individual differences, so don’t give up the faith people.

  13. Pingback: Udržitelnost ničí Zemi | GreenAction

  14. One issue that seems to get in everyone’s way is the lack of a vision of what we are actually wanting to create, beyond the destruction of industrial civilization. If we can’t agree on what the new will look like, at least in theory, where we are able to meet our needs of our families and communities, then many people are reluctant to join in the effort and put their entire lives in jeopardy and risk it all. So, In some ways, this movement has a marketing problem. Also, it has a method issue, which is, how are we gonna get there? And who will lead us, and do they have the brains and the leadership skills to make decisions that will be workable? Of course, we can just go for it and figure it out, unless you have a lot to lose, in which case, it can be much harder to fully embrace. Good article!

    • There are many reasons why truly sustainable alternatives are not presented. They can be summarized by the word “LESS”. There will be less humans with fewer children, they will have less material goods, consume far less resource, especially energy, they will experience less comfort and convenience, they will have less square footage in their residences, less control over climate, they will not have personal motor vehicles, they will have less sugar, meat and fish in their diets, and spend less time sitting. Opportunities to get “rich” will be few to none.

      There will be more physical labor, but that can all be healthy outdoors productive exercise, not underground mining or in factories. There will be more community, culture and arts. There will be more HAPPINESS. It’s a good trade, but since the invention of money and borders we have been indoctrinated to “sustainable growth”, which is a mathematical impossibility.

  15. Great article – however when it comes to the facts about solar pv modules it’s factually incorrect :

    “The production of solar panels causes nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) to be emitted into the atmosphere. This gas has 17 000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.” – WRONG.

    NF3 was used on *some* (older) types of solar panels – (thin film) which were/are a tiny minority of those now sold …. Elemental fluorine has been introduced as an ‘environmentally friendly’ replacement for nitrogen trifluoride in the manufacture of thin film solar cells.

    Also BP no longer sell or make solar pv modules…. and most importantly – providing they don’t get damaged there is no evidence that they have a life limited to 30 years (the first commercial system installed by Sharp has now been going for over 44 years and is still performing to spec). There is no reason suspect that they won’t last up to 100 years (or longer) if they are built correctly in the first place.

    “Panels last around 30 years, then straight to landfill. More pollution, more waste. ” – WRONG again…. over 90% of the European manufacturers are now part of PV Cycle – where the vast majority of the components are recycled – and most of these are from damaged panels in installation rather than panels at the end of their life.

    However I think the article covers a very important point – our so-called ‘civilisation’ is …. and always will be…… unsustainable.

    Fortunately … many of us don’t want to sustain the status-quo anyhow 🙂 x

  16. Pingback: Sustainability is destroying the Earth | Chocolategecko's Blog

  17. I’m afraid I don’t agree with what you say. Some of your points are valid, but your ideal civilization means living on caves. And as an environmental scientist I usually hate this saying, when capitalist minded people tell it to me. But, the truth is that whatever we do, we destroy some life. Be it the life of fishes in the river or sea, animals on land that we feed with or we cloth on. You don’t have much choice really. Either you kill some fishes to construct a dam, or you kill some people in the hospitals for lack of electricity, or flood some others for lack of water management.
    Maybe it is hard and sounds unfair to admit, but nature has put a value to life. Some species reproduce more often and in larger numbers because the chances of getting killed are higher. Humans, reproduce quite slowly so their life is relatively more valuable. This means that you can’t compare the life of a human with the life of an ant, a fish, a mouse etc. However, things change when you consider whales, elephants etc… What we need to do is not feel guilty for each life that we have killed for our survival, but feel guilty for each life we have taken for our effluent way of living, our cravings for luxury, the food we waste, the resources we waste, the life we exploit for no good reason etc. Here is where we come back to sustainability. Nature and earth will always find their equilibrium, as they have always done and most probably will keep doing it. But, if WE want to save our lives, we need to worry about emerging issues, such as climate change, resource depletion, natural land destruction etc. We can’t do this by going back to the caves to live. We can only achieve this through sustainable development. And maybe if you come from a developed country, development is not a big deal for you. But if you were born in some poor country, when half of your children died due to lack of hygiene conditions and the other half is sick due to malnutrition and lack of healthcare, then you might think differently.
    Environmental scientist are there to fight for keeping an equilibrium between nature and growth (read: life quality, healthcare, education etc.) Currently we are far from this stage which is eventually sustainability.
    If we today have troubles convincing government and societies to embrace a sustainable development, how do you imagine living on caves and feeding occasional will convince them? Maybe though a dictatorial regime. But we all know how those regimes end up and how fare they are in real life. And one more thing you forget, is that it’s not only us (environmentalists) against the governments. It is us against most part of the societies, and the governments. Which in my opinion is a hell of a difference.

    • “Sustainable development” is a mathematical impossibility. We live on a finite planet and have likely exceeded the sustainable human carrying capacity. We are the biggest environmental disaster since a huge meteorite crash into the Yucatan 65 million years ago.. The only answer going forward is LESS, starting with LESS HUMANS consuming LESS ENERGY.

      Humans wind up in hospitals from “accidents” caused by machines and unsafe structures, and from immuno-suppression from un-healthy diets and soil depletion plus sedentary lifestyles. Cash cropping and water born sanitation destroy the vitality of soil by removing trace elements and washing them downstream. Everyone knows produce is losing color, flavor and HEALTH, which is why “artisanal produce” commands pricing higher than grocery stores (even with the enormous middle-man profits in factory food).

      Sustainability means giving up mining completely, living on the land, sharing the physical labor equally in a vegetable based economy. We can support a greater proportion of humans in this manner by ripping up the roads and parking garages, converting lawns and flower gardens to edible plants, etc.

      Nature is bigger, more powerful and immeasurably smarter than we are. If we keep thinking we can do a better job than Nature, she will stop us. If we learn her ways and work in harmony with them, we can create sustainability that is more than a Corporocratic slogan.

    • I like this comment, but it lacks post-developmental critique and beyond. That scientists try to *fight* to restore an equilibrium in development countries, is fitting into the modern-industrial-colonial complex by mitigating the effects of ongoing exploitation, serving to justify such, ignorant to the fact that real equilibriums of complex life systems can not be externally imposed or created, violent in the sense of imposing the notion of necessary development in the first glance, ignoring the causes for misery which include privatisation of land and modern civilisation. Apart from direct violence in the form of slavery etc., dis-ease started when people got locked in (i.e. when land became property), when they could not move and adapt anymore to changing environmental conditions.

  18. I agree with all of this article but with 3 observations.The word “sustainability” should be replaced with ” sustainable development”. This should be replaced throughout. Secondly an analysis of population/growth would give it more credibility.Thirdly, the mention of poly tunnels surely comes in for the same critical analysis as renewables.

  19. Although the article raises some different ways of questioning the sustainability movement I disagreed with many of the points. Sustainability as a movement does not focus on only individual change, but rather considers that social, economic and environmental spheres be equally balanced when considering action, this applies to the industrialised regimes also. Currently the economic sphere is always given more weight, thus sustainability is not achieved. However I reject the claim that individual shifts make little difference…it annoys me when people talk about society as if it is being run by some evil out of space aliens who are out to destroy us all…who is running the industrial civilisation? US, WE DO, INDIVIDUALS collectively. Even the mining tycoons are only people on planet earth. Sustainability is not the holy grail that will save the planet, because as mentioned the aim is the sustain rather than truly conserve. Sustainability is the conservative stepping stone in a transition. It is not the ideal but at least it is shedding more light on the environmental debate. I am sure alternative systems will emerge with the co-evolution of society and technology.

  20. Does not a sexual desire come from our ego? The thing that made possible to long for material things instead of abstract feelings.

    We shall suffer as long as we are out of ballance. And we can achieve that only by overgrowing our own egos.

    Well, anyways. Fear not. There is no need for condoms anymore. Hormone disruptors are doing their job. Sperm count is droping continually. Soon males will forgot why they have the thing in the middle.
    Bravo, for pesticides, bpa like sintetic hormones, herbicides and other beautiful inventions of our great minds,

  21. The belief that any of this is going to change any time soon is, unsustainable. Intellectuals and philosophers have been lamenting about the steady progression of technology and the inherent dangers for well over a hundred years. But what alternative has been presented? None. Hence why this article is just another drop of a long stream of piss droplets facing into the wind.

    We’re talking about the progression of humanity and words are not going to change that direction any time soon. Saying we need to dismantle industrial civilization is meaningless dribble when no alternative is presented. Going back to some archaic revival is not going to work either, we will end up right back where we are now in a thousand years because we don’t recognize our own fundamental nature.

    You might as well relax a little. We’re on a train with no brakes. Better to spend your time understanding your own nature, then we may be in a better position to help humanity.

    • Contrariwise….remember the super-battery mentioned toward the end of the documentary “Who Killed The Electric Car?” Some guy invented it, sold it to Shell or Chevron (some Big Oil company), and it hasn’t been heard of since. Big Oil bought (and suppressed) its competitor. How many other terrific inventions has this happened to, one wonders? Didn’t Tesla invent some sort of free energy thing? What’s become of that? What about various inventors who were assassinated before their inventions became public?
      I would submit that the problem is neither lack of technology, nor civilization, but The 1%.

    • I like this statement. “You might as well relax a little. We’re on a train with no brakes. Better to spend your time understanding your own nature, then we may be in a better position to help humanity.” Our only hope is to raise our own consciousness which effects and impacts those around us as well as global consciousness.

  22. Very thought-provoking and credible about how the sustainability movement actually feeds industry. However, it seems to me that your conclusion also requires a decimation of the human population. In the non-industrial world you imagine, how would people get heat in winter? Individual fires? How would food be cooked? How would sewage be dealt with? It seems as if the ultimate conclusion has to include the death of several billion humans, who will surely be devastating their respective landscapes in futile attempts to survive. Not necessarily to be preferred, even when putting Earth first. The attempt to participate as little as possible and live within a local economy is good advice, though. Human energy and intelligence needs to be spent building community and raising consciousness. The collapse seems to be coming quickly enough on its own, best I can tell. Thanks for writing a perspective-expanding piece.

  23. This whole idea is silly. Humans are no less likely to abandon advancements in technology and industry than ants are to building a rocket. Energy spent on this “movement” could be more applicably placed in areas that can actually make an impact. More support needs to be placed on funding REAL scientific initiatives, especially those that develop greener technologies and our space programs. It’s sad when NASA’s budget represents a mere .05 percent of the US GDP.

  24. I think the author grossly misunderstand or misstates what sustainability is or has tailored it to her own needs or in my opinion an extreme neo Luddite world view that will do nothing but propel us into a a primitive dark ages. Most of those that I know that desire to practice and or practice true sustainability would not argue with most of her points so she is using the wrong term to argue valid points. There are those of us the believe in a cradle to grave (google it) concept in manufacturing and while that is extreme it does offer modern convenience while attempting to mitigate the damage. In fact mining and a lot of manufacturing is bad and the pay for workers sub par and many work and exist in slave like conditions however we can fix that as well as all the other problems IF we were allowed to and not co opted or crushed by the oligarchy. Just my opinion of course.

  25. Nice idea for an article but horribly confusing. The definition of sustainability is even subjective and therefore rips this piece into shreds. Who ever said that sustainability is the pursuit of sustaining the status quo? I’ve never ever heard it expressed that way. I’ve heard it expressed as pursuing a way of life that sustains the planet’s resources for the use of future generations, which is directly in line with the author’s sentiment, so this whole premise and title make no sense to me and is arguing against a relatively non-existent straw man perspective. Then when I got to the part that insists solar panels last 30 years, I knew that all other info written here was suspect. Modern solar panels have an unknown life span. They degrade less than 1% per year and all well-made panels come with a warranty that guarantees you’ll still be getting 80% power output in 25 years. So no, they don’t go to the dump in 30 years. They will still be on rooftops in 50 years. There are 55 yr old panels that still produce power…

  26. There’s only one way: forward. This business of cancelling civilization is nazi non-sense.

    Nobody wants to go back and live in the pre-industrial world. If that is all that attractive, why not move in with tribes that actually live like that: short, rough lifes. Maybe rewarding, whatever that means, but nasty.

    We need to look for one another and then invade space. Maybe we can now avoid some mistakes we made in the past, but we still need to get out of here. There’s a time bomb: tic-tac, sun will off himself. In the distant future, but it is there.

    This primitive way of living is now impossible globally (even though some parasites may be able to do it locally in some spots, with internet and all, go figure) and the whole psychology associated to it is plain simple: nazi (they think they are better than the rest of the humans, which they think are too stupid and too dark and with too many babies), and the ol’ neigbor’s grass is so much better than mine.

    If you think pre-industrial era is all that good please move there with your mother and grandmother and prosper. Be happy. Leave the rest of us alone.

    Humans will not listen to these idiots, instead we will make way for more people and will correct the problems and keep going until we are stopped. But I hope nobody can stop life: and we are also life, conscious life. Not good are bad, We just are.

    For more information see this:

  27. There has always been methods of birth control through the ages, many of them more effective than the modern methods that seem to be horrible for women. It is the church and patriarchal authority systems that do not want women to have that power. I know what I am talking about. I used herbs for years and did a lot of research.

  28. Pingback: A great blog about why thinking about ‘sustainability’ is actually harmful | Laura Cameron Lewis's Blog

  29. Perhaps our fear of death blinds us from seeing what is actually going on here. Perhaps what is going on is just the natural life cycle of a planet and we are coming to the end of that cycle. Everything dies, why not planets’ biospheres? Maybe we are like people who, near the end of their lives, begin realizing deeply for the first time their own mortality; they start exercising, taking vitamins, cutting down on sweets, etc.. Not only is it too late, it’s futile at any stage. Evevrything dies. There is nothing to be afraid of. It’s completely natural. Face it with equanimity and it will be a lot easier. Try to hang on at any cost and you will pay dearly. Visit the wards in hospitals where people are in their final stages or visit a hospice, you will find proponents of both pursuasions. See which group is happiest. Life is more about love and happiness than fear and longevity.

  30. Pingback: Sustainability is destroying the Earth | Lair of the Red Dragon

  31. Pingback: Radical Homestead Recommended Reading – Crash on Demand? A Response to David Holmgren - Radical Homestead

  32. Pingback: Sustainability is Destroying the Earth | Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition

  33. This is the right website for anybody who would like to find out about this topic.
    You realize so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I
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  34. Pingback: A Response to: “Sustainability is destroying the Earth” | Mainstream Permaculture

  35. “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.”

    Strong point! however, the line that distinguishes individual from the whole of industrial civilization is blur. Its not one against many. Its small small changes which each one makes against the change which is to come.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Mitigation is the answer.

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