Earth First!

Lessons from a recent past



TUCSON (A-P) — As an Earth First! sympathizer I could have joined, given the open membership policy, but by the time the movement became known to me, it was already in the process of being subsumed by Left leaning ideologues and anarchist types deeply committed to their rhetoric, which I was not.

The original cast of characters were issue-oriented, science informed, environmentally concerned individuals who were noticing that the pace of planetary destruction was not being slowed despite all the environmental activism, protests, demands, and yelling. As a political movement, environmentalism was successful in attracting support and increasing the number of people willing to call themselves environmentalists as doing so was, for many, ever so feel-good and evidence of one's superior sensitivities compared to other mostly urban troglodytes who just didn't get it. There were issues, and some were dealt with: the air became less visible, rivers stopped catching on fire, but the pace of planetary destruction was not slowed, the growing kept growing, just more environmentally.

Earth First! started in the US Southwest, 1979, with a van full of hikers going off into desert remotenesses when not driving. One of the van dwellers up front (Dave Foreman), perhaps thinking of or noticing what was going on in all the non-remote areas they were driving through, yelled "Earth first!" and the meme became thinkable. The implications were slow in the coming. As Suzuki would note a few years later, Earth was being viewed and treated as a 'Planet for the Taking'. What to do?

Ted Kaszynski had already taken sides. The original hiker dudes were thinking about it. Most humans given to thinking about things were eager to uncompromisingly stand up for dear Mother Earth, as what's not to feel good about by doing so? Well, there are the implications. To take the Mother's side, you end up having to oppose the industrial society along with the 99+% who favor it (in practice if not rhetorically) and are favored by it. And fine words are puffs of air or ink on paper or dots on a screen.

Protest was tried, a crack was rolled down Glenn Canyon Dam, 15 years after the fact, to protest the destruction of the canyon of marvels. Trees were sat in to delay logging. It got some media coverage, the "Earth First!" name spread with its associated memes, the exclamation mark became obligatory....

People were attracted to the movement and its exclamation mark. It could have evolved into a revolutionary movement if those attracted could have kept their eyes on the ball. In the early years, scientists informed them, conservation biologist E.O. Wilson among them. Aside from direct actions, they endeavored to envision nature preservation as if the Mother mattered. But most who were attracted had Left leaning political agendas to aggressively promote and talk/yell about. 'Puke-ins' were held at shopping malls, signs waved, fists clinched, the despised (e.g. Edward Abbey) jeered and heckled if doing so felt good. The self-propagandizing publications shifted to the rhetorical Left and to anarchist's rants. The originals, with few exceptions, moved on, were in effect driven out.

They had wanted to turn things around, to confront Empire as reform and compromise wasn't working. The alternative, "No Compromise in the Defense of Mother Earth!", however, involving actual violent revolution, was going too far for most, and the few who went too far were easily taken down. Bottom line: the activism felt good, those doing it (who happened not to die) did things that made them temporarily feel good. Shaking one's fist, moneywrenching, threatening to kill a CEO or two... may feel good to those doing it, but that's about all that is accomplished. The Leftists who drove out the originals were in turn driven out by the green anarchists. You can still join Earth First! or read its journal, but realize that Earth First! direct action anarchy is utterly irrelevant (except to members).

If the originals had limited membership to those able and committed to destroying carcinogenic growth by targeting what enabled it (apart from the belief in growth which could also be targeted), namely fossil-fuel extraction/use, then some relevant slowing of the pace may have occurred. They would have had to realize the implications and be legion. To be humane and fair, they might have given humanity a warning in 1979:

All fossil fuel use worldwide must end by December 21, 1985. If not, any working coal mines or oil/gas fields will be targeted for demolition by our Ninja-like operatives. Any workers present (or others used as human shields) will be considered casualties of war. Assuming we are not already into overshoot, ending growth (economic, population, per capita consumption) may allow us to transition to a steady-state sustainable presence on the planet provided we spend the coming millennium working to restore the damage already done. Otherwise, if we delay beyond 1985, we will have to de-grow the economy to avoid chaotic collapse likely to involve humans eating each other.

Even if the threat was credible, even if 88% of scientists and the majority of Nobel laureates agreed with the Earth First! assumptions, they would all be called eco-fascists, assumed to be politically motivated, and since their politics were wrong, then they, no matter how high their mountain of evidence, were wrong and should be crushed and destroyed with extreme predjudice. My best guess is that ending fossil fuel use by 1986 would not have been soon enough to trasistion to sustainablilty without descent/overshoot. Maybe if the five-year demand was made fifty years ago in 1966 and....

If the Empire's defense of the coal mines and production fields failed, despite trillions of dollars spent and millions of armed guards hired, backed by the global military of all nation-states and UN forces, then the destruction of the planetary life-support system would have continued, but the pace would have been slowed. The extent of climate change and rate of species extinction would have been moderated. Even if one billion people were to join Earth First! within the next six months, and without waiting five years were willing to make suicidal attacks to stop the use of fossil fuels, it would likely be too little too late, and the other 6.4 billion people would likely 'win'. So plan on going to a shopping mall for a puke-in; you'll feel better and you'll entertain some of the shoppers. As for, "And then what?" Don't ask unless you'd rather know than believe.

The SYSTEM is powered by fossil fuels that made the hydro electric dams and is being used to make solar PV, wind turbines, nuclear power plants, hydrogen, biofuels, and tap into geothermal. It is socially enabled by our collective belief in growth, progress, development, and MORE!. If this narrative were questioned, if the public's certitude were to falter, that would be the revolutionary change needed. The Ninja plan won't work if 99+% of people resist transitioning to descent. Shutting down all the Koch brothers' coal mines next week won't matter if they are reopened a week later with military intervention. Attacking the core meme of the Growth Empire, because it is demonstrably delusional may be our only hope. Replace the illimitable growth narrative. Forget all ideological narratives, go with the most likely story and pass it on without yelling.

If our belief in illimitable growth is an issue or THE ISSUE, replacing it with another belief is not curative, including a belief in 'sustainability' which has over 300 definitions and counting. Alternative is a way of knowing that does not involve a belief in belief, that replaces the believing mind with the inquiring mind. If nothing else, reduce your beliefs to one — perhaps a belief in the ignorance of experts or that you know nothing, absolutely nothing (with certainty, but that you could be wrong) which is, well, the same thing, a demonstrable fact and not a belief..

To those wishing to save the world, go for it. No laws of the universe will be broken if you succeed. Just don't be self-delusional stupid about it. The original EF! concerned persons didn't come up with a viable reality-based Plan A to save the world and those who merely joined the movement or 'Like' it on Facebook don't have a clue, though some pretend to. Your chances of success are in proportion to your grasp of reality. No amount of religious/political ideology will provide salvation/solutions. Don't bother with puke-ins or strident yelling. You can't join the Federation, but you can be Federation for the price of an effort rightly applied. History may judge Dave Foreman to be early Federation and, more importantly, the Federation will use his plans for rewilding North America. Be a Force of Nature, 'find glory in being an agent of the Earth' (H.T. Odum), even if you fall short of saving the world in the near future.

Earth is Like a Vessel


(6th century BCE, Chapter 29 from the Tao Te Ching)

Those who would take over the Earth
And shape it to their will
     Never, I notice, succeed.

For the Earth is like a vessel so sacred
That at the merest touch of the profane—
     It is marred,
And when they reach out their hands to grasp it—
     It is gone.

For a time some force themselves ahead
     And some are left behind,
For a time some make a great noise
     And some are held silent,
For a time some are puffed fat
     And some are kept hungry,
For a time some are held up
     And some are destroyed.

But at no time will a man who is sane:
     Over-reach himself,
     Over-spend himself,
     Over-rate himself.

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