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as Zerzan and Derrick Jensen advocate a purposeful resistance movement designed to hasten civilization’s end. [18] In this they owe a clear though too seldom mentioned debt to Edward Abbey. The Monkey Wrench Gang opened multiple generations’ eyes to the option of direct action against perpetrators of environmental destruction. Says Jensen today, “Systems of power are created by humans and can be stopped by humans. Those in power are never supernatural or immortal, and they can be brought down.” [19] Though this raises the frightening specter of triggering loss of life before it would happen other­wise, the argument is that bringing down civilization sooner would leave more life intact than would a delayed and drawn out collapse. We face hard choices.
The frst daunting challenge, though, faced by those against civilization lies in disabus­ing enough people of the ingrained message that our way of living is a great thing. Per­haps, in the end, our best hope lies in building resistance as we work to soften the landing through efforts, for instance, to address population growth and to protect biodiversity
we hear about our consumption, through agriculture and the human population growth it drives, of the very web of life on which we and all other species depend for our survival?
Paleontologist Niles Eldredge writes, “Agriculture represents the single most profound ecological change in the entire 3.5 billion-year history of life.... Indeed, to develop agricul­ture is essentially to declare war on ecosystems.” [12]
Author Lierre Kieth says, “The truth is that agriculture is the most destructive thing humans have done to the planet... [It] requires the wholesale destruction of entire eco­systems .” [13]
Once the cycle of agriculture and population growth was underway, of course, there seemed little choice. We did what we could to keep feeding our growing numbers. We’ve trapped ourselves. As Keith puts it, “Except for the last 46 tribes of hunter-gatherers, the human race is now dependent on an activity that is killing the planet.”
Soil mining
Further making crop cultivation unsustainable on anything like a scale to feed billions is its often inevitable erosion of the soil and depletion of soil nutrients. This happens at rates far faster than natural rates of renewal.
Soil microbiologist Peter Salonius writes, “The simple shallow rooting habit of food crops and the requirement for bare soil cultivation produces soil erosion and plant nutri­ent loss far above the levels that can be replaced by microbial nitrogen fxation, and the weathering of minerals.” [14]
Already we have lost perhaps one third of all arable land worldwide. [15] We are using it up just as we are coal or oil. Keith coins the term “fossil soil.” It may have taken ten thousand years for us to see it, but that is barely an eye blink in human history.
Some hunter-gatherer societies have long included small scale gardening in their rep­ertoires. But once we upped the scale, clearing land and increasing production to produce food surpluses, we committed to agriculture proper and the trouble began. While a more ecologically sensible option such as permaculture moves farming in a more sustainable direction, it was never intended to feed increasing billions of people. [16] If it were it would still run into the problem of transforming wilderness, turning the land excessively to human consumption with all that implies for the web of life. Planting crops on any large scale means seriously damaging ecosystems. Agriculture cannot be sustained.
Few people want to hear that agriculture is unsustainable.
Fewer still care to consider that the civilization it supports
will therefore come to an end.
Who wants to hear their whole world
is going to go away?
Meanwhile, participants in the growing “rewilding” movement work today to prepare for a post-civilization world. No gloom and doom in this group, rewilders like Peter Bauer (AKA “Urban Scout”), Jason Godesky, and Emily Porter acknowledge a collapse of civi­lization is inevitable and work with zest toward a shift to a tribal, wild way of living. [20] [21] [22] Learning aboriginal living skills and exploring ways of creating more genuine connection with the earth and those close to them, they strive to “undo domestication.”
Critics argue they’re romanticizing a lifestyle Thomas Hobbes rightly characterized as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Others insist “we can’t go backwards.” These are predictable responses, imbued with the same pervasive cultural message to which we are all subject. It tells us constantly that the development of civilization was an amazing improvement and that its course has been one unbroken line of progress. Everything’s getting better all the time, isn’t it? A look at our ecological plight alone suggests it’s not, and Marshall Sahlins, among other anthropologists, easily debunked Hobbes’s view be­ginning in the 1960s. [23]
It is diffcult, as well, for most people to appreciate what a tiny moment of human his­tory civilization has occupied. Without perspective it’s natural to assume this way of liv­ing will and should continue for eons to come. Debate continues, but the notion that the hunter-gatherer life is a terrible one is as absurd as suggesting the gorilla life or the lion life is terrible. It’s wrong on its face. [24]
How much evidence do we need to see that civilization is not the ultimate expression of human existence after all? It has been a momentary detour, the feeting, cameo appear­ance of a dysfunctional approach to life, the result of straying from living at one with the natural world. Whatever the path to civilization’s wind-down, if we can preserve enough biodiversity, those coming out the other end will have the chance to enjoy anew a dif­ferent, yet satisfying way of living, the only way proven sustainable for humans. Racing toward a precipice, can it be wrong to embrace once again a life which worked for over two million years when it has become obvious the current approach is an abject failure? We don’t have to go backwards; we need only nurture who we really are. Whatever our course, we have only to consider the agricultural origins of our ecological crisis to under­stand civilization is an unsustainable trap.
Overshoot and collapse
The historical view of humanity’s ecological path leaves no doubt we long ago overshot human carrying capacity. Our numbers are today supported only by temporary measures such as our use of limited stores of fossil fuels and, more fundamentally, the use of ag­riculture and our consumption of our own life support system. In his classic text, Over­shoot, William Catton calls such supports “phantom carrying capacity.” [17] They are not carrying capacity at all; they cannot last.
Contrary then to the popular notion that our technologies have increased carrying ca­pacity, we have created only a carrying capacity illusion. We’re a species which evolved to live in the millions, yet here we sit, well into the billions. It’s basic to ecology that when a population overshoots carrying capacity it must inevitably return to a lower number, often via a crash.
It is of course not only our numbers which will come to an end. Civilization is made possible by agriculture. Agriculture is unsustainable. If it weren’t obvious already, you can see where this is going. There’s no predicting the timeline of civilization’s collapse. Techno-fxes and any resiliency industrial society possesses may draw it out. No matter, a better future, indeed the only future for humanity and the rest of Earth’s inhabitants is one beyond civilization.
What we could do, what we might do
Few people want to hear that agriculture is unsustainable. Fewer still care to consider that the civilization it supports will therefore come to an end. Who wants to hear their whole world is going to go away? Yet as surprising as it may seem, there is room for opti­mism. The way our will be diffcult, but will open to a new beginning.
Ideally we could begin systematically scaling back agriculture and gradually disman­tling civilization. We could turn instead to small scale, localized horticulture and then to tribal, non-industrial and non-agricultural ways of living. The transition could include a concerted worldwide effort to support humane, voluntary measures enabling our num­bers to decline gradually and dramatically. Perhaps most importantly, we could work to spread a different view of our place in nature, acknowledging that we are of the earth, just one of millions of species, as much subject to ecological laws as any other. At some point, the few surviving hunter-gatherer groups on Earth might serve as mentors rather than objects of academic study. This, however, would be an exquisitely delicate undertak­ing, as the last thing such groups need today is the increased intrusion of those of us in civilization.
But despite converging ecological catastrophes we show few signs of such a massive, voluntary shift. Those with vested interests in the status quo see to that. So writers such
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