The proper cure requires the proper diagnosis.
On November 22 and 23, the Fertile Ground Environmental Institute offered the proper diagnosis for the ecological crises we all face to over 700 attendees at Earth at Risk 2014. Focusing on environmental and social justice, the conference brought together seemingly disparate voices to weave together diverse perspectives to offer a comprehensive response to global destruction. The keynote speakers were Vandana Shiva, Alice Walker, Chris Hedges, Thomas Linzey, and Derrick Jensen.
Shiva detailed how multi-national corporations like Monsanto and DuPont are using genetically modified organisms (GMO) to undermine local communities’ ability to produce their own food. Walker shared her experiences as a Pulitzer Prize winning author to give an artist’s perspective for the necessity of solidarity with women. Hedges drew upon nearly two decades as a foreign war correspondent to argue for the moral imperative of resistance to topple industrial civilization. Linzey, an attorney, illustrated how citizens come to him asking for help drafting ordinances against fracking and are converted into revolutionary cadre when they learn through the legal system that they do not live in a democracy. Jensen addressed the question “Why are so few of us fighting back?” with an explanation that most of us in this culture are suffering from complex post-traumatic stress disorder.
Time is short and Earth at Risk displayed the appropriate urgency in the face of total environmental destruction. Studies around the world confirm what we feel in our hearts to be true. A recent study by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London shows that half the world’s population of wild animals has died off since 1970. This is consistent with the findings of the University College of London showing insect populations crashing 50 percent in the last 35 years. Human destruction is necessarily implicated in the death of the natural world. We know, for example, dioxin – a known carcinogen – is now found in every mother’s breast milk.
A mere conference is insufficient to stop the madness, but Earth at Risk offered the most complete examination the movement has seen to date offering six panel discussions to go with the five keynote speakers. The first day was devoted to sustainability and featured panel discussions titled Colonization and Indigenous Life, Indicators of Ecological Collapse, and Building Resistance Communities. The second day was devoted to social justice with panels covering Capitalism and Sociopathology; Race, Militarism, and Masculinity; and Confronting Misogyny.
In a world gone mad, there are simply too few resisters struggling on. This is one of the reasons we are losing so badly. I left Earth at Risk feeling that patriarchy, colonialism, and capitalism are the most serious threats to a living world. To save the world, alliances must be built on all fronts. While our movements remain relatively small, strength can be maximized in this way.
Earth at Risk’s speakers illuminated opportunities for coalition building and pointed out weak spots in the system ripe for targeting. There were too many highlights to document in one article, but my favorite moments included native Hawaiian filmmaker Anne Keala Kelly’s stinging remarks on the colonization of Hawaii and implorations for real decolonizing help from the mainland during the Colonization and Indigenous Life panel. Fighting for Hawaiian sovereignty would necessarily involve undermining the United States’ military presence there. Hawaii is the site of the United States’ Pacific Command that polices over half the world’s population.
During the Building Communities of Resistance panel, Mi’kmaw warrior Sakej Ward described how native warrior societies protect land bases so they may support the next seven generations. He drew attention to the 500 years of experience North American indigenous peoples have in resisting colonization and offered this experience as a valuable resource.
I was deeply moved by the entire conversation during the Race, Militarism, and Masculinity panel where military veterans Kourtney Mitchell, Vince Emanuele, Stan Goff, and Doug Zachary called on men to topple the patriarchy, stop rape, and support women with actions instead of words.
I attended the conference as a director of the Vancouver Island Community Forest Action Network (VIC FAN) in support of Unist’ot’en clan spokeswoman Freda Huson and Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Dini Ze Toghestiy who spoke on the Building Communities of Resistance panel about their experiences at the Unist’ot’en Camp. The Unist’ot’en Camp occupies the unceded territory of the Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en people and is a pipeline blockade sitting on the proposed routes of 17 fossil fuel pipelines in central British Columbia.
My visits to the Unist’ot’en Camp have taught me the strength in connecting the rationales for different social and environmental movements under one banner. It has also taught me how to think strategically. The Camp, as just one of many examples present at Earth at Risk, incorporates principles of indigenous sovereignty and environmentalism to bring activists from both communities together to combat imperialism and fossil fuels. More importantly, perhaps, the Camp demonstrates how a handful of volunteers can effectively neutralize huge, multi-corporate projects by focusing physical strength on chokepoints in industrial infrastructure. From a strategic perspective, the military-industrial complex wrecking the world runs on fossil fuels. Corking the fossil fuels would be a grievous blow to the dominant culture’s ability to continue business as usual.
Additionally, I am a member of the worldwide social and environmental justice organization Deep Green Resistance (DGR) based on the strategy developed by Lierre Keith, Derrick Jensen, and Aric McBay in the book Deep Green Resistance. DGR played a large role organizing the event. Keith brilliantly points out that, “Militarism is a feminist issue. Rape is an environmental issue. Environmental destruction is a peace issue.”
Hearing Kourtney Mitchell explain how his education in pro-feminism enabled to him to overcome the inherently abusive training he received as an infantry soldier in Georgia’s National Guard proved this to me. When Derrick Jensen was confronted for describing the destruction of the natural world in terms of rape and sexual violence and he refused to stop making the connection on grounds that both hinge on men’s perceived entitlement to violation, I understood that radical feminists and radical environmentalists were logical allies. Finally, hearing Richard Manning explain how dire the world’s lack of topsoil has become drove the point home that those of us sick of war would do well to defend the land’s ability to support food.
Finally, the Earth at Risk 2014 websitepromised to craft “game-changing responses to address the converging crises we face.” The conference successfully fulfilled its promise. The truth is we simply do not have the numbers to mount an effective resistance movement without forming coalitions between groups serious about stopping the murder of the planet and other humans.
I wrote earlier that a conference is insufficient to stop the madness. This is still true, but Earth at Risk 2014 accurately analyzed the world’s sicknesses and gave us a treatment plan to work from. Now, it’s time for all of those fighting so hard in our various causes to link up in solidarity to bring down the patriarchy, stop capitalism, and undermine the colonialism that is killing humans and obliterating the natural world.
Will Falk is a former public defender turned writer and grassroots activist. His first passion is poetry and his work is an effort to record the way the land is speaking. Will feels the largest and most pressing issue confronting us today is the destruction of natural communities. He is currently involved in support work for the Unist’ot’en Camp – a pipeline blockade situated on the Unist’ot’en Clan of the Wet’suwet’en people’s unceded territories in so-called British Columbia.