The Sixth Extinction and Liberation Ecology
In the last 40 years alone, half of the world’s animals have died out. At present we are consuming resources of 1.5 planets; if we all adopt the so-called American ‘way of life’ it would require 4 planets. Global warming is proceeding at an alarming rate despite the warnings: up at least by 2 degrees centigrade at the end of the century, creating regular droughts and rising sea levels.
The oceans are not only being fished out, but have become rubbish dumps for humans. There is an area in the Pacific Ocean as big as Texas swirling with discarded plastic. Strands of plastic have been found deep on the seabed. And the seas themselves, which make up two thirds of the Earth’s surface, are becoming increasingly acidic, killing off many organisms and destroying coral reefs.
In the future there will be vast empty caverns where oil, coal and other resources, which took millions of years to create, are being mined out. Modern agricultural methods have undermined the long term fertility of the soil. The water cycle has been disrupted so that many do not have clean water to drink. In parts of the world, the spring is already silent.
There is enough food at present to go around the existing population if it were evenly distributed but we find within existing societies and between societies many living in poverty and squalor while a few rich and powerful live in unbelievable luxury. They think that consumption, possession and power will bring happiness but in the long run it is a delusion.
Natural degradation and the extinction of other species cannot simply be laid at the three ‘c’s: chain saws cutting down the forests, the lungs of the Earth; cows and other livestock producing vast quantities of methane; cars and vehicles using fossil fuels and contributing to the increase in carbon dioxide. All three undoubtedly upset the atmospheric balance and contribute to climate change. Yet it is not these three alone which are responsible but the mental attitude of the people who cut down the forests, eat large quantities of meat, and drive cars. It is driven by the international companies which make a profit by encouraging such production and destruction.
With the likelihood of growing numbers, the human species will undoubtedly increase its burden on the rest of nature.
I have carefully documented the frame of mind which has led to this ecological impasse in Nature’s Web: Rethinking our Place on Earth. As an exploration of ecological thinking, it shows how, apart from a few honourable exceptions, human beings have thought that they are somehow separate from the rest of nature and that nature exists not as a value-in-itself but as a means to our ends. They have thought that they are Lords of Creation and creation was made for them. Many modern scientists even think that they can direct the course of evolution through genetic engineering.
In response, a few have suggested that one half of the Earth should be left to human beings and the other half left to nature, with wild life corridors linking regions where biodiversity is allowed to flourish. Although such an idea is welcome, if we don’t seriously change our way of thinking and our way of life, we will continue to degrade our half of the Earth with inevitably a massive impact on the other.
Moreover, the idea that survival can only be brought about by a dictatorship, by imposing one's will on others, and by forcing them to live frugally. Ecocide cannot be prevented by eco-fascism. You can’t force a people to live frugally or be free any more than you can compel the rest of nature to flourish.
In Riding the Wind: Liberation Ecology for a New Era, I have tried to show a possible way out of the Sixth Extinction and the dire predicament which we find ourselves in. It can only be changed by altering our patterns of consumption and production and limiting voluntarily our numbers. Beyond that, we should not attempt to direct or manage the course of evolution but have confidence that nature can take care of itself. Real change can only occur through a change of heart and mind, through persuasion and education which will encourage humans to think of the consequences of their actions on the rest of society and the natural world.
It therefore requires a libertarian approach, not an authoritarian one. It encourages the creation of decentralised, self-managing societies which are in harmony with their natural surroundings. It looks forward to a time when the existing nation state is replaced by a community of communities. It recognises the importance of all species, not just of our own which only forms a thread in nature’s web. We may be self-conscious beings, but we share consciousness with other creatures. We all need the ecosystems which support us.
This world view is not human-centred but an eco-centric. It involves a change in the attitude which sees human beings as not somehow different from the rest of nature but rather as threads in nature’s delicate web. Everything in life is interconnected. Everything in life affects everything else.
In the conclusion of my history of anarchism Demanding the Impossible (published by PM Press among others), I suggest that a free society can only be achieved by peaceful and voluntary means. We can work outwards to change ourselves and our society in which we live. We can learn not to dominate others and other species. We can form affinity groups with like-minded people, and encourage cooperative and democratic ways based on mutual aid in our communities and regions. We can consume and possess less and recognise that happiness is not achieved through power or wealth. We can limit our numbers, eat less meat and fish or none at all which will reduce our impact on nature, farm organically and not destroy the land through unnecessary chemicals. We can act locally and think globally. We can live lightly on the earth. We can attempt to create here and now and in ever-widening circles a society which is convivial, ecological and free.
Peter Marshall is the author of over 15 books including Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism.