Endgame

Click on the image to purchase this book through Amazon.com. Purchases help support MediaMouse.org.

Derrick Jensen’s Endgame is a substantial, two volume, 891 page book focusing on the “problem of civilization” and resistance to civilization. While the idea that civilization is a problem and that we need to organize to “bring it down” as Jensen would say will be new to many readers, the book offers a strikingly poignant analysis of our current situation and the realities of civilization. Throughout the book Jensen weaves together convincing arguments urging a reevaluation of our current strategies for resistance on a variety of issues from the environment to domestic violence to convince readers that the problems we are facing are inherent characteristics of civilization. Central to his analysis is the idea that the environment and the realization that no species can survive if the earth is killed—and that the urgency of this realization warrants an immediate shift in tactics and organization.

Whereas we rarely question the idea of civilization because so many facets of it are subconsciously inserted into our thinking through debate over issues such as how we can “grow” the economy or how sustainable development will save the Earth—thereby not raising the question of should we expand the economy or whether development can ever be sustainable—Jensen begins Endgame by laying out his premises at the beginning of the book. This list of twenty premises begins with the premise that “civilization is not and can never be sustainable” and ends with the idea that “social decisions are determined primarily on the basis of how well those decisions serve the ends of controlling or destroying wild nature.” Jensen also has a number of other insightful premises including that “those in power rule by force,” that “the culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life,” that “the needs of the natural world are more important than the needs of the economic system,” and that civilization is “based on, requires, and would collapse very quickly without persistent and widespread violence.” These premises provide the basis of much of the book. Jensen explains and expands on them throughout the course of the text.

The context of Jensen’s book is what he terms the “thrashing endgame of civilization” or the realization that our system of life is inherently unsustainable and that nothing currently being done—whether that be the mainstream environmental movement, the radical environmental movement, the sustainable business movement, or any of the left movements in this country—is doing enough to confront this fundamental reality. Throughout the book Jensen provides a number of specific examples of how civilization is destroying the planet including such issues as the ecological impact of dams, the destruction of a variety of species, industrial farming and fishing practices, the reliance on oil, and carrying capacity. While none of these ecological issues will be particularly “new” to most activists, Jensen’s argument that the problem is civilization itself will likely be controversial both among “mainstream” and some radical activists. Jensen’s analysis is such that the our current problems did not originate with a particular economic system, leader, failure for key issues to be covered in the media, or any other such tangential issue, but that they are inherent to civilization itself. To this end, Jensen makes compelling arguments that the movement for social change must be a movement against both the ideology and reality of civilization itself and argues that because our culture is a “culture of occupation” (the land was stolen from American Indians) permeated by inherent violence in civilization and our culture, we must set our sights on dismantling it by any means necessary. Jensen describes how people are individually and collectively brought up to hate life, to hate the natural world, to hate the wild, to hate women, to hate their bodies, to hate their feelings, and even to hate themselves. In turn, Jensen argues persuasively that this hatred is an essential form of acculturation if we are to live within a system built upon systematic violence. Jensen describes this violence as being hierarchical, arguing that violence is always done to those perceived as “lower.” Humans destroy the earth, the rich exploit the poor, and the military occupies other countries while the entire system is organized by leaders who rule by force. Jensen’s analysis is also useful in that he makes several important distinctions about who is responsible for the destruction of the planet and who is benefiting from it, and in forgoing the usual line that “we are destroying the planet,” Jensen is able to avoid the rhetoric of individual responsibility through recycling, riding bikes, or composting that is common in the environmental movement. Instead, he articulates a much more useful analysis of responsibility whereby we have a collective and individual responsibility to the earth that provides for us and an analysis in which there are clear targets that can—and must—be the focuses of our opposition.

So how does one organize against civilization? Unfortunately, this is one of the book’s weaknesses in that many already possessing a radical analysis of the world (and the Earth) will likely agree with Jensen’s analysis but will have questions about how one goes about organizing against civilization. Jensen’s most common answer throughout the book is to “listen to the land,” and while there is certainly a degree of truth in that answer, it is simultaneously frustrating as it offers no specifics. Indeed, Jensen goes to great lengths to explain that he does not have all of the answers and that they can only be arrived at through a process of individual and collective considerations of the risks, possibilities for success, and the efficacy of any individual action. When it comes to protecting the Earth, Jensen argues that all options—including force—are on the table and argues that the immediacy of the situation coupled with the fact that the entire society is based on violence allows for an incredible diversity of tactics. Throughout the book Jensen raises the prospect of blowing up dams, Earth Liberation Front sabotage, destroying cell phone towers, and other such approaches to combating the destruction of the earth, although he provides ample critiques of such tactics in explaining that they do not go “high enough up the infrastructure.” Jensen talks about the need for actions that will hasten the fall of civilization and makes detours into discussions about computer hackers and the possibility that they might be able to bring large sections of civilization to a standstill, dismantling power grids, and the number of people that it will take to give civilization the final push that it needs to crash. While these discussions are somewhat interesting hypothetical situations, they tend to distract from his very convincing and necessary analysis of civilization. Discussions of what we will do once the ultimate “crash” of civilization takes place are also fairly weak and questions about the “population reduction” that will come with this crash are glossed over, with Jensen essentially saying that the longer civilization continues the “messier” the crash will be. To assist in making sure that the maximum number of people are able to survive this crash, Jensen suggests that people begin thinking realistically about it and planning for its inevitable occurrence.

Aside from the critique of civilization, a large portion of Jensen’s book is dedicated to going through and systematically reexamining the various tactics, strategies, and approaches that movements for social change in this country have accepted as “truth” in order to come to some important conclusions about the efficacy of organizing on the left. While Jensen’s roots are in the environmental movement and his analysis is no doubt shaped by the immediate reality that the Earth is being killed, his analysis is useful to a variety movements. The honesty at which he explores the efficacy of various campaigns—such as petitioning corporations destroying the Earth in order to “nicely” ask them to stop (and thereby go against their rationale for existing)—is helpful in that it will remind organizers of the bigger picture as well as the questions that we all must face even as we all work on a variety of defuse campaigns and projects. As part of this, Jensen includes a lengthy discussion of pacifism and explains his conclusion that “love does not imply pacifism” while analyzing the rhetoric of pacifists, a rhetoric that has unfortunately come to exert a considerable amount of influence on movements for social change. Jensen confronts many of the “truths” of pacifism, including the idea that violence begets violence, that “we must become the change that we want to see” if we are to change the world, and that by using violence we become like our exploiters, and a host of other pacifist myths that serve to muddle our analysis and limit our responses. Along with this critique of pacifism, Jensen also explores the ways in which responses such as using the courts, petitioning, and voting—while all are important tactics if evaluated on an individual level—cannot be long-term strategies as they are ultimately setup to protect the interests of those who created them. Of course, the realization that much of what we do are temporary “band-aid fixes” can be somewhat daunting and very uncomfortable. But similar to the self-discovery process through which white activists must learn about their white privilege or when males must learn of the privilege afforded them through the system of patriarchy, this realization process is needed in order to move forward. Jensen also reminds us that due to the awful state in which we are in, there is ample room for people to get involved where they can and contribute in the ways in which they are most effective as long as they have an understanding that people can and will respond to this situation using a variety of tactics and that one tactic or strategy only will not bring down civilization.

Endgame is an important book for those interested in social change, and specifically for those seeking a radical or revolutionary change in the way in which the world is structured. It offers an incredibly insightful analysis of our current situation and where we need to go from here. It is a simultaneously rewarding and challenging book, as its arguments will provoke thoughtful consideration and discussion that will ultimately result in an expanded analysis, and ideally, a more focused approach to changing the world.

Derrick Jensen, Endgame, (Seven Stories Press, 2006).

Advertisements

Grand Rapids Press Article on Costs of Air Conditioning Ignores Most Important Cost of All

Last Friday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a front-page article on the “costs” of air conditioning that focused entirely on the financial costs while ignoring the relationship between air conditioning usage and environmental destruction.

On Friday, the Grand Rapids Press ran a front-page article titled “We Keep Our Cool – But at What Cost” that examined the rising cost of air conditioning. In the short, 219 word article by Jim Harger, the Press examined the air conditioning and its rising cost, with air conditioning, according to Harger and Tom Vanderson of Jacobson Heating and Cooling, being no longer a luxury but instead is thought of as a “necessity” by homeowners that want to be “comfortable” when they come home from work. The article begins by quoting Vanderson who dispels the notion that air conditioning is a luxury and describes how last week—when temperatures were among the highest of the year—employees at Vanderson’s heating and cooling business were putting in extra hours while installing new or repairing existing central air systems.

The article then went on explore the financial costs of air conditioning, with Hager citing Vanderson’s estimate that adding central air conditioning will cost an average household $2,500 with variations depending on the size, location, and existing insulation. Hager also consulted Consumers Energy who provided a variety of statistics on their customers and the prevalence of central air. According to Consumers Energy spokesman Tim Pietryga, 52.1% of residential homes had central air in 2005, a substantial increase from 1981 when only 7.7% of homes had central air. For new homes, Pietryga said that about 80% of those using Consumers Energy have central air. The article explains that “none of the cool air comes without cost” and cites an estimate from Consumers Energy that a “modest-sized central air system” will consume about 3,750 watts of electricity and will cost around 34.5 cents per hour for an addition of $8.23 per day consumers’ monthly electric bills. This added cost is then compared to the cost of other cooling options such as attic fans that operate at “one-tenth of the cost” or the 17 cents per day of the circulating fan.

While the article correctly identifies that there are considerable financial costs to using central air systems, it fails to identify what is likely the most significant cost of air conditioning—its affect on the earth, and by extension, the viability of all life. In an era of global warming and significant environmental destruction, there is evidence that air conditioning—like automobiles and industrial pollution—is threatening the planet. A study titled “Future US Energy Use for 2000-2005 as Computed with Temperatures from a Global Climate Prediction Model and Energy Demand Model” by two scientists with the Oak Ridge and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories and scheduled for publication in the August issue of Geophysical Research Letters carbon dioxide emissions are increasing as energy use for cooling during increases during warmer months. This increased energy use for cooling will, according to the study, ultimately result in an increase in the number of power plants built with the majority likely being coal powered combustion turbines that can be built quickly and will provide significant amounts of energy while also being the dirtiest type of power plants and dependent on environmentally destructive mining practices such as mountaintop removal mining. The study—which also examines whether or not this increased in cooling costs will be offset by decreased heating costs in the winter—ultimately concludes that “a trend of increased… cost, and carbon emissions are observed” as artificial cooling systems are utilized more frequently. Other research has found that air conditioning accounts for 16% of the percent of the average household’s energy consumption while emitting 3,400 pounds of carbon dioxide for the average home in the United States, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Further research by the Energy Department on the effects of air conditioning on automobile fuel efficiency has found that on average air conditioners reduce fuel efficiency by four miles per gallon with air conditioners in cars and light trucks using 7 billion gallons of gasoline per year. Earlier this year, writer Stan Cox argued that the history of air conditioning in this country has dramatically shaped people’s perception of what constitutes “comfortable” temperatures and as a result of the considerable energy required to power air conditioning systems, will make it very difficult for the adoption of alternative energy sources that are unable to match the current (and increasing) electricity needs. Cox’s exploration of cultural attitudes shaped by air conditioning show that the threat to the earth—while no doubt partially connected to poor individual choices—involves far more systemic issues pertaining to an economic model that depends on ever increasing energy usage and continued domination of the natural world.

Clearly, air conditioning has a significant environmental impact simply through increased electricity usage, as coal power plants release 40% of the United States’ carbon dioxide pollution (carbon dioxide is the primary global warming pollutant). Moreover, with air conditioning having a history of generating CFCs responsible in part for global warming, it is clear that the environmental “cost” of air conditioning deserved at the very least a mention in Harger’s article, if not a significant focus.

Study Shows Michigan’s Carbon Dioxide Emissions Increased 46% from 1960 to 2001

A report completed last week by the Public Interest Research Group has found that between 1960 and 2001 the United States’ emissions of carbon dioxide almost doubled. In Michigan, emissions during that period grew by nearly 50%.

A new report completed by the Public Interest Research Group has found that between 1960 and 2001, the United States’ emissions of carbon dioxide almost doubled with an increase of 95%. Not only has this been detrimental to the United States, but it has also affected the entire world with the United States now responsible for a staggering 25% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions while refusing to participate in international treaties regulating such emissions. As such, global warming and climate change is a reality for the world, and if it continues unabated, will threaten the Earth’s human and non-human residents with sea level rise, heat waves, draught, more intense hurricanes, decreased crop yields, and water shortages. Rather than falling off as awareness increases about the environmental effects of global warming caused by carbon dioxide emissions, the 1990s saw an increase of 1.5% per year with emissions growing by 1.7% in 2004 making 2005 the warmest year on record as global warming pollution has “grown out of control” according to the report.

Statistics cited from 2001 in the report place Michigan within the top ten for states with the most carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel combustion, with Michigan ranking ninth in total emissions with 189.1 million metric tons. The 2001 numbers place Michigan in the top ten of states with the most emissions for all measured categories with the exception of oil, where Michigan ranked 11 out of 50. Thirty-one percent of the state’s emissions came from oil emissions as the state’s drivers have increased their miles traveled per year by 136% from 1960 to 2001, while the state’s coal emissions increased 21% since 1960. A recent study by the American Lung Association found that Michigan’s air quality rating was poor, suggesting that while emissions from carbon dioxide have increased at a rate lower than other states, air quality remains a serious concern in Michigan. The Great Lakes/Midwest region of which Michigan is a part had a 44% increase in emissions overall between 1960 and 2001, the smallest increase outside of the Northeast’s 12% increase. Of this increase, 40% was from coal emissions, 31% from oil emissions, and 29% from natural gas emissions.

While Michigan was not one of the twenty-eight states that doubled their carbon dioxide emissions over the study period, Michigan’s emissions are part of a disturbing national trend of increased emissions. Emissions have continued to grow due in large part to continued emissions from the electricity generation process and oil combustion used to power much of the United States’ transportation. Oil combustion alone accounted for 40% of the total increase in carbon dioxide emissions with the transportation sector increasing emissions by 150%. The continued reliance on coal power has also been responsible for nearly 40% of the emissions increases, with emissions from coal combustion for electricity generation increasing by 370%. Interestingly, emissions from industry have declined since 1966.

The report makes a series of broad recommendations calling for the reduction of emissions and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. To achieve these goals, the report urges the establishment of mandatory limits on emissions that will reduce emissions from today’s levels in 10 years, by 20% in 20 years, and by 80% by 2050. The report also urges that corporations and individuals work to reduce emissions by making homes and businesses more energy efficient, by purchasing and manufacturing more fuel-efficient vehicles, and by generating electricity from renewable sources. The report concludes that existing technology could substantially reduce global warming and that such technologies while making power plants more efficient, harnessing renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass, and making cars more fuel efficient, would also lessen the United States dependence on oil, reduce air pollution, protect wilderness areas threatened by oil drilling and mining, and even save consumers money.