An Open Letter to Fellow Environmentalists

Posted: April 18, 2012 by earthfirstdurango in direct action, environmental justice, resistance
Tags: , ,

From DGR Colorado:

This open letter was written by a member of Deep Green Resistance Colorado, and was influenced and informed by Deep Green Resistance and the work of Paul Kingsnorth, Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith, Aric McBay, and Jack Forbes, among many other sources and experiences.

The earth isn’t dying; it is being killed. And “clean energy” will only make things worse.

I should probably begin by introducing myself; my name is Alex, and I’m a recovering renewable energy advocate. For years, I was a victim of desperation and hope; I petitioned and parlayed, chanted and canvassed; I brimmed with excitement at the prospect of “green jobs” and a “renewable energy economy.” I still see much of myself in many of you.

I know what it’s like. I know exactly how it feels to look around and see a world not just dying but being suffocated, being tortured and maimed, sacrificed on the twin altars of profit and production. As a young person today, I know what it’s like to fear the future, to fear for my future. I—like many of you—have read all the studies and reports I need to see to know what’s coming, what disaster is now screaming, all but unchallenged, down the track upon us.

I know what it’s like to want a way out, a path from this desert of despair to something, anything that will shift us from the deadly course our society is on, some simple solution, the kind of sane idea that even a politician could support.

Like many of you, for years I thought “clean energy” was the answer to the despair that weighs heavier on our collective shoulders and conscience every day. It seemed realistic. It seemed achievable. It seemed aesthetic. And most importantly, I thought it would save the planet.

And I was dedicated whole-heartedly. When I was 14, I volunteered with The Climate Project, a grassroots climate-education initiative created by Al Gore to “awake the masses” to the threat of global warming. I went to classrooms, churches and community centers for years, preaching the good gospel of “green” energy, that we just needed to elect some compassionate democrats. I wrote letters to the editor, hoping to inspire people to be climate voters. I went to city council to beg, and organized protests to demand that the authorities swap the local coal plant for some 21st century renewable energy.

I could see it in my dreams and the artistic renderings of would-be developers; big white windmills peppered across the rolling plains and prairie, slowly making their dutiful rotations & smooth revolutions, a clean and green revolution themselves. All buildings could be fitted with solar panels and to a biker passing by, the deep blues of the PV’s would roll by like the bottoms of the oceans no longer choking in oil. It was beautiful.

Unfortunately, none of it was—nor is—true. Those visions and daydreams were—and are—entirely out of touch with reality, for nothing is made in a vacuum.

My dreams didn’t include the tens of millions of migratory birds and bats massacred each year by windmills1, whose deaths are not justified by my being able to watch ‘Jersey Shore.’

My dreams didn’t include the reality that sun and wind conditions are ever changing and “renewable” generation systems must be run in synch with fossil fuel systems in case the wind stops or it gets cloudy2.

They didn’t include the mining of the minerals necessary to build these magic energy machines, which permanently destroys mountains and landscapes, leaching mercury and lead into watersheds.

They didn’t include the radioactive and carcinogenic waste produced by the manufacture of wind turbines, nor the Chinese farmers who’ve seen their land, animals, and families drop like too many flies from the pollution3.

They didn’t include the inevitable dilemma of an economic system that requires constant and endless growth with the reality of a finite planet (and thus finite amounts of gallium, indium, and silicone).

My perfect world was anything but; nevertheless, for some reason, I didn’t want to acknowledge the fact that a world run by solar and wind power (or hydro or geothermal or biofuels or every other potential source I’ve ever heard of) would of necessity be a world with a global industrial mining infrastructure, along with all the horrible pollution and problems it encompasses. It would also, of necessity, be a world with a global industrial manufacturing industry. It would, again of necessity, be a world with a global transportation infrastructure.

Now step back for a moment; these are all things that we’re already protesting, destructive agendas which we’re already fighting—and losing—battles. Mining, manufacturing, and global transportation—these are all inherently destructive and polluting.

For the past 5 years, I believed in the “inspiring audacity” of renewable energy with a passion to rival Al Gore or Bill MicKibben.

Yet if we preach a holy trinity of “wind, sun and hydro” because we believe they provide relief from an already collapsing biosphere, where does this leave us?

We call ourselves environmentalists; we call ourselves guardians and protectors, defending against the likes of Exxon-Mobil. But what is it you’re defending? Is it civilization? Is it the economy? Is it the sterile and plastic world you now call home?

Or are you defending—with your words, actions, and body—life? Maybe, like some of us, you’re fighting for a world where children can breathe the air and drink the water; a world where their bodies aren’t bombarded with chemicals and carcinogens from the day they’re born. Maybe, what you want is a world without deforestation, a world where forests are recognized for the living communities that they are. Maybe you want a world that isn’t being destroyed, but is more alive each year than the year before.

In the words of a recovering environmentalist, “destruction minus carbon does not equal sustainability.4” Destruction minus carbon is still destruction, and it is destruction upon which industrial civilization is based.

Erecting wind turbines won’t stop the systematic deforestation of the Pacific Northwest or desertification of the Amazon; it won’t stop fresh-water wells from drying up in India; it won’t stop trawlers from vacuuming up ocean life and replacing it with plastic; it won’t stop Monsanto from “Monsanto-ing.”

Building wind turbines will, however, force us to destroy whole mountain ranges with explosives and bulldozers to get the needed minerals and metals; it will create 5 mile-wide lakes of carcinogenic and radioactive sludge that will seep into the land, poisoning animals and people, and it will kill hundreds of millions of birds each year.

Coincidentally, it will also require us to build and maintain coal or natural gas plants, because wind output isn’t reliably consistent5; hence I find it difficult to see ANY good coming from wind power.

Solar is the same way. Paving the American southwest or the Sahara with photovoltaics and wiring the world won’t stop cotton growers in Arizona from draining the Colorado River dry; it won’t stop vivisectors from torturing dogs, cats, rabbits, monkeys and countless others in the name of “progress”; it won’t stop the ceaseless march of cities and development across what little wild remains in this world.

However those same solar panels will expand slave labor in the Congo6. They (I say “they” as if solar panels were somehow more alive and sentient than the very real and very living beings whose homes are destroyed to make room for them) will require a global industrial transportation and manufacturing infrastructure. They will foster more economic imperialism2.

And just like those messianic wind turbines, solar PV output is unpredictable and inconsistent, meaning that we’ll have to keep our fossil fuels anyway2!

It’s time to stop the lies. It is time to see support for “renewable energy” for what it is—the continuation of a dominating and oppressive economic and social system that murders and enslaves people around the world, and that is systematically destroying and dismantling life on earth.

As much as it may hurt, it needs to be said; renewable energy will destroy the natural world as surely as Chevron. There are no industrial or technologic solutions to the death machine of industrial society that is swallowing whole what remains of this planet’s—our planet’s—most   vital and fundamental life support systems.

Before the arrival of industrial civilization on this continent, you could breathe the air and drink the water. A short 500 years later, every single mother in the world has dioxin (a chemical commonly called “the most toxic in the world”) in her breast milk, 98% of forests have been destroyed, half of all men and one third of all women now get cancer7, and the Colorado River no longer reaches the ocean. Neither wind farms nor a “Solartopia™” will fix any of these things.

We cannot afford to waste any more time or energy. We must confront the reality of our situation, that industrial civilization is predicated on the death of the natural, living world.

For us, the question now becomes; do we want hairdryers, or do we want safe water? Do we want HD televisions, or do we want migratory songbirds? Do we want ten episodes of “The Simpsons” at the click of a mouse, or do we want mountains? Do we want “e-readers,” or do we want a world without lakes of radioactive waste? Do we want our lifestyles of privilege and consumption, or do we want a living planet? Because in spite of our daydreams and delusions, we can’t kill this planet and live on it too.

I write this as an open letter to environmentalists, but to be honest, it isn’t truly an open letter. Many  of you (probably most)will continue to call for these unsustainable forms of energy, despite knowing that to do so is to beg murder upon the migratory birds, the (very few remaining) unpolluted streams, rural Chinese farmers, and ultimately upon what remains of the living world. Many of you don’t want a truly sustainable way of life, but to sustain a functionally unsustainable civilization. Many of your salaries and personal identities depend on “clean energy,” and you won’t dare challenge it. And for me, this is incredibly saddening and disheartening, as I know many such people. So this letter is not written to you.

This letter is addressed with the utmost intimacy to those of you who are like I am; who yearn for a just world, a world without cancer, and lakes of toxic sludge, imperialism, or murdered birds.  This letter is addressed to those of you who want a living world, to those who know in the most profound places of your heart that the needs of the natural world MUST come before the needs of an economic system.

In the end, I can only speak for myself. I know what I choose; I choose a world that has wild trout and bison. I choose a world with mountains. I choose a world where I can breathe the air and drink the water and see the stars at night. I choose a world with more monarch butterflies each year than the year before. I choose a world where no one dies or is killed so I can play fantasy football—and if that means a world without fantasy football (SPOILER ALERT: it does), then so be it.

Our collective fantasy of renewable energy as a savior come to forgive us of our sins is just that; a fantasy, and whether we want to acknowledge it or not, this way of life is over, and “clean energy” is totally and entirely incapable of saving it.

Industrialism, with its imperatives of growth & production, must be abandoned. Those systems which are destroying the planet—industrial agriculture, the extractive industries (industrial mining, fishing, logging, etc), the fossil fuel infrastructure, and exploitative systems of power—must be strategically dismantled and replaced by independent cultures of direct democracy that are fully integrated with their land bases and local ecosystems. The Earth cannot afford any alternative, for the alternative is to let the dominant culture consume what little remains of the natural world.

Preserving life—in any meaningful sense of the word—will require bringing an end to the perceived entitlement to live in a way that destroys the living systems of the earth. As Lierre Kieth says,

“For ‘sustainable’ to mean anything, we must embrace and then defend the bare truth: the planet is primary. The life-producing work of a million species is literally the earth, air, and water that we depend on…If we use the word ‘sustainable’ and don’t mean that, then we are liars of the worst sort: the kind who let atrocities happen while we stand by and do nothing.8

What do you want? Because we can’t have it all.

Where do you draw the line? Because ultimately there can be no justice—for humans or the earth—in an industrial society.

Where does your loyalty lie? These aren’t theoretical questions; they are some of the most important things we need to be asking ourselves right now. What is sacred to you—a living world, or central heating? Hold that question close, and whisper it to your heart; it’s time for an answer.

And it’s time to act on that answer, to carve out our purpose and forge resilience, to plant our feet firmly on the earth and defend our only home with our lives; for nothing else will do.


(1) Canada Free Press. “Spanish wind farms kill 6 to 18 million birds & bats a year.” Canada Free Press: Conservative, News, Politics, Editorials, Newspaper. (accessed March 5, 2012).

(2) Leith, Lierre, Aric McBay, and Derrick Jensen. “Other Plans.” In Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, 201-204. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011.

(3) Parry, Simon, and Ed Douglas. “In China, the true cost of Britain’s clean, green wind power experiment: Pollution on a disastrous scale | Mail Online.” MailOnline. (accessed March 5, 2012).

(4) Kingsnorth, Paul. “Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist | Orion Magazine.” Orion Magazine. (accessed March 5, 2012).

(5) American Daily Herald. “Two-year Study in UK Finds Wind Power Unreliable and Inefficient.” American Daily Herald. (accessed March 5, 2012).

(6) Leslie, Zorba, Jody Sarich, and Karen Stauss. “The Congo Report: Slavery in Conflict Minerals.” Free the Slaves. (accessed March 4, 2012).

(7) American Cancer Society, Inc.. “Lifetime Risk of Developing or Dying From Cancer.” American Cancer Society :: Information and Resources for Cancer: Breast, Colon, Prostate, Lung and Other Forms. (accessed March 7, 2012).

(8) Keith, Lierre, Aric McBay, and Derrick Jensen. “The Problem.” In Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet, 25. New York: Seven Stories Press, 2011.

  1. David says:

    Beautifully said. “Reposted.”

  2. nonviolentconflict says:

    Reblogged this on NonviolentConflict.

  3. Scott Bilby says:

    While I agree 100% with your sentiments, (and God bless you for them!) I disagree with some of your factual analysis.

    1./ You talk of the birds, etc. killed by wind turbines.

    There are vastly more killed by transmission lines and believe it or not, the humble window.

    To stop building wind turbines for the sake of birds, bats, etc. without dealing with the other things that currently kill them would be to destroy one of the fundamental planks of replacing a fossil fuel-based energy system to solve only the smallest fraction of the problem of bird deaths.

    I personally believe that it’d be better to continue with the implementation of wind power and reduce those other ways in which the greatest majority of birds/bat/etc are harmed.

    2./ When people say that solar and wind power are intermittent and must be back by fossil fuel energy, it is:
    – not entirely true and
    – not necessarily relevant.

    I have personally spoken to specialists from NREL, Sandia Labs, Carnegie Institute as well as many other international specialists that tell a very different story.

    Right now in Spain, using technology released by the US DoE* there are solar thermal tower plants that use molten salt technology that allows NIGHT and day power generation. This means that these plants can dispatch power whenever they want, not just when the sun shines.

    (* The US DoE made available the plans for tower solar energy generating systems using molten salt to other countries, copyright free. They did this because at the time the Reagan administration, under pressure from the fossil fuel lobby, deliberately undermined renewable energy. The DoE gave away this technology to the rest of the world in the hope that other countries would utilise it. Thankfully, that has started to happen in the last decade).

    This makes solar the perfect accompaniment to wind power. Wind power is already fundamentally replacing coal in Denmark, Germany, etc. and as it becomes more widespread and better interconnected the level of intermittency drops. The amount of intermittency that remains can be covered by dispatchable power from technologies such as solar thermal plants with molten salt heat transfer fluids or hydro power in many areas around the world.

    3./ You also mention pollution from chemical/minerals etc required to build renewable energy technology. Yes, I agree with you, but we must remember that this constitutes the tiniest fraction of the amount already caused by general material consumption.

    Stopping the building of renewables for the sake of chemical/mineral/pollution benefits will only reduce the pollution impact by the smallest degree.

    Far better to progress with the implementation of renewables as one part of an overhaul of the currently flawed economic model and reduce/alter the far bigger source of mineral/chemical pollution and environmental degradation, that being all the unnecessary crap that people want but don’t need.

    4./ In my view, the statement “renewable energy will destroy the natural world as surely as Chevron” posits an ‘all or nothing’ proposition.

    Humans have got themselves into a very unenviable position. Clean energy is far from perfect, but it is LIGHT YEARS better than traditional types of energy production. I don’t believe we need the perfect solution.

    5./ I agree that we need to be sustainable and not just worry about carbon. We require restructuring of the stationary energy sector, transport sector, agriculture, land use and forestry, fugitive emissions, industrial emissions, etc, etc.

    It is a massive challenge, and I agree that anyone who believes that if we just stop extracting coal/oil/gas we’ll solve all our problems are just plain naive.

    6./ I agree with much of what you say and I agree that we cannot consume ourselves out of this problem. I believe that many species on this planet, incl humans, are in big trouble. However, if we are to solve this problem, we must reduce consumption, in fact completely alter the way we do things…and the reality is that renewable energy, incl. solar, wind, tidal and wave power, etc are a critical part of the solution.

    I’d like to say again that I admire your stance and all the work you’ve done for the environment. Like you, I am not sure if we’re gonna solve the monumental problem of environmental degradation and it worries me a lot. However, I feel that if we are to have any chance of solving things then wind and solar power, while not perfect, will be one important part of the solution.

    Sorry if there are typos or if I’ve repeated myself anywhere. I wrote this reply very quickly due to a pressing deadline that I must get onto.

    • dgrboulder says:

      Hi Scott,

      Thanks for reading this! And for your response. As the author of this letter, I hope I can address some of your concerns.

      1. I completely agree that wind turbines aren’t the leading cause of bird murders, and that the other things killing them need to be torn apart, brought down, or otherwise dismantled.

      However, I don’t think that justifies building wind turbines which we know will also kill birds. If we care at all for our feathered kin, we won’t allow them to be maimed and killed. End of story. Taking down some of the skyscrappers and then erecting turbines is hardly a solution.

      2. I’m by no means an expert on molten solar, or any other “renewable” technologies. However, when I say that all these technologies are inseparable from, and entirely dependent upon fossil fuels, I mean (among other things) that they cannot be manufactured without fossils fuels. The minerals–the steel, aluminum, copper, terllurium, tungstun, etc.–require industrial mining to obtain (industrial mining require fossil fuels). To manufacture these “raw materials” into wind turbines and solar panels, the cheap & abundant energy of fossil fuels is required. To transport these materials to factories, and from factories to where they will be erected, fossil fuesl are required. Fossil fuels are as fundamentally a part of renewable technologies as slavery is sewn into the clothes we wear.

      3. I also agree that the “runoff” pollution from the development of renewables is relatively small when compared with all the other sources. All the more reason to address those other sources as well. But that’s not a reason to ignore the damage that IS done by renewables.

      In regards to the notion that the most important thing we can do is focus on convincing people to “buy less”; this is one of the unfortunate cultural misconceptions within the culture of the Left. The industrial economy–and all of this industrial civilization–is driven not by the material consumption of individuals. It is driven by the ongoing rape, pillage, and plunder of Earth, or as it’s more commonly known, “production”; the conversion of the living world into dead things.

      If every single person in the United States took every action proposed by Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth”, CO2 missions would only drop 22%. Agriculture and industry use 80% of the water consumed (or stolen) by this society; municipal golf courses use 20 times as much water as households. Deforestation and industrial fishing are not driven by consumer demand, actually, they are unprofitable industries and would collapse immediately without massive subsidies. Logging (or the murder of our forest friends) is driven more by the surplus of available timber mills than it is by “market demand”. My point is that while conusming less and living simpler lives are unequivocally good things, they will not be enough to stop this culture from destroying Earth, because they are not the primary nor core drivers of that destruction.

      4. I’m not sure what you mean by a “perfect solution.” From my perspective, there is only one acceptable solution, and that an end to the dominant culture of civilization. The only acceptable solution is an end to the destruction, the abuse, the domination. Nothing short of that is acceptable. And renewable energies WILL not challenge that dominant culture; they will perpetuate it (or rather, because they are dependent of fossil fuels and won’t outlast those reserves, they are an attempt to perpetuate it). Because renewables will lead to the same destruction, or perhaps more precisely, because they WON’T lead to an end to that destruction, they are an unacceptable response, a false solution.

      5. I’m glad to hear you see the problem as being bigger than simply CO2. However, I don’t think any of those activities can be meaningfully restructured so as to be sustainable. Global transportation is unsustainable. Agriculture is fundamentally unsustainable, and has destroyed topsoil and biodiversity around the world. Our entire society, all of industrialism (and really, all of civilization) is unsustainble. I don’t really like using that word to describe it though. “Unsustainable” doesn’t impart the severity and horror of what this society is doing to Earth.

      6. I totally agree that our society needs to be radically changed, fundamentally, systemically, and the functional and cultural core. However, renewables won’t do that. They are a perpetuation of that functional destruction.

      Thank you for your words and your reply. Please feel free to reply or ask for clarification on anything I’ve said.

      love, rage & resistance

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