A conversation with Derrick Jensen
As you begin reading this interview, take a look at the nearest clock. Now, dig this: Since yesterday at the same exact time, 200,000 acres of rainforest have been destroyed, over 100 plant and animal species have gone extinct, 13 million tons of toxic chemicals were released across the globe, and 29,158 children under the age of five died from preventable causes.
Worst of all, there’s nothing unique about the past 24 hours. It’s business as usual, a daily reality—and no amount of CFL bulbs, recycled toilet paper, or Sierra Club donations will change it even a tiny bit.
As you do your best to convince yourself of the vast chasm between the two wings of America’s single corporate party, I suggest you listen carefully to hear if even one of the politicians mentions any of the following:
- Every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic
- Eighty-one tons of mercury is emitted into the atmosphere each year as a result of electric power generation
- Every second, 10,000 gallons of gasoline are burned in the US
- Each year, Americans use 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides
- Ninety percent of the large fish in the ocean and 80 percent of the world’s forests are gone
- Every two seconds, a human being starves to death
This is just a minute sampling, folks, and sorry, but your hybrid ain’t helping. That reusable shopping bag you bring to the market has zero impact. Your home composting kit is not gonna start a revolution.
In fact, even if every single person in the US made every single change suggested in the movie An Inconvenient Truth, carbon emissions would fall by only 21%—in contrast to the 75% emissions decrease that scientific consensus believes must happen…now.
None of this, of course, is news to Derrick Jensen. He is the author of essential works such as A Language Older Than Words and Endgame. His worldview has nothing to do with party politics, incremental reform, leftist in-fighting, corporate compromise, or anything that seeks to tweak but ultimately maintain the ongoing global crime we call civilization.
“My loyalty,” he told me, “is with the nonhuman and human victims (or targets) of this culture, and my work is toward stopping this culture’s assaults on nonhumans, on the land, on the planet itself, on women, on indigenous peoples, on the poor.”
If you’ve grown weary (and wary) of the entrenched Left and all the words left unspoken, you owe it yourself to read the rest of our conversation below. Afterwards, you just might start realizing that you also owe to the planet to get busy.
Our exchange took place during the week of January 17 and went a little something like this…
Mickey Z.: We’re starting this conversation as another MLK Day is observed. Not much of a chance that we’ll hear this Dr. King quote—”The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be”—mentioned much by the corporate media, huh?
Derrick Jensen: Just today I read an article stating that, no surprise, industrial-induced global warming will be far worse than estimated, and if carbon emissions continue as expected, could render much of the planet uninhabitable within 100 years. Even now, 150-200 species are driven extinct every day. This culture extirpates indigenous peoples. The oceans are being murdered. And today I saw a study of rates of fire retardant in every fetus. And on and on. And yet those of us who are working to stop this planetary murder are sometimes characterized as extremists.
I think the real extremists are the people who value capitalism over life, the people who value civilization over life. I cannot think of any more extreme position than valuing this insane culture over life.
MZ: Not surprisingly, another major African-American figure from the 1960s—Malcolm X—had some positive words for extremism in the name of toppling that insane culture. Using Hamlet as a springboard, Malcolm wrote:
“(Hamlet) was in doubt about something—whether it was nobler in the mind of man to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune—moderation—or to take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them. And I go for that. If you take up arms, you’ll end it, but if you sit around and wait for the one who’s in power to make up his mind that he should end it, you’ll be waiting a long time. And in my opinion, the young generation of whites, blacks, browns, whatever else there is, you’re living at a time of extremism, a time of revolution, a time when there’s got to be a change. People in power have misused it and now there has to be a change and a better world has to be built and the only way it’s going to be built with—is with extreme methods. And I, for one, will join in with anyone—I don’t care what color you are—as long as you want to change this miserable condition that exists on this earth.”
DJ: I think the key has to do with wanting to change this miserable condition.
I try to be fairly inclusive of the people I would work with, but I’ve realized over the past many years that I’m not working toward the same goals as many of the environmentalists who are explicitly working to save capitalism or to save civilization, rather than the real world. In talks and interviews I often ask what all of the so-called solutions to global warming or the murder of the oceans, or biodiversity crash, etc, all have in common. And what they all have in common is that they all take industrial capitalism as a given, and the natural world as that which must conform to industrial capitalism. That is literally insane, in terms of being out of touch with physical reality. I mean, look at Lester Brown’s Plan B 4.0 to Save Civilization. What does he want to save? Could he be any more explicit? He wants to save civilization. But civilization is killing the planet. It’s like writing a book about how to save a serial killer who is murdering so many people he’s running out of victims. We see this attitude all the time. When people, for example, ask how we can stop global warming, they’re not asking how we can stop global warming; they’re asking how we can stop global warming without changing the physical conditions (burning oil and gas, deforestation, industrial agriculture, and so on) that lead to global warming. And the answer to that question is that you can’t. Likewise, when they ask how we can save salmon, they aren’t really asking how we can save salmon, they’re asking how we can save salmon without removing dams, stopping industrial logging, stopping industrial agriculture, stopping industrial fishing, stopping the murder of the oceans, stopping global warming, and so on.
A question I keep asking is: with whom (or what) do you identify? Where is your loyalty? Whom, or what do you want to save? And if what you really want to save is this “miserable condition”—capitalism, civilization, what have you—at the expense of the planet, then we’re not really working toward the same goal, are we? My loyalty is with the nonhuman and human victims (or targets) of this culture, and my work is toward stopping this culture’s assaults on nonhumans, on the land, on the planet itself, on women, on indigenous peoples, on the poor.