I Won’t Go Quietly

So the question arises, how seriously should we be taking the prospect of imminent climate crisis and environmental collapse?  How serious is the threat?  What should we be doing to meet it?

On the one hand, there are the Deep Green Resistance folks, who advocate a guerilla warfare approach to industrial civilization: sabotage to infrastructure, with the goal of saving the planet from the destructive predation of human society.

The DGR point of view is that the salmon and the frogs and the polar bears can’t wait; if we hesitate, they will go extinct, and there is no coming back from extinction.  And by the way, we homo sapiens are next in line.

Well yes but…blowing up bridges, cell towers and power lines is hardly in a day’s work for most of us.  I can’t see myself heading for the hills with a knapsack of dynamite on my back!  And could such a resistance effort work? As the example of Tim DeChristopher shows, it doesn’t take much pushback to land in jail.

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who just don’t see that there’s any problem.

That’s most of us Americans.  Most of my peers really seem to see nothing at all to be concerned about, ecosystem-wise.  I often feel  paranoid and ridiculous to worry about global warming leading to conditions of scarcity that will destabilize the social order. No one else is worrying about this, why should I?

People who love me warn me not to go too far; my neighbor wonders when the FBI surveillance will start on our block.

Really, am I nuts to be even thinking about all this?

But I can’t forget historical scenarios where the majority maintained a go-with-the-flow, maintain-the-status-quo position, and were stunned when their efforts at conformity landed them in the gas chambers.

This was only a generation ago, my friends.

Today our fear is not so much gas chambers as it is mass poisonings by other means: for instance, fungicide in the orange juice, heavy metals in the well water, or mega-hurricanes caused by global warming.

It is already happening.  Of course the powers that be, the powers that are profiting from the status quo, don’t want us to question.  They don’t want us to wonder whether saving the salmon is more important than, say, mining for gold in a pristine river.  They don’t want us to demand cars that run on hydrogen.  They don’t want us to insist on a moratorium on Round-up ready seed and fertilizer.

I’m sorry, but I can’t stand down and go back to minding my own business like a good little girl.  I won’t go quietly into the night.  I won’t be one of the capos who cooperates and shepherds the others to their doom.

But maybe we don’t have to choose between these two extreme scenarios: conformity or resistance.  Maybe we can take a middle route, a resistance movement that works with the conformists to bring about change.

Yes, it’s a reformist hope that refuses to die in me.  It’s a hope that I find echoed in the recently published conversation between imprisoned activist Tim DeChristopher and the writer Terry Tempest Williams:

“TIM: Well there’s no hope in avoiding collapse. If you look at the worst-case consequences of climate change, those pretty much mean the collapse of our industrial civilization. But that doesn’t mean the end of everything. It means that we’re going to be living through the most rapid and intense period of change that humanity has ever faced. And that’s certainly not hopeless. It means we’re going to have to build another world in the ashes of this one. And it could very easily be a better world. I have a lot of hope in my generation’s ability to build a better world in the ashes of this one. And I have very little doubt that we’ll have to. The nice thing about that is that this culture hasn’t led to happiness anyway, it hasn’t satisfied our human needs. So there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

DeChristopher says something surprising towards the end of this interview.  He says that going to prison was the most freeing thing that could have happened to him.

“TIM: I thought I was sacrificing my freedom, but instead I was grabbing onto my freedom and refusing to let go of it for the first time, you know? Finally accepting that I wasn’t this helpless victim of society, and couldn’t do anything to shape my own future, you know, that I didn’t have that freedom to steer the course of my life. Finally I said, “I have the freedom to change this situation. I’m that powerful.” And that’s been a wonderful feeling that I’ve held onto since then.”

A lot of us are scared and angry and depressed for precisely this reason: we feel we don’t have control over our futures.  We are like the salmon and the polar bears and the bats, facing an ever more inhospitable environment, with no way to fight back.

But what if we did have control?  What if we have a lot more power than we realize?

This is the lesson of the Occupy movement.  Another world is possible.  And we can welcome her into existence.  We don’t have to go quietly wherever the powers that be lead us.

Not yet, anyway.  There’s still time.  Let’s seize it.

Leave a comment


  1. Jennifer, this post made me smile.Thanks. Tim’s reference to building a new world from the ashes of this one resonated powerfully; My family had to do just that on losing everything but a teddy-bear, a blanket and each-other during the fire-storm I’ve mentioned elsewhere.

    I thought of you when I watched this; http://www.ted.com/talks/britta_riley_a_garden_in_my_apartment.html

    Isn’t it gorgeous?

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  January 13, 2012

      Angie, thanks for the link! It is gorgeous!

      This experience of losing everything and rebuilding is one that has fascinated & haunted me for a long time, although I’ve never been through anything remotely like it, at least not in this lifetime. It’s a powerful catalyst for cultivating resilience, for sure! I am so glad you are sharing your story because those of us who haven’t been there (yet) have a lot to learn from you–

      • Jennifer, thanks. You’re lovely.

        Yes my family lost everything, but in a very first world way. After the awfulness of surviving the fire we found a fire-truck, burnt over, but the crew were alive, and eventually they took us to safety. We passed dead people and dying animals. We were taken to a hastily set-up emergency relief centre, from where our extended families and friends scooped us up and showered care and love and material help, until we were able to buy our current home and start out again. Our insurance company resisted paying, but at that time Drew had a senior role in superannuation, alongside political notables, so the insurer was a little less recalcitrant….

        Losing everything, in a situation of post-industrial civilisation collapse is incomprehensible to me. I expect it would be as miserable as starving with/without your displaced family in a poor country following yet another flood/fire/tornado… We were in the wrong place at the right time?

        (Like everyone) I’d love to share something worth learning, as you’ve kindly suggested. And in my heart of hearts I think I could, which is; expect less and try to take less. But, of course, I can say that, from my position of well-supported, first-world, secure middle-class white woman – Australia’s economy is relatively safe at the moment due to the Chinese market for minerals and arable land. Our health system and schools are still good.

        I’d love to say “STOP EATING MEAT, GROW VEGIES”. It’s not that simple, is it?

        I can say, my girls have experienced sufficient kindness from strangers to obviate the MSM message that people are essentially bad. I can say that the little dialogue that has sprung up between you (academic in NY) and I (Melbourne woman) via these comments on your blog, is a good example of the good stuff happening.

        Stay strong!!!

        Cheers, Angie.

  2. The case of Tim DeChristopher is instructive. He did not do anything illegal. If anything, it’s the court system that behaved illegally during his trial. But he successfully stymied Bush’s land grab, and that could not be forgiven. When I heard of kids burning SUVs, I had to roll my eyes. What stupidity to lose your freedom over. His case is different…

    Since you are an educator, Jennifer, I want to mention here my increasing pet peeve: most of us are pitifully ignorant of the history of our species. Most rapid and intense change that humans have faced, as Tim says? Well, I think that would have been about 71,000 years ago, with the Toba supervolcano explosion, and a 6 year winter! Dontcha think? Compared to that, even the ice ages were a saunter in the park.

    The rest, I agree with him. Not hopeless by any means. I am tired, though, of the whole climate change hysteria. The planet *is* about climate change, folks. Sure, we are contributing now, but it’s always gone on. The hysteria is only fueling some awfulness that is hatching to “fight climate change” with some horribly dangerous (but profitable) geoengineering schemes.

    I hope that people engage the DGR folks in some serious deliberation. Sabotage has always been one of the ways “we the people” have undermined the powers that be… but even during the war, what the partisans did was a two edged sword. Often bringing down the Nazis to destroy the villagers who were — whether willingly or not — providing support for the partisans. And there was a lot more consensus then about fighting the Nazis than there is today about fighting industrial civ. I suspect that the best sabotage is the kind that builds alternatives… like the homeschooling/unschooling movement created an alternative, and at the same time, can be thought of as sabotage to the public school, cookie-cutter education paradigm and practice.

    I think, Jennifer, that many more people are seeing there is a problem than let on.

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  January 13, 2012

      Well yes, having a historical perspective is helpful. Working on alternatives to going along the beaten path is helpful–I love this line of yours: “the best sabotage is the kind that builds alternatives.” Yes.

      I also agree with you that “Climate change hysteria” is not helpful. I guess I am walking that fine line between urgency and hysteria. People need to see the urgency of getting ready to meet the reality of rapid climate change. People need to start “cultivating resilience,” as Angie puts it. People need to stop listening to the MSM and start thinking for themselves.

      And yes, education is a huge part of this picture, with too few kids these days being “taught” to think for themselves, to be creative innovators. I was just reading a blog post about this today–there are glimmers, in my profession, of seeing the necessity of pedagogies of liberation: http://chronicle.com/blognetwork/tenuredradical/2012/01/teaching-as-acts-of-interpretation-or-what-i-learned-from-d-w-winnicott-and-nell-irvin-painter/?sid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en. But just glimmers, few and far between lots of “cookie-cutter education paradigm and practice.”

      Lots to think about here–thanks–

  3. It is my opinion that just by talking about these issues, and opening up others to the discussion, we start to become the supportive part of a resistance movement. I am currently reading the Deep Green Resistance book and finding it has an eye opening view on past resistance, definitely worth reading. There is more to the Deep Green Resistance movement than what I first thought, it is based on a love for all life on the planet.

    I am standing at that first extreme you mentioned, knowing it is time to resist, that our lives depend on it. It is difficult to continue to stand by watching rivers, mountains, entire ecosystems disappear forever as industry destroys them, leaving pollution behind…everywhere I look there is destruction and sickness.

    I enjoyed your blog, very well written. I’m going to bookmark it.


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