World War III Has Begun: Which Side Are You On?

Although you wouldn’t know it from scanning the front pages of the mainstream media, a major battle in what Bill McKibben has called World War Three, the war to save the planet from human destruction, has been going down in Indian Country for the past six months.

Thousands of Native Americans, members of a whole host of tribes, have gathered at Standing Rock, North Dakota, to protest the North Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL), which was sited by the Army Corps of Engineers to run dangerously close to the Missouri River and the Standing Rock Reservation.

But as the protesters say, they are not just defending Indian country, they are defending everyone who relies on the Missouri for water—and not just humans but all life.

If there is anyone to look back at this turbulent period in human history on Earth—now coming to be known as the Anthropocene—they will surely wonder at the suicidal tendency of human civilization in the 20th and early 21st centuries.

Why, they will ask, would such an intelligent species willingly—even enthusiastically—engage in the poisoning of its waterways and underground water resources; the destruction of its forests; the chemical contamination of its soils and oceans; the overheating of its precious atmosphere by relentless burning of fossil fuels? Why would humans put so much of their intelligence and technological prowess into developing ever more lethal weapons of mass destruction, used to bludgeon each other? Why would they preside blithely over the extinction of millions of other species, the vicious ripping of the great ecological web of life on Earth?

Why indeed?

I know it’s hard for any of us to escape the clutter of our everyday lives, with the constant pressures and worries that beset us on the personal level. But this is precisely what is being asked of us now.

The courageous defenders out at Standing Rock dropped their ordinary lives to be part of the historic encampment protesting the stranglehold of the oil companies on our waterways and our lands. They are fighting in the courts, through the media, and most importantly with their physical presence, standing up to the bulldozers, the attack dogs and the pepper spray.


Image source: Democracy Now!

This is what McKibben’s World War Three looks like—it’s already begun. It will be fought locally, as communities and individuals wake up to the implications of the destruction and decide that hell no, they won’t take it any more.


Oil and gas pipelines in the U.S. Image source:

In my own corner of the world, we are under assault from General Electric, wanting to create toxic waste dumps right in the middle of our small rural towns. We have a gas pipeline being constructed, despite vehement protests, through a pristine old-growth state forest. We have oil tanker trains running constantly right through our communities. Despite a thriving organic and biodynamic farm renaissance, we still have far too many pesticides, herbicides and fungicides being used locally, and too many trees being cut down.

I have been thinking and writing for some time now about how important it is to align the personal, political and planetary in our own lives and in the way we relate to the world around us. On all three of these levels, 21st century American life is way out of balance.

It is time to focus, each one of us, on using our brief lifetimes to create balance and harmony on Earth. Sometimes the way to harmony leads through protest and discord, as is happening now in Standing Rock. Sometimes it can be as simple as choosing to support local, low-impact agriculture rather than industrial agriculture. Leaning on our political representatives to move faster on policy that will shift our society to renewable energy is key.


Wind farm in Ireland. Source:

There are so many ways to get involved in this War for the Planet, many of them quite peaceful. The important thing is to get off the sidelines. Get involved. Feel the potential of this moment—it’s literally a make or break period for the future of humanity on Earth, and many other living beings too.

The brave defenders at Standing Rock are reminding us that we are all “natives” of this Earth, and we all have a stake in protecting her. Which side are you on?


Leave a comment


  1. Tremendous! With your permission I would like share this with my readers over on Learning from Dogs. Well done!

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  September 9, 2016

      Thanks Paul! I’d be happy for you to share with your Learning From Dogs readers….

  2. Thanks Jennifer.

  3. Gerry Gras

     /  September 9, 2016

    I think I am on the right side of this for 1) my efforts on behalf of the Green Party, 2) for participating in a few climate activist groups (, Citizens Climate Lobby, Transition),
    3) keeping a low carbon footprint, 4) miscellaneous other actions. But I usually think I should do more. I have not yet directly confronted those criminal actions by the fossil fuel industries.

    Jill Stein, Green Party Presidential Candidate is facing charges for her part against the Dakota pipeline:

    The “protesters say” link above goes to a video with Winona La Duke. Winona La Duke was the VP candidate for the Green Party in 2000. I saw her speak in Santa Clara, California. She’s very good.

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  September 9, 2016

      Thanks Gerry! Good information. As for not doing enough, I echo the great Wangari Maathai, who said via her “hummingbird story”–we must each just do what we can.

      • Gerry Gras

         /  September 11, 2016

        Thanks for the hummingbird story, I like it.

        I met Wangari Maathai. She came to East Palo Alto, CA to join in planting trees. I liked her a lot. She was a founder of the Green Party of Kenya. Her bio is amazing.

  4. Robert

     /  September 10, 2016

    Isn’t it a bit hypocritical to protest petroleum while you use it extensively to meet your own needs? Want to protest, stop driving, stop buying products that are driven to you, stop eating meat. Those things will make you look a little more genuine. I have spent the week trying to explain to friends that until they stop using fossil fuels, fossil fuels will continue to be made and transported. And they will be transported in the most safe and efficient way possible. This pipe was going to prevent hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day from being moved by train and truck, which are both far more likely to cause spills. (mostly at the point of loading and unloading, but they’re also more likely to have catastrophic accidents and those have occurred.) This whole week has made it evident how little Americans consider where their fuel comes from, and they aren’t doing much of a job of learning even when confronted with it. If you want to fix the problem, stop using oil. If you still use it, you have to expect that it will be transported to you, and not by magical petroleum fairies. This pipeline would have been a safer method than what they’ll end up with. Full disclosure, I’m an engineer, a treehugger, shockingly liberal, I drive, and I’m from a Sioux Reservation in SD.

    • Jennifer Browdy, Ph.D.

       /  September 10, 2016

      Thanks for the comment Robert. Yes, most of us still run on oil. But until policy shifts to promoting renewable energy that won’t change, at least not by the magnitude required. Individual lifestyle choices are important but must be amplified by public policy. Hence the need for active, visible demands like what’s going on in Standing Rock now, where they truly are standing up for all of us and for the planet. I have been heartened to see local protests springing up in support all over the country. This is how change happens!

  5. Robert

     /  September 10, 2016

    And btw the Missouri River is crossed by no less than six oil pipelines in Missouri alone. Trouble free. If you live in the midwest, south, or northeast your drinking water is intersected by an oil pipeline and you’ve just chosen to never notice it. Look at a pipeline map sometime.

  6. Eliza Bethany

     /  September 11, 2016

    DO NOT CALL IT WAR!!! To call it war is to say all has already been lost, there is nothing left in opposition to insatiable destruction and profanity. Instead, it is clear strong presence; massive, generous, truthful presence – That is what is being shown at Standing Rock. That is not war, it is PRESENCE – SACRED UNIVERSAL PRESENCE…

  1. Standing up for the future. – Learning from Dogs

Leave a Reply to Robert Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: