Suburbia Project

Ripping up Asphalt and Planting Gardens

This culture is killing the planet. It must be stopped. We evidently do not have the courage to stop it ourselves. The natural world will stop it for us.

By Derrick Jensen
Published October 21, 2005

I don't see declining oil extraction as a problem. I see it as a wonderful and necessary thing I wish would have happened a long time ago.

This culture is killing the planet. It must be stopped. We evidently do not have the courage to stop it ourselves. The natural world will stop it for us. I think suburbs have no future. Nor do cities. They are inherently unsustainable.

They can be made less unsustainable than they are, but all cities require the importation of resources, and if you require the importation of resources your way of living can never be sustainable, because requiring the importation of resources means you've denuded the landscape of that particular resource.

There has never been a sustainable city anywhere on the planet. Sustainable villages, yes. Sustainable camps, yes. But not cities.

Civilization is going to crash, whether or not we help bring this about. If you don’t agree with this, we probably have nothing to say to each other (how ‘bout them Cubbies!).

We probably also agree that this crash will be messy. We agree further that since industrial civilization is systematically dismantling the ecological infrastructure of the planet, the sooner civilization comes down (whether or not we help it crash) the more life will remain afterwards to support both humans and nonhumans.

If you agree with all this, and if you don’t want to dirty your spirituality and conscience with the physical work of helping to bring down civilization, and if your primary concern really is for the well-being of those (humans) who will be alive during and immediately after the crash, then, given, and I repeat this point to emphasize it, that civilization is going to come down anyway, you need to start preparing people for the crash, ripping up asphalt in vacant parking lots to convert them to neighborhood gardens, teaching people how to identify local edible plants, even in the city (especially in the city) so these people won’t starve when the proverbial shit hits the fan and they can no longer head off to Albertson’s for groceries. Set up committees to eliminate or if appropriate channel the (additional) violence that might break out.

We need it all. We need people to take out dams, and we need people to knock out electrical infrastructures. We need people to protest and to chain themselves to trees. We also need people working to ensure that as many people as possible are equipped to deal with the fall-out when the collapse comes. We need people working to teach others what wild plants to eat, what plants are natural antibiotics. We need people teaching others how to purify water, how to build shelters.

All of this can look like supporting traditional, local knowledge, it can look like starting roof-top gardens, it can look like planting local varieties of medicinal herbs, and it can look like teaching people how to sing. The truth is that although I do not believe that designing groovy eco-villages will help bring down civilization, when the crash comes, I’m sure to be first in line knocking on their doors asking for food.

People taking out dams do not have a responsibility to ensure that people in homes previously powered by hydro know how to cook over a fire. They do however have a responsibility to support the people doing that work.

Similarly, those people growing medicinal plants (in preparation for the end of civilization) do not have a responsibility to take out dams. They do however have a responsiblity at the very least to not condemn those people who have chosen that work. In fact they have a responsibility to support them. They especially have a responsibilty to not report them to the cops.

It’s the same old story: the good thing about everything being so fucked up is that no matter where you look, there is great work to be done. Do what you love. Do what you can. Do what best serves your landbase. We need it all.

This doesn’t mean that everyone taking out dams and everyone working to cultivate medicinal plants are working toward the same goals. It does mean that if they are, each should see the importance of the other’s work.

Further, resistance needs to be global. Acts of resistance are more effective when they’re large-scale and coordinated. The infrastructure is monolithic and centralized, so common tools and techniques can be used to dismantle it in many different places, simultaneously if possible.

By contrast, the work of renewal must be local. To be truly effective (and to avoid reproducing the industrial infrastructure) acts of survival and livelihood need to grow from particular landbases where they will thrive. People need to enter into conversation with each piece of earth and all its (human and nonhuman) inhabitants.

This doesn’t mean of course that we can’t share ideas, or that one water purificaton technique won’t be useful in many different locations. It does mean that people in those places need to decide for themselves what will work. Most important of all, the water in each place needs to be asked and allowed to decide for itself.

The work we face includes both destruction and creation. I'm thinking, for example, about a cell phone tower behind the local Safeway. Cell phone towers kill between five and fifty million migratory songbirds per year just in the United States. The cell phone tower needs to come down. It is contiguous on two sides with abandoned parking lots. Those lots need to come up. Gardens can bloom in their place. We can even do our work side by side.

Derrick Jensen is an activist, author, small farmer, bee-keeper, teacher, and philosopher whose speaking engagements in recent years have packed university auditoriums, conferences and bookstores nationwide. He has authored or co-authored a number of books that examine western civilization, including The Culture of Make Believe, a finalist for the 2003 J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize, A Language Older than Words, and Walking on Water: Reading, Writing and Revolution. Visit his website: http://www.derrickjensen.org

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By markkudlac (registered) | Posted None at

I am glad to see that RTH is willing to consider some of the concepts of anti-civilization thought. Personally I have found Peak Oil and its surrounding issues lead to the understanding that civilization itself is the underlying problem and resources constraints, which we have faced many times in our history, are a symptom. Derrick Jensen will be appearing in Guelph Wednesday, October 26, 12-2 eastern time on CFRU 93.3 FM and can be listened to online at cfru.ca. Further reading in this vein could include John Zerzan, Lewis Mumford, Daniel Quinn and Ivan Illich. A great blog site to start might be http://www.ranprieur.com/ .

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By kuicecronth (registered) | Posted None at

London, Paris, Athens, Rome. They have all been "sustained" over the centuries. While concern for the environment is critical, "anti-civilization thought" is puerile tripe, and Mr. Jensen is an anarcho-nutbar of the lowest order. On his website he favourably reviews a tome by, wait for it...Ward Churchill. 'Nuff said. Raise the Hammer does itself and its readers a disservice by giving time to those on the lunatic fringe of the "conservation" movement.

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By ov (anonymous) | Posted None at

Preparing local parallel government structures that will be able to fill in after the crash is a main tenet of the Post Carbon Relocalization program. http://www.postcarbon.org/informed/relocalization

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By corduroy (registered) | Posted November 05, 2007 at 12:45:06

kuicecronth: a few centuries is nothing when you're extracting your resources from the countryside. read jensen and see if you have the same optimistic view of industrialism.

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