Book extract: Deep Ecology and Anarchism

Marking the run-up to the launch of deep ecology and anarchism at this year’s London Anarchist Bookfair on October 28th, below is the latter part of an essay by Robert Hart, a founding mover of the forest gardening and permaculture movements.

The main cause of the ecological crisis is not the “population explosion,” as many Northern analysts claim, but gross under-use of the world’s land resources.

Apart from totally unproductive deserts, which cover one-third of the Earth’s land surface, there are vast areas of grassland, much of very poor quality, which is used for grazing cattle and sheep. The average food production of such areas is about half a hundredweight per acre per year. In the Highlands of Scotland it is reckoned that it takes five acres of grassland and moorland to support one sheep. Much of the rest of the world’s agricultural land is used for the monocropping of cereals, with an average production of two to four tons per acre per year. But under agroforestry systems annual production exceeding a hundred tons per acre per year is possible. Moreover, under such systems, a wide diversity of food and other useful plants is produced, supplying well balanced diets, as well as fuel, building materials and other necessities.

The food plants produced by an agroforestry system supply the most important factors in human nutrition, in which most diets, in the poor and rich worlds alike, are gravely deficient. These are fruit, whose natural sugars feed the brain and energise the body, and green plants, whose chlorophyll — the basic constituent of all physical life — has a special affinity for the blood. A diet designed for optimum positive health should comprise seventy percent of fruit and green vegetables, preferably consumed fresh and raw.

A disaster afflicting today’s world, which is at least as serious as any actual or potential environmental disaster, is the colossal toll of disease caused by bad or inadequate food. The malnutrition of poverty in the Third World is no more drastic in its effects than the malnutrition of affluence in the rich sector — the malnutrition caused by excess of fatty, clogging, over-flavoured and chemically processed foods causes the “diseases of civilisation” which are no less lethal than the diseases caused by destitution and dirt.

Before there can be an Environmental Revolution there must be a Humanistic Revolution. The reason why ever-growing stretches of the Earth’s surface are hells for human beings, whether they are squalid shanty-towns, polluted and violent inner-city ghettos, squatters” camps, concentration camps or treeless wildernesses, is that the powers who run the world regard people as things, as objects of exploitation or domination. A word coined by Karl Marx in his critique of the capitalist system was verdinglichung — “thing-making,” though Communist commissars have proved as guilty in this respect as capitalist entrepreneurs. Both groups regard human beings as mere pawns to be used for the furtherance of their personal power and wealth. Similarly, their only interest in a stretch of beautiful countryside is, not how its beauty can be preserved and enhanced, but how most effectively it can be “developed;” whether it can be made to generate more wealth as the site of a building estate, an industrial complex, a factory farm, an airfield, a hydro-electric dam, a nuclear power station, a motorway, or a “theme park.”

The attitude of the powers-that-be towards life in its infinite complexity, whether in the form of a human being or a tropical rainforest, is one of gross over-simplification. The human being is only of interest as “consumer,” “investor,” “labour,” “voter,” “soldier” or “taxpayer.” The forest, with its vast diversity of species, is only of interest as a purveyor of timber, or, burnt to the ground and converted into pasture, as a brief purveyor of hamburgers. The only standard is short-term profit; no regard is paid to longer and wider prospects, to the needs and survival of living beings.

It is among ordinary human beings, not industrial chiefs, bankers, bureaucrats and politicians, that humanistic feelings are found in their greatest intensity. Among our tortured world’s supreme needs is the divine commonsense and compassion of the conscientious mother and housewife. This is a manifestation of the power of Gaia, the grassroots dynamic which must supply much of the motive-force of the Environmental Revolution.

Unlike previous revolutions, this must be overwhelmingly non-violent and constructive. It will comprise an ever-increasing profusion of small growing-points, like the new plants that irresistibly spring forth in an area devastated by volcanic eruption.

Already it is possible to detect a multitude of such growing-points in almost every country. A report critical of industrialism was entitled Limits to Growth, but no limits should be placed on the growth of new village communities, family farms, organic market-gardens, conservation groups, Green organisations, and co-operative enterprises of all kinds. Even now, the people involved in these must number many millions. If only their efforts could be integrated and co-ordinated into a worldwide New Life Network, they could give rise to a non-governmental organisation which could speak with real authority in the United Nations.

As the primary impulse for all activity comes from the human psyche, the first essential, if mankind is to survive the colossal challenges of the present and future, must be a Moral Revolution. Mutual aid, rather than money, power, status and self-indulgence, must be accepted as the basic law of life. Modern communication technology has forcibly brought home the fact that it is one world. Disasters involving human suffering are shown on television screens with equal immediacy, whether they occur in distant countries or the next street. No longer can people shrug off responsibility for the tribulations of their distant cousins. In fact those tribulations are generally caused by negative or positive factors in the worldwide system and ethos which govern the way the majority of the world’s citizens live and work — a system and ethos based on blind selfishness and materialism.

Gandhi said, “There is enough in the world to satisfy everyone’s need but not everyone’s greed.” In fact, the technological know-how exists to give every human being adequate food, water, shelter, clothing, energy and opportunity for self-fulfilment. A worldwide campaign of resource development for need could be a “moral equivalent of war,” which would bring deep psychological as well as physical satisfaction to countless millions, not least among those who at present are seeking the soul-destroying “satisfaction” of exploiting, dominating or otherwise hurting their fellow human beings.

Such a campaign, wholly constructive and transcending environmental problems as well as human barriers and rivalries — and involving the planting of trillions of trees — could usher in a period of positive peace and creative activity such as mankind has never known throughout history. The alternatives face each one of us: a series of ever deepening environmental and economic disasters and conflicts or a world of unprecedented beauty, diversity and abundance.

~ Robert Hart

 deep ecology and anarchism is launching at this year’s London Anarchist Bookfair on October 28th, with a talk by contributing author Brian Morris. It’s available for pre-order with a 10% discount here.