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The Deep Green Alternative: Debating Strategies of Transition

I am pleased to begin this new year with the publication of a new Simplicity Institute Report, entitled ‘The Deep Green Alternative: Debating Strategies of Transition,’ co-written by myself (Samuel Alexander) and Jonathan Rutherford. This report is freely available here, and a brief overview of the report is posted below:

In this paper we do not seek to defend, as such, the ‘deep green’ alternative, but rather analyse the most prominent strategies that have been put forth to bring it into existence. In other words, we take the vision (outlined in the report) for granted – we assume a deep green alternative is necessary – and critically analyse how such an alternative may be realised. We begin by outlining the deep green vision with a very broad brush, in order to give the more critical and substantive sections some context. It seems to us that there is some interesting and heartening overlap with respect to the envisioned ‘end state’ of the deep green school(s), and yet there is fierce debate over how to get there. Our primary interest in this paper, therefore, is to examine these various theories of transition or transformation – ranging from parliamentarianism to socialism to anarchism – in order to highlight the most important factors at play, and hopefully shed some light on the question of ‘strategy’. While we do not expect or even intend to provide answers to this thorny question, the paper should serve a worthwhile purpose if it helps clarify the debate and bring more attention to the issues under consideration.

I would also like to offer a further reminder about Mark A. Burch’s excellent new book, The Hidden Door: Mindful Sufficiency as an Alternative to Extinction, which was published by the Simplicity Institute late last year. This book is available here.

It’s shaping up to be a busy and productive year for the Simplicity Institute. I’ll keep you posted.

4 Responses to “The Deep Green Alternative: Debating Strategies of Transition”

  1. Pat hackett says:

    An excellent paper here. These are very similar to viewpoints I have made, although i have a few different angles on this. Uniting people of similar viewpoints is important as you say; discussion, education, and learning from each other is essential. This is the reason I have recently started a group Facebook page.
    https://www.facebook.com/groups/timetochangepoilcies/

  2. SJ says:

    Unfortunately, when i look around me, nobody really cares about our impending destruction. Or deep Green ect. i have made this case before but now here is an example of it actually happening.

    http://grist.org/climate-energy/mark-ruffalo-wants-you-to-imagine-a-100-percent-clean-energy-future/

    The vast majority are so caught up in trivia that they are not interested. But when their idols, pop stars and movie stars get interested, they will take notice. It is unfortunate that the masses will ignor the great luminaries of our time but if Brad and Angelina get on board, they will follow. We may not like it but it’s how the world is. Anyway, good luck to this rufalo fellow and i hope he succeeds.

  3. Kim Hill says:

    As an advocate of the Deep Green Resistance strategy, I’d like to make a few points regarding this essay.

    1. The concept of a ‘sustainable society.’

    Neither of these words have been defined, but if by society you mean an arrangement of living in cities, with agriculture and manufacturing (as is suggested), then this can never be sustainable. These activities all undermine the landbase that the society is dependent on.
    It appears to be not a sustainable society that is the goal, but an ideal society. And ideal for who? Not all of those who would be subjected to it would find it ideal, soil life, forests and workers in solar panel factories for starters. This vision and the ‘ideal’ strategies seem like some fantasy game, with no basis in the real world.

    2. The goal of the DGR strategy is not to create a sustainable society. It is not even long-term survival of humans. It is to stop the destruction of the planet. The quote at the beginning of section 3.4 says it perfectly. It doesn’t work to compare strategies that have different goals. I can see the value in mentioning the DGR strategy in this essay, but the goal needs to be made clear, and it needs to be judged on its merits, not on how effective it would be in achieving some different goal.

    3. Factual errors

    “A more militant secretive ‘underground’ wing is needed, to carry out illegal acts of
    strategic sabotage against industrial infrastructure, with particular focus on the fossil fuel industry and transnational mega corporations.”

    The focus is not the fossil fuel industry and transnational mega corporations. It is choke points in the global industrial infrastructure, that these things rely on. The CARVER matrix is a way to identify targets.

    Underground activity would be done by autonomous cells, not by an organised ‘wing’ due to surveillance and repression from the state.

    “They claim that, even if it were possible, the purpose of these actions is not to singlehandedly bring down industrial civilisation. Rather they want to create enough disruption to awaken the affluent from their present slumber.”

    The purpose of these actions is absolutely to bring down industrial civilization. Awakening the affluent from their slumber may be one effect, but it is definitely not the goal.

    “Implicit in the strategy is a questionable presumption that forcing disruption will jolt people to move in a desirable direction.”
    This statement is based on the incorrect assumption that the goal is individual lifestyle change.

    4. Ethics

    “This kind of moral reflection seems dangerously lacking in the DGR literature.”

    This kind of moral reflection is what started the movement. It is the motive for everything we do.

    “But surely there is a threshold, a point at which the chosen methods simply too dangerous, too fraught with risk, too ethically dubious, to seriously contemplate?”

    How about ask this question about our current methods, or about capitalism.
    Dangerous to who? Ethically dubious according to whose ethics? Those benefitting from the destruction? Or the natural world, of living communities? What would their morals say?

    Guy McPherson claims that humans are likely to be extinct by 2030, if industrial activity continues. I’d see that as a risk, one that I’m not willing to take. I’d question the morals of any strategy that doesn’t address this risk.

  4. Samuel Alexander says:

    Thanks for the comments, Kim. We appreciate the critical feedback and see there were a few places where our language could have been clearer. A few words in response:

    The purpose of this essay was not to define a sustainable society, but we did provide a summary of what we think it needs to look like in section 2, and cited papers and books which provided much more detail. You are right that many, perhaps most, in DGR would not accept any society that was agricultural, but we discussed DGR in this essay to see whether those methods could achieve the society we outlined. I agree we should have been clearer that many in DGR would not accept any society that employed agriculture.

    Industrial agriculture and manufacturing to the current extent surely are unsustainable. But there are other ways to practice agriculture and manufacturing that need not be unsustainable, necessarily. Permaculture methods, for example, embedded within something resembling Ted Trainer’s vision of the Simpler Way, or what I call a Sufficiency Economy. While it is not ‘proven’ to be sustainable yet on a large scale (e.g. city design), it is arguably our best hope and there is insufficient evidence for us to give up on that approach. Human’s have made terrible decisions in the past, granted, but we remain free to make different decisions in the future. It may not be probable, but it is possible.

    You reject agriculture, horticulture too, I presume. So that leaves hunter-gathering. Perhaps, globally, that mode of existence could sustain 500 million people at most (vague guess, possibly wildly overstated). What then happens to the remaining 6.7 billion of us? Is that not a moral problem to deal with? Shouldn’t we explore permaculture practices / simpler way vision till the very end, just in case DGR doesn’t have to cull off 6.7 billion people? If it turns out we fail, and human beings die-off, then the planet will be fine without us. Why do you privilege the planet over humanity? Shouldn’t we aim for a sustainable way of life? Shouldn’t we aim for a path out of this mess that doesn’t include 6.7 billion people dying?

    You say that DGR’s aim is not to create a sustainable society or even the long-term survival of humans. Does human life have no moral value? Isn’t it something worth fighting for? As you note, DGR does engage these types of moral questions to some extent, but I feel that the ethics of DGR are flawed / unconvincing. This disagreement between us of course is not going to be resolved in this discussion thread, and I’d prefer we didn’t try to argue the point presently. It would require more time than I have to dedicate to it at present.

    We never said the society we outlined would be everyone’s ‘ideal’ society; we attempted to outline a sustainable society and then considered paths to such a society. You dismiss this task as a fantasy game. Granted, prospects do not look good, but it’s a goal worth aiming for.

    Thanks again for your comments, which raised several important points worth considering. I sympathise with much of the critique offered by DGR, but I just can’t accept the methods, and I feel DGR lacks a coherent/desirable alternative vision.

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