An Anarchistic Understanding of the Social Order

Environmental Degradation, Indigenous Resistance & a Place for the Sciences

FOR ROUGHLY FIVE HUNDRED YEARS, INDIGENOUS peoples have been struggling against the dominant institutions of society, against imperialism, colonialism, exploitation, impoverishment, segregation, racism, and genocide. The struggle continues today under the present world social order and against the dominant institutions of ‘neoliberalism’ and globalization: the state, corporations, financial institutions and international organizations. Indigenous communities continue to struggle to preserve their cultural identities, languages, histories, and the continuing theft and exploitation of their land. Indigenous resistance against environmental degradation and resource extraction represents the most direct source of resistance against a global environmental crisis which threatens to lead the species to extinction. It is here that many in the scientific community have also taken up the cause of resistance against the destruction of the global environment. While Indigenous and scientific activism share similar objectives in relation to environmental issues, there is a serious lack of convergence between the two groups in terms of sharing knowledge, organizing, and activism.

Indigenous groups are often on the front lines of the global environmental crisis – at the point of interaction (or extraction) – they resist against the immediate process of resource extraction and the environmental devastation is causes to their communities and society as a whole. The continued repression, exploitation and discrimination against Indigenous peoples have made the struggle – and the potential consequences of failure – significantly more problematic. This struggle has been ongoing for centuries, and as the species heads toward extinction – as it is along our current trajectory – Indigenous peoples will be on the front lines of that process. Many in the scientific community have been struggling for decades to address major environmental issues. Here, the focus is largely on the issue of climate change, and the approach has largely been to work through institutions in order to create enough pressure to reform. Yet, after decades of organizing through academic and environmental organizations, lobbying governments, corporations and international organizations, progress has been slow and often ineffectual, with major international conferences being hyped up but with little concrete results. Indigenous peoples continue to struggle against the dominant institutions while many in the scientific community continue to struggle within the dominant institutions, though their objectives remain similar.

A major problem and disparity becomes clear: Indigenous peoples – among the most repressed and exploited in the world – are left to struggle directly against the most powerful institutions in the world (states and transnational corporations), while many in the sciences – an area of knowledge which has and continues to hold enormous potential to advance the species – attempt to convince those powerful institutions to profit less at exactly the point in history when they have never profited more. Indigenous communities remain largely impoverished, and the scientific community remains largely dependent for funding upon the very institutions which are destroying the environment: states, corporations and international organizations. Major barriers to scientific inquiry and research can thus be established if the institutions feel threatened, if they choose to steer the sciences into areas exclusively designed to produce ‘profitable’ forms of knowledge and technology. As humanity enters a critical stage – perhaps the most critical we have ever faced as a species – it is important to begin to acknowledge, question, and change the institutional contradictions and constraints of our society.

It seems only logical that a convergence between Indigenous and scientific activism, organization, and the sharing of knowledge should be encouraged and facilitated. Indeed, the future of the species may depend upon it. This paper aims to encourage such a convergence by applying an anarchistic analysis of the social order as it relates to environmental degradation, specifically at the point of interaction with the environment (the source of extraction). In classifying this as an anarchistic analysis, I simply mean that it employs a highly critical perspective of hierarchically organized institutions. This paper does not intend to discuss in any detail the issue of climate change, since that issue is largely a symptom of the problem, which at its source is how the human social order interacts directly with the environment: extraction, pollution, degradation, exploitation and destruction at the point of interaction.

This analysis will seek to critically assess the actions and functions of states, corporations, international organizations, financial institutions, trade agreements and markets in how they affect the environment, primarily at the point of interaction. It is also at this point where Indigenous peoples are taking up the struggle against environ- mental degradation and human extinction. Through an anarchistic analysis of Indigenous repression and resistance at the point of interaction between the modern social order and the environment (focusing primarily on examples from Canada), this paper hopes to provide encouragement to those in the scientific community seeking to address environmental issues to increase their efforts in working with and for the direct benefit of Indigenous peoples. There exists an historical injustice which can and must be rectified: the most oppressed and exploited peoples over the past five hundred years of a Western-dominated world are on the front lines of struggling for the survival of the species as a whole. Modern science – which has done so much to advance Western ‘civilization’ – can and should make Indigenous issues a priority, not only for their sake, but for the species as a whole. Indeed, it is a matter of survival for the sciences themselves, for they will perish with the species. An anarchistic analysis of the social order hopes to encourage a convergence between Indigenous and scientific knowledge and activism as it relates to resolving the global environmental crisis we now face.


Corporations are among the most powerful institutions in the world. Of the top 150 economies in 2010, 58% were corporations, with companies like Wal-Mart, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, and BP topping the charts[1]. According to Fortune’s Global 500 list published in 2012, the top ten corporations in the world were: Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Wal-Mart, BP, Sinopec Group, China National Petroleum, State Grid, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Toyota Motor[2]. The Global 500 corporations posted record revenues for 2011 at USD 29.5 trillion, up 13.2% from the previous year. Eight of the top ten conglomerates were in the energy sector, with the oil industry alone generating USD 5 trillion in sales, approximately 17% of the total sales of the Global 500. The second largest sector represented in the Global 500 was commercial banks, followed by the auto industry[3].

A scientific study conducted by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich analyzed the ‘network of control’ wielded through 43,000 transnational corporations (TNCs), identifying “a relatively small group of companies, mainly banks, with disproportionate power over the global economy.” The researchers identified a ‘core’ of 1,318 companies which owned roughly 80% of the global revenues for the entire network of 43,000 TNCs. Above the core, the researchers identified a ‘super-entity’ of 147 tightly-knit corporations – primarily banks and financial institutions – collectively owning each other’s shares and 40% of the wealth in the total network. One researcher commented, “In effect, less than 1 per cent of the companies were able to control 40 percent of the entire network[4].”

Writing in the Financial Times, a former US Treasury Department official, Robert Altman, referred to financial markets as “a global supra-government,” explaining:

They oust entrenched regimes where normal political processes could not do so. They force austerity, banking bail-outs and other major policy changes. Their influence dwarfs multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Indeed, leaving aside unusable nuclear weapons, they have become the most powerful force on earth[5].

The “global supra-government” of financial markets push countries around the world into imposing austerity measures and structural reforms, which have the result of benefiting the “super-entity” of global corporate power. The power and wealth of these institutions have rapidly accelerated in the past three decades of neoliberal ‘reforms’ promoting austerity, liberalization, deregulation, privatization and financialization. Neoliberal ideology was politically championed by Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in Great Britain, but was largely imposed upon the so-called ‘Third World’ (Latin America, Asia, and Africa) through major international organizations like the World Bank and the IMF. The results of this massive transfer of wealth and power to an increasingly connected and small fraction of the world’s population have been devastating for humanity and the world as a whole. This process guided by neoliberal dogma has been most often referred to as ‘globalization.’

As the 1980s debt crisis gripped the ‘Third World,’ the IMF and World Bank came to the ‘rescue’ with newly designed loan agreements called ‘Structural Adjustment Programs’ (SAPs). In return for a loan from these institutions, countries would have to adhere to a set of rigid conditions and reforms, including austerity measures (cutting public spending), the liberalization of trade, privatization, deregulation, and currency devaluation[6]. The United States controls the majority shares of both the World Bank and IMF, while the US Treasury Department and Federal Reserve work very closely with the IMF and its staff[7]. If countries did not adhere to IMF and World Bank ‘conditions,’ they would be cut off from international markets, since this process was facilitated by “unprecedented co-operation between banks from various countries under the aegis of the IMF[8].” The conditions essentially opened up the borrowing countries to economic imperialism by the IMF, World Bank, and transnational corporations and financial institutions, which were able to gain access and control over the resources and labour markets of poor countries. Thus, the 1980s has been known as the “lost decade of development,” as many ‘Third World’ countries became poorer between 1980 and 1990[9]. Joseph Stiglitz, a former chief economist at the World Bank, wrote that, “such conditions were seen as the intrusion by the new colonial power on the country’s own sovereignty[10].”

The structural adjustment programs imposed upon the Third World devastated the poor and middle classes of the borrowing countries, often resulting in mass protests against austerity[11]. In fact, between 1976 and 1992, there were 146 protests against IMF- sponsored austerity measures in 39 different countries, including demonstrations, strikes and riots. The governments, in response, would often violently repress protests[12]. The government elites were often more integrated with and allied to the powerful institutions of the global economy, and would often act as domestic enforces for the demands of international banks and corporations. For many countries imposing structural adjustment programs around the world, authoritarian governments were common[13]. The IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programs also led to the massive growth of slums around the world, to the point where there are now over a billion people living in urban slums (approximately one out of every seven people on earth)[14].

Further, the indebted nations of the Third World became increasingly indebted to the powerful financial institutions and states of the industrial world the more loans they took. The wealthy elites within the Third World plunder the domestic wealth of their countries in cooperation with global elites, and send their money into Western banking institutions (as ‘capital flight’) as their domestic populations suffer in poverty. The IMF and World Bank programs helped facilitate capital flight through the deregulation and ‘liberalization’ of markets, as well as through the opening up of the economies to unhindered exploitation. Some researchers recently compared the amount of money in the form of aid and loans going into Africa compared to that coming leaving Africa in the form of capital flight and interest payments on debt, and found that “sub-Saharan Africa is a net creditor to the rest of the world by a substantial margin.” The external debt owed by 33 sub-Saharan African countries to the rest of the world in 2008 stood at USD 177 billion. Between 1970 and 2008, capital flight from those same 33 African countries amounted to USD 944 billion. Thus, “the rest of the world owes more to these African countries than they owe to the rest of the world[15].”

The neoliberal ideology of ‘profit before people’ – enforced by the dominant states, corporations, banks and international organizations – has led to a world of extreme inequality, previously established by centuries of empire and colonialism, and rapidly accelerated in the past three decades. As of 2004, one in every three human deaths was due to poverty-related causes. In the twenty years following the end of the Cold War, there were approximately 360 million preventable deaths caused by poverty-related issues. Billions of people go hungry, lack access to safe drinking water, adequate shelter, medicine, and electricity. Nearly half of humanity – approximately 3.1 billion people as of 2010 – lives below the USD 2.50/day poverty line. It would take roughly USD 500 billion – approximately 1.13% of world income (or two-thirds of the US military budget) – to lift these 3.1 billion people out of extreme poverty. The top 1% own 40% of the world’s wealth, while the bottom 60% hold less than 2% of the world’s wealth. As Thomas Pogge wrote, “we are now at the point where the world is easily rich enough in aggregate to abolish all poverty,” but we are “choosing to prioritize other ends instead.” Roughly 18 million people die from poverty- related causes every year, half of whom are children under the age of five. Pogge places significant blame for these circumstances upon the “global institutional arrangements that foreseeably and avoidably increase the socioeconomic inequalities that cause poverty to persist [...] [policies which] are designed by the more powerful governments for the benefit of their most powerful industries, corporations, and citizens[16].”

In 2013, Oxfam reported that the fortunes made by the richest 100 people in the world over the course of 2012 (USD 240 billion) would have been enough to lift the world’s poorest people out of poverty four times over. An Oxfam executive, Barbara Stocking, noted that this type of extreme wealth – which saw the world’s richest 1% increase their income by 60% in the previous twenty years – is “economically inefficient, politically corrosive, socially divisive and environmentally destructive [...] We can no longer pretend that the creation of wealth for few will inevitably bene- fit the many – too often the reverse is true[17].” A study by the Tax Justice Network in 2012 found that the world’s superrich had hidden between USD 21 and 32 trillion in offshore tax havens, meaning that inequality was “much, much worse than official statistic show,” and that “for three decades extraordinary wealth has been cascading into the offshore accounts of a tiny number of superrich,” with the top 92,000 of the world’s superrich holding at least USD 10 trillion in offshore accounts[18].


The human social order – dominated by states, corporations, banks and international organizations – have facilitated and maintained enormous inequality and poverty around the world, allowing so few to control so much, while the many are left with little. This global social and economic crisis is exacerbated by the global environmental crisis, in which the same institutions that dominate the global social order are simultaneously devastating the global environment to the point where the future of the species hangs in the balance.

Just as the dominant institutions put ‘profit before people,’ so too do they put profit before the environment, predicating human social interaction with the environment on the ideology of ‘markets’: that what is good for corporations will ultimately be good for the environment. Thus, the pursuit of ‘economic growth’ can continue unhindered – and in fact, should be accelerated – even though it results in massive environmental degradation through the processes of resource extraction, transportation, production and consumption[19].

Trading arrangements and agreements between the powerful rich nations and the ‘periphery’ poor nations allow for the dominant institutions to exploit their economic and political influence over weaker states, taking much more than they give[20]. These trading relationships effectively allow the rich countries to offshore (or export) their environ- mental degradation to poor countries, treating them as exploitable resource extraction sources. As the resources of poor nations are extracted and exported to the rich nations, the countries are kept in poverty (with the exception of their elites who collude with the powerful countries and corporations), and the environmental costs associated with the high consumption societies of the industrial world are ultimately offshored to the poor countries, at the point of interaction[21]. Thus, international trade separates the societies of consumption from the effects of extraction and production, while the poor nations are dependent upon exports and exploiting their cheap labour forces[22]. This process has been termed ecological unequal exchange[23].

Between the mid-1970s and mid-1990s, the majority of the world’s non-renewable resources were transferred from poor to rich nations, accelerating in volume over time (due to technological advancements), while decreasing in costs (to the powerful nations). Thus, between 1980 and 2002, the costs of resource extraction declined by 25% while the volume of resource extraction increased by more than 30%. Environmentally destructive processes of resource extraction in mining and energy sectors have rapidly accelerated over the past few decades, resulting in increased contamination of soils, watersheds and the atmosphere. Negative health effects for local populations accelerate, primarily affecting Indigenous, poor and/or migrant populations, who are subjected to excessive pollutants and industrial waste at nearly every part of the process of extraction, production and transportation of resources and goods[24].

In an examination of 65 countries between 1960 and 2003, researchers found that the rich countries “externalized” the environmentally destructive consequences of resource over-use to poor, periphery nations and populations, thus “assimilating” the environments of the less- developed nations into the economies of the powerful states, disempowering local populations from having a say in how their resources and environments are treated[25]. Rich societies consume more than can be sustained from their own internal resource wealth, and thus, they must “appropriate” resource wealth from abroad by ‘withdrawing’ the resources in environmentally destructive (and thus, more economically ‘efficient’) ways. Apart from ecologically destructive ‘withdrawals,’ the rich nations also facilitate ecologically destructive ‘additions,’ in the form of pollution and waste which cause environmental and health hazards for the poor societies. This is facilitated through various trading arrangements (such as the development of Export Processing Zones), consisting of minimal to no environmental regulations, cheap labour and minimal restrictions on corporate activities[26].

While Japan and Western Europe were able to reduce the amount of pollutants and ‘environmental additions’ they made within their own societies between 1976 and 1994, they accelerated their ‘additions’ in waste and pollutants to the poor countries with which they traded, “suggesting a progressive off-shoring over the period onto those peripheral countries” not only of labour exploitation, but of environmental degradation[27]. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) by transnation- al corporations has been linked to extensive environmental hazards within the countries in which they are ‘investing,’ including growth in water pollution, infant mortality, pesticide use, and the use of chemicals which are often banned in the rich nations due to high toxicity levels and dangers to health and the environment, and greater levels of carbon dioxide emissions. Indeed, between 1980 and 2000, the total anthropogenic CO2 emissions from the rich countries increased by 21%, while over the same period of time in the poor countries it more than doubled. While forested areas in the rich nations increased by less than 1% between 1990 and 2005, they declined by 6% over the same period of time in poor countries, contributing to soil erosion, desertification, climate change and the destruction of local and regional ecosystems[28].

According to an analysis of 268 case studies of tropical forest change between 1970 and 2000, researchers found that deforestation had shifted from being directed by states to being directed and implemented by corporations and ‘economic’ interests across much of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. This was largely facilitated by the IMF and World Bank agreements which forced countries to reduce their public spending, and allowed for private economic interests to obtain unprecedented access to resources and markets. The rate of deforestation continued, it simply shifted from being state-led to “enterprise driven[29].”

Using a sample of some sixty nations, researchers found that IMF and World Bank Structural Adjustment Programs (SAPs) were associated with higher levels of deforestation than in countries which did not sign the SAP agreements, as they allowed rich nations and corporations to “externalize their forest loss” to poor nations. Further, “economic growth” as defined by the World Bank and IMF was related to increased levels of deforestation, leading the researchers to acknowledge that, “economic growth adversely impacts the natural environment[30].” World Bank development loans to countries (as separate from structural adjustment loans) have also been linked to increased rates of deforestation in poor nations, notably higher rates than those which exist in countries not receiving World Bank loans[31].

Military institutions and armed warfare also have significant environmental impacts, not simply by engaging in wars, but simply by the energy and resources required for the maintenance of large military structures. As one US military official stated in the early 1990s, “We are in the business of protecting the nation, not the environment[32].” While the United States is the largest consumer of energy among nations in the world, the Pentagon is “the world’s largest [institutional] consumer of energy[33].” The combination of US tanks, planes and ships consume roughly 340,000 barrels of oil per day (as of 2007)[34]. Most of the oil is consumed by the Air Force, as jet fuel accounted for roughly 71% of the entire military’s oil consumption[35].

Nations with large militaries also use their violent capabilities “to gain disproportionate access to natural resources[36].” Thus, while the US military may be the largest single purchaser and consumer of energy in the world, one of its primary functions is to secure access to and control over energy resources. In an interview with two McKinsey & Company consultants, the Pentagon’s first-ever assistant secretary of defense for operational energy and programs, Sharon E. Burke, stated bluntly that, “My role is to promote the energy security of our military operations,” including by increasing the “security of supply[37].”

In a study of natural resource extraction and armed violence, researchers found that, “armed violence is associated with the extraction of many critical and noncritical natural resources, suggesting quite strongly that the natural resource base upon which industrial societies stand is constructed in large part through the use and threatened use of armed violence.” Further, when such armed violence is used in relation to gaining access to and control over natural resources, “it is often employed in response to popular protest or rebellion against these activities.” Most of this violence is carried out by the governments of poor nations, or by mercenaries or rebels, which allows for distancing between the rich nations and corporations which profit from the plundering of resources from the violent means of gaining access to them. After all, the researcher noted, “other key drivers of natural resource exploitation, such as the IMF, World Bank, WTO, and global marketplace, cannot, on their own, guarantee core nation access to and control over vital natural resources[38].” Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the United States – and other powerful nations – and the major arms companies within them are the largest arms dealers in the world[39].

It is clear that for scientists – and anyone else – interested in addressing major environmental issues, the source of the problem lies in the very structure and function of our dominant modern institutions, at the point of interaction. In short: through states, armed violence, banks and corporations, international organizations, trade agreements and global ‘markets,’ the environment has become a primary target of exploitation and destruction. Resources fuel the wealth and power of the very institutions that dominate the world, and to maintain that power, they engage in incredibly destructive activities with negative consequences for the environment and the human species as a whole. The global environmental crisis is intimately related to the global social and economic crises of wealth inequality and poverty, labour exploitation, and ‘economic growth.’ To address the environmental crisis in a meaningful way, this reality must first be acknowledged. This is how an anarchistic understanding of the environmental crisis facing the world and humanity can contribute to advancing how we deal with these profound issues. For the sciences, the implications are grave: their sources of funding and direction for research are dependent upon the very institutions which are destroying the environment and leading humanity to inevitable extinction (if we do not change course). Advancing an anarchistic approach to understanding issues related to Indigenous repression and resistance to environmental degradation can help provide a framework through which those in the scientific community – and elsewhere – can find new avenues for achieving similar goals: the preservation of the environment and the species.


Indigenous peoples in the Americas have been struggling against colonialism, exploitation, segregation, repression and even genocide for over 500 years. While the age of formal colonial empires has passed, the struggle has not. Today, Indigenous peoples struggle against far more powerful states than ever before existed, transnational corporations and financial institutions, international organizations, so-called “free trade” agreements and the global ‘marketplace.’ In an increasingly interconnected and globalized world, the struggle for Indigenous peoples to maintain their identity and indeed, even their existence itself, has been increasingly globalizing, but has also been driven by localized actions and movements.

Focusing upon Indigenous peoples in Canada, I hope to briefly analyze how Indigenous groups are repressed, segregated and exploited by the dominant institutions of an incredibly wealthy, developed, resource-rich and ‘democratic’ nation with a comparably ‘good’ international reputation. Further, by examining Indigenous resistance within Canada to the destruction of the natural environment, I hope to encourage scientists and other activists and segments of society who are interested in environmental protection to reach out to Indigenous communities, to share knowledge, organizing, activism, and objectives.


Historically, the Canadian government pursued a policy of ‘assimilation’ of Indigenous peoples for over a century through ‘Indian residential schools,’ in what ultimately amounted to an effective policy of “cultural genocide.” In 1920, Canada’s Deputy Minister of Indian Affairs Duncan Campbell Scott bluntly explained: “I want to get rid of the Indian problem [...] Our object is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politics and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department[40].”

The segregation, repression and exploitation of Indigenous communities within Canada is not a mere historical reality, it continues to present day. Part of the institutional repression of Indigenous peoples is the prevalence of what could be described as ‘Third World’ conditions within a ‘First World’ nation. Indigenous communities within Canada lack access to safe drinking water at a much higher rate than the general population[41]. Indigenous people and communities in Canada also face much higher levels of food insecurity, poverty, unemployment, poor housing and infant mortality than the rest of the population[42]. Accounting for roughly 4% of the population of Canada (approximately 1.2 million people as of 2006), Indigenous peoples also face higher rates of substance abuse, addiction, and suicide[43].

Indigenous people – and especially women – make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population[44]. Further, as Amnesty International noted, “Indigenous women [in Canada] are five to seven times more likely than other women to die as a result of violence[45].” The Native Women’s Association of Canada has documented roughly 600 cases of missing or murdered indigenous women in Canada, more than half of which have occurred since 2000, while Human Rights Watch reported that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in northern British Columbia had “failed to properly investigate the disappearance and apparent murders of [indigenous] women and girls in their jurisdiction[46].”


Industries seeking to develop land and extract resources are increasingly turning to Indigenous territories to develop and seek profits on the land and environment upon which such communities are so often dependent for survival. At the point of interaction with the environment, Indigenous peoples are left to struggle with the damaging environmental and health consequences caused by state and corporate interests extracting resources and wealth from the land and environment.

The Alberta tar sands (or oil sands) is a primary example of this process. Many environmental, indigenous and human rights organizations consider the tar sands development as perhaps “the most destructive industrial project on earth.” The United Nations Environmental Programme identified the project as “one of the world’s top 100 hotspots of environmental degradation.” The dense oil in the tar sands (diluted bitumen) has to be extracted through strip mining, and require enormous amounts of resources and energy simply to extract the reserves. It has been documented that for every one barrel of oil processed, three barrels of water are used, resulting in the creation of small lakes (called ‘tailing ponds’), where “over 480 million gallons of contaminated toxic waste water are dumped daily.” These lakes collectively “cover more than 50 square kilometres (12,000 acres) and are so extensive that they can be seen from space.” The processing of the oil sands created 37% more greenhouse gas emissions than the extraction and processing of conventional oil[47].

While the United States consumes more oil than anywhere else on earth, Canada is the main supplier of foreign oil to the United States, exporting roughly 1.5 million barrels per day to the US (in 2005), approximately 7% of the daily consumption of oil in the US. The crude bitumen contained in the tar sands has been estimated at 1.7 trillion barrels, lying underneath an area within Alberta which is larger than the entire state of Florida and contains over 140,000 square km of boreal forest. In 2003, the United States Department of Energy officially acknowledged the reserves of crude bitumen in the Alberta tar sands, and elevated Canada’s standing in world oil markets from the 21st most oil-rich nation on earth to the 2nd, with only Saudi Arabia surpassing[48].

Alberta’s tar sands have attracted the largest oil companies on earth, including Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, and Total S.A. Local indigenous communities thus not only have to struggle against the devastating environmental, health and social consequences caused by the tar sands development, but they also have to struggle against the federal and provincial governments, and the largest corporations on earth. The Athabasca River (located near the tar sands development) has been depleted and polluted to significant degrees, transforming the region “from a pristine environment rich in cultural and biological diversity to a landscape resembling a war zone marked with 200-foot-deep pits and thousands of acres of destroyed boreal forests.” Indigenous peoples have been raising concerns over this project for years[49].

Disproportionate levels of cancers and other deadly diseases have been discovered among a local Indigenous band, the Fort Chipewyan in Athabasca. These high levels of cancers and diseases are largely the result of the enormous amounts of land, air, and water pollution caused by the tar sands mining[50]. One Indigenous leader in Fort Chipewyan has referred to the tar sands development as a “slow industrial genocide[51].” As pipelines are planned to be expanded across Canada and the United States to carry tar sands oil, this will have devastating impacts for “indigenous communities not only in Canada, but across the continent[52].”

Between 2002 and 2010, the pipeline network through Alberta experienced a rate of oil spills roughly sixteen times higher than in the United States, likely the result of transporting diluted bitumen (DilBit), which has not been commonly transported through the pipelines until recent years. In spite of the greater risks associated with transporting DilBit, the US agency responsible for overseeing the country’s pipelines decided – in October of 2009 – to relax safety regulations regarding the strength of pipelines. In July of 2010, a ruptured Enbridge pipeline in Michigan spilled 800,000 gallons of DilBit, devastating the local communities in what the government referred to as the “worst oil spill in Midwestern history.” In July of 2011, an Exxon pipeline spilled 42,000 gallons of DilBit into the Yellowstone River in Montana[53].


In 2009, the Canadian Ministry of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announced the Federal Frame- work for Aboriginal Economic Development which sought to “improve the participation” of Indigenous people “in the Canadian economy,” primarily by seeking “to unlock the full economic potential of Aboriginal Canadians, their communities, and their businesses[54].” An updated report on the Framework in 2012 reaffirmed the intent “to modernize the lands and resource management regimes on reserve land in order to increase and unlock the value of Aboriginal assets[55].” As John Ibbitson wrote in the Globe and Mail, “businesses that want to unlock the potential of reserves, from real estate development to forestry and mining, need the legal certainty that a property regime makes possible[56].”

In late 2012, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party introduced an omnibus Budget Bill (C-45) which amended several aspects of the Indian Act (without proper consultations with Indigenous groups). Bill C-45 also moved forward to “unlock” barriers to resource extraction, environmental degradation, and corporate profits with an amendment to the Navigable Waters Act, which dramatically reduced the number of protected lakes and rivers in Canada from 40,000 to 97 lakes, and from 2.5 million to 63 rivers[57].

Following the introduction of Bill C-45 to the Canadian Parliament, a group of four Indigenous women in the province of Saskatchewan held a “teach-in” to help increase awareness about the Bill, quickly followed by a series of rallies, protests and flash mobs where Indigenous activists and supporters engaged in ‘round dances’ in shopping malls, organized through social media networks like Twitter and Facebook. This sparked what became known as the ‘Idle No More’ movement, and on December 10, 2012, a National Day of Action took place, holding multiple rallies across the country. The immediate objectives of the Idle No More movement were to have the government “repeal all legislation that violates treaties [with Indigenous peoples], including those that affect environmental regulations,” such as Bill C-45 and the previous omnibus Bill C-38. The longer-term objectives of the movement were to “educate and revitalize aboriginal peoples, empower them and regain sovereignty and independence[58].”

Pamela Palmater, a spokesperson for Idle No More and a Ryerson University professor noted that Indigenous people in Canada were opposing Bill C-45 “not just because it impacts their rights, but also because we know that it impacts the future generations of both treaty partners,” referring to both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. “The question,” she added, “really should be whether Canadians will rise to protect their children’s futures alongside First Nations[59].”

Theresa Spence, an Indigenous chief from a northern Ontario community (Attawapiskat) went on a hunger strike for 44 days to support Idle No More and raise awareness about a serious housing crisis in her community. Spence only ended her hunger strike upon being hospitalized and placed on an IV drip[60]. Her community of Attawapiskat had been experiencing a major housing crisis for a number of years, and in 2011, a state of emergency was declared in response to the fact that for over two years, many of the community’s 1,800 residents were “living in makeshift tents and shacks without heat, electricity or indoor plumbing.” James Anaya, a United Nations human rights expert expressed his “deep concern about the dire social and economic condition” of the Attawapiskat community to the Canadian government, which reflected a situation “akin to third world conditions[61].” The Conservative government of Stephen Harper (which came to power in 2006) blamed the crisis on the internal handling of funds within Attawapiskat, claiming that the government provided USD 90 million in funding for the community since 2006. However, analysis of the funds revealed that only USD 5.8 million in funding had gone toward housing over the course of five years. Meanwhile, estimates put the necessary funds to resolve the housing crisis alone at USD 84 million[62]. The former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs acknowledge that the government had known about the housing crisis for years, saying that it “has been a slow-moving train wreck for a long time[63].”

In 2005, the community of Attawapiskat had signed a contract with the international mining conglomerate De Beers to develop a diamond mine 90 km near their community. The mine officially opened in 2008, projecting a 12-year contribution to the Ontario economy of USD 6.7 billion[64]. In 2005, De Beers dumped its sewage sludge into the Attawapiskat community’s lift station, causing a sewage backup which flooded many homes and exacerbated an already-developing housing crisis, followed by another sewage backup potentially caused by De Beers in 2008[65]. Afterward, the company donated trailers to the community to serve as “short-term emergency shelters,” yet they remained in place even four years later[66].

As the Idle No More movement took off in late 2012 and early 2013, members of the Attawapiskat community undertook road blockades leading to the De Beers mine. The company sought a legal injunction against the protesters, and the blockade was ended just as a large number of police were headed to the community to “remove the barricades.” After successfully blocking the fine from properly functioning for nearly twenty days, the company announced that it was considering taking legal action against the protesters[67].

The Idle No More mission statement called “on all people to join in a revolution which honors and fulfills Indigenous sovereignty which protects the land and water [...] Colonization continues through attacks to Indigenous rights and damage to the land and water. We must repair these violations, live the spirit and intent of the treaty relationship, work towards justice in action, and protect Mother Earth.” The movement’s manifesto further declared that, “the state of Canada has become one of the wealthiest countries in the world by using the land and resources. Canadian mining, logging, oil and fishing companies are the most powerful in the world due to land and resources. Some of the poorest First Nations communities (such as Attawapiskat) have mines or other developments on their land but do not get a share of the profit[68].” As Pamela Palmater noted, Idle No More was unique, “because it is purposefully distances from political and corporate influence. There is no elected leader, no paid Executive Director, and no bureaucracy or hierarchy which determines what any person or First Nation can and can’t do [...] This movement is inclusive of all our peoples[69].”

The Athabasca Chipewyan Indigenous band which had been struggling for years against the tar sands development were further mobilized with the eruption of Idle No More onto the national scene, including by establishing a blockade on Highway 63 leading to the tar sands development[70]. As Chipewyan chief Allan Adam noted, “The way I look at it, the First Nations people are going to cripple this country if things don’t turn out [...] Industry is going to be the target.” He also added: “We know for a fact that industry was the one that lobbied government to make this regulatory reform[71].” Indeed, this was no hyperbole.


Greenpeace obtained – through access to information laws – a letter sent to the Canadian government’s Environment minister and Natural Resources minister dated December of 2011, written by a group called the Energy Framework Initiative (EFI), representing the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the Canadian Energy Pipeline Association, the Canadian Fuels Association, and the Canadian Gas Association. The letter sought “to address regulatory reform for major energy industries in Canada” in order to advance “both economic growth and environmental performance.” It specifically referenced six laws that it wanted amended, including the National Energy Board Act, the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, the Fisheries Act, the Species at Risk Act, Migratory Birds Convention Act, and the Navigable Waters Protection Act. Referring to many of these laws as “outdated,” the letter criticized environmental legislation as “almost entirely focused on preventing bad things from happening rather than enabling responsible outcomes[72].”

Less than a month after receiving the letter, the Canadian Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver lashed out at activists opposing the construction of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline ship- ping oil from Alberta’s tar sands to the B.C. coast for shipment to Asia, stating, “Unfortunately, there are environmental and other radical groups that would seek to block this opportunity to diversify our trade… Their goal is to stop any major project no matter what the cost to Canadian families in lost jobs and economic growth. No forestry. No mining. No oil. No gas. No more hydro-electric dams.” Oliver went on, saying that such “radical groups” were threatening “to hijack our regulatory system to achieve their radical ideological agenda,” and accused them of using funding from “foreign special interest groups[73].”

Documents from the energy industry revealed that big corporations advised the Harper government not to amend the many environmentally related acts separately, but to employ “a more strategic omnibus legislative approach,” which resulted in the two omnibus bills over 2012, Bills C-38 and C-45, which included “hundreds of pages of changes to environmental protection laws [...] weakening rules that protect water and species at risk, introducing new tools to authorize water pollution, as well as restricting public participation in environmental hearings and eliminating thousands of reviews to examine and mitigate environmental impacts of industrial projects[74].” The energy industry got virtually everything it asked for in the two omnibus bills, including – as their letter to the Harper government suggested – reforming “issues associated with Aboriginal consultation[75].”

Documents from Environment Canada showed how the minister informed a group of energy industry representatives that the development of pipelines were “top-of-mind” as the government pursued “the modernization of our regulatory system.” When the new legislation passed the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency announced that it has cancelled roughly 3,000 environmental assessments, including 250 reviews related to pipeline projects[76]. Other documents showed that at the same time the minister was informing energy corporations that he was serving their interests, he was to inform Indigenous leaders that any “changes to the government’s environmental assessment or project approvals regime” were “speculative at this point” and that they would “respect our duties toward Aboriginal peoples[77].”

As the Harper government became the primary lobbyist for the Alberta tar sands, documents showed how the government compiled a list of “allies” and “adversaries” in its public relations campaign, referring to energy companies, Environment Canada and the National Energy Board as “allies” and the media, environmental and Indigenous groups as “adversaries[78].” The Canadian government even ran an “outreach program” where diplomats would attempt to secure support among American journalists for the Keystone XL pipeline project – taking oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast in the United States[79].

As the Canadian government revised its anti-terrorism strategy in early 2012, it listed “eco-extremists” alongside white supremacists as a threat to national security[80]. A review of Canadian security documents from the national police force (RCMP) and the Canadian Intelligence Agency (CSIS) revealed that the government saw environmental activism such as blockades of roads or buildings as “forms of attack” and “national security threats.” Greenpeace was identified as “potentially violent,” as it had become “the new normal now for Canada’s security agencies to watch the activities of environmental organizations,” noted one analyst[81].


The government of Canada acknowledged in early 2013 that it expected – over the following decade – that there would be “a huge boom in Canadian natural resource projects,” potentially worth USD 600 billion, which is foreseen to be taking place “on or near” Indigenous lands. One Indigenous chief in Manitoba warned that the Idle No More movement “can stop Prime Minister Harper’s resource development plan and his billion-dollar plan to develop resources on our ancestral territory. We gave the warriors that are standing up now, that are willing to go that far[82].”

In an official meeting between the Harper government and the Assembly of First Nations in January of 2013, Indigenous ‘leaders’ presented a list of demands which included insuring there was a school in every indigenous community, a public inquiry into the missing and murdered Indigenous women, as well as several other very ‘moderate’ reforms. For the government, the objectives were much more specific, as internal documents revealed, written in preparation for Harper’s meeting with Indigenous leaders. As one briefing memo stated, the government was working towards “removing obstacles to major economic development opportunities[83].”

For the Idle No More movement, which does not consider itself to be ‘represented’ by the Assembly of First Nations leaders, the objective is largely “to put more obstacles up,” as Martin Lukacs wrote in the Guardian. Indigenous peoples, he noted, “are the best and last defense against this fossil fuel scramble,” specifically in mobilizing opposition to “the three-fold expansion of one of the world’s most carbon-intensive projects, the Alberta tar sands[84].”

Northern Gateway, Keystone XL and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects. One Indigenous leader at the formation of the alliance warned, “We’re going to stop these pipelines one way or another.” Another Indigenous leader commented: “We, as a nation, have to wake up [...] We have to wake up to the crazy decision that this government’s making to change the world in a negative way[85].”

The territories of the ten allied Indigenous groups “are either in the crude-rich tar sands or on the proposed pipeline routes.” One Indigenous leader from northern British Columbia referred to the Canadian government, stating, “They’ve been stealing from us for the last 200 years [...] now they’re going to destroy our land? We’re not going to let that happen [...] If we have to go to court, if we have to stand in front of any of their machines that are going to take the oil through, we are going to do that. We’re up against a wall here. We have nowhere else to go[86].”

Roughly one week after the Indigenous alliance was formed, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying Alberta tar sands oil through the United States ruptured in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, spilling thousands of barrels of oil into residential neighbourhoods and the surrounding environment. Exxon quickly moved in with roughly 600 workers to manage the cleanup and sign checks “to try to win over the townsfolk and seek to limit the fallout[87].” The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) put in place a “no fly zone” over Mayflower, Arkansas, within days following the oil spill. The ‘no fly zone’ was being overseen by ExxonMobil itself, thus, as Steven Horn commented, “any media or independent observers who want to witness the tar sands spill disaster have to ask Exxon’s permission[88].

Between March 11 and April 9 of 2013 (in a span of roughly thirty days), there were 13 reported oil spills on three separate continents, with more than a million gallons of oil and other toxic chemicals spilled in North and South America alone. The oil spills included an Enbridge pipeline leak in the Northwest Territories in Canada (March 19), a tar sands ‘tailing pond’ belonging to Suncor leaking into the Athabasca River in Alberta (March 25), a Canadian Pacific Railway train derailment spilling tar sands oil in Minnesota (March 27), the Exxon spill in Mayflower (March 29), oil-based hydraulic fluid spilling into the Grand River from a power plant in Michigan (March 31), a CN Rail train derailment in Ontario (April 3), a drilling leak in Newfoundland (April 3), the Shell pipeline leak in Texas (April 3), a condensate spill at an Exxon refinery in Louisiana (April 4), and a pump station ‘error’ in Alaska (April 9)[89]. Another spill took place in June on Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline in British Columbia, one of the pipeline extensions being opposed by Indigenous groups[90].

Meanwhile, Stephen Harper was in New York in May, speaking to the highly influential US think tank, the Council on Foreign Relations, where he explained that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline “absolutely needs to go ahead,” adding that it was “an enormous benefit to the US in terms of long-term energy security[91].” TransCanada, the company aiming to build the Keystone XL pipeline, along with the government of Alberta, hired a team of lobbyists with connections to the Obama administration and Secretary of State John Kerry in particular to pressure the US government to approve the pipeline[92]. In late April, the president of the American Petroleum Institute confidently declared, “When it’s all said and done, the president will approve the pipeline[93].” In late May, the CEO of TransCanada said, “I remain extremely confident that we’ll get the green light to build this pipeline[94].”

Leaders from 11 different Indigenous bands in the United States “stormed out” of a meeting in May being held with federal government officials in South Dakota in protest against the Keystone XL pipeline. The leaders criticized both the project and the Obama administration, with one leader commenting, “We find our- selves victims of another form of genocide, and it’s environmental genocide, and it’s caused by extractive industries.” Another Indigenous leader who walked out of the meeting warned, “What the State Department, what President Obama needs to hear from us, is that we are going to be taking direct action[95].” TransCanada has even been supplying US police agencies with information about environmental activists and recommendations to pursue charges of “terrorism” against them, noting that the company feared such “potential security concerns” as protests, blockades, court challenges, and even “public meetings[96].”

While Indigenous communities in Canada and elsewhere are among the most repressed and exploited within our society, they are also on the front lines of resistance against environmentally destructive practices undertaken by the most powerful institutions in the world. As such, Indigenous groups are not only standing up for environmental issues, but for the future of the species as a whole. With the rapidly accelerating ‘development’ of the tar sands, and the increasing environmental danger of huge new pipelines projects, resistance to how our modern society treats the environment is reaching new heights. Indigenous organizing – much of which is done along anarchistic ideas (such as with the Idle No More movement) – is presenting an unprecedented challenge to institutional power structures. Thus, there is an increased need for environmentalists, scientists, and others who are interested in joining forces with Indigenous groups in the struggle against environmental degradation and the potential extinction of the species. In Canada, there is an even greater impetus for scientists to join forces with Indigenous communities, for there is a state-sponsored assault upon environmental sciences that threaten to devastate the scientific community in the very near term.


Since Stephen Harper’s Conservative government came to power in 2006, there has been a steady attack upon the sciences, particularly those related to environmental issues, as the government cuts funding for major programs and implements layoffs. One major facet of this attack has been the ‘muzzling’ of Canadian scientists at international conferences, discussions with the media, and the publication of research. At one conference hosted in Canada, scientists working for Environment Canada were forced to direct all media inquiries through the public relations department in an effort “to intimidate government scientists[97].” Under new government guidelines, scientists working for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) cannot publish material until it is reviewed by the department “for any concerns/impacts to DFO policy.” The Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) expressed in a letter to Stephen Harper their “deep dismay and anger at your government’s attack on the independence, integrity and academic freedom of scientific researchers[98].” Hundreds of Canadian scientists marched on Parliament Hill in July of 2012 in what they called a “funeral procession” against the government’s “systematic attack on science[99].”

One of the world’s leading science journals, Nature, published an editorial in March of 2012 calling on the Canadian government to stop muzzling and “set its scientists free[100].” Journalists requesting interviews with Canadian government scientists on issues related to the Arctic or climate change have had to go through public relations officials, provide questions in advance, adhere to “boundaries for what subjects the interview could touch upon,” and have a PR staffer “listen in on the interviews[101].”

Dozens of government agencies and programs related to environmental sciences have had their budgets slashed, scientists fired, or were discontinued altogether[102]. The Environmental Law Centre at the University of Victoria lodged a formal complaint with Canada’s Federal Information Commissioner about the muzzling of scientists, outlining multiple examples “of taxpayer-funded science being suppressed or limited to prepackaged media lines across six different government departments and agencies.” Natural Resources Canada now requires “pre-approval” from the government before any scientists give interviews on topics such as “climate change” or the “oilsands[103].”

The attack upon the sciences is part of the Harper government’s 2007 strategy, Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage, which directed “a major shift away from scientific goals to economic and labour-market priorities,” aiming to focus on science and research which would be directly useful to industry and for commercial purposes. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) has been steered by the government “toward industry-related research and away from environmental science.” The government’s minister of state for science and technology noted that the focus for research was to be on “getting those ideas out to our factory floors, if you will, making the product or process or somehow putting that into the marketplace and creating jobs[104].” Further, the National Research Council (NRC) was “to focus more on practical, commercial science and less on fundamental science” which wouldn’t be as beneficial to corporate interests. The minister of state for science and technology, Gary Goodyear, announced it as “an exciting, new journey – a re-direction that will strengthen Canada’s research and innovation ecosystem for many years to come.” The president of the NRC noted that, “We have shifted the primary focus of our work at NRC from the traditional emphasis of basic research and discovery science in favour of a more targeted approach to research and development[105].”

As Stephen Harper said, “Science powers commerce,” but apparently to Harper, that is all it should do, even though many scientists and academics disagree[106]. The implications should be obvious: just as society’s interaction with the environment is unsustainable, so too is the dependency of the sciences upon those institutions which are destroying the environment unsustainable.


Regardless of one’s position in society – as a member of an Indigenous group, an activist group, or within the scientific community – all of human society is facing the threat of extinction, accelerated by our destruction of the environment sourced at the point of interaction (the location of extraction) between the dominant institutions of our world and the natural world itself. Roughly half the world’s population living in extreme poverty, with billions living in hunger, with poor access to safe drinking water, medicine and shelter, monumental disparities in wealth and inequality, the production and maintenance of unprecedented weapons of death and destruction, we are witnessing an exponentially accelerating plundering of resources and destruction of the environment upon which all life on Earth depends. If there has ever been a time in human history to begin asking big questions about the nature of our society and the legitimacy of the institutions and ideologies which dominate it, this is it.

An anarchistic understanding of the institutions and ideologies which control the world order reveals a society blinded by apathy as it nears extinction. The very same institutions which dictate the political, economic and social direction of our world are the very same ones destroying the environment to such an extent that the fate of the species is put at extreme risk. To not only continue – but to accelerate – down this path is no longer an acceptable course of action for humanity. It is time that socially segregated populations begin reaching out and work- ing together, to share knowledge, organizational capacity, and engage in mutual action for shared objectives. With that in mind, it would appear to be beneficial not only for those involved – but for humanity as a whole – if Indigenous peoples and segments of the scientific community pursued the objective of protecting the environment together. Acknowledging this is easy enough, the hard part is figuring out the means and methods of turning that acknowledgement into action.

This is again where anarchist principles can become useful, emphasizing the creative capacity of many to contribute new ideas and undertake new initiatives working together as free individuals in collective organizations to achieve shared objectives. This is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one. The very future of humanity may depend upon it.

# # # #

*For notes and sources, download the paper here.

Andrew Gavin Marshall, BFP Partner Producer, contributing author and analyst
Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, with a focus on studying the ideas, institutions, and individuals of power and resistance across a wide spectrum of social, political, economic, and historical spheres. He has been published in AlterNet, CounterPunch,, Truth-Out, RoarMag, and a number of other alternative media groups, and regularly does radio, Internet, and television interviews with both alternative and mainstream news outlets. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project and has a weekly podcast show with BoilingFrogsPost

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  1. Richard says:

    “Indigenous peoples in the Americas have been struggling against colonialism, exploitation, segregation, repression and even genocide for over 500 years.”

    Isn’t that a very narrow point of view? I don’t know much about North American history but do know a little about the ancient Mesoamerican civilizations, that stretch back at least thousands of years BC. It’s history is filled with colonialism, exploitation, repression and genocides. Entire populations were captured and used as slaves, for human sacrifice and blood sports. They destroyed fast areas for agriculture, urbanization and for recourses. It’s a history filled with empires, wars and conquest. Of tribalism and marching armies. These thing were not introduced by conquistadors, who wouldn’t arrive for hundreds or thousands of years. All these things are expressions of humans, wherever and whenever they are. I’m not criticizing any of what you say about the many injustices done to the indigenous people. It’s just not something unique of western civilization. It’s technology and the level of organization, bureaucracy if you will, that made the difference, then and now. If the Aztecs had ships and cannons, banks and corporations, we might have been writing in Zapotec now.

  2. tonywicher says:

    [This is again where anarchist principles can become useful, emphasizing the creative capacity of many to contribute new ideas and undertake new initiatives working together as free individuals in collective organizations to achieve shared objectives. This is not an easy task, but it is a necessary one. The very future of humanity may depend upon it.]

    This is a very broad definition of “anarchism”. If all this means is that oppressed people can form organizations and alliances of all kinds outside of government to struggle against oppression, then I can only agree. In fact, such organizations of people working together are absolutely essential. All power comes not from “the barrel of a gun” but from social organization. The individual has almost no power. So there must be an organized movement coming from the oppressed people to counter the oppressive power of the state and of the financial power (big corporations and banks) that the state serves. It seems that just about everybody agrees on that. But why call this “anarchism”?

    On environmental degradation that affects everyone, of course it’s a huge concern. But it’s also true to say that industrial development and economic growth are absolutely necessary if billions of people are not shortly to starve to death – which is what Prince Charles and the World Wildlife Fund are aiming at. All those useless eaters – such a burden on Mother Earth, eh wot, old chap? Best to cut the population down to somewhere near a billion and not use up our scarce resources. In other words, environmentalism must not be an excuse for de-industrialization. Real scientists who form the suggested alliance with aboriginals should understand this, if not they are probably shills for the Empire and not real scientists. Think of it this way: there is a biosphere that sustains all life. Using science and technology, human beings have the power to engineer that biosphere to serve their needs. If it is done intelligently, this planet could provide economic prosperity for a much larger population than it has now, without environmental degradation. We need vast engineering projects that do not destroy the environment but preserve and improve it. For example, the western part of this country desperately needs more water. There has been a project on the boards since the Kennedy administration called NAWAPA, the North American Water and Power Alliance. If we had built NAWAPA instead of having our president assassinated and going to Vietnam, we would now be a vastly richer country, and all our citizens would greatly benefit, including aboriginals now living on a reservation in some stinking desert (maybe with a casino on it) which would become green agricultural lands that they could develop for agriculture or other productive uses. NAWAPA can still be built, even better with more modern technology, and yes, this project will create millions of jobs – well-paid manufacturing jobs at that – and lead to a full economic recovery. There is no good reason why this could not be done. So, let’s organize to get it done. Here are the plans, including the plan for financing the project, and others like it, using a sovereign credit system.

  3. metrobusman says:

    Excellent comment by Richard. The materialist forces which drove the native peoples of Europe, Asia, and Africa into predation were alsoat work in the Americas. It is amazing to me how many people, even on the Left, cling to the racist idea that this land was a bucolic paradise before Columbus landed and that it were the whites who introduced imperialism, genocide etc.

    This is not to excuse what whites did here, but they didn’t do anything here that hadn’t been done here before.

  4. AGW, thanks for the article. The other commenters here have, by creating their own strawman arguments (ie a supposed bucolic paradise you never talk about) de-emphasized and essentially eschewed the points you actually focus on with great specificity, which is the undeniable abuses that indigenous people continue to suffer within modern cultures of exploitation, cultures which are devastating the environment and as you say, are bringing us to the point of extinction.

    You may want to look at this prediction of absolutely catastrophic transformation of the Arctic projected for the next couple weeks in this region which is predicted to be ice free during the summer perhaps as early as this year 2013 or at least within the next few years.

    The loss of sea ice (and its constituent, reflective albedo effect), combined with ongoing tundra fires, and arctic methane release, and a host of other factors, is creating the very system of positive feedback loops that we have been warned about but the anti environmental backlash and unaware supporters of empire have ignored or viciously denied.

    The idea that “if the Aztecs had ships and cannons, banks and corporations, we might have been writing in Zapotec now,” is the very kind of dismissiveness of cultural difference that borders on racism. Yes, and if grizzly bears flew drones and hated people, we might be living under a forced winter hibernation regime today. The idea that “humans are just humans” ignores the importance of the fact that some humans have very different ways of living and value things differently. For example, at a hearing on the hunting season on wolves in Montana I attended, the one native American present spoke of the wolves as his brother and an important part of the natural community, while the white hunters and ranchers there saw them as a pest to be exterminated. Two very different cultural outlooks which if explored deeply and taken to their extension, create significant differences in the way certain groups relate to each other and the surrounding world. As was expected, the dominant paradigm prevailed, and the hunting season was intensified, which now allows for things like using electronic wolf calls to lure the animals out of the Yellow Stone Park borders in order to shoot them.

    A critical point which emerges if you look closely: wild nature, which was the living environs of the native peoples for tens of thousands of years, is antithetical to the current dominant culture. Coexistence with such landscapes is not possible for a domesticated man ruled over by tyrants.

    Of course there was strife and suffering before white colonialism, but the natural world has been utterly undermined since that time, in spite of the weak arguments that humans have always modified their environment. Our modern civilization is doing things to the planet today that both quantitatively and qualitatively overwhelm any pockets of modification/deforestation/overfishing that has previously occurred, and could not have globally occurred within the kinds of belief systems regarding the planet that once prevailed.

    Today in my state, hunters complain about the lack of elk, not seeming to realize that tens of millions of elk once thrived in the lower 48 alongside over a hundred thousand wolves and countless indigenous people for tens of thousands of years, before the ensuing overexploitation of the landbase and the ongoing fragmentation of habitat. The dominant culture wants to deny the impacts of its own trajetory over an extremely short period of time, citing the long lifespans those members of the club currently enjoy, believing it to be the natural, singular, logical, and inevitable manifestation of human progress. Is it any wonder the combination of this extraordinarily destabilizing way of being in the world and the subsequent denial of such a precarious state is bringing us all closer to the brink? Because our habits are so intransigent and our attention span to deal with them so limited, some (but thankfully not all) scientists are now openly talking about geo-engineering the planet by dumping massive quantities of sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere and iron oxide into the ocean to combat run away climate change. This is how bad things are getting, and illustrates the rabid continuation of this mechanistic, tech driven system of global modification and control, which dovetails with such developments as the NSA data basing of every electronic communication of everyone, and the increasingly prevalent labeling of environmental activists as terrorists.

    It is a truly disheartening reality which is perhaps easier to push aside, but I’m glad to have seen this article on BFP, and I’m glad that Sibel includes such features among the diverse perspectives presented. I believe the nexus of environment and geopolitics will be a fertile ground for exploration in this time of rapid deterioration and I hope you continue to present your critically important knowledge here, (unless of course you decide your time is better spent becoming more self sufficient for the rough times ahead).

  5. tonywicher says:

    Luke, my point was that that the deterioration of the environment is a great concern, but that there are also over seven billion people in the world half of whom are living right on the edge of starvation, and this can only be prevented by rapid industrial growth. But this has to be done in a way that preserves and improves the environment, makes it more capable of sustaining human life. This can be done, and I suggested people look at the NAWAPA project as an example. Also I suggested that Indians living on a reservation in a stinking desert cannot be returned to the hunting grounds of their ancestors, but with a good water project their lands could become fertile and productive. But if you have in mind stopping industrial development, you are condemning a good six billion people to death, which is what Prince Charles wants. We are all indigenous inhabitants of this planet.

  6. tonywicher says:

    When you say the environment is deteriorating, what you mean is that it has become less capable of sustaining human life. So how to prevent this? The Prince Charles/World Wildlife Fund solution: stop industry and kill off most of the population. My solution: increase the productivity of the environment through large-scale projects such as NAWAPA. We must indeed geo-engineer the planet and its weather, but not by “dumping sulphur dioxide into the atmosphere” and otherwise killing ourselves, but by projects such as NAWAPA, which will indeed change the weather in arid areas that would then have plentiful water. How about a really good public transportation system greatly reducing the need for trucks and automobiles? All this and more could be done, but under the current oligarchical, monetarist system they never will be, the environment will continue to deteriorate, and people will die in ever increasing numbers.

  7. @ tonywicher

    I don’t have in mind stopping industrial development per se, because I know this is not an achievable goal as you essentially point out. In order to do so, those seven billion people would have to either find a more appealing alternative to it, or they would be eliminated through some kind of collapse scenario, which is ultimately what I believe will happen regardless of any elite agenda at this point. It sounds like you’ve found something good in NAWAPA. I personally believe that while there are hypothetical solutions out there, the reality is that we are living in a civilization that is incapable of producing the kind of just, sustainable, and equitable lifestyle many of us wish for. This is because the mindset that produced these circumstances is just as entrenched as our dependency on a system that is killing the biosphere… so when I say the environment is deteriorating I mean the planet’s ability to sustain a bio-diverse and robust natural system (which facilitates our own existence) is being undermined. Rather than a focus on maintaining stability and diverse ecologies, our social system is geared toward creating monopolies, instability, and inequity which is leveraged and profited from. Destabilization is the modus operandi. Getting ahead is just another way of saying, putting other people somewhere else off balance. Any proposed solutions will emerge in this kind of karmic trench that has been carved out. Perhaps humans will not be entirely wiped out, but I’m afraid that those who remain will predominantly emerge from elite, military minded circles. While much of the US population has their head in the sand on environmental issues, the US military has been planning for what they call the “threat multiplier” that is climate change. They already understand they may be globally deployed in a world floundering under resource pressures and food shortages. The so called “Green Hornet” fighter jet is just the kind of eco spin future Obanoid types will fawn over during times of uncertainty. Violence appears to be the lens through which these problems will be ultimately handled, either state sponsored, or simply from the organic manifestation of people in desperate situations abandoned by their governments, as they were during Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.

    I’m not a defeatist by nature. I talk to people about the issues and work towards being more self sufficient. But I see the writing on the wall, which both encompasses and goes beyond the technical problems of things like water diversion and travels all the way to the core of who we are as people. The system we live in is a dance with psychopathic tendencies, which necessitates a willing partner steeped in deep delusion. It may be possible to transform, but this path is extremely unlikely. I am increasingly convinced that while I will continue to push for material transformation, our spiritual connection will become increasingly vital in what I see to be a very swift descent into darkness. I sincerely wish you the best.

  8. PS, geo-engineering the planet is simply an extension of the dominant paradigm which has brought us to the brink. It is a manifestation of losing control while attempting to maintain total control under a faulty paradigm. If you watch my video (which I posted in another thread) you can begin to see how this technological advance is actually beginning to gestate. For example, ubiquitous sensing technologies recording everything we do is the direction our doomed experiment is veering toward in establishing the kind of human and atmospheric monitoring that will be called for in the name of security at both the environmental and social level.

    Such earth changing undertakings as geo engineering, if implemented, will likely be funded by the very upward money funneling elite systems we regard with suspicion. In our reality, these decisions will be made behind closed doors “in our best interest” (trans pacific partnership style) will shortcut real human and environmental impact assessments, and will forge new forms of violence backed wealth consolidation, control, and power elite relationships on the grand chessboard.

  9. tonywicher says:

    Hey, Luke – It’s a pleasure to have this discussion! I have always considered myself an environmentalist. I am also very strong believer in science, in the true meaning of the word, as the basis of human progress. Other life forms evolve biologically, but real science is the source of human cognitive evolution. Taking the purely scientific standpoint, human economic and ecological problems are entirely solvable. If we could assume the cooperation of all countries in the interest of the human race as a whole, plans, such as NAWAPA, and many, others all over the world, could be drawn up and executed. If done right, the result would be a planet capable of supporting a much larger population than we have now, at a high level of economic well-being. Geo-engineering the planet is simply doing on a large scale what human beings have always done, which is to control nature through science to adapt our environment to our human needs. Surely, you would not call this a “false dominant paradigm.” There are in fact no limits to economic growth as there are no limits to scientific progress. From the scientific standpoint, while we are geo-engineering the planet, we should also be investing in space exploration, with an eye toward eventually expanding into the rest of the solar system, the galaxy and beyond.

    As I see it, the false dominant paradigm that is preventing these things from happening and threatens human life on this planet is that of a monetarist financial system controlled by a world oligarchy that behaves as though it owns the planet and the rest of the human race are its chattel slaves to be disposed of as it pleases. Nothing can be done as long as this control structure is in place. Let us then distinguish between the problems requiring solutions by physical science and engineering to make our environment better, and this sociological problem of oligarchical control of the world economy. It is one thing to argue that geo-engineering to improve the planet for human life is not scientifically possible or feasible, which I think is false. It is another thing to argue, as you do above, that the power structure that now exists is such that any geo-engineering that is done will only be done for the profit of the oligarchy without regard to the well-being of the rest of the human race. This is surely true. The main question, then, in my mind, is how do we replace the oligarchical, monetarist paradigm, which leads to war and every kind of human and environmental degradation, with a truly scientific paradigm of world-wide human co-operation?

  10. @tonywicher

    To answer your question…

    The Venus Project:

    Aims and Proposals

    It is common in our mass-media to read and to hear commentators talk about the number of social problems that face us today, such as global warming, destruction of Earth’s environment, unemployment, crime, violence, poverty, hunger, and the population explosion. Yet, how often do we hear of workable plans for alleviating many of these social problems? It is relatively simple for people to criticize society, however it’s much more difficult to identify and implement plans to resolve the problems.

    The Venus Project is a veritable blueprint for the genesis of a new world civilization, one that is based on human concern and environmental reclamation.

    The plans for The Venus Project offer society a broader spectrum of choices based on the scientific possibilities directed toward a new era of peace and sustainability for all. Through the implementation of a resource-based economy, and a multitude of innovative and environmentally friendly technologies directly applied to the social system, The Venus Project proposals will dramatically reduce crime, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and many other pressing problems that are common throughout the world today.

    One of the cornerstones of the organization’s findings is the fact that many of the dysfunctional behaviors of today’s society stem directly from the dehumanizing environment of a monetary system. In addition, automation has resulted in the technological replacement of human labor by machines and eventually most people will not have the purchasing power to buy the goods and services turned out.

    The Venus Project proposes a system in which automation and technology would be intelligently integrated into an overall holistic socio-economic design where the primary function would be to maximize the quality of life rather than profits. This project also introduces a set of workable and practical values.

    This is in perfect accord with the spiritual aspects and ideals found in most religions throughout the world. What sets The Venus Project apart, however, is that it proposes to translate these ideals into a working reality.
    Phase One

    The first phase of The Venus Project’s long-term plans is already underway. Jacque Fresco, futurist, inventor, industrial designer and founder of The Venus Project and his associate Roxanne Meadows have completed the construction of a 25-acre research center in Venus, Florida to help present the proposals of The Venus Project. Videos, CDs, posters, pamphlets, models, renderings and books such as “The Best That Money Can’t Buy: Beyond Politics, Poverty, & War”, have been created to help raise awareness about this project and its many proposals.
    Phase Two

    Phase Two includes the production of a full-length feature film that will depict how a world embracing the proposals advanced by The Venus Project would work. This film would provide a positive vision of a peaceful society in which all human beings form a global family on planet Earth. A civilization in which all people are engaged in the pursuit of a better understanding of the world they share. This film has been designed to be an entertaining and educational experience for both adults and children.
    Phase Three

    To test its designs and proposals, The Venus Project is working towards putting its ideals into practice by the construction of an experimental research city. Blueprints for most of the initial technologies and buildings have begun. Fund-raising efforts are currently under way to help support the construction of this first experimental city. This new experimental research city would be devoted to working towards the aims and goals of The Venus Project, which are:

    Realizing the declaration of the world’s resources as being the common heritage of all people.
    Transcending the artificial boundaries that currently and arbitrarily separate people.
    Replacing money-based nationalistic economies with a resource-based world economy.
    Assisting in stabilizing the world’s population through education and voluntary birth control.
    Reclaiming and restoring the natural environment to the best of our ability.
    Redesigning cities, transportation systems, agricultural industries, and industrial plants so that they are energy efficient, clean, and able to conveniently serve the needs of all people.
    Gradually outgrowing corporate entities and governments, (local, national, or supra-national) as means of social management.
    Sharing and applying new technologies for the benefit of all nations.
    Developing and using clean renewable energy sources.
    Manufacturing the highest quality products for the benefit of the world’s people.
    Requiring environmental impact studies prior to construction of any mega projects.
    Encouraging the widest range of creativity and incentive toward constructive endeavour.
    Outgrowing nationalism, bigotry, and prejudice through education.
    Eliminating elitism, technical or otherwise.
    Arriving at methodologies by careful research rather than random opinions.
    Enhancing communication in schools so that our language is relevant to the physical conditions of the world.
    Providing not only the necessities of life, but also offering challenges that stimulate the mind while emphasizing individuality rather than uniformity.
    Finally, preparing people intellectually and emotionally for the changes and challenges that lie ahead.

    Within the experimental city, a theme park is also planned that will both entertain and inform visitors about the possibilities for humane and environmentally friendly life-styles planned by The Venus Project. It will feature intelligent houses; high-efficiency, non polluting transportation systems; advanced computer technology; and a number of other innovations that can add value to the lives of all people – in a very short period of time.

    A circular city would be a transitional phase and could evolve from a semi-cooperative money-oriented society to a resource based economy. This could be the prototype for a series of cities to be constructed in various places throughout the world. The rate of progress will depend on the availability of funds raised during the early stages and the people who identify with , participate in, and support the aims and direction of The Venus Project.

    As these new communities develop and become more widely accepted, they may very well form the basis of a new civilization, preferably through the process of evolution rather than revolution.

    No one can actually predict the future. We can only extrapolate on present information and trends. Population growth, technological change, worldwide environmental conditions, and available resources are the primary criteria for future projections.

    There is no single philosophy or point of view whether religious, political, scientific, or ideological, that someone would not take issue with. We feel certain, however, that the only aspects of The Venus Project that may appear threatening are those which others project onto it.

    The Venus Project is neither Utopian nor Orwellian, nor does it reflect the dreams of impractical idealists. Instead, it presents attainable goals requiring only the intelligent application of what we already know. The only limitations are those, which we impose upon ourselves.

  11. @ tonywhicher

    Yeah thanks for taking the time to respond. This is a topic that interests me greatly. So we both agree that the elite sit atop a system that will essentially continue to benefit them, which puts at risk any sort of large scale scientific endeavor. In fact, any sort of attempt to challenge this paradigm will meet strong resistance. People point to things like the destruction of public transit in the US to favor the auto industry, or the suppression of Tesla technology, or AG Marshall’s point that in Canada, climate science is being supressed. I believe that in the end we cannot easily, if at all “distinguish between the problems requiring solutions by physical science and engineering to make our environment better, and this sociological problem of oligarchical control of the world economy.” Science as a method of observation and system of falsification may be separable, but what is chosen as a legitimate subject of observation (and by whom), what are seen to be problems, how the data is interpreted, how resulting technology is applied, are all value judgements that are not distinct from the culture, and the culture from top to bottom I’m afraid is deeply entangled with this elite, technological structure. Those who rise to positions to make these value judgements do so by becoming products of the system. The very kinds of problems we are facing, as well as the specific elements within the technological environment we draw from, are unique manifestations of a kind of thinking, and in this sense, we cannot simply pluck out the undesirable elements and insert a replacement part. Remove the tumor and the cancer regrows. Launch a surgical strike and we fan the flames of hate. We are running up against a wall. Modifications will either be subsumed by the dominant paradigm as we both suggested, or they will destabilize it, and given our dependency on this paradigm (and the dependency of nuclear armed elites), destabilization, as you have already pointed out in one example, could be catastrophic. Transformation may be possible, but like the larvae into the insect, the final form is dependent upon the initial shape. All of this is very abstract, but I believe the reality we face of environmental deterioration accelerating at such a pace, that much of the track has been essentially set. Those at the cutting edge speak similarly of the limitlessness of human possibilities, space travel, even immortality. But this cutting edge, where the rubber actually meets the road, overlaps with DARPA AI, robotics, and nano tech projects, Monsanto monopolizing the food supply, and thinkers like Ray Kurzweil who envision a time when all biological life is suffused with and transformed by nanobots. These realities are knit directly into our fascination with the high tech, the best, the shiniest, the desire to be seduced and dazzled, the reverence for the most elite, and most powerful. So toppling the monetist system becomes a question of complete system transformation, where one element reflects and contains all other elements. The stakes are extremely high given the destructive power technology has afforded to societies. I view what is taking place as a time of escalating efforts at power consolidation resulting in accelerating destabilization. The push for novel materials, space travel, and artificial intelligence beyond our own capacity is very much part and parcel of a paradigm of technological progress, and domination by the sword. As such, one approach I have implemented and recommend is talking to people about these issues in the checkout line. The whole “how are you doing” “fine how are you” is really a kind of program circuit we all run. On an individual level, we can break that down, open up consciousness to new possibilities, and break out of the expected roles and tracked personas we develop online. I just ask people, so are you following what’s going on up in the arctic? Or have you heard about plans to dump sulfur in the atmosphere? I don’t place much hope in tech solutions, but rather modeling a different way of being, which is less an act an more a practice, and in some form an act of defiance. Open, unapologetic defiance will be part of the solution if there is one to be had, and this kind of defiance may or may not look like angry masses in the street. Things like Boulder’s Skill Share and Missoula’s Time bank are moves toward volunteerism, where services are traded rather than paid for, but again, unless we get beyond our reliance on an environmentally destabilizing technologically driven society, cutting out the banks will not address the larger paradigm. Nanotech can still produce the kind of world destroying nightmare scenario known as grey goo, no matter what monetary regime it emerges from.

  12. tonywicher says:

    @Luke: I say that as long as the oligarchy is in control, there is no possibility of a technological solution to our environmental problems, but if the control of the oligarchy is ended through a credit system, science and technology will be used for the benefit of all humanity to solve these problems.

  13. HAL 9000 says:

    The hypocrisy, contradictions, and rationalizations run so deep in the unconscious minds of the American people, that the Native Americans now find themselves in a world in which they might be better off being recognized as animals than they are as human beings. If they could achieve non-human status under the law, then they could seek protection under the Endangered Species Act. Ironically, the American people have returned wolves, bison, and other animals to their native lands, yet most Native Americans remain imprisoned far away from their native habitat.

    Nez Perce, where are you today, are you gone?
    Nez Perce, time to change your ways or move on.

  14. @tonywicher

    How do we do that?

  15. @tonywicher

    I just read your recommendations on Sibel’s quacks like a duck post. These may be some good proposals, but in my view the impending environmental meltdown is going to rapidly overtake any attempted economic remedies as the oligarchy seeks to maintain its power. Fixing the economy in order to fix the environment will not likely work. Countless jobs depend on environmentally destructive practices. You talk about LaRouche a lot so here’s two names for you to check out: Guy Mcpherson (nature bats last), Arctic Methane Emergency Group. Keep in mind the Arctic may very well be ice free during the summer months as early as this year and more likely over the next 2. The rate of Arctic temperature rise is faster than rate of change near the equator, meaning a change in the global temperature gradient, which is affecting the amplitude of jet stream and creating what’s being referred to as “stuck weather.” Massive droughts,crop failure, loss of oxygen producing phytoplankton… We are talking about the possibility of near term extinction, which will likely be fraught with the oligarchic militarized police state crack down you rightly point to. Can we actually hope to shift the cultural trajectory in such a short time span, when we have literally shifted the momentum of an entire planet? Bodies in motion don’t just reverse course when our ideologies change.
    -take care

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