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May 24, 2014
Uncivilization: an Artistic Manifesto for an Age of Ecocide
    by Robert Kropp

The Dark Mountain Project contends that the human race has already destroyed the possibility of its survival and advocates for cultural responses that reflect reality. First of a two-part series.

It's a beautiful Sunday morning on a Memorial Day weekend here in Brattleboro, Vermont. I stand in the backyard overlooking the Whetstone Brook and marvel at the play of sunlight and water swirling together around and over the rocks. The leaves of the trees around me feature the shade of green that is only experienced in spring. It's almost easy to forget about climate change and the mass extinction of species. Almost easy to forget about ecocide for a few moments.

Almost possible to forget about climate change altogether while I hike along a trail at the foot of Wantastiquet Mountain a few hours later, just across the Connecticut River from Brattleboro, even if the exquisite beauty of the day is more befitting of my birthplace New Jersey than New England at this time of year. But as the Vermont-based permaculturalist Ben Falk noted in the film The Wisdom to Survive, in fifty years' time the climate of Vermont might be that of West Virginia today. I hope he wasn't too optimistic about the time frame.

Last week, I wrote about Planetary Hospice, a paper by the environmental activist Zhiwa Woodbury. “Ecopsychology,” the author writes, “is reinventing psychology by including 'the psychological processes that tie us to the world or separate us from it' in a more holistic vision of the human psyche that views humans and the world we inhabit as inextricably bound together.” In other words, the well-being of human beings cannot be separated from that of our planet and all the forms of life it holds.

The implications of such a perspective are profound. Despite the honorable efforts of sustainable investors and other advocates for environmental justice, there has been so much irreversible damage already, via climate change, ocean acidification, and the mass extinction of species (about which I'll write at greater length tomorrow, when I review Elizabeth Kolbert's book The Sixth Extinction). The nagging worry that we will not act in time is growing into a consensus of sorts.

In its 2009 manifesto Uncivilization, the Dark Mountain Project quotes the great American poet Robinson Jeffers:

I would burn my right hand in a slow fire
To change the future … I should do foolishly. The beauty of modern
Man is not in the persons but in the
Disastrous rhythm, the heavy and mobile masses, the dance of the
Dream-led masses down the dark mountain.

The Dark Mountain Project describes itself as “a network of writers, artists and thinkers who have stopped believing the stories our civilization tells itself. We see that the world is entering an age of ecological collapse, material contraction and social and political unraveling, and we want our cultural responses to reflect this reality rather than denying it.”

The Project certainly has its share of critics, even among activists who admire the sincerity of its members, as a recent article in The New York Times points out. “Nature has some intrinsic, inherent value beyond the instrumental,” the Project's co-founder Paul Kingsnorth said. The article's author paraphrases Kingsnorth's position thusly: “If we lose sight of that ideal in the name of saving civilization, if we allow ourselves to erect wind farms on every mountain and solar arrays in every desert, we will be accepting a Faustian bargain.”

I am certain that many sustainable investors and other environmental advocates, who have worked so tirelessly to pressure corporations to reduce destructive levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions—and, to a less successful extent thus far, move their investments into clean energy—might well find such a perspective nihilistic to an extreme. Addressing the fact that the human race has viewed nature not as intrinsic but as instrumental has indeed left us in a bind from which it's increasingly unlikely we'll emerge without suffering untold damages. But to give up on the alternatives seems to welcome the chaos that would ensue.

Yet, today, even the best-case scenarios acknowledge that the damages from climate change and its effects will be profound, and devastating in many parts of the world. Meanwhile, “Our world political leaders give no indication whatsoever that they intend to rein in the giant fossil fuel corporations that fund their campaigns and are currently sowing the seeds of our collective demise,” Woodbury writes in Planetary Hospice. “Remarkably, politicians are so detached from reality as to view the melting of arctic sea ice as an ‘opportunity’ to go after even more petrochemical reserves, while the five largest corporations in the world mercilessly exploit the Canadian tar sands - the largest industrial project in the history of civilization mining the dirtiest carbon fuels in existence.”

Uncivilization quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson: “The end of the human race will be that it will eventually die of civilization.”

“Then what is the answer?” Robinson Jeffers wrote. “Not to be deluded by dreams.”

Robert Kropp can be contacted at


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