We are Extractivists. We are addicted to extracting and depleting finite resources. We’ve got to leave it in the ground, against the wishes of powerful private profiteers and their paid operatives who intend to drill and dig until it’s all out, and against our own wishful denial of reality. Facing reality means challenging the model of limitless material growth and consumption. That’s the message of Naomi Klein’s next chapter: “We extract and do not replenish…” That can’t be sustained indefinitely.
Klein nominates Sir Francis Bacon as the patron saint of our profligacy. Knowledge is power, the power to subdue and “hound nature… penetrating into [her] holes and corners.” Klein enjoys noting the “poetic justice” of his catching pneumonia while trying to subdue a chicken. Nature does bite back.
The anti-extractivist ethic recognizes and reveres our reciprocal interdependency with the Earth and all its life-structures and forms. Aldo Leopold’s land ethic, for instance, places us firmly within the biotic community not as master but as citizen-steward. Rachel Carson called out the arrogance of presuming to control nature, an attitude “born of the Neanderthal age of biology and philosophy, when it was supposed that nature exists for the convenience of man.”
Thoreau stands as the anti-Bacon in this narrative. “The earth I tread on is not a dead inert mass. It is a body—has a spirit—is organic—and fluid to the influence of its spirit—and to whatever particle of the spirit is in me.” That’s no spooky spirit, it’s simply the salute of life respecting life, living light to live long and prosper. It’s the spirit of survival and sustainability, and it’s the spirit we’ll need to propel us to the stars. The cosmic piety of Sagan and Tyson and Roddenberry (“we are star-stuff” etc.) has its roots in the natural piety of Wordsworth (“my heart leaps up”) and James and Dewey.
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