Decentralizing the Green Revolution: An Anarchist Guide to Environmentalism

When looking to solve the issue of climate change and other forms of environmental damage, people tend to look at two kinds of solutions: those targeting the individual, such as recycling, turning off your lights, bicycling, and unplugging your electronics when not in use, or more statist solutions, such as banning plastic straws, carbon taxes, or government investment. As anarchists one of the typical questions we face (aside from how will we deal with crime and how do we supply people with the medical care they need) is how do we adequately protect the environment before it’s too late without large-scale government intervention.

Now to be fair, as long as the state exists, it is much better for them to be focused on environmental protection and social welfare than warfare and policing. To be sure, the EPA will be abolished along with the rest of this wretched monstrosity that we call the US government, but we’ll worry about abolishing their voluntary Energy Star certification and clean water standards after we’re done abolishing ICE, police, prisons, and the military-industrial-complex. That being said, government environmental protection is a joke. Agencies like the EPA have been captured by many of the very corporate actors who they are supposed to be regulating, much like any other state agency. The EPA didn’t prevent or repair Flint’s water crisis and it damn sure won’t stop Big Oil.

Several variations of a Green New Deal have often been proposed and the idea is loved by many leftists, even those of a more libertarian persuasion. However the New Deal-inspired legislation mostly focuses on increasing taxation and corporate subsidies, and creating more government jobs, something any anarchist should rightly be skeptical of even if it is said to be for a good cause. After all, the state and the corporate interests they protect are some of the biggest polluters on the planet and it’s highly unlikely that they’ll regulate themselves. So what are the solutions? Do we just retreat back to the same liberal individualist tactics of reduce, reuse, recycle and leave it as that in fear that anything more will breed state oppression? Well, no.

While no one is saying to never recycle, is should be recognized that government recycling programs were actually a scheme concocted by big corporations to pass the blame off from them to the individual. Instead of placing the responsibility for waste and environmental degradation at the feet of the corporations who use unsustainable packaging for their products, we blame the consumer for littering or not recycling. It should also be known that some recycling programs are basically shams, with much of what is thrown in recycling still winding up in the dump, due to it being more difficult to process. The only main difference is the gas spent to drive an extra truck around to pick it up separately. And even for the things that are recycled, that still doesn’t take into account the energy used at the facilities and the air pollution caused by melting down certain materials.

The best approach is to reduce the amount of waste you produce in the first place. And when it comes to recycling the waste you do still produce, methods such as reusing, upcycling, trash art, composting, and tools such as the Precious Plastic machines, which recycle your plastic waste to be used to make new things including 3D printer fiber, offer much more efficient and reliable results.

The green anarchist movement has a rich history with organizations spanning from Earth First! to Food Not Lawns to the Earth Liberation Front to Murray Bookchin’s Institute for Social Ecology. These groups tend to use a mixture of social ecology, appropriate technology, direct action, and mutual aid to achieve their desired goals. So what can we learn from them moving forward? How can we reverse the damage already caused and prevent further damage moving forward?

Stopping Them Dead in Their Tracks

First of all, instead of fighting for state subsidies for renewable energy or taxes on carbon emissions, let’s get to the root of the problem which includes corporate subsidies themselves. We need to demand an end to corporate subsidies for the oil, gas, factory farming, and agricultural industries first and foremost, but we also need to end all corporate subsidies. Subsidies of any kind  offset the true costs of doing business, including the environmental costs, allowing corporations to survive despite unstable practices. We also need to break up the state-enforced public utilities monopolies which stifle competition and punish people for going off-grid.

But getting rid of their subsidies won’t stop them altogether. We must also block their projects. Banning fracking and stripmining practices, abolishing eminent domain laws, invoking personal property rights claims, especially indigenous property rights, against corporations, and utilizing environmental lawyers such as Water Protector Legal Collective and Earthjustice to challenge corporate and state actors are some ways to achieve these goals. More radical tactical examples include blocking pipelines, occupying construction projects, sabotaging equipment, property damage, tree sitting, tree spiking, blockades, and collapsing mines. Many groups, such as the Water Protectors and their allies, use a mix of lawsuits, property rights claims, occupations, blockades, and sabotage in order to achieve their goals.

We also need to stop factory farming practices and harmful agricultural practices. Factory farming is not only harmful to the non-human animals involved but is also harmful to the environment in general, between its overuse of antibiotics, its inefficient use of crops, and its concentrated production of methane. Agricultural practices such as monocropping and the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides also add to this crisis. Organizations such as Food Not Bombs help reclaim otherwise wasted foods to serve to those in need.

Other groups, like the Animal Liberation Front, challenge factory farming through means of freeing animals and providing them sanctuary and damaging equipment and facilities. Meanwhile movements like the March Against Monsanto have provided some hope by challenging industrial farming practices, although MAM’s hyperfocus on GMOs and the anti-scientific rhetoric that it spawned, distracted it from the larger issues at hand and thus it mostly fizzled out. The March Against Myths About Modification was an attempt to correct a lot of the “frankenfoods” propaganda coming out of the March Against Monsanto but unfortunately the MAMyths largely ignored any failings of Monsanto and thus seemed mainly to be an anti-MAM protest.

But winning any of these struggles in the long run won’t be possible if we don’t have alternatives already in place to replace the current systems.

Building a New World in the Shell of the Old

That means that we also need to be spreading the use of appropriate technologies such as solar, hydro, wind power, biofuels, and biomass. Home fuel cells and microgeneration help to decentralize our electrical systems, reducing the need for large-scale energy grids.

Bicycling, public transportation, carpooling, ridesharing, biofuel, and electric cars are all wonderful ways of cutting down on transportation-related pollution. Projects like Local Motors allow for the possibility of localized car manufacturing, cutting down on the pollution normally entailed in shipping parts and vehicles over long distances. Combined with the use of recycled printer materials through means such as Precious Plastic and fuel technologies such a biofuel or electric car batteries (like the ones Tesla Motors released as open source) and one has a model for a much more eco-friendly mode of long-distance transportation.

Providing alternatives to our current mainstream food sources is essential. In the face of industrial and factory farming we must turn to solutions such as permaculture, vertical farming, organic farming, small-scale livestock farming, hunting, and buying from local farms, farmers markets, and sustainable sources such as the Zapatista coffee cooperatives. Technologies such as GMOs can also allow for crops to be grown in harsher terrains, require less water, or to be more resistant to insects and other common nuisances while using less chemicals, while scientific advances like lab grown meat can eliminate the need for animal farming altogether.

Transferring to these alternatives is a necessary start but it does not reverse the environmental damage already done to our planet. Luckily we are not lacking in solutions.

Let’s Fix Shit Up

Reforestation, trash cleanups, water filtration technology, air filtration technology, trash eating robots, Precious Plastic, composting, etc. all provide ways to deal with the damage we have caused as a species.

A lot of it just comes down to cleaning up after ourselves, our neighbors, and our ancestors. Schedule a trash cleanup at your local beach, park, roadway, or neighborhood. Plant trees and other plants native to the area. Start animal sanctuaries to rehabilitate and/or house endangered, harmed, or more domesticated populations. We also have to figure out how to clean up the garbage islands we’ve created on our oceans.

If all else fails, we can always ditch earth and go to space but even then we must still learn to be environmentally sustainable lest we continue our practices elsewhere, wrecking other planets in the process. Although if we end up inventing the technology to terraform another planet to sustain carbon-based life, then why could we use that very same technology here on Earth to reverse the damage we have created?

Hope for the Future

All in all, ending the state and capitalism will go a much longer way towards saving the environment than their Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, the Paris Climate Accord, or a Green New Deal ever could. A decentralized bottom-up approach towards environmentalism is something that is obtainable. Together we must stop their projects, create our own alternatives, and reverse the damage that’s already been done. We can do anything together. We got this.

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist