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Pondering Derrick Jensen/Life vs. Productivity: "What Would You Live and Die to Protect?"

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We do not have the luxury of that kind of time. Scientists now tell us that the Arctic ice cap will likely be ice free in the summer within ten years. When this happens, rather than reflecting sunlight, that area then turns into a heat absorbing sink that dramatically increases the rate of climate change and overall planetary warming.


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Iceberg calved from the Antarctic Ice Shelf. (Photo: Erika Blumenfeld 2010)

By late 2009, two different studies showed seven years straight of a loss of Antarctic ice at a rate of 190 gigatonnes per year and the rate was increasing with time.

Some political scientists and currently serving US senators and Congresspersons now argue that our system of so-called representative government is so broken and corrupted that it is beyond its capability of righting itself.

Thirty years ago, people in the United States used to make fun of the Soviet Union and the Politburo because the body of the latter was approximately 97 percent populated by communist members. Thus, the legitimacy of the Politburo was erased.

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"What percentage of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives are capitalist party members [politicians who subscribe to the so-called free market system]?" Jensen asks. "Suddenly it's not so funny, is it? I ask people all over the country, 'Do you believe we live in a democracy?' And almost nobody ever says yes. I ask, 'Does the government take better care of corporations or human beings?' Of the thousands of people I ask this to at talks, nobody says human beings and this is not even to speak of salmon."

Jensen says every morning when he wakes up, he asks himself if he should write or blow up a dam. "You and I can write all we want, but that doesn't help the salmon," he tells me, "What they need is for dams to be removed and logging stopped."

His incisive pragmatism disregards any concern for upsetting people, groups or adherence to what is politically correct. He is spurred forward in his work because the urgency of the situation demands it. Jensen believes that all forms of resistance, nonviolent, violent and everything in between, are important and useful. But he does not hesitate to point out where he feels some methods do not go far enough.

Someone Jensen singles out as an example of how current tactics of resistance are not enough is Bill McKibben. In 1988, McKibben, a well-known author, environmentalist and activist wrote "The End of Nature," the first book for a common audience about global warming. He is the co-founder of 350.org, an international climate campaign to bring awareness to the fact that the planet faces both human and natural disaster if atmospheric concentrations of CO2 remain above 350 parts per million (ppm). Right now, we are at 390 ppm and climbing.

Last December, just prior to the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen that had enacted no useful legislation to curb carbon emissions, McKibben penned an article for Mother Jones magazine. In it, he wrote, "The latest numbers from the computer jockeys at Climate Interactive - a collaboration of Sustainability Institute, Sloan School of Management at MIT and Ventana Systems, is that if all the national plans now on the table were adopted the planet in 2100 would have an atmosphere with 770 parts per million CO2."

"Bill McKibben has done a wonderful job of publicizing the threat from global warming," Jensen says, "He's been doing it for a long time, with incredible stamina and work and I have incredible respect for that."

But Jensen insists that the tactics of McKibben's group 350.org do not go far enough.

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"So the question I have, not only for Bill, but for everyone is, what is your threshold? Give me one at which you'll stop believing in and petitioning those in power and will begin direct attacks on the oil infrastructure. Is it 440ppm? 450? 570? When the planet turns into Venus? What is your threshold? We need to stop them before they kill the planet."

Applying tactics like those used by the Black Panthers, the Weathermen or Malcolm X would most likely lead to government security crackdowns that far surpass those used in the 1960s.

It is also a given that business-as-usual activism is not getting the job done. That the goal of opening "free markets" is written into the US National Security Strategy means that the march toward "freedom" really means a freedom for corporate interests to gobble up resources, pillage and pollute our common land base (and oceans, seas, Gulfs) and continue to exploit the underprivileged labor base in the US and abroad.

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DAHR JAMAIL He is author of the book Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches from an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq. Jamail's work has been featured on National Public Radio, the Guardian, The Nation, and The Progressive. He has received many (more...)

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Pondering Derrick Jensen/Life vs. Productivity: "What Would You Live and Die to Protect?"