IV. Currents in ecological thought

Since it began to emerge thirty years ago, the contemporary environmental movement has crystallised into a range of distinct ideological trends. The differences among these currents are based on varying analyses of the roots of the environmental crisis and different proposals about how to reverse it. Yet, while all these trends now speak in the language of ecology and environmentalism, none of them are new. As far as political action in relation to the environmental crisis goes, they revive all the classical political currents, from fascism through to revolutionary Marxism.

This is inevitable, because green political thought in all its varieties grows in the soil of capitalist class society and must — explicitly or implicitly — take a stand on all the issues to which this society gives rise. Attempts to evade such vital issues under the naive and conceited illusion that green politics is "neither right nor left but out in front" inevitably produces absurd results in the realm of real political struggle: greens and environmentalists, like everyone else, must choose where they stand on all social issues.

While the science of ecology arose in the interstices of previously existing disciplines (botany, biology, meteorology, physics, chemistry) and contributed its own specific understanding of the web of previously hidden or misunderstood relationships and while the revival of ecological consciousness took place across the political spectrum, ecology as such carried with it no new political insight or method. Inevitably, however, each and every political trend in ecological thought uncovers in the workings of nature analogues of how, according to its particular viewpoint, human society should function. Ecological sanction can be found for any ideological product.

For Garret Hardin the "the allocation of rights based on territory must be defended if a ruinous breeding race is to be avoided". For the social Darwinist survival of the fittest is a law of social existence. For eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin the "non-hierarchical nature of ecosystems" sets the example for "the achievement of a totally new, non-hierarchical society in which the domination of nature by man, of woman by man, and of society by the state is completely abolished." Norwegian Arne Naess's "deep ecology" points to "deep socialism".

There is nothing new here. Nature has been ransacked for metaphors to justify all political ideologies at least since ancient Greek times. The difference today, given the rise of ecological science, is that these metaphors acquire a pseudo-scientific colouration: "laws" of nature are converted into "laws" of social organisation and development or models of ecologically sustainable communities.

1. Environmental reformism and `eco-capitalism'

The dominant political approach within the environmental movement has been that of lobbying capitalist governments to introduce legislative regulations against environmental degradation — the politics of liberal reformism. While opposing the now discredited position that the market can of itself guarantee a safe and clean environment, this approach argues that the market economy, regulated and adjusted by an appropriate mix of taxes and subsidies, is able to achieve the best result.

Thus legislation that combines the right degree of bureaucratic state action with a "playing field" appropriately tilted by well-judged green taxation is capable of ensuring environmentally sustainable production. Legislation which regulates emissions of pollutants, which licences outflows and allows for often harsh penalties for infringements, is married with the creation of bureaucratic enforcement agencies which are intended to police the legislation.

This liberal reformist approach, which focusses on lobbying capitalist politicians, has formed the standard politics of the best-known environmental organisations. Their small bureaucratic apparatuses preside over often very large paper memberships. These organisations, such as Greenpeace internationally, the Sierra Club in the US and the Australian Conservation Foundation promote themselves as spokespeople for the movement as a whole, even while their quasi-corporate organisational structures entrench unaccountability.

With few exceptions these are "top-down" organisations which do not seek to involve and mobilise their members. Where they do initiate mass protest actions, the aim is to exert public pressure on capitalist politicians to listen to the organisation's lobbyists. Some of these liberal-dominated organisations, most notably Greenpeace, prefer to use spectacular actions by small groups of "environmental commandos" to draw attention to environmental scandals. However, while often attracting publicity and sympathy, such stunts tend to ensure that the majority of members of the organisation remain passive observers and not participants in the movement.

In the realm of capitalist politics these organisations inevitably gravitate to the "lesser evil" of the main capitalist parties, such as the US Democrats or the Labour parties of countries like New Zealand and Australia. Certain environmental leaders have even been inveigled into supporting the conservative wing of capitalist party politics, as happened in the 1996 Australian national poll, where the promise of an environment fund had certain leaders supporting the privatisation of the country's public telecommunications carrier, Telstra.

In the advanced capitalist countries more or less stable coalitions for environmental reform and "sustainable development" have come together between government, business and broad sections of the environment movement. American environmentalist Daniel Faber analyses the US variant:

The Clinton/Gore strategy accommodates general environmental policy aims in exchange for the granting of major concessions to American industry. This strategy includes isolating more business-friendly mainstream environmental organisations from the rest of the movement in corporatist-type negotiating arrangements. The purpose of such "environmental mediation" and "dispute resolution" strategies is to enlist the support of this wing of the ecology movement in a number of highly symbolic policy initiatives which give the Clinton/Gore administration the appearance of being pro-environment. In exchange for such support, business is rewarded with a loosening of other regulations and granted forms of economic compensation (often in the form of "free-market" alternatives) which come at the expense of other environmental organisations and the issues over which they are battling. The "realism" of this approach has even lead traditional environmental organisations into a suspicious and uncooperative stance towards Green parties, regarded by some environmental officials as an unwelcome complicating factor in the game of extracting the best possible deal from the contending "parties of government".151

The established environmental lobby organisations, overwhelmingly white and professional in composition, are also prey to alliances with ruling capitalist elites on such issues as immigration, as well as being indifferent to the needs of workers in polluting and environmentally destructive industries. For instance, when in 1983 US logging giants Louisiana-Pacific and Weyerhaeuser demanded wage cuts of their workers and strikes broke out throughout the Pacific Northwest during the 1980s, environmentalists were nowhere to be seen. In similar fashion:

During the 1960s and 1970s, while the "Big Ten" environmental groups focussed on wilderness preservation and conservation through litigation, political lobbying and technical evaluation, activists of colour were engaged in mass direct action mobilisations for basic civil rights in the areas of employment, housing, education and health care. Thus, two parallel and sometimes conflicting movements emerged, and it has taken nearly two decades for any significant convergence to occur between these two efforts. In fact, conflicts still remain over how the two groups should balance economic development, social justice and environmental protection.152

In the US as well as Australia the wedding of reformist environmental organisations to the parliamentary process has led in instances to their virtual cooption by government. Mark Dowie says of the major US environmental lobbyist organisations:

To a growing number of environmentalists … chummy breakfasts with Al [Gore] symbolise the compromised gradualism that has put the movement on the road to becoming an endangered species.153

The traditional environmental organisations have tended until recently to share the regulatory approach to pollution, debating with government over how to regulate the production facilities that, both sides understand, it is up to private capital to build and operate.

Even now, when it is better understood that pollution is inherent in the very design of many production technologies, the goals of environmentalism are regularly readjusted to fit in with the given balance of political forces. Thus Jay D. Hair, executive director of the National Wildlife Federation, has stated that "our arguments [for conservation] must translate into profits, earnings, productivity and incentives for industry".154

The ideological consensus that expresses this viewpoint could be called "eco-capitalism", the view in the words of Michael Rothschild, "this thing we call capitalism isn't an `ism' at all, but a natural phenomenon",155 like a rainforest or a beehive, regulating itself through the dynamic feedback mechanisms typical of ecosystems. The growth of this "eco-capitalist" ideology is pronounced. Many environmentalists, caught between the "end of communism", the failure of two decades of regulatory effort and the intensification of the environmental crisis, see no alternative but to entrust the solution of the crisis to having an environmentally level playing field create enough environmentally aware capitalists committed to installing clean, green technology on a big enough scale.

2. Utopianism

In contrast to the liberal reformists are those various currents which each in their own way recognise that a radical change in the existing social order is needed. However, most of these, because they fail to grasp the essential link between capitalist production and the environmental crisis, exhibit a more or less marked bent to see the solution in a return to small-scale production by local communities — that is, to put the wheel of history into reverse.

There's a widespread trend of thinking in the green political movement that leads back to 19th century anarchists like Peter Kropotkin (Fields, Factories and Workshops of Tomorrow) or to utopian socialists like Charles Fourier and William Morris. In their attempts to deal with the misery, exploitation and alienation of industrial capitalism, they posed future visions of creative and free self-reliant communities in harmony with nature and other communities. These views emphasis the role and responsibility of the individual, who is fulfilled in relation to the community. Decentralised economies and politics, common ownership of property, distribution according to needs, non-hierarchic direct democracy built on the notion of communes and cooperatives are their main features.

Ecological theorists like E. F. Schumacher, Murray Bookchin and Ted Trainer all arrive at their own particular variant of this panacea, though each starts by selecting a different feature of industrial civilisation as the root cause of the environmental crisis. This is no accident: whatever aspect of industrial society they choose to emphasise, these thinkers all tend to view the growth of the productive powers of society (for which capitalism was necessary) as largely evil. Whether capitalism brought with it inhuman-scale technology (Schumacher), overconsumption (Trainer) or anti-ecological dominant hierarchies (Bookchin), the solution tends to involve a flight back towards to pre-capitalist petty commodity production.

Ted Trainer's main ideas have been expressed in two books — Abandon Affluence and Developed to Death. They contain very detailed presentations of trends in resource depletion and energy supply, population growth, the wastefulness of consumer societies, and the exploitation of the Third World by wealthier nations. Trainer argues strongly against those who believe that these problems can be addressed adequately through existing political and social institutions.

However, as the title indicates, Abandon Affluence argues that all have to accept a lower level of consumption — the root cause of the ecological crisis is "overconsumption" by individual consumers in the industrially developed countries. This argument undervalues the great disparities in income that exist within the developed countries. It also fails to grasp that wasteful consumption is overwhelmingly created by the needs of capital for ever expanding markets: if profits are to be maintained planned obsolescence, the permanent stimulation of new "needs" through advertising, multiple versions of the same product and unnecessary packaging are all unavoidable. Thus Trainer's tendency to blame individual consumption levels for the ecological crisis stems from his equating affluence (a plentiful supply of products meeting rational needs) with the consumerism and wasteful consumption created by capitalism.

His line of argument also suffers from a strong dose of technological determinism. Capitalism stimulates the development of technologies which are as productive as possible from the point of view of the individual firm (and which give labour as little power as possible over the production process). However, once production becomes driven by social need new technology formation and diffusion can become influenced by other needs, such as that of keeping pollution output and energy and materials throughput to an absolute minimum. Indeed, this is the only condition under which technology can generally become "appropriate". Yet, while recognising the need for social planning in order to deal with environmental problems, Trainer argues for the retention of a "free enterprise economy".

For E. F. Schumacher, a seminal influence on green political thought, the core problem is unrestrained industrialisation. Technology should fulfil human and ecological purposes — be "technology with a human face". Schumacher's work is a polemic against the "bigger is better" ethic of expanding capitalism, but he locates the cause not in the material conditions for capitalist production and reproduction, but in six "anti-environmental values" stemming from the 19th century and "which still dominate, as far as I can see, the minds of `educated' people today". These are: evolution; competition, natural selection and the survival of the fittest; the Marxist belief in the material base of history; the Freudian emphasis on the overriding importance of the subconscious mind; the ideas of relativism, "denying all absolutes, dissolving all norms and standards"; and the belief that "valid knowledge can be attained only through the methods of the natural sciences".156

Jumbling together scientific knowledge in the natural sciences (natural selection), scientific method in the social sciences (historical materialism), scientism and positivism in philosophy (only the natural sciences afford true knowledge) and pure capitalist ideology (social Darwinism), Schumacher "explains" capitalism as a product of false, inhuman and non-spiritual ideas. The solution then comes readily enough: to replace these false ideas with valid precepts drawn from the spiritual wisdom of Eastern religion.

This eclectic confusion is standard fare in green political thought. However, given the domination of mid to late 20th century political and economic theory by positivism (in the advanced capitalist world) and vulgar "Marxism" (in the Stalinist-ruled countries), it was inevitable that the revival of ecological thinking could only find expression in a re-emergence of idealist, even directly religious, modes of thought.

Thus in a lot of ecological thought the healthy reaction against positivism and the standard academic compartmentalisation of the sciences flows over into rejection of scientific knowledge and, in some cases, outright mysticism. The revolt against mechanistic materialism and academic specialisation which erects impassible barriers between the sciences takes the form of holism, which dissolves the real distinctions between the laws of the physical world, the laws of the animal world and the laws of social development. Revulsion from the purely instrumental attitude towards the natural world fostered by capitalism leads to the revival of nature philosophy and fantastic schemes to return human society to harmony with nature under precapitalist conditions.

This trend reaches its most theoretically developed form in the work of US eco-anarchist Murray Bookchin. Bookchin argues that the destruction of the environment is the product of domination and hierarchy in human society:

The truth is that man has produced imbalances not only in nature, but more fundamentally, in his relations with his fellow man — in the very structure of society. To state this thought more precisely: The imbalances man has produced in the natural world are caused by the imbalances he has produced in the social world.157

As long as sexism, ageism, racism and militarism continue so will the domination of nature and ecological destruction. Bookchin rejects the conventional explanations of the ecological crisis (technology, overconsumption and overpopulation) as superficial and fraught with reactionary implications. In their place, however, he sets an ahistorical theory of hierarchy, with domination playing the role of original sin. Hierarchy is the:

… cultural, traditional and psychological system of obedience and command, not merely the economic and political systems to which the terms class and State most appropriately refer … I refer to the domination of the young by the old, of women by men, of one ethnic group by another, of "masses" by bureaucrats who profess to speak in their "higher social interests", of countryside by town, and in a more subtle psychological sense, of body by mind, of spirit by a shallow instrumental rationality.158

Bookchin sets against "man"-imposed hierarchy the spontaneous and purposive evolution of ecosystems towards increasing complexity and consciousness:

The universe bears witness to an ever-striving, developing — not merely "moving" — substance, whose most dynamic and creative attribute is its ceaseless capacity for self-organisation into increasingly complex forms.159

Bookchin evades the issue of whether the various forms of class society that have arisen throughout history were necessary or not. The Marxist explanation — that they successively corresponded to and for a time promoted growth in society's productive forces — is rejected as "scientistic" and hostile to an ecological approach. Bookchin doubts that capitalism was ever progressive. Moreover, in his eyes Marxism ("blind to authority as such") shares the original sin of the Enlightenment — "the concept of `lawfulness' itself". Instead of a scientific and materialist explanation of social development Bookchin propounds a religious concept of necessity drawn from ancient Greek thought, in which "`necessity' was not merely compulsion but moral compulsion that had meaning and purpose".

Very radical though it may be in Bookchin, this idealism is typical of nearly all ecological philosophising. The problem doesn't lie in the material forces driving social and economic development, and the answer shouldn't be based on dissecting how such development comes about. Rather, the problem is to be solved by the adoption of some appropriately ecological "philosophy" (Greek or Tao or whatever) and then attempting to set up a model community according to precepts involved.

Bookchin's preferred recipe is that of an "ecocommunity" that mimics the self-sustaining character of an ecosystem. This is a:

… permanent, intimate, decentralised community of a dozen or so sisters and brothers, a family or commune as it were, who are drawn together not only by common actions and goals, but by a need to develop new libertarian social relations between themselves, to mutually educate each other, share each others' problems, and develop new, non-sexist, non-hierarchical ties as well as activities.160

How such communities, even if they could be made to last, could successfully challenge the ideological and institutional underpinnings of capitalist class power is not explained by Bookchin.

Indeed, it's typical of all the utopians that, centering their solutions on the local, ecologically harmonious community deploying appropriate technology, they are at best ambiguous on the fundamental issues of economic and political power. At worst, in Ted Trainer, not only would the market remain ("to take advantage of the indisputable merits of a free enterprise economy"), but a huge reduction in labour productivity would be acceptable, even a step forward:

… people would be involved in active physical work for much of their waking day, producing things for themselves and their communities … A tiring twelve-hour day involving ceaseless physical work on a multitude of odd jobs and creative problems in the workshop and the garden might be better described as absorbing play than as work.161

If they could ever be realised, such "conserver" societies would only recreate the social conditions that gave rise to industrial capitalism. Instead of being a progressive solution to the problems created by industrial capitalism, the local "ecotopias" favoured by Bookchin, Trainer, Schumacher and others would simply cause them to reappear.

3. Ecomysticism

In the ecological thinking of Trainer, Bookchin and even Schumacher the idealist philosophical impulse is more or less constrained by the desire to produce a hopefully feasible answer to the environmental crisis. However, despite mutual hostility, it is not a huge step from their utopianism to the more mystical outlooks of deep ecology, ecofeminism and Gaia — "ecophilosophical" worldviews capable at best of becoming cults.

In all these outlooks the rejection of the mechanical materialism of the 17th century (the philosophical expression of rising capitalism) takes the form of reversions to nature idolatry, paganism, shamanism and animism. The core ecological insight — of the complex, web-like interrelatedness of all things animate and inanimate — becomes converted, not into a more sophisticated and dialectical scientific outlook, but into outright mysticism.

The most theoretical exponent of this trend is physicist and New Age irrationalist Fritjof Capra. In The Turning Point, beginning with the standard "ecological" polemic against the "Cartesian-Newtonian paradigm", Capra draws on the developments in physics in the 20th century to reject a mechanistic or atomistic worldview and calls for a revival of Eastern mysticism on the grounds that Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism and Zen have traditionally held to the principle of the oneness of all things. The wisdom that Capra uncovers in these religions is primitive (that is, pre-scientific) dialectics, the reflection in the human mind of the patterns of change and development in nature. Other exponents of deep ecology seek out the same wisdom in the work of the pre-Socratic Greek philosophers.

However, the move from the undialectical materialism of the Enlightenment to ancient religions imbued with a dialectical outlook is a gigantic step backwards. Many ecological theorists date the beginning of the tragedy of the environment from this time, when humanity through science supposedly acquired the capacity to "dominate" nature on an unprecedented scale. Not only is this wrong in point of fact, but the growth of labour productivity brought about by the rise of science and technology made possible for the first time a decent life for all human beings and the possibility of humanity determining the terms on which it would live with nature.

Having opened the door to pre-scientific ways of apprehending the world, the mystical stream of ecological thought turns inevitably to those outlooks which most directly express humanity's oneness with nature. This involves a regression to prereligious modes of thought, most notably animistic and shamanistic cults, which make little or no distinction between living and non-living objects. All things were seen as living, even the Earth itself, often conceived as "Mother".

James Lovelock developed the notion in The Gaia Hypothesis that the planet itself may be a living organism, naming it Gaia (after the Greek goddess of the earth) and arguing that life on Earth constantly reproduces the meteorological and hydrological environment that underpins its existence. Apparently inanimate matter like atmospheric water vapour and trace gases are as part of Gaia's life as a lobster's exoskeleton or a cat's fur. This model, which Lovelock bases on the interaction of the biosphere, atmosphere, oceans and soil, provides the basis for many of the environment movement's arguments that respecting the health of the planet entails privileging the planet over that of any species living on it. Lovelock argues that species which have prospered have been those that have helped Gaia's self regulation, while species which pose a threat as humans currently do, are likely to be extinguished. He concludes:

I would want to stress that in no way is Gaia fragile. Gaia has withstood devastations far beyond our powers at least thirty times during the three-and-a-half billion years of her life-span. Nothing that we can do threatens her. But, of course, if we transgress in our pollutions and our forest clearance, Gaia can move to a new stable state, and one that's no longer comfortable for us. So living with Gaia is not so different from a human relationship. It is an affair of the heart as well as the head; and if we are to do it lovingly, it is something that must be renewed on a daily basis if it is to succeed.162

While Lovelock states that "I never envisaged Gaia in any sense as a sentient being, a substitute for God" and doesn't attribute intelligence to Gaia, many of his followers do. Gaianism lends itself to New Age mysticism, including paganism, to deep ecology and the "bioethic" which calls for respect and reverence for nature`s intrinsic rights and worth, privileging these rights over human rights or needs.

The Earth mother aspect of Gaia is central to ecofeminism, which contrasts the "masculine" desire to exploit nature through science with the "feminine" values embodied in many ancient cults. Ecofeminism equates the ongoing domination of nature by men with the ongoing domination of women, arguing that they are systemically related. Some ecofeminists take this to the level of intuition — that because of the shared exploitation and domination by men, women and nature share a common understanding of that exploitation in some mystical relationship. Women become the "voice" of nature, usually based on their capacity to give birth and nurture, as in many mythologies predating the rise of class society.

These three viewpoints theorise their outlook as "ecocentrism". This standpoint, which prioritises non-human nature and at least places it on a par with humanity, is contrasted to that of "anthropomorphism" (human-centredness), supposedly guilty, even in its most environmentally conscious versions, of fostering the domination of nature by humanity. However, ecocentrism, inasmuch as it amounts to a theory, is erected on a number of fallacies. Firstly, there is no such thing as "the standpoint of nature and other biota" independent of human perception. The very definition of nature and ecological balance is a human act, made in relation to humanity's needs.

Secondly (and ironically) all ecocentric schools of thought suffer to some degree or other from anthropomorphism. This is the inevitable concomitant of their abandoning a scientific (not scientistic) viewpoint for some variety of idealism or religion. In ecocentric theory nature, living things and ecosystems acquire human attributes, as the laws of development of the physical, natural and human worlds are conflated and confused.

Thirdly, in attacking the short-term, partial rationality of academic sciences like neo-classical economics, ecocentrism abandons any conception of rationality itself, and hence of the ability of the human species to grasp its long-term relations with the environment and so act to stabilise and nurture these through social and political action.

In the most extreme cases of deep ecology this takes such bizarre forms as Aldo Leonard's injunction to "think like a mountain", Bill Duvall's claim that we are "citizens of the biosphere", Roberick Nash's axiom that only when the question "do rocks have rights" doesn't sound ridiculous will a true ecological consciousness have arrived, and Paula Gunn Allen's intimation that "The Woman I Love is a Planet". Lastly, "ecocentrism" is bereft of means with which to understand the course of human social and intellectual development. Everything has gone wrong since humanity began to feel separate from nature, producing a 10,000-year "anthropocentric detour". According to George Sessions "the West had several decisive historical opportunities to … return to ecocentrism, but the dominant culture has not done so". The history of human civilisation has been a mistake, an "epistemological error".

Even in its less extreme versions ecocentrism's stance against anthropomorphism confuses humanism with human arrogance and megalomania towards nature. James Lovelock writes:

Our humanist solicitude towards the poor living in the impoverished suburbs of the big cities of the Third World, and our almost obscene obsession with death, suffering and pain — as if these were harmful in themselves — all these thoughts deflect our attention from the problem of our harsh and excessive domination of the natural world.163

The overall thrust of ecocentrism is conservative, especially in its most unmoderated form, deep ecology. Human desires are not more special than those of other "biota"; the world ecological system is too complex for humans to understand; the best attitude humanity can adopt is to contemplate, not change, the world.

4. The conservatives and reactionaries

Right from the start the questions and explanations advanced of the relationship between nature and the human species have provided the basis for reactionary as well as progressive political movements. During the 19th and early 20th centuries environmentalism was often considered to be a conservative, even reactionary, issue. Ecoconservatism reflects a romantic and nostalgic attachment to the rural way of life threatened by urbanism and industrialisation. It doesn't envisage any forward movement based on ideas of democracy, cooperation and ecology, but longs for a return to the pre-industrial utopia of rural life and the known security of fixed hierarchical social relations. Such a view typically focuses on the issue of conservation and attempts to preserve what is known as "the natural heritage" — forests, fields and moorlands as well as the architectural and social heritage.

The preservation of nature can even be linked to a return to the feudal past. Edward Goldsmith, Schumacher Society member and co-author of the Blueprint for Survival, has argued that an ecological society would involve the resurrection of traditional order within the family and the community and a return to a strong authoritarian state: the ideal would be the oppressive Indian caste system.164 Similar views were expressed by the right in, for example, Margaret Thatcher's 1988 "green" speech in which she described the British Conservative Party as "the guardians and trustees of the earth".

In the United States conservative environmentalism takes on the tones of robust frontier Republicanism:

A market economy does not maintain an industry simply for the sake of employing workers. When a product becomes obsolete or a resource runs dry, the economy adapts. Companies and industries have been changing or shutting down for 200 years, and workers always find new jobs — the nation is not lacking in jobs; it's a natural, necessary component of capitalism. Chopping down forests for the sake of jobs is nothing more than social welfare — not something our nation prides itself on.165

In Russia today groups like Pamyat take up issues of conservation as well as extreme Russian nationalism, racism and anti-semitism. Conservation and eco-conservatism has been linked to extreme reaction. During the Third Reich an agrarian nature philosophy was preached by Walter Darre, the Minister of Agriculture, under the slogan "Blood and Soil". Combining Nordic racialism with an idealisation of rural life Darre argued for Germans to abandon the city and return to the soil to adopt a peasant existence. Darre advocated organic farming and eugenics as essential features of a strong Germany.

Rapid industrialisation in Nazi Germany also created a strong back-to-the-land movement particularly among students and young people. The German Youth Movement developed out of the "Wandervoegel" — bands of German students who returned to nature through a mystical experience of the forests and mountains in a romantic escape from the alienation of urban life. Ecofascist movements today combine back-to-naturism with aspects of the Mother Earth worship. Earth First!, part of the deep ecology movement, contains many elements that underlie such reactionary positions. Arguing that people are the problem, Earth Firsters call themselves tribalists, practicing the totemism and ritual of tribal society. This is based on a warrior cult of certain American Indian tribes who conceive non-human species as kindred "peoples" and through rituals of inclusion, extend the community of common concern beyond human beings. They see themselves at war with modernity and practice acts of sabotage (ecotage) against any encroachment on wilderness areas.

Human society's very existence is challenged, almost on an original sin basis, by these deep ecologists. Some quite fascist and racist positions have been explicitly advanced by leading proponents like Dave Foreman, who outlines the view that famines are nature's population control and that humanitarian and food aid should be withheld from starving populations, and Christopher Manes, who sees the HIV/AIDS virus itself as desirable as a means of population control and destruction of urban life and whose central slogan is "Back to the Pleistocene!". This fits into the Earth First! apocalyptic belief that industrial society must collapse under its own unsustainable weight. If enough of the species survive then evolution will resume its natural course: if humans survive they will have the opportunity to re-establish tribal ways of living in balance with nature.

The strand of ecofeminism that practices similar pagan rituals (including witchcraft) and espouses Earth goddess beliefs also propounds the view that there is an inherent male-female difference. This in turn reinforces a biological determinist explanation of women's oppression, and sanctifies motherhood and the creativity of birth. The elevation of gender difference also reinforces those reactionary theories, which have traditionally justified an inferior and subordinate role for women, as in fascism's church, children and kitchen philosophy.

5. Their common features

What most of these diverse ecopolitical strands have in common is a strategy based on educating the individual and setting examples, whether by the ecotage of Earth First! or the ecocommunities of green anarchism. In that sense all are romantic reactions to the existing capitalist system and all fail to grasp how its institutions and power structures stand in the way of realising an environmentally benign and socially just society.

Because of this romanticism, all tend to hark backwards for a model of such a society, in a past free of the horrors of today's ecocide. This requires a denial of contemporary social and ecological reality, which is particularly marked in the whole range of ecocentrism — even in those who reject the extremes of deep ecology. Having objected to modernity and the Enlightenment on the grounds that these led to the notion of nature as simply material for exploitation by humanity, the ecocentrics now invert this relation. Nature is privileged over the human species. Nature becomes too complex for humans to understand. Humans may be considered part of nature but their desires are not to be privileged.

The root flaw in the ecocentric argument lies in the confusion of the environmental crisis with humanity's domination of nature. The "domination of nature" is not responsible for environmental problems. Rather, the very presence of these problems proves the inadequacy and partial nature of that "domination" that is inevitable under capitalism. To end the ecological crisis will require more "domination", that is, more conscious, collective and democratic control by humans of their relationship with the natural world, but one based on a profound grasp of the complex interrelatedness of the "web of life".

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