Happy Equinox: Remembering Doug Tompkins

March 21st, 2018 - by admin

Tom Butler / The Foundation for Deep Ecology & FDE Founder Doug Tompkins – 2018-03-21 00:37:49

Special to Environmentalists Against War

Happy Equinox: Remembering Doug Tompkins
Tom Butler / The Foundation for Deep Ecology

To mark both the arrival of spring here in the Northern Hemisphere and the birthday of Douglas R. Tompkins (born on this date in 1943), it seems fitting to circulate some words from Doug. Many of us enjoyed his “rants from the southern listening post.”

Doug had seemingly boundless energy to consider perspectives on the big topics that interested him and a far-flung network of friends and activist acquaintances with which he maintained a ferocious pace of correspondence. Technology criticism was one of his keen interests over the last few decades of his life.

It took little prompting (sometimes none at all) to get an earful from Doug about this topic. In the following, lightly edited excerpt from email correspondence to an acquaintance on July 26, 2015, Doug invokes, both implicitly and explicitly, themes that he spoke about frequently including the need for ecocentric activism, a systemic critique of the presently dominant worldview, and the global extinction crisis. He even gets in a rhetorically artful comment on the aesthetics of Los Angeles, a “plague on the landscape.”

Doug Tompkins

Doug Tompkins on
Tech Optimism and the Eco-social Crisis

Elon Musk seems to be a hopeless tech optimist with all the motivations to remain one. If I thought he might have some kind of “religious experience” and understand what my old buddy Steve Jobs never could, that would be one thing and an effort there would be perhaps worth it, but this is like fishing in barren waters.

The strategy to bring guys like that around virtually doesn’t exist and would take way too much time since they are so predisposed to a high-tech approach. Sitting next to [name redacted], CEO of [globally dominant tech company] at a dinner recently in London, to even broach these ideas was fruitless; he could not grasp the notion that the techno-sphere has failed to contribute anything but an acceleration of the demise of Nature.

He was a person so conditioned to the urban and artificial environment that the reality of the eco-sphere and the immutable laws of Nature were just totally outside his realm of understanding.

Nature Deficit Disorder
There are now billions around the world who suffer from the Nature Deficit Disorder. So, what would have to take place in broad terms is creating a new generation of eco-literate people who are in the leadership of society. That is about 2-3 percent of any given society so the challenge is not like having to change the mentality of 100 percent or even a vast majority within any given culture. Change the worldview of the elites and the leadership and you are there. Not easy to do, of course, but then again no one suggests that any of this is easy. . . .

The further and further we go down the path of embracing the techno-sphere and perpetuating the dangerous worldview of human supremacy over the rest of life, the longer it will be until we return to what will eventually have to be an eco-local model of development. For the present global (and non “eco”) model that we have now is a massive failure since it has produced the biggest environmental crisis in the last 65 million years (!) and ruined the climate. If you think that is very intelligent, then we are very far apart on the suppositions, but the facts are relentless and pitiless.

The Metric of Biodiversity
In short, I do not think that anyone can understand all of this without adopting the metric of biodiversity. That is the critical and virtually unique overall measure for whether the economic and development model is indeed working and the correct one.

Once again, if the current development model is so good, how did it produce the extinction crisis, Mother of all Crises? Answer that for me, and then we can see how to proceed with an intelligent interchange of ideas.

Conversely, if you don’t think that the biodiversity crisis is the M of all C, then just what is? Bottom line, as they say, what is it that would determine the success of the development model? Because if it is not biodiversity, how would you envision a future on a dead planet?

I find this line of reasoning gets you to entirely different points of view on the notion of piling more technology on top of the poor technology that was contaminating the climate in the first place. In short, it is the technique of the techno-fixers.

A sound future can only be founded on a healthy eco-sphere with all its elements intact and flourishing. Until that key point of biodiversity/extinction crisis as first and foremost in one’s arguments and reasoning, you simply are either headed in a wrong direction or you will block yourself from being able to see the forest for the trees.

If one gets over that hump, then I have noticed that people can smoothly flow on to understanding that the development model of global megatechnologies just makes it virtually impossible to maintain healthy and abundant biodiversity given it has in no way thus far diminished the extinction rate; in fact ALL evidence points to it being the culprit that is driving the crisis.

Why? Because fundamentally, all of these megatechnologies have an “autonomous intrinsic logic” — that is, with inherent characteristics such as large scale, centrally administered and organized, high energy, the big industrial scaffolding requiring big capital, specialized and narrow knowledge experts, industrialism, military, etc. all of which go against an eco-local stable-state economy development model which is the mirror opposite to the global industrial model based on perpetual growth.

the techno-industrial system
is a dead-end street and should be
abandoned as soon as possible

Once seen in the light of “autonomous technology” (as eloquently articulated by Langdon Winner) and that given the structure of the techno-industrial growth forever model of development so popular today, you just cannot reverse the extinction crisis with modest or incremental reforms. In short, the techno-industrial system is a dead-end street and should be abandoned as soon as possible by installing a small-scale, highly local, and ecological knowledge based development model.

By following that sequence of understanding, anyone and everyone will have to confront the technological questions and deconstruct these myths of progress. Then things begin to come clear.

It is not easy to go against your preconditioned and acculturated epistemology or worldview. It cost me many years twisting and turning in the wind to really install in my own head just how the adoption of these mega-technologies shapes society, whether nuclear power, high-speed computation, television (Jerry Mander’s brilliant book, Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television takes one through the full critique of that particular technology but it more or less applies to any mega-tech), combustion engines, satellite communications, biotech, nanotech, synthetic biology, globalized corporate capitalism (which is just an economic mega-technology), etc.

Technology Is NOT Neutral
It requires a deep systemic analysis to understand how technology is NOT neutral and that the very existence of these mega-technologies will oblige society to comport itself according to the dictates of that technology whether society likes it or not, and that they are fundamentally not reformable any more than guns are reformable. Society takes on a certain character with the adoption of guns or high-tech solar panels.

Anyway, I got running on here this Sunday afternoon here in a place [Chilean Patagonia] where one does not sense the world coming apart as we see in all urbanized areas and overdeveloped places in the world.

Los Angeles basin is so altered by human development that it would take millennia to find its natural foot again, and even then nothing like its former self. Today it is an industrial wasteland, unhealthy as a place to live and to come to understand the value of Nature and the beauty of evolution. It is merely a retrogression of evolution in living color.

Overdeveloped and overshooting the carrying capacity by a thousand-fold or ten thousand-fold. Unchecked growth fueled by a development model that myopically thought that growth could go on forever and a blind faith in technology rendered what we see when we go there.

Los Angeles ended up
a plague on the landscape,
converting itself into a
massive human feed lot

The “leadership” during this last 300 years or so of Los Angeles since its tiny founding as a sleepy Mexican village just never thought about any of these things, and so it ended up a plague on the landscape, converting itself into a massive human feed lot, like a giant octopus sucking resources far from its center, digesting them, and crapping them out underneath itself.

Furthermore it is ugly, bringing zero aesthetic redemption even in the realm of human artifacts. It serves as a perfect metaphor for the mega-technological worldview. I know it is not a flattering characterization of your city, but I am just telling it as I see it, in an earnest attempt to illustrate the failure of the Enlightenment.

I will leave it at this, but you now have, at least, a certain sense of what my thinking is and perhaps it will be helpful to you.

All my best regards,
Doug T.