Nukes and the Abandonment of Traditions
by Jan Lundberg
In traditional cultures that cared for the land, all people enjoyed generation after generation of living reasonably, if not perfectly or with fabulous wealth. Food was grown locally, as were plant medicines and materials for clothing and shelter. Some big trees were left standing, taken only occasionally for a long-lasting community purpose such as a dugout canoe — not for one person’s private patio.
This time-honored way of living did not see freeways or nuclear power stations take over the landscape and pollute the air and water, or change the way people related to each other or to the land.
But as Western Civilization advanced, the notions of progress and growth took root and became major pursuits. This assured the spiral of greed and expansion that has culminated in vast projects beyond the human scale: shopping malls, port facilities for huge cargo ships, downtown skyscrapers, and industrial agriculture. And nukes. Clearly, our approach to Mother Nature is way out of control. It’s too late to compromise and thus limit ourselves to partial rape.
“Heresy” is used in the title of this manifesto so as to dramatize that anti-community, land-destroying selfish practices did not used to be tolerated. They weren’t even contemplated by those secure in their tribe that lived peacefully off pristine Nature and her bounty. (True, there was crime and murder from day one. But, for uncounted millennia, extinction was not the direction as it is today.) “Work” as we know it was a later invention accompanying the advent of mass slavery. Time was, meeting life’s necessities and thriving were always part of daily living, sharing, and caring.
This is in contrast with today’s system that is rapidly proving to be just a crock; if in doubt, just read the increasingly insane news, while thinking critically. Primitive cultures did not have a word for “work” or “free.” It took a mutation and invasion, such as of the Western Hemisphere, for the “Indians” to be shocked by the White Man’s claim of ownership of land and water and the taking of too many animals.
Rather than endlessly recount the mistakes and crimes of those who have foisted nukes, petrochemical Superfund sites, and the like on the people and our fellow species, and rather than just fight policies that allow harm to our environment or cheat citizens of their rights, some activists see the urgent need for a true culture change. They have come to view the road of industrial civilization as a tragic diversion and trap that must be questioned and terminated as soon as possible.
Today, with the worst-case-scenario “oops” at Fukushima and its multiple meltdowns, the task is to end now the terror of nuclear power and nuclear weapons, and stop the greenhouse gas assault on Earth’s climate. Increasingly the issue is “by what means.” A bloody civil war, such as in Libya’s case, is a poor option when nonviolence such as with Egypt gets the goods. We must keep in mind that the whole industrial, overgrown system is destroying itself far more effectively and rapidly than any social movement could. What we are left with when the dust settles may depend on the best direction we could manage, starting now.
Those not discussing a complete, permanent break from wasting the Earth and ending exploitation and oppression prefer a “safer” and “non-controversial” approach: keep up the technological progress and the global consumer economy, but make it all “greener.” These adherents include “activists” who are paid nonprofit professionals on good terms with government and large corporations. Overpopulation is off the table. This pleases those profiting from “endless” growth in part through an ever-increasing labor pool that cannot do collective bargaining to share in the spoils of materialism.
The movement to end nukes has to be based on understanding that we do not need the quantity of exosomatic energy [useful energy throughput outside human bodies] that we have been consuming for our conveniences, for aggressive wars, and the competition for unlimited material wealth. Understanding peak oil is also essential for a viable movement, for the days of cheap energy and petroleum’s materials and chemicals are swiftly drawing to a close. The technofix-substitutes for petroleum are simply not present or “around the corner” in a scalable quantity or level of development, when all modern infrastructure is totally oil dependent. Only decentralized, local energy use is sustainable, so we have to face petrocollapse and move onward.
To reach consensus on these principles, total community involvement is required. It isn’t citizenship to merely vote every couple of years, pay one’s taxes, and behave kindly to one and all. Jefferson and Lincoln advocated periodic revolution to assure a workable connection from government to the governed, such that the governed were really the governors. Whatever style of self-rule (e.g., tribal councils, elections of leaders accountable to the people), there cannot be a somnolent mass of uninvolved workers serving bureaucratic elitists or capitalist bosses — for long, anyhow.
The goal of a meaningful movement to save Earth’s ecosystem from industrialism and overpopulation has to start with a demand: begin shutting down nuclear power plants now, and defusing and banning all nuclear weapons. We cannot rest until this is agreed upon and pursued relentlessly. Only civil disobedience will assure, with other methods as well, the victory we need for our common survival.
What are we up against? False friends, for starters. In the U.S., when Democrats or green Independents believe the task is mostly to thwart Republicans, the fact remains that “Obama defends use of nuclear energy despite calamity in Japan” (Associated Press). Obama’s stance is so stubborn that he doesn’t even feel an impulse to close the barn door after the horse has run out.
Much of the rest of the world isn’t so stupid or corrupt: “Beijing suspends nuclear plant approvals” (South China Morning Post); “EU mulls nuclear-free future, tests on reactors” (Reuters). In Europe the people know that only massive protests will get the job done. The U.S. must do its part and understand that only the risk of arrest on the streets and occupying the halls of power will bring about change, and that elections don’t do the job.
A culture change is not just to stop nukes, when we likewise cannot allow coal-burning to continue, millions of cars needlessly moving people so inefficiently, or factory farming that destroys clean water supplies. On the lifestyle level, the personal and reckless use of disposable plastic has to be part of a successful eco-movement — even when someone engaging in such harmful waste is a tireless anti-nuke agitator. The integrated approach depends on full awareness and a sense of belonging to both humanity and Mother Earth. Just as the traditional cultures understood…
Jan Lundberg is the founder of Culture Change, and was an oil industry analyst at Lundberg Survey before joining the grassroots environmental movement in 1988. This article originally appeared on Culture Change, and is reprinted here by permission.