From “Infrastructure, the Environment and Strategic Ecodefense,” reprinted from Root Force: Demolishing Colonialism at its Foundation.
The environmental movement has a long and successful tradition of opposing new infrastructure projects such as highways, mines and power plants. In addition to the many reasons that we are used to opposing such infrastructure, another now presents itself: infrastructure is an essential precursor to all forms of industrial ecocide. Shut it down, and we shut down the whole killing machine.
As our planet’s crisis worsens and climate experts warn that we have only decades to stop all human emission of greenhouse gases, infrastructure provides a strategic target on which to focus our organizing efforts.
Direct Ecological Impacts
The word “infrastructure” describes the physical basis of an economy — the transportation, electrical and communications networks required for the extraction and movement of resources. Specific examples of infrastructure include highways, railways, ports, dams, mines, oil and gas pipelines, power plants, power lines and telecommunications cables. Until this groundwork is laid, industrial production is simply impossible.
Environmentalists are used to opposing infrastructure projects for their myriad and damaging effects on regional ecologies. These impacts are too numerous to list here, but include dams’ destruction of river ecosystems and flooding of other habitats; the inevitable toxic spills that results from petroleum extraction and transport; the air and water contamination caused by coal mining and burning; and the habitat fragmentation and destruction caused by highways and rail lines.
Genocide and Biopiracy
Infrastructure projects also facilitate increased exploitation of formerly undisturbed ecologies and surviving indigenous cultures. Once roads or power lines have been punched into these territories, the way is cleared to log, mine or otherwise exploit them, including efforts to privatize the water that all life depends and the genetic code that form its foundation.
In addition to directly dislocating indigenous people by means of land seizures and flooding, these projects also open native communities to assault by colonizing influences like missionaries and, just as importantly, state armies. Infrastructure projects form the vanguard of genocidal efforts around the world.
Beyond the importance of defending indigenous people and cultures for their own sakes, such cultures also provide the Earth’s first and often most effective line of defense. People who depend upon the land for their survival are those most likely to fight to defend it, a historical pattern that holds true to this day. It is no coincidence that when planning a new and destructive project, a government’s first action is often to remove any remaining indigenous communities from the area. Ecocide and genocide go hand in hand.
It’s also worth noting that indigenous cultures are among the primary guardians of a rapidly vanishing body of knowledge on sustainable ways of living on the Earth. If our species is to have any long-term future, this knowledge must be defended, cultivated and spread, not destroyed.
Infrastructure projects are among the world’s major sources of greenhouse gas emissions. This is obvious for some projects, such as oil fields, coal plants and gas pipelines. It is also well-documented that the construction of new ports and highways actually leads to increases in traffic, rather than relieving existing congestion or bottlenecks. This means that the more highways there are, the more people drive; the more airports, the more they fly; more sea ports, more shipping.
Even many so-called “alternative” energy sources are major greenhouse gas emitters. Dams in tropical regions, for example, may give off 40 times the greenhouses gas of an equivalent coal plant. Nuclear, wind, solar and other sources simply lead to massive greenhouse gas emissions earlier in the power generating process, when the uranium, copper, silicon or other critical materials are mined, manufactured and transported.
For more information, see Root Force’s fact sheet “Beyond Carbon: Derailing the Infrastructure of Global Warming.”
Enabling Unsustainable Consumption
At the heart of an anti-infrastructure ecodefense strategy, however, is the recognition that infrastructure is a primary enabler of the economic system that is killing the planet.
Mass extinction is driven by a global economic system that serves the First World. Even the most destructive trends in the Third World — from dirty industry to deforestation and poaching — are almost entirely driven by demand from the First World, coupled with attempts by some to emulate an unsustainable First World lifestyle.
It has become popular to point out that the US produces nearly a quarter of the planet’s greenhouse gases. How far would that statistic be adjusted upward if we included emissions generated in other countries to produce products for export to the US?
First World economies depend on imports to keep functioning, because they simply cannot produce enough domestically to meet their disproportionate consumption rates. This creates something of a paradox: a massive influx of new resources is needed to facilitate the continued extraction of yet more resources! Without a steady stream of cheap labor and raw materials from around the world, the lights would go out, the factories would shut down and the system would collapse.
This dependence on imports will only worsen in coming years, as resources continue to run out and consumption continues to increase. The good new is, existing infrastructure is insufficient for the trade volume already coming in. That’s why expanding “international trade infrastructure” is one of the top priorities for business and political leaders around the world. Prevent this expansion, and we are undermining the foundations of the whole system that is killing the planet.
Reform is Not Enough
The Earth will not be saved by half-measures. The point at which we could have simply reformed our industrial economy has long since passed.
Take global warming as an example: all the high-tech “alternative energies” thus far proposed depend on the smooth functioning of a highly industrial system based at its core on fossil fuels. Even our food is brought to us on a sea of oil: from the fertilizers, pesticides and machinery used on the farms to the trucks that bring the food to the stores! Then there’s the refrigeration used to keep the food fresh, and of course all the fossil fuels burned to manufacture every machine or chemical that was used in every phase of that process….
Every aspect of modern production and trade is so dependent on fossil fuels that there is simply no way to shift to a hypothetical alternative fuel, not on the time scale we’re faced with. Only a massive scaling back of our industrial society can avert climate catastrophe.
This is true with whatever measure of ecological destruction we wish to examine. We cannot have both a living planet and a global economic system based on the importation of resources.
The good news is that there are as many sustainable ways to live on this Earth as there are indigenous cultures that have ever existed. Learning these ways is a critical part of creating an ecologically sane world. In addition to derailing the runaway train of industrial civilization, we must rise to the challenge of reconnecting with our own bioregions, with the plants, animals and seasons of the places we live.
And when we have finally relearned just how much the Earth provides for those who treat it with respect, we will realize that we never needed this system at all.