Upping the Stakes
A no-nonsense declaration
by Derrick Jensen
THERE ISN’T A CHANCE in hell that something like the original Wilderness Act could be passed today. Environmentalists today are too much on the defensive. Sure, there have been green platforms and policy papers, but nothing I’ve read matches the urgency of this moment. So I decided to draft a declaration. It goes like this:
We, the citizens of the United States of America, hold these truths to be self-evident: that a rapid decline in living conditions is taking place all around us; that compromise is no longer an adequate way forward (and perhaps never was); that more drastic measures must be taken immediately in order to preserve a livable planet. From these beliefs springs the following list of demands:
We demand that the United States Constitution be rewritten to explicitly prohibit the privatization of profits and the externalization of costs by the wealthy, and to immediately grant both human and nonhuman communities full legal and moral rights. Corporations should no longer be considered persons under the law. Limited liability corporations must be immediately stripped of their limited liability protection. Those whose economic activities cause great harm—including great harm to the real, physical world—should be punished. Environmental Crimes Tribunals must be immediately put in place to try those who have significantly harmed the real, physical world. These tribunals should have the force of law and should be expected to impose punishment commensurate with the harm caused to the public and to the planet.
We demand the immediate, explicit, and legally binding recognition that perpetual growth is incompatible with life on a finite planet. Economic growth must stop, and economies must begin to contract. We demand acknowledgment that if we don’t begin this contraction voluntarily, it will take place against our will, and will cause untold misery.
We demand that overconsumption and overpopulation be addressed through bold and serious measures, but not by approaches that are racist, colonialist, or misogynist. Right now, more than 50 percent of the children who are born into this world are unwanted. We demand that all children be wanted. The single most effective strategy for making certain that all children are wanted is the liberation of women. Therefore we demand that women be given absolute economic, sexual, and reproductive freedom, and that all forms of reproductive control become freely available to all.
There is consensus among the scientific community that in order to prevent catastrophic climate change beyond what the industrial economy has already set in motion, net carbon emissions must be reduced by 80 percent as soon as possible. Because we wish to continue to live on a habitable planet, we demand a carbon reduction of 20 percent of current emissions per year over the next four years.
Dwayne Andreas, former CEO of Archer Daniels Midland, has said, “There isn’t one grain of anything in the world that is sold in a free market. Not one! The only place you see a free market is in the speeches of politicians.” He’s right. Capitalism is based almost entirely on subsidies. For example, commercial fishing fleets worldwide receive more in subsidies than the entire value of their catch. Timber corporations, oil corporations, banks—all would collapse immediately without massive government subsidies and bailouts. Therefore, we demand that the United States government stop subsidizing environmentally and socially destructive activities, and shift those same subsidies into activities that restore biotic communities and that promote local self-sufficiency and vibrant local economies.
We demand an immediate and permanent halt to all extractive and destructive activities: fracking, mountaintop removal, tar sands production, nuclear power, and offshore drilling chief among them. The list of activities to be halted must also include the manufacture of photovoltaic panels, windmills, hybrid cars, and so on. We must find nondestructive ways of becoming a sustainable society.
We demand an immediate end to monocrop agriculture, one of the most destructive activities humans have ever perpetrated. All remaining native forests must be immediately and completely protected. We demand an end to clearcutting, “leave tree,” “seed tree,” “shelter tree,” and all other “even-aged management” techniques, no matter what they are called, and no matter what rationales are put forward by the timber industry and the government to justify them. Likewise, we demand that all remaining prairies and wetlands be permanently protected.
Further, we demand that all damaged lands be restored, from the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters. Because soil is the basis of terrestrial life, no activities should be allowed that destroy topsoil. All properties over sixty acres must have soil surveys performed every ten years, and if they have suffered any decrease in health or depth of topsoil, the lands shall be confiscated and ownership transferred to those who will build up soil.
We demand that no activities that draw down aquifers be allowed, and that all polluted or compromised rivers and wetlands be restored. There are more than 2 million dams in the United States, more than 60,000 dams over thirteen feet tall and more than 70,000 dams over six and a half feet tall. If we removed one of these 70,000 dams each day, it would take 200 years to get rid of them all. Salmon don’t have that much time. Sturgeon don’t have that much time. Therefore, we demand that no more dams be built, and we demand the removal of five dams per day over the next forty years, beginning one year from today.
We demand that the United States make an annual survey of all endangered species to ascertain if they are increasing in number and range, and if they are not, we demand that steps be taken to make sure that they do. The U.S. government must be charged with the task of doing whatever is necessary to make sure that there are more migratory songbirds every year than the year before, that there are more native fish every year than the year before, more native reptiles and amphibians.
The United States must immediately withdraw from NAFTA, DR-CAFTA, and other so-called free trade agreements, because these agreements cause immeasurable and irreparable harm to working people, local economies. Likewise, we demand that the United States remove all support for the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, because these organizations promote and support vast infrastructure projects such as highways, dams, thermal power projects, and mines that disrupt or destroy entire biomes and dispossess and immiserate hundreds of thousands of people (in India alone, 50 million people have been displaced by large “development” projects).
From this day forward, the only conditions under which the United States of America should go to war is by a direct vote of more than 50 percent of U.S. citizens. Furthermore, we demand immediate closure of all U.S. military bases on foreign soil. All U.S. military personnel should be brought home within two years. The U.S. military budget must be reduced by 20 percent per year, until it reaches 20 percent of its current size. This will provide the “peace dividend” politicians promised us back when the Soviet Union collapsed, will balance the U.S. budget, and will more than pay for all necessary domestic programs, starting with biome repair and including food, shelter, and medical care for all.
In addition to the aforementioned, we demand that the U.S. government itself undergo a significant transformation in recognition of the fact that it can only be of, by, and for the people if it is concurrently of, by, and for the earth. And no, the fact that the animals and plants and natural communities don’t speak English is not a valid excuse for failing to provide for their well-being.
Once these demands have been met, we will come up with more, and then more, until we are living in a sane, just, and sustainable culture. We believe that such a culture is our birthright, both as human beings with inalienable rights and as animals who love our home. We have not forgotten that the Declaration of Independence states that when a government becomes destructive of our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.