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Down and Drought: An Interview with John Zerzan
With a state of emergency called for in California due to severe drought, it is clear to many that the rate of climate change is steadily increasing throughout the globe. We caught up with John Zerzan, long-time green anarchist writer and theorist to pick his brain about what's happening with the drought, industrial civilization, Google buses, and possibilities of bringing it all down.
FW: The Governor of California recently declared a state of emergency due to a severe drought while at the same time asking people to conserve their water usage. For many, this came as a shock. To others, it was simply another sign of an industrial system that needs to be dismantled. What are your thoughts?
JZ: The extremes of weather, including melting arctic ice and glaciers, and temperature records being broken all over the planet, are as much a function of civilization’s self-destruction as the mass extinction also underway. If the whole domestication-civilization-industrialization-globalization engine is not dismantled things will only get worse. In the face of this obvious development, by the way, the Left – including the anarchist Left – seems utterly clueless. No effort to grasp the depth of the situation, the nature of the overall crisis.
I think it isn’t just the drought, which of course has gripped more of the West than just California. There were drenching rains in northern California earlier this month (February). Due to global disruptions e.g. to jet stream patterns we’re seeing great volatility and extremes in many places. The drought problem could become a flooding problem just as easily, apparently.
FW: From Governor Jerry Brown to Al Gore, the elites and the mainstream culture promote the idea that people’s individual choices (such as conserving water) can get us out of this crisis. How do you see this as a smokescreen?
JZ: Of course, personal consumer choices mark the official limits of facing reality. But one’s personal consumption, recycling, etc. are a rather minuscule part of the problem. Industry, including industrial agriculture, uses the vast, lion’s share of energy and water. Industrial growth is the global rule of the unitary system, which must be undone.
FW: If global climate change continues at its present pace, how will droughts and other drastic changes in weather continue?
JZ: The drastic changes can only worsen as the climate, in several respects, gets more disruptive. Industrialism isn’t slowing down as all countries in the world system are forced to play the game, compete in the global, metastasizing energy/growth competition. Who is it that points to a qualitatively different, anti-industrial paradigm, a radically decentralized, face-to-face world?
Climate change is basically the number of factories in the world, which is always increasing, under the capitalist grow-or-die rule. Anti-pollution devices generally move the problem from one area to another. For example, smokestack cleaners often simply move the air pollution to water and soil pollution and the global over-heating continues unabated. The volatile weather also continues unabated and in fact worsens, the process tends to accelerates.
FW: Many, from back in the anti-globalization movement and before have theorized that the wars of the future may in fact be fought over water. If such trends continue do you see this to be a possibility?
JZ: Sure, Peak Water may indeed trump Peak Oil, it seems to me. Regarding the latter, in fact, the recent natural gas finds take the pressure off oil and extends the life of the petrochemical colossus. Even without this development, there is at least some basis for ‘alternative’ energy sources, but there is no substitute for water.
FW: Some counties in California have stated that they may soon have to begin trucking water in from other places. What does this say about wider industrial civilization, built on the taking of resources for cities?
JZ: Cities are obviously artificial, unsustainable creations. They exist based on their dependence on outside sources of pretty much everything. This is called trade and it must be guaranteed – which is the basic reason why civilization is, among other things, a condition of chronic war. In the age of global megalopolises it it easy to see that the dependency increases, including the dependencies on water from somewhere else.
FW: Recently in the bay area we’ve seen of a variety of militant social struggles, riots, and occupations. From battles against police murder and brutality, the occupation of universities, to the Occupy Movement. Most recently we’ve also seen a backlash against large tech companies due to their role in gentrification and the surveillance state. What do you think people can do to not only deepen these struggles but also bring to them a critique of industrial civilization?
JZ: I think that we are already seeing some of this. The anti-gentrification struggles vis-a-vis Google and Microsoft in San Francisco and Seattle also seem to have an anti-tech aspect, no? This can only deepen the struggles, I think. It isn’t hard to introduce anti-civ and anti-tech ideas into the mix, especially when the claims or promises of civilization and technology are so hollow and false. How do we account for the real scope of what we are facing? What drives the crisis and its consequences for people is not hard to see. I believe that we need to press for a more radical vision or paradigm and that means attacking the whole ensemble of oppression.
I think that all struggles need to be informed by what is truly, even minimally, radical, rather than implicitly accept the obviously ruinous course of techno-industrial life. Without this, it’s just more failed leftism that swallows all the fundamentals of what’s undermining everything.
John Zerzan is the author of many books and articles. He was part of a collective that produced the groundbreaking publication Green Anarchy, out of Eugene, Oregon, a collection of which has recently been published. John also works on the Anarchy Radio show, which you can listen to at: http://johnzerzan.net/radio/