Section E - What do anarchists think causes ecological problems?

Anarchists have been at the forefront of ecological thinking and the green movement for decades. Murray Bookchin in particular has placed anarchist ideas at the centre of green debate, emphasising the social nature of the ecological problems we face and arguing that humanity's domination of nature is the result of domination within humanity itself. (See, for example Toward an Ecological Society). The ecological implications of many anarchist ideas (such as decentralisation, integration of industry and agriculture, and so forth) has meant that anarchists have quickly recognised the importance of ecological movements and ideas.

Precursors of eco-anarchism can be found in Peter Kropotkin's writings. For example, in his classic work Fields, Factories and Workshops, Kropotkin argued the case for "small is beautiful" 70 years before E. F. Schumacher coined the phase. Through his investigations in geography and biology, Kropotkin discovered species to be interconnected with each other and with their environment. Mutual Aid is the classic source book on the survival value of co-operation within species, which Kropotkin regarded as the chief factor of evolution, arguing that those who claim competition is the chief factor have distorted Darwin's work. So, while a specifically "eco" anarchism did not develop until the revolutionary work done by Murray Bookchin from the 1950's onwards, anarchist theory has had a significant "proto-green" content since at least Kropotkin's time.

This section of the FAQ expands upon section D.4 ("What is the relationship between capitalism and the ecological crisis?") in which we indicated that since capitalism is based upon the principle of "growth or death," a "green" capitalism is impossible. By its very nature capitalism must expand, creating new markets, increasing production and consumption, and so invading more ecosystems, using more resources, and upsetting the interrelations and delicate balances that exist with ecosystems.

Takis Fotopoulous has argued that the main reason why the project of "greening" capitalism is just a utopian dream "lies in a fundamental contradiction that exists between the logic and dynamic of the growth economy, on the one hand, and the attempt to condition this dynamic with qualitative interests" on the other ["Development or Democracy?" , p. 82, Society and Nature No. 7, pp. 57-92]. Under capitalism, ethics, nature and humanity all have a price tag. And that price tag is god. This is understandable as every hierarchical social system requires a belief-system. Under feudalism, the belief-system came from the Church, whereas under capitalism, it pretends to come from science, whose biased practitioners (usually funded by the state and capital) are the new priesthood. Like the old priesthoods, only those members who produce "objective research" become famous and influential -- "objective research" being that which accepts the status quo as "natural" and produces what the elite want to hear (i.e. apologetics for capitalism and elite rule will always be praised as "objective" and "scientific" regardless of its actual scientific and factual content, the infamous "bell curve" and Malthus's "Law of Population" being classic examples). More importantly, capitalism needs science to be able to measure and quantify everything in order to sell it. This mathematical faith is reflected in its politics and economics, where quantity is more important than quality, where 5 votes are better than 2 votes, where $5 is better than $2. And like all religions, capitalism needs sacrifice. In the name of "free enterprise," "economic efficiency," "stability" and "growth" it sacrifices individuality, freedom, humanity, and nature for the power and profits of the few.

Besides its alliance with the ecology movement, eco-anarchism also finds allies in the feminist and peace movements, which it regards, like the ecology movement, as implying the need for anarchist principles. Thus eco-anarchists think that global competition between nation-states is responsible not only for the devouring of nature but is also the primary cause of international military tensions, as nations seek to dominate each other by military force or the threat thereof. As international competition becomes more intense and weapons of mass destruction spread, the seeds are being sown for catastrophic global warfare involving nuclear, chemical, and/or biological weapons. Because such warfare would be the ultimate ecological disaster, eco-anarchism and the peace movement are but two aspects of the same basic project. Similarly, eco-anarchists recognise that domination of nature and male domination of women have historically gone hand in hand, so that eco-feminism is yet another aspect of eco-anarchism. Since feminism, ecology, and peace are key issues of the Green movement, anarchists believe that Greens are implicitly committed to anarchism, whether they realise it or not, and hence that they should adopt anarchist principles of direct political action rather than getting bogged down in trying to elect people to state offices.

Here we discuss some of the main themes of eco-anarchism and consider a few suggestions by non-anarchists about how to protect the environment, including the false free market capitalist claim that the answer to the ecological crisis is to privatise everything, the myth that population growth is a cause of ecological problems rather than the effect of deeper root-causes, and why green consumerism is doomed to failure. The issue of electing Green Parties to power will be addressed in section J.2.4 ("Surely voting for radical parties will be effective?") and so will be ignored here, as will the question of "single-issue" campaigns (like C.N.D. and Friends of the Earth), which will be discussed in section J.1.4 ("What attitude do anarchists take to 'single-issue' campaigns?").

For anarchists, unless we resolve the underlying contradictions within society, which stem from domination, hierarchy and a capitalist economy, ecological disruption will continue and grow, putting our Earth in increasing danger. We need to resist the system and create new values based on quality, not quantity. We must return the human factor to our alienated society before we alienate ourselves completely off the planet.

Many greens attack what they consider the "wrong ideas" of modern society, its "materialistic values" and counter-pose new ideas, more in tune with a green society. This approach, however, misses the point. Ideas and values do not "just happen", but are the product of a given set of social relationships. This means that it is not just a matter of changing our values values in a way that places humanity in harmony with nature, but also of understanding the social and structural origins of the ecological crisis. Ideas and values do need to be challenged, but unless the authoritarian social relationships, hierarchy and inequalities in power, i.e. the material base that produces these values and ideas, is also challenged and, more importantly, changed an ecological society is impossible. So unless ecologists recognise that this crisis did not develop in a social vacuum and is not the "fault" of people as people (as opposed to people in a hierarchical society), little can be done root out the systemic causes of the problems that we and the planet face.