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Excerpt from Endgame

Readiness to Act (p. 883)

From chapter "The Return of the Salmon"

The extraordinary writer and activist Aric McBay interviewed the equally extraordinary writer and activist Lierre Keith about why so many of us do not resist, and what it will take for us to achieve a critical mass of resistance.

He said, “One of my favourite quotes is something Dietrich Boenhoeffer wrote while in prison in Germany during World War II, as he awaited execution for resisting the Nazis: ‘We have spent too much time in thinking, supposing that if we weigh in advance the possibilities of any action, it will happen automatically. We have learnt, rather too late, that action comes, not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility. For you thought and action will enter on a new relationship; your thinking will be confined to your responsibilities in action.’ Radicals often like to construct imaginary models of their hypothetical utopias and sketch out the improvements they want to see in the future. But as we know, if industrial civilization doesn’t come down soon—very soon—there is no future for us. (And I’m still surprised at how determinedly oblivious even radicals can be to this simple fact. They really just don’t want to hear it.) What does it take to move people beyond mere strategizing and philosophy? How do people acquire a real ‘readiness for responsibility’?”

Lierre responded, “I think the biggest reason otherwise radical people don’t want to face the necessity of ending industrial civilization is privilege. We’re the ones reaping the benefits. We’ve sold out the rest of life on earth for convenience, creature comforts, and cheap consumer goods, and it’s appalling.

“But there’s another group of people, who don’t think their access to ice cream 24/7 is more important than life on earth. That’s good. But they’re sunk in a rational, realistic despair. What can I do about any of it? It’s all going to hell, and nothing I personally do is going to make any real difference. Why bother to take down a cell phone tower when there’s thousands more across the country? But it’s not useless to take down that cell phone tower if I know that tonight five hundred other people are doing the same thing. Now my action has meaning, impact. But radical environmentalists haven’t moved to that level of organization yet.

“I think the readiness to act is born from two sources: rage and love. And we have to have the stamina to keep loving even when what we love is being destroyed, and we have to have the courage to make that love be an action, a verb.

“I wouldn’t bother to recruit anyone who has to be coaxed into action. Focus on the people who want to act but don’t know what to do. Give them a serious plan and maybe we have a chance.”

* * *

We will have better than a chance. All it will take is a series of miracles. Nothing could be more natural than that.

* * *

A couple of days ago I witnessed a miracle. I am blessed to witness similar miracles each year at this time.

I look at a stump. I see nothing out of the ordinary. The stump is hollow, the inside rotted. The tree was cut a long time ago. Huckleberries grow inside and around it. The berries not eaten by me, birds, bears, or insects hang on the branches long into the fall. The berries slowly shrivel, and eventually drop to the ground.

It is a bright day. Warm. At first there is nothing. And then it starts, just as it starts every year. I see one ant, and then another, and then another. They are coming from the stump, they are coming from underground. They climb to the top of the stump, where they gather. More and more. It is now a stream of ants flowing out of the stump, out from underground, out from the only home they have known. Now it is a river. They all have wings. They fly. The sky shimmers with light reflecting off their wings. Birds swoop down to eat as many as they can. A spider hangs motionless in its web, resting one long leg along a strand to feel for any change in tension. The ants fly away. They do not come back. Their wings are meant for one flight only. They fall off when the ants find their new homes. Yet still they fly. I always envy their courage.

That is the miracle I witness each fall.

* * *

The world gives us so very much. It gives us our life. All of our neighbors—the ants, spiders, salmon, geese, sharks, seals, cottonwoods, chestnuts—are doing the real work of keeping this planet going. Isn’t it time we did our share?