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Excerpt from The Myth of Human Supremacy

Simple Living Activist (p. 148)

From chapter "Narcissism"

Many environmentalists are infected with this same delusional supremacism, and this same delusional valuing of what they do over what nature does. I remember years ago I was doing a Skype presentation to an audience in the northeastern United States. At one point a simple living “activist” started doing what so many simple living “activists” do, which is to dismiss organized resistance and say the only thing that matters is one’s personal carbon footprint. He said, “You write books, and that harms forests. And you fly to do talks—except this one—and that adds carbon to the air.” I said the hope, of course, is that the books or talks might have a net benefit for the real world, that the value of at least slightly changing discourse ends up helping the real world more than the harm done by these (and any other actions) within the industrial economy. He then turned it into a pissing contest regarding who had the personally smaller carbon footprint. This was a contest he couldn’t win, not only because he had four children—he called them his “four delightful little accidents,” four being two above replacement level—and was therefore ignoring the fact that having a child is the single most environmentally expensive action any industrialized human can take; but because, as I told him, every spare dime I make goes into protecting forty acres of second growth redwood, who would have been cut without my protection. And then there are the tens of thousands of acres of old growth forest I’ve played a small role (as a part of various organizations) in protecting. Because of the carbon these forests are sequestering, when I go on tour I could hire Lear jets to fly me to the various cities and chauffeured Bentleys to drive me to the events, all the while consuming appetizers of caviar served on roasted hummingbird breasts, and my carbon footprint would still be negative.He responded, and this is the whole point, “But how many of these trees did you plant yourself?”

Why do I need to plant the trees? Why is protecting a standing forest not as good as recreating a forest who has been destroyed? And why not let the forest plant trees on its own? It has been doing it in infinitely longer, and is in infinitely better at it. The forest knows far better than I do what trees it needs, and where, and when, and knows far better than I do what trees should die, and where, and when. The forest knows one has to take care of one’s own.


I’m not, of course, saying that forests can never use help from humans (or salmon, or beavers, or mosquitoes), just like I’m not saying that rivers can never use human help in removing dams. I’m simply saying two things. The first is that protecting living forests from being cut down is at least as important to forests as helping them to regenerate once they’ve been harmed (just as protecting living rivers from being dammed is at least as important to rivers as is removing dams from those already harmed). And the second is that it’s irrelevant to me whether humans or forests plant the trees, just as it’s irrelevant to me whether humans or rivers take out dams. The important thing is not and has never been human agency and control. The important thing is the health of the forest, and the health of the rivers.