22 thoughts on “A Plea to Paul Kingsnorth: Don’t withdraw; re-draw. Join us in Rio.

  1. Great piece, Nathan! I read the article as well and you nicely sum up my own thoughts about not giving up! May be the utilitarian approach to nature is misguided — even if there weren’t any looming environmental disasters we’d still have to cherish and respect nature. So instead of retiring from the environmental movement, we need to bring that notion back to the heart of the fight. Thanks for bringing this up =)

  2. Thanks for reading the piece. I don’t believe you’ve read it correctly, but I’m glad people are engaging with it. The response has been huge and diverse. It’s important to talk about this stuff.

    I appreciate your plea, but will respond quite simply. I won’t be coming to Rio, no. For two reasons.

    One: nothing of any worth will happen there. And two: I could only get there by using up about 30 years worth of carbon emissions. Will you be flying? I wonder how much of the planet’s resources will be eaten up by this one talking shop alone.

    I’m afraid I think that everyone’s energies would be better spent staying at home, working in and engaging with their landscapes and communities, rather than in boosting greenhouse gas emissions to attend another talking shop which will do nothing but make them feel better about themselves.

    I remember the first Earth Summit, in 1992. The ensuing twenty years tell the story better than I ever could.

  3. Incidentally – and I should have added this the first time around – I spent many years in those alternative summits, ‘talking with peasant farmers and indigenous groups about how to best resist the commodification of nature.’ I wrote a book about it, in fact: a book which you’ve clearly not read, or you’d understand the issues better. But it may have been before your time.


    My guess is that in five years, your perspective will be very different. In the meantime, I can already suck eggs, thanks ;-)

  4. My response to this article is different from Nathan’s although parallel to it in many ways. I, as well, share some of the consternation and disappointment that Paul writes about in his article. I, as well, care and worry about what we could call the “natural world” and its gradual degradation in recent times. Nonetheless, I worry as well about some of the lines I find in Paul’s article, I read and re-read them to try to make sense of what he writes about but I simply cannot. I honestly would like to understand what he meant by these lines.

    Paul writes: “saving nature from people. Preventing the destruction of beauty and brilliance, speaking up for the small and the overlooked and the things that could not speak for themselves”. Yes, I agree with him. However, didn’t he just write that humans and nature are part of the same set? Shouldn’t we try to change the discourse and talk about how to save both people and nature since we are according to Paul –and I agree with him– both the same?

    “[Sustainable development] means sustaining human civilisation at the comfort level that the world’s rich people—us—feel is their right” No. I am Mexican and I can tell you that sustainable development is about many things, it is about recognising the basic rights of the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico that Paul mentioned in his article. So that these people are able to preserve their environment, their culture and their traditions. Saving the environment, that which Paul so emphatically refers to as “the nonhuman”, which for me still represents a basic contradiction. I disagree with understanding humans and nature as a dichotomy while we should be trying to understand both together, humans are an inevitable part of nature. Maybe from Paul’s position of a rich white male he thinks that social justice, equality and human development are just caprices of the other poor countries. Well I do not, I as a Mexican want to say that these things which people talking about sustaining development worry so much about are not eccentric desires but fundamental human rights which are intrinsically connected to the conservation of the environment. So, I disagree, the poor countries want these caprices such as education and healthcare, and yes they are connected to our desire to protect the environment.

    Paul also writes: “The success of environmentalism has been total—at the price of its soul.”Aren’t all movement always changing? Isn’t it a law of nature that everything is always in the process of becoming something else? Isn’t it important that movements evolve and adapt to its circumstances? Why is it so terrible that a movement changes its goals and means? And finally what is the “soul of this movement”?

    Paul argues: “If “sustainability” is about anything, it is about carbon.” No, at least not for everyone. Sustainability, amongst many things, is about my country, Mexico. Sustainability is about the poverty that forces people to abandon their way of living to go to the city –where 20% of the population lives in–, it’s about the lack of education in the vast majority of the population, who uneducated are also unable to defend their land, their rights and their way of living. No, sustainability is not about carbon but it is not either about the “essence” of a movement” that happened some decades ago. Sustainability is about many things –not to say that I do not sympathise with some of Paul’s critiques of current movement of sustainability– but it is simply that I think that saying that the enormous effort of so many people all over the world is just about carbon is an insult to these people and an absurd oversimplification of the world’s problems.

    Paul continues: “Suddenly, people like me, talking about birch trees and hilltops and sunsets, were politely, or less politely, elbowed to one side by people who were bringing a “class analysis” to green politics.” “Class analysis”? Yes Paul, I believe a smart man like you could not deny that social classes and their implications are a crucial part of the problem, perhaps not for you in a comfortable house in New England but for the poor people, for us, the things are quite different. Have you read the news recently Paul? Have you noticed the 60,000 people killed in the last 6 years in Mexico? Do you honestly think that we Mexicans have at the top of our priorities to save the birds while we are not even able to save our own children. I am sure you didn’t mean to undermine these alarming social issues all over the world with your article but to me it feels a lot like that. For me both things are crucial, the environment and our society.

    “Now it seemed that environmentalism was not about wildness or ecocentrism or the other-than-human world and our relationship to it. Instead it was about (human) social justice and (human) equality and (human) progress and ensuring that all these things could be realized without degrading the (human) resource base that we used to call nature back when we were being naïve and problematic.” As have mentioned already, social justice, equality and progress are not bourgeoise caprices but fundamental rights that ought to be recognised in order for us to be able to effectively protect the environment. Finally, I write these lines not to say that Paul’s article is wrong, as I said at the beginning I agree with him and Nathan in that we all care and worry about the environment. In fact, I respect and admire Paul’s work but I simply feel that another point of view oughts to be presented in this discussion.

  5. Hi Paul,

    I do realise you have “been there, done that” so to speak, and have a far greater arsenal of experience than myself. But you were born in 72, the year of Stockholm, and there are people older and wiser than you who you’re also throwing out. Kumar Satish, for one. Maybe I’ll get round to reading “One No Many Yeses” soon – but it might lead to further disappointment, no matter how well you write. A comment on amazon jumped out: “I closed this book with a strong commitment to get off my backside and do more to give hope to others.” Reading One No after reading Confessions, I think, would be like drinking lemon juice and milk. In the meantime, if you could tell me more specifically what issues I am not understanding (in the way you think they should be understood) it would be appreciated.

    As I said in the post, none of us have yet reached the point of delusion where we think the UN will produce anything to even slightly alter our current course for the better. That’s not the same thing as nothing of any worth whatsoever happening in Rio. We’re students, and so place value in learning. The Rio circus will be a good place to learn, no? I was just talking to a friend about the international youth climate movement (sorry there is no way to phrase it that is less offensive to your sensibilities) and he pointed out how important our presence has been for building local climate movements which then create change using the tools of politics and policy.

    We do shape, engage and love our community here on Mount Desert Island, but surely as somebody who has traveled widely you won’t begrudge us this opportunity to visit Brazil. For us, Rio is not going to make us “feel good about ourselves” as you seem to think. Though most of us couldn’t walk yet when the first Earth Summit was held, we know the history and we know the present. The past 20 years tells A story, but I find a different moral in it that you seem to. So they made Agenda 21 and the Rio Declaration and the world carried on the ecocide, homicide, and suicide. For being ignored, is Agenda 21 a bad thing? I don’t think so, but even if it were, wouldn’t that then lead us to want to go to prevent something similar?

    Of course we will be flying. I’m actually from Belfast, so simply being at College of the Atlantic makes my C02 footprint sickeningly large. You’re right; of course we should always acknowledge the impact we’re having. Though I’m more used to hearing those sadly ironic emissions observations that always arise around international environmental diplomacy from angry SUV driving anti-environmental legislation conservatives than from “ex-environmentalists.” At best, I hear it used as an excuse for people to shut themselves off from the public sphere, and take swipes at people who have not given up the ghost. And of course I could ask you how many trees were felled to print your books, but I won’t because it wouldn’t make sense – your book has (I say, without having read it) an important message.

    Look, we’re not as naïve as you insist. The world isn’t going to get saved. We question the very notion of salvation—“from what and to what could this infinite whirl be saved” after all? But we also know that the world will be watching in a way it doesn’t normally and we’re trying to use that window to create a scene, challenge everything that is being done in our name, and make room for meaningful (if incomplete) action. Personally I find it insulting that you deem this process useless and naïve. We’re still finding ourselves and our voice, and you can hear it in Montreal now, the whispers, you could hear it in Durban. The process of finding the spot we want to engage with and protect should not be belittled or defamed. It’s nice that with experience and age you’ve found your spot but as young people with boiling blood we’re not quite ready to retire.

    You can give up on us, that’s fine. But we long ago gave up on anybody doing anything for us. So yes, we’ll see how things are in five years – not just for me but for yourself too. Till then, you can keep your eggs.


  6. Uhm, so Paul, you swam all the way to Chile and back a few months ago? Well done! Hope you had a nice holiday :-)

  7. Nathan – thanks for responding. At least you had the guts to do that.

    Everyone is going through a process, you and me included. I can understand why the young and fiery enjoy accusing everyone who doesn’t support their world-changing agenda as ‘giving up.’ I’ve done a lot of that myself too. It is great fun. But I’m not giving up. I’m just getting real. That is the beginning of a new search, not just the end of an old one. You only get to the truth by stripping away the lies, including those you tell to yourself.

    It’s been a great surprise to me how much support I’ve had from environmental campaigners over this article. Many people can see which way the wind is blowing. I hope Rio inspires you, genuinely. We all need inspiration. But don’t confuse inspiration with practical possibilities, or dreams with realism. As it happens I haven’t found my spot; there is no spot for anyone honest. And that honesty – real honesty, about your own motivations and impacts – is essential, I believe.

    I find that people need to be in a certain place to understand what I’m saying here, and what we at Dark Mountain are saying. You may get to that place one day, or you may not. There’s no reason you should or should have to. But in the meantime, don’t patronise those who take a different tack to yours – especially when, as you admit yourself, you can’t understand the points they are making, or why they are really making them.

    Annie – Yes indeed, I flew to Chile, though it’s not something I will be doing again. But I didn’t do so in order to ‘save the world’, or to pretend to. It is impossible to justify an environmentalism that involves a lot of flying and a lot of use of tech. This dichotomy – which so many greens can find so many clever excuses for – was one thing that made me realise that current forms of environmentalism could never work. You want to reduce our impact but you can’t give up planes or laptops? Come on. I flew a lot to write my first book and I couldn’t, in the end, justify it to myself. But there is much we can’t justify to ourselves, isn’t there?

    Pablo – this article is really about Western environmentalism; the kind I have grown up with and worked in and campaigned for. I know things are very different in Mexico. I’ve spent a little time there and I know something about what is going on there now from the news over here. I don’t expect this article to be greatly relevant to many people there, for sure. They have more pressing priorities. But then that’s true for most people here too, which is why the Earth is screwed.

    As for the class analysis – of course I know what’s going on. You need to understand the green debates in the West to really get what I’m saying, I suspect. It is quite specific.

    Incidentally, I’m not ‘rich’, and I don’t have a ‘comfortable house in New England.’ I don’t live in New England. These assumptions say more about you than me; as, indeed, do Nathan’s attempts to dismiss me as ‘white and middle class’, which for some reason he seems to believe is an insult. Oddly, as he shares the same characteristics.

    I’m sorry if I sound patronising: but it’s a response to being patronised. I’m not greatly interested in having a fight here. I understand that people are feeling defensive. But I don’t apologise for that. I know this writing has made a lot of people think, and some act, which I count as a success.

  8. Paul, you are a dick (can I say that?) and I will say much more when I calm down and recover from your patronizing, self-righteous, conservative, parochial bullshit…

  9. I’d like to apologize to Nathan and his readers for my colourful outburst above. There is no excuse other than to say I’m Scottish and not as eloquent or articulate as the Irish :-)

    Although I’m far from being an expert on ecology, I have a good enough understanding to recognize that there are arguments on both sides as to whether or not it is too late to ‘save the Earth’. Nor would I begin try and convince Mr Kingsnorth, who appears to make a living out of promoting how futile it is to even try and save it, that he is wrong.

    However, is it so unreasonable for people to stand up and say, ‘No, I refuse to accept this. It is morally wrong.’, especially young people who have inherited this mess and who desperately want to break this cycle of damage and destruction that is escalating out of control? Is it just and right to patronize and berate them when they are trying to expose how dangerous industrial activity decimates huge tracks of land, wildlife and communities with pollution, contaminated water, escalating cancer rates, increased suicide (especially amongst young people), drug addiction…?

    To accuse them of not being personally accountable and contributing to this destruction by attending the Earth Summit, while his own carbon footprint is beyond hefty, comes across as nothing more than hypocritical garbage. As I’ve already pointed out, they have ‘inherited’ this dirty, polluting technology. However, there is ‘good purpose’ in getting out there and doing their utmost to change the legacy for themselves and future generations – they’re not swanning off on a jolly holiday!

    Whether they succeed or not, only time will tell. And if they don’t, well, it won’t because they were prancing about some festival telling each other wee stories…

    1. Ok, I’m going to bite, even though it is a waste of time.

      Firstly, Annie, if I’m being patronising, it’s in response to a deeply patronising article, which misunderstands the point of the original piece I wrote, and misrepresents me. As do you.

      Secondly, if you knew anything at all about the work I and Dark Mountain (which involves many thousands of people all over the world, most of them activists and morally committed people) were doing, you would know it is nothing to do with ‘giving up’ and everything to do with ‘getting real.’ Mainstream environmentalism has utterly failed, and Rio plus 20 is a bad joke. Most people who have been working on these issues for any time know this very well. It is not brave or radical or noble to keep flogging this dead horse: it is a waste of time and energy, and ‘the Earth’ is not going to be any better for it. Possibly it may even be worse.

      Does that mean that I and many others are ‘giving up?’ On a pointless process, informed by dodgy politics and an unworkable worldview: yes. On life, on Earth, on nature: no. Obviously. As you would know if you had bothered to engage with anything DM has been doing. We’re not about ‘futility.’ Quite the opposite. What is futile is carrying on lying to ourselves about what is possible.

      What then becomes worthwhile is a matter of judgement and opinion. I think crap like Rio is a waste of time – and carbon. It strengthens the system that is ravaging the Earth, and it diverts good peoples’ energy into something which will ultimately depress them and probably cause them to give up hope. We’re trying to work out what it still makes sense to do, given the age of collapse and breakdown we are entering into, unavoidably now.

      If you can’t even read words like that without exploding, or insulting people, or mischaracterising them, that’s your problem. Many of us, including me, stood up and said ‘no, this is morally wrong’ many years ago (that was half the point of the original article, ffs!) and we stand by that. If you want to call us ‘conservative’ – as if that were an insult – well, you do what you like. Silly name calling never changed the world.

      There are many things still worth doing. One of them, but not the only one, is questioning the stories that got us here, and trying to dig deep into our narrative of progress. The ‘we haven’t got time for that, we’ve got to lobby politicians’ attitude is not progressive or brave, it’s ridiculous.

      If you want to characterise this as ‘prancing about at a festival telling wee stories’, then that’s your loss. Many engaged, moral and deeply committed people disagree with you strongly. All I’d say is that those words sound like a damn good description of Rio +20 to me.

  10. Annie – you haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about. Try educating yourself about peoples’ work before you spray bile at them. You are wasting your time and mine.

  11. Hi Paul,

    First of all, thank you for responding to my comment. I did not attempt to sound patronising in my comment, I really did not in case I did. I understand that you have a lot of experience with environmental issues. I wrote this response only because I wanted to express an opinion I needed to share with the others about my specific reading of this article.

    You are right in saying that I wrongly assumed you were rich, although I still think you are without doubts a very privilege person, which I don not think as being wrong of course. I also think, as you appropriately pointed out, that some comments in your article mainly refer to a specific type of environmentalism and cannot be applied to other regions as easily.

    I am honestly glad to know that you are familiar with the problems we face in Mexico at the moment. Sometimes it is surprising for me to realise how many people ignore the reality of my country. It was an honest question that one which I wrote in my other response.

    Finally, I would greatly appreciate to undertand what is that which I ignore about the green debates in the West. Could you maybe give me an example ? Obviously I would like to understand this issue, and if an experienced person like you could show to me what I ignore about this debates, I would be very grateful.

  12. Hi Pablo,

    Thanks. I think this is a discussion which would work very well if we actually met each other! Not so good online.

    I am certainly privileged in global terms, you’re quite right. I have spent some time in Chiapas and Oaxaca, though not for many years, so I have a little knowledge about the situations there. And I follow what is happening in the news with the terrible drug wars in Mexico. In these situations, the kind of ‘environmentalism’ I’ve been taking about – which is really the development of the ‘green’ movement in the West over the last forty years, might not be very relevant to you at all. I don’t think you’re ignoring anything, by the way, I think you’d just have to have been involved to understand the nuance – just as I would have to understand Mexico much better to be able to make any useful comments on it.

    That said, as you say, Mexico faces the same environmental issues as many other places – deforestation, land grabbing, overdevelopment. I was struck in Chiapas by how the EZLN merged ‘environmental’ with ‘social’ issues, rather than separating them out, and that they did this because they were small communities tied to the land and so they needed to. Much environmentalism in the west is the product of the concerns of urban, landless people – like me. I think that may be part of the problem.

    For me, Western environmentalism has been captured by the special interests it once opposed – the growth lobby, the technology lobby and the unquestioning promoters of a very specific model of ‘progress.’ I don’t have much hope for its future. What hope I do have actually comes from seeing what is happening in some other, less developed countries, like India and perhaps Mexico, where it might still be possible to meet peoples’ needs without going down the disastrous path we went down in the West.

    Thanks for talking about it.

  13. Yes, you’re right, Mr Kingsnorth. I was very rude and I apologize (see us uneducated, working class Scots, what are we like?!) You’re also right regarding my knowledge of the work you do at DM. I did try very hard to ‘educate’ myself and ‘get real’ by reading as much as I could ‘on line’. Unfortunately, I’m very poor, ‘relatively’ speaking, and so couldn’t afford to buy the books or the festival tickets (I did peak over the fence at the mini festival you had at Wiston Lodge; my! what a LOT of cars!) So perhaps I have misinterpreted ‘exactly’ what your game, sorry, ‘narrative’ is. I’m assuming by ‘narrative’ you mean ‘ideology’ ie the stories we internalize from the dominant culture in which we live? I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong.

    However, I still don’t believe that Nathan, in his very articulate, thought provoking article, patronized you in any way and did not deserve your own (initial) patronizing, hypocritical response. I also felt very strongly that you misrepresented HIM by tweeting that ‘Rio’ was ‘begging’ you to attend! I mean, seriously, in the great scheme of things, you’re hardly THAT important :-)

    I believe that young people, such as Nathan and Pablo, have their own ‘stories’ to tell and that is why they should be encouraged to attend the Earth Summit. It is perfectly obvious that they both have a firm grasp of how close the World is to imploding and are more than capable of defining/debating the history of ecocide and genocide and the consequence to future generations if we don’t ‘get real’ – to a WORLDWIDE audience! Even if they don’t succeed this time, or the time after that, if the proverbial does eventually hit the fan and enough of humanity survive to tell the tale, I’m betting more survivors will have heard their story than yours.

  14. No, Mr Kingsworth, I’m a mother… and I can spot, uhm, er, charlatans from a mile off (we are blessed with excellent, in built, radar bullshit detectors :-)

    ‘O wad some Power the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as ithers see us!’ (Robert Burns)

  15. A high horse is such a fun thing to ride, isn’t it Annie? Enjoy galloping through the glens.

    Pot and kettle springs to mind, Mr KingsNORTH… but at least I’ve got your number (figuratively speaking). Keep on plugging the books!

  16. Hi Paul,

    I appreciate your comments, and I would like to keep talking about some of these ideas.
    Keeping in mind India or Mexico as possible country models (in some aspects) to think about the environment certainly seems worth exploring.

    By the way, tomorrow I happen to be visiting some friends in London where I would stay for a couple of weeks before going back to Mexico. If you perhaps find yourself in London we could continue this chat –in even better terms as you mentioned– if we actually have tea and talk about it.

    I would be keen on meeting up and talk, I would like to hear some of your stories and experiences with these issues and others as well.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.