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The Centuries-Long History of Extractive Greed

Originally published at http://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/12/07/centuries-long-history-extractive-greed


With the ouster of Evo, I ain’t holding my breath, just my nose.

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Great piece by Josue. The works cited are also excellent.

Unfortunately, the perspective that I see among many international organizations, NGOs , think tanks, and private sector energy planners, excludes consideration of impact on indigenous communities, livelihoods, and cultures, and focuses on metrics that prioritize costs, Return on Investments, and job creation while aimed to go no further then the minimum required to address climate goals.

More disturbingly, I’ve seen an increasing embrace of what I would characterize as eco-fascism among some climate change activists. To wit, some nuclear advocates go beyond advocating that nuclear be post of the mix, to pushing for draconian measures for large corporations and government to forcibly implement a conversion to near exclusive large scale privately owned nuclear generators . Simultaneously, some are advocating for for a corporate/government alignment to forcibly- including by eminent domain-take over land for the construction of high voltage DC and strategical located large scale private generators.

Rather than an embrace of fascism, the indigenous focused strategies are a better , more just and sustainable, way forward.


This a great article and illustrates two of the underlying premises on which Western Societies , the Doctrine of Discovery and extractive Capitalism. When you scratch beneath the surface and look at these two things it becomes obvious that Capitalism is premised on mass theft. It has nothing to deal with “creating wealth” and everything to do with stealing it. It steals from the Commons (which I take to mean the entire world that we share with all of its species and not that which just relates to humankind) and it demands this theft be recognized as “private property”. The soldiers and police and courts and laws are then there to kill anyone suggesting the that which was stolen be returned.

The system is set up by criminals that claim the victims of their crimes are criminals.


Thanks for your take on it.

It seems to me the hard part of the question is continually put off, to the benefit of historic predation: How to actually stop it? Virtually all of the goals I hear articulated have to do with cutting back on emissions, as if four further decades of addressing the consumption end almost exclusively could be any more promising than the past four decades. The hard part is what I take on for all practical problems. Alternatively, if I start with what seem simpler bits, I can paint myself into a corner.

The most difficult responsibility the Climate Catastrophe poses for us: How to stop extraction? Certainly some form of collective/state/international coercion would need to be involved – I’m sorry, anyone who thinks the honor system can work at this point is putting their children at risk. There’s an unpleasant subject all around: coercion. When and how can it be moral to employ force for a commonly beneficial end? How do we responsibly dismantle the whole financial system, which is largely based on accounted (not yet extracted) fossil reserves? Implications like this frighten people away from frankly considering details of the path out of the hole we’ve dug for ourselves.

Most probably, questions like this will remain unmentionable until there’s a much wider appreciation of how quickly Earth tumbles into terra incognita.


Yes this is a great article…the takers continue to take ,what gives them a right to claim ownership of the worlds precious natural resources . As you pointed out capitalism arises from beliefs in a world view that has never been properly challenged .
These cultural myths and story’s from millennia ago continue to this day. The idea that humans have dominion over the Earth and all creatures which was interpreted as domination .
The dominant culture is therefore superior to other cultures and nature .But nothing could be further from the truth.

I didn’t really understand all this until I read the book Communion With God by Neale Donald Walsch …
Its really a book about how we got where we are today through basically following and believing in the 10 illusions of humans and how we can correct our misunderstandings . As Beliefs create Behaviours .
I will give you an example , our whole economy emerges from the two illusions , Disunity and Insufficiency . Humans believe we are separate from each other and that there is not enough to go around.


Colonialism, genocide and ecocide are not “a malevolent virus borne out of capitalism” but are built in to and necessary feature of capitalism; a system of greed, corruption, slavery and the murderous competition for hegemony to feed endless growth. Capitalism itself is the deadly virus. Indigenous cultures hold a healthier moral, social and ecological perspective but socialism, is the ultimate cure for capitalism – and I mean actual socialism that upends and replaces a class divided society and the rule of money. Combine these and you have Eco-socialism, our only avenue to survival and civilization.


Alternatives discussion from October at Pendle Hill Quaker Center from October
# Hope at the Intersection of Climate, Race, Justice, and Democracy

Observing the Constitution, ethics, history rarely discussed and spiritual integrity for well being with activists

The answer has to be a sustainable society–a regenerative society. With that accomplished, people do not have to choose between extraction and doing without.

People do fine work towards this under a whole lot of names, and I do not mean to suggest that sticking a label on one’s attempts does much towards accomplishing the transition. But your question “How to actually stop it” is so direct that I cannot responsibly avoid these details in answer. To the best of my knowledge, the best and most systemic global view of this called permaculture, though there are various other groups and individuals working on parts of a solution or on something similar under some more or less parallel set of ideas.

There remains the matter of shifting power from the abusive systems that are enormous and violent–not a small problem. But it seems to me that as we need a good bit of an alternative system in place before people will give up supporting their masters, and the worst of their own designs.

Kudos to the author for a perceptive piece. That word extractive pinpoints a key matter, and the matter of indigenous liberation indeed bears an interesting relationship to that. I doubt that we can manage to do much more than open the topic here, but I would be interested in knowing something about what de Luna Navarro thinks of the larger history of colonialism and extraction. It seems to me relevant to the current point.

In a non-extractive system, such as the original systems developed by many of the people whom we know as indigenous, the produce of living systems are used to satisfy human need, and the surpluses are returned to those systems of production. I do not mean to suggest that entropy is eliminated altogether, but given the regular input of sunshine onto the Earth, the cycling of resources and energies that produce plenty have endured for hundreds of millions of years and reconstituted themselves after various astronomical catastrophes.

People moved into extraction in a big way a good deal before what we usually think of as capitalism, though there was indeed capital involved, and empire as well. So there were legions Roman and Greek and Abyssinian, and empires of the upper and lower Nile and the Indus and the various dynasties of China. And there is something of the approach of capitalism in the money-changers whom Christ criticized and the usury forbidden by the medieval Catholic church.

Mechanization sped the plagues, and we are still cast in the forms of the last 500-some years of Western European invasion. But humans were all initially indigenous somewhere, however many generations lost we may be to memory of such antecedents. Over some time, the oaks and chestnuts of the Peloponnesus were felled to smelt bronze and then the seed crops had to come from grasses and legumes. One day Rome came to the Thames, and Caesar declared the barbarians there too ignorant to be slaves. One day here and another there the forest used for pannage was declared property of the king, and in this way the commons were stolen and much of the return or resources to European soil stopped. Over time the press gangs roamed through the Northlands and drove peasants from the farms to the ships and to Midlands factories, and similar things happened here and there.

Sadly, few first peoples remain. Many do not know the original ways, and not everyone is suited to teach. Those who do and who are might be central to a renovation. But it seems to me that there are a lot of people to liberate, including the fools who might imagine themselves conquerors or descendants of conquerors.

This is where I’m about to tear my hair out – though I’m sure you don’t intentionally mean to frustrate me. You seem entirely unaware that your so-called answer (in this case, “permaculture”) is more polite evasion of the very direct question posed by carbon on Earth: how much more damage are we willing to tolerate before properly classifying extraction of fossil reserves as a crime against Life? (Greater than a crime against humanity, of eonic temporal scope.)

Life on Earth is endangered to the degree further extraction is permitted. If we dig it, someone will burn it. How can anyone be unclear on that concept? Meanwhile, we keep irresponsibly hoping that some green growth fantasy can help us put off the moment when the worst criminals in human history are brought to account. And, of course, the mass-murderous practice of fossil fuel extraction stopped. Just like we don’t permit releases of poison gas on the subway. What don’t you get?

You really think permaculture will work just fine in our global greenhouse gas chamber?

Aleph, I did not mean to frustrate you, and I do not mean to do so here. However, the above was a direct response to the matter of carbon on Earth. Permaculture offers a way to sequester carbon and to stop extracting fossil fuels. So it mostly works instead of a global greenhouse gas chamber.

Of course, the people that you–and I, actually–hope will ban extraction have that gas chamber thing pretty far along now, so even in a best-case scenario, we have to work side by side with the results of that to some extent, at least for a while. We are also working right alongside genetically distorted crops, counterproductive economic and governmental systems, poisoned land and water, eroded or depleted topsoil, governmental oppression in general,. and horrific military violence in particular. There is no guarantee of success, just the utter absence of any more promising or more direct response–as nearly as I can tell to date.

I would love to see a top-down ban or limitation of fossil fuel abuse along some fairly rigid and radical schedule. I would like to see that accompanied by large-scale plans for carbon sequestration, and I would love to see such programs implemented honestly rather than being usurped and distorted. But rulers of an economy and a military largely based on hydrocarbon extraction will not ban that extraction before ecological problems actively unseat them from power.

I am all for helping that unseating along. But we would be fools to not recognize that this does mean disassembling the economy that most of us currently live from. It will not be accomplished by voting blue or red, nor even by replacing all elected officials, nor very likely by a political revolution in any usual sense. Indeed, few people will be willing to disassemble the current economy very far at all without developing alternative support. And, of course, there are reasons for that, though it stands to eventually disassemble itself by its current course.

Again, I am sorry for the frustration, Aleph, especially since I know that it is not unlikely that I am repeating it. But I find it difficult at this distance to know at what scale statements ought to be explained. But if we stop drilling oil and pumping fuel, thereby stopping most travel and shipping, then we must raise most food and materials for craft or manufacture within a mule’s walk of where we will use them. This is a bit as was done into the 1800s and more like what was done in and around Havana after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Here’s my principle complaint: mitigations, in the absence of serious efforts to stop extraction, are just lame excuses: permaculture included. Once geologic carbon is exhumed into surface reservoirs, it sticks around for hundreds of thousands of years. Surface reservoirs include soils and oceans, and any notion we can control how much carbon stays in those two, and out of the atmosphere, in the context of exponential warming trends – that’s stark hubris (of the green growth delusional variety). I’ll go farther: I think it’s a little bit cruel to raise mitigations in the context of extraction, perpetuating a harmful and unwarranted general delusion of control. Good God, friend: extraction has to stop. Permaculture &c. don’t have a damn thing to do with it. None of that stuff comes close to keeping pace with exponential extraction trends.

We have a different conception of mitigation, it seems. I’d include the legal tinkering that does not touch the productive system first.

If you have another way to reduce extraction beyond the trivial this side of social collapse, go ahead and describe it.

I have been. Step one: merely articulate the urgent necessity to shut down the fossil fuel industry. For instance, when the UN Gen Sec speaks of stopping extraction, it strikes me as insincere without something serious like: “We’re commissioning a report on how the people of the world can legally seize hazardous fossil assets before they are extracted, to prevent extraction in defense of Life on Earth.” That would sound proportionate to the emergency. Efforts short of that are futile shadow-puppet games, imho.

Someone should try to speak out from the future perspective of children now, accusing us for failing to even seriously discuss a cessation of global desecration.

My best to your efforts, Aleph.

I see myself as suggesting not that you reel them back, but that you or someone must go beyond them. I see informing people of the gravity and the nature of the problem as necessary but inadequate. That is not a disagreement as to purpose, as nearly as I can tell, but a strategic and tactical evaluation. I mean to ask not how you feel that we are to discuss the desecration, but how we are to implement the cessation.

I also find the UN Secretary General and most of his colleagues insincere. I would characterize most all of the government and most all of the fossil-fuel industry as insincere as well, at least in their public relations. It strikes me that it is their actions that merit terms like “shadow-puppet games,” given that they are false gestures that mostly address an audience rather than a problem.

The history of such institutions consists almost entirely of their ignoring very much the sort of good advice that I take you as giving them. How do you intend to convince or force a government almost entirely operated by minions of large businesses that are cross-invested with the hydrocarbon industries to seize or nationalize or otherwise drastically limit industries that belong to themselves, their colleagues, their friends, their families, and their sponsors?

For what it is worth, I think that we are going to need people hammering on those governments and those industries, too, pretty much full time, so it’s not just a rhetorical question. But I doubt that they will move if we do not work on the outside as well.

Thanks for an interesting discussion. I would indeed most like to see people concentrating on this question. There’s a popular – actually dominant – misconception that repositioning carbon between surface reservoirs somehow makes up for geologic damage. If stopping further geologic damage is the focus, we’re on the right track. If, on the other hand, “net-zero” emissions, carbon-offsets, and other popular delusions rule the roost, we have to admit we’re getting nowhere quickly.

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Well, cheers and thanks, Aleph. I appreciate getting the lead and a thoughtful response.

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