Library of the Living : What We Leave Behind by Derrick Jensen and Aric McBay

what we leave behind

As the first selection in my ‘Library of the Living’ series of book reviews, I cannot stress how profoundly inspirational, intense, eye-opening and infuriating ‘What We Leave Behind’ can be. The authors examine the concept of ‘waste’ – what it is within an environmental context, what it was to previous societies, and what it means to our culture today. What was once a circular path of regeneration has become a one-way path of destruction – spreading toxins, centralizing power, exterminating countless species and cultures – constantly and consistently turning the living into the dead.

Like many of his other works, he examines this modern cultures view of reality and proves its insanity. Grounded in the fact that infinite growth CANNOT occur on a finite world (despite what economists think), he describes the evolution of our current disposable culture to its current obsession with Sustainability™. He questions the benefits of technology, the ridiculous techno-fixes being contemplated, and the ‘Magical Thinking’  that seems to ensnare those whose world views don’t match with reality. He refutes the idea that ‘clean™’ and ‘green™’ technologies will save the planet or our culture, and ultimately proves the best course of action is to take action.

Derrick Jensen is one of the most passionate writers that has ever used the English language. From beautiful descriptions of nature, to harsh real-world facts and insightful anecdotes, his work – especially within the pages of ‘What We Leave Behind’ – is something truly unique and powerful.  There is something wrong with the reader who isn’t spurred by his words or had the flames of rebellion fanned within their heart.

I urge anyone who has any shred of compassion for both human and non-human life to read this book and be exposed to the harsh realities of this cultures effects on this planet and its life. Reading this, you will walk away a profoundly different person.

For more information on Derrick Jensen, ‘What We Leave Behind’, and his other works, please visit


Slowly into the Dark : Thoughts and Visions of the Future


I am not a survivalist – nor would I call myself a passive bystander – but my views, as well as my interests, activities, and prioritization of the different aspects of my life – are somewhere in the middle between these two extremes. From what I’ve learned in my time spent working towards my bachelors in Environmental Studies (both in school and the plethora of reading I have done outside of class – most notably James Howard Kunstler‘s ‘The Long Emergency’ and Derrick Jensen‘s work) as well as the eye opening philosophical views I have exposed myself to (and the casually paying attention to the behavior of society at large) , I feel that I will witness the precipitous decline of western industrial -capitalist civilization within my lifetime. With that, I can safely say I wish I had been born after the actual ‘collapse’ occurs, because it definitely won’t be pretty.

I can narrow it down to three factors that will bring about the end of this mode of living: peak oil, climate change, and the inherent instability and flaws within the capitalist mode of production. These three problems are so deeply embedded within modern fossil fuel powered, industrial capitalist society that I feel there is honestly no hope trying to actively ‘change’ anything (at least nothing I myself feel I have the skills, hope, or charisma to do). They are ultimately problems with our cultures perception of reality, and trying to ‘save’ modern industrial capitalist society would be to save the problems with it. Its problems arise from its exploitative nature, just as civilization itself inherently is – particularly this civilization. Being at the receiving end of exploitation, bullying, and abuse from many different angles, I sympathize greatly for the human and non-human victims of it. I ultimately wish I could just be ‘human’ and live up to the potential I was evolved to live – to eat the foods I was meant to eat and live within a community and social structure I evolved to live in. I’ll keep out of everyone elses business if they keep out of mine – and I expect those others to keep out of everyone elses business too.

One could easily look at this through the Hegelian dialectic – the thesis being global industrial capitalism, the antithesis being the ecological limits, and synthesis being a new world of localized economies and political units. I don’t think a classic socialist revolution will happen (at least pan-globally, relying on the same industrial modes that might bring about a general overthrow of society) but that it may arise in several states as long as political hegemony is limited by limited fossil fuels and infrastructure. I could totally imagine the United States possibly being dissolved into different autonomous regions, similar to the division of the Roman Empire into Western and Eastern halves. Hopefully, people of different political mindsets who would more likely talk about whats pressing rather than the less important warm fuzzy sort of politics that seems to dominate our country today.

Ultimately then, I agree with Derrick Jensen in that life (being all life on planet earth) would be best if civilization was destroyed. With how entrenched we are within this mode of living, there is a possibility that we may see the end of what could be called civilization on the vast majority of the earths surface – ultimately a plus for biodiversity. Do I have the skills, charisma, or even the want to actively destroy civilization? I often imagine myself as some sort of barbaric figure (a modern day Brennus descending on Rome) but I don’t want to get involved in anything too attention grabbing, too complex, or too suicidal. I want a family and happiness (and ultimately the dream of every hobbit – reading books and tending to his garden in the Shire), but I also know that there is horrible injustice and outright insanity going on in the world, and to deal with that I intend to take a route more subtle.

Ultimately, this mode of living will destroy itself. There really is no hope to change the direction of this train wreck, either through changing the minds of those in power or the minds of the general public. (When people regularly complain to me about the price of $9 watermelons in January and the fact that they’re not American grown, there is clearly a disconnect between the average customer and reality) They value the unreal over the real, and so symbols and power structures will be favored over life, leading to a variety of frightening conclusions. What resource limit will come first, how intense will it be, and what will be the worlds reaction? When countries are threatening nuclear war over ideological differences, would they act on it over real problems? Whether it be peak oil, peak phosphate, or some other intense scarcity of a ‘strategic resource’, the implications of that scarcity are frightening.


As I write this, my brother is playing a game I consider the most ethically redeeming one in existence, one I actually consider a work of art. The game – titled ‘Fallout 3’ – is one in which the player controls a character born in a self-sustaining, underground fallout-shelter community 200 years after a nuclear war between a nationalistic, communist fearing United States and an expansionist China over dwindling sources of oil. The character, having been born into an enclosed society isolated from any knowledge of the outside world, roams the irradiated post-apocalyptic ruins of Washington, D.C. scavenging bombed out ruins for supplies while fighting anarchic raiders, remnant US government factions, and mutated animals such as giant cockroaches. Going past the science fiction elements of the game, is a future like this (particularly with the current saber-rattling going on with North Korea) something my children or grand children will inherit? Playing the game makes me hope not.

What I find amazing about this game is that the creators really capture the bleak reality that such a situation would create, and that they show believable methods of governance and living that could arise in such an environment. Small communities are scattered throughout the wastelands, being housed in the ruins of buildings where simple subsistence agriculture and hunting are depicted. It is almost a ‘new dark ages’ – something similar to what I feel may arise after the looming collapse on the horizon. This idea of living in an generally anarchic land with a patchwork of localized societies and economies appeals to me. Different societies adapted to their own local environments, implementing close-knit community organization and localized means of production seems the most natural and realistic means of human living. I feel that this is how our society might live in the far future, though as the passing of time has shown us, societies evolve and change constantly when exposed to multiple environmental or social constraints. Obviously, some may become much stronger or technologically advanced than others – though with fossil fuels out of the way, there never will be another society as advanced or centralized as ours is at the moment – which is a very good thing.

I don’t think nuclear war is the most likely conclusion, but I feel that it is the most dreaded. I only can hope peak oil is what causes the real crises (though I argue that the Iraq war, the 2008 financial crisis, and the stagnant economy are all related to the peaking of its production) and that its worst effects come well after I am established on a piece of land not to far from civilization. If peak oil is the thing to come first, it may lessen the eventual horrible effects of climate change though its social, political, and economic effects could be quite frightening – racial, religious, political, economically and other driven conflicts could very well be initiated by some sort of oil scarcity.

Now, there definitely will be some sort of massive changes within my lifetime – oil price increases, a worsening economy, climatic shocks that will disrupt agricultural production – as well as the political instability that comes with this. My goal then is to get through these shocks as comfortably as possible, and to survive through it with a family and pass on my own views and cultural values to them. I stayed in Binghamton because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, nor did I want to spend a lot of money figuring that out. I feel that its probably the best decision I ever made, despite what many would think.

I’ve worked full time while attending school, and now that I graduate I only owe around four thousand dollars. I’ve tried to keep in contact with my friends and family here, although the vast majority of my old friends got sucked into dead-end jobs, dropping out, and drug use, so I’ve been separated by them in terms of world view and aspirations. I’ve been with the same wonderful girl for about three years. We intend to get engaged, be married, and start having a family as soon as we can afford it. She’s currently still in school (at BCC for Dental Hygiene) and has a year left to go. She realizes how horribly things are in the world, and has come to her own conclusion that things will change quite drastically within our lifetime. She’s incredibly supportive of me, my views, and our ideas for the future, and I wouldn’t have finished up school without her encouragement to go back. Knowing something about teeth, she figures she would have at least some practical knowledge to carry through the craziness that will probably occur. We’ll probably live within several hours of Binghamton, either somewhere in upstate New York or northern Pennsylvania.

My brother is a 22 year old union carpenter, and my father owns and operates several apartments he rents to people in Binghamton and Elmira. He intends to get my brother and I involved in the operation, and my brother wants to start his own construction business renovating houses. His fiancee is graduating as a registered nurse this May, and intends to work at a hospital, preferably in the maternity ward. They are definitely the ultimate ‘SHTF’ couple to be related to! My brother and I have talked about purchasing land and living off it between the two of us, hopefully having our kids grow up being close cousins. He has heard everything I’ve ever thought and learned, and can see that something is coming sooner or later. My sister, who is just now graduating from high school, has done Animal Science at BOCES and intends to go to school for a veterinary related education. It seems her knowledge would also be very beneficial to have in a post-industrial dark age scenario. I have only shallowly discussed with her the plight of the world, but I ultimately think I have the best collection of close relatives I could wish for.

I’ve never desired to be rich, and I’ve never intended to be famous. I’ve never been very ‘pro-active’ with what I want to do with my life, and I’ve mainly allowed life to make my decisions for me. It may sound bad , but I feel that I’ve been very blessed, happy, and content, and the only things that make me unhappy are those things I have no control over. But I intend to find some sort of stable job, purchase land (whether it be that what my father owns or some I find myself) and live off it as sustainably and simple as possible.

In terms of self sufficiency, I am an amateur gardener, and I am extremely interested in the medicinal and culinary uses of both wild and cultivated plants, as well as traditional means of living. I keep a rabbit and a worm bin which make a very good combination, and I compost the scraps of home cooked meals I make at my apartment. I’ve spent a lot of time ‘in the woods’ being that my moms side is ‘country folk’ from out near Greene and I was in the Scouts when I was younger. I didn’t get my license or a car until I was 21, because I could walk everywhere I needed to go, which was only really in the Town of Chenango. I rarely ever watch television, and the only electronic media I deal with is the internet and Netflix, which limits my exposure to commercials. It is odd too in that my internet usage drops significantly when schools not in session. I think that I’ve at least jumped the first hurdle in a life without fossil fuels or complex technology in that I can imagine myself without them.

I am skilled with a bow and arrow, and I am a fairly knowledgeable owner of legal (and registered) firearms. I can’t say that I inherently like firearms – it truly is very much about the power in the item rather than the item itself that appeals to me. It isn’t about what the item itself can do, but more about the fact that people with much more wealth and political clout have them and will always have them, so why shouldn’t I -with little wealth and marginalized morality beliefs – own them? Gun ownership isn’t a very popular concept amongst us of the environmentalist leaning crowd, but I feel that if those in power can own them (or have people who serve them owning them) that it is absolutely necessary for those of us who are marginalized, who have ultimately the most to lose in a coming time of scarcity. I am quite skeptical of the united efforts of curbing ‘military style’ firearm ownership by civilians, because it really seems to be coming from positions of power (whom it ultimately serves). In times of scarcity, political and economic upheaval, can we really trust the establishment to be on our side, rather than whoever has the money? Illegal wars, Japanese-American internment, and the increasing centralization and policing of our society show that the system will do anything to maintain its control. Besides all this, firearm ownership ultimately serves a practical purpose as well. I intend to get my hunting licensing set up for this coming season, and I want to take it on as a tradition to pass on to my children one day.

No person can be an island, and in perilous times community becomes the single most important aspect of survival. This means that being more sociable with people and ‘networking’ with them (things that are not very natural to me) is something I will need to do. I haven’t done it very much at all throughout high-school or college, and so I intend to be a more active member of society after I graduate.


There are a few ways I’m going to accomplish this – work, volunteering, and surprisingly, organized religion. I’ve always been very spiritual, and it has traced itself throughout my entire life. I’ve always been seeking meaning and truth, and it has lead me to read the written works of many different religions (mythologies from around the world, Catholic and Protestant versions of the Bible, the Koran, and Buddhist sutras) as well as the work of philosophers and the pursuing of an education in Environmental Studies. For the most part, I’ve been very antagonistic towards organized religion. I’ve been involved in neo-pagan spirituality for the longest period of time, being active in witches covens and the national Indo-European re-constructionist organization known as Ar nDraoicht Fein. I’ve had a multitude of phases where I was enamored with a particular belief system, whether it be Wicca, Norse shamanism, Celtic Druidic re-constructionism, Tibetan Mahayana practice, and most recently, Roman Catholicism and my own independent Christianity. This surprises many people who know of my previous interests and opinions, but I have come to think of it as being a misunderstood and misused belief system whose actual message is acceptance of a natural order as well as a need to equalize humanity. Previous religious paths offered me little of community, discipline, or sanity (particularly the New Age philosophies) and I especially value its emphasis on self sacrifice, charity, and its persistence through hard times. It lasted the fall of major civilizations before as well as countless other tumultuous events, and so I feel it – along with various other organized religions – would help quite well within the new dark ages as much as in the last one. Religion, especially when it is organized, can really allow for social cohesion and hope in the face of problems. (As an aside, my lifelong secular humanist best friend has for some reason become extremely polytheist leaning. I think it has something to do with him reading the Derrick Jensen books I lent him.)

The one problem with organized religion – particularly the less philosophical and more popular versions of it in the United States, specifically its fringe Protestant Christianity flavors – is its focus on the ‘end times’. What is very frightening to me is that a significant portion of the population makes decisions as though the Apocalypse will clean all problems away, and that also if their standard of living drops, it will be taken as the End’s immediacy. I don’t have much faith in people, and think their behavior will be bordering on insanity when the price of oil causes their worlds to shrink.

My two most pertinent and unanswerable questions in regards to the coming shift in paradigm are ‘1) How do I maintain an ounce of happiness and good humor in the face of all the bad?’ and ‘2)Where do I begin?’ With my impending graduation in a few weeks, these two questions have been on my mind constantly. I am worried about employment, about proving to my parents this wasn’t a waste of time. I have nearly nothing as a resume – having had to work my entire time in school hasn’t particularly allowed me time for internships or other extracurricular activities. I was in a Paranormal Investigation group at BCC, and an animal rights group with some friends from high-school – but these are things that won’t get me a job. So ultimately, I’m worried about being stuck in some dead end, environmentally destructive or socially irresponsible career. I have no idea where I am going to work to make more than minimum wage but feel like I am important and morally sound, and I can only hope to find something that fits my wants and needs within a reasonable distance from home.

How to keep my hopes up is probably the hardest part of it all, because in all honesty I have little hope. I guess the only hopeful thing I can think of is paper that Professors Richard Andrus  and Mike Kane passed in each class, with the quote from J. R. R. Tolkien’s ‘Fellowship of the Ring’ where Gandalf says So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.

With what I feel may happen, my goal is to cultivate a means of living with a family where materialistic wants are what is valued least, and self sufficiency and deep ‘living in place’ are valued most. I don’t intend to do anything too drastic, nor anything flashy or truly active. I don’t want to communicate through electronic devices to people I should be talking face to face with, and I don’t want to have my family spend hours staring at moving pictures on a screen. I want to actually know my children and have them know me, rather than me not knowing what they are going to school for or thinking TV time is family time. I want the knowledge and wisdom of men dead for decades or even centuries to guide them rather than the latest fad media trying to sell them shallow bullshit. I want to not have money and its pursuit rule my life and deprive me of time from my family. I want to be ‘old fashioned’, and hopefully keep as many of mainstream societies physical and mental poisons out of my life as much as possible. I intend to ‘lay low’ and weather the storm as best as I possibly can, growing and guarding whatever knowledge I can gather to pass on to the descendants of my family’s house. I hope to go forward through the turbulent dark times ahead as if this were the end of the Third Age of Middle-Earth or the coming of Ragnarok. I hope the end of industrialization brings with it an age of real, true freedom.