to justify land /7

“Quite simply, the modern canal, unlike a river, is not an ecosystem. It is simplified, abstracted water, rigidly separated from the earth and firmly directed to raise food, fill pipes, and make money.”

 (Worster, 1985)

Section 6 replicates the rhetorics of energy corporations – oil and gas, nuclear, and hydro-electric – who veil their enterprises with the terms of sustainability and renewability. The contradiction at the heart of this willful illusion, however, lies much deeper, as the fundamental premise of capitalism quantifies land and other living beings into exploitable resources. Projects like the hydro-electric dam development and condominium development on the Ottawa River need a more sustained critique of their epistemological basis: how they come to be justified to the public only after the internal pandering among politicians, contractors and their financiers, thorugh the terms of economic prosperity and the necessity of growth – without accountability to what this ‘prosperity’ means, and in whose service are these machinations of ‘growth’. Windmill developer and venture capitalist Jeff Westeinde cites the book Natural Capitalism as an inspiration; this book blatantly reframes the language and logics that construct an ethical justification around the exploitation of land and the ‘natural world’ as an available ‘resource’.

“What is consumed from the environment in not matter or energy but order or quality – the structure, concentration, or purity of matter. This is a critically important concept, because it is a “quality” that business draws upon to create economic value. Instead of focusing on whether physical resources will run out, it is more useful to be concerned about the specific aspects of the quality that natural capital produces: clean water and air; healthy soil, food, animals, forests, pollination, oceans, rivers; available and affordable sources of energy; and more.” (“Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution”. Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins, L. Hunter Lovins. Little, Brown and Company. 1999. pg. 148)

Windmill Development Group has an “alternative business” branch investing in renewable energy, called Windmill Alternative. The developers represent a point of pride in the speed with which the development project was pushed through: “Although the site was very complex and involved multiple stakeholder groups (two cities, two provinces, NCC, Conservation Authority, Heritage, Brownfields and two First Nations groups), the rezoning was achieved within 6 months.” With a small change of words, business practices gain an untouchability.

“Natural capitalism is one such objective. It is neither conservative nor liberal in its ideology, but appeals to both constituencies. Since it is a means, and not an end, it doesn’t advocate a particular social outcome but rather makes possible many different ends. Therefore, whatever the various visions different parties or factions espouse, society can work toward resource productivity now, without waiting to resolve disputes about policy.” (“Natural Capitalism”.)

As in: “thinking about licensing an entire river system instead of lock and dam by lock and dam” / “to maximize the precious river resource” (Founder of Enduring Energy LLC and Enduring Hydro LLC, and previous undersecretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, Kristina M. Johnson.) [HydroWorld, Dec. 6, 2013].  As in “cow-calf operation (producing calves that are sold to a feedlot to be raised for beef)”, “as well as meal for the livestock industry” “supporting the beef industry” [Ottawa Citizen, Sep. 9, 2016]. “the world’s largest pork producer and processor   /   market challenges from a lack of pipeline and related infrastructure”   /   There are, of course, a lot of risks, particularly in today’s commodity world. Nothing is black and white, Suttles said.” [Natural Gas Intel, May 17, 2016]. “Hog producers in Iowa ought to be thrilled … key market for pork producers, as their population grows, in both size and affluence … public relations manager for the Canadian Pork Council” [Financial Post, May 29, 2013].

Marisol de la Cadena wrote extensively on the entanglement of language and cosmology in the Indigenous-led struggle against extractive industry development in Peru, Bolivia, and Ecuador (“Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes”). She cites the 2008 Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador on the protection of the rights of nature under the earth-being called Pachamama, and the recognition of the mountains – Ausungate, Quilish and Coyllur Rit’i – as sacred, as entities. As the intimate relationship to the world is understood through language, so the necessity for resistance is created, and interpreted, through the word.

“A reading of the Andean ethnographic record along epistemic lines shows that earth-practices are relations for which the dominant ontological distinction between humans and nature does not work. […] sentient entities whose material existence—and that of the worlds to which they belong—is currently threatened by the neoliberal wedding of capital and the state.” (Cadena, 341-342.)

The rhetoric of liberal environmental “activistism”, in contrast, often maintains the same relationship to the earth as a territory, its sloganeering rapidly and thoughtlessly retaining the rhetoric of land as separate from self, as quantifiable. With this understanding of nature as separate from self, the human directs a moral authority as either the aggressor or the agent of defence, denying the earth and the entanglement of earth-beings of an equivalent, sentient, and encompassing agency. The defense of territorial rights (such as the simplification of human habitation and ancestral responsibility for land to a concept of ownership and nationality) then becomes the locus upon which ethical justification or accountability towards development projects is based. Never is earth left alone, for itself.

Peruvian dissidence against the extraction industry, Cadena writes, can be traced to an understanding of place, an epistemology that is not separate from the self, an inseparable and non-hierarchical network of earth-beings that does not ‘reduce’ nature to a commodity—to be sold or to be defended. What is there to defend? Such an indigenous cosmology is, as Cadena states, ‘less than two’ (‘being other’ – or more accurately, ‘no other’). She writes, “an ecologized nature of interdependent entities that simultaneously coincides, differs, and even exceeds—also because it includes humans—the object that the state, the mining corporation, and environmentalists seek to translate into resources, whether for exploitation or to be defended.”

A condition as physical and geographic as it is emotional, created when the self is at odds with its relationship to space. Ungrounded – without place. To consider space as something outside of the body, and the body as the infallible centre. There is no separateness of nature and self, of individual species and some vague ‘network’ – there is inseparability, interpenetration, reciprocation, mutual responsibility. Simple presence, simple being – a reason in itself, because it draws no distinction, requires no justification. What is there to justify? To justify the ‘sacredness’ of the land would require a validation of this separateness that enables this commodification in theory and practice, and validates the logics that sustain the arguments of development and the compromised languages of environmental defence.

To imagine and work towards an alternative requires an ‘epistemic rupture’, an opposition to capitalism, and an opposition to its manifestations through statehood and corporatism. Algonquin Elder William Commanda spoke of not having to ‘justify’ or to ‘defend’ earth, but that its very existence is reason enough. It is not possible to justify the machinations of ‘natural capitalism’, or ‘green capitalism’ as sustainable, for we will find no end to these ecologically, socially, intimately destructive struggles through languages that already finite, compartmental, and contain the imaginaries of territoriality, capital ownership, and hierarchies of superiority. Political confrontation with extractive and industrial development has negated thought in entirely different languages that need to be reclaimed. Retribution, and reconciliation, requires entirely different ways of existing on the planet and relating to the earth, in which the clever logics of capitalism cannot be conceived, requiring, as Cadena writes, “an insurgence of indigenous forces and practices with the capacity to significantly disrupt prevalent political formations, and reshuffle hegemonic antagonisms, first and foremost by rendering illegitimate (and, thus, denaturalizing) the exclusion of indigenous practices from nation-state institutions.”