When contemplating the environmental crisis dawning over our world, the thinking individual faces a grim choice: to admit the truth is to call for the taboo, such as fewer people, but to fail to admit the truth is to dedicate oneself to endless compensatory behaviors that will never fix the problem. This is why nothing has been done despite most in the West wanting a solution for decades.
The Alternative of Real Ecology offers a solution in the form of descending into the fullness of admitting the truth about the collision between humanity and our environment. Human needs are in conflict with the needs of natural ecosystems, and this is a zero-sum game, which means that anything we give to humans, we take from nature. At this point the debate takes on a mature outlook: we must talk about the appropriate number of humans on the planet in order for enough of nature to thrive that our planetary ecosystem can function without losing species.
That recognition admits two types of response. Either we as a species change what we are doing, which is impossible under liberal democratic political systems, or individuals are left with the question of how to address the environmental crisis through individual choices, knowing that the vast majority of humans will not do the same. This book uses a discussion of the latter to explore the changes that would have to be made in the former scenario.
Uncontrolled human breeding demands more space for growing food, housing, and recreation; unless the population growth is controlled the loss of habitat will increase. “Humans have the right to breed and grow food.” Yes they do, and therefore the biodiversity will be exterminated. They can breed as much as they want and eat/throw away a much food as they want. In other words: “Humans can take away as much natural habitat as they see fit.” (231)
In noting this, this book follows up on the ideas of Pentti Linkola and Theodore Kacyznski, who noted that only non-democratic solutions are serious. If we want to preserve nature, we have to limit the amount of land used by humanity, probably to a quarter or third of the available land, and to do that, we need a political system that is not based on individual rights which cause a tragedy of the commons as each person exploits the maximum amount of resources (which increased land use) possible.
The style of The Alternative of Real Ecology might put people off at first, but win them over as the pages turn. Somewhere between a Socratic dialogue and a notebook of ideas, the text flows like a conversation between quotations representing either common arguments against environmentalism or statements by public figures, and the rebuttals of the author. A mood of negation of pervades the text as it points out hollow platitudes and nonsensical objections to the obvious.
At its core, this book suggests that normal (modern) human life and environmental survival are opposites, and so humans must become “inhuman” or conditioned to assign no additional weight to human preferences. In this mindset, we are able to separate what we need from what we want; at that point, the solutions to overpopulation, overconsumption and other human ills become obvious. The author sets a mindset of “no contribution” more as a thought experiment and baseline than recommendation, but comparison to it reveals how impoverished our “green” actions have been.
One cannot deny his humanity and stay human (that’s logical) and therefore one must become inhuman to deny his humanity. This is where Real Ecology comes into the picture.
…The priority of Real Ecology is Nature and the duty to point out that it will be destroyed. Not how much the existence of humans will be miserable. It is not the duty of Real Ecology to stop the ecocide. That’s impossible. It’s there to stop destroying Nature by one person at a time: the inner change and non-contribution. (92)
By forcing the issue and pointing out that, without radical species-wide change, ecocide is inevitable, The Alternative of Real Ecology enacts a certain kind of inner change in the human being, which is the framing of the environmental issue in appropriately binary terms. Either the human species gets its act together in a large way and reduces its land use, or we watch the inevitable tragedy.
In this way, the book acts like any form of radical realism. It identifies causes, and looks to their effects, and illustrates for us the choices we have regarding the inevitability of those effects. Its “inhuman” outlook separates us from illusion, and opens the dialogue to a results-oriented conception of environmentalism. In turn, this pushes the human dialogue on the environment past the socially-acceptable to the realistic.
Of the two solutions it identifies — inner change and non-contribution — the former proves the most interesting in that it is a fulfillment of the deep ecology notion of re-designing human life to fit within our natural environment, instead of making the environment subject to human whims, to be shaped in order to serve what our herd think believes is what we need. Larsson makes the whole book an exercise in understanding the depth of this reorganization of our minds and desires, both in nuance of the big points and associated details, forming a list of often-forgotten important environmental concerns.
However, he remains suitably bleak, pointing out that the bottom line cannot be adulterated: we have too many humans and each of them, if they can, will live a high-resource industrialized lifestyle; implicated in this also is the notion that our social mobility causes us to compete through money and possessions, which further drives the consumerist mania that is consuming our environment.
Real Ecology doesn’t deal with solutions. No matter how unpopular or controversial, they are ‘solutions’ and their presentation is all it takes 1) non-realistic: the sudden disappearance/vanishing of the human species. That’s not possible to achieve, so only a theory, 2) partly realistic: suicide. To sacrificeyourself for Nature, and 3) realistic: not having children. The non-contribution. Rather than promoting (Real Ecology doesn’t promote them) these ‘solutions,’ it’s better to present the realistic ones: non-contribution and inner change. Real Ecology will not promote a fantasy, theoretical solution, non-realistic ideas. That’s what realism (real) is about. (111)
It remains unclear how literal this is, since the Darwinian effect of the environmentally-conscious not having children is that environmental consciousness as a trait disappears from the human species. The inner change, however, is wrought in this book through many clever mental puzzles of the variety above, in which a distinction is made between arbitrary but true propositions that are thus unproven or irrelevant, and ultimate solutions which are too extreme. By shifting the Overton window of ecology in this way, Larsson channels our own instinct to look for a moderate center point, which is a change in attitudes toward things previously considered to be universal goods, like the economy or human rights.
This book challenges the reader with surly, often malevolently defeatist thought-problems of this nature. Its largest point is that ecocide is not a forgivable sin, and that for as much as it rages about how no solution can be found, clearly the basis of a solution — fewer people, less consumption, more social order — informs our thinking not about environmental issues per se but general issues, with us naturally wanting to ask, “Will this improve or worsen the condition of our world?”
Printed on recycled paper, The Alternative of Real Ecology taunts and mocks us for our impotence on this issue and seeks to re-frame the environmental question as the question of what type of civilization we will choose for our future, knowing that ecocide not just terminates us, but rebukes the gift of life and will make us guilt-ridden and self-hating. A quick read, it is emotionally provocative and thought-provoking as a result of that, pleasantly separating it from the self-help nature of most “green” books.
@Review by Brett Stevens: freelance writer and civilization downfall analyst.
The review was published here.
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Kveldulf Gunnar Larsson offers an important critique of the modern environmental movement and a stark assessment of what people are doing to the planet. As being “green” becomes ever more popular, the true ramifications of the devastation being done to the Earth by humanity — what Larsson refers to as ecocide — becomes obscured by what sustainable products we can buy or the pro-environment movies we can attend, for example. Attempts at reversing the tide of climate change still often result in consumerism, and as he notes this popular environmentalism can make people feel good without actually doing good.
While I was reading his book, his line of thought hit home with me, as I receive alarming quantities of paper mail from environmental groups seeking donations for their work. Do I believe in their mission? Of course. But the hypocrisy of cutting trees down to spread their pro-environment message is unsettling. This book made me think critically about many aspects of the environmental movement I had not considered before.
It is admirable that Larsson wrote the book in English and not his native Norwegian, however, The Alternative of Real Ecology needed a stronger editor. The structure of the book was sometimes difficult to follow, and layout and grammatical errors often caused confusion. I was also a little confused by his framing of the book itself. He writes that “It has no scientific, academic or literary value. It was not written to entertain or make money. It has no educational value; it was not written to educate. It doesn’t even have any environmental value as it’s not an environmental book.” Perhaps he sees himself as a true advocate for nature, and the book as a call to action, but this remains unclear until the very end of the book.
@Review by Erika Zambello: writer, birder and photographer.
The review was published here.
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Nature, nature and nature once again.
There is nothing more modern than to make apologies about humans by telling “they are only humans”. Know yourself. Or even a mythic gnothi seauton. In the times, when human is shooting for the stars, when human has to reach for the stars just to touch the closest leaf, here comes a book from Kveldulf Gunnar Larson with an all-telling name “The Alternative of Real Ecology”. It seems like an apparition of a small task, which stays unseen and remains so for a comfortable majority of people.
Know yourself, so be only human? An imperative that I probably do not even have to emphasize, but which is losing something from its novelty. Where does human arrogance end and where does human existence of be-only-who-you-are end? Is human a human, because they cannot be anything else or because there is nothing else left, but to ´only be human´?
Does human existence reach for the stars, which today´s human is reaching with their shuttles or does human existence reach to the past or somewhere unknown, where no technical accomplishment cannot reach? The identity of “a human of today” equals something, which even a little child can ´understand´: cloning, genetic engineering, social engineering, transpersonal states, computers, technology, hi-tech. Perhaps, it needs to be said that human identity is no longer what it used to be, but perhaps there is another opinion, which can be expressed, and that human identity is only what it always has been. One of the issues while reading this book is that human is required unhypocritically to kill ´human nature´ in themselves, to lose a little from their humanity. In general, you could say – from their ´humanness´. But let´s say Pentti Linkola or others from the cultural pessimists, neither Kveldulf Gunnar Larson does not owe anything to humanity. I.e. to humanity, which is defined as ´known by itself´. Defined as a contrary to nature, or as an exact contrary, mirror-like in comparison with nature. Human, if well read from this book, is losing their identity as a nature-contained, arising-from-nature being and substitutes it by somewhat conflictive self-knowing, which defines human in a way as defined by a famous Czech ecologist Šmajs, who speaks about ´predatory paradigm of culture´ aimed at nature´s ecocide. The term ´ecocide´ itself is the term, which is described thoroughly in the book “Real Ecology”. We find that ´modern human existence´ is ecocide. The way, by which the paradigm is predatory, therefore aimed at ravaging relationship with the nature is pillorized in the book the way Šmajs does. Human with their nature, and generally speaking, humanity of today is a victim of their own setting to nature, which Kveldulf Gunnar Larson accurately describes as ecocide. As a cultural pessimist, he does not see other solution of getting out of ecocide than to openly reveal the predatory nature of human as predatory and to quit it without regret.
Kveldulf Gunnar Larson says effort to improve human and humanity is useless, by which he inclines to the opinions of cultural pessimists and those, who believe that human does not change and they never will be more than just a human, which means: ´a predator´. Identity is one of the key issues of this book: human identity, which is ´human´, it could be said that human is human far too much, that they do not see as example a picture of themselves, which is a component of nature, but a picture outside of themselves, out of nature, which is created by humans themselves. One thing is clear – human wants to distance and differentiate themselves from nature. The question of how does human come so far to remove themselves from nature, to use it as a tool of their goals and desires to differentiate from it is an all-telling question. Human leaves nature to build super-nature. Not to see self-preservation as a challenge or to avoid seeing the challenge in responding to basic human needs, which would fulfil their existence, but to grow above this self-preservation and to reach for more than nature gives or takes.
One of the strongest appeals and sides of this book is, in my opinion, drawing the attention of a reader to necessary and less necessary human needs. While today´s society produces overabundance for overabundance, shows contempt for each humble task, Kveldulf Gunnar Larson talks about humility of human, who gets rid of all necessities that are not necessary for their very survival. It seems that to meet nature means more-less the same: not to be the person I am, the person society wants me to be, but to kill the second nature, which the society nurtured, to behave as consumers of unnecessary products, to behave as citizens of unnecessary states, to behave as exemplary parents of children, to behave as husbands and wives, lovers, people, but not to behave nicely to nature, biosphere, mother Earth, or even to the system of all living things, which happen to surround us.
In touch of another-worldly reality than the one of humans, the book emphasizes three aspects of life, which, in an overpopulated world, have a higher value than any other human life ever had: clean water, clean air and clean soil.
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Self-titled “real ecologist,” Kveldulf Gunnar Larsson, gives himself a lofty task in The Alternative of Real Ecology when he attempts to critique ecology as it is presented today, environmentalism is it is practiced around the globe, and humanistic thought…all in a book that is self-styled as “a collection of thoughts […] not written to be taken seriously.” Indeed, The Alternative of Real Ecology is a unique book insofar as it is, either intentionally or unintentionally, written in a quasi-Delezuoguttarian way by trying to do away with subjectivity both in the traditional, humanistic sense, and in the sense of being a book about something…
From the beginning of the book, Larsson contrasts his view which he calls “real ecology” with all current environmental philosophies. Indeed, he situates himself not as an academic or researcher (thus the book has no academic or scientific value), but an advocate for nature. Seeing the numerous causes of what he calls “the ecocide” – “the extermination of biodiversity/wilderness” – as being inexorably linked to “human nature,” he notes that environmentalism of the kind promoted by Al Gore and other celebrities amounts to little morethan “popular environmentalism” which makes people feel good without actually changing anything. While I am certainly amenable to the project of critique – indeed, the act of critiquing things without necessarily posing working alternatives is near and dear to me – the bravado with which Larsson advocates for “real ecology” and the nature of the topic (that is to say, a book dealing with the environmental crises in our world) necessitates, for me, some alternative. Luckily, Larsson provides one: “real ecology.” Unfortunately, what “real ecology” actually is and means is just as unclear after 269 pages as is its potential application…
The logical question that arises out of all the above is ‘what is real ecology?’ Unfortunately, I do not have an answer. Indeed, it seems as if Larsson does not have a stable answer (or at least an articulatable answer) himself as real ecology is originally presented as “the alternative to modern human existence itself,” (whatever that may mean) then as an “[a]dvocacy of Nature,”…
While there are, of course, numerous small issues discussed within The Alternative of Real Ecology (e.g. popular environmentalism and the role of celebrity advocates, overpopulation and possible solutions, trash, human rights, and money), this review cannot be an exhaustive analysis of each chapter and thus we must necessarily move on…
This section will be brief and to the point: The Alternative of Real Ecology is a nightmare to read from a stylistic perspective. Rife with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes, I suspect the issues in the book lie in two places. First, Larsson is not writing is his native tongue, Norwegian, and then hiring a third party to translate the work. Rather, Larsson makes a very impressive move by writing the book in his non-native language of English. For this, I have to give him to credit and thus I cannot personally hanker too much on the odd sentence constructions as Larsson has already been able to do much more than I could: write a book in a foreign language…
Given all that, even if an individual did decide to buy a copy of The Alternative of Real Ecology and ignore all my previous criticisms, I suspect that they would, after a few pages, put down the book (regardless of their sympathy for “real ecology”) due to the near unreadability of the text… [the first 40 pages can be read here]
@Review by Peter Heft: Student of Philosophy, Blogger, and Armchair Theorist.
The full review can be found here