In the Network: Media Co-op Dominion   Locals: HalifaxMontrealTorontoVancouver

Support the VMC, donate today!


End:Civ Could Spark Crucial Conversation

Movie and Ideas Review - End:Civ (2010) / Derrick Jensen’s new Stone Age

by Eric Doherty

End:Civ Could Spark Crucial Conversation

Also posted by edoherty:

End: Civ is not a movie to watch alone. According to the filmmaker, Frank Lopez who led a discussion after a screening at the Purple Thistle in East Vancouver, the “ultimate goal of the film is to kick start conversations.”

End: Civ is inspired by the ideas of Derrick Jensen. I was first introduced to Jensen’s ideas a few years ago at a presentation at Langara College in Vancouver. At that presentation Jensen repeatedly hammered on two points: that building a movement for the kind of transformative change needed to stave off ecological collapse was futile; and that the inevitable collapse would kill off the majority of people. Jensen’s answer to this situation was to bring on the collapse as soon as possible – meaning that people should work to bring about the deaths of most of the people around them and around the world as soon as possible so that the few survivors would have some prospect of surviving and creating a less violent society.

Wisely, Lopez completely skips over Jensen’s ‘most of you are going to die soon and that’s a good thing spiel’ and instead spends much of the time featuring Jensen and others trashing the shallow end of the environmental organization pool. Not much needs to be said here, there are lots of easy targets and the no-holds-barred attack hits the mark on issues like the Boreal Forest Agreement. This part of the film may be an eye opener for some naïve enviros, and those eyes definitely need opening.

But the so called ‘solution’ presented in the film is just weird. The “Civ” in End: Civ refers to civilization defined as any society that has cities. And to Jensen, the existence of cities is unsustainable, and leads to violent oppression. And he seems to be not only referring to the massive megacities of the oil age, even the pre-industrial cities that we would think of as medium sized towns are far too large for Jensen’s vision.

But the real focus of the film is what Jensen calls ‘industrial civilization’. On that point the graphic visuals of the Canadian tar sands, industrial slaughter houses, and the like hammer home the message that this is leading us towards disaster and needs to be stopped. This is the most compelling part of the documentary, but for many of us it is nothing new. However, I was rather distracted by thoughts of what I heard Jensen say recently on Democracy Now about the kind of technology and society that should replace industrial civilization:

AMY GOODMAN: Derrick, you’ve written, "Civilization is not and can never be sustainable."
DERRICK JENSEN: Yeah. Several years ago, I was riding around in a car with a friend of mine, George Draffan, with whom I’ve written a couple books. And I was just making conversation. I said, "So, George, if you could live at any level of technology that you want to, what would it be?" And he was not in a very good mood that day, and he said, "That’s a really stupid question, Derrick, because we can fantasize whatever we want, but the truth is there’s only one level of technology that’s sustainable. And that’s the Stone Age.

OK, for any of you who were thinking that Jensen was advocating powering down to more appropriate technology like the bicycle, forget it. Nope, at least in this film for Jensen humans are too hopeless to create a society that can sustainably handle even Bronze Age technology. While Jensen is pessimistic about a lot of things, the thing that he seems most pessimistic about is the ability of people to work together intelligently. (But Jensen takes different tacks in other places, see the link below in questions).

The best thing about End: Civ is the, perhaps effective, attempt to jolt people out of their complacency. However, the jolt of Jensen’s bleak ultimate vision is accompanied with an impassioned attack on the pacifism of many North American liberals. Jensen favours more militant tactics including sabotage and armed action, claiming they are likely to be more effective.

On its own, End: Civ succeeds in demonstrating the interlinked problems of injustice and ecological overshoot caused by infinite growth on a finite planet, but like many main stream media accounts does not offer any hope for transformative change. Or at least not for the kind of transformative change that is likely to inspire a mass movement.

End: Civ is worth watching and showing. But don’t do it without being prepared for a lengthy discussion period after. Jensen has issued a challenge to anyone who believes that bicycles, cities and humans can coexist in the long term: how are we going to build the movement to make it happen?

Here are a few discussion questions you might want to focus on:

In some of his recent writing Derrick Jensen focuses more on the need to end economic growth than on ending civilization. E.g. Does ending economic growth necessarily mean living without any advanced industrial products such as bicycles? (Note that modern bicycles require ball bearings, a fairly advanced product)

Do we really need to give up all advanced industrial products such as bicycles?

Are even small cities always unsustainable (and / or violence inducing) as Jensen suggests?

The film seems to suggest that it is impossible to get majority support for Jensen’s ideas. Might it be possible to build a movement around a different vision of transformative change, which includes an end to (un)economic growth?

Jensen and others in the film attack reflexive pacifism, and call for a range of tactics that they think are more likely to succeed. To illustrate these tactics the film shows images of both armed and unarmed Zapatistas in Mexico. The Zapatistas managed to get wide popular support, even in Canada and the USA. Is there anything that third world movements can teach us about building support for radical action? Or is everything different in wealthy countries such as the US and Canada?

The film uses an analogy of one heroic rebel shooting a single explosive charge into a ventilation shaft and destroying the Death Star in the Star Wars movie. Is this a useful analogy given the dispersed nature of ecological threats such as global warming?

End:Civ is available from

Catch the news as it breaks: follow the VMC on Twitter.
Join the Vancouver Media Co-op today. Click here to learn about the benefits of membership.


Unfortunately, in a collapse

Unfortunately, in a collapse I think it's the rich and well connected (the violent ones most responsible for the destruction in the first place) who will likely survive. They already have their bunkers, stores of resources and security teams that will do their dirty work.

When I think of a collapse, I think of places like Haiti after the earthquake or New Orleans after Katrina. It was the poor people who had to fend for themselves and were the ones in a vulnerable state. Most of the people outside of the institutions end up looking to the state for help and refuge in places like the Dome or in some awful Camp where they depend on food and water to be delivered.

That's what i envision instead of the masses walking amr in arm to some McMansion and throwing a fatcat out into his swimming pool.

Book reading blog

I've started reading endgames. And I'm blogging it. Chapter for Chapter. Looking for comments.

Disasters and mutual aid


I would suggest you consider some positive experiences that result from disasters. People tend to self organize rather effectively during and after disasters, such as the Mexico City earthquake. Mutual aid seems to be the dominant instinct in major disasters, and a collapse is a chain of disasters.

Check out 'A Paradise Built in Hell' by Rebecca Solnit - a short interview is at

The book is available in almost any library.

The view relates to the fence

   I've read through most of Jensen's work and spent some time around the direct action crowd. Jensen's focus on dogmatic pacifism and the "shallow end of the enviro pool" come from years of frustration dealing with the people who can't stomach anything except their own tactics. I share this frustration.

  But the frustration becomes a wall of hostility and nothing gets resolved...

  Then we're told by contacts in europe that the movement in canada is basically 20 years behind in understanding and practicing diversity of tactics, and you realize we can't afford to wait around for people to quit pouting and talk to each other ... and/or shun the people who are too arrogant to work with others.

  Then again, a lone rebel blowing up some metaphorical death star is better off keeping to themselves and a small circle they trust with their life. Like Jensen says - we need it all.


Do we need "it all"?

Maybe I am being overly picky, but I think that 'we need it all' is one of the Jensen's messages that need to be discussed.

Are there some things that we don't need? Are some specific actions counterproductive? (Organizing an Earth Day event sponsored by Toyota is something that I would say we don't need.)

Jensen is very clear that he thinks some actions are useless and/or counterproductive. So 'we need it all' is not really about abandoning strategy and analysis of what works and what does not.

We don't need it all, we need to be strategic even as we experiment, make mistakes, and build alliances with people who have different ideas about what works and what does not.

Corporate earth day bullshit

No argument there! Ha!

Yeah, guess I assumed we were only talking about genuine grassroots actions by real people.

It never occurred to me to consider corporate greenwashing fundraiser type bullshit.

That stuff might as well be happening on another planet anyway ...

However, I do see good work being done by a small chunk of the reformist crowd who are sincere, so I'm not trying to make it black and white.

But what Toyota does to avoid paying taxes and look "green" is pretty far from my mind.

Technology Evil?

I think it's important to discuss this work as it has gripped an active part of an anti-capitalist community. While I'm not a primivist and disagree with a LOT of Jensen's analysis, he certainly has some insightful commentary.

I think it is unfortunate however, that rather than becoming an engineer or a scientist and finding ways to make a reasonable standard of living that isn't environmentally harmful possible, that the deep ecology movement has inspired a segment of communities to basically accelerate or wait for the impending "crash" (whatever that looks like).

I want a fridge, a stove, and a warm house to live in that isn't harmful. And I think it's possible if we spend more time learning about science and engineering.

I find it unfortunate that a lot of people just spit Jensen's ideas about civilization not being sustainable without having thought through how it could be made sustainable.

Our Two Cents,


The Anarchist Engineering Brigade



Creative Commons license icon Creative Commons license icon

User login