Drawing the end – book review of As the World Burns: 50 things you can do to stay in denial by Derrick Jensen

Jensen’s graphic novel As the World Burns propels the reader into thinking about what would it take for us to get off our lazy asses and salvage the planet. The story centers around the invasion of Earth by aliens who want to eat everything. All the beings who oppose ecological destruction must find a way to counter this affront, and Jensen makes it clear that neither letter-writing nor meditating for peace are effective strategies.

The readers are encouraged by a young radical who convinces her friend that seeing the reality of corporate destruction isn’t reason to despair — it’s the only way to fight back. There’s the non-profit worker who realizes that fundraising doesn’t save trees, and the boy who listens to his friend, a crow, in order to find a sustainable way of living. The animals of the (former) forests rally their domesticated counterparts to help in the battle.

Leading the dark side, a slick, greedy, politicking idiot trades the US for a few bars of gold. He comes into trouble when his corporate bosses realize they’ve been double-crossed and the resources they’ve exploited are now in someone else’s coal train. Corporations don’t like competition, and the aliens drive a hard bargain.

Jensen takes the complexity of anti-civilization philosophy and distills it down to one important message. If we can’t stop destroying everything, soon we’ll have destroyed everything. The only way to ensure the survival of biodiversity as we know it (including humans) and to prevent total ecological devastation is to end civilization now.

The subtitle, a play on the book 50 Things You Can Do to Save the Earth, highlights that green consumerism is like using a fire extinguisher in a volcano. Nice try; no dice. The protagonists have several conversations about how personal action (including reducing your ‘footprint’) is necessary, but that the larger havoc is wreaked by our collective, corporate, and industrial activities. Mining, agriculture, forestry, fishing, urban sprawl, and of course, oil cause the majority of environmental carnage.

The piece also calls attention to the ineffectual nature of reform politics. Asking the powers-that-be to end the slaughter is like asking a predator not to hunt. Civilization and its institutions are agents of destruction that must be dismantled, because they cannot be mitigated or reasoned with. There is nothing polite about saving the world, nor does there have to be. No one will get re-elected, make a profit, or win a Nobel Prize for their efforts.

So, if you’re looking for a wholesome introduction to anti-civ ideas, or need a break from his longer tomes, Jensen’s graphic novel is a great addition to the genre.