Today, a new generation of ecovillagers embraces the same anti-consumerist convictions. But the world has changed. Mother Earth is in critical condition. America is no longer awash in cheap energy; economic growth has flat-lined; upward mobility has gone into reverse. For now, most Americans get by with shabbier versions of daily life and cling to the hope that sooner or later progress will resume. But denial won’t stop carbon-addicted civilization from breaking down as it trashes the planet. The day is quickly approaching when energy scarcity, ecological disasters, global pandemics, economic crashes, and political mayhem will make business-as-usual impossible. Consequently, yesteryear’s counter-culture utopians have morphed into a new generation of dedicated eco-survivalists determined to live well with less and heal the planet.
Some Green survivalists have already decided to sever most of their ties with industrial society and begin living off the grid. Experimental efforts, like ecovillages and lifeboat communities, that strive to become as Earth-friendly, resilient, and sustainable as possible have sprouted all over the planet. Others have organized grassroots initiatives to transition their communities, cities, and states away from dependence on a climate-disrupting global economy addicted to fossil fuels.
But so far, most survivalists are short-term “preppers.” They’re preparing to weather passing disasters, not the prolonged collapse of industrial civilization. They’re readying themselves, as individuals, families, or small groups, for temporary calamities like earthquakes, pandemics, climate disasters, or economic crises. They focus on stockpiling food, water, and other necessities; arming themselves; and gaining survival skills and emergency medical training.
Wealthy preppers may try to become more self-sufficient by building retreats, bunkers, or underground shelters to outlast more extensive catastrophes. Some even plan to be ready if the banking system implodes, credit freezes, financial assets vaporize, currency values fluctuate wildly, trade shuts down, and governments crumble or impose draconian measures to maintain their authority. But short-term preppers aren’t trying to build the transitional settlements that will shape life after industrial civilization.
Unlike preppers, Green survivalists are creating alternatives to industrial civilization. They are building permanent ecovillages—settlements designed to become “thriving models of a future world.” Although today’s ecovillages sprout on the experimental fringe of society, their future success is vital because the crucial skills needed to survive system failure are becoming more urgent every day. Their survival and recovery strategy calls for reweaving the relationships and relearning the skills our pre-industrial ancestors used to grow and preserve food; make clothing and tools; construct homes and workshops; generate renewable energy, recycle resources, and create a lively Earth honoring culture.
Green survivalists hope humans will wake up to their universal peril, overcome their addiction to fossil fuels, and ditch the ecocidal economy that pursues profit at the expense of people and the planet. To create a sustainable alternative, these “bioneers” are committed to healing humanity’s toxic relationship with the Earth by integrating the wisdom of indigenous cultures with the most useful insights of science and ecology. Ecovillagers hope to lessen the severity of the impending collapse by initiating a cooperative contraction toward simpler, more locally resilient societies that thrive within the carrying capacity of their bioregion. Green survivalists believe a network of ecovillages can provide Earth-friendly lifeboats for the Titanic shipwreck of industrial civilization.
Ecovillage bioneers pursue a vast array of skills like permaculture, habitat restoration, rainwater catchment, and beekeeping; woodworking, masonry, ceramics, and tool making; alternative energy generation, solar ovens, and passive solar construction; acupuncture, herbal healing, and midwifery. Ecovillagers favor democratic decision-making and egalitarian social relations that strive to eliminate class, race, and gender hierarchies.
Unfortunately, ecovillagers are oblivious to, and woefully unprepared for, a looming threat to the future they hope to create. While they hone their abilities to live peacefully with each other and the planet, other survivalists intend to stay alive through plunder and pillage. Instead of permaculture and renewable energy, tribal survivalists prize weaponry, warfare, and military might. Their survivalist manuals and clandestine training programs emphasize close-quarter combat, tactical gear, firearms training, kidnapping, and urban guerilla tactics; sniping, chemical weapons, incendiary materials, explosive devices, and booby-traps; fortifications and body armor; surveillance, short wave communication, and cyber warfare.
There are several brands of tribal survivalism. But most believe the world is destined to become a battleground—a war between clashing religions, races, nationalities, and civilizations. Christian tribalists stress their religious identity and envision some biblical version of apocalyptic survivalism. Others prepare to win a bloody race war or a battle for national supremacy, and some believe the survival of Western civilization is their holy crusade.
While the narratives vary, each version of the coming collapse calls for tribalists to vanquish their enemies and assert their supremacy. Tribalism is usually some mixture of ultra-conservative religious, racial, and nationalist ideology. Often, race, religion, and nationality are fused into a broader tribal identity. They believe Western civilization is crumbling under the decadent influence of Godless humanism, globalism, communism, race mixing, multi-culturalism, and an excess of Jews and non-white people. They encourage white Christian patriots to take up arms against the global Jewish Illuminati and purge Western civilization of communists, eco-freaks, Muslim jihadists, and the invading “mud races” from “inferior” civilizations.
Tribalists all share a belief in the superiority of their select group and their determination to prevail over others by any means necessary. To survive collapse, they commit themselves to a fierce battle for supremacy and control over dwindling resources. Tribal “accelerationists” plan to sow chaos and plunder their way to power by sabotaging society, fomenting conflict, disrupting governments, seizing land and resources, and eliminating, expelling, or enslaving anyone outside their exclusive racial, religious, or patriotic minions.
Some tribalists intend to claim a specific territory for their homeland. Others want the entire planet. Survivalist militias like the Northwest Front, the Base, and Aryan Nations, plan to impose a white ethno-nation upon the inhabitants of the Northwest through terrorist sabotage and guerrilla warfare. Inspired by Harold Covington’s neo-Nazi novel, The Northwest Imperative, a growing number of über reactionaries have designated the American northwest as their point of retreat when banks fail, power grids go down, and the government declares martial law. The Northwest Front’s website declares, “Our long term goal is to present the government of the United States with a situation whereby the struggle to retain the Northwest becomes politically and financially insupportable.”
The same territory has become a popular potential homeland for faith-based tribalists who claim to prioritize religion over race. American Redoubt is a political-religious migration movement founded by militant survivalist James Wesley Rawles. Like the white nationalists, Rawles designates eastern Oregon and Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming as a haven for conservative, libertarian-leaning Christians and Jews. He claims his American Redoubt Movement, “is analogous to the Puritan exodus from Europe. They couldn’t fit in and said, ‘We’re going to move to completely virgin territory and start afresh.’…In effect, we’re becoming pistol-packing Amish.”
Other tribalists, like Ben Klassen, the founder of the Church of the Creator, fuse racial and religious tribalism and deplore the notion of limiting their supremacy to some territory smaller than planet Earth. In Klassen’s words, “We are determined that the winner take all—that the White Race must colonize, occupy, and inhabit all—and we mean all—the beneficent territory of the Planet Earth…The White Race will either take all, inhabit all, or we will drown in a sea of mud races. The world is becoming far too crowded to support both us and them.”
Tribal survivalists deplore democracy and have nothing but contempt for the ecovillagers’ inclusive egalitarianism survivalism. They uphold the rule of authoritarian overlords who dominate through racial, religious, or political indoctrination and intimidation. Unwavering loyalty is fostered through fear of dissent and the vilification of “outsiders” who supposedly threaten the tribe’s survival.
Unlike tribalism, Green survivalism fosters a sense of empathic solidarity based on our universal humanity and our common ecological predicament. Eco-survivalists prioritize the fact that, first and foremost, we are all human beings struggling to survive on a degraded planet. They seek non-violent coexistence between people, not a battle for tribal supremacy. Yet, by their very existence, ecovillagers’ commitment to peaceful, cooperative, human survival poses a fundamental threat to exclusive, supremacist tribal doctrines.
Make no mistake, tribal survivalists hate environmentalist “Greenies” of all shades. They believe their tribal militias need to be armed and ready to defend their way of life from eco-terrorists, climate crazies, and other “Green totalitarians.” For them, global environmental crises like climate chaos and massive extinctions are junk science. They believe UN bureaucrats, eco-liberals, and New World Order totalitarians have concocted these fake threats to undermine American sovereignty and impose “a comprehensive plan of utopian environmentalism, social engineering, and global political control.”
America-first tribalists consider ecovillagers part of this New World Order’s insidious plot to herd Americans into crowded “habitat zones” so that the rest of the planet can be devoted to wildlife preservation. They believe Americans will be evicted from their suburban dream homes, herded into urban “hobbit homes,” and forced to abandon their pick-ups and SUVs for bicycles and mass transit.
In the twisted, fearful logic of patriotic tribalists, ecovillagers are engaged in a totalitarian socialist conspiracy to rob white Christian Americans of their carbon-addicted, consumerist lifestyle. For them, it is irrelevant that suburban America is unsustainable, ecocidal, and doomed to obsolesce. They blame ecovillagers for threatening the American way of life, instead of providing a resilient alternative to industrial collapse. This amounts to blaming the firefighters for causing the fire.
The fundamental incompatibility between tribalist and Green survivalism means that the “live and let live” eco-survivalist ethic will not be honored or tolerated by warlike tribalists. Today ecovillages are shielded by the government’s ability to contain and punish paramilitary tribalist violence. However, as modern civilization unravels and government’s capacity to restrain tribalist violence fails, thriving ecovillage settlements will become targets—vulnerable to attack, pillage, and destruction.
Like it or not, ecovillagers will be forced to defend themselves from conquest and plunder or face enslavement or extermination. To avoid the fate of slaves, medieval serfs, or Native American tribes, ecovillagers and their allies will have to develop strategies to repel tribalist violence. Those who believe that today’s ecovillage experiments are “thriving models of a future world” ignore tribalism’s emerging danger at their peril. Because, if things fall apart as they expect in the not too distant future, there will be no government around to protect them.
Craig Collins, Ph.D. is the author of Toxic Loopholes (Cambridge University Press), which examines America’s dysfunctional system of environmental protection and the international system’s failure to confront climate chaos. He teaches political science and environmental law at California State University East Bay and was a founding member of the Green Party of California. His forthcoming books—Marx & Mother Nature and Rising From the Ruins: Catabolic Capitalism and Green Resistance—reformulate Marx’s theory of history and social change and examine the emerging struggle to replace catabolic capitalism with a thriving, just, ecologically resilient society.