Binary Disasters

Disasters are very rarely binary. Tragedy is very rarely binary. Very rarely do the terrible things that happen to us, the terrible things that happen to humanity, begin “full on”. This can be said of fascism.

I have a friend whose parents were Dutch. They lived through the horrors of the Nazi occupation of The Netherlands. I asked him what he thought of the recent resurgence of the far right and fascism, worldwide. His response was to retell some of the stories his parents told him about what it was like to live under Nazi occupation.

The message was obvious. What is happening now is nothing like what happened then. I didn’t respond. I didn’t want to start an argument. I also wanted to process his response, to think it through. It wasn’t the first time I had heard such a response, but it’s different when it comes from the lips of an old friend.

My first thought was this, “You’re not disagreeing with me, my opinion is irrelevant. You are arguing with other survivors of the horrors of Nazi Germany.”

My next thought was this. Disasters are very rarely binary. They are very rarely “full on” or “full off”. The fascism in Europe that led to WWII and The Final Solution didn’t begin with the invasion of Poland and the extermination camps. It began long before that.

Fascism began with the demonization of “the other”, not just Jews, but intellectuals, homosexuals, people with disabilities, the Roma, and the list goes on. It began with blaming fake enemies for real problems. It began first with an erosion of democracy, followed by it’s complete destruction.

Made in Americas


How to Survive the Apocalypse

Indigenous Territories of the Americas—image courtesy of

The Apocalypse is here: floods, fire, famine, disease. It’s all happening right now, and it’s going to get worse. The first order of business is to stop burning fossil fuels. But that alone isn’t going to reverse what is already happening, or stop the runaway train of climate change. If humanity is going to survive The Apocalypse, we are going to have to change the ways we live. The history of the Americas just might have some lessons for us.

The Colonial Dream

The “colonial dream” is a dream of pristine wilderness. It’s a dream of nature “as God intended”. That wasn’t what Columbus found in 1492. The Americas were territories that had been populated by homo sapiens for tens of thousands of years. The First Nations had transformed every habitat, from the farthest reaches of the north, to the farthest southern tip of what would come to be known as South America.

The indigenous peoples of the Americas, the “First Nations”, survived climate catastrophes, both localized and global, long before the arrival of Europeans. Those climate catastrophes included the end of the last ice age and the extinction of “mega fauna”. They not only survived, they thrived. The estimates of the human population of the Americas in 1492 range from 50-150 million. To put that in perspective, the population of Europe in 1500 was approximately 60 million.

So many older texts refer to most of the first nations of the Americas, especially in North America, as “hunter gatherers”. That term is at least somewhat pejorative. It doesn’t begin to capture the sophisticated nature of the relationship the indigenous peoples of the Americas had with the land they lived on.

The Achievements of the First Nations of the Americas

In Central and South America lidar imagery has uncovered evidence of advanced agriculture and cities in ecosystems where previous generations of archaeologists assumed agriculture and civilization were not possible. In North America archaeologists and anthropologists have discovered that forests that were once assumed to be “untouched wilderness” were in fact extensively managed.

So how is any of this going to help humanity, now, survive The Apocalypse? There is so much we can learn from the First Nations of the Americas. One of the best lessons is we can learn from them is the way they preserved and managed wild spaces without destroying biodiversity. Another critical lesson comes from the indigenous cities of Central and South America. They incorporated agriculture into their cities. This made food production local and sustainable.

The First Nations of the Americas were advanced in ways we in the West are only beginning to understand. The world needs the knowledge that they had. So much was lost as a consequence of the Apocalypse that was colonialism. But hidden under the canopy of jungles, locked up in the stories of elders, there just might exist knowledge that can help humanity survive The Apocalypse that is now.