To become post-extractivist, we need to ask some deep, searching, questions about what the extent to which we're willing to change our mindsets and ways of living, writes Aia Newport for Chain Reaction #143. "How do we face the western addiction to convenience and consumption and admit there is no space for private luxuries in a post-extractivist world? How do we overcome our fears and learn to share and co-operate?"
Ideas are the foundations of change. To bring about post-extractive worlds we must shift to post-extractive mindsets. But what might these mindsets include and how might it feel to transform our ways of thinking about ourselves and each other? I believe that a focus on mutual survival, brought about through decolonisation, degrowth and co-operation, is key to climate justice.
First, let’s consider the mindset behind extractivism. An extractivist way of thinking prioritises the life and well-being of one thing over another, be it a person, community, nation, species or ecosystem. An extractivist asks, “What is the most I can possibly gain from you with the least possible cost to me?”
A post-extractive mindset then recognises the right of all beings and systems to continue in survival and flourishing, with none prioritised over another.
It would say “I value your life and purpose equally to mine. I deserve no more than you.” It would ask, “How can we share our resources to facilitate mutual survival and flourishing?”
It is essential that the ‘we’ in this question refers to all living beings and systems, not merely a segment. If the ‘we’ refers only to white people, it remains a colonial question. If it refers to only humans, it remains anthropocentric. It only becomes a post-extractive question when it takes into account all life and life-supporting systems.
Similarly, I believe there is an important distinction between anti- & post-extractivist futures. While anti-extractivism opposes extractive industries and systems, post-extractivism must be rooted in decolonial frameworks that take responsibility for the harms caused through extraction. This includes treaties, land back and repatriation of stolen goods, as a start. If post-extractivism is to value life equally and strive for mutual flourishing, it cannot exist without upholding the sovereignty of First Nations peoples.
So how do we actually reach a place where we whole-heartedly say, “Let’s thrive together?” Perhaps, we have to change our expectations of what we deserve and our definition of a “good life”.
Dominant Western narratives, which are also becoming global narratives, tell us we deserve to have everything even if it comes at the cost of someone or something else. Aimed at anyone who can pay for it, this narrative drives consumption and will perpetuate extractivism for as long as it remains the dominant story. The expectation of luxury and convenience leads us to strive for individually-owned laptops, phones, cars, dishwashers, coffee machines, hot water systems, sound systems, TVs, etc., because we want it here and we want it now. We’re taught our lives are more important than others.
We are also taught to fear scarcity as another motivation to hoard wealth and belongings. Some of us have known scarcity in lives, or been told stories from ancestors, and to a degree these fears are valid. However, this fear also works to drive high consumption and turn the cogs in the capitalist machine. If we are afraid of others stealing the means to our well-being we become deeply individualistic and strive for self-reliance.
This highly consumptive lifestyle is what extractive companies want us to want, so we will continue paying them to exploit natural and human resources to dig up more metals and minerals. To reduce the power of extractive industries then, we must reduce our demand for their products and services.
In order to reduce our demands on extractive industries we must change our definition of a “good life” and consume less. Not in an individual, “use less plastic” kind of way, but on the scale of towns and cities. Instead of replacing our private fossil fuel run cars with electrics, we can consume less with public transport. We can reduce our need for energy intensive hot water heating if we have community kitchens and shower blocks. Sharing our energy and resources will greatly reduce our reliance on extractive industries.
Yet in a world where we are taught by capitalist cultural norms to prioritise ourselves, how do we shed the layers of individual consumption and self-centered thinking to reveal more community focused ways of being?
How do we face the western addiction to convenience and consumption and admit there is no space for private luxuries in a post-extractivist world? How do we overcome our fears and learn to share and co-operate?
I think we need to sit ourselves down and think about our priorities. We have to ask ourselves, “What are we willing to do to achieve post-extractivism and climate justice?” Are we willing to give up our luxuries to enable others to flourish? Are we prepared to shift our priorities to enable future generations, ecosystems, colonised peoples, and even our future selves, the right to flourish? Are we willing to work to overcome our fear of each other so we can share resources? Are we willing to radically shift the way we live? Are we willing to keep trying even if our first attempts fail?
Following these paths involves risk and involves work, but if climate justice is our goal we must be willing to take it all in our stride. We will find boundaries for what we are willing to share and what we are not. We will create new systems and find joy in them. If one way doesn't work we’ll continue to look for other options, rather than reverting to fear and hoarding. We will give and so create a world where we are given back to.
The post-extractive mindset I’m imagining then is rooted in accountability, down-shifting and co-operation, with an aim for mutual flourishing.
The idea of “having less” also prevents us from seeing the opportunities that these post-extractive questions may lead us toward. We might find ourselves with less of the “convenience” we currently know but open ourselves up to other kinds of ease and connection. It may be scary, daunting, confronting and frustrating but also wonderful to be more tied to our friends and neighbours. Imagine getting home from a long day working as a nurse to find there’s hot water and food ready for you. Is that really any less convenient, even if you have to walk down the street to get it? Perhaps we’d find we’re grateful for these new ways of living together.
When I let myself think of the opportunities of downshifting, rather than the things I’m “losing”, I feel a genuine excitement. “A world where I can feel connected, happy, have what I need AND no one else is missing out or being exploited?” That's my dream. So am I willing to work for it? Yes.
Let’s give ourselves the opportunity to live our collective dreams. Let’s reduce our reliance on extractive industries, work together, share and take accountability through decolonisation in the name of mutual flourishing.
Aia (they/them) was born on Wurrundjeri country and is of Scottish, Welsh, and English descent. Get in contact at [email protected].