excerpt from Not on My Watch– In Defense of Temporary Victories by Derrick Jensen

My Nov-Dec issue of Orion magazine arrived a few days ago.  I always look forward to it.


It contains a poignant essay by grassroots environmental activist Derrick Jensen.  Here’s a pertinent and timely excerpt from Not on My Watch– In Defense of Temporary Victories.  The full essay will be posted online by Orion in a few weeks.

“…What makes the whole thing even more insane and untenable is the fact that the economic system requires constant addition, and this addition requires constant subtraction by which I mean capitalism requires that production grow—add 2 or 3 per cent each year— but production itself is a measure of subtraction– that is, the conversion of the living into the dead: forests into two-by-fours, schools of fish into fish sticks or fertilizer.  The math is both simple and tragic…

“I think that for some people – especially those in power—the only math that matters is constant addition to their bank accounts…..

“A couple of decades later… when I became a grassroots environmental activist, I saw the truth of what David Brower famously said: “as environmentalists all our defeats are permanent and all out victories are temporary”.  I saw so many men and women dedicating their lives to saving this or that patch of forest, this or that stretch of river, this or that plant or animal or fungus they loved. I saw so many of us holding on by our fingertips as the culture implacably destroyed everyone and everything we loved.  So many of us asked each other: holding on till when?  (And the answer was always: till the economy collapses because it won’t stop expanding until then.) …

“My dear friend and mentor John Osborn has often said to me, “We cannot predict the future.  As things become increasingly chaotic, I want to make sure some doors remain open.”  What he means by this is that if lynx and Selkirk caribou and bull trout are alive in ten years, they may be alive in one hundred.  If they’re extinct in ten years, they’re gone forever.  He means if we can keep this or that patch of old growth standing for ten years, this or that river free-flowing for ten years, it may be alive in one hundred.  If its cut or dammed now, the damage is done.  What he’s saying is, “These will not go down on my watch.”

“And so my dream is that the temporary victories can eventually become permanent ones.   That if we each keep doing our part, we can turn the math on its head, so that each day there is more life on this planet, more fish and birds and insects, more forests and free-flowing rivers and grasslands and wetlands, and fewer toxics. This won’t happen because of rationalizations or fancy names or new algorithms. This will only happen because the social conditions — on every level from the epistemological to the infrastructural – that support the erosion of life and the advance of death are eliminated.

“I’m convinced that this will happen. The only question is what will be left of the planet when it does.  In the meantime, it’s up to each of us to ask what we love, and then to defend that beloved. It’s up to each of us to say, “Not on my watch.”



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