When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. – John Muir.
Here in North America, our social ideology is often guided by ideas of distinction. The belief in separation or the ability to separate. We are somewhat obsessed with definitions of difference that show us the lines between people, places, and things. This distinction is made worse by the way we also add value judgements to those distinctions and suddenly people are better than places and certainly more valuable than things (or are they?). This mentality does not work in protecting the environment because we are simply too close to the issue. We are the environment; we are evolutionary products of the same systems that shape the rest of the natural world.
When the belief in distinction is met with the desire to acquire resources, there you have Extractivism. Extractivism is the forced removal of something from its natural, contextual relationships. The ideology of distinction generally erases contextual relationships, making extraction of specific resources, ideas, or peoples possible. While condoned by society at large, these processes are damaging. In ecological terms, extractivism is what has allowed for intensive logging, for the removal of integral wetland ecosystems (dubbed ‘overburden’) to extract oil, and for extinction events that occur because the impact of removing one aspect of an ecosystem on the rest of the system is simply not acknowledged.
It is my belief that to change our mindset toward ecological harms, we must re-establish relationship with our environment. We are not separate, distinct, or above the natural world but our relationships with it have been displaced. Along with this, we must know that everything in this world is in some kind of relationship whether it be ecologically or socially and that these relationships are what create working systems. If we want to change our societal stance towards the environment and protect it more effectively we need to remember, we are nature first, and people second.
Naomi Klein did an incredible interview with Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, where Simpson defined extractivism in her Indigenous context and experience – check it out here.