Screenshot from the film, ‘Winstanley’ (1975)

‘My Resignation’; or, ‘Long Walks & Anarcho-Primitivism’

“I am writing to inform you that as of the end of 2020, I am resigning my position with the environmental movement”

“And hereupon, The Earth (which was made to be a Common Treasury of relief for all, both Beasts and Men) was hedged in to In-closures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made Servants and Slaves” – from The True Levellers Standard Advanced, by Gerrard Winstanley, 1649

Page bookmarks

(Use Hotkey & ‘number’ to jump to that section)

  1. My resignation
  2. Anti-technology, but pro-science
  3. ‘Doing a John Muir’
  4. OK, I need to find a new ‘job’

It’s two years since I went blind, had surgery, but more importantly had to spend eight weeks with my left cheek pinned flat to the bed all day. After a hectic decade1, for the first time I had a chance, without distraction, to reflect on what was, what is, and what may be. This is what I have taken time to discern – and many of you may not like it:

download the PDF version of ‘The Meta-Blog’ No.9: ‘‘My Resignation’; or, ‘Long Walks & Anarcho-Primitivism’’
download the PDF version of this post

To begin, this has been a long-time coming2. It’s important to take time to think and reflect; to act with clarity rather than ill-judged urgency. Many’s the time when out on a walk3 I’ve stood and thought, “now?”; only to put it off to another day because I could not freely speak what was in my mind.

Now it is that day.

What I talk about here has grown over a decade4 or two5; though it has become more pressing over the last five or six6 years, and extremely so over the last two. There are two main drivers for that:

Firstly, as the ‘climate crisis’7 becomes mainstream, it eclipses the greater, more complex debate over human ecology8, and the wider ‘ecological crisis’9 human ‘civilisation’ has created – to the point where the mainstream solutions10 to this crisis are as great a threat11 as the system they seek to replace.

Paul Mobbs, 'Energy & Food' workshop, Llandeilo, 2008
In science communication mode presenting the Energy & Food workshop, Llandeilo, 2008

Secondly, the rise of Extinction Rebellion12, which has (thankfully)13 eclipsed role of the established environmental campaigns in Britain; but has (unfortunately)14 failed to advance the ecological debate any further, as contemporary environmentalism has no critical analysis15 of humanity’s place within its environment – reinforcing our separation16 from it.

It’s important to note that I’ve been ‘doing this’ for a long time: My first ‘environmental action’, aged 9, was a response I wrote at school to a 1977 consultation on the local plan for Banbury; by 14, I was active in local peace and environmental groups; by 17, I was leading direct action protests17.

In 1992, that ‘amateur’ interest turned into a full-time job18 – which I have been doing ever since. That has taken me all across Britain, working with all kinds of communities and individuals – and occasionally way beyond19. It’s been an absolute pleasure and honour to work on20 all those campaigns; but now is the time to change the focus of that work.

Paul Mobbs, ‘Reclaim the Bases’, Cruisewatch, 1985
Leading a walk across a US military communications base, 1985 – click here for the video

That inevitably means risking the loss of many of the ‘friends’ I have now (hence my delay in writing this); but I have to take that risk now because I can’t in all honesty continue in this role otherwise.

After six weeks of near darkness and awesome visual hallucinations – as my brain tried to make sense of my slowly healing eyesight – my vision began to return in late January 2019. During that time my mind ‘went for a walk’; or rather, it revisited many of the places I have walked21 and camped over the last forty years. As I’ve managed to tie-in walking and camping with working around the country, inevitably, as I revisited those places, I also relived the work I had undertaken while there – and the reasons for doing it.

‘Atom Riddle – Harwell Accused Over Secret Dump’, Oxford Star, 13th February 1992
“He’s not an environmentalist, he’s a very naughty boy” – tracking down Harwell’s dirty secrets in the late 80s/early 90s

People have said since, “weren’t you afraid”. I think the honest answer is, “no”. What many might see as a horrific event, I ‘viewed’ from the beginning as an opportunity to do some serious thinking.

Of course, ‘thinking’ can be very dangerous. In February 2019, when I began using a computer again, I opened a new folder called, ‘Resignation’. Since then I have been collecting notes and references that illustrate what it is I have felt for a long time. This has provided the embedded links to this paper – which I strongly urge you to read.

My resignation

Free Range Network's ‘Fracking Truth’ stall, Green Gathering, 2016
‘Statistics communication mode’ – working on the Free Range Network's ‘Fracking Truth’ stall, Green Gathering, 2016

What is it that makes it difficult for me to call myself, or identify as, an ‘environmentalist’? In short: What today is called ‘environmentalism’ has become a self-serving consumer philosophy that strives to preserve affluence rather than protecting all life on the planet.

That is not what led me to adopt this attitude22 to the world in my youth; that is not why I’ve spent almost 40 years actively working to ‘change things’.

I believe in protecting ‘all life’23, not any preconceived entitlement to ‘affluence’24. Yet that is precisely where certain figures in the environmentalism are directing us today – towards a literal ‘dead end’.

Bill Hicks25 had a wonderful line: “Cease your internal dialogue, you’re wrong”. That sums up the feeling I’ve had for a while now. Even when I can substantiate ideas with research, I’ve been forced to tone down those thoughts to work with others.

As I can no longer downplay that critique, I cannot in all honesty identify as ‘an environmentalist’.

In its everyday language, environmentalism is unable to escape26 the neoliberal constructs of consumerism, markets, and affluence27; and so cannot begin to solve28 the problems it rails against29. So engrained has the language of neoliberalism30 become within environmentalism, it cannot escape31 reducing ‘progress’ to economic valuations32, nor imagine any path to change which goes beyond simply ‘managing’ human impacts33 – and it would never question the nature of34 the lifestyle that35 creates these impacts36, and its inherent global inequalities.

‘Less is a Four-Letter Word’ presentation (2015), page 28
A slide from the ‘Less is a Four-Letter Word’ presentation (2015)

Environmentalism cannot solve37 these problems because what it strives to protect38 is the root cause of those problems – the affluent lifestyle39 of the roughly ten percent40 of the world’s population who consume more than half41 of everything.

More than anything else though, as environmentalism becomes a dialogue on the vicissitudes of affluence, and takes on a purpose that is essentially to preserve that lifestyle, environmentalism has isolated itself42 from the ‘average’ person43 – precisely because the ‘average’ person44, both in Britain and the world, cannot realistically aspire to having such a lifestyle – so why work45 to preserve those values?46

Why do ‘green’ political parties consistently get47 such low support – not just in Britain, but around the world – and yet believe they can make change? For example, the 2019 Euro-elections48, when the greens claimed to make progress49 even though the anti-environmental far-right50 got more votes.

Why should ‘most’ people work to protect a lifestyle51 they cannot have today52, just so those who have that lifestyle53 can continue to have it tomorrow? Environmentalism can never be a ‘popular’ force, to the point where it has real political success, while it panders to what are in effect ‘minority’ values54.

Oxfam’s ‘champagne glass’ graph (2015)
The ‘champagne glass’ graph – developed in the UN’s 1992 ‘Human Development Report’; presented here from Oxfam's 2015 Extreme Carbon Inequality report.

The environmental movement cannot advance55 from its present impasse until it resolves the (at least) 40-year split over ‘reform’ versus ‘radicalism’56; and the paradoxical actions57 of those who disparage today’s economic process, while seeking58 to maintain their status59 within it.

This is my ‘resignation’: That the environment movement is unwilling, and unable to change; because it cannot perceive the errors that arise60 from its disconnection between goals and means; and those who ‘lead’ will not veer61 from that course before a large-scale ecological collapse62 takes place.

Anti-technology, but pro-science

Even hinting to some earnest environmentalists63 that first-world affluence is the root of64 ecological destruction – and perhaps their own affluence65 prevents them seeing this – results in a clamour of complaint. In reply, their response is nearly always technological solutions66 that will fix their lifestyle67 – often with attached web links68 to some market- or lifestyle-affirming media coverage of one utopian green scheme or another.

‘Limits to Technology – annotated slides’, 2011 edition (PDF file)
The ‘Limits to Technology’ presentation, 2011 (click image for PDF of slides). A PDF of the annotated slides is also available

If I then respond with peer reviewed research or technical explanations as to why the change they seek is impossible, the result is usually silence69 – as if, as is generally the case with denial70, failing to engage with the criticism will make it go away.

When responses are forthcoming, I am often told that I am being ‘negative’71, or ‘anti-technology’72, or a ‘Luddite’73 (OK, I will hold up my hand to the latter!).

I do not ‘blame’ people for that position though. Those responses are not really that person speaking; they are neoliberal tropes74, being repeated because that is what the public are told these critical arguments represent. Unfortunately, ever since such fallacies75 were promoted by Plato76 twenty-four centuries ago, just because these statements have authority doesn’t make them true.

These tropes support the ideological fallacy77 that technological progress is innately good – yet, self-evidently, this cannot be the case78 because of the ongoing damage79 to planetary ecosystems.

Yes, ‘deep green’ ideas80 represent an end to ‘technological society’ as we know it today – in which sense they my be those of a ‘Luddite’; but whether people like it or not, its that same technological society81 that is killing the planet82 right now.

Technology has become synonymous with scientific knowledge. It is not the same. Though based within science, technology is intrinsically related83 to the economic and political structures84 of power.

Speaking at the APPG on Peak Oil, Parliament, November 2009
Speaking at the APPG on Peak Oil, Parliament, November 2009

How can we expect today’s dominant economic philosophy85, that rejects ecological limits86, and the Laws of Thermodynamics87, to ever represent reality?88

Technology is incapable of solving the ecological crisis89 because the increase in system efficiency, or the cut to emissions involved, is beyond the ability of technology to deliver – unless we have significant change to affluent lifestyles26 at the same time.

Technology is not neutral. Technology reinforces90 the economic and political culture of the present-day, by allowing the economic system to operate in the way it does. From modern slavery to climate change, campaigns focus on the ‘bad’ results of the global technocratic economy; ignorant of91 how the ‘positive’ reinforcements of consumerism, and especially the screen-based digital realm92, reinforce an identity based upon materialism92 to perpetuate itself.

Relishing my role as camp cook, Free Range Weekend, Autumn 2008
Relishing my role as camp cook, Free Range Weekend, Autumn 2008

For example, take the simplistic and and well-worn phrase, allegedly repeated by Deep Ecologists23 and Neo-Luddites73: “Turn it off”.

OK… turn it off and do what? Let’s say I turn-off all the gadgets in my life; now what? In today’s society how would you work, or buy and cook food?

The idea of ‘dropping out’ of technologically-enabled society represents a ‘double-bind’94; you can’t exclude yourself from that society because the way it functions prevents you from doing so. Rather like closed religious sects, turning off the technology confers a kind of automatic ‘social death’, that cuts you off from everything else in your life.

For that same reason the opponents of Deep Ecology use this argument as an attack95; that ‘turning-back progress’ is impossible, and so continuing with ever-more technology96 is the only viable option for all humanity. And yet, if that ubiquitous technology were to suddenly fail or be disrupted, that’s an arguably a worse97 situation to be in.

What environmentalism increasingly does, instead of advocating lifestyle change, is use technology as a proxy98 for discussions about the impacts99 of the affluent lifestyle; but in a way which does not challenge the values of that lifestyle – and which shifts its ‘externalities’100 away to distant101 economies.

The perfect example of that is the changing debate over cars: Twenty-five years ago, as part of the anti-roads campaigns102 that arose in response to Thatcher’s roads building programme103, environmentalists developed a critique of the car as the basis for personal transport – from pollution104, to urban destruction105, to traffic flow dynamics106, to efficiency107.

Twenty-five years later where is that ecological critique? It was passed over by mainstream environmental organisations, keen to curry favour with governments: First for an abortive diatribe108 over biofuels, until biofuels were shown to be worse109; and more recently, a discussion about 'green' cars110.

Today, that twenty-five year-old critique of transport policy would be called, ‘anti-car’111.

'Forward' graphic

Guess what? The critique is still good; and has in fact been strengthened by new evidence that has emerged112 in the interim. Replacing fossil-fuelled vehicles with electric cars113, while creating global equity, is next to impossible114 – and will give rise115 to global threats116 to biodiversity and the climate117.

That critical debate on the car never went away; it was deliberately forgotten by environmentalists who wanted to pander to the desires of the affluent, rather than make peace with ecological reality.

‘Doing a John Muir’

Early on during my time face-down in bed I listened to a backlog of podcasts and audiobooks. I gave up that monotonous activity very quickly, and remember few of them – with the exception of one.

'Consumerism' image
Challenging the orthodox economics of the Welsh Government in a response to the Welsh National Development Framework

As I lay, face taped with eye-shield, I listened to a short biography of John Muir118. In 1866, an industrial accident119 cut open Muir’s right eye; then his left eye sympathetically failed. It resonated with my own predicament – albeit my ‘industrial accident’ was likely the result of 30 years of intensive research.

Laid in bed for six weeks, Muir realised that he missed not his modern life, but his simple travels.

I too realised that things needed to change. Around 2017, I had stopped calling myself an ‘ecological futurologist’120, and instead used the label ‘planetary hospice worker’121. If the research you review keeps telling you that technological society has no future, how can you call yourself a ‘futurologist’?

To preserve any measure of freedom and autonomy in their existence, humanity must let go122 of affluence and consumption – which, for many, is not unlike a ‘death of the self’123. These are two very distinct kinds of discussion: You don’t help people come to terms with that by explaining environmental destruction; you help people, as hospice workers do, to accept the end of their existence as ‘consumers’.

Presenting the ‘Fracktured Accountability’ report to the police, Downing Street, March 2015
Presenting the ‘Fracktured Accountability’ report to the police, Downing Street, March 2015

Just before my eyes failed, I had been in a protracted debate with some of those setting up Extinction Rebellion. I tried to explain that their approach was wrong, for reasons others would later echo124.

Fundamentally Extinction Rebellion are a bunch of good-hearted, upstanding people125 who are being led by ‘wannabe agitators’126. Explaining that is a blog post in itself, and frankly I’ve no interest in doing that – or I would have written that already.

Their latest antic, ‘money rebellion’127, is so ignorant of the economics of fiat currencies128 and the debt-finance system129, it deserves ridicule. It proves that their outlook on the world is one of a trapped consumer, unable to think beyond those systems of consumption in order to find a new pattern for living.

They can’t see those alternatives130 because their affluent outlook lacks an ecological critique of modernity131; and if you broach that with them most reject it as ‘extreme’ – such has been the victory of neoliberal economics over common sense, embodied in the creation of the “extreme centre”132.

Title frame, ‘The Global Military Infrastructure and You’, June 2018
My presentation to the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space's 2018 conference in Oxford

Extinction Rebellion is not helping people adapt to the inevitable curtailment of mass consumption. They are not arguing for something better than consumerism, but for options that – like the Green New Deal – avoid any troublesome discussions82 over consumption and lifestyle133 altogether.

Just like the “turn it off” argument, Extinction Rebellion offer no alternative vision. But if all those grand green schemes are to be believed, the future looks relatively so like today, why would an ‘average’ person believe it offers anything better?

OK, I need to find a new ‘job’

'Adam and Eve' graphic

If Covid should have taught the public anything, it is that – irrespective of any claims to the contrary – politicians and technocrats are not in control. Just as, a decade or so ago, the financial crash demonstrated economists are not in control either.

The reality then?; no one is in control of technological society. Those ‘at the top’ are as effectively trapped134 in that same ‘double-bind’ of technology as the ordinary consumer I talked of earlier. Those ‘in charge’ are in it for whatever they can get, because that’s what the system requires them to do.

Now build-in climate change, resource depletion, and ecological break-down: The public can have no confidence135 that their lifestyle is being guaranteed by anyone; or, to quote Erin Brockovitch’s136 latest sound-bite, “Superman’s not coming”137.

Why am I so un-perplexed by this reality?

I need a new job: With my eyes as they are now, I cannot maintain the effort required to do what I have been doing for the last thirty years.

Arriving in Shropshire for a weekend camping workshop
Arriving in Shropshire for a weekend camping workshop on low impact lifestyles

There’s a witty maxim: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach; those who can’t teach, teach PE”.

Given my present condition, I need to find the ecological equivalent of teaching PE!

Growing up, I never had ‘affluence’. The life-skills that were taught to me as a child – from growing and cooking food to foraging – were an inheritance from generations of my poor ancestors; who used simple, practical, communal skills to survive Britain’s historic exploitation of the semi-rural poor.

By adulthood I made those skills into a deliberate lifestyle. There is no way I could have enjoyed the life I’ve had if it were based on a ‘modern’ lifestyle.

At one low point, I earned money teaching people those skills138 because they were considered ‘green’. There’s an idea: Finding new ways to teach those skills. That’s the best I can offer the world right now, given what is likely to happen in the next few years.

If I had to pick a label for that – a simple slogan to encapsulate what it is people need to do – what would that be?:

The Free Range 'Feral' Stick-Fire Cooking Grate
The Free Range 'Feral' Stick-Fire Cooking Grate, 2017 – click above for video or click here for the website

The easiest way to learn these skills is to go walking and camping139, using simple tools140 that you can carry in a pack. This practical outlook141, combined with modern-day organising142, are the embodied within the philosophy of anarcho-primitivism143.

In which case the simple summary would read, “Long Walks and Anarcho-Primitivism”144**.

Of course, that sounds pretty radical – systematically ‘giving-up’145 on the modern lifestyle by voluntarily simplifying146 your everyday needs147. But what you really need to ask yourself is, does that148 sound any worse than giving your dependency31 for your future well-being149, to a system over which no one has150 real authority or control?151

**Note, for more information on my new research and writing, ‘Long Walks and Anarcho-Primitivism’ will launch as a new blog in the New Year – go to for details