Nobody To Shoot


THERE’S A SCENE in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath” where an embattled dust-bowl sharecropper struggles to defend his land. He threatens to shoot the man sent to demolish the farm buildings on behalf of the bank. Don’t blame me says the demolition man. The farmer then threatens to shoot the bank president who signed the foreclosure papers. Patiently, the driver explains that the bank manager is only carrying out the instructions of the bank’s owners back East. Utterly defeated, the propertyless sharecropper cries plaintively: “But where does it stop? Who can we shoot? I don’t aim to starve to death before I kill the man that’s starving me.” To which the demolition man replies: “I don’t know. Maybe there’s nobody to shoot. Maybe the thing isn’t human at all.”

It’s an exchange I always recall whenever I hear people advocating going after “the man that’s starving me”. The latest target of this “who can we shoot” proposition are the 100 companies allegedly responsible for 71 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Not surprisingly, the first of these planetary polluters to fill the gunsights of Earth’s angry sharecroppers are the oil companies.

Former One Tree Hill-feller, Mike Smith, now working for the Iwi Leaders Forum, is aiming to bring Rainer Seele, CEO of the Austrian oil-giant OMV, before the International Criminal Court for “genocide and other climate crimes impacting on indigenous communities now and in the future”. It would be churlish not to wish Mr Smith well, but the chances of Mr Seele being convicted (or even indicted!) by the ICC are about as good as Steinbeck’s sharecropper bagging a New York banker with his gopher gun.

The Iwi Leaders Forum may have deep pockets, but they are unlikely to be as deep as OMVs when it comes to keeping a team of international law experts on retainer for the length of time between Mr Smith launching his legal case – and its inevitable abandonment. Inevitable? Of course. The idea that the CEOs of those 100 companies will ever be brought before a criminal court for doing what their billions of customers and clients around the world demand of them is ludicrous.

That’s the nub of the problem, isn’t it? Those giant corporations would wither and die in just a few months if the peoples of the world unanimously agreed to stop purchasing their products and services. What could be simpler? Just throw away your lap-top and cellphone. Junk your car – and your ready-to-wear wardrobe. Leave the city you’re living in. Stop using electricity. Throw away your prescription medicines. Easy-peasy! Take away the demand, and rest assured, there will be no more supply.

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Except, the demand for all those goods and services isn’t going anywhere – is it? In fact, it is set to grow, exponentially, as all the peoples on earth currently shut out of the Western lifestyle determinedly amass the wealth needed to acquire it. Now, the Mike Smiths of this world will undoubtedly urge the people of India and Brazil, and the poorest nations of Africa, to embrace their poverty as the surest means of saving the planet, but I would advise them to put on their running shoes before they start making their pitch.

There will be many who object that this is nothing but a crude exercise in victim blaming. Most people really do want to save the planet, but the relentless battering of journalists, advertisers, public relations consultants, lobbyists, corporate fixers, corrupt politicians – many of them on the payrolls of those 100 companies – keep us all running, like so many consumerist hamsters, on the great wheel of capitalism.

But, once again, all they have to do is stop. Except, they don’t stop – do they?

This civilisation we have built (we being the whole human species) is the most astonishingly wonderful thing homo sapiens has ever seen. We love it. We cannot imagine how awful life would be without it. And, we most certainly are not going to co-operate with anyone who advises us to throw it away.

We like our lap-tops and our cellphones. We like our cars and our cheap RTW clothes. We like living in vast, vibrant cities built out of concrete and steel. We like being able to flick a switch and get all the energy we can use. We like turning on a tap and being able to drink the water that comes out. We like it that there are hospitals and clinics full of clever doctors and nurses, and pharmacies full of clever drugs. And we don’t actually care if every last Polar Bear in creation is reduced to a pathetic heap of skin and bones – just so long as our super-civilisation, powered by its indispensable and irreplaceable (at least for the foreseeable future) fossil-fuels, keeps on a-rockin’.

So, much and all as Mr Smith might wish it were otherwise, Mr Seele and all the other CEOs of those miscreant 100 companies have nothing to fear from virtue-signalling activists. They know, just as the demolition man in Steinbeck’s novel knew, that there’s nobody to shoot.

Because the thing that is frying the planet – and all our futures – isn’t human. It’s a vast and impossibly complex economic machine, and it absolutely does not care what we think or say – only what we buy.


  1. To borrow a line from Vasily Grossman, our present capitalist-industrial civilisation resembles a magnificent automobile built by a brilliant scientist but driven by a hoon.

      • like his ‘hitlers preventative war’ horse shit….and real historians russina and western have proved the idea horse shit.

        • Recommend Grossman’s ‘Stalingrad’,
          ‘Life and Fate’and ‘The People Immortal’ all in print now.
          The Auckland library has a copy of his ‘Armenian Sketchbook’which is an entertaining read.
          The space cadet seems fixated on equine bowel movements.

  2. Iassume that Mike Smith will be paddling a Waka from NZ to Geneva for the court case, in order to avoid using genocide inducing OMV jet fuel and Boeing products.

  3. Spon-on Chris! Please explain that to the silly 16-year-old girls protesting the climate.

    Meanwhile, it’s amusing that you bring up the Grapes of Wrath because that was the US dust bowl era, when the continental US its highest temperatures ever.

    • Actually Andrew you are missing the point. The dust bowls were caused by people overusing the land and there was no rain, they cut down the trees and the land was bare with nothing to hold it together. There were acres of land and when the wind blew the dust was everywhere. These were the actions of men who used outdated crop growing methods a precursor to climate change

  4. Chris, Maori survived for centuries without european intervention in Aotearoa, no shoes, no alcohol, no steel, no cigarettes, no sugar, just good ole papatuanuku and what it provided. IMO If we have an event that we can truly pinpoint the beginning of manmade global warming than its European Colonisation, and the industrial revolution. There are maps of the amount of trees felled around the globe when europeans have intervene, sure they’ve been the leaders of revolutionary changes but what good is that if our planet becomes uninhabitable?

      • continual warfare, slavery, starvation , human protein consumption ,female infanticide. Brutal violent and impoverished. Yeah nah.Stuff that!
        There were few people living here when Europeans arrived. The most valuable gifts Cook gave Maori were pigs and potatoes.

        • Shona the pensioner, when Maori are concerned she likes’ focusing on the lurid and exaggerating the extreme a typical bigoted rant nothing new here folks.

        • Oh Shona what a sad person you are. Take yourself back to colonial Britain. Have a look at what those working class people went through at the hands of the ruling class all in the name of progress . In colonial britain there was infanticide, violence , impoverishment, children were put to work down the mines and in the iron works. No education, children not allowed to speak their own language. Very poor wages if any and often cuts in wages. Sadly shona these are the people you put on a pedestal to come and liberate the indigenous Maori. It wasn’t liberation it was colonization and all of the above.

            • Yeah because it was political expediency & also to hurt other economies like the colony of the Americas, and the Transatlantic slave trade that the brits were instrumental in colonizing the America’s for 2 centuries hardly an endorsement for justifying european exceptionalism

      • the forest was everywhere and full of pharmaceuticals. Tuhunga were well versed in using it all for healing, despite being outlawed. Dr weston price in the 1930s visited indigenouse cultures around the world including east cape maori. found that those following traditional diets had better teeth and wider jawbones than anyone follwing the modern diets. if you read some of elsden best and other early ethnologists, there was a sense of life well lived especially for tamariki. and yes a trip to visit whanau in another part of the country was a massive affair, but hey, makes it more of an occasion to celebrate.

    • Agreed. Industrialization, and figuring out how to harness these fossil fuels is what lead to the massive increases in living standards the world over. Prior to the industrial revolution, in todays terms, the average incomes of those in Europe and China (the wealthiest parts of the world) were less than $2 a day. We would consider them to be below the poverty line. But it is also why we’re hooked on fossil fuels. Sure you can live a simple life off the grid and reduce your carbon footprint to almost nothing. But do you really want to?

      • Indigenous peoples values and beliefs globally have been sidelined for European exceptionalism. And Global warming is the existential threat to all life on our planet and this exceptionalism is the leading cause IMO.

    • Stephen if pre colonisation was so great you are very welcome to ditch your modern house, car, cell phone, medicines, healthcare, air travel, supermarkets etc etc etc and go back to living as your ancestors did.

      Up to you mate

      • Anker, I live in the Te Urewera Tuhoe lands been here for 20 years marrying a manawhenua girl, I’m off grid have 5 solar power panels runs my devices and lights. My vehicles are mainly my horses I brought of a Pakeha friend that recently pass away god bless his beautiful soul and I’m not a dole blugger and most of my food is hunted and trapped and my house is made out of an old DOC hut they were going to destroy. I don’t even own a car I’m living the dream life and getting net access up here isn’t that bad as long as you’re up high enough to get reception.

        • Oh Stephen are you not Stephen Minto who use to work for the public service who write on this blog? Genuine question

          What do you do if you get sick, need dental treatment etc?

          • Such a pessimistic individual and I’m 65 I still got all my teeth strong as a ox work everyday trapping and hunting and I believe that I’m gonna live to 100 years+, I don’t smoke, drink alcohol and am fitter than I was when I was in my 40s true story bro

    • Stephen stop living in some past fantasy world that was no paradise for anyone but the top dog

  5. One would have to wonder which oil company Mike bought the petrol and oil for the chainsaw he used to cut into the tree on none tree hill all those years ago….An axe would have been more appropriate possibly….

    • The tree cut down on one tree hill originally named by manawhenua as ‘Maungakiekie’ was a pinetree the very trees that were prevalent in Cyclone Gabrielle an introduce foreign flora. And good on Mike putting Maori aspirations in front of a pakeha society that dismissively calls maori culture dole bludging cannibals only existed when pakeha arrived ion these shores.

  6. Who are they trying to save the planet for?

    The polar bears and whales are saver now than for a very long time. Destroying humanity to save a planet that has thrived for zillions of years seems a futile exercise akin to trying to get into heaven after your life has exited your body.

    But recycling and religion gives meaning to life for many. So let’s just keep doing it.

  7. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It’s a quote routinely attributed to Edmund Burke. But it turns out falsely so. Apparently, he never uttered these words. At best, the essence of the quote can be traced back to the utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill, who delivered an 1867 inaugural address at the University of St. Andrews and stated: “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”

    • Thomas Paine no doubt could attest to the validity of the statement. He observed two revolutions close up and personal.

  8. Another thought provoking article @ Chris Trotter, A fine example of our insatiable need for consumeristic trinketry and junk are the mountains of empty shipping containers piled up on land adjacent to our major ports, apparently growing every month as it becomes uneconomic for the shipping companies to retrieve them empty.
    Your article also brings to mind the saying.. Remember when you point your finger at someone or something, there are three more pointing back at you.
    Only one thing for it I guess is to go out and buy another pair of Nikes!

    • As long as chainsaw Mike isn’t using taxpayers money I’m happy for him to waste his time chasing shadows rather than mindlessly wrecking things that mean a lot to other people and getting off scot free. The first sight of that tree on the drive back to Auckland used to say welcome home, now it’s just another mound.

      • And how long ago was this? I mean it was a pine tree nothing special, they take about 30 years to fully mature? The large native forests that were cut down across the country by Pakeha for european farming practices took 1000s of years to grow true story.

          • Buhahahaha keep the jokes coming lol!! Jeez they must have had sharp sticks & stones? Maori were only introduced to steel when Pakeha arrived on our shores and that when the native forest disappeared in significant amount. How do you account for cities and towns being built in this country???

                  • Ada, the point in this discussion was the widespread devastation of Native forest in NZ that gonna come back and bite everyone in NZ in the butt and it’s reflected in the floods with Cyclone Gabrielle washing up mountains of silt that use to be held together by native trees etc… And there’s gonna be more of these Cyclones manmade global warming thanks to european exceptionalism as the primary culprit

  9. “Because the thing that is frying the planet – and all our futures – isn’t human. It’s a vast and impossibly complex economic machine, and it absolutely does not care what we think or say – only what we buy.”

    The thing that is frying the planet is greed. And we all are greedy, for a house to live in, clothes to wear, food to eat, clean water to drink, roads to travel on, schools to go to and holidays to be had overseas. And that is us, all of us, pretending that we can’t change that, thus we blame the man we can’t kill cause there is always on above, or the machine that we won’t stop.
    Consume comrade, consume. Until you choke to death on all the totchkes that you accumulated in your life so as to show the Joneses, your dad and your mates. Consume comrades. Consume.

  10. As an aside I took one book with two Steinbeck novels on an international flight and read both. Cannery Row and Of Mice and Men. Each was a mere 100 pages or there about, very slim when compared to the 500 page dross we are regularly served today. Its not the size, its the quality.

  11. Mike should hook up with Paul Majurey and the TMA and fire up that chainsaw again and contract to the TMA to chop more foreign trees down because they’re not natives?? So….a few thousand years ago NZ was part of Gondwandaland? Whatever the Australian continent was called. Before ‘we’ broke away from it.

    Even I am getting fuckn bored with this shit!

    How’s that war going up north?

  12. The result of our current practice:

    1. Our lives are vastly improved.
    2. The technology doesn’t yet exist to achieve carbon zero without slaughtering most of the population and reverting to a hunter gatherer existence. (Although we can go part way to reducing emissions without a lot of pain)
    3. Those CO2 emissions have promoted plant life globally, in that the scientists say there’s a 15% increase in greening. This is also making our crops more abundant and feeding millions of mouths. It’s also reversing desertification (the science of which I can explain if you wish).
    4. In general life is really happy with a warming planet. Consider the greater degree of animal and plant speciation in lower latitudes compared to high. Life likes it warm.
    5. We are a tropical species whose origins are in Africa. We struggle to exist in high latitudes, requiring vitamin supplements to reduce the chance of depression and dementia.

    • don’t worry Andrew. Stephen is willing to give up his cell phone, lap top, home etc etc and go back to pre colonial times where Maori lived to 150 years old! Good for him. That will help save the plannet.!

    • Incredibly ignorant Andrew, you’re ignoring the exponential warming that evolution is not able to adapt to quickly enough, and you’re ignoring the fact we are already well into the 6th Great Extinction.

    • Its difficult to take you serious Andrew especially when you’ve made bold and inaccurate claims that Moriori were here before Maori.

  13. Perhaps Oswald Spengler was on to something. But likely the end of it all will take time, stretched over a couple of centuries. Wait for the implications of AI to kick in!

    • @Bozo,
      Well the West is declining and the printing of money, the never ending wars, the shuddering of banks, shored up and ‘to big to fail’ are all part of the scenario.
      Spengler was prophetic and worth dipping into. He wrote: ‘and these machines become in their forms less and ever less human, more ascetic, mystic, esoteric. They weave the earth over with an infinite web of subtle forces, currents and tensions. There bodies become ever more and more immaterial,ever less noisy. The wheels, rollers and levers are vocal no more. All that matters withdraws itself into the interior. Man has felt the machine to be devilish and rightly. It signifies in the eyes of the believer the deposition of God. It delivers sacred causality over to man and by him, with a sort of foreseeing omniscience is set in motion, silent and irresistible.’
      He talks about how Faustian man has become the slave of his creation and on a path where there is no standing still and no turning back.’Nature becomes exhausted, the the globe sacrificed to Faustian thinking in energies.’
      ……. ‘But titanic, to, is the onslaught of money upon this intellectual force. (engineering) ….. ‘Only high finance is wholly free.’ ….’And now something happens that is intelligible only to one to has penetrated to the essence of money. If it were anything tangible, then its existence would be forever – but, as it is a form of thought, it fades out as soon as it has thought its economic world to finality, and has no more material on which to feed.’ From the final chapter in Vol. II, chapter XI5 pages 503 -507. First German edition 1917.

  14. Good stuff @ CT. Lots to think about. Reminds me of the sociological distinction between agency and structure. The hapless dustbowl farmer took it upon himself to shoot who he thought to be responsible for his misery only to be told that his anger and frustration was misdirected and futile.

    What will it take in the current global capitalist structure for human agency, individual and collective, to triumph?

  15. It fears people’s parties. Don’t need the people beyond their voting for them. A Norman Kirk out of the blue with no party would do the trick. The electricity of a ‘violent’ (v. Sanders etc) Left talker would do just as well as the nascent Fascists. Well, that’s a theory anyway. Worth … our everything.

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