The War Against Nature Is Over

Toothfish is a fictional environmental activist cum street artist who uses posters to raise awareness of environmental/political issues which affect you.

Toothfish are also a  species of deep water fish which live in the Southern Ocean and around the continent of Antarctica.  These large fish feed on squid, prawns and other fish and are themselves preyed on by Sperm Whales, Elephant Seals,  Colossal Squid and humans. These lucrative fish are the basis of a risky fishery which threatens the health of the most pristine ocean on the planet - the Ross Sea.

Toothfish Editor
/ Categories: News from the deep



In a recent article by Extinction Rebellion co-founder, Stuart Basden he says that Extinction rebellion isn’t just about the climate.

“You see, the climate’s breakdown is a symptom of a toxic system which has infected the ways we relate to each other as humans and to all life. This was exacerbated when European ‘civilisation’ was spread around the globe through cruelty and violence (especially) over the last 600 years of colonialism, although the roots of the infections go much further back.” (1)

 Personally I think linking colonisation with climate change is a smart move in some ways. But the connection needs to be explained carefully if the group is not to confuse people and alienate potential supporters.

I agree with Stuart’s first sentence but after that I have some serious reservations.

Firstly what do we mean when we talk about ‘colonisation’?

One of the main online dictionaries defines colonisation as ‘the action or process of settling among and establishing control over the indigenous people of an area”

However it is also defined as –

‘the action by a plant or animal of establishing itself in an area’.

 This is an important distinction and one that I will come back to in a minute.

Personally I would define colonisation as the appropriation of land and/or resources by an outside group. But colonisation is not just a material thing. Minds can also be colonised. In New Zealand the indigenous population were not just dispossessed of their land and resources but their identity was attacked as well by implanting Christianity as the ‘dominant religion’, English as the dominant language and many other things as well.

As a Pakeha (a New Zealander of European descent) I can say with absolute confidence that there’s no doubt my own thinking about many subjects is affected by some of the inherited baggage of the colonisation of this country.

Like an alcoholic I know that the first step to recovery is admitting I have a problem and before I can fully contribute to the meaningful decolonisation of land and resources I need to try and decolonise my own mind.  

I think the one of the challenges Extinction Rebellion faces is to make it explicit that when we are saying that ‘Colonisation = Exploitation = Climate Change’ we are not just talking about the European colonisation of the world.

We’re also talking in a much boarder sense about the way our own minds have been colonised by the capitalist system and the big corporations who’ve thrived in what is a basically a ‘survival of the fittest’ dog eat dog situation.

It always used to be said that capitalism encouraged competition but what it really encourages is - monopolies. The little dogs have all been eaten by the big ones. In a world wide surge of socialism between the forties and the seventies many countries enacted legislation to try and prevent monopolies occurring. Ten years later the neo-liberal governments that took over had most of them repealed. Now we are left with little choice about who we bank with, who we get out energy from and what sort of operating system we use on our computer. We’re stuck with capitalism whether we like it or not and most of us can’t see a way out.

For many years I have also been working as an artist, a pacifist, an environmentalist and an activist. I tried to oppose the rise of globalisation and neo-liberalism (which began under Labour with Roger-nomics in the mid-Eighties and was brought to its final apogee under the National government of John Key in recent years.).


Both systems perpetuate injustice, increase the divide between the rich and the poor and both have been a complete and utter disaster for the environment.

It was difficult to fight neo-liberalism because many people didn’t know (and still don’t know) what it is.

Like The Matrix it was (and is) the dominant paradigm in this country and most people go about their lives without realizing how completely trapped they are.

I would define neo-liberalism as a system where market forces are given the absolute power to reign to rule at ALL costs and that any legislation which tries to block the global flow of commerce (despite the huge environmental costs) is aggressively resisted. It sounds a lot like colonisation doesn’t it?

In the process of neo-liberal capitalism, land and resources are ‘acquired’ by private companies who set up systems to the almost exclusive benefit of themselves. Nature is seen as ‘separate and other’ and put here for the use of those ruthless enough to find a way to control and exploit it. Land can and should always be privately owned and any other way of doing things is a pipe dream.

This is why the richest one percent reportedly own half the worlds’ wealth (2), 147 companies are reported to control ‘everything’ (3) and that only 100 companies are responsible for 71 percent of the world emissions. (4)

This is the sort of colonisation I wish to confront.

Corporate colonisation!

I don’t agree with Stuart Basden’s contention that European civilisation should be the sole whipping boy.

At some Extinction Rebellion Protests there have been protests attacking historical figures. Without wishing to get into a discussion of which Europeans are the most responsible for the implementation of colonisation in NZ (and I would argue the Wakefield family of ‘New Zealand Company’ fame  would make much better targets than Captain  Cook) this shaming and blaming goes explicitly against Point #9   in the Extinction Rebellions charter –

‘We avoid blaming and shaming. We live in a toxic system. No one individual is to blame.”

I agree with this one hundred percent!  As humans we all share the blame for colonising the natural world and for being colonised (by neo-liberal governments and the big corporations).

This brings me back to the second definition of colonisation and where my views depart so radically from Stuart’s.

 - Colonisation as ‘the action by a plant or animal of establishing itself in an area’.

I believe that colonisation is not just a European problem; it’s something plants, animals and people all do. 

When humans first  came to New Zealand they introduced animals such as the kuri (dog) and kiore (rat) and the latter went on to ‘colonise’ most of New Zealand and cause the extinction of many ground nesting birds. The moa and some other species were also exterminated by over-hunting. Maori who had been displaced from their home in Taranaki by tribes from the Waikato region during the musket wars of the 1820’s and 1820’s ‘colonised’ the people of the Chatham Islands.

No one is completely innocent.

To summarise -  I think Extinction Rebellion should try to focus on a definition of colonisation that does not attack individuals but helps people to understand that we’re all colonisers but we too have become  colonised by the corporations who are destroying this planet.

The only way out of this nightmare is to acknowledge our responsibility and to try and find ways to work together without placing blame and to integrate ourselves back into natural systems rather than trying to impose our selfish wills upon them. Part of this process has to be the dismantling of the capitalist system and new political systems put in place to ensure the survival of both our species and many of the other plants and animals who share this planet with us.









A young Extinction Rebellion protester with her hands super-glued to the door of ANZ bank in Wellington during the October 2019 week of action. ANZ were targeted 

for their investments in the fossil fuel industry. 



A car painted by Toothfish and assistants at the October Week of Action in Wellington 2019. 

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