Book Review

How to Blow Up A Pipeline by Andreas Malm

it's self-evidently time for eco-terrorism. This book asks, "is it time for eco-terrorism?"

Written September 28th, 2021 & thought forever lost, but I found it!

So, this is one of those non-fiction books of a type that one encounters regularly (or at least I do), that commits the very same sin it is ostensibly about.

Malm, a seasoned environmental activist from Sweden, writes in great detail about the history of the environmental movement going back decades and hundreds of years. His central question – which I found to be a very valid one – is why has there never been an act of violent extremism from the environmental movement?

  …like, yeah?

Like, why hasn’t there been one?

Why aren’t pipelines being blown up several times a week?

Why aren’t people dropping bombs/planting bombs in coal-powered fire stations? No, I don’t mean that, I mean coal-fired power stations. (Coal-powered fire stations makes sense as an idea, but I’m sure they’re very rare.)

There are lots of squirrels around today, like lots of them.

That’s a non sequitur, all of my sequiturs are nothing.

I’ve just been away for a few days by myself. No lover, no dog, no laptop, nothing. I wasn’t lonely – I’m very rarely lonely now – just wandering around an unfamiliar city, more than a nice thing to do, a pleasant break from wandering around this known city that’s barely a city at all.

I’m just so bored, you know, nothing happens.

I’m just so bored and I’m so bored of being bored.

I think one of the reasons why I bought this book (How To Blow Up A Pipleline) is because I had hoped it would teach me how to blow up a pipeline and inspire me to go out and do so. It did neither.

I already understood that the environmental collapse has reached a point where drastic action is necessary. I’m not fucking ignorant and I don’t think anyone who isn’t fucking ignorant or in capitalist-funded denial has failed to notice that the environmental collapse is at a level, at a point, at a time, where drastic (revolutionary?) action is necessary in order to prevent total ecological collapse.

It’s just what it is. That’s where we are.

With the time we’ve got to stop the imminent ecological collapse we should all be trying to blow up pipelines. If we’re not convinced that now is the time to start doing that, then when will we be?

There’s weird gen X racism excused with the old “oh it’s not racist because I’m not a racist” kind of thing, which is pretty bleak coming from a left-wing publisher. Malm writes about a collective he joined in the 90s which had a racist name, and when he first mentions it he acknowledges that it probably wasn’t inappropriate name, but then throughout the rest of the book he regularly refers to the group using an abbreviated form of its name that emphasises the racist word, when this could very easily have been avoided. How are we (I) meant to believe that speakers and writers and thinkers like this have a valuable or necessary perspective on the future when they are failing to engage with the changes that are happening in the present

 I know it’s a fucking millennial conclusion to draw, that the retrogressive uses of race, of gender, in this book invalidates its arguments, but that’s kind of how it feels, y’know?

Who is this book for? Because I don’t think it’s for anyone considering doing terrorism. I don’t think it’s for anyone looking to be persuaded that the environment is endangered. I don’t think-

I suppose that’s it, really… You don’t buy a book about environmental activism called How To Blow Up A Pipelines without already thinking on some level that something drastic needs to fucking happen. This is a book that takes its title not as premise but as challenge.

And I don’t think it is a challenging title: I think quite the opposite, I think that it’s an obvious title, I think it’s an important title, sure, but I also think that that Malm’s idea that it is a radical thought to consider trying to physically (and violently when necessary) dismantle the systems that maintain the fossil fuel economy is denialism. This thought in itself is not radical: it’s the action that would be radical.

I know this isn’t the fucking anarchist cookbook, but it’s not, y’know, it’s not taking its own argument very far at all. Malm rightly mocks the vapidity of that sort of middle class hippyish climate protesters, but in this book he’s done exactly the same fucking thing. There’s nothing in here that is persuasive, there’s nothing in here that is new, there’s nothing in here that is revelatory. You don’t buy a book called-

You don’t buy a book called How To Blow Up A Pipeline if you haven’t already considered that, ethically, we should probably start blowing up pipelines.

To match its content, the title of this book should have been Should We Blow Up A Pipeline? or Can We… or Could We… or When Will We… because this isn’t a how-to guide and it’s not even a “how to persuade people to agree with you” guide.

Malm is exactly the same as the non-starter activists appearing on panels sponsored by “Beyond Petroleum”, as this is a beautifully-presented French flaps paperback book, this is not something to be discreetly passed around a canteen at a in a coal mine. No copies of this book are going to end up well thumbed in the toilets of an oil rig.

Maybe, though, that is the point. Maybe the book’s purpose is to incense people like me into thinking that this action needs to be done…

 but… I’m not going to blow up a pipeline on my own..?

There’s no reaction to take from, this there isn’t even really any hope.

Malm rails against passive friends, and effectively that if you have a nihilistic attitude towards climate change, you may as well be drilling for oil yourself. But in not actively advocating and describing in detail how to make these violent sabotage actions occur, Malm is doing the same thing.

Malm shouldn’t be sat in an office somewhere writing this book, he should be out somewhere blowing up pipelines.

You don’t publish a book called How To Blow Up A Pipeline if you have any plans or expectations to ever blow up a pipeline. If Malm had meant to blow up a pipeline himself, he surely would have already done so, rather than announcing his intentions in book form first. How does one blow up a pipeline? After reading this book, I don’t know, and I don’t think Andreas Malm does either.

I think we can agree, though, that something needs to be done.

Buy How To Blow Up A Pipeline direct from Verso.

Alternatively, read The Anarchist Cookbook for free right here.

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