books for
burning it all down
planting seeds in the ashes
becoming rooted
breaking the attention economy
reenchanting the earth
books for hoping
beyond the end of the world

A Scorched Earth Manifesto

These are Scorched Earth Press’s ‘first principles,’ in a few senses: they’re the beliefs that led us to form SEP, they’re what we try to keep front and center as we review submissions, and they orient us in our work. However, we also see these principles as foundations on which all kinds of different things can be built. We founded a press in the hope that others–our authors–will help us all see the world in new ways and keep our minds wandering to unexpected places. Here is our point of departure.

1. The apocalypse has already come

Every culture, every language is a world of its own.  For millions of people, the global spread of settler colonialism meant the end of a world.  Those of us who live inside the world of colonial capitalism are living in someone else’s post-apocalypse–which we need to acknowledge when we think about the end of this world.  Is it really worth “saving” from climate change?  Can it even be saved?

We don’t think so.  To the extent that people can save themselves, it will be by finding new worlds to inhabit.  Local worlds, like villages, forests, or river basins; decolonial worlds that reject the ethic of unlimited greed, unlimited growth; and new ecologies that place humans in a non-exploitative relationship with the rest of existence.  If bringing these new worlds into being hastens the end of the world we live in now, so much the better.

We started a press to get people thinking about those kinds of new possibilities, because these are conversations that people need to be having now–and not when the floodwaters are already up to their knees.  We think that enough people choosing to exit the world of settler-colonial capitalism might actually stop the floodwaters from rising in the first place.  In that sense, we’re a climate-change press.  But we’re not interested in rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.  The Titanic is the problem.

2. Nature is a psy-op

One of the nastiest features of settler-colonial capitalism is the way it trains people to think of nature as something over there that we can protect, enjoy, or (usually) strip mine.  What humans have is “culture,” which also, incidentally, is where our ethical obligations stop; everything else is “nature,” which might be cool to look at but basically just exists to serve human needs.  Nature is a means, not an end; culture is where the ends live.

We think that the ideology just described is a giant psy-op.  Settlers have used it for centuries to justify displacing and massacring indigenous peoples they have stigmatized as “savages” who, despite their human appearance, really belong to nature.  But is it enough just to say that everyone has a culture deserving of respect?  No, because lying behind the genocidal ethic of settler colonialism is the view that “nature” is a resource to be exploited.  Even in a world of multiculturalism and human rights, capitalism is still going to digest the planet into computers and corn dogs.

The fact is that there’s nothing particularly special about humans.  We eat, shit, and breathe like every other living thing.  “Culture” is just something we do “naturally,” which means that the much-vaunted nature-culture divide is a delusion.  Once we unconfuse ourselves, we can see how humans are embedded in nature.  Which makes things like COVID and climate change make a lot more sense.  That’s just the planet reminding us we’re part of it.

3. The climate crisis is about racism

We always want to be careful about how we use the word “we,” especially when it comes to ecology.  Environmental catastrophe isn’t the same thing for everyone.  Indigenous peoples whose worlds were destroyed by colonialism have one experience; descendents of violently-uprooted plantation slaves have another; migrant farm laborers and refugees have different experiences again.  

It’s no surprise that the most brutal experiences of ecology have generally been reserved for non-whites.  We think that settler-colonial capitalism has been fundamentally racist since the beginning, and that this racism has done a lot to create (the particular contours of) our current environmental crisis.  From the monocrop plantations of the American South to the silver mines of the Andes, racism has staffed and justified the exploitation of the Earth.  And those experiences of exploitation have contributed to forming racial categories that remain a source of injustice today.

We want to publish books about ecological collapse that give voice to everyone’s experiences, not just those of white people.  We also think the history of racism is an ecological history about the way that humans, particularly settlers and colonists, have shaped space to benefit themselves.  That means we’re interested in putting out books on geography that show how that shaping happened, and (especially) what was there before the settlers arrived.

Can books save the (a) world?  Probably not, but readers can.  Scorched Earth Press is trying to give readers books that can be tools for understanding the apocalypse we’re living through and for imagining–even building!–alternative worlds where people can actually live.  The above-described principles form a starting point for this project.  But not an end.