In the spirit of Roderick Haig-Brown, I’m inspired to share a few comments on conservation from an exchange with Camila Thorndike.
Part the First, in which I creep on Camila’s Facebook wall.
I first met Camila, currently Director of Engagement for “COAL: The Musical,” during the Sitka Fellows Program in Alaska last summer. I was immediately impressed by her knowledge about the world and her passion for environmental activism.
A few weeks ago, she posted something on her wall (which I would dig up to quote directly, if it weren’t for the fact that my on-again, off-again relationship with Facebook is off, again) about audience apathy. Specifically, she said something about audience questions and comments that it would be too hard to reverse the damage we have done to the planet to date, and therefore efforts at any type of conservation were doomed and / or futile.
Needless to say, I did not “like” this post, but I did ponder it for some time. While I was taking the recommended * quick * shower at Hosteling International in Portland, a place with a green mandate to compost, conserve resources, and so forth, I thought about how people complain that it is too hard or too late to reverse the destruction of the planet, and how that’s such a cop out.
[Caveat: my moral indignation is subject to cognitive dissonance when set against my lived experience.]
A professor once told a story of some students in the 1960s, who gave him a shirt about how the world was ending (and yet here we are, fifty years later….). He said that “end if the world” rhetoric is no good because it encourages apathy. “Well, if the world is ending,” one might think, “I’d better get my kicks in.”
For example, in Douglas Coupland’s novel Microserfs, the main character journals the following sentiment:
[…] I saw this documentary about how codfish have been gill-netted into extinction in Newfoundland in Canada, so I went out to Burger King to get a Whaler fish-wich-type breaded deep-fried filet sandwich while there was still time.
Dare I say, that is a bad attitude, but one emblematic of some (noticeable) patterns of (conspicuous) consumption. As Bill Bryson puts it in his sometimes dreadful The Lost Continent:
I read once that it takes 75,000 trees to produce one issue of the Sunday New York Times—and it’s well worth every trembling leaf. So what if our grandchildren have no oxygen to breathe? Fuck ‘em.
Another way of thinking about this came to mind from The Rebel Sell, in which Andrew Potter and Joseph Heath argue (among other things, convincingly or not) that SUV ownership is basically an arms race against not wanting to be the smallest / least safe vehicle on the road. (Forgive me if that’s a pat synopsis – I read it long ago.)
The “end of the world” and “it’s too late” sentiments remind me if the SUV arms race (or even, you know, a regular arms race – like people getting surgery so their arms look like Michelle Obama’s, maybe?). “The world is ending, but I want to take long showers, guzzle fuel, travel around the globe, have a huge resource-guzzling home, eat overly processed crap, Google cats on my iPad, and generally enjoy myself until it ends,” is one way that attitude might express itself.
All that to say, I am disappointed but not altogether surprised by her audience’s lackadaisical response to her message of environmental activism and pursuing sustainable lifestyles.
I get overwhelmed, too, and lazy some days, but Camila (and many colleagues, friends, and family members) inspire me to fight the good fight. After all, we only have one planet, at least until, as sci if warns us, we find another one to destroy.
There are two alternate endings to this post, both sweet encouragement tempered with crotchety realism (at least that was the goal):
Be well. Keep fighting! Live well. Compost! Take shorter showers! etc.
It’s not the end of the world! It’s the beginning of change and wonderful things and attentive care for the planet! At least if people decide that it is. But people are notoriously terrible at making decisions.