We humans are basically big furless animals who make tremendous demands on energy and materials for staying warm in cold places and cool in hot places. It wouldn’t hurt any of us to recognize this biological fact. Right now I’m burning big chunks of stove wood, to keep warm at zero F. We possess, each of us, amazing bodies, dexterous hands, clever brains. Take a brief vacation from abstract theorizing, and lace pride with a few dashes of humility. We are not alone. Other organisms have emerged from long travails of evolution, adapted in myriad ways to life on Earth. But we, a single species, are blithely doing unregulated profit-obsessed business as usual on a planet in crisis, pushing animals and plants into permanent oblivion, destabilizing Earth’s complicated processes, spending billions for the express purpose of killing our own species in military slaughter that knows no bounds. There is no hiding place, no matter how many stock options we might happen to own.
The evidence, some of it amazingly concise, demonstrates that we and planet Earth are in deep trouble. We will have to think hard and move decisively. It is too late to turn back global warming, loss of species, spread of exotic diseases, and deaths of forests and marshes. However much we try, glaciers and polar ice and permafrost will keep on melting. Immediate reversal is out of the question, but there is a fighting chance for slowing things down enough to forestall a sudden shift toward more catastrophic consequences.
Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth, on the theme of global warming, is a gorgeous example of what publishing can do for someone with a name. The book has a lavish display of color photos, equally glamorous charts, and text that gives us valuable information. My favorite photo is the little blue dot in the immensity of black space, our planet Earth.
I won’t dwell too much on the irritating photos and text about Tipper and Al . . . Tipper always passive and smiling, in one case attending to children and meal prep while Al stands by, and Al giving her the usual run-of-the-mill male praises. The book is suffocatingly self- and family- centered. Once a politician, always a politician.
But in one section Al speaks from the heart. Repeating the standard mantra about nature’s calm and healing potency, he takes the extra step to insist that we are one with nature, we are in it and of it. What happens to nature happens to us too.
Near the end of the book, we get a list of things we ordinary mortals can do to help curtail global warming: switch to fuel-efficient vehicles; use renewable energy derived from wind, sun, earth heat, and biomass; telecommute from home; reduce air travel. . . .
I have to break here to mention that wind and biomass are very doubtful renewables. Even solar energy can’t possibly produce energy at the level to which we are accustomed, unless we embark on building expensive, time-consuming technological devices such as solar collectors in space. The quickest way is to cut way back and simplify our lives and housing and transport patterns, unlearning our wasteful habits. The big question is: will we, as a society, be allowed to do that thoroughly enough to make a difference?
Here’s the rest of Al’s list of things we can do: buy things that last; buy only from stores/producers that use less packaging; recycle; don’t waste paper; carry your purchases in a re-usable tote; compost household garbage; carry your own refillable bottle for water and other liquids; eat less meat; buy local; buy offsets (credits created by pollution reductions elsewhere); support candidates for office who have good environmental records; consider the impact of your investments; let others know about the crisis; buy only from businesses that try to reduce emissions; put pressure on elected representatives to take steps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; support an environmental group (two are suggested: the Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club).
Notice that in all of this long list the burden is shifted to us “consumers” and includes ordinary appeals to politicians and corporate powers. Al tips his mainstream political hand when he quotes, approvingly, the CEO of General Electric: “We think green means green. This is a time period when improvement is going to lead toward profitability.”
If the struggle to temper global warming is dependent on corporate profitability, we might as well give up before we start. The pursuit of perpetual expansion, of greater and greater profit margins, and of worldwide empire building for the sake of profit has to be pulled down from its pedestal. We and Earth can’t have the money-laden tail wagging the lean dog much longer. We the people will have the pleasure and hard work of figuring out how to do that. Politicians dependent on corporate welfare will not do it; they are simply not up to the job. It’s up to us. We have to face the job, study it, boldly pursue it. We the people. That is not mere sentiment; that is a historical fact: fundamental changes have always depended on action from below, collective action arising from thought as well as anger.
Al, your big book, treating us as recipients of corporate waste and plunder, leans down to tell us ordinary folks what we can do about it. That list of yours is well inside standard bounds that encircle advice to consumers, aka voters, many of whom love the book. But the vast American majority are harassed by corporate dishonesty, underpaid jobs, unemployment, worry about what awaits our children as we endure a shameless war, a war that prepares the way for more war, endless slaughter of soldiers and innocents. To top it off, we are treated condescendingly by presidents, politicians, pundits, plunderers. . . . Al, go back to the drawing board. Next time give us the whole truth, the big picture, that huge elephant in the room.
Elephant? What elephant?
Exploitation by government/corporate/political collusion, blatantly exemplified by these united states whose leaders openly anoint themselves as imperial deciders and managers of the world. That’s the elephant.
Even though Americans are systematically starved of real information about our planet, we do know that elephant is there: daily life struggle shows it; we sense it. Hell, we live with it, the beast who has to learn much better manners, the mean thing that sets strict bounds to human aspirations.
Some of the tasks in Al’s list are good things to do, but there are others, and it will be more fun to make our own strategies. Will we, in the process, stray outside the system that keeps us hog-tied? I hope so. The times, aka our own experiences, call for a revolutionary change of attitude toward the planet, toward ourselves and our fellow beings. That can bring independence and that’s what it will take, to grapple with the elephant. That struggle, an old American Dream, can’t be postponed much longer. The time is now.
Martin Murie grew up in Jackson, Wyoming; served in the U.S. Army (infantry); studied at Reed College (BA, Literarture and Philosophy) and University of California (PhD, Zoology); taught life sciences at University of Califronia, Berkeley and Santa Barbara, and Antioch College. He retired early, to write. His novels Losing Solitude (1996) and Windswept (2001) were published by Homestead Press and Red Tree Mouse Chronicles (2000) by Packrat Books.