Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day: Missing the Forest for the Trees.

I had a parody post for Earth Day planned. It was going to be Al Gore & Thomas Friedman in a bat-cave like setting getting ready to mobilize to Iceland to present Eyjafjallajokull with it's carbon offset bill.

Then I read this column by Bill McKibben on the fading environmental movement and I changed my mind. What, specifically, intrigued me was the following:

(On Earth Day, the environmental movement needs repairs, Bill McKibben, Washington Post)
But for 20 years now, global warming has been the most important environmental issue -- arguably the most important issue the planet has ever faced. And there we can boast an unblemished bipartisan record of accomplishing absolutely nothing.

McKibben goes on to bemoan the presence of money in politics, the evil power of the fossil fuel lobbies and the lack of organizational development of the 70's ecomental movements. What he doesn't seem to realize is that the problem lies in the definition of "environmentalism" itself, or more accurately, what the word has come to mean.

There was a time, in the 70's and 80's, that conservationists and environmentalists walked hand in hand. It was not uncommon to find ranchers, small farmers, hunters and outdoorsman rallying side by side with vegans, vegetarians and various other eco-groups. At the beginning the movement was more about cleaning up pollution than it was anything else. As with any movement, that dynamic changed over time.

Part of the reason for the change was the realization of politicians that this emerging earth-conscious group was a voting bloc and part of it was due to the natural need humans have to feel superior. Eventually, following a vegan diet wasn't a dietary issue, it became a moral choice. Having their way of life declared immoral by PeTA and other non-green groups, the hunters, fishers and outdoorsman left the movement never to return. Suddenly it wasn't enough to want a clean planet, fresh air to breathe, quality food, and clean water, you had to sign onto the belief that industry was bad, energy companies (many of whom funded much of the Earth Day movement in the early days) were the epitome of evil and anyone NOT willing to chain themselves to a tree or sacrifice the food supply of third world countries in order to save the three-legged, brown-assed salamander in order to be a "true environmentalist". Contrary to popular belief, you could use deodorant and be a member, but that was discouraged at rallies.

The final phase in the transformation from Environmental to Eco-mental however was Al Gore's correct hunch that most of the remaining green group could be persuaded to believe that the way to a healthy world was by funnelling a percentage of the world's energy revenue into the pockets of he and his investors through carbon credits. What this effectively did was provide political cover to those who had based their previous eco-mentalism on flimsy moral arguments. Now the idea that, primarily because of the actions of others, the world was heating up faster than a Viking range became a cause celeb of the fashion set who had no problem living in environmentally unsustainable mansions, or flying in a helicopter to 'catch' polluters being blissfully unaware of their own impact on the planet while being afforded the opportunity to live out their own mini-deity fantasies.

One thing that was lost in all of this was the truth. As suburbanites got branded with a black letter P (for polluters) it was often ignored that many of them have long been practicing the type of individual gardening in their backyards that is now so popular among the urban set. In Houston, the primary howls against the Grand Parkway plans to plow over the Katy Prairie aren't emanating from downtown Houston, but rather from place that are closest to the well...the Katy Prairie.

Despite all of this urban dwellers have been caught up in the hysteria and have fallen for the fallacy that their lifestyle is somehow superior to those who have chosen a suburban dwelling. Meanwhile, politically connected groups such as Houston Tomorrow perpetuate that myth without offering much in the way of substantive evidence. Read most arguments against suburban living and you'll see phrases like "everyone knows" and "makes sense that" both of which run on something other than hard fact.

With all of that in mind, what CAN we all do to make Earth Day meaningful?

For one, don't pollute and, if you're so driven, make noise about the companies that ARE polluting our planet. If there's a team player in an industry, resolve to purchase from them even if it costs a little more. Most importantly, get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Go hiking, camping, fishing, hunting, or just lay out on the grass in your front yard (if you're an urban dweller go to the park). Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of thinking that you environmental solution is the best and only solution for everyone else.

And if some member of PeTA or another vegan group starts razzing you about the hot-dog you're eating? Laugh at them and point them to the nearest tofu dog stand.

They can get their own damn food.

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