Monday, October 22, 2007, 3:55 PM
I'm a little in a bunch today. It's 73 degrees here in New York. Southern California is on fire. Droughts are happening as
never before. And the water crisis in the American west is growing. It's an
emergency of insane proportions. We're starting to mess with the SEASONS.
That's nuts, right? There isn't a lot we can count on in this world, which is
both a comfort and scary and Buddhist. But things like brisk October weather
and bracing New York Januaries and a Chicago
fall marathon without heat-related injuries and a fatality were once cozy
So I'm wondering: Where's the outrage? Where's the red level, three-alarm
alerts? Where are the people in the streets? Where are the government emergency
creations of excellent, mandated exhaust filters for cars? The national
campaign to show people how they can reduce water use, contribute less to the
greenhouse effect? Not just Oprah, but the president getting on TV and saying,
"We are in a crisis. We must come together. We must sacrifice for our
future joy, our children, our beloved beautiful planet that we are killing. Now
here's the plan…." And then the National Guard, the Women's Auxilary, your
spiritual community, the builders' unions, a society for engineers would whip
up a plan, and like "Extreme Makeover, Home Edition," we'd build a
house in seven days. We'd all get a week off of work and get to work. And we'd
ease off the brink. Ty Pennington would whip out his bullhorn on the last day,
getting everyone to give one last push--one last exhaust filter, one last
factory overhaul, one last green roof planting. "The family is on its way
home!" he'd yell. "Come on people!"
And then we'd all stand back as the giant, corn-fueled bus
pulled away to reveal it: a sustainable planet. No black smoke emitting from
factory tubes, L.A.'s ring of smog would be
scrubbed clear, a deep breath in New
York would be the same as a deep breath in a pine
forest. Our waste would be brilliantly, wastelessly recycled. Into things we
use—plastic bottles, furniture, tires. Paper or plastic? would be a gone
question, a relic like Victrolas or whalebone corsets.
Because we're geniuses. Seriously. If we're smart enough to
make Pez dispensers and ceiling fans, and motherboards, and airplanes, and
Tickle-Me Elmo, we're smart enough to figure out how not to leave our junk
everywhere like a recalcitrant five-year old with Transformers. We're smart
enough to figure out how to get the fruit and leave the tree alone.
It's not like we don't know how to do this. We all know we
should change our lightbulbs, drive less, walk more, yadda boring green
homework yadda. But it's so easy to forget about the earth as a living,
breathing being while we're behind computer screens, speeding along asphalt,
bustling through stores, watching TV in our homes. It's so easy to forget how
none of this is a given. Not one sofa, not one new Saturday Night Live episode,
not one Prius, even.
So what's my rambling point here, aside from being so sad, so helpless in the
face of our planet on red alert, our planet wearing no clothes? I want to know
if anyone else is feeling the same way. Are you sad about the drowning polar
bears, the muggy fall, and blazing California?
Do you too see it as all connected, all related to our species' profligacy and sweet,
yet misguided trust that this will all be here, forever?
What can we do? Sounding alarm bells seems alarmist. Changing a lightbulb seems
nice, like a good thing, but maybe not tide-turning. Continuing to pretend that
it's not all connected and that it will be taken care of, somehow, seems like a
denial that's well past its expiration date.
What are your thoughts? How can I/we/you tend to the thirsty, drowning,
pillaged earth? How can we do this without being impotent hand-wringers?
Annoying harpies, alarmist tree-huggers? Maybe we can start here: What does the
earth mean to you? What do you love most about this place?
Ok, I know nature's not all that—there are plenty of things to
be bothered by—poison ivy, black widows, mosquitoes, sulfur swamps. But me, I'm
a cornball, a sucker for the good stuff: double rainbows, dolphins that seem to
be smiling, fluffy bunnies, quiet meadows, giant waves, serene lakes, rain on
glass, redwood trees, the smell of ocean, feeling small in a huge universe,
meteor showers, baby whale song, volcano craters, the sky at dusk, sea turtles
older than me, the taste of fresh, crisp night in November.