Friday, July 18, 2008

Eco Policy & The End of America

I'm going to rant, and since my rant will likely fall only upon the ears of the ecologically-aware choir, I want everyone to at least tune themselves to a high c. This will go on for some time, and will be scatterbrained.

I stayed up late last night watching a large chunk of Al Gore's speech for / sponsored by / initiated by The Alliance for Cimate Protection and their We Campaign. Al Gore pissed me off. It's better to be pissed off than pissed on, but I feel pissed off in a good way.

Jack Turner, in his book The Abstract Wild, calls for a sacred rage toward environmental issues--he, in fact, borders on calling for outright anger manifested in physical ways that IMMEDIATELY stop torturing animals, ourselves, trees.... He lambastes our culture for being so damn apathetic. We are. He says the test of a true culture, a viable culture, is that when push comes to shove, our moral and ethical standards propel us to immense action. (Did you know that once upon a time in Germany, long long ago, if a person stripped bark from a tree his navel was cut out, nailed to the tree, and he would be forced to walk around it until his insides rapaired the tree's wound? Not that I'm saying such justice should again be exercised--oh, what the hell, I am. I'll go for it.)

Where is our anger? I'm tired of reading "green articles" and watching "green" reports on every national and local newscast. What a placebo those are. Petition this, petition that, contribute $10 so we can send out more stickers. Here a speech there a speech everywhere a speech speech. Screw it. The only hope I see is when my hands are in the soil, my nose to the filipendula rubra, and the whole rest of the world quietly sealed off in my head. Oh, gosh darn it, that's what American's do well!

Gore's speech called for 100% renewable sources of energy for the U.S. within 10 years. You know what? It's so freaking possible. What's happened to America? Look at us. A bunch of glossy-eyed slobs scratching ourselves living a Thoreauvian wet dream in our nostalgiac mind's eye.

I loved how Gore (yes, even though it's yet another speech) made connections between health, jobs, national security, and a gazillion other things we worry about ala public policy. Can you imagine if we actually did what Gore proposes? If somehow, like a divine wrath, someone washed away special interests in Washington and cleared the walls that separate politicans from we the people? How does that happen? Why did Rome fall?

The other day on the phone with my parents, all three of us lamenting our energy policy, the pure lunacy of Bush (who, could, if he wanted, actually leave some sort of a positive legacy equivalent to, oh, Lincoln), I said something like "this is how cultures die, how civilizations end." If we became innovators in technology, in upgrading our infrastucture to more efficiently transmit electicity from the wind turbines of the midwest to the coasts--and 50 other technologies ready to go--we'd save our country, literally. Then, we'd have China and maybe even Saudi Arabia calling us asking if they could give us a few billion dollars for what we've developed. Sure, we'd say, and in the interest of international goodwill and oneness, have a 10% discount, and have some technical advisors for a year as you implement these new technologies.

Oh GOD I'm angry. I can't do anything, really, stuck in this electronic box that's sucking on dirty dirty energy. I can't do anything BIG, really impacting, NOW. Not later, not through process, not careful patience--freaking now. Something that gets me put in jail, maybe.

Obama is a twit. He's a baby-hugging, smooth-talking, glazed-over-looking lollipop sucker. He's way too smooth, way too filled with air. McCain? Geeze. C'mon. Maybe a decade ago, I guess. No good options, really. Of course, why expect that a president can fix things? He can't. It has more to do with the fact that we don't respect ourselves, then by extention--or in direct one to one relation--we don't respect or deeply feel the pain of each other, animals, plants, anything, really. We've become homogenized, duped into thinking that being the same (and thus silent) is equal to free will and democracy (look, for example, at how the egalitarian suburbs have destroyed entire ecosystems with a monoculture of lawn and foreign barberries, how neighbors run from each other when they spot one another getting the mail--we think suburban in most everything we do).

I've read around 100 nature / environmental books in the last few years: heady philosophical and policy-making junk, and memoir / personal narratives of such deep placeness and passion. EVERYONE says that what our culture requires--in the way of all art mediums--is a sense of deep connection to the world, some moral center revolving around it, lives that reach deeply into where we are, the places we dwell. Great. Yup. That's true. How's that going to happen? You can read a book, watch a film, and be deeply moved, made aware, awakened to some cause or fact emotionally--but the resonance fades, doesn't it? How can we have that resonance almost daily? Does it start by being German, schooling our kindergartener kids in the forest for weeks at a time (going on right his minute)? Ah, a utopian dream. It sure does seem the Germans know how to do things, doesn't it? Ah, the irony.

I'm frustrated. I feel like by the time I die, hopefully living a long and fruitful life, our country will be on its last legs, and by 2100, only a disparate collection of shadows. The amount of money we send overseas for oil imports alone... my god. The amount of money we're wasting on Iraq (though we have to see this thing out now, in part, can't leave them on the lurch and watch the middle east spiral more easily into what it seems to always want to spiral in to).

Swear word. Swear word. Swear word. America can be a leader again, set the tone; instead we attend global summits, act like we'll play a part, then come home and say we'll do 1/10th of what we said we would, maybe sometime in the next few decades, sure, why not, sounds about right, something like that, hey is the game on tonight? You know, like, whatever.

This incoherent collection of crap was brought to you by other crap that so enrages me I feel simultaneously hopeful and hopeless--to live such a dichotomy daily, some religious thinkers would say (Thomas Merton for one), brings me closer to myself, the world, and divine intention. I say it makes me feel stagnant and unproductive. And yet Christian Wiman, o great editor of Poetry the magazine, says, "I consider not being able to write as a manifestation of grace; I think grace sometimes can be anguishing." If you equate writing with pretty much anything else we do or think, perhaps Wiman means that from our anguish comes hope, possibility, greater awareness. Perhaps it's what Turner talks about when he wants us to feel our ecological crisis--and connection to the world--painfully from the gut; that it truly truly matters so deeply, in so many ways, that to avoid doing anything, saying anything, living anything loudly and immediately, is to literally refuse goodness and embrace evil. We are living in a time of great evil. And yes, of great hope.

It's not so much about global warming as it is about America existing as a nation; or maybe it IS about global warming, that if we see the harm we're doing--feel the emotional and psychological crisis and death of ALL life--by extension we'll see the links to our lifestyle. I'm not so sure that convincing ourselves that we can keep living how we are while enjoying clean energy is the best way to go (as Al Gore seems to be saying), but maybe we have to go that route, say clean energy means more jobs, our own independence from foreign governments, and hey, as a side bonus, a healthier planet (at least in the air, anyway, maybe up in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, too). It seems to me that we must feel the agony of extinction--it's not about global warming, it's about murder. Genocide. Self mutilation, by extension, and finally literal and spiritual suicide. Emptiness and silence. What will it be like to wake up in the morning and not hear any birds? (1% of all bird species go functionally extinct in their ecosystems each year.)

How do we feel this? Do we have to join in the chorus of death? Really FEEL the air choking us, the water ripping our guts out, the soil starving us (this is already happening in some parts of the world)? Do we really have to have our backs to the wall? And yes, that's then too late, isn't it. Most days I am HAPPY the price of oil is going up. I'd like to see $200 a barrel by January. I know what that means when I say it--it means poverty, disease, bankruptcy, and so much more. But, I guess we need it. The choir may now exit. Amen.


Zoƫ said...

Amen to that, just need another 268,000,000 or so Americans to start thinking that way too, and then make your Government do what's right for the planet, not big business. Kyoto would be a start.

Anonymous said...

Nice rant.

Yeah. You can't expect a president to fix everything. But you can elect a president who won't get in the way.

A favorite commentator says a good politician is one who sees the parade headed down the street and jumps out in front of it. That's what Roosevelt did, after all. He didn't get elected initially because he had all those radical New Deal ideas.

Amanda B. said...

I appreciate your passion- regardless of views, that is what we all need is more passion. Apathy is annoying and unproductive. I agree on many of your points and I think above all- you should hold on to that passion! It's a good thing!

Anonymous said...

Oh God, I feel a rant coming on... I think humanity as a whole is doomed unless we can reconnect to this beautiful earthly paradise that we've been privileged to be born in. It terrifies me to read of kids who spend their entire lives fantasizing in front of the computer, dreaming of cyber-enhancements, alone, in a world that might as well be the one in "The Matrix" for all the connection it has to living plants, animals, and people. Who cares about, like, the stupid environment when you can plug in and tune out? And their parents, spending the day in the cube farm, grabbing a bag or two at Mickey D's on the way home, cell phone crammed to head, and then settling in front of the TV for the night. Neighborhood? Community? Green space? Say what?! Hey, there's a big SALE at Wal-Mart!!! I blame organized religion for much of this disconnect. Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is AT HAND" (right here, all around us, the earthly paradise God Creator made for all creation). The churches said, showing blasphemous disrepect for the Creator God they claimed to worship, "Yo guys! The Kingdom of God's somewhere in outer space! Earth's just an awful trash heap, a place to dominate and exploit until we can get the hell out of here and start strummin' those harps of gold up on a cloud." We're now reaping the harvest that line of reasoning, enforced for millennia, sowed. I hope a special hell has been prepared for perpetrators of same, where offenders sit alone in featureless cubicles for all eternity, with TVs on every wall blaring endless reruns of "Barney," game shows, and commercials. Meanwhile, for the rest of us: Connection. To ourselves. To each other. To the earth. We must find it, for without it, we can do nothing...

Kateryna said...

I feel your pain. I can't trust elected officials and that is a vulnerable feeling. One would hope the only place to go from here is up. Perhaps the silver lining will be that eventually America will dawn a new age. Maybe a small about of hardship wil make people put to end this age of consumerism and narcissism.

WiseAcre said...

Your thoughts mirror mine. Want to be my official spokesperson? I can't remain coherent when I start a rant and then don't know how to stop.

People look at me funny when I say higher gas prices are a good thing. Maybe the country will wake up and realize oil is a limited resource.

The world's food supply depends on oil. Agriculture has become a petrochemical industry. We're already complaining about food prices and the impact from higher oil prices is only beginning.

The small movement to grow organic, sustainable and local by no means will pick up the slack when oil becomes so expensive only the wealthy can afford to buy food.

Two things come to mind. The first was the reaction to a simple comment, "Let them eat cake" and the other is Easter Island.

ilona1 said...

Not in the choir, but certainly in the pew. The thing about passion is that it accomplishes most when it is focused. To be generally angry is just dissipating, but much can be done when focusing in on a plan of action. Hands in the dirt is a good start;)

I look at the popularizing and even commercialization of "greening" as a good thing: it means the general sentiment is changing to become a usable force in not only awareness but change of habits. Masses are incredibly hard to move forward....

"I'm tired of reading "green articles" and watching "green" reports on every national and local newscast."

That isn't a placebo- it is getting the message out, disseminated into the general populace, Mom and Pop, and Joe Everyman.

The thing is to keep the passion alive enough to keep a watchdog's oversight on the gains made and not allow it to be watered down into buzz words.

Please don't go to jail;) Stay in the process.

My politics are different from yours, but love of the environment and of gardening, in particular unite us. May it prosper :)

Benjamin Vogt said...

Zoe--Kyoto? What's that? We've never heard of it. :)
Craig--I like what you said, it's certainly a valid point, a true point. Thanks for that perspective.
Mandy--Oh, I've got passion, yes I do, how about you? Ra ra ra.
Ellen--I can't tell you how many eco chrisitan books I've read that SCREAM we've been reading / preaching the Bible wrong, or at least, in an angle that favors only a few. The bible is a green book, really--Wendell Berry says so, and so do these other guys on my bookshelf right here, see?
Kat--But will that new age look like Star Trek or Escape From New York?
WA--I charge for my spokeperson services, in plants. There's no doubt big ag is messed up big time--and what's scarey, to me, are things like BT corn. McKibben's End of Nature freaked me good, to the core.
Ilona--Ah, a nice positive, calm persepctive. Thank you! Now I can disagree, sorta. If we have to "market" the green message and turn it in to something to be "consumed," fine I guess. But these are small changes that take too much time. Maybe time is good, so it soaks in good and promotes deeper roots. It's not about impatience, it's about the fact we are already over the limit--see the 350 campaign. We knew abot co2 in the late 1800s and what it was doing. The good thing is, this kind of (bad) cultural thinking we live in hasn't been around that long, really, and so it can be changed, and surely won't last. I just doubt I'll be alive to see any of it.

Anonymous said...

If you believe what you wrote, you should remember that our government is not a two party only system. It may seem like that, but other candidates ARE running. One of them is Nader. If anyone would be willing to change the United State's policy on energy it would be him. Thank you very much for the rant though. It makes me feel better that some people in this country still do think.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anonymous - "it makes me feel better that some people in this country still do think."

I don't know how to get people off the daily treadmill of driving, overwork, more driving, and television. Or out of the ratrace and back to the earth. I'm not a raving tree hugger (though I do regularly hug my old ash tree) but I do wonder how people can not see that we're poisoning our home. Most people don't even know what goes into making their food - they wouldn't eat it if they did. Your comments are timely, we just need more people to think the same way.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Anon--I will never vote for Nader. It doesn't matter if we have 50 billion parties, we still have parties that don't listen to a plethora of needs and demands from the people. It isn't one issue the next, or any president, needs to successfully address--it's a lot, and they are linked, and they won't see the light of day in Washington. Not any time soon. This is bone deep disenchantment here, thinking or not thinking clearly.
Kim--I think people do know we're poisoning the earrth, and ourselves,, but it's not directly--and massively--hitting us yet. We are a forward looking society only when it suits us, business, pleasure, daydreams. How do we get from thinking more farsighted and more in balance with the rest of creation? Time. But I sure do like Richard Louv's idea of schooling kids with balance / nature / ecological connection in mind. What do you think? Thanks for adding your thoughts!

James Golden said...

As Herbert Marcuse said, capitalism ultimately turns everything into a commodity, even our language. "Green" is now a sales pitch and virtually meaningless. I vote for regulation and responsibility, but I see no one to vote for.