Hi guys. It’s Friday. And that title is for reals.
So I’ll tell you a little fun fact about Team Spinach, which is that we don’t actually hang out with each other 24/7. (Dan and Kara, I like you all, but not that much.) In lieu of talking all the time, we keep a google calender together, which tracks what we’re supposed to be posting. It’s a little fly-by-the-wind, not a truly coordinated operation, but the point is, it’s usually a semi-predictable effort. And today, if you were to look at this google calender, it reads “Pam – Oil Shale.” Because that’s what I was supposed to write about, until Dan posted the article that he posted yesterday. Until.
Those of you who are avid readers and writers will understand where I’m coming from right now, because every now and then, you read a piece that is so arresting that something chokes up a little bit. Something in you stops, or maybe it wakes up, and looks up from a long sleep, and says…yes.
And that’s where I am right now.
I read that article Dan posted, and suddenly there I was, in the Green Mountains of Vermont in the summer 2005, with two friends and nothing around me for miles and everything I needed on my back. Suddenly, I was in the mountains of northern New Mexico during my junior year of college, holding a piece of a rock that, seven years later would turn into a publication that tells a story 1.7 billion years old. Suddenly, I was on a run in Scott’s Run Park, a tiny tract of land I like to run in near my parents house sometime in late 2009, stopped for a water break, and saw a photo on a park sign of the protesters who prevented that tract of land from being turned into yet another “McMansion” housing development. It was ten minutes later that I moved on past that sign, and reached the top of an outcrop overlooking the Potomac River, and cried. (Yup. I just admitted that on the internet.) I wasn’t crying because of the environmental movement, or the park, or really, anything, other than the feeling of just being out there, running, watching the river flow past me, and feeling that maybe there is something out here that isn’t found in anything that can be bought, or sold, or learned, or told, or achieved. It was the same feeling you get when a song hits you right in the gut. That something that just is. If you don’t get it, then go ahead – call me a lunatic, call me a hopeless cod, call me a weirdo, blame my hormones, whatever you want – you’re missing out. If you’ve never felt that, stop reading now, and go back to checking your iPhone and pretending that you have something more important to do. You don’t, but if you’re that far gone, nobody is ever going to convince you otherwise. Also, your team lost last night. Sorry.
There are many sides to the environmental movement: one is the policy and the science. The sustainability. Getting people the things they need to live. The practical, pragmatic side that says – hey – we need to manage our businesses, our land, our air, our water, and our natural resources a little bit better. They’re the conservationists, so to speak. The numbers and the charts and the careful metrics that Paul Kingsnorth is railing against. That’s normally where I fall on a day to day basis. There’s also a chunk of the movement that is in on it because it’s trendy. It’s just cooler and more glamorous to have sustainable yoga mats and sustainable coffee and drink out of a BPA-free water bottle and drive a Prius. (Not saying if you do those things you’re shallow, but there are totally some people out there who are. You know who you are- you buy anything that says “natural” or “organic” without actually knowing the back story and whether or not your behavior change is actually beneficial.) Then, there are the true eco-loonies. The ones who chain themselves to trees and protest for the rights of animals and indigenous peoples and coffee beans and goodness only knows what else.
But I worry – I wonder – and I hope – that Kingsnorth isn’t right that the movement has become an exercise in slow collapse, a suicide, elaborate posturing in the name of prevention that is merely a vehicle of further destruction. Because if he is, the environmental movement has lost its heartbeat. I don’t think it has. Through all of the various types, there remains a thread uniting all aspects of the environmentally conscious. That thread is the one that looks at the world we have created, and sometimes, almost silently, asks: what have we done? Not in an accusatory way, but in a way that serves as a gut-check against a society increasingly driven by marketing and media and money.
And therein lies the hope: that humans, despite our potential for destruction and injustice, retain the capacity to look at ourselves, and how we live, and what we have, and see a larger image. There still might be a moment when you stop and think, do I have everything I need? More than likely, if you’re reading this blog, the answer is yes, many times over – you have food, water, shelter, and your basic biological needs are well-cared for. And yet the answer is no, because we are constantly told we need more. For fear of sounding like one of those intense religious TV commercials, or some avant garde play about consumerism, I’ll stop – because I am so not going down that road, and that is so not my point.
My point is this: modern environmentalism is about people. It is also about nature. How? Because maybe the difference between those two – despite our technology, our medicine, our homes, our cities, our cars, and everything else we have – is not so vast as we perceive. And while I understand why one might decry the “engineering” of the environment, I do not see this as incongruous with the fundamental spirit of environmentalism – whatever the heck that means. As a matter of fact, I see it as evidence that more people are aware – more people are trying to change – and more people are bringing their particular set of tools to the table than ever before.
I’d echo Dan’s plea that you read the article. Trust me, it is worth it. But, while I understand the frustration the article is written from – the failed solutions, the poorly-constructed policies, the marches and protests that did nothing – I disagree that the spirit is gone and that there are no answers. Because if you didn’t stop reading above when I told you to go back to checking your iPhone, then you know the spirit I am talking about. You know that no matter which approach you take – whether it is writing, engineering, buying organic groceries, or chaining yourself to a tree- you take it because something in you tells you that this is important. As long as there are at least two of us out there, then, well, that’s company. If we can get to three, we’ll have a crowd. More than that, and I’d say the spirit is alive. And maybe even well. Maybe we’ve gotten a little off track at times, but we haven’t lost our compass totally.
Now I’m going to go back to listening to the Braveheart theme on repeat, because that’s how I roll. Tomorrow, Kara will hopefully take us back to our regularly schedule programming, because that’s how she rolls (wonk.) Unless she, too, decides to be a sap. You never know with us.