Posted on: 04/22/11
I wrote this a couple of years ago and now I’m reposting it because… Well, because I still think it’s true.
So, on this day, when we’re all supposed to be thinking about the environment, I’ve been thinking about the people who don’t think about the environment. Or, more accurately, the people who think about it, but whose thoughts run generally towards, “Eh, who gives a rat’s ass?”
I don’t get these people. Of all the politicians in the world, John McCain perfectly encapsulated the current environmental issue in a way that even the most robust tree-hating, Hummer-driving global-warming denier should understand: Worst case scenario, we’re wrong about global warming (oops!), but we still do all this work to clean up the environment and all we have to show for it is cleaner air, cleaner water, better health, etc. Oh, that would suck mightily, wouldn’t it?
It’s a win-win scenario. Assuming global warming is true and real and happening as we speak, cleaning up our act saves a bunch of lives. If Al Gore is a crackpot, then cleaning up our act leads to a nicer, healthier, cleaner world for us and our kids. How can anyone be against this, in either case?
Why are some people not just apathetic about the environment, but actively derisive about efforts to clean it up?
Well, one thing is that “earth” is a big idea. People start to think it’s too big, too ambitious, and they give up. And once you’ve given up on something, the easiest way to assuage that nagging feeling of guilt you’ve got is to beat up the people who haven’t given up.
Now here’s another problem. (This is not a new or original comment. George Carlin said it best.) Look, “Save the Earth” is a misnomer, people. We’re not saving the earth. When the polar ice caps melt and the continents flood, guess what? There will still be a ball of metals and molten rock and dirt and water (lots of water) 93 million miles out from the sun, spinning and spinning in the void.
There won’t be a lot of people on it (if any), but the earth will still be there, and quite frankly, the earth won’t give a shit about the people.
(The earth also won’t give a shit if we clean up our act. Sorry, but it’s true. The earth is not a fickle mistress — she’s an oblivious one. It comes with, oh, BEING A PLANET and not a person.)
We’re not “saving the earth.” We’re saving us. We’re saving humanity from disaster. And it’s about time we start being honest about that. “Save the earth” sounds noble — and it is — but let’s face it: It’s also disingenuous, to a degree. Because it’s not really what we’re doing.
I don’t make this call for honesty because I’m didactic or anything. (Though God knows, I am…) I make it because — in the cold-blooded calculus of it all — it makes sense.
When you say “Save the earth! Save the environment!” it sounds like you’re making a distinction between nature and mankind. To someone who is not already predisposed to worry about the environment, you’re placing the environment above humans.
Don’t look at me like that. I know that’s not what you mean. But to someone who doesn’t see all the fuss about spotted owls and doesn’t comprehend or care about the interconnectedness of life on earth, that’s how it sounds. It sounds like you’re saying, “I don’t care about you or your family or your lifestyle or even your life itself. I just care about this salamander over here. And the fjords. I really care about the fjords a lot.” When what you really mean is that you care about all of that stuff, but you’d like people to be around to enjoy it, too.
The truth is, the earth will be fine with us or without us. Earth has been water-covered before. Earth has had toxic atmospheres before. It’s all the same to earth.
What we are talking about is saving earth for us. (Again, not an original thought.) We are talking about maintaining a biosphere that is friendly to human life as we know it.
I happen to think that this is just as noble as “saving the earth full stop.” I happen to think this is a good and laudable goal. I also happen to think that — if we want some of these recalcitrant folks to jump on board — we should be honest about it.
So, I don’t think there should be an Earth Day.
There should be an Us Day.
It’s not a Save the Earth movement. It’s Save Us.
When you put it that way, the immediacy of it becomes more obvious. As does the fact that this is about all of us. That we’re all in this together.
“Save the Earth” is big and complicated and nebulous and abstract.
“Save Us” is personal, intimate, powerful.
Happy Us Day. Go recycle something.