Are Environmentalists Naïve? (Or Is It Just Me?)

There’s a joke about Canadians that goes something like this:

How do you get a large group of Canadians out of a pool on a hot summer’s day?

You say, “Please leave the pool.”

Ha ha?

So this joke is a nod to a stereotype: Canadians are often viewed as law-abiding, reasonable, and polite, and as such, it would be in our (generalized) collective nature to obediently clamber out of the pool when asked. Sure, we might grumble — Oh, come on! You’ve got to be kidding! It’s so hot! — but we’d still trundle ourselves out and towel off.

There’s also, it’s got to be acknowledged, a hint of naïveté intermingling with the obedience: there’s no reason given as to why the Canadians must leave the pool; perhaps part of the joke is the fact that we seemingly listen so readily to authority figures.

It should go without saying that this joke is, well, a joke. It’s not as though an experiment (a hot summer day + a pool + a group of Canadians + an unexplained although politely delivered imperative) is going to garner the “expected” results. If it did, we’d be a northern Utopia where there’d be no need for prisons and everyone would be consistently kind and polite to each other. (Psst … it’s not like that up here … )

But here’s what I’ve been wondering: perhaps the joke holds more truth for environmentalists than it does for Canadians.

What would happen, I wonder, if you stuck a bunch of environmentalists in a pool on a hot summer’s day and then politely asked them to get out? Obviously, I can only speak for myself, but here’s how my thought process would run:

I need to get out of the pool? Well, there must be some good reason, so okay, I guess I’d better … /starts to swim to the edge/ … I wonder if maybe it’s a pH thing, or too much chlorine, or maybe — ohmygosh! — maybe a geologist has just discovered an unstable seismic rift running underneath the pool and the Earth’s about to open up and swallow us alive! Gee, we’d better get out fast! No, LEAVE the noodles!

I’ve been in a heavily contemplative mood lately. Hence the relative silence on this blog. 2015 is a wholelotta stuff. It’s the year my husband turns 50. It’s 30 years since I graduated from high school. It’s the year our middle child will enter grade twelve. 2015 also finds us entering the fifth year of our nine-month renovation. (How mind-numbingly long does it take to paint two sets of French doors, anyway?). And here’s where I connect back to environmentalists and naïveté: this month marks one year since I felt like the wind was knocked out of me.

Here’s what happened a year ago:

First off, I read Bill McKibben’s Eaarth. In this book, McKibben lays out disturbing evidence that our planet is past the point of no-return; that we had our chance to fix things — to stop climate change — and we squandered it. And the result will be Eaarth, a planet that’s so drastically changed from what we know today that we might as well give it a new name.

This is not a book that should be read by the faint of heart. If that sounds like I’m bragging, I assure you I’m not. My husband was away when I borrowed it from the library, and he came home to a completely depressed wife. It was as though a pack of dementors had taken up residence (cue the scene where Ron Weasley moans, I felt as though I’d never be happy again).

“Stop reading it!” my husband implored.

To which I plaintively replied, “I can’t unread what I’ve already read, and anyway, it’s supposed to end on a hopeful note! That’s what the reviews said! I have to get to that hopeful bit at the end, dammit!”

Hah! Hopeful, schmopeful! I don’t know what the hell kind of Pollyanna person said Eaarth was “hopeful” at the end, because when I finished the book, I felt as though I’d been hit by a truck. I looked at my three children and felt fear as I’d never felt fear before, and I sank into a weeks’ long depression that was punctuated by the second thing that happened:

The UN released their latest Climate Change Report. It was featured on our nightly national news, where the anchor calmly told us, Climate change: it’s real, it’s happening now, it’s going to be worse than anyone ever anticipated.

And I — naïve, law-abiding, obedient me, a person who would climb willingly out of a pool on a hot summer’s day — actually, momentarily! had a glimmer of hope. Completely squashing Bill McKibben’s stark pessimism that it was too late, I suddenly had the fervent hope that people might at last start to connect the dots, might see how their little actions could add up to the change that was needed. Humankind would finally band together and save the planet, all in the nick of time! Wahoo, humans! Way to pull one out of the fire!

So this, in a nutshell, is what I imagined: that the drive-thru lane at Tim Horton’s would be empty; that the grocery store would start to pull bottled water from its shelves; that people would eschew plastic grocery bags for once and for all; that people everywhere would start to talk about the fact that we’ve been using the equivalent of four planets’ worth of resources.

In other words, I fully expected people to climb out of the metaphorical pool and towel themselves off and say, Well, that was fun, but now we’d better get serious! Our grandchildren might want to use this pool someday; let’s not wreck it for them, hey?

How’s that for complete and total naïveté?

I hear the Earth is going to pot, and I go into reaction mode: I need to compost? Sure, okay! Give me a bin — oh heck, we’ll make our own, thanks! Wait, what? Tea bags too? Hmmm … maybe we should find loose tea; then there wouldn’t be all these bags … And I know your parents gave us this Nespresso machine but these damn pods are so freaking wasteful! If you’re going to use the thing, can you limit it to next-to-nothing and then can we at least scrape out the grounds and compost them and then recycle the pods? And who put that banana peel in the garbage? Yes, you can pick it out, it won’t kill you! What’s that? I need to use less gas? Sure, okay! I’ll combine trips, I’ll car pool! Want a lift? Anyone else? And what’s this I hear about hypermiling? Accelerate slowly, and anticipate road conditions in order to avoid braking? Well, that’s all fine and dandy, but really … I don’t actually need to use the car, do I? Yes, let’s just walk! No, no, a minus 30 windchill isn’t that bad. Just bundle up, it’ll be fine …

And then I look around and here’s what I see: fellow hockey mums and dads with Tim Horton’s cups in their hands each. and every. game and practice; people loading up on cases of bottled water ($2.66 for a 30-pack; what a Great Low Price!); parents leaving their cars running (!) while they stroll up to the school and wait for their child to emerge from their kindergarten classroom (15 minutes later!).

Is it any wonder environmentalists are such a haranguing, hand-wringing, perpetually annoyed bunch of people?

Perhaps that’s too broad a brushstroke.

I’ll rephrase: Is it any wonder I am such a haranguing, hand-wringing, perpetually annoyed sort of person?

So that’s where I’ve been for a month or so. Busily stuffing down the haranguing, hand-wringing, perpetually annoyed part of me; standing on a razor-edge of what feels a bit like panic. Quietly trying my best to make sure 2015 is NOT the year I let loose with a primal scream in the hockey arena: Buy a to-go cup — and USE the damn thing! Or stop someone in the grocery store to ask: Excuse me, but is there a boil water advisory I don’t know about? And the one that could get me banned from the schoolyard: For God’s sake, turn off your fucking car! 

Am I alone here?

(I think it would be a really good idea to focus on the Gezellig part of this blog for a while. The part where I talk about cozy and comfortable homes; the part where I don’t come off as a loose cannon. Anyone interested in seeing crib piece number two? Or maybe a braided rug? (Or two, or three? … I’ve been kinda obsessed with these lately … ))