A couple of months ago, my 12-year-old son and I had a Back to the Future movie marathon (if indeed three movies qualify as a marathon).
I’m known (amongst my immediate family) for a shocking illiteracy when it comes to media which dates from my own youth —
- Did you see E.T. when it came out in theatres, Mum? No 😦
- Did you see Star Wars, Mum? No 😦
- Did you see Ghostbusters, Mum? No 😦
- repeat, ad nauseam, with nearly every single notable movie of the 70s and 80s…
However — wonder of wonders — I actually had seen the first Back to the Future movie prior to our marathon. (But not in theatres, of course; years later, via VHS).
Not only was it fun to revisit the first movie, and to hear my son laugh at 80s style —
“YES,” I told him, “1985! That was the year I graduated high school, and YES, we actually dressed like that!”
— it was also kinda nice to *finally* (albeit two years late) understand the meaning behind the phrase: It’s 2015, where’s my hoverboard?!
I was born in 1967, and I confess there are times when I am completely gobsmacked by the fact that we’re now living in the year 2017: Wait. What? How the hell did that happen?
Growing up, I remember imagining that the 2000s would be an utterly amazing and entirely futuristic future. That two, and all those zeros … surely they were somehow symbolic. Not only would we have ALL the gadgets (and yes, we do have rather a lot), but more importantly, the coming century would herald the beginnings of a Star Trek-like utopia. The prospect of beaming from place to place was perhaps a bit much to hope for, but my goodness — at the very least, all the Big Problems would be solved. Poverty, hunger, war, and pollution? They’d all be gone! Greed and suffering and inequality? Ah, all that would be but a distant memory; we’d all be living in an egalitarian society, one in which we’d all have the freedom to strive for higher ideals…
(Sigh. Any other idealistic INFJs out there?)
Spoiler alert: all those Big Problems haven’t been solved. Which, of course, you already know, because you’re here with me, in the year 2017, the FUTURE … a mere three years away from 2020, the year in which we were all supposed to be united in working together to solve the Biggest Problem of all, the one that affects and colours all the rest: Climate Change.
This past Saturday was Earth Day, a day that was first set aside as a reminder for us to take care of our one-and-only planet home way back in the year 1970.
I like math, so I’ll do the arithmetic: that’s a whopping 47 years ago.
I confess my feelings about Earth Day have changed as the years have progressed. Idealistic optimism has slowly been eroded, leaving me with a jaded and impatient cynism that I struggle to hold at bay.
In my estimation, Earth Day is the day we (maybe) pick up some garbage. It’s the day we (maybe) plant a couple of trees. It’s a day on which baby steps are encouraged and good intentions are extracted, and that’s all great … except … the year is 2017 and this is the future, and I suspect that the Earth needs a bit more than just one day of caring.
A few years ago, I read Bill McKibben’s Eaarth.
I (unwisely) read it during a time of personal upheaval and it sent me spiralling down into a pit of complete and utter despair.
Although I managed, several weeks later, to climb out of that dark place and to grab hold once again — stubbornly, idealistically — to some semblance of optimism, there’s one phrase that McKibben wrote which continues to gnaw at me.
McKibben begins the book by talking about how a stable earth allowed the formation of human civilisation, and then goes on to propose that cheap fossil fuels were the key to creating modernity. He says:
One barrel of oil yields as much energy as twenty-five thousand hours of human manual labor—more than a decade of human labor per barrel. The average American uses twenty-five barrels each year, which is like finding three hundred years of free labor annually. And that’s just the oil…
He then expounds on the ways in which modernity has gone hand in hand with fossils fuels, describing both the products that we (probably) can no longer imagine living without as well as the economy that those fossil fuels have made possible. And then comes the kicker, the phrase that’s been etched indelibly onto my neurons:
That we’ve wasted it so mindlessly is depressing.
Oh yes, Mr. McKibben. It absolutely is.
Someone once commented, following one of my posts, that my writing carries a tone of disappointment. This didn’t come as a surprise to me: as an idealist, I have high expectations, for myself as well as for others. I have been trying to take care of the Earth ever since I was a small girl and I confess I don’t understand people who don’t care enough to pitch in and do their part.
In Real Life, I have largely kept my impatience and disappointment under socially-acceptable wraps. I have quietly gone about setting good examples: I have brought along grocery bags and refillable water bottles and to-go cups; I have refused and reduced and (sometimes) gently explained why. More often than not I have simply held my tongue. Indeed, while I have failed miserably at the “you get more flies with honey” imperative in writing this blog, I have somehow managed to do a stellar job with that in Real Life.
But I confess this is something that’s getting harder and harder to do the further into the future we sail. That damning McKibben phrase has been running through my OCD brain, turning every grocery store run, every school event, every walk down our manicured suburban street, into a depressing cataloguing of the myriad ways we are mindlessly wasting our precious resources and damaging our one planet.
This hyper-awareness is causing uncharitable things to be muttered under my breath and pointed stares to be levelled. I haven’t yet hurled invectives at banana-baggers at the grocery store, I haven’t yet raced across the street and torn that f*#%g gas-powered leaf blower from my neighbour’s hands, I haven’t yet marched into a Dollarama bearing a sign and chanting,“Hey hey, ho ho, made-in-China gift wrap has got to go!” … but my gosh, it’s probably only a matter of time; there’s only so much mindless wastefulness a person can watch, especially when said person owns 25-year-old cloth grocery bags.
Hopefully, when I finally do snap, the jury will go easy on me.
Weeks ago, I had imagined I would write one of those Earth Day lists. 50 Easy Ways to be Green, or some such title. Clearly, I haven’t done that, partly because I’m not a list person, and partly because all the information is already out there. I have little interest in repeating what others have already said, and besides, I suspect that all the people who want to live more lightly are already doing it.
But truthfully, the biggest reason I didn’t make a list is because they seem to cheerily reinforce the baby step mentality: “Here’s a LOOOOONNNGGG list of all the ways you can help the planet, but WAIT! don’t let that overwhelm you; just pick one thing and start there!”
And this is where I come to the sticking point; this is the reason this post is a POST-Earth Day post and not simply an Earth Day post ….
How, how, how … how does one simultaneously say, YES, PLEASE! FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE, TAKE YOUR BABY STEPS! … and then continue on with, HELLO?!?!?! WE’RE IN THE FUTURE AND WE NEED MORE THAN BABY STEPS! WE NEED A MARATHON!
I am truly sorry for yelling.
But I’m angry. And scared. And grieving.
We don’t need baby steps. We need just ONE step. We all just need to open our eyes. We need to actually see and acknowledge the ramifications of what our individual actions are collectively doing to our one and only planet, and then we need to decide that we actually care enough to do something about it.
And as depressing as all this is — as overwhelming as all this is — I, for one, will never give up.
No battle is more sorely lost than the one not fought.