A Post-Earth Day Post From The Future

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 ….

Because how?

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.

— unknown

 

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8 thoughts on “A Post-Earth Day Post From The Future

  1. I understand your frustration!!! My approach this year has been to write a “Go Green in 2017” series, at irregular intervals, encouraging readers to make MULTIPLE lifestyle changes this year, not just a new year’s resolution but something new every month, giving up something for Lent and considering whether to make it permanent, etc. I try to share enthusiasm about the changes I’ve made (nearly all of which have been in some way more pleasant for my daily experience as well as better for the Earth) to balance out the doom and gloom. But it’s difficult when there’s so much doom looming and so many people callously ignoring it!

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    1. Thank you for this comment, ‘Becca — it helps enormously to feel understood! And I completely agree: nearly all the changes that a person can make are actually the OPPOSITE of unpleasant and inconvenient — I think it’s tremendously good for a person’s soul/psyche/state-of-mind to feel connected with, as well as to nurture a sense of responsibility towards, the Earth and nature. For me, there’s little difference between taking care of my house and taking care of the planet; they’re equally homes and as such, need caring for. I’ve also noticed that what’s good for the environment is also good for us in other ways: using lots of bottled water or other single-serving beverages means added work in both the initial buying as well as in the recycling, and also constitutes (in my mind!) a source of clutter; processed food, with all its packaging, isn’t good for the environment, and so much of it is unhealthy for us; and so much of the “stuff” that we buy or somehow get given simply clutters up our lives and weighs down our minds, and it’s a huge relief when you finally start saying No to it!

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  2. This year I’ve really focused on grocery buying. I remember back in 96 (ugh 20 years ago now!!) I was working for an environmental lobbyist and we were camping – I bought all these individually wrapped cheeses because 1) that’s what my parents always did and 2) easier keeping it from drying out. Oh, did I hear about it. It was then that it hit me, that even someone who works for an environmental lobbyist can sometimes need reminding that little things become big things. So this year I’ve focused on reducing waste in packaging, in bagging, in “convenience” items like paper napkins, plastic straws, plastic silverware (this came in handy at Abram’s recent party). I’m not perfect but I am more aware. And it’s amazing how much money I’ve saved carrying around my own water bottle instead of grabbing a bottle at the store. I have a few other things that are nagging on me, but they take a little more work and planning to address so for now…it’s packaging.

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    1. That’s fantastic, Kate! Packaging and convenience items represent a large part of the waste stream, and so much of it is just SO unnecessary! I think that it can be really difficult to get away from the practices we grew up with — it’s almost as though they’re such a part of our lives that we simply can’t see it; or if we do see it, we can’t quite imagine that there’s another way of doing things. (Despite the fact that all those convenience items have really NOT been around all that long!) I grew up with Kraft singles too (sigh)(and probably only stopped eating them due to my husband’s influence), but on the positive side, my mum didn’t use paper napkins or paper towels so when I set up my own household it actually never occurred to me to start using those things. We’ve never been ones who make a big deal about parties, but when my daughter turned four we decided to invite another family over to celebrate. I looked around a bit at the party favours at Wal-Mart (themed paper napkins and paper tablecloths, etc) because it seemed like that was “the thing to do”, but then decided that didn’t really fit with who I was, so instead got some festive fabric and sewed a tablecloth and napkins. Sixteen years and 76 birthdays later (if you count all five of us), those napkins and that tablecloth are still going strong!

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  3. Hi there Marian, somehow I lost your blog when you moved it! found you again now though – and very pleased I have.
    I have a very good friend who is in a similar place to you, and sadly she mostly feels so depressed by how relatively few people take all this seriously that she feels very despondent. I think that’s why I find the Transition and permaculture movements so useful – they’ve enabled me to feel part of a much bigger and very positive movement that does really take all this serious, and sees the connections between the small things we all must do and the big things we have to achieve.
    And another thing to bear in mind is that you probably aren’t aware of all the influence the ripples out from your seemingly-small actions may have made – I can think back to so many moments when someone influenced me and changed how I see and do things, but I never had the chance to tell them so.
    So – hang on in there, and keep doing what you do so well. Those napkins and tablecloth are a great small example.

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    1. Sorry about that, Deborah! I probably should have left a redirect on the other site for a bit longer; I’m so glad you managed to find me again.

      I’m sorry to hear that your friend has become despondent and depressed. How well I understand — I have to fight against those feelings on a daily basis, and it’s not an easy thing to do. I think it helps that I’m a big believer in both the importance of small things, as well as the mental benefits of purposeful action, so as long as I don’t stop, as long as I keep doing what I can, I can mostly keep myself from sinking into despondency.

      Following your earlier recommendation, I’ve done some reading about the Transition and permaculture movements. I SO wish we had something like that here, but unfortunately, our city is small and seemingly not all that forward-thinking. I did, though, just this weekend ask my 18-year-old son if he had heard of permaculture. He’s just finished his first year of engineering and has chosen to pursue the civil stream, and I remembered from my reading that permaculture could encompass several things that would perhaps pertain to civil engineering (water management and sustainable urban planning and “green” building design, for example). I should also mention it to my daughter — I think she would find it interesting as well.

      I so appreciate your positive attitude, Deborah. You’re right — I don’t necessarily know if my small actions are causing a ripple effect. And I will hang on, and keep on keeping on, because I simply can’t do otherwise!

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