Last week, I read blog entry entitled, “Mother Earth called. She wants you to stop being such an asshole.” For a moment, I entertained the hope that this blogger would be calling people out for asshole-ish behavior, like continuing to buy huge Hummers while plastering “I support our troops” bumper stickers to the back of them.
Depressingly, the blog and the comments were a familiar bash on the “eco-assholes” who apparently are fair game even in progressive crowds. Yep. Everyone loves to hate those “self-centered, judgmental and superior” people who really care about the Earth. Like me.
Here’s a snippet:
To me, there is no difference between the snobbery displayed in the materialistic label-whoring types who figure earth can go fuck itself because we’re all here to grab what we can and die… and that of the super-powered eco-friendly attachment-parenting Nazis. It’s self-centeredness and judgment and superiority. Period.
The post and the responses it engendered hurt my heart. For several days I spent part of my free time turning that blog post over and over, wondering if I should respond, and how. I came to realize that what really bothered me about the post was the author’s assumption that it is superiority that is driving these eco-friendly Nazis, along with self-centeredness and judgment. Because I am just like that woman and I can tell you it’s none of those things driving me. It’s panic, pure and simple.
I panic because I read the newspaper and volunteer extensively for environmental causes, and if you are doing either of those things (and reading something besides the Wall Street Journal), then you know our planet is fucked.
I panic because I believe in science. I believe the weather events we have witnessed this summer mean something. I know that there are entire countries that are already starting to flood due to rising ocean levels. I know that the effects of carbon dioxide are compounding each other in a way that scientists did not expect and that is causing the climate change to move at an accelerated pace. I know that the ocean, which I love dearly and deeply, is polluted with runoff and a swirling vortex of plastic, and that it is becoming increasingly acidic as it tries desperately to mitigate the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. And knowing those things breaks my heart and fills me with despair, and yet also motivates me to get out of bed in the morning and keep working.
I panic because I am a black and white person. I try really hard to accept that other people live with shades of grey. But for me, things are usually right or wrong. Protecting Mother Earth is right. Trashing her is wrong. Since I believe this is true, I must act accordingly. I must change my personal behavior in as many ways as possible: driving less, putting up solar panels, growing my own food, eating a plant-based diet. I am compelled to work on the larger issues: testifying before the city council, participating in protests, calling my elected officials, donating to organizations that work on these issues. I must make planetary health a priority. And at the same time, I must try to make sure my behavior is consistent. And I must try not to drive myself crazy with worry or depression. That’s the hard part.
Because I see the world this way, because I think about the environment each and every day, it is really difficult for me to understand why other people aren’t working as hard as I am to avert a climate catastrophe. I try to understand how other people’s brains work. I really do. I spend a lot of time considering how people prioritize, and understanding that other more immediate concerns can push the environment to the background. But I don’t really get it. Because I am convinced that none of the rest of this – the economy, immigration, schools, my children’s grades, etc. – is really going to matter if climate-change-induced drought causes mass famine or if extreme weather and flooding kill billions of us. That is the reality inside my head every day. And so every day I wake up and reaffirm my commitment to not only sticking with the personal changes that I have made, but trying to be a voice for the Earth in my community.
I guess that leads to the label of judgmental. And I own that. I do make judgments. I think that if I can make these changes, so can you. I think that if you know about environmental degradation and climate change and you take no major steps to try to make things better, you are selling us all short. We are not going to avert disaster if we all keep hoping that someone else is going to fix the problem for us. It can’t be me on my bike, hauling my child up the hill while you zoom past in your SUV. It can’t be my family eschewing meat while everyone around us eats it with every meal. Just like it can’t be Germany alone building solar and wind farms while the rest of us keep burning coal. It won’t do any good. We all live on this planet. Our children all live on this planet. We are in it together.
Because I think those thoughts and say them out loud, the blogger in question would probably label me a douchebag.
I happen to have evidence that the good Mother Earth thinks these people are douchebags. How do I know? Because she told me.
She told me by pouring her rains on the eco-friendly and the polluters alike. Her flowers don’t shun the faces of those who choose “plastic” at the check-out line. Her oceans cool people who eat fast food and Whole Foods, without regard. And her mountains call to the SUV drivers just as clearly as to the Prius drivers in North Face and Tevas, eating homemade granola from locally sourced oats. Or whatever.
The way I look at it, people who won’t change their behavior are the douchebags. Especially when they are Americans…the people who, per capita, use 13 times as much energy as the Chinese, 31 times as much as Indians and 370 times as much as Ethiopians. Of course, we can sit in our comfortable homes in the U.S. and cast stones at those judgmental eco-douchebags, making them seem like the problem. But Earth’s flowers won’t grow for American or Peruvians if there is sustained drought. And her oceans will acidify, destroying the bread-basket and the lungs of the world, if we keep pouring carbon dioxide into the air, without regard. And her mountains will call foul upon SUV drivers and Prius drivers alike when there is no snow pack and no water source. And if worrying about those things makes me reprehensible, so be it.
Environmental degradation is the problem. It worries me in deep places in my soul. And when I see others who can’t be troubled to try to help the planet – can’t spend slightly more money for detergent without phosphates, or can’t be bothered to take the bus, or won’t recycle – it fills me with panic. Because most of those people – the people around me – believe in science. They know climate change is real. And if they won’t act – if you won’t act – how the heck are we supposed to reach middle America? Or our politicians? Or those developing countries who want to emulate U.S. consumption patterns? We can’t. Things won’t change. Our children will face a future filled with horrendous and unimaginable calamities that are none of their own making. Because we failed to act.
It’s not eco-snobbery. It’s eco-panic. And if that makes me an eco-bitch, there it is.
The point of my blog post was not that those issues are unimportant, or that people who care about the earth are “douchebags” (that was some very careful passage-selection you did there…), but rather that acting like a self-righteous asshole is an ineffective way to create change. That was it. Judging others because they aren’t as enlightened as you, as you bask in your own superiority, is no way to get people to change their behaviors. Period. That was my point.
I have worked for a natural resources conservation law firm for the past 10 years, and engage in many (most) of the conservationist/earth-friendly activities you mention above.
Thanks for taking the time to comment Janelle.
I read your post several times and I truly feel like there were a lot of names being called. It started with the title and felt like one long slam after that.
I completely agree with the sentiment that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and your friend Penny seems like a gem. However, I was left feeling that it was easy/acceptable to judge (with some very strong language) the very people you were accusing of being judgmental. And without affording them the same acknowledgement of their humanity and their struggles that you wanted from them.
We all struggle with something. And none of us likes to be pigeon-holed. But when one is really worried about the fate of the planet, it feels appropriate to speak up and make your opinion known. Hopefully without being an ass. But I think that soemtimes you can’t worry about being popular or non-judgmental. You have to worry about waking people up.
So it looks like the last sentence of my comment somehow didn’t make it up. I probably inadvertently deleted it or something. Anyway, wanted to say this was a very thoughtful response to the post, and thank you for reading, and for commenting. I enjoy polite, adult discourse. It’s so rare on the internet! I wish you all the best.
Thank you. I enjoy your writing and (usually) your irreverence. It is nice to have the opportunity to exchange ideas without name calling! I also wish you the best, fellow mother and writer.
I know Pamela and I have been somewhat scarce with respect to the CG, etc., but we’ve stayed busy with Obama, voter registration, various volunteering gigs, and our own affairs. We have not forsaken the Change Gang, just have had other priorities for the past several months.
Main purpose of this note is to let you know that I read all of Idealist Girl!’s posts, with enjoyment and admiration. Your blog also takes me off on many click-click tangents. Never a dull moment.
Thanks for what you do, and how your write about it.
Regards to David, and best to you and your family.
Thanks Dick 🙂 I’ve missed seeing you and Pamela but know that you are off doing good works of your own. I am also glad to know that more peopel than my immediate family are reading this and enjoying it! I hope we will have a chance to catch up soon.