Earth Day has passed once again (let’s hope you planted a tree and picked up some litter this Saturday), but that’s no reason for us to get lax on our personal ecology. Saving the Earth is easy, after all. As a species we may be living at the edge of a precipice, but — if the “Go Green!” boosters are to be believed — there are simple things we can each do every day to avoid a cataclysm.
And I consider myself living proof of this. Just ask anyone who has attended one of my many freegan banquets. Usually held on a sidewalk or in a park, several of my closest friends and I enjoy the bounty of Trader Joe’s dumpsters: an exciting assortment of day-old rolls and malformed citrus fruits that keep each of us hovering around a hearty 110 pounds.
In my living space, I have six unique recycling bins (for two types of plastic, general aluminum and three variations of paper), each made from 100 percent recycled recycling bins. My excreta are all composted in my guerilla garden, where I tend crops ranging from maize to hemp (mostly hemp). I get to campus on my “recicycle” (that’s a recycled bicycle, for those not in the know), and I take my weekly bath using homemade soap and reclaimed water.
It’s an odious, odiferous life I lead, but if every single person on the planet lived as I live, we’d almost (but not really) make a dent in global pollution levels.
That’s not the only way to go about saving the planet, of course. Taking a different tack, we might embrace the horrifying weight of global doom — the apathy of the damned. The rate at which rain forests are being razed for grazing land for the industrialized slaughter of cattle; the ease with which transnational corporations can evade environmental regulations, either by breaking laws domestically or by setting up shop in impoverished countries with lax environmental regulations, and then breaking those; and the devastation wrought the world over by the combination of genetically altered crops and patent laws (which destroy the livelihoods of subsistence farmers across the planet), it’s easy to give oneself over to despair.
Of course, these are two sides of the same coin. Both camps, those who think there is everything to do and those who think there is nothing to do, share the belief that it is, for all intents and purposes, up to “us” to adjust our behavior (or not) and switch to sustainable consumptions practices (or not). That is, we are the ones with something do.
But, contrary to the bumper-sticker ideology, one needn’t be the change they wish to see in the world — sorry Gandhi — but one must demand, continuously and collectively, for change. People don’t change the world, movements change the world. The lifestyle Left, from the Earth Day Network on down to any white person with “dreadlocks,” is an anti-movement, promoting change at the level of the individual — or, the aggregate of individuals, the “if every single person stopped driving their cars …” idea.
Industrial-scale problems don’t have individual-scale solutions. If, in fact, every individual in the U.S. took draconian personal measures and lived as ascetically as your average anarchist would hope, the country and globe’s leading polluter — industry — would remain unfazed. As much as we might fantasize about industry acting responsibly, and with the level of faith needed to believe this it’s a wonder more adults don’t believe in the Easter Bunny, there’s no real reason to believe they’ll “clean up their act” without a massive popular campaign.
I know I’m not recycling the wheel in saying any of this. I have only two real ideas to offer, humbly, to folks concerned with the environment — that is, concerned with the continued human presence on our pale blue dot.
First, we might consider a shift away from the whinnying moralizing that accompanies environmentalist discourse. Personally, I don’t want saving the planet to be fun or easy or a voluntary requirement, I (personally) want saving the planet to occur within a broader struggle against capital — not conflated with fun-having.
Second, if everything I have said here is so banal (and it is), and if there are so many folks who are so concerned about the environment (and there are), and if so many of those folks are so energetic about making a change, why is our political imagination limited to a non-choice between fatalism and consumerism?
We have to work to imagine differently, we need to embrace being “anti-business” and “anti-industry” and every other slur from the Right, and, finally, we have to stop thinking about what “we” have to do and start thinking about what “they” — the real polluters — have to do.
James Bliss is a fifth-year political science, women’s studies and African-American studies triple major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.