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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.


The Candle Doesn’t Own the Cake and Other Green Wisdom

 by Keith Goetzman


Tags: oceans, wilderness and wildlife, air and water, science, religion, morality, economics, natural history, property rights, slavery, counterculture, environment, Keith Goetzman,

The View From Lazy PointCarl Safina’s new book The View From Lazy Point is a font of environmental wisdom on the natural world and all that affects it, including human behavior, economics, religion, and science. An ecologist who wrote the sea conservation classic Song for the Blue Ocean, Safina in his new book chronicles a year spent near and on the water, interspersing lyrical nature writing with forthright, eminently sensible commentaries on all the forces that threaten the blue ocean—and the blue planet as well.

Here is Safina on the “property rights” movement:

One can fully own a manufactured thing—a toaster, say, or a pair of shoes. But in what reasonable sense can one fully “own” and have “rights” to do what ever we want to land, water, air, and forests that are among the most valuable assets in humanity’s basic endowments? To say, in the march of eons, that we own these things into which we suddenly, fleetingly appear and from which we will soon vanish is like a newborn laying claim to the maternity ward, or a candle asserting ownership of the cake; we might as well declare that, having been handed a ticket to ride, we’ve bought the train. Let’s be serious. 

On the immorality of dirty energy:

The right and necessary things are not always decided solely on economic considerations. If ever energy came cheap, slavery was it. Slavery created jobs for slave catchers, a shipping industry built on the slave trade, and a plantation economy that could remain profitable only with slave labor. Slavery was necessary to “stay competitive.” It was the linchpin of the Southern plantation economy. But no normal person today would argue that slavery is good for the economy. We’ve made at least that progress.

Yet we hear—all the time—arguments defending dirty energy on economic grounds. Those arguments are as morally bankrupt as the ones defending slavery in its heyday. It isn’t moral to force coming generations to deal with the consequences of our fossil-fuel orgy. It isn’t moral to insist, in effect, on holding them captive to our present economy.

And on resisting consumerism:

The 1960s counterculture attempted what we need now more than ever: a spirited culture of refusal, a counterlife. … The revolution is as simple as this: Don’t buy the products by which they drain you and feed themselves. Listen to people trying to warn you, but don’t vote for anyone trying to scare you. Resist! Do the unadvertised and the unauthorized. Comb someone’s hair. Plant seeds. Reread. Practice safe sex until you get it right. Go to a museum, aquarium, or zoo. Be .org- and be commercial-free. Photograph someone you love with no clothes on. Not them—you. Walk a brisk mile to nowhere and back. Mark a child’s height on a freshly painted wall. Climb into bed with the Arts or Science section of an actual newspaper and get a little newsprint on your fingers. Eat salad. Clean your old binoculars. Hoard your money until you get enough to make a difference to charity. Go to formal dinners in great-looking thrift-store clothing and brag about how much you paid. React badly to every ad and every exhortation about what you need, as though they are lying, as though they just came up from behind in the dark and said, “Give me your wallet.” Scream when they come to rob you. You’ll never go wrong. You won’t miss anything worthwhile. The country needs your lack of cooperation.

Look for an excerpt from The View From Lazy Point in the May-June issue of Utne Reader.

Source: The View From Lazy Point 

Panel image by BaylorBear78, licensed under Creative Commons.