My Green Manifesto

An environmentalist begs his comrades for honesty, accuracy, and a sense of humor


| September-October 2011


So many people who speak for the wild world seem to feel the need to speak in the voice of the mystic, a hushed, voice-over reverence. At times like those there’s very little indication that any of us have the quality that many humans find most important for living on earth: a sense of humor. You’d never guess that any of us ever laughed or farted.

Lately, I’ve been invited to give a lot of talks, and when I speak people sit listening, rapt, or at least putting on rapt faces. If I really wanted to make it big I would start intoning the phrase “global warming” over and over. But I’ve got other ideas, however, impure and pesky little ideas that get in the way. For instance, sometimes I think that, from an artistic point of view, the end of the world might be kind of interesting. Another troubling notion is that I’m not really sure I want to be this thing called an environmentalist.

I don’t think it’s unimportant to fight for environmental causes. But the old, guilt-ridden, mystical envirospeak just isn’t cutting it. My role, as I see it, is to try to pull the pole out of the collective environmental ass. For a costume I wear a Hawaiian shirt and to get into character I drink a few beers. Throughout my talks I make jokes about how earnest everyone is and the audience usually laughs along semi-masochistically. I imagine myself to be Bob Dylan at Newport, playing electric guitar among the folkies, trying (futilely) to get them to yell out “Judas.”

This last metaphor was confirmed by one of the door prizes I was given recently, a CD tribute to Rachel Carson’s work. On the way home I listened to a song on the CD that told the story of the osprey’s near demise from DDT and then its remarkable comeback, a subject I once wrote a book about. It is fair to say that Carson is one of my greatest heroes, but the music that came warbling out of my speakers seemed to be sung by a caricature of a late-’50s Pete Seeger wannabe, who wailed about the poisons coursing through the ospreys’ bodies with such excruciating earnestness that it almost made me root for the birds’ death. It makes me long for a new sort of music, a music with energy, irreverence, and drive, a punk osprey tribute sung by, say, the Sex Pistols.

What would a new environmental music sound like? It might, I’ll suggest at the risk of coming off like the mystics I just ridiculed, sound a bit like a river. Burbling, lapping, rushing, calm, excited, but above all fluid. And contradictory, too, rushing one way but filled with back eddies and counter­currents. Uncertain and confident all at once. Before I go all Siddhartha on you, however, let me add that it should also be blunt.

Of course it’s hard to keep a fluid, riverlike mind in this time of adamancy and increased hysteria. We live in an age of blowhards, windbags, and he-who-shouts-loudest wins. We are never allowed, not for a moment, to forget GLOBAL WARMING and its corollary admonishment that we must SAVE THE WORLD. Frankly, the subject exhausts me.






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