Fatalism is the Lazy Man’s Way: A Post In Which I Rebut a Response Ridiculing My Renunciation

I, like all bloggers, absolutely adore getting comments on posts. Positive, negative, challenging, pugnacious – they’re all good (although of course one prefers the adulatory to the disparaging, as is only natural).

Just last night I received a comment on my post about Earth Hour, and as I got ready to respond I realized that perhaps my reply would be better expressed in an entirely new post, so that other readers would have the opportunity to weigh in on the matter.

In case you missed it, I was telling the good folks out there a little bit about the environmental awareness campaign called Earth Hour, and had created my own challenge to try to get people to reduce their use of plastic. Here is the response I got from marymtf.

I know that this is going to come off as rude, and I don’t mean it to be but I find earth hour to be a colossal joke and no matter how genuinely meant an [un]workable and useless gesture. After earth hour, I am imagining that we not only turn the lights back on (what about the fridge?) but also charging up our phones, our iPads and every other electronic gadget we posses, then we gas up and go for a drive. Pollies and CEOs can Skype but prefer to get on a plane for a bit of face time. It’s all very we’ll [sic] to say you’ll give up bottled water, but will you give up blogging? Perhaps the Americans are waiting for us to get the point.”

First of all, I think that Mary to a certain degree is missing the point. Yes, turning off your lights (we leave our fridges on) for an hour makes no discernible difference to the health of the planet, but the idea is to make people more conscious of their personal responsibilities, more aware of the impact of their own actions.

It also is meant to act as a spur to more meaningful and comprehensive engagement in the environmental movement. Perhaps this gentle reminder will spill over into other areas and make people less likely to “gas up and go for a drive.”

Think of Earth Hour as a form of advertising. We all know that Coca-Cola exists, so why does the company spend millions of dollars annually on reminding us of this fact? Because it provides the nudge needed to get people to remember that it’s a great idea to go out and buy a Coke. In the same way, we need reminding that it’s a great idea to take shorter showers, to reduce our use of plastic and recycle what we do use, to hop on the bike instead of into the car.

It’s all very [well] to say you’ll give up bottled water, but will you give up blogging?” While I’m not sure I see the connection, I can say this without hesitation: If I believed that giving up blogging would make a positive environmental impact then yes, absolutely, I would forgo inflicting my anecdotes, opinions, and minor tirades upon my poor readers in order to make a difference.

It’s just that it seems to me the drain my laptop has on the planet in terms of kilowatt-hours is hopefully offset by the possibility that what I write might inspire people to get out into the natural world, or teach their kids about gardening, or lead them to actually experience the beauty around them and so desire to protect it.

I also believe that in many ways Mary is right. It’s an endless uphill climb, and rather than actually making an already bad situation better, it seems like we’re forever fighting simply to not let it get any worse. We’re plugging holes with our fingers, but there are never enough fingers and simply too many holes, and someone is always on the other side of the dyke with drills and dynamite. To be perfectly, brutally honest, here’s how I see the future playing out for the human race.

We have, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, only one planet on which we can exist. We are, however, making that planet – our life raft, our one and only home – increasingly unlivable. We are shitting on our living room floor and hoping that somehow, miraculously, our mounting mounds of noxious dung will simply disappear.

Fracking, atmospheric carbon overload, radioactive waste, resource depletion, overfishing, desertification, overpopulation, habitat destruction, extinction: I look at all of the evidence and I see a much-diminished future for myself, my children, and my grandchildren.

I think we’re going to have agricultural collapse, food shortages, irremovable toxins in our air and water, conflict and violence over diminishing resources (particularly clean fresh water), rising sea levels that force the large-scale evacuation of major world cities. I see a dystopian future in which, in the words of T.S. Eliot,

Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion…

This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang, but a whimper. 

There. Cynical enough for you? In the darkest recesses of my heart and mind, I think we’re screwed.* But there are three things that keep me from throwing my hands up and saying, “You know what? Fuck it all.” That prevent me from adopting the fatalistic attitude of a friend of mine regarding the environment: “Let’s use it up before it’s all gone.” That save me from believing that the Americans “get the point.”

One, I may be wrong. It’s happened before. Maybe things aren’t as bad as I believe them to be. Maybe there’s still time to turn this thing around.

Two, I have kids. I have a responsibility to do everything in my power to ensure that the mistakes we’ve made in the past, and continue to make today, don’t destroy any hope they have for a viable future.

And three, the option of doing nothing at all seems like not much of an option to me. I’m reminded of a character in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah, a newspaper editor who writes editorials criticising the increasingly-autocratic regime. His friend tells him that his writing is futile, that it achieves nothing and antagonizes everybody. “But supposing my crusading editorials were indeed futile,” the editor responds, “would I not be obliged to keep on writing them?”

My environmental actions may indeed be useless in the larger scope of things, but am I not obliged to keep doing them?

So I’ll say again: Let’s all do everything in our power to effect positive change, however small. And with that I’ll let Teddy Roosevelt, in his typical manly way, have the last word.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 

Welcome to paradise

Welcome to paradise

Now let's trash it. Nope, I refuse to accept this is the way it has to be.

Now let’s trash it. Nope, I refuse to accept this is  just the way it has to be.

8 thoughts on “Fatalism is the Lazy Man’s Way: A Post In Which I Rebut a Response Ridiculing My Renunciation

  1. A Hollow Man you certainly are not! Great post! (Of course you know you had me the minute you quoted Eliot……….) 🙂

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    • Why thank you, Kristine. And yes, I too have a soft spot for old T.S. The Roosevelt quotation may be a little over the top for the circumstances (I suppose I’m likening myself to the man “whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood.” while mine is generally only marred by mild sunburn, and I scarcely think that I’m “striving valiantly”), but I like it anyway. Thanks for visiting!

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  2. I totally agree with you. Anything we can do to help the environment and our planet is worth doing for the sake of generations to come. If everyone did their part, I believe it would make a big difference and our children would thank us. I might also add that keeping the lights to a minimum in your home might also help with the cost of your light bill.

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  3. Matt, there are many kinds of people in this world. Unfortunately some people are very mean and can be easily recognised in their words too.

    I hope you will continue blogging/writing!

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  4. * I originally wrote some of the reasons why I think we’re in a world of trouble, but cut them for the sake of (relative) brevity. Here they are – it’s really just a tiny, tiny sampling of the problems we’re facing, but thought I’d share anyway.

    Let’s take the oceans. We are overfishing the world’s seas to the point of population collapse, even species extinction. The bluefin tuna population swims on a knife edge. It will probably disappear. Atlantic cod, once possibly the most numerous large fish in the world, has been fished to collapse and in many areas, and despite decades of protection its numbers have never recovered. The same holds true for almost every commercially viable species in the sea, but rather than taking sensible steps to preserve these invaluable – and renewable -resources we are instead simply building bigger, more efficient fishing vessels to hoover up the last of them.

    Plastic marine pollution is impacting bird and aquatic mammal populations around the globe (there is more plastic than plankton in many of the world’s seas), and toxins from microplastics are now entering the human food stream, but we haven’t even begun to address the problem.

    The world’s forests, particularly in the developing world, are disappearing rapidly. At the current rate of destruction, it is estimated that by 2030 only 10% of the forests that stood prior to the industrial revolution will still exist. That’s not a good thing, since they are largely responsible for creating the oxygen which we find so agreeable to breathe.

    Climate change is already causing upheaval around the globe, and the consensus of climate scientists is that the prognosis is pretty grim. Even so, despite a string of ‘climate summits,’ such as the 2009 Copenhagen summit and the upcoming even in New York, little tangible progress has been made on tackling climate change, and whole news networks seem devoted to denying its very existence.

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  5. You are absolutely right. We do what we can and learn from each other to nurture and protect our world. Why not make a habit of using only the lights you need and keeping others off? Why not have a no car day or days, optimizing your grocery shopping and other reasons to drive to maybe five days. Why not grow whatever you can which is possible in almost any kind of space. Why not grow something you can eat, why not use your rubbish to make the compost for this. Why not make your own lemonade and drink less soda or none. There are plenty of things we can do and enjoy doing which gives us purpose and makes life richer in terms that have nothing to do with material wealth. I loved your post, never flag in your efforts. Always inspire us all to do more and think more.Thank you so much.

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    • Thank YOU susanddhavle! It’s always a pleasure to get such positive feedback. Many of us do what we can, but we could all do more. I’m a big proponent of home gardening, and I’m trying to set up community gardens here in our new town. It’s my next big mission, but I think it’s going to take time and overcoming a lot of apathy. Anyway, I always appreciate you taking the time to leave your comments. Cheers!

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