I’ve been thinking recently about the types of activism I’ve been involved in over the past 25 years. For the most part I gravitate toward social and economic justice issues, and anti-war work. I’ve done very little, if any, environmental activism.
Now, however, the more I look around at the world we’re living in, and the more I think about the planet on which my children will grow up and perhaps raise their own families, the more I’m convinced that there’s no greater need than to mitigate the effects of global warming.
I’m not talking about saving the planet. To quote one of my gurus, George Carlin: “The planet is fine. The people are fucked.” He was right. The planet will be here long after humans are gone. Nor am I trying to save the trees or the whales or the bottle-butted blue-nosed snorklewhammer. Instead, my desire to do more is motivated by two things, one selfish and one less so:
1. I’d like to have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink and healthy food to eat.
2. I believe in the principle of ahimsa, which means to do as little harm as possible.
Yes, I’d like there to be beautiful vistas and massive forests and rolling oceans and, you know, the Solomon Islands and all that. But really, it’s those two principles – self-preservation (and the protection of my children’s future) and the idea of doing as little harm as possible – that are motivating me.
Recently I’ve been reading Edward Abbey. I finished Desert Solitaire a couple weeks ago, and I’m reading The Monkey Wrench Gang now. It’s hard to read Abbey and not feel compelled to get out there and cause trouble in the name of stopping our continued destruction of our habitat. Plus I naturally tend toward direct action rather than lobbying or making phone calls. I believe in the words of Mario Savio:
“There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part! You can’t even passively take part! And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels … upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop! And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”
I mentioned that I gravitate toward social justice and economic justice work. As it turns out, a benefit of working to change the way we live and the impact we have on our environment is that our most destructive behaviors tend to harm not only the environment, but also the people who do the work and the people impacted by that work.
At the root of all of this, in my opinion, is our unsustainable system of corporate capitalism and plutocracy. This means that working on environmental issues can very directly involve striking at the heart of our capitalist system. Two bulldozers with one stone, so to speak.
I’m not saying anything new, nor I have reached a definitive answer about the direction of my activism. But I do think it’s time for me to change what I’m doing, and start focusing on either stopping the destruction or, if it’s too late for that, on figuring out how to live in the very different world that will emerge. As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.