Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Age of Ignorance is Over

It may be colder than Alaska in the eastern and midwestern U.S. right now, but does that prove, incontrovertibly, that global warming is just a liberal myth? No, and if I hear another person happily snorting about this in the physical therapy center (as I’ve heard for the past few days), I am likely to tell him off.

            I would personally love to learn that scientists are wrong, wrong, wrong, that the earth isn’t getting warmer; the ozone isn’t actually depleted, and we’re all not going to burn up and die (or live in some horrifying Mad Max world in the all-too-near future). Unfortunately, my eyes are open to the evidence all around me—to the brutally hot summers, the worldwide droughts and the epidemic of skin cancer, to the ponds that never freeze, to the snow that rarely falls, to the dead fish that wash up on the banks of the rivers and creeks, to the disturbing increase in lymphoma and other cancers.

            It’s hard to live with this environmental guilt or this frightening reality, and I completely understand why we might want to brush it under our Chem-Lawn treated bluegrass.

True, nearly all of us recycle, at least some of time (except if you live in a town like mine where the mayor only recently, and grudgingly, agreed that plastic and glass could finally be recycled—though I have reason to believe it’s a sham program and this trash is actually being burned just west of here).

We’re trying to get better about bringing reusable bags to the markets, and kudos to Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for encouraging this practice and making it simple by selling bags for a dollar (and, in the case of WF, eliminating plastic bags altogether).

We’ve been replacing our old lightbulbs with those strangely-shaped CFLs, and we’ve gotten used to driving less and to turning out the lights or unplugging our appliances.

But there’s still so much we don’t do, or that we do wrong.

In my neighborhood, for example, there are  people who are obsessed with washing their cars. They do this in the street, every Sunday, letting the suds run down the road into the sewer (which drains to the creek; the sewer has cute little fish stickers all over it to prove this point and to discourage dumping). 

Washing one’s car seems basically harmless, seems like a wholesome activity that could keep you out of trouble. Who would ever think that a meticulous weekly carwasher is an environmental felon? I would.

This is why we have commercial car washes, people. Because that dirty, oily, detergent-laced water needs treating, needs responsible disposal. Otherwise, we’ll be drinking it later or we’ll see its filthy traces in our waterways. We’ll be killing ourselves and our water life. And for what? For an Audi you can see your reflection in? Yeah, that’s definitely worth it.

Some of us just don’t know about these problems, and of course some of us might not care. But the fact is that even if we do care, it’s hard to live green. Our entire system doesn’t make it easy. Think about it: organic food tends to cost much more than non-organic (Why? Wouldn’t it be cheaper NOT to use chemical sprays such as pesticides and herbicides?).  Local produce might be more expensive than berries shipped from Chile. It really makes no sense.

Nearly everything we buy in the stores comes in a box or a thick plastic shell, unless we are pure bulk-item shoppers (and beyond oats, lentils and nuts, there’s isn’t much in that section of the stores). The places where we live are now so spread out that we have to drive; many towns don’t seem to have downtowns we can easily get to (and if they do, there aren’t any free parking spaces, and if we bike or take the bus, we can’t carry our hauls back).

It’s not easy. I know that. Modern life and environmental consciousness seem to be a difficult match. It is only the truly new places that can be built in a green manner; the retrofitting seems to, for financial reasons, never get done.

 If we are all more conscious of the problems, more willing to work to fix them, however, I think we can make progress. First of all, I want to see people cease the piggish gloating when another problem temporarily replaces the bad news we’ve been hearing. A 2009 cold snap doesn't let Exxon off the hook.

So--pipes freezing? Fingers frostbitten? Yeah, that sucks. But just because the weather is cold right now doesn’t mean there aren’t other problems; it doesn’t make global warming untrue.

The cold, like many other things, is just a short-term distraction. We still have this problem of pollution and a decades-long pattern of environmental destruction; we need to try to fix it before it’s too late. Even if we don’t really want to think about how long we've already been ignoring the problem.


  1. So well written, and I am going to post a link from this blog to mine.....I am also a post-trimalleolar survivor, haha, and have to live with the fall out from that, but in the realm of things, I can still walk, write, make art, and enjoy life. It is all relative. Patti

  2. Thanks, Patti. I just realized the other day that you have a blog; I like it very much. I picked up a news magazine today only to see people gloating, in print, that global warming must be a lie because it's so cold...glad I wrote this before I saw that. I appreciate your readership! I will try to be faster about putting up new essays.