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Sigh, well, it is Earth Day again. I love this planet with its nitrogen skies, mighty oceans, super volcanoes, araucaria forests, and self-inflating parrots–to name a smattering of Earth’s numberless glories. However this particular holiday always vexes me. From the egregious murderer who claims to have co-invented it (and acted as MC at the countercultural first Earth Day in 1970), to the oodles of smug, media-friendly pseudo advice, to the “greenwash” which huge companies churn out to appear ecologically sensitive, the whole earth day movement seems a parody of humanity’s excess and hypocrisy rather than a real attempt to curb the same.
Nevertheless (if any readers are still with me) I have an earnest Earth Day post in the form of an apology to the poor dead whale whose garbage-filled carcass drifted up onto a Seattle beach two days ago. The 37 foot long gray whale had 50 gallons of sludge in his stomach including plastic garbage like six-pack rings, sweat pants, and grocery bags. The whale was not killed by the waste in his system, but he was stressed, emaciated, alone, and had gashes on his head from being struck by boat propellers.
I’m a plastics manufacturer, a capitalist, and a consumer (although I am only really successful at consuming) and I feel like this is probably my fault as much as it is anyone’s. I import vinyl China-goods from across the Pacific on container ships and ship them across the continent via petrol truck. Additionally, I purchase all sorts of plastic things and trade goods from overseas. I’m a carnivore who eats from factory farms. It goes without saying that I eat as many anchovies, squid, crab and tasty sea creatures as I can fit in my stomach. Likewise, I gorge myself on out-of-season fruits and vegetables (which must be shipped). I like America’s big crazy military and I’m a technophile to boot. I think that the solutions to our problems can only be found through learning more and building better stuff.
Can I defend these positions? Yes: although I cast them in a stark light in that last paragraph, I think they are defensible and mostly logical—probably the best positions currently available given global realities. Furthermore, reader, even if you say you are eco-friendly, your own actual positions are probably fairly similar: you may not like the military or own a toy company but you pay taxes and buy plastic junk. [I exempt vegetarians—you guys really are different and I rather admire you for it.]
But are my life and my outlook a problem for the earth’s ecosystem? Yes, I think so. We are eating the oceans empty and filling them with rubbish. Frogs are dying off worldwide and crazy blights are everywhere killing bats and trees and bees (and whales). Clearly something is wrong.
I am sorry, whale, for your death. Like all good hearted people, I love cetaceans and it makes me sad that you are gone. I accept my blame. But I like people too: how many of our teaming billions must go unfed or unemployed if we really try to reign in capitalism? How much will it truly help the whales (and the wee shrimpkins on which they feed) to be a locavore or wear a hemp mumu or create layer after layer of eco authority? I don’t know, and I don’t believe the people who claim to know. From now on, I’ll try harder to find out which ideas are workable solutions to our environmental ills and distinguish them from those which are only more subtle forms of greenwash.