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It is Earth Day again.This year the Earth actually is recovering (slightly) from humankind’s rapacious quest for unending resources and eternal growth…but only because we are all bottled up inside our domiciles angrily stewing.  Who knows what mischief we will get up to when we are allowed outside again?

I still think the natural habitat for humans is not the gentle mother planet, but the harsh depths of outer space–an environment more suited to our dark cunning, violent factionalism, and infinite appetite.  Admittedly, space is an inhospitable place of terrifying extremes…but it is rich in natural resources (and seemingly undeveloped).  To be succinct, it is exactly the sort of place that allows for infinite economic growth.  Unlike Earth, space would be unharmed by any status displays that weird billionaires want to indulge in.  By international/interplanetary treaty, Earth could be a sort of nature preserve where natural humans could dwell under extremely constrained terms for 4 score years. After that, they would have to either return fully to the Earth to lie forever beneath the hill, or go off-world, quaff immortality potions, mine asteroids, sleep for millennia in hypersleep, jump through wormholes, and what-have-you.

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Admittedly we don’t quite have the technology for this yet (though I feel that current engineering, aerospace, and ecological knowledge would actually allow for more spacefaring and spacesteading than we admit to ourselves).  But really think about how much more appealing it would be to live as a colonist/adventurer in the heavens than it is to be an indentured servant in some moronic cubicle farm here on Earth.

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We’re killing the planet for THIS?

Of course, right now I suspect there are readers who are shaking their heads and tutting and saying Earth Day is not about wild flights of imagination…it is about living sustainably!  But we have had fifty Earth Days,  A half century’s worth of ecological scolding and corporate greenwashing has not accomplished very much in terms of changing the way we live or the political/economic calculus which goes into our true global-level decision making.

This Earth Day affords us a real opportunity to truly think about where we are going at a species-wide level.  As soon as we are allowed outside we will go right back to running over baby skunks with SUVs and tossing PVC jugs into the ocean.  Primates are not my favorite life form, but I really do love humankind just the way we are: curious, insatiable, aggressive, and free.  I also truly, truly love our unique planet of dazzling, beautiful, irreplaceable webs of life.  We can not have both things if we keep going like we are now going. The point of no-return is no longer hundreds or thousands of years from now. It is now.

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So break out your biggest craziest concepts about how we can reconcile our huge coarse ambitions with our tiny fragile habitat. Write them down below and we will argue about them.  Send them to your senator and to the New York Times.  Let’s really have the conversations we have been tip-toeing around for five decades.  Otherwise in five more decades we won’t be arguing about how to float farms above Venus or seal the cracks in our domed city on Titan. Without better science, better politics and better IMAGINATION, we will be a bunch of shriveled mummies in a used-up necropolis planet of garbage, plastic, and dust.

Happy Earth Day!  I am afraid I am a bit under the weather (which seems appropriate, since our beautiful blue planet is catching a fever too). However it is worth devoting some time today to thinking about our planet and the entwined webs of ecosystems which support all living things (very much including human beings).

The great masters of global capitalism claim that the Earth is inexhaustible and made solely for human delights.  To hear them tell it, only if ever more people consume ever more consumer rubbish will we all thrive. However that claim always seemed suspect, and the notably swift decline of entire ecosystems within even my lifetime suggests that fundamental aspects of our way of life and our long-term goals need to be rethought.   It is a formidable problem because the nations of Earth are facing a near-universal political crisis where authoritarians are flourishing and democracies are faltering.  So far, the authoritarians don’t seem substantially concerned with a sustainable future for living things (or with any laudatory goal, really).  This trend could get worse in the future as agricultural failures, invasive blights, and extreme weather events cause people to panic and flee to “safe” arms of the dictators (this would be a stupid choice since strongmen, despots, and tyrants are anything but safe in a any context).

These frightening projections of doom are hardly a foregone conclusion though. A great many people of all political and ideological stripes are worried about the future and are working hard to ensure that humankind and all of our beautiful extended family on the tree of life make it into the future.  Part of this is going to involve engineering and biomedical breakthroughs, but political and cultural breakthroughs will be needed as well.

I am ill-prepared to write out my proposals at length (since I would really like to lie down with some ginger ale), but fortunately I am a visual artist and I spent the winter of 2018 preparing a dramatic planetary image to capture my own anxiety for the world and its living things without necessarily giving in utterly to my fears and anxieties.  I was going to introduce it later, but EarthDay is a good time to give you a sneak peak (plus it goes rather well with my Maundy Thursday blog post).

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Here is the Great Flounder–the allegorical embodiment of how Earth life if everywhere under our feet and around us, but we can’t necessarily fathom it easily, because of our scale.  Speaking of scale (in multiple ways I guess), I continue to have trouble with WordPress’ image tool, so I am afraid that you will have to make due with this small image until I learn about computers…or until posters get printed up (dangit…why do we have to sell ourselves all of the time?).  In the meantime here is a teaser detail to help you in your own contemplation of if/how we can make Earth a paradise for ourselves without destroying it for the other inhabitants.

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We will talk more about this soon, but in the meantime happy Earth Day.  We will work together to save our giant blue friend, I know it!  Let’s just collaborate to do so before we lose African elephants, numbats, mysterious siphonophores, or any of our beloved fellow lifeforms on this spherical island hurtling through space.

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I’m sorry I missed blogging about Earth Day this weekend (it was yesterday).  The day always strikes me as a dark combination of scolding and corporate greenwashing (to say nothing of the abusive narcissistic murderer who started it, but, alas, the concerns it focuses on are all too real. I need to get back to writing about humankind’s ever-growing burden on the planet in earnest.

But for right now I am going to back away from these huge unsettling issues and feature some springtime images from my garden and neighborhood.  I am a flower gardener, and while I have some doubts about the flower gardener’s ecological niche, I know it keeps me sane.  The flowers also remind me to love nature and esteem the natural world (not that I would ever feel otherwise). Also, it is a discipline which necessitates patience and the ability to change course when faced with problems.  Anyway, enough sententious thoughts: it has been a long winter, let’s see some spring flowers!  The magnolia at the top of the post is across the street from my house. It is hard to tell from the picture, but the house behind it is slightly pink, and seeing the tree in full flower in front of the house during the violet hour of dusk is breathtaking in a way which the image (and these words) completely fail to explicate.

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Now, here is a picture from the back garden—this is the hellebore and the bleeding heart with a couple of volunteer Don Quichotte tulips from years ago next to them and a little viola in the foreground. Years ago I planted this hellebore which has barely survived for 5 years before suddenly flourishing into this magnificent specimen plant.  There is a peony to the right, but it is too early for it to be more than just some tender fronds poking up.  The hellebore, the magnolia, and the primrose are really just the garden overture.  The big acts are soon to follow, but, after a long gray winter even these flowers have me giddy with delight.  I will feature more plants as they bloom—especially the splendid cherry tree, but for now let’s just enjoy the lovely blossoms.  We will also keep working on a way to preserve their home (the ecosystem of the planet) so that the springs of the future will be equally verdant.

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It’s Earth Day, the arbitrary day in April which we have chosen represent the splendor of the biosphere. More accurately the day is a PR soapbox, which environmentalists use to harangue everyone about the truly disastrous job humankind is doing in our self-appointed role as stewards of life on the planet.  I agree with the environmentalists—I guess I am an environmentalist! Humankind is using up too much of the biosphere for ignominiously stupid things.  We have Problems (with a capital “P”) yet we spend most of our time worrying about Justin Bieberlake and whether the consumer goods we purchase properly reflect our status. For Earth Day, instead of writing about fracking, drought, or overfishing, I am going to write about chickens and status. Status is what social animals crave more than anything.  It is the crux of our life. Yet the mad quest for status causes us to make awful decisions for ourselves and for the world.

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Let’s start with chickens. Chickens are social creatures.  They have a very intense “pecking order” of who gets to do what–which is literally based on pecking.  When I was growing up we had a flock of Rhode Island Red chickens.  The rooster was on top of the pecking order and he would eat first and peck any subordinate chicken he liked.  The top hens had bright red feathers and shiny eyes. They pecked subordinate hens, who in turn were cruel to their social inferiors…and so forth. At the bottom of the heap were some sad-looking hens who got pecked by everyone else. They were the dull red color of old bricks and their feathers were falling out. The very bottom hen was a festering mess of sores.  She was almost always eaten by a hawk or a raccoon (if we humans didn’t put her in the pot first).

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It is an exceedingly accurate model of humankind. In each society, the glistening cocks at the apex of society have unlimited access to resources and freely mistreat anyone beneath them.  People at the bottom of society are in real physical danger from their low estate and could easily die from disease, exposure, or crime. However the way we attain this hierarchy is determined by social dynamics much more complicated than those on display in the poultry yard.  After middle school we can’t actually hit each other without involving constables and lawsuits, so we base our status grabbing on a more complicated set of networks and social markers.

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To continue with the theme of chicken, my roommate always aggressively points out that she purchases organic free-range food–unlike certain benighted philistines who just buy the cheapest factory-farm chicken (I guess this is due to my insatiable desire to harm the planet, torture living creatures, and poison myself and everyone else with “toxins”?).  I have seen a “free-range” chicken farm—and it looked like a factory farm with a dinky wired-in aviary appended.  Maybe it would be better to be a chicken living there, but probably not by much—certainly not to me anyway.

My roommate is an exceedingly lovely and gentle person who earnestly doesn’t want chickens to be tortured (but still wants to eat chicken, because, let’s face it, that’s what humans like to eat).  Why am I picking on her?  For status of course!  To push my political agendas and ideologies!

Our pursuit of most things is really a pursuit of status: resources, mates, health, political power, unfettered access to knowledge…all good things come from high-status.

In my book, the people who have the highest status are people who have lavish flower gardens and lots of medieval Chinese porcelain (perhaps this mindset explains why I am a jobless lout writing an eccentric blog). Most Americans would probably dwell on other status criteria—the most injurious automobile, the lowest trousers, or praying loudest in church.  Status-markers comes in so many flavors that it is sometimes difficult to recognize how central it is to who we are.

I am worried that Earth Day has become a part of our ceaseless attempts to one-up each other. It is like my roommate’s “free-range” chicken legs: a foolish status object rather than a way we can legitimately determine how to best preserve the vast fragile web of interlocking ecosystems.

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Mother Nature chose to apportion chickens’ share of resources based on how they peck each other.  Evidently she chose to apportion human agendas by how we choose and display our cars, our meals, our houses, and our gardens.  Our ideas are related to our social position and how we portray ourselves.  Hence our endless jejune jockeying over whose stuff is better, or tastier, or more moral, or greener, or more expensive.  Political consensus is attained by a synthesis of endless small-scale aesthetic and moral choices which add up to large-scale policy choices.

This bothers me because I find many high-status “green” ideas to be bad ideas. If we rely on “organic” produce which requires vastly more land, water, and energy to produce, we will use up all the world’s land without being able to feed everyone.  Likewise many “sustainable” energy sources like ethanol, solar panels, and dams use more energy than they create…or cause waste or environmental degradation. People who oppose nuclear power plants (in favor of fracking I guess?), and embrace resource-devouring, erosion-causing organic farming frustrate me.  But their motives are often noble and praiseworthy.

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“Earth Day” seems like a button or a bumper sticker (and a sanctimonious and unfun one at that). Our true problems…and opportunities…are much greater and more difficult to grasp and popularize.   But a button, a bumper sticker, a sanctimonious “holiday” are a start.  So is a confused and self-contradictory essay about the politics of environmentalism.  Happy Earth Day!  We’ll keep working on this.  There are solutions to our very-real environmental problems, but they are going to require scientific research, hard work, and sacrifice of some cherished sacred cows (or chickens) by everyone.

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Earth's Most Endangered Parrot, the Kakapo

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.

Gray Whales are curious about people.

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