But what can we DO?

It’s not enough to simply lament the disappearance of species, or the poisoning of the air, water and soil of the planet.  The urgent question of our time is WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT?  How can any of us–how can I–act to staunch the hemorrhage and resuscitate this dying patient, our planet, before it’s too late?

Let’s review the options.

There is political reform, through various channels: appealing to our duly elected representatives and/or supporting environmental groups that lobby these politicians and try to pressure the relevant federal and state agencies charged with protecting the “natural resources” of our country.

I have to say that I am quite skeptical of this approach, which doesn’t seem to have worked at all in the 40 years or so since I first became a Ranger Rick reader and aware of the environmental movement.

Things have gotten much worse for the natural world in my lifetime, despite all the efforts of big, well-funded groups like the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, or even Greenpeace, the most radical of them all. Greenpeace is the most willing to go out on a limb to protect species and habitat, but its actions have failed to make the kind of global difference we need.

There is international peer pressure to do the right thing–conventions, treaties and protocols.  Even as I type these words, I inwardly despair.  From Kyoto onward, the U.S. has been the bully who refused to play nice in the community of nations whenever it’s come to putting the common good before the holy Free Market.

There is actually going around the blowing up the worst aspects of civilization, like dams, power plants, cell towers and chemical plants, as the proponents of Deep Green Resistance advocate.  Eco-terrorism, anyone?

Or there’s crowd power of the Occupy Wall Street variety, which certainly seems right now to hold the most promise.  ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” Margaret Mead said.

But how to convince those crowds that the fate of seals, bees and goldfinches–not to mention the oceans and the boreal forests of North America–is actually more important than the injustices of economic inequality here in the U.S.?

Of course, it’s all important.  I have several friends who are on unemployment now and having serious trouble finding jobs.  If the Tea Party had their way, unemployment itself would be a thing of the past, a quaint relic of the old New Deal.  We can’t let these radical conservatives shred our social safety net, and we do need to start creating jobs again–green jobs, of course.

But there is no single issue more urgent than climate and environmental health, because if our climate goes haywire and our life support systems here on Earth fail, folks, we are all going down with the ship.

How to convey this to the crowds who are willing to turn out to protest economic injustice, but give it a miss when the issue is global warming?  How to convince people that what we should be demanding as we flood the squares and Main Streets of our country are well- subsidized options to reduce our energy consumption?

Doesn’t sound very glamorous, but the truth is that there’s nothing more important to be fighting for right now than subsidies to install solar roof tiles, like they’ve been doing in Europe for a decade already; and solar hot water heaters; and geothermal ducts for large buildings; and affordable green tech cars.

As Mark Hertsgaard and others have been saying, it’s not enough to make individual green lifestyle decisions, like recycling or composting or turning out the lights when you leave the room.  These individual actions are all well and good, but they’re not going to make the dramatic change we need to get our climate back into shape.

For the kind of change that will save the polar bears and the walruses and the coral, we need our government to step up and protect the interests of its people.  Not the interests of the corporations which have collectively driven our planet to the brink of ruin with their shortsighted greedy ethos of extraction and exploitation.

Government by the people, for the people.  And for the environment that sustains these people in a web of life that includes all living beings on this planet.

How to say this in a way that will light up the imaginations of the 99% and ignite an unstoppable movement for change?

I will keep trying.  What more can I do?

Eco-terrorist? Or freedom fighter?

Well, as President Clinton famously put it, it depends what you mean by “eco-terrorist.”

One man’s “terrorist” is another’s “freedom fighter,” after all.

I didn’t need Derrick Jensen, Aric McBay and Lierre Keith to tell me that our planet was in trouble. As someone who has always been tuned into the natural world, I noticed when the dawn chorus of songbirds diminished to a few lone, defiant voices.  I noticed when the summer clouds of butterflies were reduced to single wanderers, here and there.  I noticed when the tree frogs stopped singing, and there were no longer any toads hiding in the damp leaves of the garden.

I noticed.

But I did not react.  Or if anything, I reacted with a kind of sad resignation.  I blamed some kind of faceless “Progress” for the loss of these dearly beloved fellow travelers on the planet; I did not take any kind of personal responsibility for their disappearance, and I did not see anything I might do to slow “Progress” or change its impact on the environment.

Giving money to environmental groups did not seem to make any difference.  Petitioning Congress–ditto.  And so there was just that kind of paralyzed melancholy, a sense of inexorable doom, that only increased as the full scale of our climate change crisis became apparent.

And then I started reading  Deep Green Resistance.  It was hardly my first foray into environmental manifestoes–I’d started with Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall, years ago, and kept up with Bill McKibben, Wangari Maathai, Julia Butterfly and many others.

But this book is different.  It is not only a call to action, but a manual for how to accomplish change–whether you are a middle-aged armchair activist like me, or a stalwart young guerilla resistance fighter.  There is a role for all of us, and it’s spelled out more clearly in this book than I have ever seen it done before.

What inspires me most about this vision of resistance is that it springs most profoundly from love.

“Whatever work you are called to do, the world can wait no longer,” Lierre Keith writes in the conclusion to the book.  “Power in all its versions–the arrogant, the sadistic, the stupid–is poised to kill every last living being.  If we falter, it will win.  Gather your heart and all its courage; fletch love into an arrow that will not bend; and take aim” (515).

“The carbon is swelling; the heat is rising; the rivers are fading and somewhere a black tern is giving up in exhaustion.  The same noose that took Ken Saro-Wiwo is tightening, and there is only time for one last breath.  Will you close your eyes and let the earth fall, with a sickening snap of species and forests and rivers?  Or will you fight?

“Whatever you love, it is under assault.  Love is a verb.  So take that final breath and fight” (495).

The question is, what form will my fighting take?

I don’t see myself as someone who blows up power plants or takes out dams.  Nor am I a computer hacker.

In DGR terms, I am an aboveground activist.  What I want to do more than anything is to awaken “my people,” that is, the privileged ones, the denizens of Park Avenue and Westchester County and Long Island, the ones whose grandparents and great-grands came to this country around the turn of the century and found a land of peace and plenty, and have ridden the 20th century wave of “Progress” to a life of luxury and comfort.

These are the people who need to understand that this lifestyle we have all enjoyed so much IS NO LONGER SUSTAINABLE.  In fact, it is what is driving our entire planet into climate ruin, from which, for us as a species at least, there will be no return.

It is frightening to think about going “back” to the kind of “primitive” lifestyle that we human beings lived for all those thousands of years before the advent of the industrial revolution.  We don’t want to go back to the time before antibiotics, before computers, before hot showers, before TV, before cars, before supermarkets.

But we have to think seriously about what all these “modern conveniences” and “advances” have really given us.  We have to weigh the pros and cons.

I want to believe I come from reasonable people.  I want to believe if the case is made for them in a reasonable way, they will be able to understand.

Understanding is not action, but it is a necessary first step.

Will you take that step with me?

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