by Martin Murie
(Swans - March 12, 2007) Here was the big chance, a billion people watching. Tell the world, Al, that it's serious, that something has to be done now. Yes, now. No more studies of hypothetical national grid modifications; quit fooling ourselves that tax relief, trading in pollution credits, and government subsidies for alternative tech fixes will cure global warming. He could have warned the world that business as usual will be too little, too late. There it was, opportunity in the center of spectacle that only a few nations can afford, and he muffed it. Stood there jovial and complacent, picking up his cues neatly in an obviously rehearsed lead-up to a big joke. Hah, hah.
The world's privileged nations, that means most especially Western European and United States folks, have to be told that the corporate world's waste of materials and energy is at the center of the climate change emergency. We as individuals can do only so much in our personal lives. Recycling and reduction of household energy waste can be training for what has to be done to move us into the simpler, happier life we crave, but it won't be enough. We ought to do it though, training ourselves to be more intimate with flows of material and energy. We need to think seriously about airlines and shipping companies moving lobsters, bananas, coffee, shrimp, fish, veggies, fruits, and flowers around the world to places thousands of miles from their production places. And when an item finally reaches us there is the little matter of unpacking from seemingly ironclad plastic and intricate cardboard contraptions, all of which originate in polluting plants turning fiber and petroleum into paper products and plastic wraps. Finally, there is the disposal problem. What do we do with all this stuff, all this stuffing?
How many bottled-in-plastic substitutes for soap do we need? Who will benefit from the new super highway through Mexico into Texas that will bypass US unions in stateside ports and chew up croplands along the right-of-way? Who benefits when developers build thirsty golf courses in dry climates and huge condo sprawls and new destination resorts in picturesque locales where workers are paid hard-to-believe low wages, with no benefits? These are corporate activities. This world-wide situation is serious, for at least two reasons; each reason an 800-pound gorilla that sits there smug, in full view. We know they are there, we see them, but we keep our distance.
One reason. Contemptuous treatment of the vast majority of our species -- the urban and rural poor. The other reason: Catering to rich and privileged clans in the nations of planet earth, ever enlarging the huge gap between upper middles and top predators and the rest of us.
These are formidable beasts, they snarl when challenged. Big Al is intimidated by them. In his book, An Inconvenient Truth, he lists the things we ordinary folks can do. Nearly every task in that list puts the burden on victims at the end of the chain of profit driven usage of the earth, and our labor, and our acquiescence. The closest Al comes to grappling with the fundamentals is his admonition to buy only from corporations that are green and to vote for candidates who have a green agenda.
Is there such a thing as a green corporation? I have yet to find one. The paint wears thin, curls, and crumbles when you notice that each green outfit gives back to the earth or its workers with one hand while with the other hand secretly harvests bigger profits by way of further degradation. As for politicians who chant the populist line, and they all do that, it's bullshit and we know it.
So where are we? Knowing where the major plunderers are, but keeping our distance. By the way, another great chance was missed Sunday night when Happy Feet got an award and the recipients failed to say one word about the southern oceans, the shortage of penguin food (krill and fish), about ice sliding into the sea, about endangered species in general and what that means for our endangerment. The fog of egomania among the nominees was staggering. We turned off, lost interest in who got what.
What's missing? It's so obvious. Why aren't people shouting about it, the opportunity to lift so many burdens from our victimhood? We have that opportunity now, maybe not much longer; the space where we can shed consumer roles, step out as citizens, find happiness in demanding, insisting on a simpler and yet more responsible and much more interesting life. We can make a beginning, build a world where not everything, including ourselves, has a price. How do we reach that utopia? Don't ask Al, he's a politician.
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