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Sunday, April 20, 2008

I don’t know about you, but for me the most upsetting moment in “An Inconvenient Truth” came long after Al Gore scared the hell out of me, constructing an utterly convincing case that the very survival of life on earth as we know it is threatened by climate change. No, the really dark moment came during the closing credits, when we are asked to . . . change our light bulbs. That’s when it got really depressing. The immense disproportion between the magnitude of the problem Gore had described and the puniness of what he was asking us to do about it was enough to sink your heart.

But the drop-in-the-bucket issue is not the only problem lurking behind the “why bother” question. Let’s say I do bother, big time. I turn my life upside-down, start biking to work, plant a big garden, turn down the thermostat so low I need the Jimmy Carter signature cardigan, forsake the clothes dryer for a laundry line across the yard, trade in the station wagon for a hybrid, get off the beef, go completely local. I could theoretically do all that, but what would be the point when I know full well that halfway around the world there lives my evil twin, some carbon-footprint doppelgänger in Shanghai or Chongqing who has just bought his first car (Chinese car ownership is where ours was back in 1918), is eager to swallow every bite of meat I forswear and who’s positively itching to replace every last pound of CO2 I’m struggling no longer to emit. So what exactly would I have to show for all my trouble?
Michael Pollan tries to answer one of the bigger questions people seem to have regarding environmental issues: "Why bother?" Via MeFi.

I'm no Ecotopian and no saint, but I have to say I've never really understood that prototypically American drive towards ceaseless consumption without any consequences. What I mean to say is that it's always been obvious to me that you ought to do what you can to reduce your own consumption, and that the struggle for me has always been in learning about what a person can actually do.

But then again I've been wrestling all weekend with a sudden, renewed awareness of the insane reality that our civilization currently faces at least two separate existential threats and that nobody anywhere seems to care, much less have any interest in doing anything about either of them. Manufacturing bullshit controversies about whether or not it looks like Barack Obama flipped Hillary off if you freeze-frame the tape at just the right instant is fiddling while the planet burns. Our culture, quite literally, is deranged.