After my post on trees, David Milarch of the Champion Tree Project stopped by and we had a nice chat by email. He’s actually going to be speaking in my hometown this Saturday at TedX, although I was disappointed to find that you have to be a member to attend. He reminded me that we should all get off our butts and start planting trees in our own neighborhoods (agreed). Then he said,
I have a saying I use in everyone of my talks for a closing. ‘We are all working for our grandchildren and I invite you to do the same.’
I was struck by how much this idea failed to resonate with me. It actually turned me off a little. As a childfree person, I don’t have kids. I won’t have grandkids. In fact, I have no biological investment of any kind in the future of humanity. Although as a writer, reader, potter, and general creative mess, I have a deep appreciation for human creativity, I’m also less emotionally invested in whether humans make it as a species or not. The roots of my environmentalism lie elsewhere.
All of which made me wonder: are childfree greenies motivated by fundamentally different reasons than green parents?
I think the answer, at least for me, is an emphatic yes. Plenty of people begin to care about the planet once they have kids and realize just what kind of world we’re likely to leave them, and that’s fine, but it’s not my story. Here’s the truth: I’m just not that into humans. Never have been. Age 5: examined and sampled just about every plant in my mother’s yard. Age 9: wore only shirts with animals on them. Age 13: rescued a cat who became my closest and favorite companion for the next 12 years. Age 14: joined the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement. Age 22: adopted a strict policy to donate only to animal or ecological non-profits. Age 24: stopped eating animals. And so on.
My environmentalism has everything to do with the wonder of the non-human world: the head-clearing loam of an old growth redwood forest, spongy with fallen needles and coastal fog. The poison a catalpa tree exudes that only affects cheater insects, not true pollinators. The weird and improbable life cycle of parasitic fungi that produces zombie insects. The breathtaking variety of life on this planet, our intricately linked and balanced ecosystems, Earth’s close shave from sharing the fate of its sister planet Venus — these things are what make me draw a deep breath in wonder and appreciation. I feel lucky to be alive on a planet so interesting, unexpected, and vibrant. The urge to protect everything I love most about it is intensely visceral.
I do want to save the Earth. Not for humans — though I’d be delighted to see us develop a less parasitical, more healthy role on this planet — but for its own ineffable beauty, wonder, and complexity. I want to save it from humans.
Humans are a fascinating species, and I have no doubt that our culture, music, literature, and philosophy are unique in the universe. It would be a tremendous shame if our civilization went down. But I also believe in taking responsibility for our actions, and if that means that humanity has to take it in the teeth for burying our heads in the sand when we knew better, my sense of fairness is fundamentally okay with that. I just don’t want to take everything down with us, leaving behind a barren rock with cockroaches and plastic debris. Apparently I’m not the only one who feels this way; I came across this Grist article just today. Paul Kingsnorth, thank you for taking a stand for a less anthropocentric, more ecocentric view of the planet. I’m with you.
I want life to flourish on a stable, healthy planet. Not just humans, not necessarily humans.
If you’re a childfree greenie, what motivates you? And if you’re a parent, are your kids and grandkids your primary motivator, or do you identify with more ‘ecocentric’ reasons to protect the planet?