Posts Tagged ‘misanthropy’

Childfree Greenies vs. Green Parents?

Is there anything more wonderful than being outside in a wide open space, without another human in sight?

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?

The Grumpy Green Approach to Holidays

 I no longer celebrate Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, Labor Day, or St. Patrick’s Day. Christmas is on the wane, and Easter (except for the bag of Cadbury mini eggs given to me that I ate guiltily, thinking about child labor) is on the chopping block this year. I haven’t deliberately cut out all these major American holidays. I’ve just lost interest. Opting out of a lot of mainstream American values has meant opting out of many of the holidays they inspired. Consider that:

  • I am not Christian
  • I am not sociable
  • I don’t partake in conspicuous consumption
  • I refuse to spend time with people I don’t like
  • I don’t eat animals
  • I don’t drink
  • I don’t have or want kids
That leaves, what, Groundhog’s Day and Blind Cat Appreciation Day? Factor in my naturally unexuberant personality, and grouchpuss turns out to be an unexpectedly low impact lifestyle.

I wonder how many people celebrate holidays that they don’t really enjoy or find much meaning in simply because they’re expected to. It’s a ritual to spend two hours swearing at your tangled Christmas lights. You hate the smell of eggs, but you dye them anyway for Easter. You force yourself to spend Thanksgiving with the evangelical cousins who make no attempt to conceal their belief that you are a witch. (True story.) You eat too much, buy too much stuff, stress too much, only to find that you get absolutely zero out of these occasions.

Not only that, but holiday traditions, especially the newish ones, are extraordinarily wasteful. I’ve been reading all week on how to ‘green’ your Easter, from the basket to the grass, eggs, chocolate, and basket fillers. My conclusion: it’s a lot of work to turn a holiday centered around consumption into one that’s centered around [somewhat] sustainable consumption. Is it worth it? If your kids really love this holiday, or if you find it personally meaningful and need the fake grass to keep it that way, OK. But wasteful holiday traditions that you don’t even enjoy strike me as being completely pointless, especially from an environmental perspective.

Celebration (or commemoration) doesn’t require a lot of accoutrements. Get the people you love together and enjoy your time with them. Done. No plastic streamers necessary.

Or you could stay at home and play with the cat, if you’re not the celebratory sort. The point is this: tradition shouldn’t bully us into being wasteful. Or doing things we don’t want, or wanting things we don’t actually want. Making more conscious choices about how we consume and why is ultimately a big part of the lower impact equation.

Do you celebrate traditional holidays? Are they worth an attempt to ‘green’ them up, or would you be just as happy to opt out of some of them?

Environmentalism and [Reluctant] Philanthropy

Giving a damn about the planet is a luxury. At a minimum, it means that you have 1) access to necessary information, and 2) the time and emotional energy to invest in a cause whose consequences are mostly abstract, unseen and unfelt in your daily life.  

If you’re starving and your children are dying of disease and malnutrition, however much logical sense it would make to act to preserve the world for future generations, you just don’t have the emotional or physical resources to. As long as your situation is so desperate that your and your family’s livelihood depends on trafficking in endangered species or slashing and burning rainforest, you will do it.

And it’s unreasonable to expect you not to.

We’re all swayed by our immediate circumstances. Starvation, I’m sure, is a compelling one. I read an article recently in which the author mentioned how Indonesian natives were astonished and [rightfully] incensed that the West cared so much about orangutans when village children were starving to death. It’s all too easy for us to be indignant about smuggling endangered species or clearcutting rainforests, but wouldn’t we do the same thing in those circumstances?

Bottom line: unless we can bring the quality of life up for these people to the point where they can afford to protect and husband their resources, we’re not going to be able to safeguard all the rainforests, snow leopards, orangutans, or marshlands by external policing.

In a way, environmentalism is bringing me closer to being a philanthropist than I thought possible. I don’t particularly like people. As a race, I think we’re woefully shortsighted, destructive, self-centered, and only about half as clever as we think we are.  Nor do I have high stakes in the future of humans on this planet; I just want to make sure we don’t drag every speck of biodiversity down with us.  I’m not a philanthropist, but I am a pragmatist. And I see that we’re not going to get anywhere with the third world until we can improve the standard of living to an acceptable minimum, limit population growth, and sell conservation as a desirable and rewarding alternative. Tricky, but worth a shot if we want to keep those rainforests.

Oh, and one more thing. Giving a damn about rainforests doesn’t excuse us from giving a damn about how our daily habits as first world citizens are destroying the planet as surely and probably more thoroughly than all the slash and burn agriculture and orangutan trophy-hunting put together. Guys? Don’t forget that we’re still the problem.

Unsociability: a Low Impact Lifestyle

Here’s a confession: in real life, I’m notoriously unsocial. I can’t be guilt-tripped, wheedled, or coerced into attending funerals, weddings, parties, or anything else remotely social — unless I really, really like you. There are maybe five people in the world whose social events I would willingly attend. Oddly enough, my antisocial tendencies have led to most of my ‘green’ traits. Because I’m not a huge fan of humans,

  • I feel a lot of empathy for animals and thus am a vegetarian
  • I feel really bad for the species we’re wiping out and thus am an environmentalist (what, did you think I was in it for the people?)
  • I don’t like humans enough to want kids
  • I don’t like most humans enough to shop for, party with, or travel to see them.

See? It’s actually pretty easy to be green if you don’t like human interaction. Maybe this blog should be titled ‘The Green Misanthrope.’ Anyway, the point is, I’m constantly seeing articles about low impact versions of things that, in my mind, are totally unnecessary to start with. Like weddings. Sure, you can go for the local organic flowers, biodegradable dress, and fair trade diamond. But you know what? Kevin and I carpooled to the county courthouse in his fuel efficient Honda Civic. There was no dress, no flowers, no out of town guests, no DJ, no photographers, no napkins, no diamonds, no registries. The only way it could have been greener is if we walked to the courthouse.

The same thing goes for any sort of big social celebration. I just don’t get parties. While other environmentalists are scrambling to get electric grills, grass-fed beef, recycled napkins, and all natural charcoal for this 4th of July, I’m kicking back at home and chomping salad in pure, unpatriotic — yet undeniably low impact — unsociability. Score.

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