Passionate Green: It's Not Just the Temperature That Gets Intense

In the wake of Earth Day celebrations, this week I've run across a number of environmentally-themed articles that reveal a rising level not only of planetary warmth but also intense passion, despair and desperation about the rapid decline of our collective life support systems.

Wen Stephenson's scatalogical reaction to Earth Day is a rant against those in the green movement who are still stuck in an inappropriately feel-good "business as usual" mentality as global conditions worsen. It's going viral.

Fuck Earth Day.

No, really. Fuck Earth Day. Not the first one, forty-four years ago, the one of sepia-hued nostalgia, but everything the day has since come to be: the darkest, cruelest, most brutally self-satirizing spectacle of the year.

Fuck it. Let it end here.

End the dishonesty, the deception. Stop lying to yourselves, and to your children. Stop pretending that the crisis can be "solved," that the planet can be "saved," that business more-or-less as usual -- what progressives and environmentalists have been doing for forty-odd years and more -- is morally or intellectually tenable. Let go of the pretense that "environmentalism" as we know it -- virtuous green consumerism, affluent low-carbon localism, head-in-the-sand conservationism, feel-good greenwashed capitalism -- comes anywhere near the radical response our situation requires.

So, yeah, I've had it with Earth Day -- and the culture of progressive green denial it represents.

Naomi Klein, whose new book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate will come out in September, writes about how we can hardly bear to look at climate change, "the fight of our lives," let alone grasp what it truly means for our species and thousands of others:

... part of what makes climate change so very difficult for us to grasp is that ours is a culture of the perpetual present, one that deliberately severs itself from the past that created us as well as the future we are shaping with our actions. Climate change is about how what we did generations in the past will inescapably affect not just the present, but generations in the future. These timeframes are a language that has become foreign to most of us.

This is not about passing individual judgment, nor about berating ourselves for our shallowness or rootlessness. Rather, it is about recognising that we are products of an industrial project, one intimately and historically linked to fossil fuels.

Unlike many in the environmental movement, she seems to believe that we still have time to make the necessary changes to avert total catastrophe:

And just as we have changed before, we can change again. After listening to the great farmer-poet Wendell Berry deliver a lecture on how we each have a duty to love our "homeplace" more than any other, I asked him if he had any advice for rootless people like me and my friends, who live in our computers and always seem to be shopping from home. "Stop somewhere," he replied. "And begin the thousand-year-long process of knowing that place.

But of course we don't really have 1000 years to spare, do we?

The New York Times magazine visited British environmental activist Paul Kingsnorth, who after years of green struggle has given up hope entirely and finds great relief in doing so. He has founded something called the Dark Mountain project.

When you ask Kingsnorth about Dark Mountain, he speaks of mourning, grief and despair. We are living, he says, through the "age of ecocide," and like a long-dazed widower, we are finally becoming sensible to the magnitude of our loss, which it is our duty to face... "I had a lot of friends who were writing about climate change and doing a lot of good work on it," he told me during a break from his festival duties. "I was just listening and looking at the facts and thinking: Wow, we are really screwed here. We are not going to stop this from happening."

So now what? If we have truly found ourselves at the point in human history when we cannot avert environmental catastrophe, what should we be doing? Heading to the woods with Kingsnorth? Boycotting Earth Day like Stephenson? Settling down for a 1000 year commitment to a particular place as Naomi Klein was advised to do?


A new movement is emerging from the ashes of the old environmental activism. Focusing on current facts rather than wishful thinking, it focuses on adaptation and resilience to changed conditions. Farmer Wendell Berry is right: Without commitment to the health of a particular local place, no place will remain livable for long, especially as out-of-control climate shifts spiral forward. Those who have a deep understanding of how nature works and a sustaining connection to it; who can grow some food, build shelter and save water; and who can be intelligently resilient, flexibly reactive, calm and nimble on their feet -- may have the best chance of survival.