Happy Earth Day? From an Urban Green

I’ve never really figured out how I’m supposed to love Mother Earth and am suspicious of anything as awesome as a planet being gendered, of course. That’s human silliness.

I first became green when I volunteered for NYC’s Earth Day, in Central Park, in 1990. I’d taken a great environmental biology class – and read the amazing Economy of Nature by Ricklefs – and that was that. IIRC, I sold my ‘staff’ t-shirt so I could get into Wetlands that night, an awesome little performance space that I still miss. In a year or so I was working at NYPIRG, where we organized for recycling laws, the 5-cent deposit on cans & bottles, against disposability and for environmental economic justice. (Harlem, for instance, got a water treatment plant but it also got a park to go with it, at least.)

My point, however, is this: there is sometimes an assumption that greens or environmentalists have to be crunchy hippie types. That you have to be a vegetarian. That you must own things made out of hemp, or you must be a stoner, or like folk music, or like hiking, or crystals. You can’t wear makeup or smoke cigarettes or, even, live in a goddamned city, even though city dwellers have far smaller carbon footprints than those who don’t. It honestly pisses me off that people who go hiking and live in the suburbs and drive their asses everywhere are considered greener than people in cities. I am for mass transit and trains because they’re green, and I didn’t get my license until I was 42 because I refused to participate in car culture and all of the noxious bullshit it brings.

Even now I am more worried about the ways the poor will experience environmental degradation, that the coastal cities will flood, that indigenous people who live on flood plains or islands will become refugees, that the rates of cancer will go up, that the kinds of natural disasters will become so common that we will cease recovering from them and live in places that are half broken from whatever tornado/hurricane came through last. As far as I can tell, the Rockaways and Long Island never totally recovered from Sandy, and I’m not sure anyone outside of NY knows that, or if anyone inside NY wants to admit it.

And then there’s the water table, which honestly, I can’t even think about some days because what’s coming scares me.

I do believe that some science and technology will help; humans are ingenious. But I worry too that these technologies will benefit only the wealthiest, as they often do.

I am skeptical of a lot of science, all the biases human beings bring to it, the ways we still don’t have enough women or people of color doing the work. It enrages me, to be honest, because we really do need all hands on deck, and the very best of the best, which we don’t get when we skew toward white men getting all the jobs.

So instead maybe of Marching for Science or celebrating the Earth, think of Earth Day this way: you’re marching for rationalism, for education, for creative genius; you’re marching for respect for people and cultures and health; you’re marching today for water and air that won’t kill you, for elephants and polar bears and giraffes. But to me, mostly, you’ve marching against riots over resources, for the poor, for the chance at justice.

I am not cheerful today, or optimistic. But I will be present because I have to be. You should too.

 

Helen Boyd

is the author of My Husband Betty and She's Not the Man I Married.

One Comment

  1. For sure — today was a day to be present. I felt it necessary to be physically present, and rather didn’t like being hectored in Cleveland by march coordinators who wanted us to also be loud. But I was there to celebrate and advocate for rational public policy, intended to protect the public and common resources in our care. I am pessimistic about either political party being wrested free of control by our Wall Street, Big X and military overlords (where X = agra, pharma, energy, etc). Those can be content with less are always at a disadvantage against those who always yearn for more. The acquisitive will constantly be engaged in that practice, and therefore require constant opposition/vigilance — so much so that those who have a desire to live simply, quietly, richly can no longer do that in these times. The public institutions meant to protect the public have been compromised.

    So we must be present, and continue to be present, and advocate, and talk with one another to attain representation, since ours seems to lost concern for us. Even the most progressive share an interest in secrecy and eternal armed conflict, seemingly petrified to speak against abuses done in our names. Ours is not a time for tending only own gardens.

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