The planet Earth; the strange, beautiful, indifferent, often brutal, often tender home we inhabit, exists in a way that’s so much bigger, so much more complex, so much more mysterious than any civilization human beings can set on top of it.
When you step out of whatever shelter you’ve got each morning, all of that astonishing simply presented timelessness is just there. In all its IS-ness. On the land and in the air. I’ve written this before in other essays. If you’re really dialed in, you can feel the whole thing breathe. The pure being of this place, even with all of the concrete, fumes and trash we’ve imposed on it, is an enormous overwhelming pulse. It is it’s own inspiration, in a sense.
Despite cars and computers and nuclear fission and human beings, Earth itself remains stubbornly, ahistorically, gloriously uninterested in what we’re up to.
I used to believe this. I used to believe this was at least a piece of the ultimate truth that would necessarily live beyond my ability to comprehend.
But climate change has taught me something else. Earth reacts to what we’ve lain on top of it, underneath it and above it. It’s reacting right now. It’s been reacting for centuries. It’s not indifferent; not in the way I previously thought. And it’s heated reaction to our pollution, our war, our methane, and our ever-increasing carbon emissions is killing some of us—and may kill a whole lot more of us down the line.
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There’s a scene from the much-maligned Zabriskie Point, the 1970 counterculture film by Italian director Michaelangelo Antonioni, in which an American family, tourists, drive up to the edge of an extraordinary canyon. A geological testament to Earth’s paradox of constant change and absolute stillness. And the father of the family gets out of the car to look at this sublimity and says something to the tune of “wow, honey, this would be a great spot for a restaurant and a gift shop. We could make some real money up here.”
It’s a quick scene. The voices of the actors are muffled by the naturalistic sound design, the interference of car and wind. But it lands like a mule-kick. Antonioni set the film in the U.S. for a reason. In 1970, as now (though dwindling), we’re the hegemon. It’s our culture that sees nature as a chance to make a buck, and thus afford us luxuries that take us further away from the Earth on which our feet are planted (and what gives us life in the first place). He gives America too much credit, of course. The logic of capitalism is a near worldwide phenomenon and the United States is perhaps the current greatest devotee.
In Act II of her 6-part series about what lies behind today’s deceptively youth-driven climate justice movements, the independent investigative journalist/activist Cory Morningstar delves into non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the members of the corporate elite who conceive them, run them, and use them to redirect the passionate energies of young people, who want us to get off this toxic carbon carousel, towards profit-making projects.
You can listen to The Words of Others podcast to hear a reading of Act II, The Manufacturing of Greta Thunberg: The Inconvenient Truth Behind Youth Co-Optation.
What Morningstar gets at in her research is this: the wealthy philanthropists, marketers, economists, politicians and corporate players are merely more well-heeled versions of the middle-class family man looking out and finding a way to unsee the massive canyon in Zabriskie Point. Although they understand that climate change is real, that the choking of earth’s ecosystems through waste and pollution is real, they don’t gaze upon this destruction as an impetus to abandon capitalism as a system. They don’t kneel down in shame and gratitude and rejoicing that we yet can remake our relationship to our home, this Earth.
Instead, they see it as a way to make a buck.
But they can only make a buck off of this rolling catastrophe if they shove a quiet, thoughtful teenager in front of us. Galvanize us through heart and empathy. And redirect our tender emotions not into collective ecosystem restoration, but rather into “make-a-buck” solutions that will only serve to reproduce our separation from this home, from one another, and from the ineffable meaning that could nurture our brief time here.
And I can’t help thinking how paltry it all is.
When you read about kids across the country getting off school to take part in the climate strike, pay attention to who stands behind brave Greta Thunberg. Pay attention to who talks after her.
Who is waiting there to channel your energy to heal this place into the weightless unmeaning futility of make-a-buck?
As always, thanks for reading and thanks for listening.
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