“Take care of yourself – and take care of somebody else.”
George Carlin (1937 – 2008)
In honor of Earth Day, I’m going to say a few things not particularly Earth Day-friendly. Because what fun would it be to jump on the environmentalist bandwagon? At least the cynic’s bandwagon has air conditioning.
And we can hardly have an environmentalism conversation here on The Big Blog of All the Shit I Know without paying tribute to one of our favorite comedians, George Carlin. If you’ve never seen his stand-up, we forgive you for your sad cultural upbringing and advise you to type “George Carlin” into YouTube. (And you won’t even have to exert much effort because we’ve included a relevant clip at the bottom of this post. You’re welcome.)
Without descending into masturbatory lecturing, this is my overall view on environmentalism and “going green”:
“What a crock of shit.”
Sorry, those are Carlin’s words and while I adore the late comedic icon, I’m afraid I don’t quite share his level of negativity. While I have my existentialist/nihilistic phases, I care about what happens to the world – in so far as I care about what happens to the people I love and the family I will inevitably help create. However, I am only 21. My future family is still a very abstract concept to me, as is the extinction of the human race. You see, when people talk about saving the planet, what they’re really saying is that they’re full of shit. They may never admit it, but they know somewhere in their not-completely-moronic minds that they do not recycle, drive electric cars, install solar panels, or turn off the lights when they leave the room just for the holy sake of the planet.
They know they do it for themselves. Humans, as social as we are, are still animals. And animals are selfish as… well, as is sustainable. Successful organisms are ones that have evolved a functional selfishness-to-altruism ratio for their given environment. An organism that is too selfish fades away because they don’t play well with others. And an organism that is too altruistic, too giving, is not able to sustain itself long enough to pass their genes on.
Humans are no exception to the rules of natural selection. As much as we’d like to think we are all-powerful and all-knowing, we are just another process in the system of the biosphere – in the vast system that is the universe. We are not special or inherently valuable. We’re just here for the time being in our current form. We won’t be the same as we are a million years from now.
That is, if we haven’t driven ourselves entirely extinct.
“Green initiatives” like recycling and better insulating your home are not solutions to our problem. They do not steer us away from our own destruction. Yet like my inability to clearly concretize my future family, it is hard for any of us to see how dire of a situation we will be in if we don’t change course right now. Unfortunately, we already are in a dire situation. As of April 23, 2014, 7:17:13 UTC, there are approximately 7,161,431,682 homo sapiens sapiens in the world. Using estimates of human populations starting 50,000 years ago, this is already 6% of the people who have ever lived in the history of humans on Earth. In math speak, that’s a heck of a lot. [Arbitrary biological distinctions will be discussed in a future article.]
We all like to pat ourselves on the back when we reduce our carbon emissions and drink Coke out of recycled aluminum, but this is not the solution. This only serves to perpetuate our narrative that we can infinitely consume resources to sustain infinite human population growth. While it is true (for now) that we do have the resources to sustain 7 billion people, how much more can we really handle? [You may be thinking about food shortages in countries that aren’t the first world. But by definition, having 7 billion people means having already had enough resources – don’t let disproportionate hunger in third world countries mislead you.] Telling ourselves that recycling and driving electric cars helps cut down our footprint just drives us to consume more. It’s like believing no amount of diet Coke is going to make you fat. This only makes you believe you can drink more diet Coke.
The overall solution is going to involve coming to the realization that we are part of the biosphere and that yes, we will continue evolving and yes, we will die out like the rest of the 99.9% of all species that have ever existed on Earth. If our resources run out, we run out. We cannot game the system. Really, there is no need to. I am far from an authority on sustainability or biology, but I do know that we are capable of living sustainability. Look at human tribes across the world. This does not mean we need to ooga-booga our way back to the Stone Age with technology no more advanced than rocks and sticks. That’s straw man thinking. We can use current and future technology to actually satisfy and sustain us, not keep us consuming a new iOS every two months.
In the end, far after our current species of human are gone, the third rock from the sun will be all right – “the earth plus plastic.” And while there is no inherent good, this also means humans are not inherently bad. We just are. So we need to stop deluding ourselves into thinking we’re invincible and start facing our natural fallibility.
So much for not descending into masturbatory lecturing. Pro going green, against going green, in between going green – we would absolutely love to hear from you. Please help start this orgy and share your thoughts below.