In a world of highly charged political rhetoric, the essay provides language and a framework for a community discussion on environmental ethics that takes a step back from immediate policy debate. This work doesn’t diminish the importance of these other discussions; rather it provides a context in which that work might be more readily possible.
Our ability to make meaningful collective moral decision requires us to be able to first have enough common moral language to have a conversation. This might be a good place to start.
The Audubon Society has accused him of “extreme intellectual dishonesty,”Grist has labeled him “confused,” and Think Progress held nothing back and called his recent article “bird brained.” (My favorite so far might be the Washington Post saying that the Audubon has “flipped Franzen the bird.”)
Some of this criticism, in my opinion, is justified. Franzen set up an option between treating the planet with “disfiguring aggression” to try and mitigate climate change related emissions or “with palliation and sympathy” since the battle has already been lost. This choice, as the pieces above point out, is a false one.
Unfortunately, those controversial statements have covered over what I found to be the core argument of the article, and his most compelling case.
IN THE summer of 1969, then-Sen. Gaylord Nelson was on a conservation speaking tour of the West when he visited the beaches of Santa Barbara, at that time despoiled by one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history. The devastation affected him deeply. Later, while reading an article about the teach-ins organized by anti-Vietnam War activists, Nelson asked himself, Why not have a day for a nationwide teach-in on the environment? Thus was born Earth Day 1970.
The original Earth Day was marked by a massive public outpouring of concern for the environment. Earth Day helped spawn new laws such as the Clean Air and Water Acts and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, but it did little to staunch the more serious wounds of our dying planet. ... Much of the activity during the 20th-anniversary celebration of Earth Day this April 22 will focus on individual acts. ... But there is a danger in an overemphasis on personal acts, when the most grievous assaults on the natural world come from corporations and nations whose self-interested policies of acquisitiveness and greed have brought us to the edge of ecological cataclysm. ...
The chair of Union Carbide, one of the planet's most notorious despoilers, understood the stakes when he said, "An aroused public can put us out of business, just like it put the nuclear industry out of business." Polluters be warned: Such work is becoming everybody's business.
Jim Rice was an assistant editor of Sojourners when this article appeared.
Image: Planet symbol on Earth Day, justaa / Shutterstock.com
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We got a Prius about four years ago, and immediately we bought into the hype about milking every gallon of gas for another tenth of a mile. We read the hyper-miler blogs about how to employ the gas and brake pedals most efficiently. We competed against each other for the best MPG. It was nerdy but fun, and we felt like we were doing something at least a little bit socially redeeming.
I haven’t seen the research, but I’m convinced that a significant chunk of the Prius’ reputation as a gas miser stems from the way its users are trained to drive it.