Life in the homosphere is hard enough, so why do I insist you go granola too?
by Brian Reindel / @brianreindel
It’s been a great couple years for gays in this country, at least as far as marriage rights go. While we anxiously await the Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue later this year, at this moment, 36 states are recognizing gay marriage. This is no small feat, and while we may now say with confidence that supporters of these measures were on the right side of history, success was not inevitable. These victories are largely the results of decades of hard work by determined activists. It’s important, I think, to remember that. It’s important to remember the discouragement, frustration, and ridicule that a few brave people faced to even get their friends to start talking about the issue. It’s important to remember all the bitter opposition, the mindless prejudice, and the stubborn resistance to change. It’s important to remember that at some point, all this seemed incredibly unlikely—maybe even impossible. And it’s important to remember that all that trouble was worth it. It’s important now, I think, because now we have some even bigger fish to fry.
That’s right. I’m talking about climate change. Global warming. The End of Days. Whatever we call it, it’s here, it’s now, we’re causing it, and it’s ordinary people like you and I who are going to suffer most if we don’t do something to stop it. By now we’ve all heard the basics, I hope: Increased levels of CO2 and methane in the atmosphere trap heat from the sun and cause chaos—melting glaciers, rising seas, droughts, floods, fires, famine, etc. The climate is currently changing ten times faster than it has at any point in the last 65 million years. This is not a “natural” fluctuation. Scientists are scared shit-less about this, and the more they study, the worse things look. While the energy industry’s political lapdogs peddle their carefully crafted message of uncertainty, even the most progressive of mainstream media give the problem only marginal attention.
It’s a difficult thing to talk about, especially for politicians and reporters, not only because the implications are terrifying, but because scientific studies are often too nuanced to be explained in the simple sound bytes we demand. There’s a lot of confusion about “what scientists know,” so I think it’s worth taking a moment to refresh our understanding of how science works.
Science is not a religion. It doesn’t tell us what’s right or wrong, ethical or moral. Science, at its simplest, is a tool. It’s a method of careful observation, information collection, review, and reporting. The information is not always perfect or complete, but the scientific method works. It is the way we understand the physical world, and the way we use that understanding to our advantage.
Now, if, for some reason, you simply don’t believe in that tool, then you must not believe in anything that science has brought us. You must not believe in electricity, air conditioning, cars, trains, nuclear bombs, or the printing press. You must not believe in the 5-ounce computer in your pocket containing the dating app that helped you get the clap, which you must not believe that science helped you cure.
So, assuming we all believe in these things, and by extension we believe in the ability of well-trained scientists to make accurate observations and predictions about the world, it’s safe to say we’re fucking ourselves pretty hard.
Climate change is about a lot more than wacky weather. The future we’re facing looks madder than Mad Max, more desperate than The Walking Dead, and more class-conscious than Katniss Everdeen. The scope of the thing is virtually incomprehensible, and atmospheric warming is only one of our many planetary problems. The sheer number of ways in which you and I are, as we speak, destroying our own life-support systems is enough to pull even the most starry-eyed friend of Dorothy into a twister of despair. Dozens of plant and animal species are going extinct every day. We’ve over-fished and trashed the oceans, wiped out most of the forests, dammed most of the rivers, and we’ve cut up, contaminated, and crowded all the best places to build a home.
We are witnessing, in our lifetimes, the rapid decline of almost every living system on this planet. While some governments and communities are taking steps to protect their assets from some of the effects of climate change, not enough of us are seriously addressing the causes. This is particularly troubling, even from a self-interested perspective, because what we’re talking about here is the imminent collapse of civilization itself. This is literally the end of our world, in every way that matters. We can cry about polar bears and pandas till our balls turn blue, and while preserving individual species for their own sakes is reason enough for me, what ecosystem preservation comes down to, in the end, is our ability to produce food, breathe clean air, and access fresh water—in short, our ability to live at all. Mother Earth doesn’t give a damn. She’ll sashay around the sun for years to come. And some day, far in the future, new organisms will evolve to replace the millions we’ve blasted to oblivion. But it’s looking more likely that none of us and none of our surrogate-mothered descendants will be here for the ride. We’re out of time to ignore these issues, and we have nowhere else to go. Saving the planet is ultimately about saving ourselves. The timeline is that short.
There’s a great irony here: Our way of life is threatening our way of life. (That’s basically what “unsustainable” means). The science that gave us all the miracles of the 20th century is the same science that’s telling us we’re drowning in miracles. But remember, science doesn’t tell us what’s right and wrong. It only tells us what works and what doesn’t. It’s not concerned with why. It’s only concerned with how, and it only helps us to answer those questions we bother to ask. It’s clear that science and technology have vastly improved living and working standards for millions of people all over the world. In fact, it was science that made it possible for BILLIONS of people to even exist on this planet at all! Without 20th-century advances in agriculture, largely the result of fossil fuels, most of us wouldn’t even be here. We spend a lot of time worrying about how to feed starving people, but we tend to forget that people are made of food. 7.3 billion of us are here right now because at some point, someone figured out how to grow enough food to build these bodies. But what’s the price we pay for such success? Now all these bodies want all the comforts and conveniences they can afford. That’s why we’re in trouble.
It seems that even those of us who aren’t overtly denying the data, are, in every way that truly matters, in denial. I might count myself among them. I would LOVE to ignore all this and just go about my business, indulging in what’s left of the good life, such as it is. Believe me, I’ve tried. But the facts are the facts, and the more of them you know, the harder they are to shake off. This thing is real. It’s at our doorsteps, and apparently we’ve left the door unlocked, with our asses in the air…
In this light, all our other battles—for civil rights, for marriage equality, for equal protection—might seem a little less…urgent. But I believe that environmental activism and human rights activism go hand-in-hand. The values for which queer people and other marginalized groups have fought are values that, we believe, make the world a fairer, more peaceful, more livable place. That’s exactly what environmentalism is all about. In fact, every day, more and more people are connecting the dots between this unfolding ecological nightmare and so many of the other problems they’re fighting to fix—from poverty to public health.
And why gays? Why lesbians? Why do I insist that questioning, trans, and bisexual people widen their focus to more planetary causes? I happen to believe we are uniquely suited to the task. While there is no single quality that can positively define the queer community, life on the edge (or in the closet) does offer us one thing the straight community does not necessarily have—the blessing and curse of standing apart. We are positioned, almost from birth, outside of things. In order to have any peace in our formative years, we often learn to put together personal narratives that place us at the center of a universe that doesn’t seem to want us. This is a powerful gift. We know how to think outside the box. We learn to be skeptical, adaptive, expressive, and sometimes subversive. This is exactly the skill set the planet needs right now.
So where do we start? Maybe we can shop smarter? Maybe. It depends what you consider smart. Recycling programs and “green” products might seem like a nice idea, but they kind of miss the point. In fact, they may actually be part of the problem. This thing is systemic. The roots are strong, and to pull them out, we have to dig deeper. What’s needed, here and now, is a fundamental change in the way you and I interact with the world. There is nothing easy about fundamental change. But the alternative to fundamental change is a grizzly dystopia I don’t think anyone here is willing to face.
So I say we walk away. I say we walk away from this place in history the same way so many lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, and questioning people have walked away from the places that don’t accept us. I say we walk away from economic systems that are exploitative and extractive. I say we walk away from diets that require intensive inputs and unsustainable harvest. I say we walk away from cities full of self-absorbed strangers and step into thriving, engaging communities where together we build a future that includes all the diverse forms of life and ways of living this planet can handle. But first, in order to do all this, some of us must walk away from a few of our most strongly held beliefs about what it means to be happy, successful, and free.
(To be continued…)
Brian Reindel was a featured artist at JAKE Talks - "For the Love of..."