If you haven’t seen George Carlin’s infamous rant about the arrogance of thinking we can “save the planet,” you should. It’s here on YouTube. But I warn you: it’s not for the faint of heart, delicate of sensibility, or young of age. I haven’t embedded it in this post because I don’t want to be accused of corrupting the young. Again. (Hi Hayley.)
Here’s a sample, (one of the few bits without four-letter words) as Carlin begins his unique rap about plastic:
The planet has been through a lot worse than us… been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles, hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages, and we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference?
I was reminded of this monologue twice this week: first, in the comments on Fark.com and then this weekend while visiting a friend’s father who is living with terminal cancer, and who is just as salty and irreverent as Carlin was. AO’s war stories were mesmerizing, and his jokes had us in stitches as he held court from his bed.
Tonight, I’m thinking about the visit and the video as I try to write my blog post for this month’s APLS (Affluent Persons Living Sustainably) Blog Carnival. The topic is “Nature.” What is it? “What makes nature so powerful or meaningful? How has your experience with the natural world shaped your own environmentalism? Is love of the natural world an essential motivation for sustainability?”
And to that last question, I feel myself channeling my own inner crusty old man as I mutter, “Of course it is, but not how you think!” Because I am the natural world. So are you. So is plastic. Just ask Clif. Every breath reminds me that there is nothing separating me from anything else. My senses, as I walk down the street, ride on BART, stare at my computer, or pull weeds in my garden, let me know constantly that I am not alone.
The nursing home room where my friend’s dad is spending his final days is anything but “natural” in the traditional sense of the word. It’s sterile. Artificial. Efficient. And full of plastic. Yet in this man’s wryly optimistic presence, I felt a deep, deep connection to humanity, to the body, to the miracle of each heart beat and to the constant thread of life, the thread of which death is a natural part. And there’s that word again.
I’m not saying getting out to the woods or mountains or local park isn’t a good idea. We know our bodies and minds do better when we give them space and clean air and earthy smells. And we ought to be working to even up the playing field so that no one has to breathe smog and drink contaminated water. Children should be taught where their food really comes from and how the many non-humans on the planet live.
But compassion can arise anywhere in any situation. I was casually browsing the Internet when I stumbled upon the photo of the Laysan albatross carcass full of plastic pieces, the photo that broke my heart and caused me to question the unconscious way I had been living. We don’t literally have to hug a tree to care about life on planet earth.
But actually, it probably does help.
Because for some reason, most humans today do appear to feel separate from “Nature.” Why else would we have created such a word in the first place? A word that implies something other than what we are. Our minds can be such tricksters, desperately holding our personalities together, convincing us that we are special, that we are different and in charge. But our monkey minds are part of nature too, having evolved in just this way to ensure our survival. And it’s these brilliant, deluded minds telling us we are separate that may be also ensuring our destruction as a species.
So let’s get out, stick our noses in the grass, squish our toes in the mud, watch a group of ants for an hour and maybe even taste one (my little sister used to eat them off the kitchen floor!) And then let’s go inside and watch Planet Earth on TV, all the while reminding ourselves that nature isn’t something out there to be saved. It’s us. Right here. Wherever we are.
George C. says the planet will be fine without us. We’re just another species. Ultimately as expendable as all the other forms of life that have gone extinct. And I have to agree. Death is part of life, after all.
He also seems to think we’re already screwed. I hope not. I like being part of this world. Don’t you?