Gang Green – The Blood, Guts, and Gore of The Chic New Environmentalism
Two thousand and six may well go down as one of the historic geo-political years of the modern era, assuming there will be anyone around in the next century to study history. America finally emerged from the scars of the Vietnam era to find itself in the midst of a brand new unwinnable war, culminating in the end of the Reagan era and the implosion of the modern conservative movement during what could arguably be called the most exciting midterm elections of our time. Those of us who cautiously supported the war in the hope that any form of success might start an important chain reaction of change in that region have been sorely let down by incompetence and greed, proving that even the best intentions are often spoiled by the inevitable weaknesses society human nature.
The possibility of a civilizational war between vastly discordant worldviews is more possible than ever before with the added fun of advanced nuclear and biochemical agents being traded like small arms in some of the seediest corners of the global black market. The depressing anticlimax of Saddam’s execution at the end of the year only proved how misguided our goals and strategies seemed in hindsight.
Perhaps as a response to all of that messy human strife, the minds of many urbanites turned once again to loftier issues such as the environment in the somewhat surprising return to form of Al Gore. The man who almost became President emerged from his wooden political persona as a riveting advocate for the looming issue of global warming and all of the complicated and often irritatingly dull interconnected issues that surround it. Armed with little more than his PowerBook and passion to spare, he turned a nationwide tour into one of the most successful documentaries of all time and started a national conversation that has picked up more and more momentum since. Love him or hate him, few can deny that in a year punctuated by much more cable news-friendly issues, he broke through the noise with a warning that may make all of our other troubles seem trivial by comparison.
THE GLAMOROUS WORLD OF CARBON EMISSIONS
A dizzying array of facts and figures about the intensely intertwined infrastructures that are all being affected by the steady release of carbon into the atmosphere is just a Google search away, but the upshot is that any one of twelve major ecological tipping points could give way at almost any moment and cause unfathomable changes to the way this planet works. Past history, studied with new technologies, reveals a disturbing tendency for the Earth to rather suddenly give way to mini ice ages and sudden paradigm shifts that impact the local populations of vast areas of the planet suddenly and without mercy. Imagine Katrina and the recent tsunami as mild hiccups compared to what looms on the environmental horizon and you’ll start to see a dim future emerge, one that has caused the most brilliant mind of our time, Stephen Hawking, to suggest investing rather heavily in space exploration. The glimmer of hope seems to be that now more than ever the issue of our rapidly devolving ecosystem has become a cause celebre among the elites of the media establishment and the mavens of style and design. The covers of magazines such as Elle and Vanity Fair celebrated a green aesthetic. Hybrid cars finally came into their own, propelled by both environmental concerns and the interlocking issue of oil dependency. Hollywood, always eager to have a feel-good cause to champion, picked up the banner of eco-chic with gusto when they weren’t busy adopting African children.
In New York, a billion dollar green skyscraper that will house the Bank of America is rising up at One Bryant Park. The first project of its kind, it is being constructed almost entirely of recycled materials. It will be a self-sustaining mini ecosystem that among other things will act as a type of massive air purifier for the entire midtown area, leaving the air cleaner than it was when it entered the massive circulation system of the building. The architectural boom that is happening in New York City right now goes hand in hand with a vigorous focus on integrating steel and glass with our natural surroundings, proving that the two need not be mutually exclusive. Companies like Zipcar have made urban car-sharing affordable and easy, reducing the oil-fueled congestion on our streets and highways. The concept of sustainability penetrated the worlds of fashion and home design, making sure that at least some of our industries have as little negative impact on the planet as possible. Corporate do-good for- ism became the marketing scheme du jour with companies like BP and Wal-Mart at least paying lip service to their complicity in getting us to this point. It seems that everywhere you turn, green issues have become standard mainstream fare where they were once relegated to the crunchy world of West Coast liberalism.
CURING CANCER WITH BAND-AIDS
Is all of this eco-fabulousness enough, though? Are we too late to save this fragile planet? It would be foolish to think that some socially responsible ad campaigns and a few hemp outfits can reverse the course of massive ecological currents that all feed off of one another. Humans tend to act in concert to make fundamental changes to their behavior only when absolutely necessary, which may be too late good for complicated systems such as the deep ocean currents that circulate the Earth’s heat throughout the globe or the rapidly melting ice caps that maintain the freshwater of the planet. The unseasonable warmth we have all no doubt noticed recently may not be the most accurate indicator of misfortunes to come, but it’s hard to deny that a warm rain on Christmas morning on the eastern seaboard is a tad unnerving.
Human beings have the uniquely stubborn qualities of finding hope in unlikely places, persevering under extreme duress, and finding unconventional solutions to seemingly impossible problems when necessary. The first step is recognizing we have some pretty big challenges ahead of us, of course, and 2006 was certainly a good indication that we are beginning that process with enthusiasm. The complexities of our global problems may well bear unpredictable fruit if we can begin to solve any one of them successfully. Certainly fear and despair make for unseemly behavior in times of crisis, and we’ve all seen enough movies to know that in the face of the impossible we tend to find the strength to see things through, whatever the outcome. So try to find a small way to start the process of waking up out of a long decadent slumber. Become a voice of consciousness for your friends and family, lead by example, and never give up on the idea that we deserve to survive as a species. Sure beats fiddling away while Rome burns, and you might find that it gives you a new respect for our fragile place in the universe. But it probably wouldn’t hurt to keep funding space research, just in case.
By D. Michael Taylor – Illustration by Ilan Benaym
First published in movmnt magazine Spring 2007