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The Earth is not Fragile


I found myself cringing the other day listening to a well intentioned, yet completely ridiculous, city slicking environmentalist tell a room full of us how fragile the earth is. I wanted to scream "it is not!" but decorum got the better of me and I stayed quiet. It isn't fragile, not in any real sense of the word. The earth would just as soon wash us all away in a flood than conjure up a gorgeous sunset.

One of the most punk rock things you can do these days, particularly at dinner parties in liberal enclaves like where I live, is say you're skeptic when it comes to what people view as scientific consensus. Usually people think climate change, and are immediately offended by the idea that someone may disagree with what they've been told is humanity's most desperate and urgent threat. This is not to say I don't believe the earth is getting warmer, I surely do, or that I believe humans haven't had an effect on the environment, we certainly have. It's not so much that I'm skeptical of the science, I don't know enough about it to have a helpful opinion, I'm primarily skeptical about the way much of this stuff is presented. And when someone tells you something as vast and complex as the planet you are living on can be summed up as simply as "fragile," you should have alarm bells ringing. 

I consider myself an environmentalist and a leftist. I'm proudly orthodox in both those beliefs. I trace this, particularly the environmentalism, back to my grandfather who was president of the Sierra Club for western Canada for years and on the board of directors of the organization for a time in the late 1990's. (The Winnipeg Free Press did a wonderful write up on him several years ago.) He is a chemical using farmer who had seven kids, so you can imagine how well he fit in at director meetings in San Francisco. But he knows the earth. And he knows how to talk and work with others who actually live on the land, something the Sierra Club has had scarce luck with. (I'm biased here of course, but if the Sierra Club would have taken his approach more seriously it might actually be seen as more than a hiking club for people who live in cities that also raises funds for the Democratic Party.)

But there is an ideology involved as well, this isn't just a strategic difference. I'm convinced a main reason many environmentalists don't trust farmers is working on a farm is trying to conquer nature one day after the other. You gain a respect for it, but you don't coddle it. The "mother nature" metaphor demands we infantilize our relationship with the earth. And of course, we are the bad kids engaging in a slow but certain matricide. This is really much of the impetus surrounding environmentalism. There is not much of an attempt at understanding a complex problem, few attempts at winning over the people who actually live on the land, and leftist talk of "conquering nature" has been silenced as the liberal left feels more at home with the politics of guilt, a petty bourgeois self flagellation for an audience of the like minded. Contradictions, where the true left lives and breathes, are simply ignored. 

That fundamental contradiction of development versus sustainability was on full display a few years back in Ecuador. The leftist government found oil in the Yasuni National Forest and decided that if the international community would come up with half the money they could get from developing the oil field they would leave the oil in the ground. The logic is pretty simple. Ecuador is poor. Many other places in the world are not. If the rich world would chip in a measly 3.6 billion dollars (maybe the US could hold off bombing a country for a month or two) then this supposedly priceless land would be saved. Even if you don't know what happened you can probably guess. No one paid much of anything. The drilling began.

A recent study points out that one hundred companies have produced seventy one percent of global greenhouse gas emissions since the early 1970's. How much of this is the result of services deemed necessary by society and how much is due to relentless profit seeking? This is where the solution lies. Gaining political power is our most pressing battle. It is crucial to the health of our species that we win this battle. But we shouldn't forget that the earth is far less fragile than many of the people who want to protect it. The earth will be fine, even if we're not. 

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