Thursday, March 6, 2014

I Don't Believe in the Environment

Sometimes I wish I knew as much about human nature as an English literature guy. Sometimes I wonder what I’m missing. Never mind. At least I’m not a babe in the woods: These days I’m really wondering about all those leftist-environmentalist-anti-establishment types. So serious and strident—I really don’t think they get the human comedy.

These fringe folk seem to believe that once you move up to a certain floor level in an office tower you will say, “I changed my mind—I no longer believe in the environment.” The socialists forget that it was a war hero, big game hunter and occupier of that classic office of "the establishment"—an oval shaped office in a big white house—who brought in America’s first national park: Yellowstone. To the people of the day, if you wanted to create a metaphor in the form of a doll to depict The Man in Washington, then the doll would not be a capitalist running pig-dog: it would be a teddy bear. Yes, Americans embraced a bear named after President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt.

I’m not saying rich folks can’t be as silly as the poor anarchists. Back in 1986 Pulitzer winner David Halberstam exposed the thick skulls of the arrogant executives in the big three auto companies: Powerful folks, but so far behind the times. Halberstam revealed, for example, that front wheel drive was standard in Europe for ten years before the suits tried it here. Sometimes the suits at GM remind me of the brass at HQ, so distant from the front lines in Flanders Fields. Oh, the adjectives I could use! —But I restrain myself.

While the Japanese auto executives, according to Halberstam, believe in being frugal, after the Wall Street Melt Down the Detroit executive bozos flew to Washington to ask for a bailout. Their trip became front-page news, of course—as they flew in a private jet! Across America readers rustled the paper and burst out with adjectives. What could I do but laugh?

Equally laughable is the belief of the environmental folks that if, on some space age day of reckoning, we all have to share in the burden of rationing gasoline, then we’ll all share the burden equally. Who are they kidding?

The same executives who have reserved parking stalls near the door, and company-supplied chauffeurs, will surely fly to Washington to lobby to justify extra gas for businessmen. “We have to inspect plants and scout suppliers.” Or, “What’s good for General Motors is good for the country.” Or, whispered in genteel tones in Executive washrooms, “What’s wrong with a little entitlement between colleagues?” In my hometown the oil executives are so entitled—how entitled are they? The media aren’t even allowed to peek inside the executive washrooms, let alone photograph such golden palaces and throne rooms. Well. So while I can easily imagine how soylent rationing would work out in practise, I don’t suppose the eco-leftists are imagining a non-equalitarian world. Maybe I should buy them a good history book about how rationing worked in WWII. Back then the same sort of young guys who would today get pirate music and movies would back then get pirate gasoline… as the dead son of Mrs. Ryan was rocking in the waves...  

Maybe I could buy the True Believers some English literature books: Human nature just doesn’t change. I’m sure the Communist Party Members over in North Korea and China feel just as entitled as any working man here who starts out down in the mailroom and in time rises through the ranks to say, “Look Ma, I’m the Vice-President of Production!” Say, I wonder if the Chinese Party Members hate the Japanese for being frugal?

Or maybe I could draw my ecologically minded friend’s attention to a big everyday symbol: the recycling containers in the Tim Hortons (no apostrophe) donut shops. These coffee shops, named after an NHL player, are as popular in Canada as, well, hockey. There was even a Tim Hortons in the Canadian Forces Base in Kandahar. Given human nature, I rather doubt the Kandahar Hortons had signs for recycling—surely the locals needed no reminder to re-use. Back in Canada these days every Hortons has a tasteful recycling counter, in plastic imitation wood, with four prominently labeled funny shaped holes: two for “waste” and two for “recyclables.” Because all of us at Tim Hortons, except for the suits who are going elsewhere for expensive lattes, believe in the environment. A discrete swinging door allows the staff to access the four black plastic bags inside where the items are gathered. If you don’t mind being nosy, glance into the specific holes: You will see more than enough garbage mixed in with the bottles and cans to make the recycling vats jam up and melt down. “What the—?”

Yes, “Everyone believes in the environment.” In fact, every single home in my sincere city has two color-coded recycling bins in the back. It’s compulsory. And every sincere homeowner is charged an ongoing fee. Everyone believes, but in the Tim Hortons not everyone can delay a microsecond to locate the proper receptacle. Why? Maybe the idealistic generation can’t read, maybe the computer generation doesn’t have a microsecond of attention span, or maybe human nature hasn’t changed since before the invention of the vacuum tube.

Notice to my eco friends everywhere: You can’t expect The People to have a morality any higher than their day-to-day needs. Maybe they will rise above themselves temporarily, when there are flags and drums for war, but even a world at war will soon have some people sinking down, long before the war is properly begun, down into the pit of the gasoline black market. To the justifying of piracy there is no end… As for the world’s most notorious pirates, the Chinese, the last I heard they were still publishing China Reconstructs, in English, and talking about “continuing the revolution.” Yes but by now, surely, even the Communist Party Members are merely going through the motions.

Just as people will go through the motions of throwing stuff into the "recycling" can when in reality it is a garbage can—and they know it. Of course, their day to day morality can be effected by compulsion and laws from the establishment, the authority, The Man… and the people in suits who have everyone in my city paying extra for personal recycling bins. 

Back in my childhood the advertisers had determined the average housewife didn’t know words like “obsolete” and “ecology.” Back then during the evening I would see the tubes in the back of the radio set glowing, and during the day I would be out collecting beer bottles and pop bottles—these could be returned, to the same stores where you bought them, for two cents. For a half dozen empty bottles I could buy a sparkling soda bottle or a Spiderman comic. (Gold Key comics were 15 cents, DC were 10 cents) Since childhood the price of comics has far outpaced pop—even though paper grows on trees. Those days of getting dirty, scratched and stepping into still water while scouring the ditches and bushes for bottles were days of authentic everyday morality—I was being true to the human comedy.

Sean Crawford
Calgary, under a hated winter vortex
While my neighbours say, “Thank God for global warming.”
March 2014
~I honour David Halberstam in my essay, Poor David Halberstam, archived September 2012.
~The Human Comedy, set during the war years, is one of my favourite classics.
~I wrote an essay with links on Pirates and Prohibition in April 2012.

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