Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Damn Environmentalists!

by lizard

Environmentalists are easy targets. They conjure quick stereotypes of hippie activists divorced from reality. They also act as self-appointed sirens of crisis, trying to point out how destructive our species’ impact has been on this planet.

Environmentalism itself is a global call to action for humanity to act collectively before it’s too late. Such a brazen declaration will inevitably lead to angry responses, like this fragment from a longer comment @ Intelligent Discontent:

Pseudo intellectuals posing impossible and illogical arguments about “pristine” wilderness disgust me because not one of them recognises the reality we are faced with everyday. They would rather pound their chests and scream at the sky about the “inhumanity” of it all rather than find real life solutions.

The humans who fight to mitigate the negative impact their fellow humans are having on this planet must sometimes feel they are put in the position of defending every misguided step to protect something from destruction.

I poked around a bit in my library for some fodder for this post, and found something from Can Poetry Save the Earth? by John Felstiner (Yale University, 2009):

Yet ecological zeal can backfire. Preserving Yosemite National Park meant first evicting Ahwahnee and Miwok Indians, while Yellowstone got rid of Shoshone and Lakota. Arizona’s Black Mesa Mine, shut down for fouling the air, draining the water table and thereby sacred springs, had also provided jobs for Navajo and Hopi Indians. Cleansing the air may itself hasten global warming because pollution haze absorbs and scatters sunlight. Curtailing ranchers and loggers drives them to sell land to developers. In Canada, the 1980’s campaign against slaughtering seals, beaver, and fox for fur coats and scarves left native trappers strapped for a living. They had to turn their land and themselves over to companies building gas pipelines through a pristine valley, flooding the land for a hydroelectric plant, drilling for oil in teeming offshore waters.

Also, it should be mentioned, the book I’m referencing is constructed of mostly paper.

When you push too hard about the cataclysm of our species’ insatiable consumption of this finite earthly bounty, it’s very easy to point out the inherent hypocrisy of humans who consume criticizing our collective consumption.

It doesn’t make the unsustainable trajectory of our collective behavior any less true, but it does muddy the waters, tarnishing the “hypocrite” messengers of responsible planetary stewardship.

With information at our fingertips—with no excuse NOT to know—I find myself thumbing through my twitter scroll and NOT selecting articles like the Mother Jones piece about the decline of microbes in the Gulf of Mexico, post-BP.

I don’t want to know. I choose to ignore many things (like the World Population Clock). Because I know I’m intimately involved in the destructive processes set in motion a long, long time ago.

The disdain for those righteous tree-huggers offering themselves as convenient scapegoats is sadly predictable, but it doesn’t make what they’re warning about any less dire.

Anyway, this week’s selection is from a cute little publication from New Directions, edited by Jeffrey Yang, titled BIRDS, BEASTS, AND SEAS: Nature Poems from New Directions (New Directions, 2011).

It’s a strange little poem by Lorca, translated by W.S. Merwin. Enjoy!


Casida of the Dark Doves

Through the branches of the laurel
I saw two dark doves.
The one was the sun,
the other the moon.
Little neighbors, I said to them,
where is my tomb?
In my tail, said the sun.
In my throat, said the moon.
And I who was walking
with the earth at my belt
saw two eagles of marble
and a naked girl.
The one was the other
and the girl was no one.
Little eagles, I said to them,
where is my tomb?
In my tail, said the sun,
in my throat, said the moon.
Through the branches of the laurel
I saw two naked doves.
the one was the other
and both were none.

—Frederico García Lorca

***Bonus Video, Modest Mouse:

  1. Thank you for another excellent post Liz.

    It’s worth pointing out that the commenter (Ken “Moorcat” Kailey) who made the “Pseudo intellectual” anti-enviro remark was making some pretty wild, broad-brushed, absolutest statements claiming that those activists dedicated to the protection of forests, wilderness and the environment don’t “practice what they preach” or “walk the talk” in terms of reducing consumption of energy, water, fuel, etc.

    I asked the commenter “Just curious, but where is your proof that almost all environmental activists and wilderness activists (especially at the grassroots and volunteer level) are such supposed hypocrites and actually don’t take steps to reduce their personal consumption, grow/eat local food, drive less, bike more, recycle, live in smaller houses, etc?” I got no response to that honest inquiry.

    Anyway, thanks also for posting a link to the world population clock. Yes, tough to look at. After factoring in deaths and births, the world has added another 34 million people to Earth in 2012, pushing the Earth’s human population well over 7 billion people. The Center for Biological Diversity has started a campaign to raise public awareness about overpopulation and the impacts 8 billion people by 2020 and 9 billion people by 2050 will have on the environment, humans, animals, etc.

  2. Authoritarian systems need scapegoats, or “easy targets.” Philosopher Hannah Arendt described totalitarian as uniquely repressive political systems, dependent on a technological mass society that seeks to destroy the autonomous individual.

    Technocrats and their sympathizers seem to be everywhere, in charge of something, everything, but held to account for nothing, accountable to no one. As we obsess about right-wing vs. left-wing, Democrat vs. Republican, the trend is increasingly authoritarian.

    How else could autonomous individuals with little power and less money elicit such arrogant condesention for simply insisting that public agencies follow public laws so national public treasures are not wasted and pillaged?

  1. 1 Liz’s Weekly Poetry Series: Anticipating April | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Damn Environmentalists! […]

  2. 2 152 Poetry Posts to Celebrate April, National Poetry Month | 4&20 blackbirds

    […] Damn Environmentalists! […]

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