Are You Fiddling While Rome Burns?

I am all over the map these days–geographically, with far more airport time than I prefer–and scattered, too, in my poor abilities to draw a bead on a target for my time and energy.

There are so many global-issue writing targets worth aiming at. I feel the confusion of a hunter confronted not with too few quail but way too many so that singling out an individual in his sights is impossible. The bad news is traveling in dense flocks these days.

I am all over the map emotionally as well, vacillating between deep discouragement and a less frequent and very modest hope we yet have time to turn things around. I frankly don’t know if I should yield to brutal honesty in confronting the possibility that nothing I do, that we do, will make enough difference in the end.

At the same time, from the other side of my mind, I am certain that it is my highest duty to be–or to strive to be–part of the mobilized masses that can take aim at first one, then another, of the swirling eco-wraiths before us. Killing just one of the host of them–will not be enough.  And squelching even one (like global CO2 reduction) will take far more and different munitions than humanity has so far managed to fire off. We have failed to breech the political and corporate fortress walls.

The ways in which we’ve taken to the hunt have not worked. The political process has failed. The present administration has failed no less than the prior regime of disastrous indifference to the state of the planet in high places.

The news is unrelentingly bad. And if we do what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got.

Bill McKibben, among others, is ramping up more than the rhetoric.

His most current expression of his lost hope in our political process is found in  his piece entitled “We’re Hot as Hell and We’re Not Going to Take It Any More: Three Steps to Establish a Politics of Global Warming.” It concludes with these words:

We may need to get arrested. We definitely need art, and music, and disciplined, nonviolent, but very real anger.

Mostly, we need to tell the truth, resolutely and constantly. Fossil fuel is wrecking the one earth we’ve got. It’s not going to go away because we ask politely. If we want a world that works, we’re going to have to raise our voices.

And I wonder for myself–what now? Am I doing all I could? What is the best use of my small arms against the Beast that confronts us? Can David take on Goliath and win? Can we afford not to go to battle in earnest and in great numbers? What becomes of us if the McKibbens of this world finally give up? Have you given up?

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I agree that the political process has not worked in resolving any of our current ecological disasters in the making. Yet, it is interesting, that legislation in the past, i.e. the clean water act in 1972, went a long way in mitigating almost impossible environmental situations.

    The difference, I think, is that big business has learned that they can control both sides of the aisle with lots and lots of $. Not only by giving $ directly to politicians and donating $ indeirectly to causes they support, but more importantly by waging propaganda wars on the public thereby putting pressure on politicians by a misinformed public.

    It is simple, we must fight fire with fire. We must reeducate the public as to the truth. Our first hurdle is $ to get out the word. Funny how it always comes down to $.

  2. It is sad that the future of this country, and given this country’s leadership in the world, the future of the world, is pretty much in the hands of 535 politicians. I received an internet rant via email the other day on this matter. We have 535 folks who say they don’t like deficits and yet we are a broke nation, 535 who create laws but spend much of their time breaking and bypassing them, 535 who say they want fairness in the country but pass themselves pay increases and benefits make fairness a hollow word. It’s sad to see our 535 fail us so miserably.

    Jefferson said “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.”

    A wise man indeed.

  3. I haven’t given up Fred but I’m surely not a ray of sunshine and optimism. I suppose we could turn off all media but that suggests choosing ingnorance is bliss.

    I’ve given up slightly simply from experience and observation. Litter is an example. I have a lot of road frontage and it’s a dead end road with me at the halfway point. I made myself obvious cleaning up trash but I can’t say I’ve seen less of it since.

    I believe the best we can do is what we do ourselves. There is less liter because I don’t litter. I use less energy because I am concerned. I am thoughtful of future generations, even though I have no offspring.

    Our greatest influence is nearest to us, without gadgets and blogging.

  4. Think globally, work locally. Even if you don’t see the changes hoped for; even if it brings you no response–or maybe only criticism and misunderstanding. Do what you can to set an example by your choices of words, of possessions and of attitude. And never cease regretting the missed opportunities the past two generations have had but failed to do the right thing. Some day–on the far side of a failed culture–another generation may get another chance. Maybe we’ll pass on some of our perseverance, if we keep up the good fight as long as we are able.

  5. Or there is Plan B, which seems to be more popular. Each time I see a commercial for the reborn auto industry it’s about horsepower. We know this is essential and we need 400 HP for the daily commute at average speed of 20 mph. The top speed is 2 or 3 times the legal limit.

    Chickens and eggs. I remember flying over the Potomac in the 6os in a typical turbo prop commercial airplane. It looked like an artists’ palette. We tend to change when the river is burning or someone’s important child is gagging.

    Perverse incentives. Now the EPA and any labor laws are a burden to our glorious corporations. Yes, the emerging nations got gypped polluting their way to wealth. Oops, no they didn’t. It won’t be as bad as the first time which was somewhat in ignorance. It is already worse because we know better and it doesn’t matter.

    I am happy with less, but it’s a hard sell to others and I have no product and gain nothing by doing so.

    Feel better now? You aren’t alone.

  6. How to find our voices–somewhere between a whisper and a scream–that is the question. And how to care enough without being weighted down by matters beyond our reach, and how to act without malice or panic, without hope and without despair.

  7. Aside from trying to “tell the truth, constantly and relentlessly” I am afraid I have given up on turning around this giant ocean liner of a petroleum based civilization. There are too many reasons to enumerate, all very daunting alone, overwhelming taken together. I’m sorry!

  8. Add me to the list of those who have given up. I think this nation has fallen into a state of collective insanity – chasing after all manner of stupid topics instead of focusing on what is really important. Of course, that wouldn’t be because the media is owned by big corporations, would it now?? Or that people can’t think any longer because their brains are rotted from watching too much TV. Or that they listen to hate radio all day long. Now, the idiots want to repeal the 14th amendment …. enough, already!

    I’m reading Jacke and Tonesmeier’s book on Edible Forest Gardens and hope to create one of my own. All of us need to start doing what needs to be done and stop wasting our time and energy on trying to reason with the unreasonable. Focus on positive achievements and stop drowning in the negative energy of the hysterical and insane majority of the people in this country.