The columnist replied, with the same earnestness, that it was essentially a wash in terms of energy, as calculated by the algorithms devised by the U.S. Department of Energy, but maybe it was a bit more wasteful overall to throw out half a pot of coffee.
And a few comments asserted that wasting the water in that pot of coffee was definitely bad for the environment.
Others said plants benefit from old coffee, while still others argued that reheated coffee isn't worth drinking and at least one person said that this person shouldn't be drinking coffee at all if s/he didn't understand the difference between Arabica and Robusta strains.
Way down at the bottom was the self-designated voice of reason saying no no no, you've all got it wrong -- cold-pressed coffee, made from bulk organic Costco beans and strained through organic cotton cheesecloth, is the premiere environmentally-friendly choice.
When people visit us they almost invariably want to see the redwoods, and I'm happy to oblige. When my parents came to visit last year we rented a van and drove up to Humboldt for that purpose. And maybe it was just one of those days. Y'know, those days when you look around at the total destruction of the land and feel like you're going to either vomit or punch somebody or both? I was down, way low down.
We stopped at one of those tourist stations where there's a house built from one tree and plenty of photographic evidence of what those Big Men did to that forest, those masculine men with their sexy 12-foot-long penises, I mean saws. I just wandered around trying to breathe and at one point my dad commented on what an amazing experience it must have been to fell a great redwood.
What a sound it must have made.
How powerful those men must have felt, tiny men against such a great tree.
And although to that point I'd kept my mouth shut and just mm-hm'ed my way through the afternoon, I snapped. I spun around and said it was a crime, those men were criminals, just look what they had done to those trees.
My poor father was quite taken aback, and just gestured to the forest around us: "But there's a million of 'em."
"No, there were a million of 'em, but now only 2% of the original forest exists, they tore down the rest of it to build San Francisco."
He just looked at me for a moment, obviously wondering how to navigate my sudden irrationality, and then said, "Your kids play with wooden toys, don't they?"
And then someone said, "Vote Democrat!" And then someone said, "Vote Green!" And then someone said, "Campaign for Obama!" because he would save the Earth.
And then someone said, "We need a green economy." And then someone said, "We need a hydrogen economy." And then someone said, "We need a solar panel on every roof in America," presumably so we can save the Earth.
And then someone said, "Don't eat meat." But someone else said, "Don't eat soy or wheat," while still someone else said, "Eat local" while others said, "Eat organic and local" while others said, "Grow your own medicinal herbs." Or, "Grow mushrooms -- they'll save the Earth." But someone else felt that permaculture was more likely to save the Earth. Or perhaps aquaponics. Or perhaps biodiesel. Or perhaps all of these would save the Earth, like Al Gore said.
So I bought CFLs (although I did abandon them because the light made me irritable. Oh, and because they're full of horrendously dangerous chemicals, there's that). I bought reusable coffee filters and glass storage containers and second-hand clothing. I couldn't buy a Prius, but I took the bus and the train and walked or rode a bike. My kids were diapered in cloth and I bought 100% post-consumer recycled toilet paper. I never used plastic water bottles, or plastic bags, and I hoped that maybe someday I would be able to afford a solar panel. I didn't vote for Obama, but he got elected anyway, and thank goodness because now the military gets to kill people using clean green energy. I went vegan and didn't eat much soy and haunted the farmers market and studied bioregional plant medicines and permaculture and thought that I was a part of the solution.
But I was never a True Believer. If asked, I would tell you that I did these things mostly for myself. It made me feel good to withdraw financial support from the most egregiously destructive industries. But I couldn't fool myself that my actions helped anyone else in any quantifiable way, least of all the Earth. I failed to grasp the holy concepts of Cultural Change, or Critical Mass. The popular phrases about personal revolution being the most difficult and important work we can do did not resonate with me at all. To use an extreme example, it's easy-peasy to realize your government is fascist, but organizing to overthrow it? That's damn near impossible. Similarly, going vegetarian does nothing to end factory farming. Using biodegradable shampoo is extremely unlikely to preserve waterways. And using cloth diapers probably doesn't save even a single tree.
I wish it weren't so, but it's self-serving foolishness to believe that consumption of any kind will lead to a sustainable future. And it's also self-serving foolishness to believe consuming less as individuals, or even as communities, will defend the Earth from ceaseless patterns of desertification, clear-cutting, mining, tar sands, oil spills, mass extinctions, and other depressing sound-bites sandwiched between celebrity gossip and traffic reports.
The pyramid scheme of personal change might be the worst myth all. The congratulations I receive for the crazy-ass way I'm living could blow up my head to the size of the moon if I thought for a minute that I was helping exact a culture shift in quantifiable ways. But I don't. According to the pyramid, a handful of people, equally crazy-ass themselves, might think, "Man, that lady is so cool. She lives in 275 square feet of barn floor and worries night and day about animal welfare and fencing and white privilege and wage slavery and doesn't use credit and aspires to live in as tiny a space as possible. Damn, that's the way I wanna live!" And then they'll convince twelve people and those people will each convince twelve people and before we know it, there will be an entire culture of people doing the crazy-ass shit I'm doing here. Right?
Of course not.
It was against this philosophical backdrop that I became acquainted with the basic concepts of Peak Oil -- Peak Everything, really -- thanks to the work of James Howard Kuntsler, Richard Heinberg, Sharon Astyk, Rob Hopkins, and others. For me, the reality that our current level of industrialization is absolutely unsustainable and headed for collapse was tremendously comforting. I did an awful lot to "help the environment" according to the mainstream model and simply could not see how it was effective, except that my cup overfloweth with liberal street cred (whoopee). So Peak Everything was an appealing concept. I just needed to "transition," both as an individual and preferably as part of a reasonably intact, self-sufficient community, and otherwise wait it out.
For quite a long while this was a comfortable place to be. As such I've been doing my best to withdraw underground. My ideal has been complete communal interdependence in energy and food. Here on this land, in this community, this goal is in sight. But it's been nagging at me -- the feeling, which has never left me, that I'm not doing enough. Specifically, that the world is falling to pieces and I'm just battening down my hatches, selfishly.
When I discovered Derrick Jensen, I was at loose ends. Spiritually, ethically, intellectually, professionally, and in my community, I longed for connection, and a compass. For so long, I'd felt that my efforts as an environmentalist were fruitless, but more than that, I considered "small steps" initiatives and programs little but a distraction, and a destructive one at that. I'd ask my liberal friends, "Do you really believe that skipping a plastic bag at the checkout counter of the supermarket is going to save the Earth?" and they'd assure me, with a guileless faith I'd long since abandoned, that if enough people do this we'll create a cultural shift that will peak in a critical mass and then this many pounds of plastic will be kept out of the oceans...! If they were a bit more burned out they might admit that cloth bags were unlikely to save the planet but at least they were making the effort, and not excusing their consumption. But I never heard anybody question the practice of buying anything at the checkout counter of a massive supermarket. I never heard anybody question the existence of the massive supermarket. Occasionally I'd venture that the model of a massive supermarket is inherently unsustainable, and they'd say, Well yeah, but we don't want to go back to the Stone Age, do we?
I can't remember how or why I cracked open the book Endgame, by Derrick Jensen, but this was the first thing I read.
PREMISE ONE: Civilization is not and can never be sustainable. This is especially true for industrial civilization.That was all I needed to hear. I was hooked. I blasted through that book, clutching it to my chest like the lifeline it was. I cried at several points in the book because I'd truly not known that anybody else in the world felt the way that I did. For a few years I'd worried that my relentlessly depressing outlook on mass efforts to save the planet was because I was in fact clinically depressed. When I read articles like the one I outlined above regarding cold coffee, my fingernails would sink into my palms and I'd feel a pounding in my head, something banging about in there: This is bullshit! This is bullshit! This is bullshit! I'd worry over conversations like the one with my dad in the redwood forest, wondering why I didn't have the words to explain that "personal choice" rhetoric -- the sort that puts me at fault for a 98% annihilation of the redwood forest because my children play with wooden toys -- serves only to turn those of us lower on the hierarchy of capitalism against one another instead of banding together against greater powers who are waging war on the Earth. Okay, so I can explain it now, but back then, I just squeezed my eyes shut against that pounding, that banging: This is bullshit! and quietly answered questions about medication in the negative.
PREMISE TEN: The culture as a whole and most of its members are insane. The culture is driven by a death urge, an urge to destroy life.In this culture there is a sort of sickness assumed in one who loves the Earth. I was introduced to concepts of Peak Oil and industrial collapse while living in the city, after growing up in sprawl. In those situations it was easy to say to hell with it! Let it burn! But things are different now. I live in a place where I can say authentically that I love the Earth because I feel deeply grounded in this land, no longer above it or alienated from it or divided or distracted from it. For the first time I see something that is worth a fight. It's not the same as living in the city, breathing the smog of gridlock, and realizing, rationally enough, that a functional bike culture would be an appropriate response. This is different. It kills me to think about developers coming into this plot of land where I live. It makes me sick to think of this place transformed into concrete and sickness and isolation and heat reflection and garbage and boredom.
But this is what existed before the redwoods were transformed into San Francisco. A more radical wildness existed in my hometown before settlers razed it and erected golf courses and skyscrapers floating on oil vapor. Under the concrete are living streams. Under the buildings is earth. Under the carefully manicured parks is a wildness, something we've not only lost but bludgeoned to death, because our culture hates the natural world. Of course it does. There's no other way we could consider a Walmart preferable to a forest.
PREMISE NINETEEN: The culture's problem lies above all in the belief that controlling and abusing the natural world is justifiable.A common thread running through Jensen's work is the proposition that we create a culture of resistance and fight back -- in a literal, physical sense, not by bringing our own coffee cup to Starbucks. And this is where he's always lost me. I've long fancied myself a pacifist -- which is not hard to do in a world where almost all violence is hierarchical in nature. I'd finish his books and wonder what exactly he means by "resisting" our abusers. Because I'd done everything, y'know? I thought myself a very dedicated environmentalist. What was left? Revolution? Violence? But hate never conquers, only love can do that, and we must be the change we want to see in the world, and so on and so forth.
So when I saw that Jensen had written a book, along with Aric McBay (a Peak Oil writer) and Lierre Keith (author of The Vegetarian Myth), called Deep Green Resistance, I was curious. I thought I'd read the book and hopefully see what, exactly, he means by resistance. And then I heard that these three writers were hosting DGR workshops, including one in San Francisco, less than two hours away, and I thought, Hm, okay. I'm at a turning point in my life where I can either continue to burrow underground or I can take a more active role in confronting the dysfunction. This workshop, I thought, might help me decide -- one way or the other.
The workshop was amazing. I met some incredible people who certified for me, again, that I am not alone, and that solidarity has given me the confidence to open my mouth and speak out. Maybe all of this sounds awfully unhinged to you. Maybe you believe that CFLs and hybrid cars will, indeed, save the planet. Maybe you think that we just need to get the right person in office. Maybe you're sitting on the other side of this screen, mouth twisted in derision because I'm part of the problem if I'm blogging on a laptop produced by a subjugated people on a disrupted landbase (absolutely true). Or maybe you simply feel, as I have, that the best you can do is lessen your dependence on something so tenuous and destructive.
I would understand any of these perspectives. I'm having a hard time seeing past them myself. But I do feel this: If we were not abstractions ourselves, if we were not anesthetized and dependent and too comfortable, if we were not distracted and mechanized and panicked and empty, we would fight back. I believe this with every cell in my body. We would see no other choice because we would not be self-destructive or self-loathing or programmed to do nothing but consume and we would not see ourselves, consciously or not, as expendable, nor as superior, and we would know that the Earth cannot sustain us the way we're living.