I think congratulations are in order. For centuries we have feared the wilderness, its indifference toward human life, its savage altruism, its leopards. We warned children about it in Hansel and Gretel, we raged against it with everything from chainsaws to aerosol. Now, finally, the saw dust has settled and we arise victorious over the environment; we faced our fears and won. Huzzah humanity.
Take that, Heart of Darkness.
But perhaps we've gone too far. Green activists tell us in timid, nerdy voices that we aren't allowed to flex and scream taunts over the body of Mother Nature anymore, in fact, they want us to nurse her back to health. Though I do it begrudgingly, I will oblige because I know that forgiveness is a defining human trait and because it's fashionable now. Fortunately, environmentalism is a double-headed monster and I'm allowed to choose which head I follow: one is the true conservationist which we all must tolerate, and the other is the affluent and bored elitist in need of a conspicuously righteous hobby. The latter is more my speed, I discovered, when it knocked on my door last Saturday.
"I compost therefore I am, brother."
"The end is near," he warned me from under a bike helmet. "Are you prepared for that?" His name was Stephen and he was dressed like a Jehovah's Witnesses. "Like it or not, it's coming," he said, deliberately staring into my eyes. "Do you believe something bigger than yourself?"
"In worldly renown or physical stature?"
"I mean, do you- um, is, would you mind shutting the front of your robe while we talk?"
I stared at him for a long second, listening to the breeze whistle through the chimes and through my short hairs.
"Kimono," I corrected him. "I lost the belt. I think my housekeeper stole it."
"Alright, well, I have some literature that I'd like to share with you if you're interested." He pulled a pamphlet out of the front pocket of his button-down and held it in front of me.
"That's not literature," I laughed. "Trust me, I majored in it at college."
"It basically offers you some valuable information on how you can turn your life around right now and make it mean something." He told me about how he was a wayward investment banker for years, with piles of money and women he would roll around in regularly. But he didn't feel fulfilled. He still had holes in his life where order and meaning should have lived. "I found my answers in this pamphlet."
"Is this about Jesus Christ?" I asked skeptically.
"Close, it's about a man sacrificed on the crucifix of the electoral college. A man buried in a landslide of false presidential votes. A man who we went searching for after it was over and found the rubble shifted and his body ascended into legend."
"Solo high five!"
He looked past me and through the double doors of my wintering villa. "Let me ask you a question, do you use florescent lighting in your home?"
Stephen stood on my porch for another half an hour explaining how the Earth used to be an Eden until mankind ruined it with industrialism. He told me about the movement of ecological crusaders fighting to get humanity back on track by cutting up six-pack rings and recycling. He closed his eyes as he spoke, though whether due to the pride he felt or my partial nudity I couldn't say. He didn't have me fully invested until he mentioned that I could have a hand in saving the world, a prospect for which I am always on the lookout.
"I'm in. Who do I make the check out to?"
"It's bigger than that, you become a part of the movement. You can start riding a bicycle, or separating out your bottles from your Styrof-"
I waved a hand in his face to indicate it was my turn to talk again. "No, I mean what can I do that carries some prestige. I want to be noticed. I want to proselytize, like you."
"Oh ... well, we are planning a rally at the private airport on Wednesday. We are picketing air travel."
I committed myself to the cause and left Stephen standing on my porch. I had a lot of work to do over the next four days. I needed to figure out why I should hate planes. The answer, I gleaned, was the fuel. Private jets were still using a leaded fuel and crop dusting local communities in dangerous particulate matter. The consequences were allergies and severe lung conditions. Finally, a legitimate cause to which I could devote myself entirely, and at such a fortuitous time; I just swapped my prop plane for a passenger balloon in an even trade with a one-eyed Colombian the week before.
I also studied Stephen's pamphlet. I learned about their sacred holiday on April 22nd, and about their electric cars. I pored over blurbs on canvas shopping bags and peeing while never flushing. Every new green idea the pamphlet presented was like a spark in my heart. These affluent environmentalists had a swell of initiatives for saving the planet ostentatiously while never putting themselves out in any real capacity.
As it turns out, it's pretty easy being green.
I arrived at the airport parking lot fashionably late. Some middle-aged and smartly dressed ecology crusaders were already there, but no news cameras. They stood around eating crackers and drinking wine while chatting, their signs of protest propped upside-down against sports cars and SUVs.
I found Stephen in the crowd eating Grape-Nuts out of the box. He said the event hadn't really gotten underway yet, they were still waiting on a few more people who were stuck in traffic. We talked candidly for a second about recycled toilet paper before he offered me a handful of dry cereal. "You should get some carbs in you, we'll be out here for awhile."
I told him I'd rather lick the asphalt.
"If you don't like them, we also have some rye bran crackers."
I asked if there was any cheese or salami to hide the taste. Everyone stopped chewing or talking, and sneered. Stephen explained in hushed tones that this was a group of social vegans; they practiced a strict regimen of avoiding animal products at all gatherings. He insisted that if I were to try it, after awhile I wouldn't even like the taste of meat or dairy anymore in the presence of others.
It made sense. At last I understood the self-flagellation part of this faith. We were to inconvenience ourselves with no discernible end, save the faith that the practice alone would make us feel better about our impact on this planet. All our self-loathing could be expunged by a constant regimen of minimal corporal punishment, eating tree bark. Just like in other religions, I gathered, suffering was beautiful to them. I looked around and it was working; they were all so beautiful in their conviction. I threw my arms around Stephen in a supportive hug and the Grape-Nuts fell.
"If we choose faith, we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason," I whispered through hot tears and Stephen's organic cotton t-shirt.
"Not my words, Kierkegaard's. The lesser known SÃÂ¸ren."
Everyone stood in awed silence. Little by little, I was thrusting my way into the green fold.
"Oh, I almost forgot. I brought everyone gifts!" I ran back to my trunk and pulled out a box of books and started passing them around. "I'm hoping we can adopt it kind of as our own bible."
"The Lorax by Dr. Suess?"
"It's got a good message we can all get behind. Also, it's short and there're pictures. After we're done here we can all go up in my balloon and read it together!"
Stephen suggested that maybe we get to work. Everyone picked up their signs and I could finally read them clearly. "End Chemtrail Operations Today!" they said.
"What are Chemtrails?" I asked.
This time a few people in the crowd mumbled and put their faces in their hands. They really hated these Chemtrails.
Because some people are sort of banking on it being a real thing.
"They're the reason we're here. The government is intentionally polluting our skies with the chemicals spewed from planes."
"Yes, there's a chemical they secretly feed into all jets that sprays over the public for population thinning."
"So, we're not here because of leaded fuel?"
A few people made sounds like scoffing. Stephen said that there were bigger issues than some kids with asthma. The government was trying to kill us, with airplanes. The crowd nodded gravely.
There was so much I still needed to learn about conservation. I had been foolhardy before, but these people would teach me everything I needed to know if I was just willing to listen. We headed out to the tarmac where we were allowed to stand because a nice young couple in the group owned a plane in the hangar. Sadly, our demonstration only lasted for two take offs before the thunder set in and we had to go back to our cars.
We packed into vehicles and let them idle so that we could get the heat going. We ate more snacks made of cardboard and waited for the lightning to stop. I was huddled in a backseat with a bearded man who wanted to talk about aerial biological crimes committed by our government and their affiliation with 9/11. I had no idea that being an environmentalist would require so much conspiracy knowledge.
Eventually Stephen knocked on the window and said he was headed to the hospital with a family, a Ford Expedition in the party had a cracked muffler and was leaking exhaust into the car. Stephen was taking the group to the ER to be treated for carbon monoxide poisoning. We all consented to save the earth another day, and each went our separate ways. Driving home I kept my window down and listened to the storm while pondering all I had learned.
Nature letting us know that wasting electricity is OK.
If I had to pick out the primary lesson from my four-day dive into environmentalism, it was this: humanity has no choice but lessen its impact on the world now. It has to live lightly on this planet and try not to leave a mark. I smiled, thinking this over, knowing that even though we had to end the airport protest early, at the heart our mission was successful; we had absolutely no effect on the world, and that felt pretty damn good.
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