Shucking Oysters: Us and Them


Shucking Oysters: Us and Them

By Alex Allen

If you have ever suffered from an existential depression about the state of the world, you are probably familiar with the writings of environmental philosopher Derrick Jensen (Endgame, Bright Green Lies, for two). Jensen rejects the notion that the solution to the problems of the world is for us folks to fix, either by reducing our consumption or just walking away. He argues that there are no personal solutions to social problems.

I too have questioned that if I live a simple life all will be well with planet Earth. Jensen wrote, “If aliens came from outer space and were vacuuming up the oceans, heating up the planet, bathing the world in endocrine disrupters – murdering the planet – I’d hope our response would be more than to reduce, re-use and recycle.” Maintaining inner peace as the world crumbles around us, is not the answer either. It’s simply yet another excuse for inaction. It’s using “the tragedy as a resource, in this case a spiritual resource.” We have to do more. 

Watch Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, once again with feeling. For 90 minutes he discusses how dangerous global warming is. And the solutions? Inflate YOUR tires, change YOUR light bulbs. Nothing about questioning corporate power. Nothing about questioning the growth economy. Nothing about power at all.  

A 2020 WWF report found that the population sizes of mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians have declined 68% between 1970 and 2016. This loss is mainly to do with the conversion of wild life habitats into agricultural “systems.” By the year 2030, planet Earth might have only 10% of its forest left. If deforestation isn’t stopped, all the forests could be gone in less than 100 years. A colossal 60% of the world’s agricultural area is used for cattle ranching, although it only makes up 24% of global meat consumption. While arable lands and grazing pastures cover a third of Earth’s land surface, they consume three-quarters of the world’s freshwater resources. This is not sustainable.

Jensen shares that when people ask what they should do to protect the Earth, he always responds by asking them a series of questions. “What do you love? If it’s under assault. Defend it. Everyone loves some place or some creature, just do it.” And the best thing? Everything is so messed up that “no matter where you look there’s good work to be done.”

The next question: “What are your gifts … What are the largest, most pressing problems you can help to solve using the gifts that are unique to you in all the universe?” And finally, he asks: “What do you get off on doing?”  

Green washing is not the solution either. “Technology can’t fix it, and shopping – no matter how green – won’t stop it.” Solar needs copper for wiring, silicon for voltaics, metals and plastics for appliances. Let’s not even talk about mining lithium and cobalt. And driving is not the only way a car pollutes. In fact, far more pollution is emitted through the manufacture than through the exhaust pipe. The philosophy that got us into trouble is not the philosophy that is going to get us out of trouble. Flying less, going vegetarian, or some other altruistic gesture, are well and good, but the idea that we can save the world through our individual choices is naive.

Let’s be honest. Things are bad. And they’re going to get worse. And after that they’ll get a whole lot worse. And neither simple living, spiritual enlightenment, discrete actions by themselves, nor vague hopes will stop the insanity. Jensen quotes fellow environmentalist, Lierre Keith who often said, “If there is anyone alive in a hundred years, they’re going to ask what the f*ck was wrong with us that we didn’t fight like hell when the world was going down.”

We are not separate from nature. And as long we humans consider ourselves separate and different from other animals, we will continue to kill, degrade and exploit with no moral qualms whatsoever. We are all in this together, interconnected with a shared destiny. 

As someone said, “If the environment is less important than the economy, try holding your breath while you count your money.”

Author: TIG