Heads in the sand when all that's left is sand

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Tomorrow night is the Roots And Shoots benefit at Yuyintang. This is for a great cause and your money goes towards planting trees in Inner Mongolia, you should go.

But ...

Only a couple of days back, I watched Jane Goodall herself on The Daily Show getting stuck into serious activists and calling them extremists. Fundamentalists was used too, making the sick comparison complete between vegans and beheadings. Then she later lamented that, despite her good work, animals and the environment were still on their way out at a high rate. Seriously, WTF. Then why disparage the people trying to address the real problems? This is a widespread attitude that people have.

Have you ever tried out a carbon footprint calculator? To make the 2050 targets (conservative in my view) you will have to say goodbye to meat diets and private cars - and everyone will have to do it. Think it's going to happen without some pushing? 

But here's the news. That's just for carbon output. It doesn't wholly address general pollution and the rabid assault on animals and the environment. So now it's time to really get extreme. Have you ever had a proper search around the net for respectable reports on this? I have - and here's a pretty good summary:

Ninety percent of the large fish in the ocean and 80% of the world's forests are gone. Eighty-one tons of mercury are emitted into the atmosphere each year as a result of electric power generation. Every square mile of ocean hosts 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. Each day, 200,000 acres of rain forest are destroyed; 100 plant and animal species go extinct; and 13 million tons of toxic chemicals are released across the globe.

That's from the aptly titled There's No Time Like Now To Be Green and there's no time like now to be an extremist activist either. Here's another great short piece that is accessible and has all kinds of links to start you off. Also from Planet Green - Why Wait Till 2012. We need people to be activists. The destructive power is in the hands of nationalist governments and economists that preach big business and 'development'. All we have to do is opt out and start spreading the word. It's as much about challenging power as it is changing lifestyles. Changing lifestyles is just the very beginning.

And before you baulk or reach for your kneejerk reaction, consider the level of denial going on even in amazing people like Jane Goodall - devotes her life to the study, care and conservation of animals, then takes pot shots on national TV at organisations devoted to their survival and full rights. So reader, do you consider yourself to be a reactionary bigot who froths at the mouth and whips out the disdain at people who care? No? Why attack people who advocate for green causes more than you speak out against pollution and animal cruelty? Think about it, do you have your head in the sand too?

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In a way, I'm bummed there are so many great shows on this weekend - since I can't make them all. I'm sure Zhong Chi - environmental advocate, playing tonight at Zhijiang, thus missing Roots and Shoots (which first drew her into the cause) and the grand opening of her label's club - is even more bummed. But isn't it great that we've reached the point of having so many really good options? It's a nice dilemma to have.

Anyhow, I have to take Goodall's side: PETA is extreme, its ads are sexist, and they and Greenpeace turn people off to what is a good cause.

It's a pragmatist versus purist approach. You'll do a lot more for environmental and human health by advocating eating less meat than by preaching veganism. Don't own a car, but it's okay to take taxis sometime. I can't urban compost AND have my garden be organic without insect infestations.

In the last four or five years, finally, the food and environmental movements have gone mainstream. And that is what it takes to make a significant difference. Al Gore is not a vegetarian.

Back onto music: earlier this week I was talking to Pangpang (for an article on CNNGo - shameless plug) about how the scene has changed, and his observation was that fans (and bands) now see rock as another form of entertainment. For him, for all of us back in the Jurassic times, rock was a passion, an alternative lifestyle, a feeble screech against the status quo. It was never political, but it was a socioeconomic rebellion. Rock in China, environmentalism alike - are now normal and increasingly mainstream. Overall, it's a good thing. Yet something is lost with that.

Hi Lisa

Have you tried these PETA ads?

Steve O and Steve O

I'm sorry but your comments smack of the same denial and twisted logic that I talk about. How do Greenpeace turn people off? Who is it that they are turning off, is probably a better question. When the French gov bombed the Rainbow Warrior, and killed an activist for the crime of protesting nuclear testing on it's Pacific colonies, my life was changed.

How did these issues get forced in the first place? How does any issue or change come through in the first place. Hint - not from above. It is from the tireless work of activists and those on the receiving end of injustice. It is irresponsible to berate and undermine them.

If everyone who ever made a reactionary public statement about activists instead said something inflammatory about a polluter or nuclear testing and weaponry or about animal cruelty - then we could be getting a lot further.

The truth that Jane admitted on the show is that her (palatable) efforts and all her acclaim have basically done nothing to stave the mass destruction that is going on right now and worse than ever before.

More activism, less patronizing comments.

"advocating eating less meat than by preaching veganism."
Lisa, are you saying we should all eat a bit meat rather than being vegetarian and it's better that way for animals and nature?

"Don't own a car, but it's okay to take taxis sometime. I can't urban compost AND have my garden be organic without insect infestations. "
You cannot do it, it doesn't mean it shouldn't be done.

Finally, please note that I don't give a sh1t about Al Gore.

To use a worn out phrase - I've got two words for Al Gore ... Derrick Jensen

Great post Andy.

To be fair, though, it was Jon Stewart who brought up extremism. And I would have to agree with what Jane Goodall was implying: that there wasn't much use in criticizing someone else's use of wax candles on her birthday cake. It's almost like getting on Derrick Jensen's case because he drives. And he does, and he's responded to that issue, saying that the problem is not individual responsibility to not drive a car if you're born into the car culture, but individual responsibility to smash all car culture.

That all said, I take issue with the commenter Lisa who uses this as an opportunity to take a swipe and PETA and Greenpeace. There is so much to be done, and it is just too easy to navel gaze at the inconsistencies on own side. Jon Stewart, mainstream and 'moderate' and fearful of radicalism as he is (and it annoys the hell out of me sometimes), has done great things for airing opposition opinions and tackling propaganda. I'd rather let him do that than jump at him every time he gives someone a free pass to preach some sort of compassionate moderation or whatever. And I'd rather see 100 furriers go out of business than a single casual reference to PETA being 'extremist'...to which, anyway, the correct response ought to be 'damn right, and proud of it!'

I got into a VIP signature session with Jane Goodall after a talk she gave near my university back in the late 90s, and when I asked her to add a monkey face or something next to her signature she told me she couldn't. She's been on my shitlist ever since then. That is all.


All good points. Jon was definitely playing the angle and the clip on the site is subtitled 'Jane Goodall on fundamentalists'. Also, I love the show and he does do a lot of good work. Ironically, that point is just what I mean about Jon - why take the pot shot when they do so much good work.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Amy Goodman would ever take a cheap shot at activists like that.


Really? Oh.

Full props to people who can manage the "all" - my problem is with the "all or nothing" approach. That perception of such organizations being all or nothing, whether that perception is fair or not, is what turns people off.

I'm speaking from a personal perspective here, as someone who has struggled with my own choices and see friends and family doing the same. I see the validity in the arguments for complete veganism, but can't do it - it took being presented with the approach now being called flexivorism for me to make a change. And in aggregate terms more good is done by getting a lot of people to cut back on their meat than by getting a small percentage to give up all animal products entirely.

I find people are more receptive to suggestions they drive less, carpool, with an energy efficient car, while pressuring car makers to improve energy innovation and lawmakers to improve public transit. There is a middle ground between never driving, and tooling around in a humvee.

Also, from the American perspective, the Calvinist Protestant cultural foundation too easily infuses such lifestyle decisions with that all/nothing, vice/virtue, guilt/self-righteousness dichotomy. Americans react defensively to that, and thus struggle with concepts of moderation. Fairly or not, some organizations reputation for absolutism does I think hurt their causes with many mainstream audiences.

Of course people feel happier doing less. And to a certain extent, the systems we live in make it very difficult to make changes. Of course.

But in the years since greenhouse gases became mainstream knowledge and reports started to come through about the huge deforestization and species extinctions, that approach has simply not worked. In fact, everything has gotten much worse.

Also despite large environmental and financial crashes around the world, the powers that be continue to prop up the same systems.

It's simply too late for half measures. Lifestyle changes are the tip of the iceberg, the way societies are structured has got to change too.

If you try the carbon calcs you'll see that the 2050 targets require no car use and no meat to even start having a shot of making it. Do we think all of America can do that?

As for PETA. It's different. They believe that if an animal can suffer then it shouldn't suffer. It's a simple ethical question. It's an added bonus that the lifestyle they promote is the greenest too.

If you want to reach the tree tops you shoot for the moon.

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This page contains a single entry by Andy Best published on November 20, 2009 11:19 AM.

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