interminable desire to feel guilt has created a culture of
night. Trash night, trash night, trash night. Abfallnacht,
as they probably call it in Germany. Trash night is the reckoning,
the tallying-up of your week of wasteand what a squanderous
week it has invariably been.
been drinking Dasani water, youve been eating teriyaki
chicken out of plastic boxes. Your cat has produced a sack
of used litter, your child a minor landfill of used diapers.
On trash night you construct, in semi-perishable materials,
a temporary monument to your lifestyle, and set it out there
for an audience of bums and raccoons. And then you rush back
into the house, because you are slightly afraid of your own
a question for you: Why is it that in eight out of 10 Western
marriages, according to a statistic I just made up, it is
the man who takes a more scrupulous interest in the business
of household recycling? Why is he bent among the scraps of
Abfallnacht, loyally separating the paper from the plastic
and the plastic from the glass, while his wife sits inside
watching A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila? Could it be that
women, whose natures vibrate to the moods of Gaia, are at
some level already inured to the idea of planetary self-destruction
and suicide-by-garbage, while menthose frigging idiotsare
just waking up to it?
is having its way with us. The irony is rather delicious when
you think about it: Snug in our fortresses of techno-humanism,
agnostic and cheerful, toasting our banana waffles and listening
to Rilo Kiley, we are nonetheless subtly oppressed by an ancient
sense of error, by feelings of primal trespass that would
be familiar to the muttering-est medieval Catholic. Everything
we do degrades or exhausts the world. Somewhere, in a realm
we cannot quite grasp or visualize, we are blowing it every
second. The average American, living day-to-day in the average
way, produces 22.5 tons of toxic carbon dioxide a year. Thats
22.5 tons of sin, buddy, blooming invisibly out of your existence
like a private mushroom cloud.
to be done about it? Well, you can take shorter showers. You
can flush the toilet less. You can turn the TV off when you
leave the room. You can turn the radio off when you leave
the room. You can turn the lights off when you leave the room.
You can turn yourself off when you leave the room.
if you disappeared right now and stained the Earth no longer
with your presence, youd still be leaving, like a polluting
Sasquatch, your nasty carbon footprint. No one escapes the
logic of eco-guilt. The most moderate consumer, viewed through
its exacting lens, becomes a cosmic high roller, a super-spendthrift,
binging and bendering his way toward global blackout. Its
a binocular vision: Open one eye and hes pushing his
trolley mildly down the produce aisle at Trader Joes.
Open the other andbehold!a one-man orgy of environmental
catastrophe. If that spinach isnt locally grown, if
those carrots were raised on fossil-fuel-based fertilizers,
there stands your blushing eco-sinner. God help him if he
forgot his reusable bag.
opposing principle is not eco-skepticism. After all, if you
dont believe in global warming, then these intimations
of culpability are an illusion, mere fevers of the daffy liberal
brain. No, the real moral counterweight to eco-guilt is eco-fuckit,
which we might define as a perverse complicity in the spoliation
of the planet. As in: I really should recycle this .
. . ah, fuckit. Or: We could walk there, thus
conserving energy . . . fuckit. Lets drive. Or
even: Yeah, sure, drilling for oil in the Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge will mess the place up a bit, particularly
for the bears and whatnot . . . but fuckit.
a complicated reaction. Part of it, no doubt, is just righteous
human rebellion: Hearing the senatorial drone of Al Gore,
seeing the orthodoxy of environmentalism arrayed before them
with its prophecies and injunctions, a certain percentage
of personshelmetless bikers, say, and millionaire congressmenare
going to say, Screw that, daddy-o. I do what I want.
Theyre just gonna. (Its in the American grain.)
But the other part is more mysterious: In the fuckit moment,
one assents to the apocalypse with the same avidity, the same
weird ardor with which, when drunk, one seeks out porn or
fast food. Some coarse and destructive spirit takes possession.
We feel the cozy fires of Hell at our feet, and we wriggle
our tootsies in delight. At such moments, the Earth itself,
possibly, is saying fuckit. She may have had enough of us.
really, can you blame her? Take, for example, the comparatively
recent phenomenon of bottled water. In what bonkers recess
of species pride did we decide, having achieved the centuries-in-the-making
miracle of drinkable tap water, that it was necessary to begin
a constant slurping from little plastic bottles? And when
did everybody get so damn thirsty? The definitive comment
on this matter was provided by Gay Talese when he was interviewed
for the March 4, 2002, edition of The New York Observer. I
saw Ralph Nader on C-SPAN, groused the vintage journo
and author of Thy Neighbors Wife. He was running
for something, God knows what. I see Nader having delivered
a speech at some university with 11 adoring people applauding
him, and hes on the stage with his old Brooks Brothers
suit from 1963, and hes carrying a bottle of bottled
water in his hand. . . . And I think, Get off it with
this. Just do it, just do anything, just die! Just drink,
be merry, and drop dead; just get out of here with your plastic
bottle of Evian!
concept of original sin drove the medievals crazy. Born into
wrongness, and floundering through wrongness all his life,
the man in the medieval street became erotically obsessed
with Hell, its licking flames and bondage scenarios, etc.
He bought indulgences to lessen the load of his
sin, much in the manner that we now buy carbon offsets
with our plane tickets. But guilt stank up everything: Living
your life in the ordinary way, you were screwed. The information
days you can go online and find out just how bad you are:
A site called MyFootprint.org, for example, recently informed
me that, if everybody lived like I lived, we would need 5.1
Earths. Then again, the Hubble telescope, poking like a knitting
needle into the sac of space, has revealed that there are
80 billion galaxies swarming around out there13 galaxies
for each of us, more or less. In that context, my need for
5.1 Earths seems modest, even abstemious. I think Id
keep the first Earth as my private Eartha place to take
naps and long walks with my iPod. The other four would be
social/professional, and then that last .1 of an Earth would
be where I kept my socks and underpants.
a commercial out there now for some monster vehicle or othershots
of a desert, or a mountain range, and a plunging SUV, and
a meaty baritone voice shouting, In a world where power
and torque are king . . . Whoever wrote that is a genius.
Crude thrones are lording it over us: Power and torque are
the kings of our world, and they are driving it to destruction.
Gestures of insane grandeur may be required in the fight against
them, bold and violent statementsto these necessities,
meekly seeking to minimize ones carbon footprint doesnt
quite seem to answer. But, as the amoeba said to his girlfriend,
its a start.
Parker is a staff writer at the Boston Phoenix, where this
article first appeared.