earth day

April 23, 2001

Yesterday, we celebrated Earth Day in New York. I suppose the point of Earth Day is that we all should remember that we live on this planet called Earth. Wouldn’t it be great to know what other beings call this planet? It is most likely some alien term that, translated into English, would be something like “That Really Dirty Planet Over There That Is Probably Too Dangerous to Visit.”

Hey, that’s okay with me. The last thing I want this place to be is a tourist attraction. On the flip side, if multinational corporations saw this planet as a tourist attraction, they might be inspired to clean up their acts. I mean, look at how nice they keep Disneyland.

On Earth Day, are we supposed to celebrate something or complain about everything? As usual, I’m just clueless.

I think the point of Earth Day is to complain about the state of the environment here on Earth. We are relentlessly destroying our world. That’s an easy fact to remember, mostly because it is so simple.

We tend to think of the environment as something “out there,” separate and apart from us. That is usually called delusional thinking. We are as much a part of the environment as a redwood tree or a dolphin. So our relentless destruction of the environment should be viewed as our relentless destruction of ourselves.

I’m worried about global warming not because I don’t like being warm, but because I really have trouble with the notion that some day, the Hudson Valley will be a place to go scuba diving. I really don’t like the fact that someday my house will be a dive site.

I’ll tell you a true story. It took place around 1970, when I was living in San Francisco. Across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County is this awesomely beautiful park called Muir Woods. Muir Woods has these lovely paths through a huge, old redwood forest. Some of these trees have been there since before the time of Christ.

Well, one day my old lady, two friends and I decided to take acid and visit Muir Woods. Back then, that was the kind of thing we did while on acid. The drive over the Golden Gate Bridge was a little tricky because the view from the bridge is so beautiful, especially when you’re tripping. But, due to my extraordinary experience in situations like that, we made it to Muir Woods safely.

So there we were, in the woods, communing with all of these magnificent trees. I was on this gentle path staring at an incredibly old redwood, when along comes a man and his twelve-year-old son.

So then the three of us were standing there, tripping on the tree. (Well, I was tripping, they were more like observing.) At one point the father said to his son, “So what do you think?” referring to the tree.

The son looked at the tree and said that he liked the one in Disneyland better. Man, my mind stretched out to Mars and back like a rubberized consciousness boomerang. I was pretty much appalled. I was so appalled, I think I just ran off looking for my old lady and friends in the hopes that they could chill me out.

This kid liked the tree in Disneyland better than an ageless redwood, and we wonder why our environment is in so much trouble. I have no doubt that that this little sucker grew up to be the CEO of Monsanto or Bechtel Corporation. Remember, kids: plastic trees don’t shed their leaves.

It took twenty years for a whole bunch of nations to hammer out the Kyoto agreement, which is aimed at reducing the emission of gases like carbon monoxide. But yet our president, George W. Bush, won’t sign the Kyoto agreement. Since the United States is by far the largest producer of those gasses, we all will just keep inhaling carbon monoxide while forcing the rest of the world to breathe it, too.

At the same time, George W. has just announced that he intends to raise the amounts of arsenic that industry is permitted to dump into our waters. Does that sound as weird to you as it does to me? I’m pretty sure there is no arsenic in Disneyland. Geeze.

George W. also wants to open up the great Arctic for oil drilling because we are consuming all the oil in all the other places where there used to be oil. We are also doing it because corporate America makes a lot of money off of oil — looking for oil, processing oil and selling the refined oil.

I’ll tell you what we aren’t doing: we are not putting money into researching alternative energy sources like the sun. Sunlight is an almost infinitely renewable resource —assuming it won’t burn out for another twenty-five billion years or so. This suggests to me that we ought to make use of this resource while we have it.

The last president to really commit to researching energy alternatives was Jimmy Carter — and businesses really hated Jimmy Carter. So, of course, I liked him.

There are scientists who today believe that the tidal action of the ocean could be used to create electricity. But the problem is that the government won’t give them the money to figure out how.

And even when we do make some strides toward alternative energy in this country, we tend to fall back on our old ways. California has had great success using windmills to generate electricity. When Jerry Brown was governor of California they got into the windmill thing. But with him out of office that program fell by the wayside, and now California is having rolling brownouts and energy bills for residents there are quadrupling. The utility companies are outspoken in the claim that it isn’t their fault. Obviously there is still a lot of wind in California, but it isn’t being used efficiently.

Could it be that we don’t stick to these alternative methods because free sources of energy diminish the profits of energy corporations? Could those powerful corporations influence our politicians?

I live near Walton Lake in Monroe. I love that lake. It is the reservoir for the town of Chester, so there are no gas-powered vehicles allowed in the lake. This lake is pristine. During the summer, one of my great joys is to dive in and swim out to the middle of the lake and lie on my back for a while, then swim back to shore.

Afterwards, I always feel refreshed and alive and clean. But on any given hot Saturday during the summer, you see almost nobody in that lake. Years ago you did, but folks around here started building swimming pools instead.

Chlorine is one of the most toxic substances known to man, but a lot of folks around the lake feel that their swimming pools are safer than the lake. With that kind of attitude, no wonder the environment is in trouble.

I keep having flashbacks to that kid in Muir Woods. Maybe when there are no more redwoods, he’ll realize that the real thing really is better.

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