With the smartest people sounding the alarm
We are wise to heed the sage Eco-Marm
With irreversible climate change on the horizon, I feel guilty every day. I can’t go to the grocery store, travel, have a meal, flush a toilet, or flip on a light switch without the sense that I’m aiding and abetting the imminent destruction of our planet. Does anyone else have an Eco-Marm* living in their heads?
Shopping for food, I bring my own bags and do my best to avoid plastic. The Eco-Marm is quick to point out that excessive packaging is central to our product distribution. She decries the microplastics in our oceans and coursing through our bodies—materials forged long before I was born and will be present long after I die. She adds that my diapers from 1984 are still decomposing in some distant trash heap—and they will need another 465 years to do so. How many more diapers there will be to decompose in the coming centuries?
I turn on my car and the Eco-Marm reminds me what was done to secure the oil and gas that makes it run—the violent extractions, the endless wars in the Middle East—not to mention where the exhaust ends up and how it affects the health of people and our planet.
Food has always been a great pleasure to me, but the Eco-Marm frequently joins me for meals. She asks whether pesticides were used in growing the vegetables. She reminds me of how much misshapen (but perfectly good) produce never made it into people’s bodies because it was too ugly to sell in stores. She begs me to give up meat every time I lick the barbecue sauce from my fingers, and she scolds me for eating sushi when the global fish population has plunged to the brink of ecological collapse.
Flushing a toilet has become a mini existential crisis—and I wonder how much longer our planet can survive droughts and the wasteful consumption of fresh water.
Leaving on a light in an empty room is an indulgence, and I feel a gentle sting for any lapse in my own conservation of electricity. The Eco-Marm wags a finger at the office buildings glowing through the night, the cooling apparatuses for vast networks of electronics, and other energy-ravenous systems.
I know that overall I’m a conscientious citizen and a good steward of our planet for future generations. I also know that I owe the Eco-Marm my gratitude for her mildly irritating voice pushing me to always be environmentally aware. She’s a product of my understanding of how human systems of production and consumption have affected our planet.
In the abstract, humanity’s goal was to increase people’s quality of life. At least in material terms, we have no doubt succeeded. More people than ever have access to the bare necessities and technologies that power civilization: water treatment plants, medicine, electrical grids, communication networks, etc. The global average lifespan and years of education have increased, while extreme poverty and rates of violent death have decreased. (Hans Rosling’s book Factfulness is an eye-opening account of the widespread improvements for humankind this past century.)
As much as I was heartened to learn how much better life has gotten for our species, environmental destruction could swallow it all. With scientific predictions of devastating natural disasters and the vast displacement of millions of people, will our unchecked economic growth have been worth the chaos for our children? Is it really too late? What does “too late” even mean? Can our awareness and ingenuity—powered in part by these incredible advancements—help make us a less greedy species? Can it save us?
Nobody has the answers, but for now, the more people who embrace their own Eco-Marm—that constant voice of conservation and sustainability—the better.
*Yes, the voice of environmental justice is proudly female, which is probably why so many arrogant self-serving men like Trump have chosen to ignore it.