Sunday, March 21, 2010

Brenda Peterson, the Environment, and My Personal Doomsaying

We had a new snowfall Friday after a week of sunshine. It was mildly pretty but dismaying. Today the snow melted and we were able to bicycle to a coffeehouse. I must admit I bundled up in coat, scarf, hat, and gloves, but it warmed up while we were sitting in the coffeehouse, and then we were able to shed some layers. Sun, sun, sun!

The coffeehouse was quiet, except for an annoying Top-40 soundtrack from the '70s that might have been someone's iPod plugged in. When the manager's away, the baristas... Still, we were able to read. I was engrossed in the final pages of Brenda Peterson's I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, and increasingly fascinated by her attitudes toward environmentalism. Her perspective as a life-long environmentalist who rebelled against a nature-loving fundamentalist family is unique.

Writing about the Rapture, which, for those of you who haven't encountered Born Againers, is the literal interpretation of Revelations and the belief that God will snatch up devout Christians and save them from the tribulations of the end of the world, she makes an interesting comparison with the doomsaying of many environmentalists who "also believe that we are living in a kind of End Times for all nature and other species." I have mixed feelings about this comparison.

She continues:

"Both belief systems are firmly rooted in the conviction that paradise is forever lost. God banned us from Eden; humans have destroyed the earth. What might have happened if the early Christian storytellers, who imagined this world was still a paradise, had prevailed over the state Christian empire-builders who chose crucifixion, not Eden, as their main drama? And what if environmentalists stopped portraying nature as crucified? What if both camps stopped all their fearmongering and found a new story. We might imagine a future in which all species flourish, along with us. A garden that is more beautiful than it is battered, sacred than scarred."

This is beautiful writing, but, more important, a viewpoint I've never considered. Yes, how we tell the story matters. And it is true that I've been a lifelong doom-loving environmentalist who, though I proudly set an example as a bicyclist, can't resist criticizing the SUV drivers who waste gas and pollute, the sheer idiocy of the factories that make wasteful plastic containers (let's go back to waxed cartons!), plastic bags, and other unnecessary bits of destructive rubbish, and the drama of climate change. Well, but how can I not be angry at what happened in Stockholm! And the rest of it.

Yet I understand Peterson's belief that it would be better to present a beautiful future, albeit dependent on taking new steps to save the world. And she does do that: telling mesmerizing stories of her annual research trip with Baja Expeditions to see the great whales and their babies. This thoughtful, gripping writing is probably worth a thousand prohibitions.

But somebody has to say, "No, this or that is wrong." People now use recyclable bags when they go to the grocery stores. This is great! I don't know whose campaign it was, but it worked.

Now I'm not going to run a campaign. Riding my bicycle is all I'm up for. And I personally won't be here when things get out of control. Unless I'm already here, and climate change is causing floods in the midwest, hurricanes, earthquakes, and unusual blizzards.

See, I'm a doomsayer!

But people don't change unless they have to. More took the bus when the price of gas went up. People were buying smaller cars for a minute or two then. The problem is that the incredibly wealthy, as most Americans are in comparison to the rest of the world (well, actually, Europeans are wealthy, too, so forgive my chauvinism), won't give up what they want. Big is status (in terms of vehicles and houses). Why it's not the medium I'm not sure.

Brenda Peterson's memoir has certainly made me think about nature in a different way. She will inspire you to want to go to Mexico to see the friendly whales and to encourage attention to ecology with a more positive spin.


Brenda Peterson said...

Dear Frisbee,

I have read your blog before and enjoyed it. I'm delighted to see that you've read my new book, I Want To Be Left Behind and are recommending it to, of all people, President Obama.

Thanks so much for that honor and for being one of the very first blogs to look at some of the environmental issues raised in this memoir. If you're interested in some back story, including audio and video, you might want to visit my website for this book:

Again, thanks so much for your thoughtful book blog. I'm staying tuned for more recommendations!

All the best,
Brenda Peterson, author

Frisbee said...

Thank you so much for stopping by my blog! I admire your book immensely, am very impressed by your originality and luminous writing, and quoted you repeatedly to my husband and to anyone else who would listen Obama hasn't come by my blog yet so we will have to hope someone else will recommend the book to him.

It's an honor to have you visit!