The Cognitive Dissonance of Earth Day
Marching for science in the Anthropocene
For what you have tamed, you become responsible forever
- Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I ask the same question every year: how do we balance our sense of hope and despair? Another Earth Day rolls around and the question has never been more cogent.
Barely three months into Donald Trump's America decades of policy and progress are now at risk of abandonment. As the world hurtles forward into an unknown future, the fractures within our society seem to grow wider; our self-absorption deeper our disconnect with the natural world more profound.
The ascension of Donald Trump to power and the appalling process that put him there seems to exemplify all of this. Trump, I argue, represents no cause; only effect.
As tens of thousands take to the streets to "March for Science" this Earth Day, the reality of what Donald Trump represents awakens within many a feeling of "resistance" in a world of increasing distrust and narcissism.
This is a good thing, but the anger and resentment we place at the feet of Trump change nothing unless we come to grips with our own disconnect; our own cognitive dissonance.
At war with ourselves
It may seem strange for someone spending so much of their time, energy, and resources advocating for environmental causes, but I am ambivalent toward Earth Day.
Like a tiresome preacher on Easter Sunday, it is too easy for me to look at the throngs of Earth Day supporters and wonder where they’ve been all this time; where they’ll be tomorrow.
Perhaps this a valid point, but it belies my own culpability. My own profound disconnect.
Do my efforts really make any difference or am I just assuaging my own guilt? To what extent am I responsible for the world into which I was born?
I write my articles on a computer made up of plastics, rare earth elements, toxic materials. A mysterious stew of components destined for an “away” that does not exist.
I often engage in my advocacy by traveling halfway around the world. Whether flying thousands of miles or driving hundreds, it doesn’t happen without adding to the destruction of which I claim advocacy.
I am a hypocrite.
I wouldn’t last a week without a lifestyle made possible by a global supply chain in an industrialized, fossil-fuel driven economy. Few of us would.
And yet we continue to play fast and loose with the resource base that makes it all possible.
Many days I would prefer to ignore the dark secret that it cannot go on forever. What choice do I have?
We start from where we are, a place of cognitive dissonance. One way or another, we are all hypocrites.
We all live with our own contradictions and conflict. Nothing will ever completely make sense. Accept it and move on.
By choosing our narrative we define our values.
The choice we all need to make is: “what kind of hypocrite will I be?”
Living with choices
There is still a debate about “Anthropocene” as a measure of geologic time, but surely “anthropocene” isn’t. We control our environment and there are a lot more of us.
Some dismiss it as modern-day Malthusianism. I believe we have ridden the industrial revolution to glorious heights, but at catastrophic cost for all.
I’m not getting any younger. Choices need to be made. I try to look at the world I inhabit through a lens of gratitude, consistently falling short.
That I have the luxury of time to devote to “a cause” makes it my responsibility to own it. For now, it works. I try to make it better. It’s what I can do.
Ripples of hope
I do, admittedly, often trot out these words from RFK’s historic South Africa speech. Nor am I the only one.
For me - for us - it embodies among the most eloquent expressions of humanity, human agency, and change. It is the narrative I choose and therein lay my act of faith.
It’s my way of saying Happy Earth Day.
"Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
Thanks to all the people I’ve met, talked to, and worked with the past year. It is your work, insight, and expertise that informs any value in my efforts.
The gang at TriplePundit
Kurt Johnson: Social System Physics
Natasha Zellerbach: Zellerbach Associates
Adrian Wain: Circular Economy, UL EHS
Lynelle Cameron: VP of Sustainability, Autodesk. CEO, Autodesk Foundation
Sherry Flumerfelt: executive director, Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust
Jim Brainard: Mayor, Carmel, Indiana
Cyril Dion: filmmaker, Tomorrow
Anthony Barnoski: biologist and executive director, Jasper Ridge Biological Reserve
Noah Kaufman - World Resources Institute
Johnson Bridgewater, president, Oklahoma chapter, Sierra Club
Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity
- Horace Mann
I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.
-Edward Everett Hale