“We are all parasites,” a friend recently remarked as our train moved past the graffiti covered walls of Berlin. “Anyone who does not understand this–or thinks that somehow the good that they do in this world outweighs the bad–is delusional.”
She is a scientist working for the UK Energy Saving Trust, which markets a low carbon lifestyle to the British public. She entertains very few romantic notions of environmentalism.
“I think if we really looked at the life cycle of human beings we would get some very surprising results,” she said. “I am pretty sure we need lazy people kept happy by the entertainment industry to offset the impact of the well-meaning Peace Corps types who fly here and there in the name of charity.”
She is probably right.
These are the kind of discussions I find myself in all the time. In fact, one of the reasons my time in the Galapagos Islands frustrated me was the ceaseless discussion of human impacts on the islands (an admittedly crucial debate) and the incessant reproach my conscience delivered for being there. So often, my guilt cast a dark shadow over the awe inspired by the wild.
When Darwin visited the Galapagos in 1835, I bet he never felt guilty about it.
Today, many of us perceive that our lifestyle affects the health of the planet. We were born into an era, an awareness, and an economic bracket that has ruled us guilty of original planetary sin–we recognize that we are parasites and the greatest nightmare to many of Planet Earth’s less vocal inhabitants.
Knowledge of this sort can make it depressing to be part of the human race. And this depression leads to guilt over what we and our ancestors have done. And we should feel guilty.
Under our watch, passenger pigeons stopped flocking, Javan tigers stopped skulking, Steller’s sea cows stopped swimming. Entire forests fell.
I am certain there is not a single person who would have preferred a world like this–one bereft of dodos, Yangtze River dolphins, and giant clams. A world where not even mountain tops or bees are safe.
The guilt we feel over having let this happen is upsetting but it is also a privilege. It points to the fact that we are aware of the limits of the planet, the wonders it holds, and we know what is at stake. It points, one would hope, to a possibility of doing something about it.
It is perhaps unsurprising then that there is a burgeoning set of tools to assuage this guilt and cash in on this privilege–tools like eco-labeling, carbon offsets, seafood wallet cards, and even the voluntary human extinction movement.
I see these tools as a manifestation of a large, planetary guilt-free diet. We are all thinking we can continue our patterns of consumption while treading less heavily on Planet Earth. But one must find contemptible–or at least suspicious–any diet that says you can eat the same amount and lose weight.
This blog is about that diet for the planet. It will explore the numerous campaigns targeting consumers that have been launched with good intentions of offsetting our biggest environmental and economic catastrophes. It will explore the psychology of conservation. It will seek reason amidst the irrational madness of destroying one’s only home.
Also, it will occasionally feature a piece of art from various associates who are willing to humor me, such as the fiendish and filthy Herman Beans, who provided the Guilty Planet banner. I look forward to the discussion…