As usual, the latest issue of Orion Magazine is chockablock with pithy, thought-provoking material, including another entry from that cranky young upstart, Derrick Jensen. This time he's on us about not sitting on our butts while the rest of the planet's inhabitants (i.e. non-human species) are being lost at the rate of about 120 a day.
And he may be right that if we don't get a whole lot more active about making significant change, we may well end up being one of those species one day. Jensen doesn't happen to think that the answer lies merely in composting or driving less or buying into the green economy, however. He thinks we have to get together and actually force changes in policy and practice, like the Movement for the Emancipaiton of the Niger Delta (MEND) has done in Africa against Big Oil (for some photos of the impact, see this article from National Geographic). Of course, one man's liberator is another man's terrorist, and the tactics used by MEND militants might be described as either, depending on the context. The people of the Niger Delta have indeed been exploited persistently and often brutally over the last fifty years, and their environment has been trashed just so folks in this town can drive whatever behemoth internal combustion-run vehicle they want to (it's a free country, after all), using fuel that costs less than a gallon of milk does.
The conversation about Jensen's article is running rather mildly (so far) compared to those about earlier essays, but I'm somewhat heartened that people generally seem to think that we can both be more active about how we pursue change and continue to make "lifestyle changes" that lessen our own personal impact on the planet. The armed rebellion option probably won't emerge, because Orion's readers tend to be a peaceful lot, and even though that's really the only way revolutions have occurred in the past, most of us don't cotton to violence--even the fairly mild kind exhibited by the more obnoxious tea-party types.
Violence these days brings with it too many complex consequences. We're still reeling from 9/11, and have since begun to realize that our collective response (kill the bastards) has not ended the threat of further violence. While a goal to end abortions might be laudable, killing abortion doctors accomplishes nothing, and seems counter intuitive if killing is what you want to stop. (Yes, I know that the argument pits the "guilty" doctors against the "innocent" unborn, but that's about as simplistic an idea as one can invent.) We are what we do, and if we do violence we invite violence.
So while I think Jensen is right that we need to be much more assertive in our political and social efforts to effect change, I don't really think we should start manning the canons. And in some cases we have to be rather subtle about how we approach problems, because every other guy on the street seems to have a concealed handgun permit. We can vote, we can join community groups, write letters, participate in environmental campaigns, volunteer, and practice what we preach. If you want to resist Big Oil, buy a hybrid vehicle or an electric car the next time you're in the market, and drive it to the nearest public transportation node whenever you can. (I say drive because the nearest DART station is fifteen miles away. Those of you who have one nearer might be able to walk.)
I don't think that the efforts more and more of us are making--composting, growing your own veg organically, buying renewable energy, increasing energy efficiency, consuming less, recycling more, driving fewer miles in less-polluting automobiles, conserving water--are futile acts of spitting in the wind. They may not be enough, but they're better than nothing. If we can, by example, convince more and more people that change can happen this way, perhaps it really can.
But, as Jensen reminds us, another 120 species went extinct today; we may, thus, eventually run out of time.
Image credit: NASA photo of the Niger River Delta from space (north is on the left), via Wikimedia Commons.