Recently I read a small but devastating article in The New Yorker about what our new Secretary of the Interior has already accomplished in the first year of his service.
It immediately reminded me of the song “Catch Me” (which opens with a few seconds of silence after you hit the play icon at the top of this page…)
“Catch Me” is another song by David Friedman (about whom I wrote recently) which Bobbi Carrey and I recorded with pianist, arranger, and engineer Doug Hammer for our If I Loved You CD.
Although Ryan Zinke held much more conservationist views when he was a Montana state senator — acknowledging climate change as a significant threat to US national security, for example — now that he is Secretary of the Interior, he is working hard to remove burdensome regulations to industry on public land and in our coastal waters.
He even reversed a recent ban on lead ammunition in wildlife refuges designed to protect birds that eat carrion.
The article concluded by saying that — while it is possible future elections will nudge our leadership back in more sustainable and respectful directions — the damage already being done to our public lands and wildlife will take decades to re-balance or repair (which, of course, is not even possible when a plant or animal becomes extinct…)
Somehow this article has thrown me into what I trust is a temporary tailspin of depression and hopelessness.
As lyricist Fran Landesman once noted, spring can really hang you up the most…
Obviously there is SO MUCH that we human beings need to do to reduce and re-balance our patterns of consumption and destruction as soon as humanly possible.
And yet so many of us — me included — are unable to change a lifetime of habits and assumptions and behaviors in order seriously to address the coming environmental challenges/catastrophes/opportunities.
For example, many of us who are blessed to live in countries such as the United States continue to think, “Of course I deserve to travel as much as I can afford.”
Yet according to a recent article on The Conversation web site, “no other human activity pushes individual emission levels as fast and as high as air travel.”
And even if we can’t afford a plane trip to someplace warm (or intriguing or affordable or colorful) we are strongly urged by our morally bankrupt financial institutions to pay for it using a credit card…or two…or three.
How many of us are basically indentured servants to our credit card companies, making minimum payments yet never paying off all our accumulated debt?
Another assumption I find odd is that most of us continue to think that we deserve to have one — or more — cars.
Of course, this is often related to the fact that many of us think that we deserve to live wherever we like — places which may not be located anywhere near public transportation, for example — so, of course, we have to have a car in order to get to work, to shop, to visit friends and family, to drive to the gym (the practice of which I truly don’t understand… why not ride your bike or walk to the gym? Or ride your bike/walk/run instead of joining a gym and donate what you used to pay for your gym membership to a deserving non-profit group?) etc.
And how about those of us who feel that we deserve to own vacation homes — sometimes built in very unwise locations?
Many of these structures sit uninhabited for weeks or months at a time, consuming fuel/electricity so that the pipes don’t freeze, or so that the house doesn’t get too humid, or so that the burglar alarms are functioning…
The list of possessions and privileges to which many of us aspire is loooong — and has been extremely well-marketed for at least a couple of generations here in the USA.
Yet so few of us seem to be able or willing to pause and ponder the consequences of our consumption…
And global greenhouse gas levels continue to rise.
And weather becomes more erratic — affecting wildlife habitats as well as human agriculture (and thus the ability of more and more countries to feed their citizens).
And plastic — some of it visible and some of it in tiny fibers — continues to pollute the waters of planet earth and contaminate aquatic life on all levels of the food chain.
Sadly — depressingly — tragically — hubristically — the list of human pollution, deforestation, and environmental degradation goes on and on and on…
I often feel — as I watch TV or listen to the radio or use the internet — that I have entered a frantic cocoon created solely so that we human beings can hide (for couple of hours or for an entire lifetime) from the terrifying realities of the larger patterns/feedback loops which are unfolding/unraveling right now on planet earth.
And I want to say — to myself and to most of my fellow human beings here in the USA — WAKE UP!!!
Often this is when I catch a cold.
And I stay home and write a blog post like this…
I am aware that I am extremely blessed to live a life where I can moan about larger environmental challenges because my basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, employment, love, and respect have already been met.
And I have a job — leading Music Together classes — to which I can walk or bike or take the bus.
However, I am also aware that anyone writing or reading a blog post is using electricity and some sort of magical electronic device which contains metals mined all over the planet by human beings under inhumane conditions as well as plastic from fossil fuels — and which have most likely been assembled by human beings working under inhumane conditions.
And my other job — sharing one-hour programs of beloved standards at retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and public libraries — involves driving many miles per month in a trusty, high mileage Prius belonging to the jazz pianist Joe Reid, with whom I do 50+ gigs per year.
So I am utterly complicit.
And I wonder what the f–k I am doing with my one precious life here on planet earth.
Yet I also know that music matters in some way — that it can touch our hearts and even inspire us to do unimaginably courageous things.
A documentary I watched recently about James Baldwin reminded me that there was a lot of singing by heroic non-violent protestors as they were marching… and as they were being beaten… and as they were being thrown into police vehicles.
Deep breath in.
Deep breath out.
What do you think/feel about any of this, dear reader?
What do you think/feel about the sad news that Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain — two people who have achieved international success, wealth, fame, influence, celebrity, and in theory the happiness which success/wealth/fame/influence/celebrity are alleged to bring — have taken their own lives during this past week?
Another deep breath in.
And deep breath out.
Thank you to David Friedman for writing such compelling songs.
Thank you to Bobbi Carrey for her musical collaboration over the past 15 years.
Thank you to Doug Hammer for his piano playing, engineering, production wizardry, patience, and humor.
Thank you to Mike Callahan for his vocal arrangements.
Thank you to Pixabay for the images in this blog post.
And thank YOU for making time so that you could read and listen to another blog post.
Will wonderful Post.. no post does not do it justice. Wonderful musings.
I do have a couple of thoughts but they are not cheering.
The world will be ok in the end … of course there will be huge casualties… most of them our species (probably because there will be few other large species left). But the world will be fine eventually. It has been before. It will again.
Perhaps the message we need to preach is ‘we are not saving the world we are saving ourselves’. But even that is doomed.
Our civilisation bloomed in a relatively short stable period. The climate changes naturally from thermal maximums (50 Million years ago the sea temp at the equator was 100 degrees F: marine life collapsed in an extinction level event) 20,000 Years ago Ice a mile thick came down as far as New York and London. The Amazon rainforest and the Congo were prairie. Ice will melt totally (350 to 900 foot increases in sea level) or Ice will grow: either way we are screwed.
There need to be less human beings, the best way to do this is equitable distribution of wealth (like that’s going to happen). People with more material wealth tend to have less children.
However as you so eloquently say where does consumption stop? We have material things beyond our grandparents wildest dreams and we want ever more.
And who is going to decide who has children? Look at what happened in China.
Perhaps plastics will save us. Many plastics mimic oestrogen and make males sterile. Welcome to Gilead!
And there is always antibiotics.. they are failing us and there are no new ones. Welcome to TB, typhus, cholera and bubonic plague.
On a more cheerful note loved the song. Beautiful. You and Bobbi have such gorgeous voices and work so well together.
My best, if gloomy, regards yr m8 Paul
Thank you for listening and reading and replying so swiftly. Paul! Your words are actually comforting, because I often feel like Cassandra — warning of approaching doom with very few people wanting to hear what is being said. I DO often remind myself of our most recent ice age — which dug out the lovely lake in upstate NY where I and many of my cousins are blessed to spend time each summer. I also understand that planet earth will be just fine regardless of what we human beings choose to do in the upcoming days, weeks, months, and years. Waves of extinctions come and go… temperatures rise and fall… life goes on in one form or another…
However, I often feel quite poignant in my Music Together classes, because these little human beings (aged 0-5 years old) are capable of experiencing — and calling forth in me — such joy and humor and happiness; yet the future they will inherit seems increasingly challenging and bleak. And many of their families, bless them, have the wealth to be able to afford Music Together classes… and second homes… and regular vacations to far away places — all of which seem likely to be contributing to the problems their beloved children are going to inherit! Ahh, life. Rich with paradoxes and contradictions!!! Deep breath in. Deep breath out.
You know Will that is perhaps the answer. People need to stop about saving the world and think about the world of their children and grandchildren who they think so precious. Perhaps that might stop short term selfish attitudes to the whole planet. PS Loved the Cassandra Reference.. In my arrogance I thought I was the only one who knew that one! Excelsior! Paul
Yes. Let’s see if we can cultivate an action-based, “less consumption now is more health for the future” mind set which is rooted in parental + grandparental love (+ avuncular love + whatever the Latin-based adjective for love from aunts might be + love from anyone for future generations of life here on planet earth).
Sobering reality and well stated. Thanks. Mary Evelyn
Thank YOU for reading, dear cousin! I am looking forward to the RH meeting in a month. Tim and I are carpooling… See you then?
Well written, Will, and I have no answers. This administration is definitely hell-bent on hurrying the process of destroying the earth. But I am complicit, too–and one of those people who drives to the gym–and where we live, we pretty much have to drive to everything. Even if we want to take the train into Philadelphia, instead of driving, we still have to drive to the station. . .
Lovely song, too.
Thank you for reading and listening and responding, merrildsmith! I spent my older childhood and teen years in the country — where our family drove everywhere or I rode my bicycle up and down a lot of hills on very narrow country roads. It is very difficult — and at this point (see Paul’s comment above) possibly useless to make significant changes in our consumption habits since so many systems (ecosystems, computer systems, digestive systems, etc.) that we human beings depend upon are teetering so far out of balance that it may be too late. But hope springs eternal that each one of us will rise to this profound challenge in some way or ways — by adding solar to our roofs instead of spending a similar amount of money on a fancy vacation trip, and/or buying an electric car, and/or lobbying for our health clubs to invest in machines which COLLECT energy (and charge up our phones!) rather than consume energy, or eating less meat, etc. etc. etc.
I live as least damaging to the natural world as I can. And it pains me to see how some abuse the gift. But these policies are due to people needing jobs and feeding their families. Yes, corporations influence government, but that’s because their employees and customers influence them. My company started going solar. Put up free charging stations. Employees bought electric cars. When bought more cars than stations, the company built more charging stations. Influence.
You touch on so many powerful topics Will. Reading this I feel like I got to know you a whole lot better and you speak from my heart. You give us so much to ponder, that most will dismiss and fail to see the huge footprint and impact we leave behind. Thank you so much for this and for being ONE, one willing to make a difference for all.