I have to admit, I’m not as familiar with George Monbiot’s writings — he writes for the British daily newspaper The Guardian — as I would like to be. I’ve read very little of what he’s written. I wish I had more time for that. However, I can say this: probably pretty much everything that he’s written, that I have read, I agree with.
Monbiot is one of the few people I currently follow on Twitter; and I just happened to catch this tweet he posted on September 21st:
This is Albert Einstein’s other great equation: a formula for the survival of the living world and its people. 4 sentences, written in 1950:
“A human being is a part of the whole called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” — Albert Einstein
I similarly wish I could find time in my life to read more of Einstein’s writings; it’s always a pleasing feeling basking in the glow of his depth of wisdom.
Getting back to Monbiot. His website is www.monbiot.com (I wish it were something more memorable than his last name, which I’m not even sure how to pronounce). His tagline is: “I love not man the less, but Nature more.”
Today, I am going to comment on one of his recent posts; then, I’ll share with you something about him that I deeply respect; and finally, I’ll share something about him that once I read it, made my heart sink a little (don’t worry, it’s not really such a bad thing).
First, regarding his recent post, “Urge, Splurge, Purge” (Sept. 15, 2017) — which you can find on his Home page — it caught my attention immediately, because it starts out stating: “The demand for perpetual economic growth, and the collective madness it provokes, leads inexorably to environmental collapse.” “Perpetual economic growth” is the exact phrasing I’ve used in some of my most recent ads (to publicize my website). So I was anxious to see what he wrote about this not-often-enough discussed topic. He may be preaching to the choir; but I’m all ears.
In his post, Monbiot writes that “Continued economic growth depends on continued disposal: unless we rapidly junk the goods we buy, it fails. The growth economy and the throwaway society cannot be separated. Environmental destruction is not a by-product of this system. It is a necessary element.” This reminded me of a 1955 quote I saw attributed to Victor Lebow, an economist and retail analyst:
“Our enormously productive economy demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfactions, our ego satisfactions, in consumption. The means of social status, of social acceptance, of prestige, is now to be found in our consumption patterns. (…) We need things consumed, burned up, worn out, replaced, and discarded at an ever accelerating pace. We need to have people eat, drink, dress, ride, live with ever more complicated and, therefore, constantly more expensive consumption.” — Victor Lebow
I became acquainted with this quotation from watching a video on StoryOfStuff.Org (featuring Annie Leonard). I learned of the video in 2009, after reading a front-page article about it in The New York Times. While I am grateful for all the hard work that went into creating that website and all of the videos contained on it, the reason I’ve not mentioned it before on this website (and the reason it’s not on my Links page) is because while I found the cartoon presentations to be entertaining and somewhat informative, they are, in my opinion, far too simplistic and reductivist, and can, for example, lead people to believe — which is all-too-often the case already– that they are “doing their part,” even if they are doing very little. The problems aren’t anywhere near as easy to fix as the videos suggest (to put it mildly). [Note: it’s been years since I’ve watched any of those videos.]
Monboit concludes the post by stating that “The environmental crisis demands a new ethics, politics and economics. A few of us are groping towards it, but it cannot be left to the scattered efforts of independent thinkers: this should now be humanity’s central project. At least the first step is clear: to recognize that the current system is flawed.”
How he ends it, reminds me of how I begin (the very first bullet point on) my Solutions page, where I write:
We have all heard the truism that the first thing an alcoholic must do (in order to get on the road to recovery), is to admit that he or she has a drinking problem. Similarly, the first thing we must do, if we are ever to get on the road to saving the planet, is we must admit that we have a very serious “jeopardizing the future habitability of the planet” problem.
Admitting that we have a serious problem, seems like an obvious starting point, but the people in power often represent that “New Optimism” thinking Monbiot refers to. Instead of admitting we have a problem and rolling up our sleeves to fix tings, we are perpetually pushed in the opposite direction, driven by certainty that things aren’t really so bad.
Now, as promised, I was going to share something about Monbiot that I deeply respect: I remember reading once, somewhere in his writings, that he limits his air travel to only one plane flight, every three years. I have such enormous respect for that.
Air travel is a topic I’ve been dying to get to, blogging wise, for quite some time. One reason I haven’t gotten to it yet (besides simply not having much free time), is, well, to use an analogy, it reminds me of that famous scene from the 1979 film The Jerk, starring Steve Martin … that “This is all I need” scene — which you can find on YouTube. In that scene, he keeps picking up more and more things as he’s walking toward the door, saying, all the while, “this is all I need.” The reason it keeps getting increasingly difficult to write that particular post, is because I am constantly collecting more and more juicy tidbits of information that would be just perfect to include in it. Just yesterday, again, there it is, in The New York Times, another example of profligate air travel. And this one literally made me gasp! (Although the gasping had nothing to do with the air travel part.) Let me explain …
In Maureen Dowd’s column in The New York Times this past Sunday (“Will Zuck ‘Like’ This Column?”), she states that mega-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg has been “visiting all 50 states this year,” and that former Obama strategist David Plouffe has had his hands in this, thus sparking speculation that Zuckerberg might be planning to enter the 2020 presidential race. Before I read the next sentence — about his also hiring “other senior Obama officials and Hillary’s pollster” — my eyes skipped ahead and saw this: “He has said he is no longer an atheist …” As soon as I read that, I thought “He is running for president!” That’s a scary thought; and indeed, using the words “Very scary,” is exactly how Dowd ends her column.
I’m not too familiar with Zuckerberg, to be quite honest, but I don’t think he’s given much to environmental causes; and that’s good reason enough to suspect he’s one of those who sees entrepreneurship, innovation, engineering, technology, education and capitalism as the solutions to our ecological problems. Not the substantive, meaningful, systemic, real change that we desperately need.
Finally, now on to what was it about Monbiot that made my heart sink just a bit? Truthfully, and I know this is going to sound strange (until I explain), it was when I read that he has a daughter. That is what did it. Let me explain.
On Inauguration Day, 2009, marking Barack Obama’s swearing in for his first term as president, someone shared with me that one of the things he liked about Obama was that he had a family (two young daughters). I said I found that funny because that was precisely one of the things I didn’t like about him. I said the office of president of the United States was such an important one, that I would prefer it was held by someone who could channel all of their time and energy into those four (or eight) years, and give that their full, undivided attention.
Remember what Representative Paul Ryan said before accepting the job of Speaker of the House? He said “I cannot and will not give up my family time.” I’m not necessarily suggesting that shouldn’t ever be the case, but putting politics aside, and all other things being equal, wouldn’t you prefer having someone in that position who doesn’t feel the need to make such a statement? Someone who doesn’t have family obligations. Someone who can put the nation first, time and time again, every single day?
Sometimes I explain it this way: While I disagree with the Catholic church’s stand on women’s ordination, abortion, birth control, euthanasia, gay marriage, all of their faith-based beliefs, … the one thing I kind of agree with — in principle, though not necessarily in an absolutist sense — is their prohibition against married priests. In principle, it makes a lot of sense; since that way, they can be fully committed to their flocks, and not have families of their own that compete for their time and attention.
Let me end with this. Since individuals within society who possess both a deep, genuine sense of eco-consciousness, and the potential to be able to really make a substantive difference, in terms of advancing society forward (ecologically speaking) with their big ideas, are so rare, when I do discover such people, I always prefer it when they are not married — not married to anything other than the actual cause itself — for reasons stated above. That way, they can better concentrate their energies towards maximizing their ability to effectuate change. In practicality, of course, I know it’s seemingly next-to-impossible to find individuals with that level of commitment and devotion. And that’s too bad. IMHO