Thursday, July 3, 2008

Why bother?

Stinson Beach, March 2008

So after that fairly distressing post about Tassajara, I feel compelled to offer an antidote.

Over the past few months, one of the articles I’ve found most inspiring is one by Michael Pollan titled “Why Bother?” published in the NY Times on Earth Day. You can read the full article here. It’s lengthy, and doesn’t fit into soundbites easily, but if you are looking for something juicy to engage your mind and heart, I highly recommend it. Michael starts by naming the obvious, the state of despair that more and more of us may find ourselves in:

Why bother? That really is the big question facing us as individuals hoping to do something about climate change, and it's not an easy one to answer. I don't know about you, but for me the most upsetting moment in "An Inconvenient Truth" came long after Al Gore scared the hell out of me, constructing an utterly convincing case that the very survival of life on earth as we know it is threatened by climate change. No, the really dark moment came during the closing credits, when we are asked to . . . change our light bulbs. That's when it got really depressing. The immense disproportion between the magnitude of the problem Gore had described and the puniness of what he was asking us to do about it was enough to sink your heart.

Pollan continues to flesh this out:

There are so many stories we can tell ourselves to justify doing nothing, but perhaps the most insidious is that, whatever we do manage to do, it will be too little too late.

Then he stops the despair train in its tracks:

So do you still want to talk about planting gardens?

I do.

And goes into an elegant exposition about how most approaches to problem solving in the modern age have created yet more problems, and about the power of returning to basic, sustainable practices. I appreciate the diverse sources that Pollan references to make these points… from Wendell Berry to Vaclav Havel. Then he brings it all home:

You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems--the way "solutions" like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do--actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself--that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we're all very soon going to need…

But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden, to bother. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen....

And there's more. It's a great piece of writing, really. When you've got some time, read it and let it nourish your heart, soul, and mind. We need that nourishment so much in these times.

How would you respond if someone asked you, "Why bother?"

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