Earth Day


Mindfulness, Personal, Reflection / Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Environmentalism rarely has those big flash-point moments we can use to talk about change. The destruction is a literal slow burn. Forest fires, hurricanes, even oil spills, are often framed as one-off incidents that just can’t be helped, ‘thoughts and prayers’ are vaguely sent (much like other preventable yet recurring catastrophes) and people move on. People don’t want to talk about the very real, gradual effects that have been building up.

Earth Day is 50 years old today, and all we’ve done is sink lower. Literally.

For me, the framing of the narrative needs to change.

Growing up, Earth Day is used as a vessel to carry eco-friendly messaging to kids, but it’s often naturally delivered as small, individual changes: don’t leave the water on when you wash your hands, turn the lights off if you don’t need them, recycle, pick up trash at the beach or park. Or classroom-based activities like having a playground cleanup or setting up a recycling center in the classroom. We learn oil spills = bad, but not why they happen or how to stop them, how to write letters to our representatives, how to turn individual changes and actions into waves.

I’m not here to shit on elementary and middle school teachers, of course. And if you’re thinking you shouldn’t/can’t teach kids to be political in schools…the environment is not a political issue…or at least…it shouldn’t be.

It’s a basic right to life to have clean air, oceans, forests, ecosystems.

I get that it’s become political. I get that’s intertwined with money and government and privilege and lots of political things.

I get that. I know that everything is political.

I just wish the louder conversations around it weren’t so illogical.

That being said, it’s unavoidable to teach politics or get political in schools, so we might as well teach kids how to advocate for themselves, how to protest. Media literacy. Easier said than done, I know, that’s everything.

I get that when as of mid-April, 9000+ US healthcare workers have contracted Covid-19, we are still seeing protests denying the reality of the situation. So I don’t expect some people to be open to science generally, especially anything that doesn’t directly affect their way of life.

I’m sick of the blame being put on individuals, especially from poor countries, especially indigenous people, especially when indigenous populations make up around 5% of the global population but protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity.

I’m sick of feeling like all the changes I’m making to reduce waste (i.e. reusable bottles, straws, utensils) don’t matter, while also knowing that in the grand scheme they sort of don’t for the kind of massive overhaul we need.

As usual, too much to learn

I know we’re all dealing with the stress of the pandemic, but this will be worse. This will be more deadly over time. These changes will be forever, there will not be a vaccine or hospital bed that can help us.

We’re seeing Greenland’s ice sheet melting. 96% of it melted at some point in 2019 compared to around 64% between 1981 and 2010. Sea levels would rise more rapidly of course, resulting in more climate refugees. It also means feedback loops: the heat of the sun would be reflected off the white ice sheets, keeping things cooler, but would now be absorbed into the dark, black water which means temperatures rise faster.

Things I still need to learn more about:

  • tipping points
  • permafrost melt
  • positive climate feedback loops (which don’t seem very positivie to me tbh)
  • runaway climate change

Everything fucking sucks. The more I learn about the world, the more despaired I become. But it’s either grieve now and try to do something about it, or grieve for an irreversibly dying planet.

This isn’t even going into issues regarding animals, like poaching, deforestation, the darkness of the wildlife tourism industry, and all the other conversations around farming and the animals we eat. I’m only really focusing on climate change here.

9 active tipping points

  1. parts of east Antarctica
  2. west antarctic ice sheet
  3. warm water corals
  4. the amazon
  5. permafrost
  6. boreal forests/taiga/forests growing in cold places yo
  7. Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (lol this one’s confusing)
  8. arctic sea ice
  9. Greenland ice sheet

Deepwater Horizon

I also saw recently that it was the 10 year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon, which was that massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico–the worst oil spill of the 20th century. BP denied the oil reached Mexico, but Mexican scientists and fisherman knew that wasn’t true. Mexican communities have still never received any compensation from BP despite an entire industry and because of that, communities being wiped out.

As a result, up to 40% of the leaked oil could still remain on the seabed. These “invisible oil” blocks will eventually break down and spread gradually over years – possibly decades – to come.

As a result, up to 40% of the leaked oil could still remain on the seabed. These “invisible oil” blocks will eventually break down and spread gradually over years – possibly decades – to come.

“It could take at least 20 to 25 years for the ecosystem to recover because of the deepwater contamination,” said the investigative oceanographer Luis Soto.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/apr/19/deepwater-horizon-mexico-10-years-on

There are ongoing lawsuits, open cases. But studies show that the effects were 30% larger than calculated.

Beyond people, it’s estimated that 150+ dead dolphins and whales, up to 170,000 dead sea turtles, 8.3 million oysters killed, up to 800,000 birds killed, trillions of fish and invertebrates killed.

And of course, experts say little has changed since then, so it’s bound to happen again.

BP has attempted to “greenwash” their image since then.

But BP is one of the top 20 companies responsibly for 1/3 of all carbon emissions in modern human history.

The top 20 companies have contributed to 480 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent since 1965. Other companies include Saudi Aramco, Chevron, Gazprom, ExxonMobil, National Iranian Oil Co, Royal Dutch Shell, and Coal India.

The great tragedy of the climate crisis is that seven and a half billion people must pay the price–in the form of a degraded planet–so that a couple of dozen polluting interests can continue to make record profits. It is a great moral failing of our political system that we have allowed this to happen.

Michael Mann, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/oct/09/revealed-20-firms-third-carbon-emissions

The oil industry was a progression in human industrialization. I’m not sitting here saying we haven’t all benefited from it, or that its contributions have all been bad.

But we know it’s not sustainable. More than ever we know, and we have the technology and information to distance from it, retire it, and move forward.

And that’s even without digging into all of the mass corruption and injustice that exists within the fossil fuel industry and by extension the government (not just this administration, just generally speaking), and finance.

Individual Action is Outdated

Our own individual actions are never going to be enough. I can’t fucking recycle my way out of this. I’ll keep using my fucking metal straws, but shit.

We need to teach kids and adults alike direct action.

The stranglehold runs deep, again, beyond even the fossil fuel industry, financial industry, and government. It’s in “science” and research funded by the very companies. It’s in education for sure, it’s in propaganda, for example blaming overpopulation (again, throwing it at individuals (who are likely poor and not white) instead of the corporations)

Exxon knew the repercussions of burning fossil fuels for a long time, and pushed climate denial instead of changing their business model. Here’s an upsetting infographic from Greenpeace!

And here’s a video from environmental scientist Kurtis Baute:

I need to believe that after this pandemic began, people would listen to climate scientists, like Baute laments in the video. There can’t BE a return to normal. NORMAL WAS A PLANET ON FIRE. NORMAL is healthcare tied to unemployment when 20+ million Americans are unemployed. Normal is not fucking listening to scientists.

Normal was actually crisis mode with some re-branding.

First question is ‘As individuals what can we do?’–the answer is: practically nothing! What could be done and always has been done in history is by people who are organized. The labor movement, civil rights movement, women’s movement, anti-war movement, environmental movement. These can do things. And that’s one of the reasons why powerful systems are so intent on atomizing people.

Noam Chomsky

It’s only in the past few centuries that we’ve seen the planet threatened, it’s in that time we saw the imperialism and colonialism that bred the capitalism that exists today. They’re all built on systems of exploitation. We’re trapped in a capitalist society, and we can’t fault ourselves for having to survive in it. Again, that’s why mass action is important.

Ok, then Jen, what are you gonna do?

I’m…honestly still trying to figure it out. This blog was a bit more of a brain dump for me with some notes I’d taken from some articles I’d read.

For me, it’s a culmination of all of the things I care about, that make me me and have made me me since I had a sense of self (when does that happen, like 3rd grade?). Conservation was always there. Feminism was always there. Multiculturalism was always there. They’re all connected. The ruling class creates the problems then blames the most vulnerable. Ecofascism is a thing. Environmental racism is a thing. Environmental advocacy is needed more than ever.

And…I’m still trying to learn where I fit into this conversation.

I donate money, try to educate people while trying to educate myself.

I try to minimize my carbon footprint. I think about my purchases, I feel guilty about lots of them, like my smartphone or how much I like to travel, of how big the carbon footprint is for all of our precious Instagram photos or even my own website stored in some server in Finland or wherever. I’m trying to research the carbon footprint for feature animation in the US for my animation blog and FAILING.

On top of ALL that, what does mass action look like after Covid-19? What does a protest look like? I saw these photos circulating online of a socially distant protest in Israel (I can’t speak to the site I’ve linked or the protest itself–not informed enough) just that the visuals were so strong.

I follow groups like Extinction Rebellion and other outdoor advocacy groups, and lobbyist and watchdog groups, and have been watching them navigate their tactics. I’ve been watching in horror as this administration rolls back EPA protections daily. Things like protecting us from FUCKING MERCURY. WHY do any of these things need rollbacks? Watching the corporate bailouts, waiting for oils turn. It’s a spiral. It never ends.

So I’m taking some of this time to reflect and learn and observe. I read a lot of articles and listen to podcasts, but there seem to have been a few good books out recently, as if my TBR pile isn’t already a mile high.

And it’s also great to cultivate a healthy (or unhealthy) amount of rage.

Just, ya know, let it keep you nice and warm while you wait for spring to get its ass over here.

But also do what I do and write and create and make art. Yeah, I know that sounds like a hoity toity cop-out, bite me.

I also only recently connected the dots (THANKS, THERAPY!) that these feelings have existed deep enough to show up in my art without my actively realizing it. The feature screenplay I’ve had since college is deeply environmental. The films I think about when I lament that I want more out of our current mainstream offerings have strong, direct messaging (THANKS MIYAZAKI and THE WILD THORNBERRYS) about actual shit that matters. I realized I’m wasting my platform as a filmmaker if I’m not trying to come up with stories, that that’s what I love about it in the first place. My first film was me pointing inward, and my next short is still a very inward facing story. But I know I need to push outward moving forward.

I don’t have a nice cute bookend-y optimistic ending for this because there isn’t one. As much as I daydream about real life being like the movies. There’s not gonna be a happy ending.

I need to understand things more. There’s never an ending to this nonsense.

Update: Watched a great TEDxEd video that I want to tack on here

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