Shrieking 16 Year Old

Possibly because I taught late adolescents and post-adolescents for 30+ years, almost since I WAS one, or possibly because I remember so well how I was at that moment in life, I have a hard time when one of them pops off a lot of half-baked opinions from their well of passion and ignorance. I know about that. I did it all the time. I remember doing it very often, very loudly, and usually at the dinner table.

When I was trying to get over my fear of public speaking, I joined the speech club at my school. My senior year I competed in Original Oratory and took second place in the state of Colorado. My speech was about caring for what we so glibly now call “the environment.” At the very least it should be “our” environment. My speech was ten minutes long. It was well reasoned and researched. It was about what I felt then — have always felt and still feel — is the only important issue in our world today.

What my mother tried to explain to me back then and what I learned watching China attempt to develop (for the welfare of its people) is that it really is not so simple. I didn’t believe then — and I don’t believe now — that the intrinsic complexity means we should stop trying. Far from it. Every day in some news source I follow on Facebook or via my email (I like printed magazines, but…) I learn of progress being made in myriad areas.

It’s slow, but it’s progress.

In 1970, the year of the first Earth Day and the year my speech won a trophy, there was only leaded gasoline and cars got about 9 miles to the gallon. Anything else was considered impossible. By the 70s there was unleaded gas (you could choose it) and the catalytic converter — which reduced emissions — was becoming standard equipment in new cars. People resisted, but it happened. In 1970, Lake Michigan was essentially dead and you could not see the sun most days in LA. The EPA was formed and went to work.

It’s been a constant tug-o-war between assholes and conservationists (a term I like a little better than “environmentalists” though I’m doubtless splitting hairs). The expense of reversing the 1950s philosophy of progress (which I also get) was astronomical both economically and politically. We’re still fighting that (“clean coal is beautiful, they wash it before they use it”).

Technology to make changes had to be developed and the public needed to be educated (nudged, forced) to accept it. I live in a place — an impoverished rural area which is a microcosm of the efforts to transform our tools for production and agriculture — which is working hard in every area to make and use new technology. On example is that we have and use an enormous solar farm, another is the constant fighting (usually successful) against drilling for oil in all the areas surrounding my valley. Last year all of us were offered the option of choosing different percentages of our electricity from renewable energy sources. I opted for 100% and I don’t really care if that ends up costing me more.

NONE OF THIS EXISTED in 1970 when I made my speech. In the grand scheme the 50 years it’s taken to get to this point isn’t such a long time, but I also feel (wish?) it should be faster. I also wonder if faster is even possible.

Factors I didn’t understand at 18 were the cost of developing technology, the resistance of the general public to change, the difference between the options of a developed country and an under-developed country. I could not begin to understand the complexity.

Right now one of my things is bewilderment over the fact that now my supermarket offers us paper bags into which we put all the plastic shit our food is packed in. That makes NO sense to me. I’m performing an experiment with my trash hauler. I put all the frost-killed plants from my garden in a paper bag and closed the top. Then I put it in a bin that says, “All trash packed in plastic bags. No loose trash.” The landfill where the trash goes also offers recycling… Putting dog shit in a plastic back seems REALLY dumb, but…

This is just to illustrate the efforts and attempts on the scale of one little lady in Monte Vista, Colorado. Do I think I’m going to change the world this way? NO. I get it now, at 67, that the best I can do is not make things worse. When I was teaching, however, I taught critical thinking through nature writing. It was my little effort to awaken at least my students to a world bigger than their car, family, house and dreams of material prosperity. I guess it might have worked with some students. No teacher reaches everyone. I also worked in the establishment of an urban wilderness park on 5800 acres of chaparral in San Diego that was slated for development. It mattered to me, mostly for the sake of the beautiful land itself, but also for the future — so kids in 20 years (which is now) could know the indigenous landscape of their world.

I was appalled when OFFAL (Our Fearless Leader) pulled out of the Paris Accord. Yeah, the Paris Accord is little more than a gesture in the right direction, but like me choosing to get my electricity from renewable sources, it’s not NOTHING.

On the other hand, all around me is a living paradox. Until 1960, potatoes (the main crop of the San Luis Valley) were stored in very beautiful and functional adobe potato cellars which, all by themselves, without any air conditioning or other electrical climate control, kept the potatoes at EXACTLY the right temperature and humidity BECAUSE, though above ground, those potato cellars were essential big piles of dirt. Sometime in the early 60s farmers changed from these lovely, though laboriously built, structures to buildings of concrete or steel. The new buildings will need to be destroyed someday and then what? Where does all that steel and concrete go? The adobe? All by itself will return from whence it came.

The same with water. Water here in the San Luis Valley is — well, there’s nothing more important. We sit above a gigantic ancient lake, an immense aquifer, much of which is still there, but very far down. Our climate is a legitimate desert. Now the “Front Range” — an alien world comprising Denver, Fort Collins, Colorado Springs, Boulder, Pueblo, cities, in other words — wants to “buy” our water. It’s impossible to overstate how fucked up that is.

Some aquifers are depleted. Potatoes, grain and alfalfa are heavy water users and they are the predominate crops. So what? Some farmers are switching to hemp, both industrial hemp and help for CBD oil. Hemp is a great crop because it uses comparatively little water and doesn’t deplete the soil of nutrients BUT the anti-marijuana posse are against it, unwilling to recognize the chemical difference between some intoxicating herbage and a fiber that can be made into clothing.

And, again, back in the old days the farmers had a method for ensuring water and that was the acequia. The use of acequias meant little reliance on dug wells. The moral of THIS part of the story is, “Those old-timers understood shit we’ve forgotten.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – SEPTEMBER 23: Greta Thunberg speaks at the United Nations (U.N.) where world leaders are holding a summit on climate change on September 23, 2019 in New York City. While the U.S. will not be participating, China and about 70 other countries are expected to make announcements concerning climate change. The summit at the U.N. comes after a worldwide Youth Climate Strike on Friday, which saw millions of young people around the world demanding action to address the climate crisis. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

So, today on the egregious platform of Twitter I heard the vapid angry shrieking of a child. I was appalled at the reception she was getting. Where are her parents? If I could talk to that child, I would tell her, “You have not earned that podium. Go home and go back to school in your country which, be grateful, has an excellent education system. Put your skinny Asperger’s shoulder to the wheel and learn history, learn science, become aware of the challenges that face a world that’s far more complex that you can possibly know yet. Allow your frontal lobe to mature. Travel, with some humility, and see what’s going on, first hand. Learn what has been tried, what has been not, what has proven unfeasible (now but maybe not for someday), learn what is slated (hoped) for the future. Learn about progress that has been made and learn about the historic challenges to that progress. Experience the struggles of the under-developed world in achieving even the smallest benefits of technology and why people there might resist the kind of progress the world needs. Anyone can scream. Not everyone can dedicate a life to change, can accept that there are no guarantees, that your efforts might be futile or bear limited fruit, they might not be in the shape you imagine, and work anyway. It’s not MY job to preserve the world for YOU. What the fuck do you think I (and others) have been doing for the last fucking 50 years? The world is as much yours as mine. Pick up that baton, accept the challenge and keep going.”

The last time angry youth took over anywhere we had the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. Good times, good times.

9 thoughts on “Shrieking 16 Year Old

  1. I’m looking at pictures of the much larger than expected melting of the ice and wondering if little 12-year-old has time to grow up before it’s a worldwide calamity. I switched to all green power too and put out my feeders and the theory that it’s the least I owe our birds. But it’s not encouraging. Not at all.

    • I believe we are contributing to this problem, but I don’t believe it’s all our doing. Not that that minimizes our contribution in any way. It is, to me, another dimension to the complexity which also includes our ignorance. I also was thinking that she’s only lived in a world in which some progress has been made and in which people are thinking about this. We weren’t 16 in that world.

      • No. It’s because we come from European ancestors who never got the message that the earth wasn’t here for them to use forever without any conditions. We’ve got a couple of thousand years of bad planning that brought us to this. I just don’t see how we can make it stop.

      • I don’t agree with that “European ancestor” thing. That, to me, is just more blaming someone. I think humanity has (very reasonably) relentlessly pushed for a life for their kids that’s safer, warmer, less disease ridden. I think the change occurred when labor was no longer done on the backs of humans and the cooperation of animals, but with machines. And yeah, in the last few centuries that’s been a western thing. But it also seems to me that for eons it really WAS man against nature. We can (and do) romanticize the mythical ethos of the noble savage, but it was pretty awful for most people most of the time humanity has been on this planet.

        I also don’t think that anyone could have KNOWN the consequences of a lot of what they were doing once the Industrial Revolution began. That being said, when they began to SEE the consequences, a lot more should have been done RIGHT THEN AND THERE to figure out how to prevent more damage — but how do you do that when many of the people in this world don’t have access to technology that would make their lives safer, more comfortable and less disease ridden? Can you really say, “Sorry, this isn’t good for the earth. You’ll have to keep having dark hovels, poor sanitation, no cars…” I remember very well my Chinese teacher saying to me, “You Americans. You think we LIKE riding a bicycle everywhere, living in unheated houses, having to boil our water, and never having a hot shower? You think the ‘simple life’ is so wonderful? LIVE IT.” I did. It wasn’t that easy, but coming from where I did, I saw the virtues. I don’t think any Chinese who’d lived through generations of the risk of starvation, poverty and ignorance could see any charm it in at all.

        This doesn’t even factor in greed which is a significant issue among those in power and has been everywhere throughout human history. NO one (of any color or culture) who has power and wealth has wanted to share that.

  2. LOL!

    My opinions were profoundly unwelcome at the dinner table. They didn’t get expressed.

    Wasn’t until high school and an argumentation/persuasion class that I got to express much of anything. I turned out to be a bit libertarian, arguing for things like legalization of pot and sex work and anything else that did not have an obvious involuntary harm attached to it. I was very good at it, just rolling over other people with logic and analysis and philosophy. Of course, anywhere but a formal debate I’d lose because those were emotional issues. Logic had no place at the table.

    I learned that emotions are the basis for all popular opinion and most public policy and so all my logic and careful reasoning was meaningless. There aren’t enough Vulcans out there for it to be anything else.

    • Logic matters a lot to me which is why I find the current climate really uncomfortable. People are enamored of yelling, blaming, taking sides, absolutism, over-simplification none of which helps anything happen except more of the same. A textbook I used had a chapter, “Do you have a ‘right’ to your opinion?” the point being that no, it’s not a right. The right is involved in the EXPRESSION of opinion.” Opinions are almost involuntary. 😀 And no one cares about mine. (The other part of that lesson — say whatever you want, doesn’t mean anyone is listening)

  3. Well, it’s certainly true that the Chinese have not done better with their lands, but we got it done a whole lot FASTER. I’m still having trouble coping with how it all came together so quickly — and considering there have been PLENTY of warnings from scientists all around the world for at least the past 40 years. This is the same stuff we were working on when I lived in Israel. I don’t think any of us anticipated it all going snafu so fast. And the thing is, sure Trump is by far the most toxic president we’ve had in recent memory, but this stuff has been going on for a long time. I think it would be happening no matter who was in office. Yes, he’s making it happen maybe a little faster, but this isn’t new information. We knew. We just didn’t believe it could happen like this and I certainly didn’t expect to alive to see it.

    • That’s just it. I HOPED I wouldn’t be alive to see it, but I’m not surprised I am. Trump has just made it easy for people not to change when they really fucking need to. As for the Chinese, they did it all in roughly 35 years. That’s pretty fast. And now they’re attempting to mitigate some of it, but given the absolute hypocrisy of the culture (face) it’s hard to know how much of that mitigation is sincere or only expedient. I don’t like what they’re doing in western China at all, but… I say all this while loving China and liking the Chinese 🙂

      It’s always amazed me that scientists have long KNOWN that the Sahara was not always a desert and they know HOW that happened, but didn’t heed the lesson. But as I said, I don’t think this is only caused by us, but it is seriously exacerbated by us. And I really hate that little girl. I have not had a reaction this strong since Trump was elected. I guess I spent my whole life in my small way fighting for the only thing I’ve ever been able to count on and the thing I love most. I know there are millions others like me who have picked up their baton, even if it was a small baton, and carried to the best of their ability. People like to shout and be angry these days. It takes a lot more to keep moving forward when you KNOW you’re probably defeated. It’s like my pumpkin. She’s not looking around or considering the future; she’s just growing.

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