I can’t stop thinking about the plight of polar bears. Even before I saw Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, with that animated segment showing a poor, exhausted polar bear desperately swimming, looking for a bit of ice to rest upon, I have been worried about polar bears, and how many have to die before we really wake up. And now, with the holidays upon us, it seems there’s a polar bear on every other greetings card – even Coke (or is it Pepsi) are in on the act. Pretty soon, cards, posters and advertisements will be the only places we’ll see a polar bear.
I know, I know, it’s everywhere at the moment, this global warming debate, but I wonder if we are really getting it? How can the great majority of people be persuaded give up on the need to have so much that sucks the life out of the environment, to the detriment of the rest of life on this planet? Bear with me on this, as I said, I know, you’ve heard it all before, but I am wondering, what do we do to get it into the heads of the mass of population that it really is OK to do the right thing even if the next person isn’t? That it doesn’t make you a lesser person if you choose a car that is smaller than a Hummer. With all the advertising and media coverage highlighting the plight of so many species that make life on this planet so very special, how do we get it into people’s thick heads that every little thing you can do to help the situation makes a difference? Thank God I’m not Al Gore – I would turned to vandalism of SUV’s long ago. Not the most efficient way to drive your point home.
Here are a few things that get under my skin:
Myth: You live in a place where there is “weather” so you need an SUV. Now, consider this: whenever you see pictures of the English countryside, it’s likely you’ll view the county set with their Hunter green wellies, their Barbour waxed jackets (been a run on those lately, due to Helen Mirren in The Queen), and a slew of Labrador dogs, all clambering into Range Rovers and hurtling off over hill and dale. Well, I was born and raised in that countryside – my first footwear was a pair of wellies – and I can categorically tell you that you rarely saw such vehicles (unless you count the tractors), as most farmers drove the Mini station wagon, a great little car that didn’t need 4WD to get through the mud and water, because if it got stuck you just lifted it out! Moral: You do not need an SUV to negotiate ‘weather.” Good driving skills and paying attention help though. And there are some nice station wagons that make it through the snow in Germany and Japan, and I am sure they could weather Cleveland or Boston and even Montana. In fact, whenever I have visited the places that get real weather in the USA, there seem to be fewer SUV’s. Funny, that.
There’s a guy who lives near us who has one of those mega Land Rovers, the sort that you take into the Serengeti, complete with roof rack for the big containers of gasoline and water. I have never seen it go beyond Safeway, where – as you know – there’s often a run on wildebeest.
One of my friends, several years ago, was in the market for a new car. She said that she wanted a Discovery, to negotiate “all these San Francisco hills.” I just could not contain myself. “This isn’t Mongolia, you know – you need a little hatchback to negotiate the parking, never mind a Discovery!”
This brings me to my next myth – surprisingly enough, you do not need a Land Cruiser to shop at Nordstom. Their sale is good, but not that good.
A thought: Explain “hubris” to a polar bear.
Myth: You have a big house, so you need all the lights on at once to see where you’re going. (Actually, I could have stopped right there at “You need a big house.”)
I usually take the back road to Santa Barbara from Ojai, and over the past couple of years I have watched an absolutely ginormous house being built just off Highway 192. It’s huge and, I must say, seriously ugly. Rooms everywhere, plus a big landscaped estate (sprinklers galore) and even a dressage arena with stables. I think it’s wonderful that these people have their dream home, but for crying out loud, whenever I’ve driven by the house at night, every single light is on and there are floodlights across the landscaping. Now, I am not worried about their utility bills – they are clearly not short of a dollar or two - but explain “greed” to a polar bear.
But according to a report in last week’s New York Times, the rate of new mac-mansion construction has now topped out, and people are beginning to see sense. I am a believer that history teaches you pretty much all you need to know – just look at all those Victorian monoliths now split into apartments, or being used as offices. They, too, were homes once. If you can call a museum a home.
One of my friends chooses a new mantra every year, a word to live by, to consider each day. Last year her word was “enough.” What does it mean to have enough? And if we were brutally honest about what enough really is, would it help others less fortunate to have “enough” and would we end up leaving a smaller footprint on the earth? And so what if the Chinese are belching out more greenhouse gases – just because we can’t change that right now, does it mean we have to consume more than enough without thinking?
I guess this post is really me reminding myself about the little things I can do, whether it’s judicious consumption, being mindful of my place in the world, and responsibility to the rest of it – human, plant and animal – or supporting those who have a louder and more eloquent voice than I.
Speaking of which, I have just received the following from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a timely reminder in the season of winter wonderlands:
“Warm and fuzzy holiday images of polar bears are everywhere you look right now. But the reality near the North Pole is much more grim. Polar bears are drowning off Alaska's coast - as they are forced to swim greater and greater distances to find the disappearing Arctic ice sheets they depend on for survival. They are the first major species to face extinction as a direct result of global warming, and their fate literally hangs in the balance this holiday season. Over the holidays, the Bush Administration will decide if polar bears deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act. They will either throw polar bears a lifeline - or condemn them to extinction.”
The fact is that that the polar bear is the canary in the coal mine. If we ignore their plight, then we won’t need those big houses and big cars and all that stuff in any case. We’ll all be like the desperate hunter-gatherers in Africa who are struggling against drought. Wanderers on a scorched earth, with aching hearts and growling bellies, wondering whatever happened, and where it all went wrong.
And before I close: First, if you are fed up with hearing yet another tirade about global warming, well, I can’t help it, I just had to vent again. Secondly – and I am sure Patty will agree with me here – whoever thought that those SUV’s were more attractive than a regular-sized car in any case? Where is the elegance? When you get down to it, driving around in a big square tin can and making an idiot of yourself trying to park the thing is about as graceless as you get, isn’t it? Can you imagine Audrey Hepburn in a Hummer? Well, maybe she would have happily clambered into a Land Rover to visit starving children in drought-ridden Africa.
Now, check this out, just for starters.
Oh, and remember to switch off the lights on the Christmas tree when you go out or turn in for the night. Every little bit helps, and I am sure Santa will still know your house if the lights are off - he knows who's been nice.