The environment sucks. It’s like that depressed friend you care about but can’t help. You can kill yourself trying to save it, but what will your efforts amount to? Where does it get you?
That’s how it feels sometimes, right? I grew up being taught not to litter. I learned to recycle and kept the heat low in winter so not to waste fuel. I even turned off the water between toothbrush rinses in order to save water.
And yet, despite my best efforts, the Gulf of Maine is getting warmer. Crap.
A warmer gulf hurts fish, which, in turn, hurts fishermen, which, in turn, hurts Maine's economy. Crap. Double crap.
I like the environment. The Earth is probably my favorite place. So as a reporter, the first thing I think about is writing stories about it. But stories about the environment, quite frankly, aren’t particularly in demand. Talk about how hot water off Casco Bay takes a toll on cod and people’s eyes glaze over. They have more important things to wrestle with.
But this isn’t just a Maine problem — just think back to the election and how often presidential debates broke down into a nuanced conversation on carbon emissions or climate change. Never once. Not a chance. Email servers and pussy-grabbers are a way bigger draw than slowly rising sea levels and Earth’s sixth mass extinction. The same is true of local stories — the heroin crisis and changing demographics are seen as far more compelling.
This is strange. The Earth is the only planet we’ve got. It’s akin to a ship with a bad leak — it’s taking on water fast. We have no backup ship. It’s right there in the warming waters off our coast, the body named for Maine, which is warming faster than almost any other body of water on the planet.
Even if the science isn’t perfect and it’s only half right (which it isn't) we better pay attention. But we don’t.
Part of our problem is the Earth lives among a host of issues drastically in need of our attention: Wealth inequality, racial disparity, sexism, a culture of exploitation, threats to democracy, religious extremism, etc., etc., etc. These steal our focus. But how much do they matter if the stage they play out burns to the ground? If Earth goes into a tailspin we’re all dead. Maybe an apocalypse will be the great equalizer.
But even on an individual level, it can be hard to act in the best interest of the Earth. I care about carbon emissions, global warming, science, the environment, all that stuff. But while looking at bus tickets from Portland to New York City recently my loyalties were tested. The Gulf of Maine is warming because of carbon dioxide, and certain modes of transport emit less carbon than others — trains are best, buses are OK but not great, and taking an airplane is pretty bad.
But a quick glance at cost and time — $79 to fly from New York to Portland (one hour trip), $69 to take the bus (six hours), and between $125 and $225 on Amtrak (anywhere from eight to 10 hours or more) — and it’s clear things like money and time live on the opposite side of the ledger than preserving Earth. Our busy lives don’t include space to worry about a little thing like the environment.
Funny concept, eh? We may be giving the thing we count on to support every aspect of our lives the worst hangover imaginable, and we can’t help but keep shouting in its ear. Even if you’re one of those people who wants to lower your voice, you can’t figure out how.
So how do you take hold of the controls of a crashing ship and pull up? How do you do anything with enough force to make a difference?
Well for my NYC trip I bought a bus ticket down and a plane ticket back. I’m not off to a good start.