Global warming, motherfucker.
“Don’t say that, this is a family march,” Angela said to Ethan, as we headed to DC on a bus for the Peoples Climate March. Halfway through the unending ride, a man in one of the seats in front of us had gotten a little excited and Ethan was joining in.
“Shush,” the man’s wife said, looking around at the criticism.
“Why? Am I in the library car?” he asked.
Angela leaned over toward the rest of us. “We aren’t marching with those people,” she whispered.
Nobody had a problem with that since we didn’t even know them, but we did have a problem deciding which group we approved of enough to join.
Grace wanted to march with some people chanting “Climate rights are human rights!” She had a lot of company, considering the Paris Climate Treaty takes that view as well. Then again, since Exxon and Shell also support the Climate Treaty, maybe it’s not exactly the most radical document.
At any rate, Tim and Ethan were opposed to that particular chant.
“What about animals?” Tim said.
I had to agree with him for once. It seemed more appropriate to protest on behalf of animals rather than humans beings at a climate march. After all, humans are the ones who’ve caused climate change in the first place, while nature is the innocent victim.
Not that I was particularly surprised Grace didn’t see it that way. As she’d gotten more interested in art, I felt like she was less interested in nature. Recently we’d almost had an argument when I wanted to go hiking but instead we went to a minimalist art exhibit she wanted to see.
“I just don’t like it that much,” I said, when she asked my opinion afterwards. “You know what I think would make it better?”
“Moss. Rocks. A mountain. And a river.”
She wasn’t entirely wrong, though I didn’t want to admit it.
Along the same lines as Grace, Angela wanted to march with the immigration rights contingent. But Tim and Ethan again objected.
“What is the point of that at a climate march?” Tim said.
“How can you be so callous?” Grace asked, close to tears.
Tim claimed he liked animals better than people.
“You’re not even a vegetarian!” she protested.
“I am a vegetarian,” he said. “That’s not to say I don’t eat meat.”
He said he didn’t want to spread himself too thin by worrying about everything. But his self-preservation was jarring at times in situations involving the suffering of real people.
He had a particularly unappealing reaction one night when I told him I was worrying about the effects of the immigration crackdown on the undocumented woman who cleaned my office building. Her husband was cheating on her but she was afraid to go to court to get a divorce in case she might get nabbed by ICE. Meanwhile, her husband hadn’t spoken to her in six months, the rest of her family lived in Colombia, and she had no friends in the U.S.
“She must be so miserable,” Grace said. “Not even having anyone to talk to.”
But Tim didn’t let it get to him.
“You never know,” he said. “She may have a rich internal life.”
In any event, seeing that Grace and Angela were getting upset with him as various groups went by at the march, Tim said he would compromise by joining the labor contingent. He claimed that should make Grace and Angela happy since it was human-focused.
I was hesitant at first but after listening to a speech by one of the labor leaders, I went along with it.
“He was great, didn’t you think?” I said.
But Ethan thought the labor organizer was too vague on where he stood on the environment. “Sure, he talked a lot, but his wind-up was a little long before the pitch. I mean, did you shoot the dog or not?”
It was an odd comment for a self-described animal rights activist, but in a way he had a point.
“What does ‘Climate, Jobs, Justice’ even mean?” he said.
At any rate, it turned out what really worried him was being taken for a socialist if we marched with labor since all the other blue collar types have gone over to the right wing.
“What are you talking about?” Tim said, rolling his eyes. “This whole march is socialist. Why do you think it’s called the Peoples Climate March?” He looked to Grace for corroboration since she was the one who signed us up.
“I really have no idea and furthermore I don’t care,” she said.
Supposedly, millennials don’t make those distinctions anymore because they’ve grown up in the sharing economy. But you can make a good argument nothing has really changed in the sharing economy.
“It’s not so much a sharing economy as an e-crowd-omy,” Tim said.
While they discussed that, Angela was still focused on the human side of the equation. “Stop climate change for our families and communities now!” she shouted with the crowd.
“Why is it always about families?” Tim said. Half of all adult Americans are single, he noted, not to mention himself.
“Stop climate change for rank individuals!” he shouted.
So Grace and Angela agreed to march with Tim’s preferred group to keep him under control. But Ethan wasn’t as willing to cave.
Tim wanted to march with the Audubon Society since he’s supposedly a bird watcher, but Ethan didn’t see the point of that at a climate march.
“Why birds?” he said. “How long do they even live? Do birds live more than a year?”
Part of the problem was he’d been so disappointed the only time we’d gone a bird watching trip together.
“I’d love to see a scarlet tanager,” Ethan said, jotting down another sparrow on the list of the birds we’d seen. “But we’re probably not going to.”
“How about we list all the birds we’re not going to see,” Tim said. It turned Ethan off bird watching forever.
In any event, though his question showed a shocking ignorance about the lifespans of birds, Ethan’s broader point was that climate change would be harder on animals that live longer and thus can’t adapt to change as quickly. He pointed to the groups with the polar bear signs like the World Wildlife Fund.
But Tim objected. “Some owls can live 80 years and so can turtles,” he said defensively. He was trying to make the point that focusing on big animals was taking an overly human perspective.
“So probably the tortoise bird can live over 100 years,” Ethan snapped. “It can’t fly though. Makes you wonder why it’s called a bird.”
Finally Tim said he didn’t care who we marched with as long as it had to do with nature.
“Even from a solely human perspective, the most elemental experience of human life is communing with nature.”
“But who can just commune with nature?” Grace said. “People need families and communities.”
Tim was thinking about John Muir, the founder of the Sierra Club, who supposedly lived alone in a cabin in the Alaskan wilderness for much of his life. Apparently Tim assumed John Muir, one of his heroes, was up there just communing with nature.
“John Muir had a wife,” Grace said. “I know it because I was signing people up for the march for the Sierra Club and their database is named after Helen Muir, John Muir’s wife. Considering he also started a club, which had people in it, you can’t really say he didn’t understand the importance of family and community.”
That came as surprise to Tim, who had somehow always pictured John Muir as a rank individual. It was even more of a surprise to me, particularly the part about Grace registering people for the march for the Sierra Club. Despite my lack of faith in her, it appeared Grace really hadn’t lost her interest in the environment. She’d evidently been devoting much of her free time for the past few months to outreach and organizing, and arranging buses, which was a lot more than I had done.
Seeing my expression, she seemed to know what I was thinking. “Plus, I helped make a lot of the signs we brought down in the bus along with various artists’ groups who were contributing to the march. It’s the art, along with the big crowd, that will make the march memorable.”
I could see her point then about why maybe it didn’t make sense to draw distinctions between any of the groups at the march, whether they were carrying signs representing immigrant rights, gay rights, labor rights, or the environment. Or in trying to determine whether someone cared more about nature or about art. We were all in it together.
As we headed back to the bus at the end of the very long day, I tried to make it up to her.
“Do you want a shirt from the march?” I asked, approaching one of the many vendors selling commemorative t-shirts with all sorts of different logos and messages. “What kind do you want?”
She smirked at me, seeing right through me.
“I want a double scoop, chocolate and strawberry,” she said. “With sprinkles.”