Special Earth Day Issue April 22, 2009
"We're in a race between a biological collapse and an economic collapse. I'm cheering for the economic collapse to come first."
- Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalogue
(quoted in The Big Bang, Buddha, and the Baby Boom by Wes Nisker)
On this 39th annual celebration of Earth Day, the eco-trippers may believe they are realizing their dream of economic collapse. Choosing April 22nd for their green consciousness-raising celebration was no idle choice as Utopian Socialist hero, Vladimir Lenin was born on the same day. History sadly recalls Lenin's Bolshevik conversion of the Russian economy from a developing agricultural and industrial juggernaut into the vodka-swilling centrally-planned land of shortages and shoddy goods it remained throughout the 20th century.
The dramatic national advance of the Democrats in the 2008 elections elevated legions of like-minded central planners into positions of power. As Barack Obama dabbles in Bolshevism redux, fiddling with Cap-and-Trade legislation, and nationalizing banks and car companies for starters, he appears determined to limit our mobility and resign American commuters to driving organ donor cars to our state-sponsored jobs. Is this the Greenies' moment? I doubt it. Green Consciousness is truly a step-child of the counter-culture movement arisen from the ashes of hippiedom in a cloud of now nearly legal smoke. While post-modern dweebs and nerds have joined the counter-culture warriors in their quest to resume "the task of Noah, trying to save all species of life," they have lost a great deal of the power of ritual theatre that informed the earliest demonstrations in support of biodiversity, ecology and a return to noble savagery.
Wes Nisker's The Big Bang, the Buddha and the Baby Boom-The Spiritual Experiments of My Generation (HarperSanFrancisco 2003) provides a witty, cogent insider's view of the development of the Hippie generation including the environmental movement. While Nisker clearly advocates positions that are little changed from the consciousness-altered 60's, his deep Buddhist practice and spiritual insight inform the book with a gentle even-handedness. Nevertheless, if you need a roadmap for the March of the Tinfoil-hat Brigade, this is the book for you.
As Nisker recalls the environmental demonstrations of yore, it makes our modern Earth Day festivities appear to be sponsored by the love-children of Mr. Green Jeans and June Cleaver:
"The First Annual All Species Gathering and Celebration was held on the autumnal equinox in 1978 (Earth Day is celebrated on the vernal equinox) at the San Francisco Civic Center Plaza. The Bay Area pagan environmentalists attended this event dressed as their totem plants and animals, in their finest furs, feathers, scales, bark and shells, accessorized with horns, tusks, plumes, manes, tails, fins and leaves. Even dragons and unicorns showed up to warn that mythological beings are endangered by human disregard and forgetfulness."
I guess the pot just isn't that good anymore. While the Environmentalist demonstrations have gone vanilla, they haven't lost any of their creepy earnestness. They still believe, in their heart of hearts, what the poet Gary Snyder captured in an interview on KSAN in 1976:
"The real danger is that the industrialized societies will consume every last shred of timber, every last scrap of wild meat, every last drop of oil, and leave the planet completely ravaged."
So apparently Al Gore didn't invent enviro-freak hyperbole. I thought Nisker was referring to what passes for a Nobel laureate these days when he described:
"...the barnacled blowhard, the biggest creature on the planet, that captured the imagination of the first wave of eco-activists." But he was actually describing the first Environmental mascot: the whale.
The author regales us with an interesting tale of the cognitive dissonance revealed by a Japanese concert-goer attending a Save-the Whales benefit concert in Tokyo in 1976 where Jackson Browne, Warren Zevon and John Sebastian performed in an auditorium decorated with whale exhibits in support of The Dolphin Project. Nisker asked a young attendee why he had come and the youngster gushed in support of the Welcome Back Kotter theme performed by Sebastian.
"But how do you feel about the whales?" Nisker asked.
"Oh, the whales" he said, smiling enthusiastically. "They are very delicious."
So try to maintain your sense of humor today. Remember that not all of us believe that meat is murder or that Obama Motors will come up with a solar-powered automobile to keep us off the streets at night. Just remember that those meek substitutes for the leonine savages that used to populate the environmental picket lines truly intend to inherit the earth. They are staying up at night with Sierra Club lawyers trying to change the will.