For Earth Day we ask, 'What is a Radical?'
Plus a Baja beach and a bit of a brag, with a link to our cover story!
There’s something in the spring air that is so enchanting and energetic. It carries lightly on the breeze, and makes one feel free. I caught a whiff of that today. For a moment it felt like anything was possible. Perhaps it is.
We’ve just returned from a six-week road trip down the Baja Peninsula, and I am looking forward to sharing more about that, but I’m way behind on official assignment deadlines, so for now I’ll just leave it with Benji.
Benji was our unofficial host at a beach camp on the Gulf of California (the Sea of Cortez is undergoing a rename in the spirit of not celebrating violent men).
A ramshackle palapa (sort of like a tiki hut) and some tarp-engineering by Steve allowed us to cook out of the wind. Later, we waded through the bioluminescence of countless tiny creatures in the night sea, then slept in the back of the car, feet first to the water. As the sun came up, we woke to the sound of dolphins so close we could hear their gentle breath, intermixed with the crashes of brown pelicans dive-bombing schools of fish.
It was early and I was still in bed when I noticed Steve wandering up a trail to an overlook. Benji jumped into bed to let me know the urgency of the situation. With no time to change out of my pajamas, I managed to slip on some sandals to join the trek.
Benji was so thrilled, he tore up and down the beach in circles, pausing with each lap to say hi, before racing off again. The three of us had a grand hike. Then, Benji returned to his main job, which was protecting and herding the local goats.
We stayed at many peaceful and beautiful places in Baja, but the feeling of this one lingers, as if I’ve left a bit of my soul back on Benji’s beach. That’s fine. I think I’ll get to visit it again from time to time, either in person or in imagination.
A Thought About Radicals on Earth Day
People who protest invasive pipelines, who see forests as sanctuaries rather than timber farms, and who brave Arctic seas to stop whalers from breaking international laws, have long been described as radicals. But is why striving for a healthy planet a radical notion? Why are people like that senator from West Virginia, who are so deeply corrupted by the soot of their own fossil fuels and dirty money, described as moderate? It seems super radical, in the most negative sense of that word, to vote for yourself over policies that might salvage a habitable planet. It’s also radical to water a golf course in Phoenix, when the Colorado River rarely reaches its delta at the Gulf of California. Just as maybe it should be called moderate, in the positive sense of the word, to strive for clean air, water and an equitable distribution of both to people regardless of where they live, how much money they make, or what color skin they happen to have.
As a related side note: Ever since I foolishly took a forestry class at the University of Montana, thinking it would be about forests (it was not, it was about how to destroy them most efficiently, and the textbook even had a “top 10” list for how to best get around environmentalists), I’ve wondered why natural resources management is mostly about mining, logging, grazing and fossil-fuel extraction — those things which bring destruction to nature — and not about managing resources to keep lands more free of man-made muck and the dull buzz of the sodium lights of progress. Thanks Deb Haaland for at least mentioning that this week.
Back to radicals, though, I think that how someone or some thought ends up getting labeled radical or moderate must be part of our continuum of wealthy colonialist thinking, and the propaganda-news hosts who support such thought, like Limbaugh and all of his angry spawn. He was part of a fossil-fuel-charged multi-decade campaign to discredit science — or rather proposed environmental policy changes based on science, which were necessary to keep our planet healthy — and mock anyone who stood in the way of maximum corporate dividends (i.e. environmentalists). Was labeling environmentalists as radicals and weak-minded snowflakes one tactic in the oil companies’ coverup of global warming? Sure seems like it.
As a young person, I grew up in a conservative school district, where I was sometimes teased and called a tree-hugger, like that was some sort of ultimate insult. I was also mocked for being vegetarian and a child of ‘60s peace activists. Hippie seemed to be a dirty word with many of my peers, a lot of whose parents worked in oil and defense-related industries.
Back then I was insecure, and thus unsure of myself and my place in the world, which affected my drive to be an activist. It was just a little eaiser to go with the flow, than to speak up against it. As I got older, terms like feminazi, and environmentalist wackos, infiltrated dialogues and became standard in our country’s collective social consciousness. That twinge of fearing critisim from my friends, coworkers and boyfriends made me too intimidated go out and speak up. To be a radical. To devote my life to protecting nature and human equity, even though deep down that’s what I dreamed of doing.
Today, call me a tree-hugger. I say thank you. Call me a feminazi, and I know that you are just scared and insecure in your own mind and body. Call me a snowflake, and I will defend snowstorms from those moderates who are trying to make them extinct.
On this Earth Day, let’s shift our terminology, so it’s clear that every politician and CEO puttering about, greenwashing, or otherwise standing in the way of the progress we now need — which foremost is all hands on deck for ceasing to burn fossil fuels — are the irrational radicals. And it’s high time for their reign to end.
Note: I wrote these thoughts yesterday, and this morning I heard about the new Frontline documentary on PBS about oil deception, which I expect is a terrific piece of journalism.
And now in the brag department…
Last summer Steve and I reported on a group of young Zuni men, helping to stabilize their ancestors dwellings in Bears Ears National Monument. They worked for the Ancestral Lands Conservation Corps, a marvelous organization full of hope for the future. My article, along with Steve’s photos, made the cover of the spring edition of National Parks magazine. We are both humbled and thrilled to bring Crew 642’s story to light.
Happy spring, everyone. May wildflowers and robbins brighten your day, creative energy blow in on a light breeze, and the rain nourish all.