Question One: Which book first made you realize that something was wrong (with the planet/political system/economic system, etc)?
My answer: It wasn’t a book. It was the destruction of place after place that I loved. And it was the complete insanity of a culture where so many people work at jobs they hate: What does it mean when the vast majority of people spend the vast majority of their waking hours doing things they’d rather not do? The culture itself convinced me something was wrong, by being so extraordinarily destructive, of human happiness, and far more importantly, the world itself.
That said, Neil Evernden’s The Natural Alien was the first book I read that let me know I was not insane: that the culture is insane. It was the first book I read that did not take the dominant culture’s utilitarian worldview as a given.
Question Two: Which one book would you give to every politician?
Answer: One that explodes.
Before you freak out, let’s change the question and see what you think:
Which one book would you give to Hitler, Goering, Himmler, and Goebbels?
Let’s ask this another way: Would a book have changed Hitler? I don’t think so. Unless it exploded.
And before you freak out at the comparison of modern politicians to Hitler and his gang, try to look at it from the perspective of wild salmon, grizzly bears, bluefin tuna, or any of the (fiscally) poor or indigenous human beings. Those in power now are more destructive than anyone has ever been. And they are for the most part psychologically unreachable. And if someone does reach some politician, that politician will no longer be in power.
I recently shared a stage with Ward Churchill. He said the primary difference between the U.S. and the Nazis is that the U.S. didn’t lose.
I responded with one word: “Yet.”
Question Three: What book would you give to every CEO?
Answer: See above.
Question Four: What book would you give to every child?
Answer: I wouldn’t give them a book. Books are part of the problem: this strange belief that a tree has nothing to say until it is murdered, its flesh pulped, and then (human) people stain this flesh with words. I would take children outside, and put them face to face with chipmunks, dragonflies, tadpoles, hummingbirds, stones, rivers, trees, crawdads.
That said, if you’re going to force me to give them a book, it would be The Wind in the Willows, which would I hope remind them to go outside.
Question Five: It’s 2050. The ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising. You’re only allowed one book on the Ark. What is it?
Answer: I wouldn’t take a book, and I wouldn’t get on the ark. I would kill myself (and take a dam out with me). I do not want to live without a living landbase. Without a living landbase I would already be dead. No book would even remotely compensate. Not a million books. Not a million computers. Not a million people would compensate.
Originally published in The EcologistFiled in Essays