Not Evangelism

Friday, October 15, 2010

Uluru, Language, and Pragmatic Environmentalism

One morning in 2007, pretty much three years ago next week, I was walking 'round Uluru talking to an American woman about punctuation. I mean, there I was, in complete awe of the Rock, dusty and glorious in the thin light not long after dawn. And I was talking about language.

Our Australian guide had just made a comment about rainbow bee eaters, and I had wondered aloud if they were things that ate rainbow-coloured bees, or if they were rainbow-coloured things that ate bees.

The guide told me, straight-faced, that it was the latter.

Oh, I said. I must have got my hyphen in the wrong place.

There was a moment of silence.

We contemplated the Rock, and continued our walk. One of the group fell in step alongside me and asked if I was a writer.

I was surprised. Flattered. Puzzled. I asked her what she meant.

It turned out she was an editor on the travel desk of the New York Times. She'd heard my comment about hyphens and assumed I was a writer. I told her I was not. Not then, not in the way she meant.

And then we had a chat about words and language as the sun rose over Uluru, the most astonishing sight I've seen, absolutely breath-taking.

At some point in the conversation, we were talking about travel, and I commented that I thought books titled things like "1001 places to see before you die" were a bit unnecessary, because the "before you die" bit was redundant. I mean, there's not a lot of visiting after the Inevitable Event.

My new friend commented that there was a poetry to that title; a rhythm, a romance, and sometimes precision and grammar and brevity weren't all that was needed. Sometimes there needed to be a little sparkle.

I considered this. I understood what she meant. I nodded.

Because it's true. Sometimes we need the little excesses of language to give us a little poetry. Sometimes brevity and precision aren't the be-all and end-all.

The thing is, I really don't like the whole "It's not easy being green" slogan. There was a BBC TV show of the same name, and the Guardian newspaper has a whole section devoted to it on their website.

Yeah, I can see that it's a catchy little title; there's a rhythm and a poetry to it. There's a rightness to the phrase, a sonority, that strikes a chord. I recognise that.

But it's still damaging.

It's so easy to be green

This kind of language is neither positive nor supportive; it's saying that environmentalism is hard, and that's going to discourage more people than it encourages. Surely we should be celebrating the elegant and personal simplicity of "being green".

I applaud shows and articles that demystify environmentalism, that make it accessible and acceptable and move it farther into the public consciousness. That encourage us to aspire to greater efforts, that ask us to question our choices. But let's not make it sound harder than it is.

Because it is easy being green. It's as easy as deciding to recycle, and doing it. It's as easy as deciding what your own definition of green is, and acting it, living it. It doesn't have to involve buying a farm or living in the woods, or installing composting toilets. It's whatever works for you.

That's the whole point of pragmatic environmentalism; it's finding the Perfect Right Choice for you.

Uluru, by the way, is majestic and poetic and unspeakably magnificent. If you ever have the chance, go take a look.

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