(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser December 2013)
“Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin of the influential Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research in England say many of the solutions proposed by world leaders to prevent “runaway global warming” will not be enough to address the scale of the crisis. They have called for “radical and immediate de-growth strategies in the United States, EU and other wealthy nations.” Democracy Now
You may have heard that Russell Brand, the British comedian and movie star and ex-husband of pop diva Katy Perry, has made quite a splash of late talking about bringing down the current earth-killing systems of government and finance and replacing them with truly democratic socialist systems that serve all the people and stop killing the earth instead of only serving the bloody hell psychotic super rich. Russell isn’t saying anything new, but he speaks well, debates well, and has a lovable fearlessness and charisma that attracts the attention of thousands of previously disinterested people.
Also recently, Angelina Jolie, the mega-famous movie star and wife of mega-famous movie star Brad Pitt, received a humanitarian award from the same folks who hand out Oscars, and she made an eloquent acceptance speech in which she said that there but for fortune she might have been trapped in a refugee camp with little hope of having a good life, and she was determined to continue to work as hard as she can to help those less fortunate than she.
Simultaneously with Russell and Angelina broaching these subjects so rarely broached by super-famous celebrities, I happened to read the transcript of the show on Democracy Now from which I took this article’s opening quote, and I thought, “What if Amy Goodman interviewed Oprah Winfrey and Tom Hanks and they spoke the identical words spoken by these two scientists no one has ever heard of? What kind of an impact would that have on the world?” These scientists are talking about living lives of what many people in America and Europe would consider extreme material simplicity: no more traveling by air, minimal use of automobiles, getting around by bicycling, walking and using public transportation, radically reducing energy consumption in the home, not buying imported food, shopping locally, and so forth.
Then I had an epiphany that goes something like this: since hundreds of millions (and possibly billions) of people around the world care more about what celebrities do and think than they care about anyone or anything else, what if Katy Perry and Taylor Swift and Justin Beiber and Madonna and Justin Timberlake and Jennifer Lawrence and Lady Gaga and all the world’s most famous celebrities could be convinced to live lives of material simplicity in order to slow and eventually reverse the destruction of the biosphere?
Impossible? I don’t think so, especially if we, the people, can convince a few key super stars to make the change, and in so doing make material simplicity seem exciting and sexy, which it is, for then other celebrities will follow suit in order to, you know, be among the coolest of the cool.
“There are two kinds of artists left: those who endorse Pepsi and those who simply won’t.” Annie Lennox
While watching sports highlights on my computer, I saw a thirty-second advertisement for shoes or shaving cream, I can’t remember which, that features a mega-famous basketball player going to exclusive parties and driving a million-dollar car and being swamped by fans and living in a mansion and buying diamonds and consorting with gorgeous women. As we watch the footage of the superstar’s high life, we hear the voice of the mega-famous player we’re watching say, “If they took away the parties, the hot cars, the fans, the money, the high life, what would be left?” Now we see this superstar jumping incredibly high and making a fantastic shot as he answers his own question with, “Everything.”
And I took this to mean that this superstar, worshipped by millions of young men and women, cares more about basketball than he cares about all those glitzy, greenhouse gas spewing, meaningless wastes of life and time, which means he is the perfect candidate for assuming a life of material simplicity and modeling earth-saving ways of living for his followers. Okay!
“90 companies on the list of top emitters produced 63% of the cumulative global emissions of industrial carbon dioxide and methane, and all but seven of the 90 were energy companies producing oil, gas and coal. The remaining seven were cement manufacturers.” Jon Queally
That’s right. Two-third of all the greenhouse gases emitted on earth in the last two hundred and fifty years were emitted by ninety companies producing oil, gas, coal, and cement, and most of the remaining greenhouse gas emissions came from people using that oil, gas, coal, and cement. Thus the solution is clear: we have to stop using so much oil, gas, coal and cement.
According to Kevin Anderson and Alice Bows-Larkin of Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, the average American is responsible for producing approximately eight (8) tons of greenhouse gas per year. Furthermore, 1.5 billion people in China are catching up to Americans with a per-person average of five (5) tons per year, with 1.5 billion folks in India gaining fast on the people of China in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. Kevin and Alice estimate that we must quickly reduce the global per-person yearly average to two (2) tons of greenhouse gas emissions to have any hope of the planet being habitable a few decades hence. They also remind us that the average per-person tonnage is brought way up by the wealthiest people on earth who do lots of flying around in jets, living in huge energy-gobbling homes, driving too many gas-guzzling cars, and buying lots of things they don’t need brought to them from many thousands of miles away.
“On personal integrity hangs humanity’s fate.” Buckminster Fuller
So…you check your email. A friend sent you a link. You click on the link and are taken to a headline JUSTIN BEIBER JOINS CO-HOUSING COMMUNITY. The accompanying article reports: “Following a celebratory tweet to his eight hundred million devoted followers, the Beibster rode his bicycle towing the small trailer holding all his worldly possessions to his one-bedroom apartment in the zero emissions and totally self-sustaining co-housing community of High Hopes in Townsend, New Jersey, his ultra-groovy pad to be shared with the Beibster’s awesomely cute wife Gretchen, also known as She (Accordion).
“I’m totally digging working in our big organic garden and teaching guitar at the local community school,” said the Beibster who will be traveling by tramp steamer with Gretchen to Europe next month for their acoustic bicycle tour touting his new album Light As A Feather, featuring his global hit Cleaning Up My Act. “When we get home from Europe, we’ll hang here at High Hopes for a few months and then go gigging by train.”
In the afternoon, you turn on the radio to catch your favorite Eco-Revolution show Get Natural with hosts Tina Fey and Russell Brand, coming to you live from the straw bale solar community center of Quail Run Cooperative Farm a few miles from downtown San Luis Obispo. Tina and Russell, co-founders of Quail Run, have as their special guest today the famous director James Cameron talking about his latest 3-D comedy thriller Turning Down The Heat starring Robert De Niro, Denzel Washington, Hugh Jackman, Beyonce, and Adam Sandler as improvisational ecological innovators sent into the way-too-hot center of North America to befriend the desperate people living there and implement zany innovative ways to speed up the reversal of global warming.
What makes Get Natural such a great show is the way Tina and Russell mix movie talk and celebrity gossip with tips on canning, fermentation, compost, communal living, and the new Slow Travel movement. Jennifer Lawrence calls midway through the show to talk about some new tricks she learned while making her latest batch of goat cheese and how much she enjoyed her three-week walk to Florida from her upstate New York intentional simplicity commune to shoot the seventh and final movie in the Hunger Games series, Hungry No More.
“I was exhausted after four weeks of filming,” said Jennifer, “so I took the quantum gravity zero-emissions train home. We had a stop in Raleigh, North Carolina, so the trip took almost an hour instead of the usual thirty minutes, but we produced far more energy than we consumed en route.”
There are still a few celebrities and a few dimwitted fans who have not yet made the shift, but that can’t last now that all the corporations are making such huge profits from their clever de-growth de-hedge fund strategies, and with the fines for profligate energy use so exorbitant. Yes, we’re faced with the problem of what to do with so much wealth and freedom and opportunity to be shared by everyone, but we’ll have to tackle that challenge with the same strength and conviction we brought to convincing our beloved celebrities to change their ways.
How did we do that? How quickly we forget. Let’s see, I know thousands of us barraged our favorite celebrities with persuasive informative heartfelt letters, instead of wasting our time writing to our pea-brained congressional representatives, but I can’t quite recall how we got those celebrities to realize that lip service and driving electric cars wasn’t enough.
Oh, yes, now I remember the turning point, when Brad and Angelina walked from Los Angeles to New Orleans, and hundreds of thousands of people and dozens of super-famous people joined them along the way, and how they gathered in the Super Dome to announce to the world that henceforth they would get around without flying and without the use of automobiles, and they would be assuming lives of material minimalism. Yeah, that was huge, that was when the tide began to turn.