The Green Man Says

by Austin Hollis
Columnist

(This last Green Man column comes hot on the heels of The Swine Flu and associated Chicken Little-esque pandemic paranoia.)

When I went home for May Term break last month, my mom was reading a book called Life As We Knew It, which deals with the chaos that ensues when the moon’s orbit changes; narrated by a 16-year-old girl, it’s basically Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging meets “The Day After Tomorrow.” As someone interested in end-of-the-world scenarios, survival and the estranged relationship between modern civilization and the natural world, this book seemed right up my alley, and I flew through it in about four long sittings.

While I’m sure it’s fine reading for the target audience of middle school girls, readers looking for an insight on survival strategies or the future of the human race would be sorely disappointed. Up until the lunar cataclysm, the main character’s family makes absolutely no preparations; they spend the book living off a supply of canned goods bought after the disaster, and while the mother does try to grow a food garden, she only starts after the proverbial s*** has hit the fan.

However, the author—whether or not she meant to—does show the reader the extent to which most people are painfully dependent on the infrastructure of our “civilization” and disconnected from the natural world. As a species, we Homo sapiens lived in kinship with nature for 100,000 years; now, as a consequence of shortsightedness and poor decisions (stemming from our separation from nature) we might not survive another hundred years.

My main complaint with the book is this: the character and her family spend most of their time huddled inside their house waiting to be saved, and they are completely unable to imagine a different, better world; they are content to live by the rules and norms of the ‘old’ one. The late Michael Crichton once wrote that the only difference between a bear and a human is imagination; at this critical point in our species’ history, it is imperative now that we work to imagine a new future for ourselves, one that is actually sustainable, because the present system—rooted in petroleum, consumption, and convenience—certainly isn’t.

*(For the inquisitive reader looking for specifics, I point to the concept of Permaculture, which is probably the best middle ground between the two extremes of Primitivism and the dead-end that, unless we make some big changes, is where we’re headed now).

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