Thursday, May 29, 2008

Provoking What?

The June issue of Wired Magazine came out 10 days ago.

No picture on the cover. Just big letters:

Attention Environmentalists:
Keep your SUV.

Forget organics.

Go nuclear.

Screw the spotted owl.

And a subtitle:

If you're serious about global warming, only one thing matters: cutting carbon. That means facing some inconvenient truths.

I was curious and excited to read, but I was skeptical for sure.

Two days later, Breakthrough weighed in. They praised Wired. Called the cover and the stories behind it "provocative."

Provocative for sure.

But I worry. I wonder what provocative accomplishes.

What is Wired trying to provoke? A single minded world community focus on massively curtailing carbon emissions and reversing and mitigating climate change, right?

Ok. That's cool. I want to know the reasons for that. I want to talk about it. I want to consider it.

But are "keep your SUV" and "screw the spotted owl" the best ways to start the conversation?

I mean I'll listen, and I'll write back, but who am I? I'm stupid and sometimes fundamentalist in my agnosticism and search for underlying good intentions. I have consistently statistically outlying opinions. I'm the guy that just stayed on the phone for a full 30 minutes hearing a frighteningly paranoid mad scientist inventor pitch me on non peer reviewable (not non peer reviewed; non peer reviewABLE) technologies that have such outrageously worldchanging implications that I'm not even going to tell you what they are for fear that homeboy might be reading and would probably have no choice but to come kidnap and/or assassinate me if I do.

I'm not important. I'm not a movement. I'm just curious.

The kids at Oberlin, however, are important. The Grist community is important. The bloggers on It's Getting Hot in Here are important. No Impact Man is important. Together, they are a movement. They're parts of something big.

And if Wired truly is committed to an uninterrupted focus on solving the climate crisis, then Wired ought to be engaging those people and treating them, their opinions, their solutions, their passions, and their lifestyles respectfully.

I don't know where exactly this came from, but there has been a little psycho-mantra bouncing around my family these past few months, and I think it applies...

When you're about to say something to someone, before you say it, ask yourself a question. Will what I'm about to say bring us closer together or push us farther apart?

And I'm sorry to point fingers at Wired. Crunchy environmentalists say plenty of obnoxious things too. And so do I. And so does everyone else. And I think we all ought to keep that question in mind.

Here comes my idealism again, but I'm pretty sure neither Wired nor Breakthrough nor Grist nor No Impact Man are motivated more by short term greed than by a desire to create a happy and abundant long term world.

We're not big, legally heartless corporations feeling reality trying to yank our wildly profitable status quo world from our grasp. We know we need to change. We have ideas. We want other people to agree with us. And we're frustrated that they all don't.

So we provoke. We get attention.

And sometimes that's a good thing. Sometimes we provoke strategically; sometimes we enlighten.

But sometimes we don't. Sometimes we push ourselves farther apart.

Wired, you taught me some useful things about lawnmowers, warm climate carbon emissions, and the Kyoto Protocol's prejudice against nuclear power, and, for that information, I thank you. Next time, however, I suggest you engage and strategize with Alex Steffen, rather than setting him up as a "counterpoint."


Anonymous said...

We posted about it, as well:

Jake de Grazia said...

Thank you Max Gladwell, whoever you are. Fascinating to see that you've tied The Fountainhead to the sustainability movement. Maybe I ought to read that again and pay closer attention this time.