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Five Minute Speeches - Stephanie Mills

I ought to mention I'm covering this for a local paper, and I've figured out what to call it, it's going to be "Life Without Chairs," or "Waiting for Marlon."

On to environment. Environment can really make you rack your brains.   I think that environmentalism, as I practice it and as many of us practice it, is a form of nostalgia for a world we never knew. We take as our basis of good the world before the plow broke the soil, thinking of a kind of pre-agricultural heaven, where the population is low and nobody stands in line for anything, where there're beasts abounding and no endangered species, and breadfruit just drops into your gathering hands.

That's an image of paradise, and that leads me to believe that environmentalism is best understood as a religion, and it's most enjoyable when it's coupled with a sense of miraculous learning to see and deeply appreciate the beauty of living creatures and the intricate adaptations that evolution has brought into being. It's a process so complex and mysterious, and kind of unbidden, that it's managed to bring into existence something as wonderful as the human mind, your mind, quite a miracle indeed.  I think one of the good things you can do with environmentalism, to sort of beat off the old apocalyptic depression, is to dwell on the wonders, to really take the time,to dwell on the wonders, and develop a little humility about what's been done that we couldn't begin to do ourselves in a million, billion years.

I find environment is a little less fun when it becomes a profession. This isn't to say that environmental professionals aren't wonderful and necessary and fighting the battles on the front lines, fighting in the courts and working through government.  But it's still a little bit crazy, because laws made by human beings are terribly prosaic. They don't quite capture the poetry of what's really at stake, and so we don't have the right context for understanding what's going on, and we find furbish louseworts are "impeding progress." The snail darter, a little tiny fish, has stopped a dam, and it's driving people crazy, because the dam's already built, and why shouldn't we fill it up?

These things don't really have a proper voice in court, but there's a movement afoot to get standing in court for the creatures themselves, so that instead of the elitist backpacking snobs going to court to argue that ' their pleasures of hiking are going to be impaired by species destruction', you will have a lawyer arguing on behalf of the Hawaiian palila bird, whose habitat's being destroyed.   I think that this could get pretty heavy; Scoop's Endangered Species list brings to my mind a sort of Nuremberg War Crimes Trials with animals as plaintiffs, and ghosts of animals as the victims of the Holocaust.

We are arguing questions that are basically religious aesthetic, ethical, and poetic questions. That's not what professionalism is for the ceaseless attempt to quantify, objectify, and measure intangibles like beauty and the integrity of an ecosystem. But that is what religion is for, and religion is something that everybody can feel.