My Childhood As An Environmental Movement Test Subject
By Monica Wilcox
Yes, it’s true. I tried to hide it but secrets are like glaciers upon the landscape of the soul; they freeze over for a time, then pull back to reveal their grinding destruction.
My father was the Al Gore of Wyoming from 1970-2005. He called himself a conservationalist but that was a cover; the man was greener than a cesspool. To be the movement before “The Movement” takes serious grit. He was left with his own meager resources – an office cubical with the State of Wyoming and his two children. So it is that my childhood began.
People think I’m joking when I say our house was cold, but we had relatives who refused to spend the night under such conditions. My brother and I awoke to the short promise of humming heating vents. We’d pull one of the six blankets from our bed to smother one of the vents, constructing a hot air canopy over our wee bodies. There were a few blissful mornings when we’d actually overheat. I’d have to break out of our cocoon like a red faced, sweaty Texan. Oh the glory! I survived, and my father had his proof that children could be raised in a home environment with temperatures averaging 54.5 degrees.
EVERYTHING we did was in consideration of the planets resources: bathing, shopping, yard maintenance, scooping snow, errands, vacations, eating, even hunting (Surprise, surprise! The hunting industry is credited by many as adding to the start of the conservation movement.) Sprinkler systems, gas lawnmowers, electric blankets, porch lights, snow blowers, kiddy pools: these were the dalliances of “the wasteful.”
My father did not limit his green experimentation to us. He personally built a sunroom onto the back of our home, complete with water jugs under the brown tiled floor and 12’ x 12’ insulation panels to cover the windows at night. We had squares of insulation covering our windows during winter and panels tucked into the top third of our hallways and stairwells to hold heat in the living room. We watered our lawn in the summer with the ground water we’d collected from our four subterranean sump pumps. My friends thought he was this wackadoo cowboy. I thought he was a pain in my frozen keister.
Fear became his unintentional motivator. Whenever I became exasperated with this lifestyle and would dare to ask the big “Why?” His answer was always, “We’re saving the earth for your children’s future.” Here’s a newsflash, Dad: an 8-year-old cannot see their own future, much less the future of their children. But there was more, “What will happen when there’s no drinking water? What are you going to do when the air is toxic and we’re suffering from lung cancer?” These remarks did not motivate me to turn off the lights but they made for some wicked dreams.
My father didn’t believe these things might be possible, he foresaw them. He feared for humanity on a global scale. His life, his passion, revolved around our natural resources and energy consumption. Every workday he stared at our globe and the charts of skyrocketing energy demand. Locked system + exponential demand = disaster; simple mathematics really.
Unfortunately, the rest of my world was not tinted green. I’d watch my neighbor watering their yard, and the sidewalk, and the gutter, and the creek… all afternoon. I’d walk into homes in the afternoon blazing in electric light and pumping electric heat. I’d see moms crank their faucets to full blast to wash the dishes… one at a time. My friends often forgot to turn off the hose after they were done having water fights with their cats… for a week. I’d march home puffed up with reality and full of argument, “No one else cares, Dad.” He’d reply, “Every time we save that’s a little bit more for the future.” It seemed to me like everything we were saving today, someone else was taking for tomorrow.
When we grew tired of saving nature we went out to play in it. There wasn’t a shopping mall in the entire state but there were miles of endless, uninhabited terrain. Our family spent most of our down time camping, fishing, hiking, hunting, picnicking, and skiing. The greatest thing about Wyoming is the ability to bury oneself in the wild without any possibility of seeing another person.
I loved it.
I loved hiking the foothills of the Rockies, skiing along the base of the Tetons, fields of delicate wildflowers, the smell of sagebrush on my hands, the call of the Yellow Breasted Meadowlark, pulling grass darts out of my socks so I could throw them at my brother, and pinecone fights behind granite fortresses. There wasn’t a landscape, plant, or animal I didn’t come to respect.
While my dad was selling me on the doom of our future, Mother Nature was showing me the beauty, strength and diversity of our planet.
Yes, I was a test subject for the movement, only the movement didn’t know it. Take a child, any child, and fill their head with fears of a dying world. Tell them how the bees, bats, tigers and frogs have become victims of genocide. Show them the burning rainforest, polar bears eating their young out of starvation, wolves being shot from helicopters, oil covered pelicans, and manatees sliced by boat rotors. Now see if that child feels driven to recycle, to shorten their shower, to desire only used toys. See how long fear motivates.
Now take a child, any child, to the park. Have them climb a tree older than the United States. Show them the ants, moths, birds and squirrels living on it. Go wading with them in the local creek in search for crawdads, tadpoles and (grosser than gross) water bugs. Explore nature: curl dandelions, watch Turkey Buzzards circle, weave grass into bracelets, picnic before a prairie dog colony. Take this child deep into the wild: snorkel over a reef, explore the mudpots of Yellowstone, and hold a monarch on their finger tips. Ask them if they like the ocean better with or without the trash.
If the environmental movement wants the general population to jump on board the green wagon it must abandon the fear mongering. I’ve learned a bit about this green energy show; fear disempowers, disengages, and desensitizes us. As a blogger who regularly covers the environment the feedback I receive the most is how turned off people have become to environmental issues. They care but they no longer trust what they are being sold. The movement has lost a good portion of the population with its apocalyptic messages and political rummaging. I’m not saying the basic mathematics aren’t ugly. I’m saying a movement focused on nature will have to parallel our human nature; make nature valuable to us on a personal level.
I’d love to see the environmental movement embrace Mother Nature as its figurehead. Commercialize the “wins”. Show us that we can make a difference by highlighting the species that are making a coming back, the latest and greatest alternative energy sources, and the daily choices that will give us the most bang for our green buck. Sell me on the financial benefits of planting trees to shade my house, installing solar panels on my roof, andxeriscaping my yard. Create programs and solutions that make green living the easier and cheaper solution. Educate, don’t manipulate. Take us into the wild places, show us what we’re missing, make us fall in love.
This is the outcome of my experience as an environmental movement test subject.
Monica Wilcox, www.femmetales.com