Artwork by Ran Hwang
Artwork by Ran Hwang

What will it take to restore us to ecological sanity? If what we are suffering from in this hot, flat, crowded 21st century is an Earth-destroying addiction (and the sheer scale of our denial suggests that it is), then that is the only question worth asking. We might not know the answer right away, but at least we know what it isn’t. The answer isn’t us.

If the first step in our path of ecological recovery is to admit that we are powerless over our addiction—that our way of life has become unsustainable— the second is to admit that we can’t think our way out of the problem, no matter how hard we try. In fact, just the opposite is true. Our best, most innovative, most inventive thinking brought us here. That is the hard truth every addict discovers for himself. It is the nature of addiction that our best efforts to cure it on our own only make it worse.

That is the reason why programs for environmental activism so often end in despair. It is easy to blame governments and corporations when our efforts come to nothing. But what do we expect when we insist on treating the symptoms of others, rather than getting to the bottom of our own disease? We have lost our sanity and don’t know where to find it. If we’re honest, we don’t even know where to look.

There is a joke made popular by the A.A. movement that involves a drunk searching for his lost car keys under a street lamp and the cop who tries to help him. The cop asks the drunk if he remembers where he lost them, and the drunk confesses that he doesn’t. “Then why are you searching for them here, under this street lamp?” asks the cop. “Because the light is better,” answers the drunk.

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