Rebecca Solnit’s categorization of our earth’s climate crisis as my home on fire is duly alarming, yet ultimately, a fatalist view. And that sense that it’s too late doesn’t jive with her adamant propagation of a solution: divest from major oil corporations.
Solnit attempts to walk a very fine line in her essay. That is, by trade, she wants to advertise what she believes is the solution to our planets dire state, BUT she must maintain an underlying sense of urgency. In other words, she must stir up unrest to the greatest extent possible before she scares her audience into believing that it’s too late. She occasionally treads this line with the grace of a drunkard during a field sobriety test.
One of the most clear moments of this disconnect takes the form of the home on fire metaphor, wherein my home is the earth, I represent the human race, and the fire is something along the lines of the destruction brought on by oil companies. This metaphor is problematic because a house fire cannot be extinguished from the inside. Assuming this isn’t a tiny kitchen fire brought on by a botched saganaki–which we know is not the case because of Solnit’s extremist tendencies and militant tone–I run out of my home screaming like a frightened child and call the fire department. The fire department arrives and they blast my burning home with water from safe a distance. If earth is our burning home, we’re fucked. There’s no intergalactic fire department to save us. To maintain the relevance of her solution, I suggest to Rebecca an alternate metaphor…
You’re in the passenger seat of a gas-guzzling H2 Hummer speeding down a mountain towards a preschool. At the helm of this beast sits the president of Exxon Mobile. You’ve got three options:
1.) Sit passively–you’ll die (so will the kids)
2.) Jump out–you’ll might die (but the kids are dead for sure)
3.) Commandeer the Hummer and bring it to a safe stop (you live and save the kids)
#3 is the winner of course. Not only is it the conventionally moral choice, but it’s the sane choice as it’s the only one where you live. Now I could stipulate that #3 involves getting some cuts and bruises–maybe a broken bone–as you struggle to oust the oil man and that these wounds represent the struggle that will come with our divesting from the oil companies, but really, this just isn’t that persuasive. Aside from someone like Rebecca, who’s intimately involved with the notion of divesting, none of us our in that Hummer. A more persuasive metaphor could perhaps be fabricated with great mental investment, but with this essay, that is difficult. Maybe it’s possible that some of her arguments are simply doomed. Could it be that there exist moments where an argument is itself a mistake? Stay tuned for some further analysis.