In the very first chapter of his very first book, Winnie-the-Pooh and his human friend Christopher Robin play out the rise and fall of industrialism. We can learn from their tale.
As Winnie-the-Pooh walks through the forest, he hears a beehive at the top of a tree. His thought process takes him from “The only reason for being a bee that I know of is making honey,” to “And the only reason for making honey is so as I can eat it.” He decides to raid the hive.
His initial attempt to climb the tree is a crashing failure, so he deploys balloon technology to access the hive. After providing the balloon, Christopher Robin collaborates in a crude deception, hoping to trick the bees into perceiving mud-covered Pooh as a rain cloud.
Unsurprisingly, the bees, not fooled, react to the attempted exploitation of their home with an angry defense. Winnie-the-Pooh, now in a precarious situation but afraid to let go of his balloon, needs Christopher Robin to shoot the balloon down. The first shot accidentally hits and hurts Pooh, but the second gently deflates the balloon, returning him to grounded safety.
Our society treats nonhumans the same way Winnie-the-Pooh does the bees—as having no value or purpose beyond servicing our desires. We exploit them, their homes, and their creations without reciprocating in mutual relationship. We use fossil fuels to invade previously inaccessible reaches and unfathomable depths, smashing and grabbing as much as we can.
Much as Pooh and Christopher worked in tandem on Pooh’s heist, some of us unabashedly build and maintain energy, mining, manufacturing, transportation, finance, telecommunications, administrative and information technologies. Like the “little black rain cloud,” some of us masquerade as “green” with biofuels and solar panels and ecofriendly labels, while others play along with the absurd deception. We all hope nature won’t catch on to our greenwashed machines ripping out the raw materials for our luxuries.
We’re uncomfortably aware that our one-sided relationship with nature has put us in a hazardous position, but we’re unable to let go. Fossil fuels endanger us, yes…but the promise of more goodies is irresistible! And like Winnie-the-Pooh, we’ve made ourselves dependent on our technology. It seems too far to fall if we give it up, so we can’t see through the short term fears to the long term benefits.
We need a Christopher Robin to do what we can’t or won’t—disable the fossil fueled industrialism to which we cling.
Like the bees, increasingly angry with Winnie-the-Pooh, the earth reacts to our encroachment with growing severity—stronger and more frequent fires, droughts, storms, and floods. But unlike Pooh, who didn’t litter the ground with broken glass and jagged scraps of metal, we’ve guaranteed a painful landing. Industrial activity has poisoned the water, soil, and air, destabilized the climate, eroded the topsoil, dammed the rivers, and clearcut the forests we’ll need for survival—and it continues to do so at accelerating rates. And while Pooh endangered only himself, we’ve put nonhumans at risk—individuals, local populations, and entire species—to whom we have obligations and on whom we depend.
We need our Christopher Robins to take their shots as soon as possible. Hopefully it’s not too late for them to let us down gently with relatively gradual tactics of civil disobedience and ecosabotage rather than militancy. Yet they can’t wait for some perfect shot with no risk of hurting us. Even as we make the earth less habitable, we add a net 227,000 humans every day. The longer our experiment in madness continues, the more likely it is to end in mass die-off of humans and nonhumans.
What will be your role in this story? Will you countenance the foolish facade of green industrialism, for the reward of stolen honey? Will you recognize the perils yet cling helplessly, awaiting fate? Or will you take a shot at bringing our society back to earth; will you help stop fossil fuels?