The Planet is Fine. But...

“There is nothing more practical in the end than the preservation of beauty.” —Teddy Roosevelt

When I first heard about Earth Day, celebrated every year on April 22nd, I was ecstatic. Now there was a holiday I could get behind. A day not of archaic religious rituals, arbitrary social customs, or politically-correct nonsense, but one of timeless, universal import: awareness of, and concern for, the land on which we live. A day of selflessness, when people of every creed and culture would come together and rededicate themselves to the care of Earth! I immediately became a devoted Earth Day celebrant and proselytizer.

A few years later I came across this rant on the Internet, commonly attributed to comedian George Carlin:

“The greatest arrogance is this: Save the planet. Are you kidding me? The planet is fine. Been here 4 1/2 billion years. We've been here, what, 100,000? And we've only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over 200 years. Two hundred versus 4 1/2 billion. Yet we have the incredible conceit to think we're a threat.

The planet has been through a lot worse than us. It’s endured earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, the magnetic reversal of the poles, hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, fires, erosion, storms, and recurring ice ages. And we think a few plastic bags and aluminum cans are going to make a difference?

The planet isn't going anywhere, folks, we are! Pack your shit, we're going away. And we won't leave much of a trace. Thank God for that. Maybe a little styrofoam. The planet'll be here and we'll be long gone. Just another failed mutation; another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac.

The planet'll shake us off like a bad case of fleas. And it will heal itself, because that’s what it does; it’s a self-correcting system. The air and water and earth will recover and be renewed. And if plastic isn’t really degradable, most likely the planet will incorporate it into a new paradigm: The Earth Plus Plastic.

The Earth doesn’t have a particular prejudice against plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. Perhaps it sees plastic as one of its many children. It could be the reason the Earth allowed us to be spawned here in the first place. It wanted plastic, but didn’t know how to get it! In fact, that could be the answer to our age-old question: 'Why are we here?' Plastic, assholes!"

For all its humorous hyperbole, Carlin’s rant is right-on. The planet is fine. It doesn’t care who or what occupies its surface, or whether that surface is green and glorious or dark and dismal. It has no particular penchant for sunshine, clean air & water, and biological diversity. It’s a rock, for crying out loud, a freakin’ inanimate object! It doesn’t care about anything.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m about as diehard a conservationist as you’ll find. If I were elected Benevolent Dictator of the Known Universe, every house in the Bridger foothills would be torn down, and streamside setbacks on the Gallatin would be at least a half-mile. All “No Trespassing” signs would be replaced by “Welcome, Friend” woodcuts. New housing developments would be clustered, not parceled into distinct 20- and 40-acre ranchettes. Anybody unwilling to accept their 1/4-acre scintilla of private ground would be immediately sterilized, to prevent their muddled mindset from propagating itself and continuing to degenerate the character of Montana.

But all these measures are not about saving the planet. They’re not even about saving us. They’re about saving a lifestyle, about keeping Montana what it is and always should be: The Last Best Place. A place of seemingly infinite open space, abundant natural beauty, and an easy-going way of life.

With that in mind, this issue of Outside Bozeman is devoted to sustainability. Yes, it’s a hackneyed buzzword, but the intent is pure: sustaining our way of life, so that future generations can enjoy what we enjoy today. That includes everything from healthy food to a healthy economy, clean air & water to clean living, rewarding recreational opportunities to stimulating social events. As far as we’re concerned, Bozeman is the coolest place in the world to live—and we want to keep it that way. If that means making a few sacrifices, so be it.

Because in the end, the purpose of our lives is not to make more money, buy more stuff, and increase the square footage of our homes. We’re here for one reason: to re-create ourselves, both individually and as a community—and to pass on any improvements made along the way. And what better way to accomplish that than by preserving the beauty that surrounds us?