The environmental movement needs a voice, a writer who can make its case to a large number of people in an accessible way. Where are the writers who can do more than compile monotonous lists of facts and figures, or politely illustrate their blog posts with a series of undramatic PowerPoint-style charts? What we need to get people involved are human stories, told in an entertaining and emotional way—environmental journalism needs its own Hunter S. Thompson or Joan Didion, a writer with voice, passion, and skill.
This is not to belittle the excellent journalists already at work on environmental topics—David Roberts at Grist, for example, and the New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert—but a breakout talent is necessary to bring these ideas to the mainstream. Conservatives have slowly been chipping the An Inconvenient Truth–inspired upsurge in environmental awareness down to a nub, and Republican presidential candidates are getting huge rounds of applause at debates for suggesting that business needs less environmental regulation in order to save the economy. Clearly, more than ever, we need a hero.
Seven Stories Press recently published two books by environmentalist Derrick Jensen—Dreams and Deep Green Resistance, which he coauthored with Aric McBay and Lierre Keith—that show exactly what environmental writing does not need more of. Jensen is basically your stereotypical hippie. The focal point of Dreams is reports about Jensen's dreams. "I'm on an island," one chapter begins. "It is a paradise: pristine white beaches, turquoise water, tall trees swaying in soft breezes. But there are too many people. Humans everywhere." Jensen crosses over to the other side of the island to find "the ocean is filled with junked cars. Chemical effluents seep from every crevice in the cliff face, and oils ooze from sand... As far as I can see, both toward the land and toward the sea, there is nothing but trash." There are dreams of apocalypse in every chapter, and the poor, sleep-deprived dear doesn't seem to realize that these anecdotes do nothing but illustrate the fact that Mr. Jensen has some very vivid dreams.
On a slightly more corporeal level, Jensen rages against the science of Richard Dawkins in favor of a vague, pantheistic earth-worship. He repeatedly speaks on behalf of animals everywhere (did you know that animals don't like progress? That's what they report through Jensen, although I do know some pretty contented dogs who might make a compelling case to the contrary) and he rhapsodizes, hornily, about trees for pages at a time.
This kind of narcissistic navel-gazing is not going to change people's minds and inspire them to action. It's precisely the course of action that marginalized the environmental movement in the first place. People are interested in people—why can't someone tell human stories in a manner that illustrates the danger we're all in, and make a clear, compelling case about why we need to take action now? Why are these stories still untold?