The E Word, part I

Issue #7

I’m planning a series of Threshold which will be called “The E Word.” Meaning “environment,” and all of its variants: environmental, -ism, -ist.

That word really bugs me. It’s like the Continental Divide, it parts the waters. Over here, we have people. Over there, the environment.

On one side flows our thinking about economics, education, government, art -- all the human-made stuff. On the other side is...everything else. Everything that’s not us. (Which is a lot.) Tomatoes and the rainforest. Cicadas and whales. Air, water, soil, minerals. This rock we’re all standing on.

It makes no sense, and I’m hardly the first person to notice it. Start trying to define exactly what the "environment" is and is not, and you get into hot water right away. Are dogs who live in purses part of the “environment”? What about people who live in caves? It's a construct, and not a very good one.

But despite my ranting, the E word has infected our language – and therefore our thinking -- like a virus we can’t shake. And when I say “our” language, I mean mine.

To wit: my current tagline for Threshold is “deep dives into big moments of environmental change.” I’ve been using it as a placeholder while I try to come up with something better. It’s too long. Too many adjectives. And worst of all is that big clunker there at the end: environmental. Blech. Using this word says, “I’m going to tell stories about nature.” And that immediately sets up that silly divide – we’re going to talk about nature, not about people. And according to the frustrating (and factually incorrect) limitations of our language, people and nature are two different things.


There’s my complaint. Next week, thoughts on solutions.