“If You Really Cared About the Environment”: A Very Broke-Ass Meditation

As many of you lovelies know, Broke-Ass has friendly feelings toward The Environment (even though she loathes the imprecision and jack-off-y-ness of that term). Many of these feelings are, however, motivated by the wish to provide a wholesome and inexpensively-run household for her family. To tell the truth, this is pretty much Broke-Ass’ motivation to do anything. If The Environment is not harmed by her using baking soda and vinegar to clean; raise her own veggies; keep her own chickens for eggs; etc.; well, then, hooray.

Because of this, Broke-Ass was asked to write stuff about her life, and while the vast majority of the response to her humble foray into environmental writing (or whatever you’re supposed to call it) has been really lovely and identifying, the pointy barbs that have been smugly poked into her side have served as rather hurtful reminders as to why poor people often fucking hate eco do-gooders: They’re smug and mean-spirited. Or they sure as hell can come off that way.

For example, when Broke-Ass recently wrote about feeding a family of five for under ten bucks, she received a response chastising her for even having three children in this age of overpopulation and that it would be easier to feed one or two people. Oh, shoot–you’re right! Broke-Ass will definitely decide which child to feed and starve the other two: It’s the environmentally thoughtful response. And it sure will make dinner time easier! Hey, thanks for the tip!

Asshole. When she wrote an innocuous article on why raising chickens in the city is cheap and and cool for kids because they can see that–in spite of inhabiting a rawther broke household–there are inventive ways to be self-sufficient, someone wrote in to make fun of Broke-Ass’s “ability to get so much rhetorical meat off of poor, asthmatic, miserable city chicks,” before going on to write: “What wonders could you perform with a Ostrich or better yet a Dodo?”

What wonders indeed! Oh me, you clever little dickens! Broke-Ass reckons she’ll just light up her corn-pipe, lower  NPR’s “All Things Considered” a tad, and quietly strum a 19th Century sea shanty on her mandolin as she ruminates on what a smug fucking prick you are.

Seriously. When people who have no money are lectured about how they’re doing everything wrong already, and are then, in the lightning round, told they don’t have any consideration for anyone other than themselves and their appallingly bloated families–much less for “the planet”–it’s one of many daily slaps in the face they have to endure. And are then asked to be grateful for the chance at enlightenment.

Most people struggling to get by are simply trying to do what they can for their families today, and maybe, if things are going slightly better, a week or two ahead. There is no time, no mental energy–no fucking money–to consider the aerial environmental view. Criticizing people under egregious stress is not only an ineffective tactic, it frankly lacks even baseline compassion.

Hydrofracking, for example, is clearly extremely bad for a whole host of reasons, the most salient of which have been well-documented by excellent news outlets. However, she often notes that while opponents know about the people most affected by this industry, they either don’t know them personally–or waited until the crisis reached critical mass before making efforts to get to know them. By then, even activists have said, it was kind of too late. Because most often, those people need money, and the industry gives them work or buys their property. To be suddenly and insultingly bossed around by a bunch of yoga studio owners and downstate media types in their own hometown environs–where they and their forebears have lived and eked out a living for generations? What else would you expect but a big “fuck you”? It’s why the townies have always hated the college students.

“Community outreach” has a condescending smack to it. It conjures up visions of “the community” being lured into marketing come-ons with free donuts and stale sandwiches so that they can be forced to listen to all the smart, educated people talk to them about things like “value of diversity” and “environmental impact.” You think people don’t know what this means? It means they are, as always, being reminded that they’re so damn broke that they have to exchange their dignity for some free fucking donuts and lunch meat because they know that you don’t want to know about the realities of their lives: You just want them to shut up and do what you say.

Broke-Ass’s very awesome friend Annie had this to say:

The Yoga “people” are often just as bad–coercive denial artists with an uppermiddle class desire to just have the powerless and the angry shut up. … It’s really time for another French Revolution, and the yoga people can all be re-educated as inner-city bus drivers and McDonald’s fry cooks. Let’s see how “positive” they are then!

It is hard to have no money. It sucks having to do shitty jobs that don’t pay well. It makes people angry and defensive. You want to do “community outreach”? Hang out with your neighbors! Shoot the shit! Get to know them over time! Invite them over! Open your heart: Their world is very different from yours.

You might discover in due course, for example, that your neighbor grew up in central Mexico and that his mom is a famous midwife there. He thus knows a ton of herbal remedies that you’ve never heard of but that, when he thoughtfully offers them to you, work splendidly. You might also discover that he knows a fuckload about raising chickens and civil engineering and can give you a hand building coops, though he does not show up with some regularity. When you say, “So, where the hell were you?”, you learn that he had to move out from the apartment with his wacko girlfriend and into a studio apartment with a ton of other guys, that he drinks too much on the weekends, that he is constantly harassed by the cops, and that because he has super long hair and his English isn’t great, they make proof-less presumptions and fuck with him because they can. You might get so mad that you start dialing the precinct and then hang up because he’s illegal, and you don’t want to get him in trouble. You tell him to call you if this happens again, and you will come bail him out.

You might grow to understand that he has several kids with a woman whom he did not treat well, and that woman is remarried and that though she has barred him from contacting his children, he also hasn’t made much of an effort. You might say to him, “Stop being such a pussy, and find a way to see your kids–you’ll be sorry if you don’t!” You might tell him you had an alcoholic asshole for a dad and that, after your parents’ divorce, he never really tried to see you and that even though he died a few years ago, you still have his number on your cell phone under “Dad.” He might then tell you about his own alcoholic, cheating dad, start to get sad, and then tell you to mind your own damn business. But you also note that his eyes light up when your kids come home, and that they love playing with him. When he offers to watch your toddler when you have a surprise meeting and no child care, you are about crying with gratitude, and when you return, he has the baby on his hip and is frying up eggs he collected from the chicken coop.

He might tell you that his mom’s household was like yours–eating homegrown veggies and eggs–that he’d never eaten anything with pesticides on it until he came to this country, that it’s outrageous how expensive chemical-free food is. You two might rant about this regularly for years to come, but in the meantime, you might tell him that the only reason you do all this DIY shit is because it’s cheaper than buying all that stuff at the market. He might tell you that you’re lucky that you have a house with space enough to pull it off, and you’ll agree.

You might tell him that if he wants to fix up the garage with your help, he can live there for free because over the past several years he’s become like a brother to you, and you want to be clear: He is not alone. He might look at you for a moment and then turn away, crying. You might tell him that if you have to eat another egg, you’re going to kill yourself–can’t he just make a cheese tamale or something? He tells you that you know he hates spicy food and that you don’t have cheese anyway. You might both howl loudly.

You might also discover, for example, that the person you thought was a loudmouth, entitled yuppie masquerading as a dirt farmer in South Brooklyn actually never has more than $57 in her bank account after basic bills have been paid–and sometimes, not even then, after which the phone rings incessantly with calls from threatening creditors–and that she went though a divorce that left her all but bankrupt and that her divorce agreement precludes her from moving out of the city, though she clearly cannot afford to live here anymore. You might discover that her own parents’ divorce impoverished her mother, that this person started earning a living as a reporter at 18-years-old to pay for college–that writing is the only thing she’s ever done for a living, and she loathes herself for not having learned a practical trade and for being such an errant failure for her kids.

You might discover that birth control doesn’t always work, even when correctly deployed. You might discover that stress and not great nutrition can bring on miscarriage–or, in rarer cases, the appearance of one. You might discover that when people are struggling and panicking and have no health insurance, they can’t spend days waiting in line at the free clinic because they’re terrified of  losing their jobs. You might discover that when people in such circumstances learn that they are, in fact, well into their second trimester of pregnancy, they are riven by fear and panic and a sense of hopelessness. You might learn that they are now just trying to do what they can to enjoy and support their children, to give them as dignified and industrious a home as possible–in as toxin-free an environment as South Brooklyn permits.

Reserve judgement. Then talk about the environment. And listen.


About brokeassgrouch

I'm goddamned broke and grouchy. I live in the middle of the damned ghetto and raise chickens for eggs; grow all my own vegetables and fruit; bake the bread and make the cleaning products. Why? Because I fucking have to, that's why! That's what you do when you're fucking poor! You have to make the shit yourself, dumb-ass! Broke-Ass Grouch is sick of all you Bennington and RISD trustafarians yapping about your "urban farming co-ops" and your "carbon conscious lifestyle" and your "green choices" in the Times Styles section and every alternapress periodical that you can pick up for free in every eye-wateringly expensive, edgy bakery or green-market. Maybe when you have a trust fund, you can make "choices" or have a "lifestyle" or "decide" how to "spend" your "money." Excuse me, but Mama is just trying to feed her kids over here, you little shits. And stop spraying your art-school graffiti on the fence of the vacant lot across the street from my house. I know who you are, and I'm telling my friend Keith (who lives in the projects) that it was you who painted that cartoon of the African mask. So what can I tell you? I don't fucking know. I know a lot about being broke, sure as Bob's your fucking uncle. I know about how useless an Ivy League degree is when you're flat-ass broke. I know how to unclog a drain with baking soda and vinegar, and I know how to make my own CHEESE, for fuck's sake. You tell me.
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8 Responses to “If You Really Cared About the Environment”: A Very Broke-Ass Meditation

  1. Kristy Lynn says:

    WELL SAID, Broke-Ass.

    It’s true – much of the eco-movement is a classed, race invizibilizing, douche-bag organizing of people. I’m glad you’ve said what you have. And in the way that you have.

    I agree – think before jumping on the preachy-happy environment train. Think. Do what you can. Think. When you can. Think. And be nice to each other. And most importantly, fucking think.

  2. glad to meet says:

    SAD. This is sad. Too many people Judge instead of helping out….
    and maybe just to a person next to you and not THE WHOLE ENVIRONMENT!
    and then the Environment would get cleaner by people being nicer to each other….

    Thank you.

  3. Sarah says:

    I can’t believe people have said these things to you.

    where there’s people
    there’s flies
    and Buddhas

  4. Sarah says:

    better version:

    “Where there are humans,
    You’ll find flies,
    And Buddhas.”

  5. jenabrams says:

    As always, Broke-Ass, you speak more sanely than, well, pretty much anyone. Thanks.

  6. simon says:

    Well said Broke-Ass G, though you shouldn’t waste a minute reminding a-holes the particulars of what makes them so.

    Robert Ingersoll wrote nearly 150 yrs ago “intellect, without heart, is infinitely cruel…” The grandiosity of our society today, and what makes it such a regurgitated basket case, is it only allows for intellect but no heart, no thought with empathy. It is –what would otherwise be– decent folk turned into mindless consumers whose most important motivators are one-upping each other.

    This will pass. The economic shock that happened in 2008 will not be the only one. The Friedman Doctrine and Ayn Rand’s self-righteous greed embraced by us in the last 50yrs have made it impossible for us to evade subsequent painful social-economic shocks, VERY painful shocks.

    These shocks are about we society coming face to face with the reality of finite energy. America came to think it hit on infinite energy when it started producing petroleum 150yrs ago. That all changed with the oil shocks of the 1970s and we became the planet’s #1 importer instead.
    Not having done much since to build resilience and self-sufficiency (i.e. “grit”) but rather elected buffoons who sold us into the jokes of supply-side-economics and a myriad of other BS from Friedman and Rand, we are now at the peak of what we can consume, and what we can irreparably damage in our rush to consume, and the laws of physics are telling it is no longer attainable. But laws of physics be dammed as we try to keep the status quo going until it becomes painfully untenable, lo, there may come a time when there will be a majority that will finally take evolution as fact rather than theory.

    With the next economic shock many more millions will be pushed to the brink and many will fall into the precipice as we go forward on our stepwise simplification (ie. decline) that will define our modern times. The same will be repeated again, and again, until we no longer remember stretches of growth interspersed by short recessions, but the reversed will be the norm.

    Such economic shocks as the ones coming will affect hardest those most embedded in our consumer society.
    You will likely be considered one of the lucky few because the self-sufficiency and resilience you are developing will see you fairly unaffected by the subsequent economic shocks we will be experiencing. Right now, societies least affected by the economic shocks occurring are those least dependent on external consuming.

    You might not see it that way now, but your children are fortunate as well to learn what you are learning while at the same time learning how to remain engaged in society. That is the type of human being that will create a better future, a more simple future, a future that will see more and more of us raising chickens and growing some of our sustenance while at the same time engaged in the technological gadgetries that will make society at large more resilient, self-sufficient and resourceful. Who knows, they may yet find a neat bridge/alternative to energy-condensed oil, but it will be slow and it will be a while.

    Broke-Ass, the piece you did on frac’ing for GRIST was eye-opening to many and what’s happened near Lancaster PA since only makes it more important.
    You’ll be wise to become more intimate with finite resource, i.e. Peak Oil”, or rather “Peak Cheap Oil.” So much will make sense on where we are and where we’re going as a society and as a species and what we can do about it. There’s much more to it than frac’ing. Frac’ing being only a necessary environment-killing-option as we try to negate finite energy and declare we must have growth-at-all-cost so we can continue mindless consumerism.

    P.S. – I highly recommend an intro into finite resource by viewing Dr. Albert Bartlett’s “Arithmetic, Population and Energy” presentation, available online for free, he has it on his website. Then researching a bit on Marion King Hubbert, then reading a bit on Joseph A. Tainter’s research on complex societies and their Achilles Heel. From then on reading some of the bits of ASPOUSA.org and TheOilDrum.com, both packing much info on resource dependency and depletion.

    P.S.S. -sorry for the long winded piping.

  7. Michelle says:

    Just discovered you today and I am now definitely a fan. I think I love you. Found your article in the WSJ online, The Divorce Generation, and I have been reading your blog and other back articles nonstop for the last 2 hours now. I HAVE to get back to work but I WILL be purchasing the memoir. Oh, and I will return later, with cup of tea in hand, to indulge myself with a blog readathon. Keep writing!

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