INSTALLATION 3: WHAT WOULD DOROTHY DO?
Whenever I do dishes I can't help but wonder how biology professor Dr. Dorothy Boorse cleans her flatware. Knowing that a past student thinks about her at some point every day might seem unsettling, but I'm sure she knows this is just the price you pay for teaching environmental stewardship.
When I walk around campus and contemplate cutting across the quad, I see her there over my shoulder like some stern guardian angel, waving a disapproving finger and repeating the mantra "Soil degradation: you're degrading the soil . . ."
If my wife, Natalie, is brushing her teeth and leaves the water running for more than 2.5 seconds, I freak. There Dr. B is again, holding an egg timer of doom aloft our foamy mouths. "Only three percent of the earth's water supply is fresh, bryan." I then picture Natalie and myself in some post-apocalyptic shack trying to desalinize kettle after kettle of seawater.
I can conserve H20 when we brush, and I do a commendable job walking on designated paths rather than on the grass. But how the heck am I supposed to do the dishes? Do I fill a plastic tub and use the same water for every dish? Is that really conserving anything other than bacteria? Should I just let the faucet run weakly and rely on elbow grease to get old béchamel sauce off a cast iron skillet? While I wait for the water to warm up I often think "I should be bottling this…I'm sure that's what Dorothy does."
To make matters worse, environmental scare tactics are popping up everywhere. Inconvenient truths and ruffled rebuttals fly back and forth leaving me feeling like (see Installation 2) a globally warmed death waits like a 50-foot wave of political outrage. Some say it's not as bad as we think, that we've been coming out of an ice age for centuries. Others tell me that the act of living emits harmful gases--and when you die, even more gases! So when you're scared to death enough to stay alive and slowly emit, how can you proceed with doing the dishes in good conscience?
After watching the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, our creative director, Tim Ferguson Sauder, walked into the office and without saying "hi" announced "Well, that's it. We're doomed. We're as good as dead." He later returned from a meeting and confessed to my coworker Grant and me that he couldn't remember anything he'd just talked about. He was too busy sadly envisioning a world without polar bears.
I have not watched this documentary. To some this will sound like a guilty confession, and to others it will be a sign that I'm not buying into the hype. I don't agree with either of these sentiments. I can't decide to watch it for no reason but self-preservation. And before you peg me as someone afraid of critical engagement, let me say that movies affect me in profound ways. At the end of most films, my imagination leads me to believe I am the just-seen protagonist. At 12 years old I rode my bike home as if a heat-seeking missile hunted me after seeing Mission Impossible. After watching Half Nelson recently, I started imagining that I had a damaging addiction to drugs.
Therefore, I can only assume if I watch the Gore-y shock-doc, I'll start googling "how to build an underground fallout shelter" (this phrase yields, 1,080,000 results).
What I have started watching is the Discovery Channel's 11-part mini-series Planet Earth. The tidbits I've gathered so far are innumerable: I hadn't realized birds of paradise were better dancers than I, nor had I pondered the regenerative power of bat guano.
Both documentaries showcase a world most of us don't get to see. They ram home the notion that just because we can't see it doesn't mean we can ignore it. The difference is in the delivery. One uses fear to evoke urgency while the other uses wide-eyed beauty. You don't need to put a spin on the earth to get us to notice its issues; it spins quite effectively on its own. People driven by fear will not change the world for the better. To be moved to environmental action, we need only to look at it-as Planet Earth allows us to do.
It is a relief to my jumpy imagination that I don't need to join Greenpeace to help the earth. However, I'll dutifully continue to appease the Dorothy on my shoulder.
bryan parys doesn't like to capitalize his name, and is the web editor at Gordon College. If she doesn't happen to read this, could one of you kindly instruct Dr. Boorse to email him the sustainable method of dishwashing?