A City for Human-clams: a Plea for Environmental Immobility

A young man of my acquaintance, adequately nourished, and provided with a room and a gaming console appears to be sustainable, quite extraordinarily so, in the environmental sense. He has a small physical footprint. A few square feet of a pleasantly upholstered couch in an ill-lit room is all that is needed to sustain him. From this perch he can command vast legions of hobgoblins, medieval warlocks, sport heroes, and assorted heavily-armed movie characters. He can distract himself fBytheriveror days at a time, emerging from his room very occasionally, like a three-toed sloth, to pad to the latrine. An army of youth so employed needs little in the way of a great outdoors. Slightly soiled pajamas, or underpants, it seems, can suffice for clothing. The nutritional requirements of this battalion extend little beyond sodas and pop-tarts. In light of this, might it not be wise for us to reverse course, and rather than advocating strenuously, as many of us have, for urban kids to get out of doors to cultivate responsible environmental stewardship, might we not instead council the cultivation of obsessive gameplay, reclassifying it as environmentally laudable behavior?

If we take this pragmatic tack, setting aside our pious feelings about the “old environment” and the worthy pleasures to be found there, it is apparent that there are several tendencies in contemporary life that we might encourage rather than scorn. We have for too long decried our sedentary natures and the accompanying tendencies towards corpulence of body and spirit. Bloat a little, rest a little more; you are doing your bit for the environment. Applaud your small adventures in the great indoors – a peregrination from fridge to sofa will never have felt so good, and the lazy-boy is a fine environmental destination. Think of the gas saved compared with a trip to Yosemite – no planes, no trains, no automobiles. Even if your kids might like to romp in the corn fields of some distant rural hinterland, spare yourself the self-laceration. Quite simply a family ensconced in a moderately appointed metropolitan apartment may well have a smaller environmental cost than a family whizzing around in their so-called mini-van in some suburban Eden.

A back of the envelop calculation shows that the environmental footprint of the imm obile is smaller that of one in constant auto-motion. Whole earths can be saved by merely standing still[1].

To add just another small suggestion: if we could just promote a little selective devolution – a stepping back in evolutionary time – this could be amply rewarding in terms of a greatly reduced human impact. Many successful organisms are rooted in one place! Rather than conveying themselves to their messy foodstuffs, (often, it should be noted, by means of a tedious and energetic bumbling, swinging, galloping or walking), their food comes to them. But let us not be guilty of absurdity in our aspirations: advocating a return to plant life would be foolishness and any half-meditative evolutionist would remind us that plants are exquisitely evolved organisms in their own right – there is no “going back” to plants. No, rather we should devolve to the condition of the sessile organisms: something like a sea anemone or a coral or a barnacle. In fact, any animal that fixes itself to a substrate and waits for food to come its way can serve as a model. Lest this seem implausible, it should be noted that the evolutionary mechanism to achieve this is available to us already. There is nothing new under the sun, we have been told. And indeed if we follow the simple edict of switching our sexual fancies to those of our species that are already sluggish, this should start paying evolutionary dividends fairly rapidly. The children of a union between a gamer, for instance, and let’s say a knitter, or a pursuer of any of the meticulously slow-paced crafts (other excellent choices for biddable partners: scrapbookers, quilters, origami enthusiasts), should have sessile tendencies, on the basis of meticulous calculations ratified by the most rigorous of the sciences. It is hard to see why love-matches between pursuits that require nimble fingers rather than active legs should not provide an excellent evolutionary fresh start for the “new species” of human-kind.

As generation surpasses generation, human progeny should put down roots, so to speak; not, of course, as actual roots. No, plant roots are energetically expensive, diverting valuable resources from above to below. Rather, I advocate, indeed I predict, a simple anchoring of flesh to rock. We shall extrude byssal strands like our distant cousins amongst the molluscs. Imagine therefore entire villages or cities of human-clams, adhering firmly to bare rock, content to stay in one place, perhaps busily knitting, viewing television, or at play in sundry and sedentary ways.

Now you may object that this solution to our environmental problems, despite its initial attractiveness, is flawed in one crucial respect. Human need for nutriment may not be easily satisfied in this otherwise plausible scenario. One obvious solution is to train the lesser species, which otherwise do nothing particularly useful, to provision us with some necessary morsels. Would it really be difficult for a well-trained bonnet monkey to bake small treats (how difficult can it be to make a pop-tart) and to brew calorific beverages and serve them to their quiescent masters and mistresses? In India this species already pesters us; can we not harness tMonkey3heir antrophilia for good? Adding to the charm of this solution, consider this: since monkeys are part of nature, their “environmental impacts”, by definition, do not count as “environmental damage” (like earthquakes, volcanoes and marauding elephants, some seemingly enormous damage does not count at all!).

Remember finally that in current models of climate change sea levels are predicted to rise. Most of our coastal areas will be flooded. Where formerly this would have been an enormous human tragedy, under our new evolutionary regime it now, of course, seems like the final piece falling into place. Cities of pedunculate humans, heads bobbing freely like the smiling calyxes of large aquatic plants can then dispense with monkeys, and can wait for good and tasty sea-things to waft on by.

Photographs by Randall Honold.
From: Brute Neighbors: Urban Nature Poetry, Prose & Photography. Edited by Chris Green and Liam Heneghan, Forthcoming 2011, DePaul University Humanities Center, and DePaul Institute for Nature and Culture, Chicago.

[1] 5.25 Earth equivalents for a typical Midwestern who moves around versus 4.25 Earth equivalents for the immobile. http://myfootprint.org/