February 3, 2011

How to Save the World: My self-portrait as an environmental hero

I remember very well the day I heard about the green house effect for the first time. That was before we called it global warming. I was in eight grade - the year was 1986 - the year of the Chernobyl disaster and the decade where Europe could see large areas of forests die off due to acid rain. Our teacher brought a copy of a popular science magazine which predicted how the continents with its people would most likely sink into the sea before we would reach old age. She talked about the consequences with a certain glee in her voice, knowing that she would already be dead by then (she was a rather bitter, older woman - not my favorite teacher). If life became depressing with Chernobyl and acid rain, it now descended into a horror movie of apocalyptic dimensions. I remained in deep, troubled silence for the rest of the school day.

My grandparents were at home when I returned from school, but I couldn't communicate with them about it. Although I loved them very much, they had very religious lenses through which they viewed the world. Especially my grandmother. I was sure she would again point out that Doomsday was right around the corner. Hallelujah. I had given up on expressing any of my wonder to them coming back from school. I remember when I was a little bit younger and had come to talk about Darwin and monkeys and such, she shut me up with a "fysj!" (Norwegian for something similar but not quite "yuck!") and a stern look. So on this Day of the Green House Effect I took my dog to my room and just lay down while hugging him. The future seemed like a black hole.

That year I was also taking typing classes as an elective. I felt like I was on the verge of becoming a semi-professional writer as I graduated from my hand-written journal to the typewriter. It had been my habit to re-write a situation I didn't like in my journals (or later, I would even re-write endings to books I thought ended on a sour note). My next writing project was thus in the "Saving the World" genre. I crafted myself as an environmental hero - an omniscient, and close to omnipotent, ecologist - who leads the world onto a new path of Life. I present this piece to you below.

You will notice towards the end of the essay that the young author becomes both a little rushed (the saving of the world happens a little too fast; fingers were probably growing tired or class was about to end) and slightly humble - understanding that it might be a wee bit pretentious to save the world single-handedly. I also modeled the God figure to fit my personal preference - a mild, wise, old man with deep feelings - rather than that of my grandmother (which to me seemed to be a psychopathic God).

I have translated this into English from the original Norwegian version, quite neatly typed on both pages of one page (saving paper and trees in the process). There was no title given to the piece, but if I were to give it a title today, it would be:


I was 14 when I wrote this and I do smile with tenderness towards that kid who tried her best to find a way out of the black hole of misery and death and into a landscape of beauty and magic. So, without further ado, please enjoy - or alternatively, feel free to cringe.

IT was a sunny morning in May; the only movement was the gentle flutter of sheets drying in the cool morning breeze. It was as if the world knew that it could now take a day off; it was deserved – humanity had redeemed itself. Dangers were no longer looming, the animals were watching over the now so pure humans; even the trees cradled the small houses in their dense, luscious branches. Who knows the meaning of danger in this place, I thought to myself as I saw the landscape in all its glory for the first time. 

I put my suitcase on the ground, my eyes were jubilant. We had done it; we sinful human beings had made it! God was proud of us now. I could see him smiling up in the crack of the clouds. The beautiful face which used to be heavy with sorrow was again radiant and open. I could hear him sing to all of us. His song had never been heard, nobody knew that God could sing, except me. I remember from when I was small and afraid of going to bed, afraid of the dark, God sat by me until I fell asleep. I was always anxious that he would leave before I fell asleep, but I should have known better. We had many such nights together, we never spoke, at least not he. He only sat on the edge of my bed with those sad, mild eyes, always listening. And then God sang. He sang so beautifully that the wind fell silent, pausing to listen to its Master. The Master of everything that exists; everything that will ever exist. The wind liked what it heard and joined in with its powerful voice – and I fell asleep…

This happened several times, and right now I had the same feeling, a feeling of safety that would last forever. It didn’t last forever, but it helped me by giving me a glimmer of light in the gray of daily life. Daily life in a world that mainly consisted of egocentric vermin of the species Homo Sapiens, a species dreaded by everything else on the once so glorious earth. But now I was filled with happiness as I looked out over the blue fjord. It had taken many years.

God was right, of course. I was happy now that I had done as he wished. It was after all a calling, not to follow it would be to betray God. But I was weak by nature, so it wasn’t strange that I rejected my calling at first. God was probably disappointed, but he didn’t show it, just told me to think. I was despondent and about to drift into the sea of indifference. The air was sick, I could see that, the trees had lost their will to live, I could see that too, but I cut my feeling string. It hurt, but it was also soothing; as the last drop of blood was wiped away, I knew I would never cry again. Once the feeling string is cut, it cannot grow back.

God came again. I had called and he had come. I cried and he consoled me in his way. The feeling string was back in its place, with a small adjustment that God assured me would only last the length of my calling, and then it would disappear. This adjustment was very important for the outcome, he said, and I understood. 

I liked the adjustment, it enabled me to feel pain when I saw the destruction, but the pain was not as strong as before. I could bear to see a dying river without screaming, I could bear almost anything without becoming sentimental. A person who measures the destruction of the earth in numbers and values it in money cannot be sentimental – otherwise the job will never get done. Thus I became an unsentimental, knowledgeable and loved ecologist – everything in an appropriate mix which enabled me access to most of the environmental scandals. I cleaned up and gave instructions on improvements, how one could invest in clean technology with economic as well as ecological profits. People listened and did as I said. I saw that they had started to learn. It wasn’t only the money that meant something to them now, it was LIFE

During the duration of my work, I only saw God once. It was right after a conference in Leningrad, I had been the only light in a sea of dark faces. Old men and women, tired of constant failure, tired of everything and knowing that nothing would help. Until I arrived. I showed them my model, explained how it worked. They lit up, wanted to believe what I said to be true. That was when I saw God again. I was on my way home and pretty light at heart. He touched me lightly on my shoulder:

You’re doing well.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

It’s going ok, not more than that.”


Why, God, why is it going so slowly? Why can’t you make the earth well again right away?”

I can’t, it’s as simple as that. It has to be a human being who does it, I cannot interfere in such matters. I can’t tell you why, just try to accept it. And a piece of advice from me – you will never win this fight alone, every single person has to join, remember that.

All that has been told is of course abbreviated and modified to make better sense of the event. After all, it is the whole life of a single human being that is compressed to a couple of pages. 

The story talks about God. But you can also call him Allah. The point is that there is something, without defining exactly what or who it is, that has created this earth and the universe. He, she, it or they love all this very much, but – for some reason we are not supposed to know – we are the ones who are responsible for the health of the earth. That’s just the way it is.


  1. Beautiful writing! Very very touching and so true. I came here through Shanthi's blog and loved this piece a lot. I really hope your wish here comes true and all of us human beings unite together to save our planet. Amen!

  2. Divs: so great to hear from you and that you liked my teenage writing :-) I was in Bangalore for physical therapy treatment in 2008 and loved every minute of it. I will look at your blogs - your profile is fascinating :-)