Portland has, as you probably know, this famous bookstore called Powell’s. In a twist on the story of cars taking over the world, Powell’s took over an automobile dealership way back when and has only gotten bigger and bigger over time.
Since I’m writing a book on Big Green Words (“big” not like Mary Poppins’ S word above, but as in pivotal status, cultural/political resonance, etc.), I thought I’d make a virtual dash to Powell’s to look for Big Words among their recommended environmental titles. A quick word cloud of 50 main terms from the top 100 or so titles is at right. The titles themselves are revealing; here are a few of my favorites, in alpha order:
- 50 Ways to Save the Honey Bees & Change the World
- Better Off: Flipping the Switch on Technology
- Goatman: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human
- How to Be a Cat | How to Be Alive | How to Grow More Vegetables & Fruits, Nuts, Berries, Grains, & Other Crops Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine
…I could go on. Some are classics (Silent Spring); some are by well-known authors (thus about a dozen Michael Pollan titles); some are more obscure. There are indeed common words, such as you’ll see in the word cloud: world, food, and change are interestingly the top three, whereas perennial green words like nature, systems, or planet are less prominent.
But there are deeper themes that emerge, and these point to the Big Words I am after. Consider, for instance, food/eating/home/homestead/permaculture/place vs. change/climate/end/life/planet/world: these groups of words resonate in large part with our ambivalence in affect and practice toward the local and the global. (My Big Words come in binary pairs, such as local/global—binaries tend to be both ubiquitous and insidious.) Reading these titles, one can construct a variety of stories; from the words noted above, some thematic narrative of global dystopia vs. local utopias emerges as significant.
Fine…but, how does pondering Big Green Words help us? That’s a subquestion of the larger question I hope to successfully address in my book: how does environmental theory help us? And the answer to that question will take more words than one post. For now, read my (dated) overview of environmental theory here—more in time!