This is Issue 74.2 of Digestable, your thrice-weekly mouthful of things happening in the world.
Today’s news, fermented:
Eric Sanderson, the guy who’s always talking about that map, wrote a guest essay last week: Let Water Go Where It Wants to Go. He explains that the map of flooding after Ida is essentially a map of the historic streams and wetlands that are currently disguised under the layers of landfill and concrete that now make up the city.
He notes that politicians making the case for affordable housing not in basements and calls for infrastructure investment are all reasonable ones to make. But, he argues, it’s most important to stop treating the landmass like a blank canvas (the ideology behind the whole grid system, not to mention commercial real estate) and building basement apartments in marshlands. Makes sense, yes?
Sanderson also reminds us that for thousands of years, the Lenape were just fine living near marshlands, because they were actually paying attention to what the ecosystem was doing (and weren’t emitting gigatons of toxic emissions).
There was one piece of his argument which gave me pause, though—he referred to solving storm water problems with “nature based solutions.” In context, I understand what this means (letting streams run where they run, restoring marshlands, etc); but in climate policy, ‘nature based solutions’ means something way different.
They can look like a corporation (Shell, BP, so on) claiming to pursue “net zero” emissions, then displacing a huge number of Indigenous people from their land, and planting a bunch of random trees (that probably are not inclined to grow there) and then saying they’re “sequestering carbon.”
I could go on endlessly about this, and other false solutions, but Greta Thunberg actually said it best. Words are powerful always; if they are attached to action, they can be transformative, and if not, create cover for bad plans that shorten humanity’s welcome on earth.
This morning I also read about all those nice billionaires who are investing in land conservation. A good thing to invest in, sure, but a bunch of rich white people buying up land all over the world to “protect” it sounds like a big ol red flag to me. The article talks about how it’s so important to have private funding for conservation, because governments aren’t chipping in.
That phenomenon is not unique; governments tend to not invest in climate action because it’s not lucrative. Continuing to idealize “growth” and respecting market forces above all else is going to cause catastrophe, but it’s not profitable, which is why, I guess, we’re leaving it to the people who already have too much money (and who are causing this crisis to begin with) to invest in buying up ecosystems.
While we’re on people voting and acting against their interests, it looks like most people in West Virginia, home to obstructionist Senator Manchin, are actually really excited about the infrastructure/reconciliation bill. That bill lays a foundation for the international climate talks, happening in just 4 weeks, to either be a place for meaningful action, or not.
It’s not hard to trace clear lines from billionaires and development and capitalism, all driven by racism and colonization, which are rooted in a belief that people and ecosystems can be disposable, to the crisis we’re facing.
But just for…kicks, I figured I’d check in on what’s happening outside of my news bubble:
Anyway, here’s a pretty little bird we didn’t move fast enough to save.
Brought to you by the superb Latifah Azlan.
Although I do enjoy a good play every now and then, I am by no means a theater connoisseur and have no expertise in Broadway in particular. I've relished every opportunity I've had to see a show on Broadway, but I'm not the type to know each by heart or obsess over a musical's soundtrack for weeks on end like some of my friends who are such fans tend to be. In short, I'm no theater kid, but I'm "cultured" enough on one end of the spectrum to know and appreciate theater every now and then, and on the other end, to find the fall-over-one's self praise of Hamilton a little overblown and baffling (he rapped! and sang off key! while wearing powdered wigs! revolutionary!).
Anyway, there's a new Broadway-to-screen movie adaptation in town and it's called Dear Evan Hansen. I remember Dear Evan Hansen being quite a hit when it first premiered in 2015 and a lot of my theater kid friends really did love it and the soundtrack. I've never seen the musical before so I don't have any opinions on it but it's been turned into a movie that was released this month and the response has been quite negative. Actually, people have absolutely dunked on the movie every chance they've gotten and it has a low score on the movie rating site Rotten Tomatoes, which is never a good sign and might make Dear Evan Hansen a contender for a Golden Raspberry Award next year.
If you're not familiar with the play, it's about a teenage boy who finds himself wrapped up in a lie of his own making. It's a bit convoluted but basically, Evan Hansen is a socially awkward boy who writes these self-affirming letters to himself and prints them out. When a fellow high schooler, Connor, accidentally reads one of these letters and ends up dying by suicide a few days later, Evan goes along with the misunderstanding that the letter he wrote was Connor's suicide note, leading the deceased boy's parents to believe that Evan was Connor's only friend in school. Evan eventually finds himself getting deeper and deeper into this misunderstanding, which also propels him to popularity among his community.
Having written the plot out, I see how absolutely loony the premise of the musical is. But at the time of its premiere, Dear Evan Hansen was praised for its handling of mental health as a central theme of the play. As a movie though, people have been highly critical of the plot and the fact that Ben Platt, who starred as the titular character both in the play's original run and reprises this role in the movie adaptation, clearly isn't the age Evan Hansen would be when he finds himself entangled in this elaborate lie, which makes the whole affair slightly cringier than it would have been had an actual teenage boy was cast instead. Ben is 28 years old in real life and there's speculation that they had to use prosthetics and special makeup on him to make him look 17 as intended.
I was going to say that prosthetics and makeup speaks for itself but I've decided that I also would like to speak for it. You know those reality shows of Amish people leaving their Amish communities and "relearning" life in modern society or as a "normal person" or whatever TLC usually gets thrown bucket-loads of money to produce and air? Imagine that show, but for Whoville residents who decide to ditch the hair gel and crushed velvet costumes for a pair of New Balance 45s and crushing social anxiety to go to high school in Ohio. That is what Ben Platt looks like, and where it feels he is coming from.
I... don't particularly care for this movie so I don't think I'll be spending any time or money on viewing it to form my own opinion outside of the online echo chamber that has decided to brand Dear Evan Hansen the disappointment that it is. I agree that the special effects used to make Ben look younger for the role has unintentionally had the opposite effect of actually making him look creepier on screen but other than that, it's only been amusing to me to see the Evan Hansen discourse that's raged on Twitter these last couple of days. An important thing to note is Ben's dad is an executive producer for this movie which casts his casting in a new light. I do feel kind of bad for Ben that what was clearly supposed to be a star-making vehicle for him has just been absolutely shat on but whew, sometimes you just gotta know when to say no. What do you think of the play and the adaptation?