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The Big Picture

mpan1's picture

            In response to “As the World Burns” by Derrick Jensen and Stephanie McMillan, Teju Cole, the author of “The White- Savior Industrial Complex” would state that the complex is prominent in any situation whether it targets justice or environmental issues. He would further agree with the idea that one contribution towards environmental problems is the fact that people are not looking at the bigger picture to solve the damage caused to the environment. In Cole’s article, he argues that people, especially white privileged people, go out of their way to better situations merely to satisfy their own needs of making themselves feel better. In other words, it is only based on selfish motives that people go out of their way to help others. In addition to that, many times people also do not try to fix the root problem of an issue, which therefore does not alleviate an issue in any substantial way as evidenced in Jensen and McMillan’s graphic novel.

            There are many problems that lead to the continuation of environmental degradation. One reason is that most people are only concerned about how they are perceived rather than actively fighting for a cause. Cole’s first point in his article states that, “the white savior supports brutal policies in the morning, founds charities in the afternoon, and receives awards in the evening”(Cole 2). People are hypocrites. They put on an appearance to make themselves look like saints. Some people don’t genuinely care about the cause they try to better. Many times, they are only using that cause to make them feel more positively about themselves or to make their lives more purposeful. In “As the World Burns”, a campaign was set up “against the aliens eating every tree in the forest and every fish in the ocean”(Jensen and McMillan 68). The progress consisted of sending a letter to the President, raising five million dollars for an organization, and petitioning. The people involved in this campaign seem happy with their progress but ultimately petitioning and raising money is not actually doing anything. These are not long term actions. These efforts might even be totally useless if the President decides not to do anything which is probable since the only thing on the President’s mind is gold. Petitioning may seem helpful but that is only if enough people genuinely care about the cause. Therefore, these events lead to no direct nor long term actions to fix the environment. This is another example that demonstrates that these activists are not actually aiming to better the environment but to satisfy their own needs. Furthermore, when one of the campaigners who genuinely cares about the cause asks, “What about the fish? What about the trees?” the only response she gets is, “What about them?” (Jensen and McMillan 68). After that, the idea is dismissed immediately before someone asks if they can get celebrities to sign the petition. This exchange emphasizes the idea of the white savior complex and how the sole reason people choose to support a cause is to benefit themselves. Furthermore, the ways to go upon fixing the problem are also usually not effective at all.  

            Moreover, near the end of the graphic novel all the natural elements and wild animals gather to fight back against the aliens who represent the takeover of corporations. A pair of flies encourage the campaigners to “come join [them] [and] fight for [their] lives”( Jensen and McMillan 201). The woman who was concerned about the trees and fish joins these animals, but the others act annoyed and ask for a fly swatter instead. This demonstrates their focus on one aspect of the environment and dismissiveness of the other organisms and other environmental related events. Therefore, it shows the true attitude of these people in that they genuinely don’t care about the issues they advocate for change. As Cole points out, Americans were “[f]everish[ly] worry[ing] over that awful African warlord. But close to 1.5 million Iraqis died from an American war of choice”(3). When people choose to segregate issues that are closely related it is a big indicator that these people are only involved for selfish reasons.

            Another point Cole makes is that, “This world exists simply to satisfy the needs—including, importantly, the sentimental needs—of white people and Oprah”(2). People are naturally selfish. When the head of the corporation is speaking to a politician who recommends him to be more concerned about the environment by using solar panels or biofuels and carrying low energy light bulbs, his only response is,” I don’t pay extra?”( Jensen and McMillan 24). The corporation head is only concerned about making money and profits. Other issues such like the environment are not his concern despite the fact that caring for the environment should be everyone’s responsibility. Therefore in this head of corporation’s point of view the world exists solely so that he can earn money. People are not concerned about issues if it does not benefit them in any way to do so.

            Lastly Cole points out that “there is much more to doing good work than ‘making a difference’”(7). After Kranti and Bananabelle brainstorm about what people can do to contribute to alleviating the destruction inflicted on the environment such as changing lightbulbs, recycling, using alternate forms of transportation besides driving, and adjusting the thermostat Bananabelle concludes, “We did it! We saved the planet”( Jensen and McMillan 16). Bananabelle demonstrates the attitude many people have who are part of the white savior complex. Bananabelle has good intentions but is not looking at the big picture. Like Cole states, “A singer may be innocent; never the song." Its only after Kranti tells her “there is precisely zero chance that every man, woman and child in the United states will do this” is when Bananabelle realizes that this solution is impossible to carry out. Even if one person makes these changes to their lifestyle Cole is recognizing that although this is a difference it may not be enough. Furthermore this stresses the importance having long term goals rather short term goals that will not save our environment from complete destruction.

            The only long term solution that would drastically benefit the environment is if we return back to the wild which means that we have to “stop [our] constant expansion. Stop insisting on growth economy, on acquiring more and more until [we] consume the entire planet”( Jensen and McMillan 150). We can no longer depend on the corporations that continue to degrade the environment without a care but this is impossible due to human reliance on the material that is produced. Since people are unwillingly to withdraw their dependence on large corporation and sacrifice all the equipment they rely on, this shows that the fight for better treatment of the environment is just an act.

            People are always finding ways to benefit themselves whether that’s from finding ways to make more money which is only thing the big corporations and president seem to care about or finding ways to make themselves feel better or less guilty for living a privileged life. Despite genuinely caring and believing they are making a difference, because these people are not looking at the big picture, not much will result from these actions such as petitioning and recycling that are drastic enough to fix the environment. Despite that, once people collectively work to care for our planet Earth, change for the better will be evident.