Les U. Knight examines
George Carlin’s famous Saving the Planet routine
“The planet is fine. The people are fucked.”

Viewed over four million times. Over 13,000 comments, with more being posted.

You got people like this around you? Country’s full of ’em now. People walkin’ around all day long every minute of the day, worried about everything. Worried about the air, worried about the water, worried about the soil. Worried about insecticides, pesticides, food additives, carcinogens, worried about radon gas, worried about asbestos, worried about saving endangered species.

Lemme tell ya bout endangered species, awright? Saving endangered species is just one more arrogant attempt by humans to control Nature. It’s arrogant meddling. It’s what got us in trouble in the first place. Doesn’t anybody understand that? Interfering with Nature. Over 90 percent, over, way over 90 percent, of the species that have ever lived on this planet, ever lived, are gone. Wooosh! They’re extinct. We didn’t kill them all. They just disappeared. That’s what nature does. They disappear these days at the rate of 25 a day—and I mean regardless of our behavior. Irrespective of how we act on this planet, 25 species that were here today will be gone tomorrow. Let them go gracefully. Leave Nature alone. Haven’t we done enough? We’re so self-important, so self-important. Everybody’s gonna save something now. Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails. And the greatest arrogance of all, save the planet. What? Are these fucking people kidding me? Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven’t learned to care for one another—we’re gonna save the fuckin’ planet? I’m gettin’ tired of that shit. Tired of that shit. Tired.

I’m tired of fuckin’ Earth Day, I’m tired of these self-righteous environmentalists, these white bourgeoise liberals who think the only thing wrong with this country is there aren’t enough bicycle paths. People trying to make the world safe for their Volvos. Besides, environmentalist don’t give a shit about the planet, they don’t care about the planet, not in the abstract they don’t, not in the abstract they don’t. You know what they’re interested in? A clean place to live. Their own habitat. They’re worried that someday in the future they might be personally inconvenienced. Narrow, unenlightened self-interest doesn’t impress me. Besides, there is nothing wrong with the planet, nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The people are fucked. Difference. Difference. The planet is fine. Compared to the people, the planet is doin’ great! It’s been here four and a half billion years. Did you ever think about the arithmetic? The planet has been here four and a half billion years. We’ve been here, what? A hundred thousand? Maybe two hundred thousand and we’ve only been engaged in heavy industry for a little over two hundred years. Two hundred years versus four and a half billion. And we have the conceit to think that somehow we’re a threat? That somehow we’re gonna put in jeopardy this beautiful little blue-green ball that’s just a floatin’ around the sun? The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sunspots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles, hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids, and meteors, world-wide floods, tidal waves, world-wide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages, and we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference?

The planet isn’t going anywhere. We are! We’re goin’ away. Pack your shit, Folks, we’re goin’ away. We won’t leave much of a trace either, thank god for that. Maybe a little styrofoam, maybe, little styrofoam. Planet’ll be here and we’ll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake, an evolutionary cul de sac. The planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas, a surface nuisance. You wanna know how the planet’s doin’? Ask those people at Pompeii, who were frozen into position from volcanic ash. How the planet’s doin’. Wanna know if the planet’s alright, ask those people in Mexico City or Armenia, or a hundred other places buried under thousands of tons of earthquake rubble if they feel like a threat to the planet this week. How about those people in Kilauea, Hawaii who built their homes right next to an active volcano and then wonder why they have lava in the living room. The planet will be here for a long, long, long time after we’re gone and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself ’cuz that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed, and if it’s true that plastic is not degradable well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice towards plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allows us to be spawned from it in the first place: it wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it, needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old philosophical question, “Why are we here?” “Plastic, assholes.”

So, so, the plastic is here, our job is done, we can be phased out now. And I think that’s really started already, don’t you? I mean, to be fair, the planet probably sees us as a mild threat, something to be dealt with, but I’m sure the planet will defend itself in the manner of a large organism like a bee hive or an ant colony can muster a defense. I’m sure the planet will think of something. What would you do, if you were the planet trying to defend against this pesky, troublesome species? Let’s see, what might, viruses, viruses might be good, they seem vulnerable to viruses. And, viruses are tricky, always mutating and forming new strains whenever a vaccine is developed. Perhaps this first virus could be one that compromises the immune system in these creatures. Perhaps a human immuno deficiency virus making them vulnerable to all sorts of other diseases and infections that might come along, and maybe it could be spread sexually, making them a little reluctant to engage in the act of reproduction.

Well, that’s a poetic note. And it’s a start. But I can dream, can’t I? I don’t worry about the little things, bees, trees, whales, snails. I think we’re part of a greater wisdom than we’ll ever understand, a higher order, call it what you want. You know what I call it? The Big Electron. The Big Electron. Woooohhhh, woooohhhh, woooohhhh. It doesn’t punish, it doesn’t reward, it doesn’t judge at all. It just is, and so are we, for a little while. Thanks for being here with me for a little while tonight.

Thus ends another magnificent performance by one of the greatest comedians of our time. I’m a fan of George Carlin and feel fortunate to have seen a live performance. His insightful social commentaries cut to the core of issues we’d like to ignore. Environmentalists, like everyone, earn a good mocking occasionally. However, Carlin was a comedian, not an ecologist, and much of the above is just plain wrong.

He said species are going extinct, so we should just let them go, but actually they are being murdered, not just going away due to some natural process. We are erasing from existence creatures which have evolved through billions of years, outlasting 99.99% of other creatures, and collectively we really don’t seem to give a hoot. The Atlantic gray whale is gone forever and we can’t claim ignorance of what we were doing. If there were justice in the cosmos, that crime alone would warrant our extinction.

There’s some truth to his contention that some who consider themselves environmentalists just want nice places to ride their bikes, but not all. Blaming people for their shallow environmentalism distracts from the real issue. It’s not whether people care about the planet in the abstract or not—whatever that means. Do we consider the effects our choices have on the biosphere? Many of us do, and Carlin mocks these concerns, saying we’re, “worried about the air, worried about the water, worried about the soil. Worried about insecticides, pesticides, food additives, carcinogens, worried about radon gas, worried about asbestos, worried about saving endangered species.”

Apparently not enough of us are worried about these things to make a difference, including the late Carlin, who said he doesn’t “worry about the little things, bees, trees, whales, snails.” He reassures the millions who have viewed this routine and who share his lack of concern.

“...there is nothing wrong with the planet, nothing wrong with the planet. The planet is fine. The people are fucked. ... The planet isn’t going anywhere. We are! ... The planet will be here for a long, long, long time after we’re gone and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself ’cuz that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed...”

So, it’s okay that we’re causing the sixth mass extinction? It’s no worse than mass murder: human population has recovered from the hundreds of millions killed in the 20th Century, so apparently those were okay too. True, in 10 to 30 million years, Earth’s biodiversity is likely to return to pre-human biodiversity. This might assuage the deep anguish many of us feel about the ongoing destruction of Earth’s ecosphere, but it doesn’t excuse it in the slightest.

“Irrespective of how we act on this planet, 25 species that were here today will be gone tomorrow.”

Species are going extinct at hundreds of times the background rate and obviously it’s not “irrespective of how we act on this planet,” quite the opposite.

“And the greatest arrogance of all, save the planet. What? Are these fucking people kidding me? Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves yet. We haven’t learned to care for one another—we’re gonna save the fuckin’ planet?”

That would indeed be arrogant—naive, too, since we’re what “the planet” needs to be saved from. There’s a big difference between the planet and the biosphere. As Carlin says, the planet has “been here four and a half billion years.” Life began 3.8 billion years ago and every living being traces its existence directly back to those single-celled life forms. Some, like the Eastern box turtle, even survived the asteroid of 65 million years ago, now being driven to extinction by cars driven by arrogant humans who Carlin advises, “Let them go gracefully.”

To his credit, he recognized that it’s time for human extinction: “...our job is done, we can be phased out now.” Unfortunately, he imagined HIV-AIDS to be a possible means to phase us out. “...maybe it could be spread sexually, making them a little reluctant to engage in the act of reproduction.” He underestimated both the human sex drive and the efficacy of any disease to eliminate us. If 99.99% of us died—the worst global pandemic only killed 10%—there would still be 750 thousand of us to carry on.

Despite George Carlin’s genius and social insights, much of his advice in this case deserves reconsideration.