Mainstream environmental groups — in fact, mainstream groups of any kind — avoid these questions, but that doesn't mean people aren't struggling with those realities and assessments, typically alone or in small groups. Koplin saw no evidence that any society was ready to engage in the necessary discussions or consider the necessary changes, least of all the United States, which was not an easy conclusion for him to reach because he loved so deeply. All of his friends experienced that love with him, and watched him love the living world with a reverence that led one of those friends to describe him as a "nature mystic."
That's why Koplin thought our task was to leave the planet gracefully, because he loved us and loved the world that is our home. He loved people and planet in a way that made him yearn for a graceful, peaceful ending, much as one wishes for a graceful and peaceful ending for a person coming to the end of an individual life.
But Koplin also knew that such an elegant ending was unlikely, which is why he also told his closest friends: "I wake up every morning in a state of profound grief." Again, he was not a scripture-quoting fellow, but again the words of Jeremiah echo: "My grief is beyond healing, my heart is sick within me." (Jeremiah 8:18)
Just as his comment about leaving the planet wasn't flippant, neither was his description of his grief. Koplin was not a demonstrative person emotionally, and many who knew him superficially might even say he could be standoffish and aloof. But that was because he felt deeply and was aware of how easily those feelings could overwhelm him. So, he was careful in public.
In another of our early morning coffee sessions, Koplin told me that he remembered the moment as a young person when he realized that every human being's brain worked the same way, which meant that every human being alive on the planet had the capacity to experience exactly the same range of emotions as he did. It was at that moment that the abstract idea of equality became real to him — we really are all the same, at the deepest and most basic level — and that the suffering of people everywhere became real, and overwhelming, to him. Koplin said that daily life was manageable because he had found ways to wall himself off from that realization, for to try to live with that awareness always present would be to court suicide.
As difficult as these feelings were for him, Koplin knew that our only real basis for hope comes in the embrace of this grief. Not an abstract hope that somehow, magically, everything will turn out OK, but the hope that we can speak honestly with others and form the small groups and communities that can foster the radical analysis of hierarchies and illegitimate authority, along with the traditional values of frugality and mutual obligation. This is what I call being a "plain radical," and Koplin was the most plainly radical person I have ever known.