Earth Day. Tag der Erde. Gauisus Terra Dies. El Día De La Tierra. A terrific invention. Setting up a day upon our calendars dedicated to thinking about our tiny little planet seems so appropriate.
And there is SO much to think about. For starters, it’s not such a tiny little planet. Ok, there is Jupiter. But on the scale of you or me… it is pretty big. Where the issue of size begins to matter might come from the consideration there are so many of ‘us’. Taken all together, ‘we’ are pretty big. And consequential.
Consequential. We leave an enormous footprint. If we all collectively choose to do dumb things, the footprint gets ugly. However, and this I think is significant, if we collectively choose to do things that are beautiful, we still leave a footprint but it can be less ugly. Indeed, it might even be beautiful*.
Earth Day as a calendar marker was set up in 1970. I had just begun my secondary education then and I can still recall the tree plantings, trash pickups, and community activities full of tree huggers and flower children. There was a serious feel-good aspect to it. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson was already many years old at that point. Apollo astronauts had just come back from the surface of the moon bringing photos of this beautiful blue planet from a vantage point our ancestors could only dream of. Humanity’s awareness of our burgeoning impact on this precious orb was maturing.
On a global stage the 70s played host to a welt Geist of the cold war. Nukes capable of mutually assured destruction were stockpiled. Nuclear winter captured imaginations. Most of the ugliness we could imagine centered on fouling our planet beyond our capacity to live here. Some even suggested our nuclear capability might rise to the level of actually breaking the planet to pieces. So those scenarios took two paths – one where we essentially do ourselves and many of our fellow creatures in, but the planet still circles the sun and might reasonably be expected to repopulate with some form of life at some future time; the second path actually takes the planet with us. Homo hubris, indeed!
I think we’ve stepped back from the nuclear brink a little bit. True, too many nukes still exist, and North Korea and Iran still pepper the news with alleged future possessions. But I like our chances defusing the dystopian aspects of nuclear war. More significant perhaps are the little day to day messes, the oil spills, the belching of greenhouse gasses, and indifference to the many slights we inflict without even realizing. Death by a thousand cuts.
I like to take an optimistic view. If asked whether I think the glass is half full or half empty, I like to offer that it is completely full. It is after all half full of water, the other half full of air. Too cute by half? No, I think it is important to realize how we frame issues. The glass question is not a binary – with only two potential answers. If we limit ourselves and our imaginations by the framings of others we fall into the well-worn path of all those before us who abdicated imagination and followed along mindlessly. Reminds me of lemmings.
Having Earth Day in the Northern hemispheric spring time is a great idea. Having been in the Southern hemisphere in their fall season (which is going on now) it seems an April Earth Day is still a very decent choice. The Earth is an amazing home and at this time of year she really sparkles. We should honor her with a day on our calendar. We should go out and pick up some trash, plant a tree, write a little tribute to her magnificence. But why limit our imaginations, why offer tribute on only one day in 365? Yes, there are so many things that require our attention. So many that some folk seem resigned to the overwhelming limitations of too many concerns which then leads to cognitive dissonance. Pessimism.
If there is any advantage to there being so many of us on this little planet it could be that there are now so many imaginations, so many dreamers, doers, and so many helping hands. The glass is not half empty, and the world is not spoiled beyond belief. But it does remain our duty to harness these imaginations, dreams, and helping hands in a program of preservation. Not so much for the planet – it will remain no matter our course – but for ourselves. Earth Day ultimately is about the inhabitants, and we should be worth fighting for.
Have a happy Earth Day. Now get outside and pay tribute. It is our day after all.
* Beauty is in the eye of the beholder though, so one might wonder whether planet Earth even cares what our footprint looks like. Anthropomorphizing a whole planet is just one more Homo hubris activity.
[many thanks to Ruben Anderson of a Small and Delicious Life …. which I need to add to the blogroll here… for his taking up the gauntlet and posting an Earth Day message as well. I only hope the thoughts shared here might merit a similar consideration]