Friday, April 22, 2011

Earth Day Reflections

“The frog does not drink up the pond in which he lives.”
Native American Proverb

I don’t know about you, but every Earth Day my mood oscillates between despair and exhilaration. On one hand, I use the day to be spirtually uplifted by the natural world that surrounds me, and so I experience a sense of deep gratitude for the beauty and bounty of our magnificent home, Planet Earth. Then despair sets in, as I realize that many people on this planet are still so defiantly disconnected to the earth, choosing instead to mock those of us who revere nature and to deny that our species is indeed contributing to the wholesale destruction and degradation of the only home we have. Perhaps mockery and denial make it easier to just go on one’s merry way, plundering the earth without a care in the world. Greed still seems to “trump” green, doesn’t it? (Pun definitely intended.)

Despite every victory, every successful petition or successful community action, we seem to take a few steps back as a species. More land is being laid waste for mining activity or palm oil production and more of the world’s seas bristle with oil rigs, imperilling marine life if—and when—the unthinkable happens. And governments everywhere seem increasingly reluctant to cross the agendas of powerful multinationals, mostly because they like the idea of the wealth these corporations generate for their money-hungry, job-hungry nations.

Are things improving or are they getting worse? Clearly, the global economic crisis exacerbated the situation, but we are fast approaching a moment of convergence that we will no longer be able to ignore, as the increasing shortage of accessible fossil fuels, a shortage of food globally, a dwindling supply of clean fresh water, the loss of workable land and rising coastal waters due to a changing climate (and I will not debate the cause of climate change, as we are well past the point of fingerpointing and assigning blame—we simply need to act, and now) will create even more unrest, more crises, and eventually result in vast numbers of environmental refugees around the world.

Never before in the history of humanity have we faced a crisis so multifaceted, so severe and so final. More than ever we need a new way of looking at the world, a new attitude. We need to wake up to the reality that we are a part of the natural world and that everything we do has a consequence. But we need everybody on board in order to save the ship. Time is running out. This isn’t about choosing sides, being an environmentalist or a humanist. We have to both—they are not contradictory concepts. Humanism and environmentalism are one and the same word, and you spell it “survival.”

So what’s to be done? Plenty! Most of all, stay positive and on message, even knowing as we do that there are those who will never listen…until it is too late.

And what is the message? The message is VALUE. If you value something, you will protect it. We humans must value and learn to hold sacred every living organism on this planet. If we cannot make that colossal leap past our human egos, then we are surely doomed. We can certainly learn from the wise frog in the proverb, who understands and practises the concept of sustainability.

But can the call of red-winged blackbird on a spring morning pierce the heart of someone who has no sensitivity to the natural world? Can a blade of new spring grass captivate someone who prefers to count dollar bills instead? Can you teach someone’s heart to soar with the red-tailed hawk? Can you entice a person to imagine what it must be like to be a turtle, swimming in the still green waters of a pond? Or how it feels to be a muskrat, or a bittern or a heron, making your way patiently among the reeds?

Herein lies our challenge. To awaken others to the true nature of what it means to be human. Maybe that’s why we need this symbolic day after all. Maybe every year a few more people drop their cynicism, sign a petition, or plant a tree.

Now, some thoughts from others for this Earth Day:

"I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes."
e.e. cummings

"If people destroy something replaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; if they destroy something irreplaceable made by God, they are called developers."
Joseph Wood Krutch

"We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect."
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

"The earth we abuse and the living things we kill will, in the end, take their revenge; for in exploiting their presence we are diminishing our future."
Marya Mannes

"…when I saw the Earth from space, in all its ineffable beauty and fragility, did I realize that humankind's most urgent task is to cherish and preserve it for future generations."
Sigmund Jahn, (German cosmonaut)

"Once you have heard the lark, known the swish of feet through hill-top grass and smelt the earth made ready for the seed, you are never again going to be fully happy about the cities and towns that man carries like a crippling weight upon his back."
Gwyn Thomas

"The color of the mountains is Buddha's body; the sound of running water is his great speech." Dogen

"The poetry of the earth is never dead."
John Keats