(This article was first published on The Witches’ Voice website on April 22, 2002. I think it has weathered well. I also think it’s easy to get depressed realizing how little has changed and how so much seems to have gotten worse. But I invite you to find beauty and hope in nature today, and every day. It teaches us about the power of believing in change and renewal.)
I write to you from Boston, where last week we had a day that hit NINETY-THREE degrees (breaking the previous record for that day by eleven degrees!), and yesterday we had an earthquake measuring 5.1, and tonight, I hear, it’s going to snow. Global warming? NAAAAHHHH… .
Today was Earth Day. Did you celebrate?
A picnic in a favorite park, perhaps? An outdoor benefit concert with inspirational speakers? (I went to an Earth Day concert in Central Park a few years ago: Mario Cuomo spoke, and the B-52s played. And there sure was a lot of trash on the ground afterwards. Same with an Earth Day concert on the Esplanade in Boston several years ago. Cool bands, great speakers, boatloads of garbage.). Maybe you participated in a community clean-up effort? Or maybe you just did some things to make your own environment more earth-friendly: put in low-flow shower heads or toilets, or planted herbs in pots on your windowsill, or finally recycled all those empty bottles, or replaced high-watt bulbs with more energy-efficient ones. Or perhaps, being a pagan or a witch, you performed a ritual to heal the planet, or created a special altar in your garden.
Good for you!
What will you do tomorrow?
Every day is earth day, you know.
I was born in 1963. That means I was coming of age during the environmentally conscious 1970s. I remember Carter implementing energy-saving laws, I remember nation-wide advertising campaigns about using LESS of everything: less water, less electricity, less gasoline, less oil. Conserve! Reduce! Reuse! Recycle! I remember little signs posted in classrooms and office buildings: “Save Energy: Turn off lights when not in use.” Or “Conserve water; turn off the tap while brushing teeth.” And I did that stuff. Drove my family nuts, but I did it.
And I remember crying when Iron Eyes Cody did, his single tear falling after he rode his horse through a polluted valley and saw his beautiful homeland covered in garbage. A very successful ad campaign, why, so successful they even bring it around every few years so people remember: People Start Pollution. People Can Stop It. Recycling a TV commercial from the 1970s! Gosh, that’s clever.
Except it isn’t working.
Americans today are worse litterbugs than ever (and just so you don’t think I am only picking on America, I was horrified the last couple of times I went to great Britain: they have finally caught up with us on this one and are as disgusting about throwing trash in the streets as we are. London’s streets were so full of trash that in some areas it looked like a war zone). We buy huge amounts of over-packaged convenience foods in non-recyclable containers because we just don’t have time to cook (never mind what this is doing to our bodies , the increase of garbage in the landfills is also harming us). We buy artificially flavored nutrient-empty junk food because our obese nation has an obsession with snacking all day, every day (and of course we can’t be bothered to throw our cookie wrappers, soda cans and chip bags in the proper receptacle! Why should we? Everyone ELSE throws them on the ground!)
We eat chicken and beef that has been pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, so much so that girls in this country now start their menstrual periods an average of five years earlier than they did twenty years ago. Japanese kids who started eating American beef in their lunches outgrew their school desks in one generation. Pueblo Indians in the Southwest now have soaring rates of obesity and diabetes due to their “Americanized” diets full of fat and sugar. American factory farming practices has so polluted our water table with potent pesticides that hardly any so-called “pure” spring water source can be guaranteed untainted. These same factory farming practices (which stress production over conservation of the land) have so eroded topsoil that vital minerals and nutrients once present on our vegetables (read that “dirt in our diets”) have all but disappeared, leading to an alarming rise in asthma among children. The use of bovine growth hormone in milk products (the only purpose of which is to make cows produce more milk and increase profits in an industry that is already struggling to sell its product for even slightly more than what it costs to produce it) has been shown to lead in some cases to sever endometriosis and increased rates of breast cancer in women. Irradiation of fruits and vegetables could be exposing to gods only know what sort of toxicity. And genetic manipulation of our foodstuffs may well end up altering the food chain as we know it.
We have to wear the latest fashions and so we buy up those fancy new threads made in Taiwan or Thailand by workers who make pennies a week, but so what? We need new clothes! We drive around huge gas-guzzling SUVs to transport our groceries to our homes or our kids to soccer practice. We complain when gas prices go up, forgetting that in other countries gasoline is four or five times the price we pay here. Hey, why shouldn’t I drive a huge vehicle? Everyone else has one! Besides, I feel more aggressive, er, safer on the road when I drive one. We have bigger and better electronic devices that use enormous amounts of electricity and we are so desperate to “stay connected” that we use our cell phones everywhere (even while driving! Gosh, THAT sure is convenient!) that unsightly towers have been erected all over the country just to make sure those signals keep us in touch with our friends, family and business associates and can have those loud, inane, one-sided conversations in public (researchers are exploring the effects of cellular phone use on humans, and the relationship of increased cancer rates to the proximity of cellular towers to residential areas).
We demand newer and bigger homes and so we demolish historic houses, we want a new office building so we take the wrecking ball to the slightly-dilapidated old municipal buildings in the town center, we have to house a new multiplex and so the old art-deco opera house (which costs a lot to heat and besides the paint is peeling) gets torn down so we can put up a climate-controlled glass and cement monstrosity… and those weather-beaten, beautiful old barns? Unsightly! And so hard to keep up! Tear ’em down. I remember in the 1980s, when yuppie greed and wastefulness was everywhere (everyone had a new BMW and snorted coke off its dashboard), and the environmental movement seemed all but forgotten. Then, to appeal to the baby boomers that were perhaps feeling a bit guilty at leaving their morality and ideals behind once their stock portfolios became all important and they needed money to buy Baby Nikes and designer water bottle holders. Then some smart entrepreneurs had an idea: put “green” and “environmentally-friendly” on the package and people will actually think they’re doing something good by spending their money on it! Dolphin-safe tuna! Recyclable container! All natural! Fat-free soda pop! I think the straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when the company formerly known as “Chem Lawn” changed their name to “TruGreen” AND put pictures of killer whales on their vans (whales? Are these a danger in suburban America?). That’s almost as bad as when Kellogg’s took the word sugar out of their cereal names, but Chem Lawn’s act is far more insidious. I mean, we can taste the sugar in cereal. But we don’t go around eating our lawns to see how much pesticide is on them. Here’s a tip: if it has the letters “icide” at the end, IT KILLS LIVING THINGS. It may kill bugs and weeds faster than it can kill us, but all such products are certainly doing a job on our planet, and how many of the diseases that have become more prevalent in the late 20th century and 21st are due to our toxic environment?
Perhaps you think I am ranting to no purpose. After all, issues such as a nation’s nutritional habits , and the loss of topsoil, and sweatshops making our running shoes, are all very complex and there are no easy answers. And of course it is easy to become angry or frustrated or overwhelmed by all this. But what can one small person do? (Besides implement the many earth-friendly tips given in this week’s update compiled by our lovely Dio!) What can we do? It all seems too much to comprehend at times, and depressing.
That is why I leave you with one simple, singular thought, on this Earth Day, 2002.
LIVE in HOPE and WORK for the future.
That means: don’t just see the dirty river or the trash on the banks: see the sparkling water that COULD be there if effort is made now. LIVE as if the Earth is generously allowing us to stay here, and as if She might toss us out on our butts any minute if we don’t clean up our act. HOPE that government and local organizations will start to clean up natural parks and communal areas. But know that all of us can and must WORK to make this happen. That might mean something as simple as picking up a bag of trash every couple of weeks until others start to take the hint. (I have been doing this in my own favorite nearby nature spot: Franklin Park, part of Boston’s Emerald Necklace, an amazing historic park designed by Frederic Law Olmsted, that sometimes has more than its share of trash). Start your own local society for the preservation of your favorite spot! You’d be surprised to find how many others in your community would be willing to clean up a park they also like to use. One tear from Iron Eyes Cody was all it ever took for me… to this day I cannot understand why people litter with impunity. I mean, I really don’t get it. But I am willing to set an example, anyway.
LIVE as if there’s a point to it all, as if a healthy lifestyle is actually making a difference not just to yourself, but to your loved ones, and to all humanity. HOPE that our frenzied consumer culture will evolve and start to see the problems with going too fast, buying too much, and not cleaning up after ourselves. But this takes WORK. Study alternatives to the status quo. Walk or bike to school or your job. Find a farm in your state that raises natural poultry and see if your local stores will stock their products. Turn off your cellphone. Turn off the computer. Take a walk. Smile up at the sky. Hug a tree. Love your Mother.
Go outside already! What are you waiting for? Tomorrow?