This Earth Day, I am reading, for the first time, A Sand County Almanac. I know. It is long overdue that I read it. At least no one is authorized to pull my eco-card for it. I bought what amounts to a 70th anniversary printing and was equally pleased to see an Introduction from Barbara Kingsolver. Icing on the cake, as they say. I know very little about Aldo Leopold, aside from the cool name. And so I am looking forward to the distraction from United Methodist Church politics, gun violence, and union organizing. But my connection to the natural world is more than a distraction from the “real one.” It is where everything comes together for me.
Creation Care versus Environmentalism
I used to be one of the those Christians who hid my environmentalist sentiments behind the phrase Creation Care. It is not that I mind the latter term. I was running away from the inevitable conflict that happens when church members listen to the propaganda of the fossil fuels industry. I disagree with Leopold in his assessment of the Abrahamic concept of the land. The ethical usage of water and soil associated with herding livestock is the Abrahamic concept.
Earth Day provokes a crisis in our thinking about the relationship we have with the natural world. I agree with my friend Joerg Rieger when he argues the real culprit is not what we do. It is how we organize what we do. Here I see a connection to Jacques Ellul and E. F. Schumacher because it involves connections we do not immediately see as ecological. And yet, economics of scale and technologic problem-solving impacts the way we think about the use of the Earth.
Earth Day as Land Day
I would like to propose, with many others, that the national anthem of the United States be changed to This Land Is Your Land by Woody Guthrie. The earth is a planet. The land is what produces our food, what we travel over, what we see, and even taste. Land is rocky, sandy, wet, and a host of other things. I support Gaylord Nelson’s dream of the whole earth. Yet, we do not contact the earth. We come into contact the land, the seas, and the air. Land is what is in front of us.
Environmentally conscious people do many activities for Earth Day. We could say all of these actions are spiritual whether acknowledged as such. What I would like to see are more activities where people connect over a piece of land. Perhaps, they could commit together to take an unhealthy and infertile place and make it healthy. It would be good if that land was next to a river so we could see the effect of restoring health to the land in how the river is improved. Once the health is restored, I would like for the same group of people to maintain and care for it while using it for recreation, food gathering, or any other activity that would not harm it or them.
The Earth Day Problem
Earth Day is still approached by many as being about separating humans from natural world. We approach the climate crisis as though our heavy industrial and technological society must be run “sustainably.” Simply stated; we are asking the impossible. There are limits to everything in a finite universe. We cannot have everything we want. We cannot take or extract everything we want. There is no point in trying.
I am not a technophobe. After all, this piece is being written and hopefully read on the internet. The Earth Day problem is a crisis of wisdom. All value systems need a wisdom tradition. Capital has a very simplistic one. The stated goal of capitalist economics is to make the most efficient use of resources in production. The issue is the word efficient. Philosophical capitalists argue efficiency is something we make. We produce methods to produce. Hence, we get the idea of sustainability. It is another name for efficiently using scarce resources. Humans are separate from these resources.
A Modest Proposition
Looking back at my recommendation for observing Earth Day, let’s consider it as a proposal. Wisdom and thought arise from action. We can love our neighbors as ourselves when we work with our neighbor for something. My neighbors showed up during the last snowstorm to help me and others get our cars out of the ditch. We worked together figuring out the best way to do it using the resources at hand. We all had ideas that did not work. But putting mind and muscle together we all got back on the road.
My neighbor offered to lend me a better tool for a job I was doing. I was a fool for not accepting this gesture from someone who rarely makes one. He offered a gift. Let’s practice loving our neighbors with the gift of helping each other thrive. Making a piece of land healthy is an idea one of my neighbors had. Let’s take seriously economies (notice the plural) based on this idea.