I wasn’t going to write on Earth Day this year. I was going to point people to this excellent essay by Jason Pitzl-Waters on The Wild Hunt (which you should read anyway) and post here on the obligations of CUUPS leadership.
And then a Facebook friend said something that boils down to “we pollute too much, we consume too much, and so we’re hypocrites if we talk about how much we love the Earth.” The post on CUUPS leadership will have to wait till Thursday, because Earth Day is worth celebrating.
It’s worth celebrating how far we’ve come. I’m old enough to remember life before Earth Day, before the EPA, before the Clean Water Act, and before the Clean Air Act had time to have an effect. I remember when the Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught fire in 1969. For all my love of the natural beauty of Tennessee, the air in Chattanooga was really bad. As late as the early 1980s, I’d come home from college for the weekend, get across Signal Mountain and smell the air pollution. No more.
Are things perfect? Of course not. And it’s gotten harder to generate support for improvements – when the damage is readily apparent, ordinary people get concerned. When you can’t see or smell the pollution, it’s easy to ignore it. But the Earth is much cleaner now than it was before the first Earth Day and that’s worth celebrating.
It’s worth acknowledging our dependence on the Earth. In a world where food comes from restaurants, water comes from bottles, and energy comes from the wall, it’s worthwhile to take a moment to remember that all of these things come from the Earth – and their supply is not unlimited. Modern agriculture can feed millions with a tiny fraction of the labor it took our ancestors, but if we wear out the soil, poison the bees, use every last gallon of water and exacerbate climate change, we could see famine in the “first world” again.
It’s worth strengthening our spiritual connections to the Earth. Few of us in North America live a lifestyle that is sustainable over several centuries. The evil sorcerers of Madison Avenue are telling us we must consume even more, and they are quite skilled at their deceptions. Making changes in our lives requires constant mindfulness and a spiritual commitment. Reason alone will never generate the level of commitment of religious devotion.
We don’t make changes in our lives so we can love the Earth, we love the Earth so we’ll make the changes we need to make.
It’s worth accepting how much is left to do. The US Energy Department’s website asks the question “Do we have enough oil worldwide to meet our future needs?” It answers simply “yes” – then it admits there’s enough to last 25 years, with “proved reserves” about 50 years. I’m 52 – that’s probably enough for me. What about my friends who are in college? What about the children who are being born today, or their children, or their grandchildren?
How long will the oil last? Honestly, nobody knows. What we do know is that the easy-to-get oil is gone and what’s left is increasingly more expensive in terms of both financial cost and environmental damage. The less we use now the longer what we have will last and the less damage we cause by increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Raising awareness is useless if that awareness doesn’t lead to action, but your options aren’t limited to driving a Hummer or living in a cave. Do what you can to use less and live more sustainably, today. If you can do more tomorrow, great. Purity is overrated – doing something is better than doing nothing.
Not every celebration is a feel-good party. Memorial Day has become the official start of Summer in the United States, but its primary purpose is to honor those who died in combat. Labor Day has become the end of Summer, but its primary purpose is to honor working men and women and to remember the sacrifices made by early labor activists. The Christian Good Friday and the Pagan Samhain are both somber holidays, but they are well worth celebrating.
So let us celebrate Earth Day by remembering the places of great beauty we visit on rare occasion and the places of ordinary beauty we experience every day. Let us remember that we cannot eat without killing, and we cannot live without impacting other people, other species, and the Earth herself. And let us remember that just as the previous generation made things better for the Earth and all her creatures, so can we.