Today marks the 44th annual Earth Day. The first, April 22, 1970, came eight years after the publication of Rachel Carson's epic work, Silent Spring, and just 14 months after the horrific oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel; at that time, it was the largest oil spill ever in America and today ranks third behind the Exxon Valdez (1989) and Deepwater Horizon (2010) disasters. On the first Earth Day, nearly 20 million Americans protested on behalf of a cleaner world. As a result, the Environmental Protection Agency was founded and the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts were passed. It's hard to imagine such bipartisan support for our world today.
In fact, many in the Republican camp -including, of course, the Tea Party- continue to espouse the ridiculous and erroneous notion that climate change is a hoax, that there is insufficient scientific evidence to suggest that human involvement, in the forms of harmful emissions, industrial/factory farming, misuse/overuse of pesticides, and so forth, is in any way culpable. This is rubbish.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released its most dire report to date, stating that unless we take the threat of climate change seriously and act NOW, our climate may be irreversibly damaged. Cannot.be.fixed. Why more people aren't taking this more seriously is beyond me. It's depressing beyond belief, shortsighted in such a hideous way.
If people were told that eating apples increased their risk of dying young by even 5%, I bet most people would hedge their bets and swear off apples. The likelihood of climate change decisively damning our world if we do not act right now is well above 5%, so why aren't we doing anything? Really, I don't understand.
Our oceans are becoming more acidic at speed-of-light rates: marine life can't stomach the change in pH; coral reefs are dying; the waters can't absorb as much CO2 as they once could. Our glaciers and ice caps are melting at equally terrifying rates. It goes on and on.
We are more than 7 billion people asking too much of our Earth. We pillage the land, overfish the seas, pollute our water sources and soil with chemicals and waste, throw trash everywhere, ship our e-shit around the world to less fortunate countries. We recoil at the visibly horrid air quality in cities like Beijing, we gasp when Americans whose land has been fracked show us that they can light the water pouring from their kitchen faucets on fire. We watch animals suffer unnecessary, painful deaths because they drown in oil slicks or suffocate on our haphazardly discarded plastics. We bitch and moan and worry and still, too many do nothing.
So today, as another Earth Day opens before us and many of us hope for the best, though the chances of successful, internationally-supported policy changes being passed and acted upon are starting to seem awfully dim, I ask you to consider the ways in which you interact with the world around you. Could you recycle more? Could you compost? Could you drive less? Could you eat less meat? When you eat meat, can you make sure that it comes from a real farm? Can you shut your car engine off when you're waiting in line somewhere? Idling fumes are nasty polluters.
If that all feels overwhelming and big, I get it. When I visit my hometown in Louisiana, I always leave depressed by the almost complete lack of recycling that goes on, by the chemicals sprayed with such abandon over yards and throughout the air (the mosquitoes are a serious plague, so I do get it but still). I think of how scary it is that so many people, on my parents' block alone, have died of cancer. That part of the state has a grim nickname- Cancer Alley. It feels like no one person could possibly make a difference, but that's not true.
You can also make change by thinking small. Think of your health, of your family's health. Go putter in your yard, sit in the grass, study the millions of tiny organisms that inhabit the space with you. Acknowledge and appreciate them. Read from the work of the wonderful E.O. Wilson; if you've never loved ants, you will after reading his stuff. Pick up Silent Spring if you've never read it. If you're more a fiction reader, check out Landscape by Donna Cousins (she also wrote the absorbing Waiting for Bones). It's a tremendously engaging read, and I have NEVER gardened in the same way since. And, there's always Barbara Kingsolver!
As you probably know, I am not a religious woman but I do stand in awe of the very real magic in the natural world, in the enormous, diverse panoply of non-human life that we too often ignore or undervalue. I truly don't think of our Earth as anything more than a luxurious place we are lucky to inhabit, temporarily and as borrowers only, for a short while each. As with anything of such value and impermanence, we must respect and tend it to the best of our ability.
“In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation... even if it requires having skin as thick as the bark of a pine.”
― —Great Law of the Iroquois