Monday, April 23, 2012

It's Mama Earth's Party and She'll Cry If She Wants To

Copyright JSH 2012
As I write this, another Earth Day is winding down. Earth Day stirs a bunch of mixed feelings in me. I appreciate the sentiment of Earth Day. I completely appreciate the fact that the original awareness created during that first Earth Day helped push laws demanding cleaner air and water into existence. We needed Earth Day then. We still do, but not just on April 22nd of the year. I view Earth Day the same way the Church views Christmas. The one time of year people remember they are Christians and attend Mass. Earth Day has become this planet's Christmas. The one day of the year where we say, "Oh yeah, I like the planet. I'm going to recycle something today." I get that it raises awareness. I get that people host wonderful conservation events and plant trees, clean streams and sow seeds. But, like the Christmas present little Johnny begged Santa for, those trees, clean streams and seedlings get forgotten by a large majority of people within two weeks of Earth Day. We are now on the 42nd anniversary of the celebration and where are we?

There are improvements that have been made, of course. But, I feel like our little rock in the universe is getting bullied quite a bit these days. Decades old legislation that keeps our air a little bit cleaner and our water a little bit clearer is being challenged - and with a frightening amount of might - because now environmental protection is being seen as a hindrance to corporations, to capitalism and to success. There seems to be a push back against the environmental movement and this planet is taking an alarming beating as of late.

There needs to be more than Earth Day. There needs to be more than the green movement. Oh, how I hated that. Do you remember that? A few years ago, everybody was all about being green. I remember saying over and over how the "green living" trend was going to come back to bite us in the ass. Why? Because being green became a trend. What happens to trends? They die. Here we are, a few years later, and people are tired of hearing about being green. They are rebelling against it. They are annoyed with it. It never should have been made a trend. Our planet cannot afford our care to be a trend.

It's a cliché that you hear every year at this time - Earth Day should be everyday. It's the truth. We need to instill the values of environmental stewardship in our children from a young age. They should learn that Mama Earth is precious to us and, while she gives us plenty, she needs us to take care of her. This is how I was raised.

I was raised by wild hippies, with long hair, unshaven everything and a tie-dyed minivan. Okay, only part of that is true. My dad really is a hippie and has been since the counterculture existed. My dad is a Vietnam War Veteran and he came back from the war and marched on over to Washington D.C. and was arrested for chaining himself to a fence outside the White House in protest of the war. My dad has several marches and protests under his belt. He has also been unshaven since he came home from the war. I have never seen my dad without a beard in person. I've only seen pictures of him from the late 60's. He looked just like John Voight (which he used to his advantage with the ladies). My mom isn't a hippie per say, but she married my dad, so... Anyway, I was raised to respect the Earth. It wasn't ever forced on me or drilled into my head. It was just a casual part of life. We composted in our city backyard starting when I was in grade school (this is the 1980's). We recycled before there was curbside pick-up, saving our cans and bottles to take to the recycling plant and getting some change for it. We always had gardens of some sort - veggies, plants and flowers. I played outside just about everyday. My dad took me for walks in the woods at least once a week. He would point out all sorts of trees and vegetation, teaching me how to identify their leaves. He'd show me animal tracks, fur, old bones and school me on who they belonged to. One of the most important things he said - and he really only mentioned it once - was that there were spirits/souls in everything - trees, animals, plants, the ground. He told me they watched over the Earth and it's inhabitants and that they are happy when they see people taking care of the planet and being kind to ALL of her creatures. I've held onto that since I was a small child.

It was just the simple daily things of recycling, composting, getting out in nature and touching nature that got me into the habit of respecting the environment. My parents never preached, they just led by example and answered questions. Truly, the only "preaching" is what my dad said about Spirits in the forest. I think being allowed to go outside and to explore the natural world had one of the biggest impacts on me. Just being out there in plain old nature inspired me to plain old respect nature. I think these are key elements for children today. Get them outside to touch the dirt, feel grass in between their toes, smell the ocean (or a lake, stream, pond, river if you are far from a coast). Let them learn about all the bugs, birds and animals that are out there. For the most part, learning stifles fear and fosters respect.

A word about preaching. Several friends have shared with me that they are no longer comfortable in their churches because their pastors have preached against environmentalism, calling the "green living" movement to be some sort of trick of Satan. Now, I have seen reference to this in the national and international news, even among my own religion, Catholicism. It was explained to me by friends that their pastors likened respecting the Earth with worshiping the Earth (which is fine with me!) and that was something to be frowned upon. One friend said her pastor stressed that you cannot drill or plow the Earth too much as God will always provide, despite Biblical verses to the contrary (Jeremiah 2:7 - I brought you into a fertile land to eat its fruit and rich produce. But you came and defiled my land and made my inheritance detestable). He stresses God's call for us to have dominion over the Earth to mean that we can do whatever the fuck we please with her. I call bullshit.

Like I said, I'm Catholic. Sort of. My spiritual beliefs are very complicated. I went to Catholic school. We were always taught that taking part of the Earth honors God. In fact, one entire semester of religion class during my junior year of high school was dedicated solely to respecting the environment and be responsible stewards of the Earth - for God. He gave us this planet as a gift, so don't take a proverbial crap on it. If you give someone a pretty present and they proceed to kick it down the street, jump on it and then throw it in the trash would you be moved to replace that gift for them? Not really. As for having doesn't mean that we should do as we please and trash the place. You have dominion over your home and, unless you are like the folks on Hoarders (who suffer from mental illness and need/want help), you don't trash your home. You respect your home. You treat it kindly. The same goes for the planet. We are charged to respect her and to protect her and those who dwell here. 

I absolutely hate that respect for the planet has become such a hot political and religious issue. Politics and religion are two very polarizing elements in our culture and the environment should not be caught up in that. Taking care of the Earth shouldn't have anything to do with being a Republican, a Democrat, a Buddhist or a Wiccan. It should be a basic human issue. We all live here, we should all respect it. 

Earth Day. Forgive this comparison, but I think of it as an abusive relationship. You abuse your partner everyday, but now and then you cook dinner or bring home flowers and sheepishly say, "I'm sorry," to prevent your partner from leaving. Earth Day is that bouquet of roadside stand flowers. 

I implore you, make respect for this planet a part of your everyday lives and the lives of your children. You don't have to sell your soul to care for our environment. If our children learn young, they will have a greater capacity to do good work for this planet and for each other in the future. After all, this is it. There is no Earth v2.0


Anonymous said...

Very well said, as always!

Big Families Rock said...

Very cool article. Your dad seemed to teach you a lot and had great values.

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