Thursday, April 22, 2010

EARTH DAY - 40 years on

I remember what I was doing 40 years ago. (Frightening, isn’t it?) I was a student at St. Francis of Assisi Elementary. Our teacher made us clean the schoolyard. We had some idea that someone in the U.S.A. had just invented Earth Day and chosen April 22 as the first one. Mostly, it was just a day to fight pollution in the way we were told.
Soon after I noticed things happening. All around, the environmental movement was beginning. Even as a girl, I realized that pollution (water and air) was bad, and clean wild areas had to be protected. I had visited a few and felt I belonged there. Whatever sullied those places hurt me. I felt the earliest sense of being one with it all, even if the implications were to take years to emerge. My understanding took decades.
However, that sense of connection that came so easily to me may not have to be “instilled” in anyone! It may be innate, like a baby’s gripping reflex, or the bond between mother and child, which seems to merge their very consciousnesses. If it is innate, it does need to be maintained and shaped, encouraged and nurtured. Otherwise, it will wither, and other forces (e.g., materialism, and anti-social influences that want us all to stand alone) will propel our ambitions instead of this love.
Or at least this is what I hold firm. How else to explain that the mad hunger for plasma TVs and tiny social isolation devices masked as connection units (cell phones) supplants any awareness of the birds on the trees or the plants underfoot? If you doubt my words, ask an 18-year-old boy to name one local bird and what it eats, or a gardener to point out a native plant (versus the hybrids most gardeners prefer).
Earth Day has been celebrated for 40 years. Think of how far we’ve advanced in our understanding of the biosphere – yet how much forest has been lost to toothpicks or construction boards, how much more CO2 now warps the atmospheric currents, how every ocean will be riddled with our plastic for eternity, and how many more human beings now crowd out what remains (about 2.5 billion extra people in four decades) of the habitable areas of the planet since 1970. All those people threaten to squeeze out the fresh water, the land, the food, the wild creatures - yet the hope for everything lies with those people, too!
The more that changes, the more everything stays the same.
I am still that little girl, seamlessly one with the wetland dragonflies and red-winged blackbirds.
What are you?


  1. I remember already being cynical about the pro-Earth antics of those who were consumerists at heart. What was the point of taking time to celebrate the "Earth" or "Wildlife Week" right in the middle of the spring field season? Who (with anything interesting to relate) would have the time to come? If we're going to celebrate, let's do it in late January -- but not at night, because we've got to be out looking after the Mudpuppies.

  2. Fred,
    Point well taken, except for the fact that not all naturalists have field seasons, or have them in spring. Some merely observe phenology, or do book studies (as well as going out in the field, but not necessary to do research!). Besides, many people with "anything interesting to relate" are not naturalists (at least not in the way you and I are). They should be heard, too! Elitism has no place when celebrating the love of the biosphere.