Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Earth Day ramblings
On this Earth Day eve, I feel compelled to share my thoughts and feelings about our planet, nature and our role in understanding it and protecting it. I have many ideas related to this topic so I apologize in advance to any disorganization of this essay, after all, I have been up since 5am and made approximately 15 meals today.
First of all, let me say that I am very hopeful despite our planet having a lot of people, many wasteful practices and a lot of poverty; all of these seem to make ecological conservation impossible. There are huge barriers to overcome, certainly, but we have better technology, awareness, appreciation, communication of ideas and science than ever before in the history of humanity. For every gloom and doom story there is a story of hope.
What is my vision of sustainability? An end to poverty, access to clean water, adequate food, gender equality, education for all children, the sharing of technology and profits within and between nations, an economic system that includes environmental and social damage in the price of its goods, taxes on corporations that pollute in order to create subsidies for emerging technologies (solar, hydrogen,etc...), building codes that require developers to build green buildings, protection for land and aquatic ecosystems of value financed by the governments and private citizens of rich nations, tougher environmental regulations with better enforcement, financial support for small and sustainable farms and an end to subsidies for agribusiness.
So now that I have shared my pie in the sky world vision with you, I must admit that the level of change necessary both structurally and in terms of people's mindsets is tremendous. But, our society has changed tremendously since it began and every generation represents an incredible opportunity to do things the right way. When I was child, no one I knew recycled, the Internet wasn't public, there were few farmer's markets or small organic farms, global warming was something only scientists and a few daring politicians talked about and there were no hybrid or hydrogen cars. There are so many things that have changed for the better and I believe the American public is ready for more change to protect the quality of our lives. I also believe that whatever is done here will have world wide impact both economically and emotionally.
Enough of the big picture, here is what I think of the small picture and what makes me most hopeful: love will conquer fear and education will conquer ignorance.
"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; we will understand only what we have been taught."
-Baba Dioum, Senegalese ecologist
I have been teaching young people about nature and our relationship to it for many years and now I am teaching my own children to love nature. The first step to understanding the material aspect of our Earth is to experience it with all of your senses: hold an animal, stick your hands in the dirt, smell the rain, watch a butterfly drink, smell a pine tree, feel the rain on your face, watch a fire, plant a seed and watch it grow, listen to the chorus of birds in the morning, feel the sun on your face and swim in the ocean.
As anyone imagines themselves doing any of these things they feel a sense of peace and relaxation and I argue that this connection to nature is vital to our happiness. The famous biologist, Edward O. Wilson, coined the term biophilia to describe humans' attraction to nature, our primal need for it. A more recent author, Richard Louv, author of The Last Child in the Woods writes that many children today suffer from nature-deficit disorder because they spend too much time indoors leading to sub-optimal physical and mental health. The details are different, but the message is the same: humans evolved in nature, camping out as it were, and our modern lives, and its ailments, can be healed by reconnecting with nature, including other humans.
Is saving our planet as easy as taking a hike in the woods? Yes, it is. A person that spends time outdoors and in wild places will develop a sense of curiousity that will guide all of her endeavors and a love of special places strong enough to fight to protect them. All great naturalists and environmental crusaders started by turning over a rotting log or watching the patterns of the clouds in the sky. And people like you and me started caring about our Earth because of some other seemingly insignificant event. My point is that none of our experiences are insignificant; every moment spent appreciating our world matters.
I choose education as my platform and nature as my teacher. What do you love and teach as you go through your days? What do you care about enough to pass on and to protect? your children, a garden, a wild animal, a pet, a craft, a trade, your music?
I hope you all get to spend a least a few moments everyday outdoors in a beautiful place.
I leave you with a quote from one of my heroes, Rachel Carson:
Those who dwell, as scientists or laymen, among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.