Earth Day and I go way back. All the way back to its beginning in 1970. America had been shocked and outraged by the environmental events like the orange haze of smog in the Los Angeles basin; pollution in Lake Erie so toxic that it could catch fire by a lighted match; and the massive Santa Barbara Oil Spill.
FIRST AID RESPONDS TO EARTH’S TRAUMA
We declared Earth Day to draw public attention to worldwide environmental distress. California mandated automotive emission standards; municipalities mandated water treatment facility upgrades and industrial discharge restrictions (resulting in more swimmable and drinkable water); the Environmental Protection Agency was created. For a hot moment I felt, naïvely, that we were on our way to a healthy planet.
In 1973 climate scientists were alarmed when they detected declining levels of ozone concentration in the upper atmosphere. That blanket of ozone reflects tissue damaging ultraviolet radiation back into space protecting all life on earth. The prospect of greatly increased incidents of skin cancer and cataracts alarmed the public. The newly minted EPA swung into action. The primary culprit was determined to be CFC, a gas then used in air conditioners and as a propellant in spray bottles. The CFC was drifting up to the stratosphere and chemically breaking down the Ozone. CFCs were banned in the US, and eventually worldwide, which averted one major catastrophe.
TREATING THE CHRONIC CONDITIONS PROVES MORE DIFFICULT
But these promising remedies have been overshadowed by less visible assaults against our habitat. The most consequential assault is (as we all know) the discharge of billions of tons of carbon into that great overhead “sewer” known as our sky. This discharge, the by-product of our fossil-fueled energy industry, has destabilized our climate and sickened our oceans. Plentiful energy has made our modern lifestyle possible. These industries, led by The major oil companies (Big Oil) have mounted a decades long disinformation campaign to sow public doubt and denial of the grave danger posed by climate change. Compromised legislators have blocked effective regulatory controls. Ultimately, it’s up to the public. There is precious little time left for us to back off while our Earth can still sustain its living beings.
IT’S UP TO ALL OF US. NOW.
Our Earth has clearly suffered continued damage under the watch of my generation since Earth Day first appeared. It’s also clear that the generation now maturing will need to grapple with its effects and ensure a healthy, sustainable future. But shaming the old folks for the mess and burdening the youngsters with the cleanup operation would be a disservice to both. The “game” is underway, the outcome is in doubt. If we truly care about this outcome, it’s time for all of us, as we are able, to get out of the stands and onto the field on behalf of our grandchildren and all grandchildren yet unborn.
We call it Earth Day, but it’s really about us and our fellow creatures. The Earth will outlive our destructive behavior. She will eventually heal the wounds, whether or not we humans are around to assist her. She has nurtured us so far, but we’re beginning to wear out our welcome.
Our Earth’s physical environment is not alone in crying for our attention. What breaks your heart? Racial and ethnic injustice? Poverty and wealth disparity? Conflict and war within and between nations? These outrages stem from the same uncaring mindset that results in environmental devastation. We cannot heal the Earth without also attending to our self-inflicted wounds. Even if it’s not Mother Earth’s environment that moves you to action, there is a vital supporting role for you.
Follow your heartbreak and your genius with your friends. Your genius will show you the unique way that you can most powerfully act on your deepest care, and your genius and your heartbreak will guide you to others with whom you can take action. A New Republic of the Heart, page 257. A New Republic of the Heart – North Atlantic Books
So, let us – each generation – get to work. We have the opportunity to transform our Earth into a planet we will be proud to call our home.
PS: The short videos linked below drive home the point better than this or any essay can.