I’m not eager to spoil the party of Earth Day. For the environmentalist crowd, a group to which I pledge my philosophical, if not always explicit, allegiance, Earth Day is a time for celebration and renewal. But there’s something in “Earth Day” that seems a little like New Years’ Eve, at least to me. Which is to say a disappointment.
Even for me the connection is a little tenuous if I think about it too much. But, in that they are over-hyped abstractions, focusing attention, if only for a brief moment, on the natural cycles of time and nature, New Years’ Eve is just like Earth Day. It is a moment we vow to do better, but real change continues to hauntingly elude the full promise of progress, resilience and – dare I say it – sustainability.
You can guess the argument, it’s the classic curmudgeonly rant of “why can’t every day be Earth Day!” – or something like it. More like why do we need an “Earth Day” at all? If not to eventually do away with it entirely as the realization of what it seeks to represent gets us over the hump, through the transition to a new, better “business as usual.” Endlessly celebrating Earth Day while chronicling the steady decay of its natural systems just doesn’t cut it. We must wean ourselves of it for Earth Day to mean anything.
As trite as it may sound, by making every day a celebration of the Earth and our connection to it, the better the odds that our descendants won’t wake up early next century cursing us for taking it all, leaving an over-heated, polluted, life-stripping mess. Hell, forget about them.
As we rush toward the limits of planetary boundaries, the consequences of failing to see the danger ahead and really doing something about it comes into sharper focus. Beyond the day-to-day of typical human perception, we see something menacing out there, beyond the circle of fire that our energy economy creates as a fortress wall against the dark universe beyond.
We’ve come too far to turn back. We must press on, undertaking the twin challenge of creating a new energy economy and the mindset to envision how to live and – hopefully – prosper within it. All while raising our kids, paying the mortgage and putting food on the table. No longer can we separate the day-to-day necessities of life from the restoration and conservation of the source of all life. Earth.
I am not anti-Earth Day. “Go!” I say to all the great work the is done all over the globe. I’ve had many opportunities over the years to speak and work with many passionate, visionary and really smart men and women. People with the audacity to think that through hard work and collaborate, they can change the world. Getting to this point involves substantial victories in a long journey of how humans behave in their environment.
But despite the effort there remains a very long row to hoe. There can be no standing in place. It’s time to move. The good intentions of one day too often end as gnawing disappointment.
And that’s how Earth Day is just like New Years’ Eve.
“What I stand for is what I stand on.”
– Wendell Barry
Image credit: Snugg LePup, courtesy flickr