Thursday, April 22, 2010

Earth Day -- A Wake-up Call

Today is the 40th annual celebration of Earth Day.  The blogosphere has been alive all week with announcements of events and rallies, individuals and groups dispensing advice and gathering pledges, to address the environmental problems of Mother Earth which, as you may have heard, is a planet very much in peril today.  So this special day has been set aside, which may remind those only peripherally aware of the extent of the crisis, that time is running out--perhaps not for our generation, but for those generations that will follow:  our children, our grandchildren.

The first Earth Day in 1970 was a raucous, radical teach-in that helped spur clean-air, clean-water, and endangered species legislation in the United States. Today it's much tamer. "The first Earth Day was effective because so many people went out in the streets ... Forty years later, "people are asked to do much simpler things, like recycle or turn their thermostat to a certain level ... they're not being asked to get out there and shake up the government and force a recognition of how things are produced and how much we consume."[1]

Earth Day, today, is celebrated by more than a billion people in 180 countries around the world, according to Kathleen Rogers, President of the Earth Day Network.  Being concerned about the environment is "routine" now, and "green-ness is today as much a marketing tactic as a moral pursuit". (One suggestion I read about yesterday, as a huge step in "going green", was to "go paperless with your reading", i.e., stop buying books and go buy a Kindle wireless reading device for $489.  (Information on where to order included.)  Hmmm.  Save a tree.  Buy a mechanical device that can't be recycled.  The emphasis seemed less on the "save" part, and more on the "buy" part.) 

But here come those horrible statistics, updated every year, that people may not have been aware of, to startle and shock one out of complacency, till next year's Earth Day, like:

  • 14 billion pounds of trash are dumped into the ocean every year
  • Americans use 50 million tons of paper annually -- consuming more than 850 million trees.
  • Most families throw away about 88 pounds of plastic every year.
  • Only 11% of the earth's surface is used to grow food.
I wasn't aware of that last one, but it strikes me as particularly alarming.  I've seen photos of the gobs of plastic littering the ocean, swallowed by or embedded in the fish who live there.  Now, to solve the problem of possible peak oil, efforts are being made to turn corn crops into fuel to feed cars (ethanol).   Food products genetically manipulated to kill certain plants or insects and which have caused damage and death to certain animals, are claimed by the manufacturer to have no adverse effect on the human organism.  Independent research showing otherwise is consistently ignored, or the scientists censored.  Foods containing altered genes and animals  pumped full of growth hormones and/or antiobiotics are processed into the food chain and distributed to markets for human consumption, while efforts to have such products labeled as such are met with staunch resistance because of its potential to limit profits for the producers.  In all of these instances, "the people" have little or no control over what is happening.  Other, more powerful entities, make all the decisions.

Q.  What stops humans from doing more to help stop the extraordinary contamination, waste and abuse of their planet?
A.  Other humans, for whom profits trump all.  And apathy.


When there are no more fish in the sea,
        when the rivers are full of chemicals
               and traces of pharmaceuticals appear in our drinking water,
                    or toxic sewage sludge distributed as "organic compost",
when the land stops producing food
     because there are no longer any bees, to pollinate,
            when the air becomes unbreathable,
                   and our bodies riddled with disease
                          that might have been prevented--
what good will money do?

If you are thirsty, you cannot drink money.
If you are hungry, you cannot eat money.
If you are suffocating, you cannot breathe money.
It will sit there, mocking you,
and probably outlast you.
     (that is, if you invested in gold.
     Paper or digital money by then may have become meaningless).

Mother Earth weeps, and the folly continues.
Meanwhile, while we celebrate increased awareness
let's also note how little has been done
to stop this fast-tracked train on a collision course
to No Man's Land.

One petitions, marches, shouts,
spreads suggestions like "15 Ways to Save the Planet",
brags that one recycles,
yet cannot seem to slow
the steady march of decline.

40 years of urgent urgings...
and money still rules,
profits proliferate
the message is muted.

Each small step forward, and
fourteen more small, intentional blocks are created
to prevent our getting there--
deliberately, through manipulation,
watered down regulation,
nonfunding, politicking
programmed delays
and the need to dominate,
the need to control
the need to

"Where have all the flowers gone?"
a former threesome sang.
One day we may be singing
Where has all the water gone?
Where are the fish?  Where are the trees?
Nothing can be eaten. What do I do now?

"When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn..."
and so it

For some, respecting the Earth is a way of life, a consciousness not in need of prescheduled "alarm calls".  Some people just live that way--all the time, every day, conserving, doing as little damage as possible, and they are everywhere, from the biggest cities to the poorest haven, in every country--millions of fellow planet dwellers from whom we can learn by example--how to live simply, be healthier, and take care of our Earth in our short time here. 

Tick.  Tick.  Tick.
There's still time.
Not a lot ...
And it will take time.

Or--we could just jump on the runaway train, pull the shades down, and ask to be awakened when the ride is over.  That's assuming the train actually gets there.  Or that there is a "there" to be gotten to.

*My devil's advocate, sensing that  the above imparted a tone of pessimism, rather than one of the "hug-another-earth-person" variety , asked: "Should the negatives about a situation trump the positives?" implying that it induces fear instead of hope (talking about trains fast-tracking to a no man's land stripped of anything edible, for example).  Perhaps I should have emphasized more the growing world consciousness about environmentalism and provide examples.  But experience tells me only like-minded individuals seem to pick up on this.  It's like preaching to the choir.  Most people, I think, are largely oblivious to what's happening, unless it immediately impacts them; they think this is much ado about nothing, that warnings about ozone depletion and polluted waters and  radioactive waste with a half-life of millions of years is nothing but a bunch of  whiney Chicken Littles crying that "The sky is falling, the sky is falling!!".  And even if what they say is true, they don't want to have to think about it.  So maybe I wrote this for them, though none will read it--but also for myself.  You sometimes feel powerless, lapse into complacency out of sheer frustation wondering if it makes any difference whatsoever what one does or does not do, given the magnitude and severity of the problem. Still, that's no excuse to just give up entirely.  And sometimes, even like the oblivious, you'd prefer not to have to think about it at all.

I remind myself that it's not a wasted effort, though--to learn to live more simply, make healthier choices, use less, care more.   I can do this.  It is not rocket science.  It's not easy, either.  Some things, some habits, are annoyingly hard to give up. And some seem downright impossible.  But they're not--and it liberates you, from inertia, from unconsciousness, from lack of control, and makes you stronger, prepares you for how to cope when times are hard.  (Not just difficult, but really hard.)  And those times may be coming, sooner than we think.

No comments: