Reflections on Earth Day

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.” – Thomas Jefferson

In my previous post I alluded to the concept of generational tyranny and Thomas Jeffersons fascination with the concept. Again, to reiterate – this means that the actions of the current generation should be such that it not leave an indelible mark on any future generation. For instance, this generations debt is that of its own and generations to come should not be left paying the bill. Of course there was no way Jefferson could have known that this thinking could be extended to that of the ecology. And certainly one could argue that the current ecological crisis could be described as a “war of the world.”

This past Earth Day I became sensitive to the notion that the idea of generational tyranny couldn’t be any more relevant to that of the ecological/climate change cause. At the very core of what Earth Day is about is protecting the Earth and our ability to live on it for generations to come. That’s about as stark a mission as anyone can make up.

Science is in near unanimous agreement that we have caused some sort of damage to the fragile ego system of the planet which in turn means that we will have to make some huge adjustments in the way we live. And those adjustments better happen really fast. Some say that the Greenland ice shelf may break off in the middle of this century which may cause Manhattan and London to go underwater. Other reports say some very recent satellite photographs indicated that the Arctic Sea has 80% less ice than it did 20 years ago. There are mountains of evidence that make up a body of truth that says this is at a crisis level. They go on and on.

Even though most sane people know this to be true we still see very little action from any major Government and for the most part we still let the petro-dollar keep it’s relevance as the worlds true economic superpower. If we look through history’s lens we can trace both our progress and our destruction back to the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. The economic benefits of the late 19th centuries industrial advancements happened so quickly, and for so much of the Western world, that it created a universal utopia on how to view the world. There suddenly became far more ways for man to seek his own “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” than ever before due to the new found options of creating income. From here on out progress became definable only in economic terms or that of the GDP. This was such a powerful shift in the way humans were living up until that point that these profoundly Western imperialist ways have even seeped into eastern cultures like India and China.

Now that we are over 100 years past the dawn of the Industrial Revolution we are left with the bleak reality of the damage we’ve done to our the planet as a result of our economic prosperity that we are being forced to reconsider some of the ideas of what we think is important or what we define as success.

“The planet does not need more ‘successful’ people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people to live well in their places. It needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane and these qualities have little to do with ‘success’ as our culture is the set.”
-Dalai Lama

Let’s go back and take a more macro view of the planet’s peril and perhaps adjust our sensitivities to it. Let’s go back to the idea of what the ecology and green movement is about and why an important distinction needs to be made. This is the distinction between saving the planet and saving ourselves. George Carlin brilliant and famously riffed on this saying we shouldn’t say “Save the Planet”, we should say “Save the Humans.” It’s true, the planet will be fine as it has been for 4 bilion years. It’s our ability to live on the planet which is in jeopardy. Carling goes on to say “the planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas.”

This is funny and provides comic relief but if you step back to truly consider the differences you will see it to not only be true but to be an urgent distinction. This past Earth Day I grew tired and cynical of the new age movements rhetoric on the unofficial holiday and started to think about Carlins idea a little more . I’m truly tired of the new ager’s “honoring the mother” bumper sticker movement and it’s endlessly saccharine sweet need to hold hands and do a beach clean up. Sounds so bitter for a self professed hippie who drives a Prius I know but it’s true.

It’s important because we don’t need to go on and on about using less plastic or not driving BMWs as much as we should shift the focus to protecting the ability of our species to continue it’s survival. Anyone reading this post may still be able to enjoy our beautiful Earth as we know it but will our grandchildren? And that can not be more clearly expressed in how the future generations will view our legacy. Will some nameless environmental leader be saying 100 years from now “At present our energy crisis is at a code red level due to circumstances and planning that our ancestors failed to act on at a time when it could have been prevented.”

Quite frankly I think more people would resonate more with saving their grandchildren than they would saving a distant Alaska wilderness. The bumper sticker thinking on the movement needs to shift. Enough honoring the divine mother earth and telling her that we love her, let’s start talking brass tax.

In the latest Rolling Stone there is a worthwhile new piece that focusses on the fierceness and determination of the new climate change freedom fighters who are taking on Big Oil and the US Government very effectively. Gone are the days when hippies and “granola” types were the only ones listening to this cause. Todays climate change leaders are policy wonks, scientists and angry young people who are using technology to mobilize a movement that literally every single person can’t afford to ignore. I can’t think of one other hot button issue that applies to every person no matter what.

“It’s time to take the blinders off and see what the industry (big oil) is doing to us. The message that I want to put out there is that normal, everyday people have to take up this fight” says Cherri Foytlin in Rolling Stone. She is a mother of six who founded the Gulf Coast activist group Mothers for Sustainability.

The ripple from the 60’s new idealism has been felt for nearly 40 years now. Much of our progressive dialogue originated in the 60s, the flexibility for what art is acceptable, the continued quest for equal rights, the gay movement, the health food movement and the green movement all came to fruition because of the shift in awareness that was experienced nearly 50 years ago in that brief lightning in a bottle era. This was one of the great redo’s in modern civilization to ever happen with such swift momentum. This was was the great success of the 60’s and why it’s legacy can still be felt. However, many still view these movements to exist in cultural perceptions only and lack any sort of brick and mortar actions.

The modern green movement and it’s tent pole landmarks like Whole Foods or the Toyota Prius work because they have created actual choices, both cultural and practical, that the everyday consumer can take part in. Various Earth Day festivals that go on around the country are so easily lumped into hippie gatherings where seitan and dreadlocks rule the day.

We must stop with the notion that we are trying to save the planet as some sort of new age crusade about honoring and cherishing Mother Earth. Not only is it annoying and a cause for separation but it also falls into the cliche of airy fairy causes where the protesters smoke too much pot and don’t get anything done.

We must instead learn to talk about our survival as a species as the only reason to care about this in the first place. Again, the modern ecological movement and the potential risks of doing nothing effect every single person on our planet and every single person who has yet to be born who will live on this planet. It’s not a liberal or conservative cause. It’s not a rich or poor one either. It’s a human one.

Save the humans.