Well hello, happy Earth Day! What a day it is. See that luscious blue sky out there? Those adorable little baby plants peeking up out of the ground? The deer and the squirrels and your dog and that lion on TV? That water passing through your body?
Maybe you’ve never celebrated Earth Day, or maybe you are a die-hard fan—I’m interested to know. According to my Google searching, this all started in 1970 as a reaction to a giant oil spill in Santa Barbara, CA in 1969—and, I would imagine, a variety of other human-influenced ecological disasters. The intention of Earth Day is to celebrate the natural beauty of this planet and to educate & raise awareness about our assortment of environmental predicaments.
My little brother’s birthday is on Earth Day — so this holiday of sorts has been on my lifelong radar (Happy 22nd Zach!). Also, there’s the fact that I was born from the union of two great environmentally-minded human beings, Mom and Dad. But I wonder what Earth Day means for those outside of my little bubble. Are people out there planting trees in honor of this holy day? Hiking? Recycling? Installing solar panels and trading out the Hummer for a Prius?
It’s hard for me to get a grasp of what’s actually going on out there, on this day. It seems like this should be a momentous occasion, considering that Earth Day includes Everyone, and pretty much Everything in this life as we know it. It seems like a prime opportunity to unite as a human culture, and maybe do something about that whole global warming thing?? Wouldn’t it be great if everyone on Earth took a deep healing breath together at the same time? I feel some idealistic peaceful urges coming on, bear with me…
I have a dream…that one day…Earth Day will be as widely celebrated as Christmas…and instead of trampling each other at Wal-Mart for the best Black Friday flatscreen bargains, humans will gather en masse on April 22nd, (or: every day of the year), to frolic in fields of wildflowers, holding hands in a big circle and kissing trees, drinking kombucha and eating vegan cupcakes, letting the armpit hair flow freely. No one will need to fill up their gas tank or leave the bathroom light on all day — because everyone will be blissfully happy and love each other and all of Earth’s creatures — one planetary family, united by our collective existence and this unending float through soundless dark cold lonely space. La la la, kum-bah-yah, etc.
That’s kind of a joke — obviously not everyone likes kombucha. But for real — is it just me or does it feel like there’s this vague apathetic stigma and dismissive attitude towards a day like Earth Day— and environmentalism in general? Like it’s just this weird hippy-dippy trend for a select clan of anarchist tree-hugging dirt-worshippers? Shouldn’t this be something for everyone, seeing as we are all here together on Earth? All of us doing all kinds of different things with different opinions and beliefs, but all still approaching the same fate — we are all here together whether we like it or not.
On a related note, a poll in January of this year interviewed people in the United States about their belief in climate change — the results were tepid, and showed to be split across the gnarled abyss of bipartisanship. 68% percent of Democrats and 18% of Republicans believe that climate change / global warming is a Real Thing. And only 27% of this whole group believes that these intense environmental changes are the result of any human impact.
Meanwhile, the coral reefs are bleaching from rising temperatures — weather patterns grow more and more bizarre — polar bears search for food in an ever shrinking landscape & feeding season. Hmm.
In my little life, I feel a lot of things about this. Attacks of anxiety and panic. Doom. Frustration. Fear. Regret. Deep sadness. Guilt. A sense of great burdening responsibility to fix it all and SAVE THE WORLD. Save the arctic, the great barrier reef, the whales, the bees, the bananas, the humans. It’s a lot to handle — for one person, for a whole global community, for the precious living organism of Earth. There are so many systems in this great human civilization that need to be re-evaluated and re-designed in order to have a sustainable, feasible present and future: Capitalism. Fossil Fuel Dependency. Mass Production of Everything. Et cetera.
For a while I’ve been wondering why we don’t talk about our environmental conundrum more often in our communities, and as a larger society. Not to say that we don’t ever — things ARE happening — but why isn’t it on a bigger scale? Why is this current political race focused so much on everything BUT climate change? Same with mainstream news media. We can talk about Jennifer Aniston’s hair color all day but not a peep about our survival and/or potential self-destruction?
Perhaps the issue seems too big, too daunting to face. Maybe it hasn’t affected all of us in such a direct way. Humans, with our frantic population growth & technology & language & grocery stores, have a different experience than other animals and organisms whose habitats are changing dramatically in ways we don’t fully understand. Even if we do have a pulse on the health/illness of our planet, what do we do about it? Often, in some bizarre defense mechanism we continue to avoid dealing with this in a real way. Ignoring, denying, or sinking into anxious despair. But honestly, once we start to accept the situation, there are a lot of things we can do about it. And I really do think that this global climate conversation is building serious momentum and really starting to focus on actual, tangible action, rather than total apocalyptic doom. Alternative energy is picking up serious speed. People are speaking up against corporate interests that have gotten us into a lot of these messes. Sustainable technologies and inventions are popping up left and right. And then there are all the little daily things we can all do as individuals. There are plenty of places to start, and to continue.
So, today, it’s Earth Day. A day that human beings decided 46 years ago would be devoted to thinking, feeling, and discussing these kinds of things—with care and wonder. To me, Earth Day is a chance to more fully and meaningfully appreciate this planet, ourselves, and each other. To feel the air fill our bodies, to explore your backyard, to watch the sky, to be free, honest, and curious. There’s a lot to celebrate, there’s a lot of work to be done, and there’s an incredible amount of resilience, humor, creativity and intelligence in the human species, in Earth itself. We are this Earth, and this Earth is us. So this Earth Day — we can celebrate life, and do our best to treat it gently and joyfully. Hairy armpits optional.
This piece originally appeared on Shambhala Mountain Center’s blog.