“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.” (Chief Seattle, 1854)
What is the kind response in the face of people who say or believe things that defy reason? In Florida—a state critically susceptible to the effects of rising sea-levels—state officials have banned the use of the terms “climate change,” “global warming,” or “sustainability” in any official communications, emails, or reports. How does one engage in intelligent discussion about weighty issues if forbidden to use the vocabulary of the subject?
It’s not just Florida. There are countless policy-makers and bureaucrats who deny an overwhelming body of evidence that our planet is in jeopardy. Who still express opinions along the lines of: “climate change hasn’t been proved,” and the oft-repeated Ronald Reagan statement, “Trees cause more pollution than automobiles do.”
What’s the kind response? It isn’t to call the politicians and bureaucrats idiots, or portray them as ostriches with their heads in the sand. That further polarizes the issue. Those who hold opposing positions on environmental issues dig in their heels, and those who are still neutral don’t want to align with either side—zealots being exhausting companions.
Civil dialogue is essential. Dialogue that explores the issues, assesses evidence, examines options and outcomes, and respects disagreement. Dialogue where we assume one another’s good intent. It’s not going to work if participants engage in name-calling, hyperbole, or insolence, or if essential words or concepts are disallowed.
I’ve deliberately avoided being political on this blog, as tempting as it can be at times to take a cheap shot at a clueless politician (and there are so many of them—of all political stripes). There may be some who interpret a posting focused on the environment as taking a political stand. Well, heck, tomorrow is Earth Day and if my kindness can’t extend to the planet that sustains me then I’m blogging on the wrong subject … or maybe the wrong planet.
The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970, to address rising concerns about air pollution, pesticide use, water quality, and endangered species. Forty-five years later, we face many of the same concerns. Some problems have improved, many have become more complex and more dire. The world’s population was 3.7 billion people in 1970; today it’s estimated to be 7.2 billion—almost double. And we don’t always tread lightly.
That first Earth Day led to the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Those acts have achieved a lot. But not enough.
On an individual level, millions of people have changed their habits since 1970—we recycle, we avoid pesticides, we compost. It is making a difference. But it’s discouraging to see that corporate pollution is still brazen, many policy-makers still deny the problem, and many of our fellow humans just don’t seem to care. Some scientists warn that we are approaching a tipping point—a point of no return—if we continue to pretend that human activities can’t hurt our planet, and if we continue to pretend it’s not our problem.
The Earth Day Network estimates that more than a billion people in 192 countries will participate in Earth Day activities tomorrow. This year’s Earth Day theme is “It’s our turn to lead,” encouraging everyday citizens from all walks of life to use their voices to encourage global leaders to take action on climate change, the environment, and the connection between poverty and climate change.
As I explore kindness, I have to think about more than just kindness to people, or to myself, or to animals. It feels like the ultimate unkindness to ignore the Earth and allow our short-sightedness to damage the planet beyond repair and put our own species—as well as countless others—in jeopardy. If there’s anything we owe the generations that follow us, it’s a healthy planet and sustainable practices. Shouldn’t every day be Earth Day?
I believe that at least part of the solution is to be found in kindness. Acknowledging where there is disagreement and agreeing to seek solutions without name-calling, histrionics, or political posturing. If we adults cannot do it, let it be a children’s crusade. On this subject, they seem to be far more rational and tolerant. Who better to educate adults about the consequences of their actions than those who will suffer or benefit from the decisions we make now?
Lest I get too preachy, I want to conclude by thinking about ways to celebrate Earth Day—perhaps activities that can extend beyond a day and become standard practices or habits. Here’s what comes to my mind—what else can you think of?
- Sign up for a volunteer project—cleaning up a stream, planting trees, beautifying a park….
- Check with your waste management company to be sure you know everything you can recycle and how best to do it—a lot of those rules are changing.
- Spend some time outdoors—walk along the beach, hike the hills, go to a park (and pick up any trash you encounter) … or just enjoy your backyard.
- Register with dmachoice.org or catalogchoice.org to reduce the unwanted catalogues you receive—it saves trees and you won’t be inundated with catalogues that insist you need stuff you really don’t need.
- Think before you print out emails or unnecessary reports at work.
- Remember to bring your reusable bags when you shop.
- Make plans to plant a vegetable or herb garden this spring.
- Look into composting if you aren’t already doing it.
- Reduce or eliminate pesticide use in your garden.
- Plant a tree. Or two.
- Do some of your shopping at your local farmers’ market.
- Make a donation to an environmental cause you feel strongly about.
- Take shorter showers—or, better yet, shower or bathe with your sweetie.
- Ride a bike, walk, or use public transportation in place of driving when possible.
We don’t have to do them all. Just pick one or two, and when they become habits, pick another couple. Everything we do or choose not to do—large or small—makes a difference.
Extending kindness to the Earth is the same as extending it to our friends, our families, and ourselves. And while kindness is something we give with no other motive, and no expectations of return, the kindness we offer our planet will come back to us ten-fold: in clean, healthy air, clear and refreshing water, the shade of stately trees, and the bounty of our food. Like so many other things related to kindness, it only requires that we be mindful.
What are you doing for Earth Day? Have a fabulous day. It is a wonderful world.
“I do not think the measure of a civilization is how tall its buildings of concrete are, but rather how well its people have learned to relate to their environment and fellow man.” (Sun Bear of the Chippewa Tribe)