Half a century ago, the United Nations declared April 22 to be celebrated as Earth Day. Since then, various actions from international agreements to national legislation to personal habits have made literally tons of improvements.
From our lead-free gasoline and the increasing number of electric vehicles to recycling centers for our household paper and plastic, we are all much more aware of preserving our environment. Needless to say, more, much more, needs to be accomplished.
Though there remain individuals who, at the idea of pollution being a problem, in essence quote with Ebeneezer Scrooge with a “Bah! Humbug,” the trenches of the deeps are filling with trash, the sea waters are rising and the polar caps are melting. What can we do?
Well, first of all we can recognize nature’s free gift of beauty.
“The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament displays His handiwork,” says the Bible. But read on: “Nature is painting for us day after day, pictures of infinite beauty,” John Ruskin; “Earth laughs with flowers,” and, “Nature always wears the colors of the spirit,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson. Our First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson taught, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope,” and Jules Renard, “On earth there is no heaven, just little pieces of it.”
The next step might be to consider both the immediate future as well as the long term existence of life on this planet. Native Americans who lived in a homeostatic relation with the earth gave us a proverb teaching the multi-generational responsibility of respecting and maintaining nature, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” The Sioux specifically had a saying, “Teach us to walk the soft earth as relatives to all that live.” And Wendell Berry chimed in with almost the identical thought, “To damage the earth is to damage your children.”
We might depict this concept as being universal, but President Carter worded it well when he spoke, “Like music and art, love of nature is a common language that can transcend political and social boundaries,” and John Muir, who was more into hiking western trails than speaking, described the idea more bluntly: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” Once again I am reminded of Wendell Berry’s words on this matter, “The earth is what we all have in common.”
It also may be of help for us to understand that protecting the environment is not a task for the hippies and tree huggers. It is one of the finest exhibitions of patriotism that Old Glory waving Americans can perform. Teddy Roosevelt, the avid outdoors man himself said, “Here is your country, cherish its natural resources. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin our country of its beauty.” And while he and his nephew, Franklin D. Roosevelt, were often at opposite ends of the political spectrum, the latter added, “A nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.”
But a major step toward healing Mother Nature is to recognize the cause of the problem and not make excuses. David Sarnoff spoke like a double barreled shotgun, but his aim was directly on target: “Man is the greatest miracle and the greatest problem on this earth.”
As though he was adding to Theodore Roosevelt’s comment, Mahatma Gandhi observed, “Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not enough to satisfy every man’s greed.” And Terri Swearingin gave an interesting twist to the truth in, “We are living on this planet as if we have another one to which we could go.”
Benjamin Franklin is rarely thought of as an environmentalist yet gave the facts an interesting and easily remembered expression, “When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.”
All of which brings us back around to the question of what do you do. There are some rather practical actions each of us can take. Bill “The Science Guy” Nye advised, “To leave the world a better place than you found it, sometimes you have to pick up other people’s trash.” In essence saying “practice what you preach,” Gandhi admonished, “Be the change you wish to see in this world.”
Concluding with a quotation from a woman whose very life was lived exploring, loving and advocating for nature, Jane Goodall taught us to live every day conscious that our contributions whether positive or negative affect everything and all things about us: “You cannot go through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference.”
Johnny A. Phillips is a retired minister residing in Morganton and may be contacted at email@example.com.