April 21, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

So what's going on today in the Empire? At my office, the water cooler buzz is all about the final 6 contestants on tonight's Andrew Lloyd Webber-themed episode of American Idol. In the world of sports, the first round of the NBA playoffs is providing some intrigue, especially after Saturday's double overtime victory for the Spurs over the Suns, whose heated rivalry will continue this evening in Game 2. The political world is clearly focused on today's Democratic Presidential Primary in Pennsylvania. Anyone up for Round 46 of Barack vs. Hillary? Once you get past the diversions of entertainment, sports and politics, there's little time left to contemplate any other significance to this busy Tuesday.

Happy Earth Day!

It's been close to 40 years since the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, a day when 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment. This day is considered by many to be the beginning of the environmental movement, which led to the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. Interestingly, Earth Day is the only event celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities. According to trusty Wikipedia, more than half a billion people participate in Earth Day Network campaigns every year.

I still remember going to science class at my private Christian high school (in the 1990's) and learning that Global Warming was a myth and that the term "Mother Nature" was never to be uttered unless you were on the wrong side of the God vs. Science debate. Never mind the fact that most of the great scientists throughout the history of western civilization were Christians or that all truth (scientific or otherwise) is God's truth, but I'll save that soap box for another day. Suffice it to say that the realms of conservation, preservation and environmental sustainability have not been the strong suits of American evangelicalism.

I've never considered myself an environmentalist or a tree hugger. Sure, I've watched An Inconvenient Truth, but that doesn't count (neither does March of the Penguins, although I unabashedly proclaim Winged Migration as the greatest bird-related documentary in existence). I've never read Silent Spring by Rachel Carson and honestly, I don't plan to. My name has found its way onto a lot of mailing lists, but the Sierra Club's isn't one of them. I didn't make it to last weekend's Kokua Festival with Jack Johnson and his leafy barefooted friends. I've tried to make sense of the term "carbon-neutral" but even the Wikipedia explanation is too complicated for me. Yes, I'll admit that we've recently begun using cloth diapers for baby, but that was 100% my wife's idea. Last Saturday, I regretfully missed an opportunity to plant trees with my church, although part of the reason involved the cost of gas for the 50-mile round trip. I guess it's not until I'm trying to save the environment that I worry about what I've done to help destroy it.

My ecological footprint is huge. I use paper towels for everything. I take too long in the shower. I create too much laundry. I drive too much and I always leave the power strip on. I throw plastic bags away. I eat a lot of individually wrapped foods with synthetically manufactured wrappers and containers that needed to imported and then disposed of. I can take out the trash in my sleep, but I rarely take account of what's in my trash and where it goes once that noisy truck takes it off my hands.

So why should I care that today is Earth Day?

Maybe it's because I feel guilty (can you tell?) about how wasteful we are as American consumers. Maybe it's because Earth Day pulls back the curtain on who I really am and not just who I blog to be. I could rant all day about religion and politics without it affecting my behavior. I can criticize the oil companies while still polluting with my car-dependant lifestyle. I can bash the government while failing to contact my representative. I can grumble about the Big Box Marts all I want, but I'll still look for the cheapest price on shaving cream and toilet paper. And I can give lip service to the environmentalists while I take a long shower.

It's difficult to be concerned about politics, globalization, poverty and injustice for very long before the conversation includes the environment. Our demand for certain products requires pollution and exploitation to manufacture those products. People (and animals) get sick because of the dirty air, dirty water and dirty conditions that our prosperity demands. People suffer through droughts and famines, roasting in the heat or freezing in the cold, because of climate change. People are poor because of our wealth. The environment is a not just a save-the-fuzzy-animals issue, it's a full-blown threat to human rights across the globe. Creation care, as evangelicals are now calling it, is a moral and spiritual issue.

In Sunday's New York Times, Michael Pollan wrote a fantastic piece called "Why Bother?" in which he said this about the environmental crisis: "For us to wait for legislation or technology to solve the problem of how we’re living our lives suggests we’re not really serious about changing — something our politicians cannot fail to notice. They will not move until we do. Indeed, to look to leaders and experts, to laws and money and grand schemes, to save us from our predicament represents precisely the sort of thinking — passive, delegated, dependent for solutions on specialists — that helped get us into this mess in the first place. It’s hard to believe that the same sort of thinking could now get us out of it."

So enough ruminating and self-loathing. What will I do besides blog about it? Although I tend to avoid making resolutions (for the New Year, Earth Day or any other time of year), my complacency compels me to make some sort of commitment. Here are my 3 pledges for Earth Day 2008:

1) I will turn down plastic bags at the store whenever possible. The more I learn about plastic bags and the crude oil required to make them, the less I can justify using a new one every time I make a purchase. Besides, they also take an estimated 1000 years to decompose- not the kind of 'millennium' Tim LaHaye had in mind.

2) I will read something by Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer/poet who is considered to be one of the most eloquent writers and thinkers on the subject of creation care and the interconnectedness of life. I also need to read more poetry!

3) I will plant something by the end of this year. It might be a tree or a small squarefoot garden, (buying a houseplant doesn't count!) but something tells me that gardening will be great for my soul. This resolution is the scariest because the thought of gardening has always invoked images of sweat, toil and frustration for me. However, I am willing to give it a try because of what new monastics like Shane Claiborne have said about the connection between gardening, spirituality and social justice, restoring God's creativity and imagination to "the abandoned places of the empire."

As Berry said, “Once our personal connection to what is wrong becomes clear, then we have to choose: we can go on as before, recognizing our dishonesty and living with it the best we can, or we can begin the effort to change the way we think and live.”


david santos said...

Excellent posting.
I loved this post and this blog.
Have a nice day

Linda said...

Anytime you want to plant something in the yard, I am ready! We need more trees, and I'm afraid that the one outside our house is about to become history. Join me and my worm farm!

Cheryl said...

Well said, Loon. I especially appreciate your humble approach to this subject. It's a rarity in the world of arrogant activists who rant about how moral they are.

I'm not terribly familiar with W. Berry, but I thought you might be interested in his recent essay re: 9/11. Here's the link:


Also, if you're looking for an accessible and introspective poet who can write innovatively about our relationship to creation, I highly recommend Mary Oliver's work. I have several of her books. She's sort of like a cheerleader for consciousness of the natural world.

Long live the worm farm! *shudders*