Those words of Gaylord Nelson are the core hope for Earth Day. That by being aware of the realities facing our world would cause us to care more deeply, and that deep care would inspire new resolve to pursue peace and wholeness for this planet.
In recognition of Earth Day, my Facebook and Instagram feeds were obligatorily flooded with images of mountain vistas and ocean sunsets. Multiple planet emojis punctuated numerous quotes from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, most often: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
And of course, it’s true. However, scrolling through countless shots of small humans climbing, skiing, running, walking, talking – all amidst epically scenic backdrops – there was disquiet in the back of my mind. I know the reality of most lives is so very different from what I was seeing.
Forty-seven years ago Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, organized the first Earth Day, hoping to draw attention to the growing evidence of the environmental crisis in the United States. His intentions were to fuse university student energy with environmental consciousness to spur new action towards a responsible environmental future.
Within a year of that first Earth Day, the United States had created the EPA as well as passed laws like the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Hundreds of millions now celebrate the Day annually.
Earth Day resonates so much because it empowers us to show that we care. Nelson, in a statement given in Madison WI, clearly understood this, saying:
“The politicians didn’t seem to know, understand or care. But the people cared and Earth Day became the first opportunity they ever had… to send a big message to the politicians, a message to tell them to wake up and do something [about ecological degradation].” (Nelson)
The majority of my friends are well-to-do socioeconomically – they run, rock climb, ski, travel more often than not, and can afford healthy, whole foods. If I didn’t know any better scrolling through social media, I’d guess little of the true pain, hunger, waste, death, contamination and violence that suffuses our world.
It is horrific.
26,000 people died of hunger today. There are 743,000,000 people without adequate food today. 560,000 have died from HIV/AIDs this year. We’ve already lost 1,700,000 hectares of forest (worldometers). My mind cannot grasp these numbers, but hopefully I can learn to see them as more than that–as people with hopes, fears, dreams and loved ones, or as trees that are fifty, sixty, one hundred years old–then maybe I can become more compassionate. That is the first step to seeking change.
Our culture often only pays attention to present moments, idolizing whatever is trending and only thinking in terms other than consumption with difficulty. I hope that in publishing this post a week after Earth Day I can help keep awareness of it in our minds.
Because that is what we need. To not forget that our world is a broken place and to find something to do about it. Like Gaylord Nelson. That is my question to myself (and to you!) –How can I show more care for the people and places around me today?
I want to be known as a person who cares.