Reflections on Earth Day
How do you joyously celebrate Earth Day even as the natural world we so rely on, and come together to honor, is in such decline? That question rose to the surface again and again a couple of weeks ago on April 22nd, the fifty third anniversary of the first Earth Day. Our own Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson inaugurated this special day in 1970, hoping to draw attention to the environmental mess we were already making of things. That year twenty million Americans marched in support. Earth Day was then, and has been ever since, both a celebration of this unique, living planet and a loud call to action in the hope of saving it from ourselves.
All those years later sinking oil tankers still coat our waters and kill whatever lives on, in or near them. Climate change has morphed into an ever more deadly carbon crisis. Add the particles of plastic clogging up our bodies. Mix in the toxic PFAS chemistry we are all playing Russian roulette with today. Take seriously the reality of the sixth mass extinction of life already underway, that the eight billion of us share the blame for, and the message of Earth Day has turned into this question. How in the name of heaven do our children and grandchildren stand a chance? With half of all non-human life on this planet gone just since 1990, what will their children inherit?
This is what we pondered a couple of Saturday mornings ago before we planted sixteen fruit trees, an orchard, at Tenth Street Park on Wausau’s near east side. With the help of our Parks Department, we planted our trees – an inherently optimistic act. We planted knowing those trees would sequester carbon and exhale oxygen throughout their lives. We planted knowing they would beautify the neighborhood, especially when they blossom. We hope the folks who live nearby will enjoy some fresh fruit: apples, cherries, plums and pears. We know those trees will make the pollinators happy, and whatever eats what the park-goers don’t.
We also took an optimistic step in favor of a Community for All. Christian and Jewish, Muslim and Hindu, African American, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Caucasian, straight and LGBTQ, even some of our recent refugees planted as if with one shovel. With one heart we all celebrated the Planet each of us depends on with respect, love and reverence.
We knew that the planting was just one step in the right direction, and that many more steps must follow. We as individuals must learn that the choices we make are vital to the health of our planet, and that those choices must be made with the health of our planet as our top priority. We as a political body must pursue the well-being of our Eco-system as our primary goal. That includes strict environmental protection rules for us and our businesses to follow. And in particular industry must adopt the “do no harm” ethic that our medical professionals swear to uphold. Clean air, clean water, clean food, clean soil must come first.
Some of us called it sustainability, our Indigenous friends spoke of protecting Mother Earth today for the health of the next seven generations. We all understood we were speaking the same language. One of the young teenage tree planters said that what we are currently doing to our planet was all too “depressing”. Someone else from the Citizen’s Climate Lobby and NAOMI, the event’s organizers, said that getting actively involved in protecting the environment was the antidote for that.
We end this reflection with the questions we all pondered as we planted our trees. What will we do, each and every one of us, about our faltering Earth? How long will we continue to choose money, fashion and convenience over the health of our ecosystem? There are choices out there, good choices. Will we make them together, or will we let the living miracle that is Planet Earth slip through fingers that didn’t care? Let’s choose Earth Care now, and let our legislators: Local, State and Federal, know what we expect of them.
And join us next April when we celebrate Earth Day with fervor once again.