“As we got further and further away, it [the Earth] diminished in size. Finally it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate, that if you touched it with a finger it would crumble and fall apart. Seeing this has to change a man.”
JAMES B. IRWIN—ASTRONAUT, APOLLO PROGRAM
Every day I read, write, and think about our planet Earth. Occasionally I dwell on something pleasant, uplifting—inspirational even, but mostly I grapple with example after example of how, with an uneasy mixture of necessity and greed, we are hurting our pale blue marble as it hurtles through the cosmos. This unpalatable truth sits heavily, as I know it does for many.
My voice is modest in the world, but even when the giants speak—WWF, National Geographic, Attenborough, Goodall—who really listens? No one. We all go “tut-tut, there-there, isn’t it terrible,” nodding sagely in agreement that something “must be done.” But nothing happens. Nothing. After every carbon-spewing global conference aimed at engineering a better world, nothing happens. Nothing. Grand call-to-arms statements are made, but when stripped of their pompous waffle, they are little more than wishy-washy sort-of promises. Lists of intent that few, if any, of the participating governments have any real commitment towards implementing. After all, how important can the state of the planet be compared with the immediate challenges of campaigning for the next four or five years in office?
And so, the dire warnings about the well-being of the planet dissipate in the wind. Any remaining chance of action is further sabotaged by the anti-science rhetoric spewed by the likes of Trump and Bolsonaro and those in their mold. (China’s Xi Jinping is cast differently, but who knows what machinations happen behind that inscrutable Pooh Bear visage.) This dilution has happened with climate change, biodiversity loss, and the ravaging of the oceans. And now it is happening with Covid-19.
For a while, it seemed that world leaders were moving towards meaningful action regarding the pandemic, but no. Now, second and even third waves of infection are gaining traction. The rate of new infections continues to climb, and more people are dying. Still, there is no sense of a common strategy in sight. Not nationally, and certainly not globally.
We define the most astoundingly beautiful and awe-inspiring elements of the planet in terms of “assets” and “return on investment.” We’ve delivered our collective heritage to the fund managers of Wall Street and other major financial hubs to places where, if something doesn’t guarantee short-term financial gain, it is unworthy of attention. I know these are sweeping statements, and I know that a lot of good people are doing good things, but these efforts are just slowing the downward curve, not bending it up towards repairing and real healing. At best we are buying time, keeping the window ajar.
Am I sounding despondent? Damned right I am. And angry too.
But I don’t feel hopeless, far from it. For within us all, bankers, fund managers engineers, teachers, even politicians, through the to the poorest subsistence farmer toiling in an arid land, there is one thing we all share—a love of life. This is the key. As Charles Eisenstein puts it in his short essay The Cure of the Earth, “Love of life is the guide and motivator of ecological healing on Earth.”
Who wouldn’t want to live in a beautiful city or town shrouded with green spaces and where the air is as fresh as it is on an Indian Ocean island? What soul would not revel in the presence of a clean, free-flowing river, or a beach devoid of a plastic-strewn high-water mark, or the majesty of a snow-capped mountain? We don’t have to create these feelings; they are already hard-wired into our DNA.
How do we get there? That is the question. The answer starts and ends with us and our preparedness to change, fundamentally, in the way we relate to the planet and its resources. This means everything, from the gold, coal, and oil under the ground to all the plants and animals that share Starship Earth. We have to stop commoditizing the planet and learn to treasure it for its intrinsic beauty and wonder. We have to stop seeing it as being in service to us. Instead, we have to see ourselves, through every action, as being in service to it. Only then will we be on a path to a happier place and a way of life that is truly sustainable.
And how do we put our love for life into action? With some humility. We must ally with those who love the land the most, the First peoples living at the fringes of so-called civilization. As Eisenstein suggests: “After centuries of colonization and ‘development’ (trying to make them more like us), perhaps it is time for Indigenous peoples to develop us; that is, to develop our capacity to join them in being the cure of the Earth.”
Karen Nyberg’s thoughts also bring perspective—in more ways than one…