Earth Day Doesn’t Work Any More

Can we try something else instead?

Yesterday, it was 88F in Seattle. In April. It was the warmest April day in Seattle on record, and, according to local weather guru Cliff Mass:

It was the second warmest temperature at that level ever observed during the first four months of the year. The warmest? Earlier this month, April 7th, with 16.6C.

Is it directly attributable to climate change? The jury is out, although even Mass, one of the most cautious and objective climate scientists out there, concedes that global warming is playing a role in what we wimpy North-westerners consider “brutish” heat (hey, most of us don’t have air conditioners… yet!).

More significantly, at least from my perspective, is that this weather is an Omen. It’s an open window into the weather thirty years from now, a climate of extremes where the hot and dry seasons will be hotter and drier and the cold and wet seasons colder and wetter. The scope of the near-terms changes the world is facing is huge.

This Friday is Earth Day, a day which I’ve had occasion to refer to in the past as “Stupid”:

And it’s true! “Celebrating” Earth Day might have made sense for the first thirty years or so of its provenance, when the idea was radical enough that it had some social impact. It was a great conversation starter, and undoubtedly moved the bar and got people thinking about our relationship with our biosystems.

Now, however, celebrating Earth Day seems a little like hosting a Tupperware™ Party in your living room while your house is slowly filling with poison gas.

When a movement becomes commodifiable, it loses its power. Consider once again that even Monsanto, one of the companies most responsible for large-scale decimation of entire biosystems, has co-opted Earth Day and turned it into a cloying and transparent marketing ploy:

“Every Day is Earth Day” means nothing any more. It’s an advertising cliche. It’s a banal, contentless slogan. If “every day” really was “Earth Day,” we wouldn’t be worried about Miami sinking into the Atlantic, or coral bleaching, or whether we’ll have enough safe water to drink.

The “Earth” is the sum of every single biosystem that inhabits its sphere of influence. It isn’t just a “thing” that we set a day aside for. Every time we walk down the street, every time we breathe the air, every time we drive a car or fly in an airplane or watch TV or garden or whatever, the “Earth” is a system in which we’re participating.

So, instead of marking Earth Day this year, why don’t we try something different? Why don’t we find ten minutes every single day that we can set aside to actively participate in our own local biosystem? Doesn’t matter if it’s a big city, a yard, an apartment, the woods, a garden, the interior of a vehicle. Why don’t we take this ten minutes and consider:

  • With whom do I share these surroundings? Plants? Animals? Insects? Other people?
  • What kind of influences move over me and around me? Where is the weather coming from? Where is it going?
  • What do my surroundings touch? Where are the rivers, mountains, lakes, forests, neighborhoods, bus lines? What do those things touch?
  • How does what I am doing right now in my personal biosystem impact the greater whole?
  • How can I best be kind to all of the members of my community?

We don’t have to make any decisions or do anything; that will come naturally as we begin participating in our biosystem. Instead, we have to try to understand our place within the whole system, and the influences and effects our actions have. This isn’t a “spiritual” thing (though it could certainly be if you wanted it to), it’s distinctly practical. It’s simply a matter of observing and paying attention before we interact. When you start to think this way, the idea of polluting a river or poisoning a weed or even pulling a so-called “invasive” from your yard will begin to seem absurd. You’ll start to question some basic assumptions, and begin making different choices.

Maybe if we all, each of us, took these small steps every day, we could finally get rid of this ridiculous Earth Day silliness and start actually doing something that will help us get through whatever is coming next, together.

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