Earth Day – what for?

Posted April 22nd, 2013 in Blog, Featured Comments Off on Earth Day – what for?

Fostering Ecological Hope
Reflections on Culture and Meaning

by Margaret Swedish

Really, the way we are trashing this planet, you wonder sometimes, what is the point? Is it to remind us of what once was (because so much is already gone)?  Is it to honor the place where life happened in a way that is unique in all the universe (as far as we know)? Is it a day to attempt to reconnect ourselves with who we really are – creatures of this planet living woefully out of balance with it, and in a profoundly abusive relationship? Is it like the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, a time for empty ceremonies and tributes and celebrations while we go on with our earth-wasting, earth-trashing industrial consumer ways?blue marble - new image - (sm)

Just some pathetic attempt to say back to this planet, “No, we really do love you! Honestly. We do!”

Okay, don’t mean to disparage a day used every year to raise a powerful lot of consciousness about this source in which we are fully embedded, to which we belong no matter what we do, to educate about the damage and danger, to invite people back into a relationship that matches the reality of all that is, the interlocking, interdependent nature of all our relations.

We can live without our human loved ones, as we learn over and over again through loss, and especially that version of loss we call death, but we cannot live if we damage too greatly our most intimate and necessary relationships – the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil from which comes the food we eat, the forests, river, streams, lakes, ocean, deserts, glaciers, the seasons, the jet stream and the Gulf Stream, the phytoplankton and the earthworms, and even that Brood Two which aerates the soil and will later this summer help prune the trees.

We can’t live if we allow too much sunlight into our atmosphere by loading it up with carbon and methane and melting all the ice that helps keep that force of heat in balance.

And we can’t live much longer if we allow religion and culture and patriarchy and capitalism to keep us from addressing population growth with urgency and a sense of mission – not by forcing it upon women, but by empowering women by way of education, financial independence from men, the breaking of social taboos, freedom of choice over their lives, and the availability of reproductive services so that they can live those choices, for these are the very things that are proven to quickly lower population growth rates. It is the LACK of choice and the cultural and economic oppression of women, along with desperate poverty, that keeps those rates so high.

But we as a culture, as a nation, remain committed to impossible economic growth, to more exploitation of more resources in its service, and to enhancing standards of living which for the affluent have already grown beyond all reasonable bounds – REAL bounds, my friends, those of nature itself.

The earth is a closed system. What that means is that whatever we put into it, whatever we “take” from it, whatever we toss away, remains in it. We are literally destroying our home. We have turned inward upon ourselves and are eating us up from the inside out, especially in this era of our fossil fueled insanity.

“Brace yourself. You may not be able to tell yet, but according to global experts and the U.S. intelligence community, the earth is already shifting under you.  Whether you know it or not, you’re on a new planet, a resource-shock world of a sort humanity has never before experienced.”

So begins Michael Klare in an article delivered to my email box this morning by TomDispatch. The article is entitled, Entering a Resource-Shock World: How Resource Scarcity and Climate Change Could Produce a Global Explosion. I recommend it to you with a great deal of grief.


Last year’s drought in Indiana, a cornfield in mid-July. Photo: Margaret Swedish

By now it is apparent that we are headed towards resource wars and that in fact the conflicts are beginning, even in our own western states. Water comes first, but food shortages also loom as agriculture itself becomes threatened by climate change. I mean, people need food and water, right?

Meanwhile, mega-corporations see this not as crisis but as opportunity – for profit, for control of what is necessary for life so that we become increasingly dependent upon them for what we need to live. As water, arable land, food – and seeds – become more precious, in a capitalist world their value rises. Investors look upon this with glee, kinda like the way they look at the Social Security Trust Fund. If we can only get our hands on all this…

We have written here often about Monsanto and their corporate drive to control seed stocks especially through the patenting of seeds. Industrial agriculture has already redefined the meaning of “farming,” put in quotation marks because what they are doing is not farming at all. The toll on land and water has been huge and now undermines our ability to feed ourselves in the future.

But, if you really want to get terrified by what the corporate world has in store for us, how some of these CEOs think about our planetary challenges, check out this little video that someone posted on Facebook last week about another of my least favorite corporations, Nestle.

Leaves me speechless, horrified – just let this message sink in.

On this Earth Day…

What do you do for a loved one when he or she is sick? Do we give them dirty water or polluted food? Those of us who know people dealing with cancer right now, would we choose to give them food and drink laced with some of the 80,000 synthetic chemicals introduced into our environment by the chemical industry, many of them carcinogenic? We’re not that cruel, right?

Would we just abandon them? “Hey, sorry you’re sick, good luck, see ya ’round,” and then go on about our lives (hands over eyes and ears, now repeat after me in a loud shrieking voice: “La la la la la la la…”)?

So what are we doing to our most intimate and necessary relations?


“Normally, when we consider the impact of climate change, we think primarily about the environment — the melting Arctic ice cap or Greenland ice shield, rising global sea levels, intensifying storms, expanding deserts, and endangered or disappearing species like the polar bear.  But a growing number of experts are coming to realize that the most potent effects of climate change will be experienced by humans directly through the impairment or wholesale destruction of habitats upon which we rely for food production, industrial activities, or simply to live.  Essentially, climate change will wreak its havoc on us by constraining our access to the basics of life: vital resources that include food, water, land, and energy.  This will be devastating to human life, even as it significantly increases the danger of resource conflicts of all sorts erupting.”

Skokie flooding april 2013

Flooding in Skokie IL, April 18. Photo: Deanna Fritzinger

Okay, sorry to be such a downer here on the day that was invented in the first place by a former governor of my fair state of Wisconsin, Gaylord Nelson, but I refuse any romantic and overly spiritualized version of the day. We are presented with a fierce challenge and it requires of us a fierce, grounded, response. We have all done our part to create this crisis so none of us escape the responsibility for dealing with it. We will either do that to our doom (if we stay on course), or we will do that out of love and passion and compassion and a deep sense of what is at stake here.

Go to the bedside of a grievously sick or wounded loved one. Sense deeply what you feel there, the longings that rise – to ease the suffering, to help heal the body, to offer any comfort, solace, or remedy that can make them feel better, that can help restore health, joy, well-being, happiness.

make treehuggers not war

Make treehuggers, not war. Photo by Mom

We must approach the earth that way – not just in that grandiose version of Gaia, of the wholeness of that big blue planet suspended in space, but in the most intimate places right where we are, in those spaces and relationships that are part of our daily lives. How is the air I’m breathing? What’s in the food I’m eating, the water I drink? What really is coming out of that faucet? What’s happening to the waterways, the wetlands, groundwater, lakes and streams? What is happening to the habitats in which I live? Are they shredding and what is causing them to shred? What living forms are going extinct and why is that occurring? What in my life, what in my community’s life, what in my city’s and state’s life, is causing the unraveling of those habitats and the contamination of the things we need for life?

And then – what am I willing to do about this crisis so that it’s unfolding does not bring about the collapse of human communities and natural habitats all around the planet?

I hear many voices these days trying to escape these questions. I hear many voices saying I just need to take care of myself first and then spread my well-being, my good energies, to others. I hear still others (like Stephen Hawking) saying we must leave the planet in order to survive, the ultimate fantasy of escape, as if this would ever, even in our wildest dreams, be possible, a statement of utter separation between the fate of the human and the fate of the planet.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is this: the crisis of our whole way of life, of the civilization that is destroying our life from within like some horrific pathogen, requires a deep engagement with our earth communities all around us, a deep engagement with our most intimate and necessary relations. It requires a work of deep, deep love and passion – a love for our bodies as they are in relationship with all that keeps them alive, that nourishes soul and spirit, that makes being alive the gift that it truly is.

We need to get out of our heads and away from our technology and begin to really feel our bodies again, inside and out (real yoga can help a lot, not Bikram, not yoga-as-exercise, but yoga as deep spiritual practice and discipline). We need to inhabit our skin and bones, feel the pulse of our heart and blood, sense the expansion of our lungs as we take in air of whatever quality and breathe it back out. Then, re-inhabited in our physical being, we need to go out and sense as deeply as possible how that being is in relationship with all that keeps us alive.

And then ask what is happening to those relationships.

It gets harder and harder for me to see Earth Day as a time of celebration, rather than a time of mourning, grief, and fear. But even in those sorrows, I am aware that the root of them is in my love for this planet, all its threatened beauty and wonder, all that gives us a sense of awe, of being part of something, some story, greater than us.  I want to be a part of that story. I know my fate is bound up with all that I love. I am left with the challenge now and until my last day on this earth of how I want to live in that love.


Earth Day speech notes my Gaylord Nelson, April 22, 1970. Worth a read!



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