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A 2014 Earth Day Musing

After writing about what earth day means last year, I decided that I’d write about it again, (despite the fact it’s likely a lot better than what you are about to read).

So. Happy Earth Day! Or happy tomorrow if you think every day is Earth Day. Or possibly you think it’s all bullshit and a losing battle. Sometimes I’m tempted by the latter.

However, now you’ve read the above, shake my hand, and promise you’ll finish this article.

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I’m no pessimist. I don’t believe people are inherently bad. I don’t believe most people do things with purposeful disdain for life, biodiversity, nature, or whatever noun you deem emblematic of life on Earth. Even the CEOs of oil companies probably don’t want to cause extinctions, except that in a strange way, extinctions make them money. That said, aside from Jane Goodall, we are malingering, maladroit bags of skin that simply want to eat, reproduce, and experience pleasure over all else.

My Earth Day was strange. I woke up early to the sound of American Robins. I drove my humble, relatively efficient car to pick up one of the few people the birding world can call a celebrity. We went birding with a few key community members at the environmental non-profit where I currently work. I drove him to sign books at the non-profit’s shop. Then I drove him to the airport for him to fly off and sign more books in other places. It was not a bad day, but I definitely didn’t feel like I was saving the world or celebrating the planet despite the bird theme.

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While I can make tenuous connections between my day’s activities and Earth Day, I didn’t wonder if I was helping the world in the process. Instead I was thinking about the stresses of life, my job, my future, and where I want to go birding next. I was thinking about projects yet unfinished that for all their benevolent intentions might be a drop in the bucket, even if I got lucky and people took notice.

Most weeks I burn fossil fuels to go birding. I write and take photos with gadgets made of toxic chemicals and rare metals mined from the earth daily. Most months see me buying things I don’t need. And when I have the funds, I travel to distant lands burning even more fossil fuels. In some ways the planet would probably be better off if I walked everywhere, grew my own food, lived in a shack, and never traveled. Now, I’m not prepared to do this, but I wonder how many people have these thoughts? This isn’t an attempt to be dour or depressing, I’m seriously asking how many of you contemplate these things. Who knows, maybe it’s just me?

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I (We) can obsess all day long, every day, and let guilt trickle through the primordial gills of my being and drown out the light of day. That’s the real evil, and one of the main things one shouldn’t be doing on Earth Day.

Life and death are intertwined, inexorably one. There is no place or time where all animals live equally and wildflowers are never were trampled. Worrying for utopia is useless.

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I’ve had a lot on my mind lately. Wondering if moving to a small island and trying to perfect my crafts and be more self-sufficient is as responsible and sensible as living in densest possible inner-cities. Wondering if my goals are really just built out of egotism and selfishness. Wondering if signing a petition to try to stop poisoning of Common Ravens to save Greater Sage Grouse will truly do any good (good lord, just sign the damn thing, it won’t hurt). Wondering why we let people like Cliven Bundy get away with trashing land “owned” by everyone in the United States, regardless of if he paid his pittance or not. Wondering if this all wasn’t a waste of time and that entropy was inevitable.

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However, I’ve also spent a good deal of time thinking about tireless, beautiful evolution. About how to take better macro photographs. About wanting to see the biological wonders of Mozambique, Madagascar, Myanmar, and Micronesia and translate it into verbal-visual inspiration. About the remarkable melange of Brazilian street art. About the books I’ll write, the magazine I’ll start, about the great things I’ll thrust myself into. About the wonderful people, animals, and plants in my future, past, and penultimate present life.

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Catapulting away from the dark places that can tempt our thoughts, I realized that it really doesn’t matter, but not in the way that sounds. I don’t want to live in a world where I fret about what consumer goods will save us from ourselves. I want to live in a world where we all do positive things, helpful, forward thinking things no matter our social status or income. Striving towards that will always be a better than any alterntaive, for our planet, and for ourselves.

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There will always be dark places of guilt and awful inklings of what our reality actually means for nature. We’ll always see death, we’ll cry, and experience pain. There will always be imperialists, dictators, sexists, racists, bulldozers, and industrial feedlots. You name it. None of it is going away, (until we’re all gone). I don’t wish for that, nor do I think our disappearance will be a silver bullet for anything. Bad shit happens bro.

Call me a cornball, but I really believe this: seeing the glass half full is better than seeing it half empty. That’s from a naturalist whose earliest lexicon was flooded with phrases like “deforestation,” “endangered,” and “extinction.” I have my lapses but when I look at the Earth, on any day, I believe that. I walk outside and hear birds, see insects vibrating against a botanical fabric. I get dirty and breath fresh air. I feel good. That’s what we should be doing on Earth Day: living life today, enjoying what we have, being positive, and doing something worth a damn. Not fearing life before death. Nor feeling guilty about being who you are or about your impact because that’s so overwhelming you’ll end up doing nothing.

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So for fuck’s sake: buy less meaningless crap, eat food grown somewhere nearby, and take a goddamned walk somewhere. But do something, please, do something.

Happy Earth Day.

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3 Comments

  1. Good on ya’, pal! I’ve been fighting since 1950, and I’ve had only three victories. But that doesn’t mean I don’t keep trying, and mostly I spend time reveling in the beauty evolution has given us.

  2. Helen

    I read this article today…it echos what we are feeling…

    “People think that abandoning belief in progress, abandoning the belief that if we try hard enough we can fix this mess, is a nihilistic position. “They think we’re saying: ‘Screw it. Nothing matters.’ But in fact all we’re saying is: ‘Let’s not pretend we’re not feeling despair. Let’s sit with it for a while. Let’s be honest with ourselves and with each other. And then as our eyes adjust to the darkness, what do we start to notice?’ ”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/20/magazine/its-the-end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it-and-he-feels-fine.html?_r=0

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! They resonated with me. I spent Earth Day talking to kids about how we can make a change, each of us, by simple steps we each take. And they all feel that Earth Day isn’t once a year, it’s every day. And they all had good ideas about how they could make a difference. So I feel good about it. There is hope for the future, and there is action now. My Dad was the organizer of the first Earth Day celebration in1970 in our small VT town. His last book, Lessons from Pond Scum, which I published recently, speaks to all the ideas set forth here, positive and negative. But even at 89, after a life of being concerned about our actions, he, too, had hope. I’m glad you hang onto some. Thanks again for sharing.

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