Happy Eaarth Day?

(hat tip to Quark Soup and Climate Progress)
Maybe you celebrated Earth Day, maybe you ignored it. Maybe you share the cynicism that has been becoming overt on more than a few environmental sites, or at least noticed it.

For the international celebration of a cause that we are working for, articles like (just a sampling):

don’t exactly seem to be caught up in the spirit of it.

Or how about this group email?:

“It’s that time of year again: Earth Day, a singular day when the faithless are moved to buy reusable grocery bags.

At #######, we get pretty rankled at all the Earthapalooza shenanigans. What’s next, Ye Olde Mattress Sale? Honestly.

Let’s face it, we’re all just doing the best we can. And we do the best we can every stinking day. Not just on some tarted-up, feel-good, strum-your-guitar day of glowing holiness …

I want to talk about something far more important than Earth Day, more important than saving endangered species, or “the planet”, or humanity.

First a little context.

Eaarth is a neologism coined by Bill McKibben for his book “Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet” (read it, nuff said) to express the fact that the planet as we knew it is a thing of the past. The “Goldilocks conditions” that allowed for agriculture and the flourishing of human civilization are changing irrevocably as a consequence of climate change.

Instead Eaarth is literally “a tough new planet” and our options have narrowed to determining a future that could range anywhere from very tough to catastrophic depending on what we do. We still have choices that could limit how tough it gets, but those windows are closing as well.

As Anne Petermann put it:

Climate Chaos is here. If we want to avoid full-scale climate catastrophe, we need to get serious about the world we want to see. We need to begin the process of transformation. Like the caterpillar that metamorphoses into the butterfly, we need to begin the difficult process of transforming this dominant culture into one that is truly sustainable and exists in harmony with the natural world—which, by the way, we are a part of and always have been.

A day that arguably should somehow reflect the seriousness of our predicament is, instead, spent cheering if someone buys a cloth shopping bag. Hence the Earth Day cynicism and the ongoing debate about the relevance of Earth Day.

Despite our best efforts people do not seem to be able to make even small changes in their lives, much less anything that would actually be meaningful. A recent study found that “82% of Americans have good green intentions, while only 16% of Americans are firmly dedicated to fulfilling those green intentions.”

That “firmly dedicated” should also be taken with a grain of salt; it is quite clear that 16% of the population is not actually living in a manner that is consistent with the gravity of our situation. The study is specifically about green consumerism and lifestyle such as Earth Day attempts to promote, not about the life changes consistent with our current crisis.

There is much discussion in the climate change science and environmental communities about messaging, strategies, human behaviour, etc. Guilt and worst case scenarios don’t work claims one group, underplaying the situation isn’t working responds another. And on it goes.

None of that matters.

Some years ago myself and two other activists faced a situation where the potential consequences were wildly beyond what activists in the Industrialized World usually imagine facing. The details are lengthy to relate and not relevant so I will skip those, suffice to say it was grim.

Avoiding those potential  consequences was simple and straightforward, and indeed was what everyone was expecting us to do. We didn’t. Avoiding the consequences would have required not standing up for what was true, for what was right.

In good conscience we could not do that even though we were frankly scared witless. To our credit we didn’t even discuss it, metaphorically running away was simply not an option. I was very privileged to be working with such outstanding people as Paul and Aaron.

A good friend phoned me at the time to commiserate and naturally asked how I was doing. “You must be totally freaking out!” was what she said.

To our mutual surprise I answered “Envy me.” It was completely spontaneous and I was as surprised as she was. I really had been freaking out, but in that moment I also had an insight into how incredibly lucky I was.

I explained to her the realization I had only just had, that most of us spend our lives wondering how we will behave when the stakes get really high.

As young people we imagine ourselves as the bystander when the Gestapo come for a neighbour, when the lynch mob seizes another innocent, when the Stasi says “betray your coworker or go to prison.” What will we do? will we stand up? or duck and run?

As I said to her at the time, “Now I know.”

The stakes are higher than they have ever been in history, and each of us is called upon to act. “Acting” is not about saving the planet or endangered species. It’s not about what our government or society will or won’t do. It’s not about what China or India will or won’t do. It most certainly not about getting a cloth shopping bag or remembering to carry a travel mug.

Some of what it means are known, such as getting our personal carbon footprint to below 50% of the average, joining and getting active with organizations that are serious about action for climate action. That much is certain.

A lot of it is unknown. It may require no more than what I just described. It may require general strikes and/or civil disobedience. It may require jail time or other forms of deprivation for some of us.

Collectively we are very lucky. History has chosen to offer us the opportunity to discover who we really are as individuals, to discover whether we will stand up, or duck and run.

It’s Eaarth Day

For once it really is all about you, and only you.

I will never know what you choose. Probably no one else will even know you made any choice. One person will know, you.

Eaarth Day is about the most important thing there is, saving the person you believe yourself to be.

Happy Eaarth Day 🙂


The way chose you and you must be grateful.”

Dag Hammarskjöld


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