There is an interesting realization that sneaks up on you once you spend enough time in nature to be humbled by it: that you know squat about it, other than the very basics, if that, unless you dedicate time to learn about it. It is mindboggling to think that for the most part, our awareness of the living world is minimal. That hinders much of our chance to succeed at saving ourselves.
Children have the right idea when they start out as wee curiosity-fueled machines. Nothing is yucky in their path, nothing too disgusting to look at, smell or touch. The world is an endless array of networks to learn about, to wonder at and to return to every day.
Nothing is ugly or boring. Rain or shine, hot or cold, children want to be out and exploring. As they grow up, we qualify the living world around them using words and concepts meant to provide safe boundaries which often end up becoming the reason children’s curiosity subsides. They learn to disengage.
Moreover, that childhood nowadays comes with screens and alternative reality fast-paced games and movies that take the young minds even farther from the slow-paced real life is not helping much either.
The human brain is amazing in how it can absorb and use information, in how it can solve problems and find solutions. And puzzlingly so, it is also, especially in our young ones, easily addicted to things and activities that create pleasure loops to get lost in, all supplied by an array of marketing ploys that are, as per their intended design, overwhelming.
Such activities, toys and gadgets, provide the kind of stimulation nature cannot provide. Not because it lacks anything, but because the nature’s rhythms are not meant to create addiction of any kind, but to soothe, heal, and allow for space to find ourselves and the inside voice that suits us best. That voice is, for lack of better way to explain it, in tune with the living world around.
That kind of meaningful, life-enriching and enabling duet, is more visible in some fellow humans than others. Come Earth Day, we are invited to remember the things that matter. No economic growth plan matters much if a community is under the threat of natural disasters, often induced by improperly and abusively conducted human activities. It could be clear cutting, mining, building of dams, you name it. Not just in BC and Canada but throughout the world.
Nature’s little note, never illegible I dare add, reads the same every time: work in congruency with nature’s way, never against it. Make operations sustainable and respectful of the living world, and things can work just fine. The one caveat: there would be lower profits perhaps, though bringing ethics into it can make it fair for everyone. The reward, though, would be longer term projects and much healthier outcomes environmentally and human health-wise; common sense replacing greed and the utter conviction that nature is ours to grab from, dominate and squeeze dry.
Awareness of the earthly gifts in all of us, from the very young to the very old, can make Earth Day a culmination of sorts rather than the isolated day when we celebrate our planet. An hour of turning off the lights is a good thing, but better yet if we do it daily. Just imagine having an hour a day, at least, when you spend time with your loved ones, or rest, walk and listen to the sounds of the world around you, anything that can be done with lights off and without any devices close at hand.
The earthly gifts are many and varied, but the basic ones are the same everywhere: water, air, and food. Imagine the kind of awareness that can be created if we had days dedicated to learning about hunger and thirst for example. By experiencing them, no less. Imagine a day when we would have a limited supply of food available, or clean water.
Imagine having the kind of overwhelming marketing campaigns that promote the selling of goods, and then more goods and gadgets, promoting awareness instead, based on what we need to know of the living world, people included.
Imagine being made aware (and becoming more appreciative of your own blessings and abilities to help) of issues that can be alleviated or even mildly improved, by knowing more about: lack of food or proper food, lack of clean water (more than 80 Indigenous communities in Canada are under boiled water advisory and many other communities are plagued by industrial pollution of their drinking water), lack of proper legislation that would see natural habitats protected and thus helping restore any environmental imbalances that ultimately come to affect our lives.
Imagine a day when those in a position of power, whether in manufacturing or marketing, would come together to realize that there is already enough stuff to go around and would press for developing aggressive alternative strategies to address the surplus through reusing, repurposing and overall reducing consumption. Delivery from slavery on both sides of the spectrum you could say…
On Earth Day and beyond, remembering that we have become so used to having convenient rather than respectful to nature, is worth yet another reminder. We have become used to resealable, non-recyclable bags for everything we consume, from produce and fruit to snacks and wipes; we have become accustomed to simply grabbing our cold drinks in single-use plastic cups covered with the plastic lid (number 6, non-recyclable in most recycling facilities), with a straw planted in it, no less, and we choose to not spend too much thought on why Canadians now produce approximately 10 billion tonnes of garbage yearly (9.6 billion tonnes in 2012) while the world’s oceans receive a staggering 8 billion tonnes of plastic from all of us earthlings.
During a recent talk at TRU on the topic of the health of our oceans, Fabien Cousteau shared one of his favourite quotes by Richard Louv. ‘We cannot protect something we do not love, we cannot love what we do not know, and we cannot love what we do not see. Or hear. Or sense.’
Hence the need to return to the simple things: exploring nature alongside our children. Playing in the muck, sitting in the shade of old-growth trees and listening to birds, wading in streams, and growing some of the food we put on the table. Discovering more so we can live with less. Knowing. So we can love and protect.
Happy Earth Day beyond Earth Day!