Happy Earth Day! The first Earth Day was in 1970. The earth, of course, has been around a bit longer, but by 1970 we began to realize that we were taking it for granted. It seems as though every time we get careless about something (or someone) we try to make amends by giving it (them) a special day. Hence: Mother's Day, Grandparent's Day, Veteran's Day, Flag Day, Administrative Assistant's Day...there is even a Mother Goose Day.
Earth Day didn't get put on the calendar until after the crazy 60s. That was the decade we went to the moon, liberated ourselves forever from sexual repression, solved all the race problems in America, gave women full equality, decided to make love not war, and rid ourselves of poverty. After all these small successes, we decided to take on something really big: saving the planet.
And it was ailing by 1970. My favorite science courses in both Jr. and Sr. High was Earth Science. Back in those days, we learned that while we still didn't know how to make the sky produce rain, we could smog it up enough so that you couldn't see blue anymore. And while we didn't know how to keep 50,000 people a day from starving, we could pollute any river on earth so as to kill all the fish in it. And while we did know how to nuke a million people with one bomb, we didn't know how to stop the earth's population from exploding to 7 billion. And while we didn't know how to stop an earthquake, we did know how to let 30% of the earth's arable land wash into the sea. By 1970, chemical poisons and nuclear wastes, employed for short term gains, threatened to linger and haunt our descendants for centuries.
I like the earth, what I've seen of it. And I've always been partial to the idea of donating a day to its well-being. Given what has happened to the earth during my lifetime, it probably wouldn't hurt to give some thought about what we might do to preserve some worldly blessings for our children and grandchildren.
The first pages of the Bible remind us that humans were created from the earth itself (with a little puff from God to complete the project.) Scientists haven't yet found a way to detect the divinity breath in us, but they have figured out that we are indeed composed of the planet's soil and water. The Bible was right on.
The rest of the references in the Bible about the relationship between humans and the earth are unanimous in suggesting that humans be the more humble partner. Try reading Job 38-39 or Psalm 19 if you think our species can mess with Mother Nature and get away with it.
The Clean Air Act (in 1970, the year of the first Earth Day) was one such act of human humility. All you have to do is travel to other parts of the world, to big cities, to see how bad it gets when air pollution is not controlled.
On the other hand, our Clean Water Act (of 1972) still hasn't met its goals of making all U.S. waters swimmable and fishable...and prohibiting toxic amounts of pollutants in U.S. waters. Over half our rivers and streams still haven't met the goals, as well as 70% of our lakes and ponds, and 90% of our ocean coastline.
It is an act of Christian humility to observe Earth Day: to put aside our nationalistic hubris, our consumeristic myopia, and our plain old laziness...in order to be Christ-like...to lower ourselves to serve the earth...so it can be life giving to the generations that will follow us. This year's Earth Day theme is "Plastics." Plastics (such as our drinking straws) cannot biodegrade. When tossed into lakes, landfills, oceans, or ditches, plastics will still be around 2000 years from now. Do the math. We've already got big problems...with catastrophe lurking.
So: three simple things are on my mind this Earth Day. 1) I'm going to continue recycling plastics. Mattoon doesn't make it easy, but they do have a bin behind city hall that will take all our used plastic products. The County Market will recycle plastic grocery bags. 2) I'm going to cut down on the number of products I buy that use plastic. And 3) I'm going to take at least one day this year to pick up plastic waste along a waterway...that might blow in the water. And I'm writing this down so you can hold me to it.
Happy Earth Day! --Mike