Make Every Day Earth Day

This essay is from a larger draft I am working on. 

On February 14, 1990 NASA engineers turned the Voyager 1 spacecraft back toward our home planet for one last look. Approximately 4 billion miles away and 32 degrees above the ecliptic plane, Earth can be seen floating off in the distance as an infinitesimal point of light, a crescent only 0.12 pixels in size. It was this picture that astrophysicist Carl Sagan made famous, he saw the pale blue dot and reminded us,

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds….Our posturing’s, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark.[1]

We gape back – but not away. Sagan jolts our worldview into the boundlessness of empty space; our cozy microcosms of ego expand toward the infinite/ly interconnected. With a cosmic vantage point our human story radically changes from, “the story of us” to “the story of star dust,” and from an anthropocentric to a biocentric sense of reality. As we locate our human selves within the larger community of life, we begin to see ourselves much like cells living within a complex Earth organism. The problem is our species has acted more like a cancerous cell than life promoting red-blood cells.

Aldo Leopold – author of A Sand County Almanac, often recognized as scripture for the contemporary environmental movements – suggests our cancerous living habits have done very little to “preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.”[2] His scientific and philosophical notion of co/interdependence helps define this ethic, it enlarges our species’ relationship to the world extending ethical boundaries to include “soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.”[3] The human species is but one element within the pyramid of life which is woven and complex tangle of relations, with highly developed species seemingly in disarray and yet it is our relationship to this dynamic entangled web, competitive at times and corporative at others, that co-alters its very functioning. Leopold’s ethic emerges from the land itself noting that the dust between our toes is not life-less but rather a “fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.”[4] Life evolves from the land and decays its reaming energy at death back into the soil. Leapold says, “evolutionary life is an interdependence between the complex structure of the land and its smooth function as an energy unit is one of its basic attributes.”[5]

For the theologian, ancient Hebrew mythologies vibrate with a similar essence, “then the Lord God formed an earth- creature [adam] from the dust of the ground [adamah], and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the earth- creature became a living being. Then the Lord God planted a garden of delight [gan-eden]…”[6] Scientific research proves that our human relationship within the Earth system is destructively altering the climate; we have neglected our position within the web of interdependence, we have neglected the “garden of delight.”

In contrast to this evolutionary unfolding runs the prevailing story of 18th century Enlightenment philosophers who urged the control of nature. The machine was the basic model for reality. Matter and motion explained everything and anything – the new physics had yet to emerge. With modernist like Rene Decartes, duality between mind and matter took precedence. The individualism and empiricism of the Enlightenment have failed us, they falsely imagined Homo sapiens as independent rather than codependent with the larger evolutionary process, ultimately leading to global economic, cultural, and eco- imperialisms.[7] This human-chauvinism has lead to the extinction of thousands of species a year, mountains of human waste pile high, and the ozone layer is depleted at an alarming rate – add on the cultural, political, and religious tensions of our day and our human presence becomes paralyzing.[8] A radical reassessment of our species’ position is in order.

Eco-theologian, Thomas Berry, who has pioneered the reassessment of our cultural narratives through an ecological vision by placing our human role inside the larger evolutionary process; “within this context all of our human affairs have their meaning precisely insofar as they enhance this emerging world of subjective intercommunion with the total range of reality.”[9] Broadening our perspective from the casual observing individual to a cosmically situated person provides hope for the survival of our species. The pale blue dot of Earth comes back into focus as Berry and once again, Sagan, navigate our cosmic-location,

There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.[10]

Cosmic awareness has the power to transform our mechanistic and reductionist modes of thought toward a biocentric vision of reality. If this shift took place a radical altering of our growth-based economy would follow, ensuring a much stronger possibility for the human species. Much like Karl Marx once imagined, this type of transformations will spur first from the ground level with who experience the most extreme ramifications of class inequality and the devastating affects of global climate change.

Single mothers in rural areas, slum dwellers in the developing worlds, and day laborers working long hours in the heat of the sun will feel the negative affects of climate change first. Those who did the least to cause these ecological catastrophes will be the first in the line of fire. The United Nations climate panel reports, “people who are socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change.”[11]

Weather-related mega-disasters are of highest concern, Maarten van Aalst the director of the Red Cross Climate Center said, “it’s the poor suffering more during disasters, and of course the same hazard causes a much bigger disaster in poorer countries” making them even poorer.[12] The class location of at-risk teens comes with the weight of systemic oppression; it also vibrates with potential of resistance to the forces of domination. The integration of education, art, and socio-economic status’ together in a unique way further the transition from mechanistic to biocentric living.

When our species begins to take full responsibility for our role within the planetary community, our first job will be to repair the damages we have made. Many of these repairs have been and will continue to be carried out by Earth herself; this is not necessarily good-news for our species as Earth’s survival and self-regulation might include the eradication of our species through violent weather patterns. The process of human oriented repair has begun, but will continually need to be sped up for the survival of our species. Our second task will be to develop a harmonious relationality with “the natural order of the Earth’s biosphere as a complex but unified web of interconnected organisms, objects, and events.”[13] The transition from a destructive modernist system toward a sustainable ecological civilization is a daunting task and will involve a worldwide reconstruction strategy. Learning from the Earth we see that all of life grows in and through the enfolding systems of entangled interconnection, damage to one element of this system damages the entire system. We will need to recognize the power and influence that each of us has individually, and the ways in which this influence can be used to affect the common good. Diversity will become central to this transition; “our diversifying power structure, with ever-multiplying special interests groups, village organizations, regional groupings, and transnational bodies, means that we can affect action, all at once and globally, to a concerted aim and by a diversity of means.”[14] We will need an intellectual cross-pollination for our species itself depends upon it.

[1] Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space. (New York: Random House, 1994). 6.

[2] Aldo Leopold, “The Land Ethic,” in Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology. (Pearson, 2004). 108.

[3] Leopold, “The Land Ethic,” 96.

[4] Leopold, “The Land Ethic,” 103.

[5] Leopold, “The Land Ethic,” 103.

[6] Genesis 2:7-8* Translation by Rita Brock

[7] Thomas Berry, “The World of Wonder,” in Spiritual Ecology: The Cry of the Earth. (The Golden Sufi Center, 2013). 18.

[8] Richard Sylvan, “Is There a Need for a New, an Environmental, Ethic?” in Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology. (Pearson, 2004). 15.

[9] Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth, (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1988). 136.

[10] Sagan, Pale Blue Dot, 7.

[11] Suzanne Goldenberg, “Climate Change: The Poor Will Suffer Most.” The Guardian. (March 31, 2014). Web.

[12] Goldenberg. “Climate Change.”

[13] Paul Taylor, “The Ethics of Respect for Nature,” in Environmental Philosophy: From Animal Rights to Radical Ecology. (Pearson, 2004). 72.

[14] Norman Myers, The Gaia Atlas of Planet Management. (London: Pan Books, 1994). 257.

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