We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
- Native American saying
Our earth is a speck in the vast stretches of the cosmos, infinitesimal in material substance compared to the mind-boggling mass of the universe. Our awesome abode hurtles around the sun at enormous speeds and is carried around the galactic center by our central star at a million miles an hour. During its few billion years existence, the earth has seen countless transformations: continents have shifted, rocks have been compressed and metamorphosed, hills and mountains have risen and fallen, streams and rivers have been forged and dried up, ice ages have come and gone. Through processes not fully clear, the miracle of life arose here below.
After our ancient ancestors emerged and became self aware and questioning, they learned to manipulate matter and energy to serve their ends. Other life forms came under their sway. In a couple of million years, humans became even more creative and clever. Land and water, birds and beasts, elements and compounds, the savannah and the tundra, the heat of deserts and the cold of the poles, fruits and flowers and minerals deep down, coal and oil and gas, even the mighty bonds that bind atoms and nuclei, all rapidly came under human control. In an orgy of exploitation and consumption of everything for creature comfort and monetary gain we unwittingly began to ruin the beauty of nature and the safety of our environment.
Already in the nineteenth century some perceptive thinkers like John Ruskin and Mohandas Gandhi had been warning that rampant technology might not be the promising way forward as appeared to be. For many decades the world wallowed in the gadget-gorging of technology, reveled in big cars and destroyed pests with massive doses of DDT. In the process industrial smokestacks are fuming CO2 and other toxic gases into the atmosphere, water and air; radioactive wastes are lurking around; rain forests are being depleted, species are made extinct; the ozone layer is cracked open, coral reefs are smashed by ships, the seas have become dumping grounds for our wastes, acid is injected into rain-bearing clouds: Oh, the list goes on and on!
Then, in 1962, came the Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring: a book that was the modern Book of Revelation. It alerted us the multiple ways in which Homo industrialis is committing slow suicide by poisoning the very air, water, and land that are sustaining our existence on the planet, our only home in the boundless Void. Just as the wisdom-traditions of humanity had revered the forces of nature for making life possible, a new awareness arose: environmental consciousness.
Thus, less than two centuries since the ease-giving rampage of the Industrial Revolution began, we began to realize that we have been endangering ourselves, causing what is currently called Climate Change.
Thanks to the initiative and efforts of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin and his co-workers, April 22 (spring-break in many American colleges) 1970 was declared Earth Day. In due course the idea led to the establishment of governmental branches and the movement spread beyond the borders of the United States. Today more than a hundred and fifty nations observe Earth day in various ways.
It is often said that we are destroying the earth. This is an arrogant appraisal of what we are doing, for we can never destroy the earth. A billion years from now, long after we are dead and gone, the earth will be dancing away merrily along its elliptical orbit to the tune of the Keplerian symphony. All we can do is to destroy ourselves, not the earth.
Why don’t we stop this suicidal behavior? Our economic and international networks have evolved such that even with much goodwill and determination it is not easy to halt the harm we are wreaking. Every effort to control pollution adversely affects jobs and profits. Moreover, the danger and doom implicit in reckless technology will hit hard only generations yet unborn. This gives little incentive for today’s self-centered hedonists.
We must act in sure but quick ways to dampen the damage and reverse the trends. For this we need more consciousness-raising and global awareness. We must transcend national and communal conditionings and think in planetary terms. For what is at stake is not the well being of this nation or that religious group, but the fate of the human family. The diseases of racial hatred, religious intolerance, and economic self-aggrandizement are the major threats to our harmony and existence. In our woeful inability to perceive the world as a habitat to be shared and nurtured by one and all, including other creatures of the planet, we pollute our minds and hearts too, and upset the ecological balance.
Enlightened industrialists and realistic ecologists must work hand in hand in a spirit of mutual respect to resolve the problems that we all face together. Through education, understanding, and enlightened values, through legislation and reasoning, and with the resources of science and technology, we must strive to increase our awareness of the assault on nature that humans have been perpetrating.
One day every week is devoted to a planet, but only once a year do we have an Earth Day. We need to treat every day as Earth Day
April 22, 2016