Today is Earth Day. April 22nd. A holiday that mostly seems to go unnoticed most years, save for well-meaning environmentalists and large companies who want to make you believe that they have the best interest of the Earth at heart as they raze forests to create more toilet paper. But this year is different. 2020 has already shown us many things— things that we as people have been doing right and things we have been doing very wrong. As many stay at home while some others protest being asked to stay at home, our impact on this planet has been laid bare.
In just the span of a few weeks to a month, all over the globe, if you want to read good news, read about how in many parts of the world, in the absence of so many cars, trains, planes, and factories, skies are blue again and waterways are clear. Read about the millions of flora and fauna relishing in the relief from our noise, our dirt, and our trampling feet. Species that have gone into hiding in canals or at the edge of highways or in the middle of cities have come back and quickly filled niches that were taken from them.
When we talk about saving the Earth, we have to be reminded that Earth will be fine. It has been drowned in lava, covered in ice, and has taken multiple impacts to its surface— one large enough that the debris created our Moon, one of the largest natural satellites in the solar system. And yet the Earth survived, and life on this planet thrived. It is us who are fragile.
Homo sapiens have roamed this crust for only 200,000 years, and for 99% percent of that time, we lived in small hunter-gatherer groups. It’s only been the last few hundred years that we possessed the technology to drastically alter life on Earth to such a scale that scientists have named a new geological age after us. The Anthropocene— the age in which humans no longer were passive players in the careful choreography of life, but were able to affect huge change on a global scale. Through inaction, negligence, accident or cruelty, we have caused millions of species of plants and animals to go extinct. We have changed global patterns of weather and heated the oceans. With huge steel blades, we’ve turned lust rainforest into desert, mountains into rolling plains. We’ve cut waterways straight across continents, created earthquakes and tsunamis, made large swathes of land inviable for life.
But we didn’t do all of this on purpose. Not most of the time. As humans, we live on average for around 70-some years, and in that time, we mostly just want to enjoy life, and when something comes along that makes life better, easier or more enjoyable, it’s hard to say no. Sometimes it’s literally impossible to say no.
This isn’t a rant about the evils of technology, because “technology” is just the ability to use tools to do work. Chimps and crows and rats can use or create technology. Technology is what has allowed us to visit the bottom of the ocean floor and set foot on the Moon. Right now, in a time of global pandemic, it’s allowing us to reach out to each other when we need each other most, to keep things running and to keep our spirits high.
What this is, is a call on this Earth Day, to stay inside or restrained to your movement as much as possible. Observe this brief moment. While humans are mostly absent, life is quickly returning to the planet. When we talk about saving the planet, we’re talking about saving ourselves. Take time today to appreciate the delicate balance of nature and our role within it. Try to be more responsible for your personal actions and your decisions. Try and be more conscious of your impact on this world. Take just one day, maybe more, to see the positive worldwide impacts of scaled back human industry and imagine how we can replicate that once things go back to normal.
It’s almost as if humanity pushed a little too far, and nature pushed back, forced us inside, and this is an opportunity to take that step back and re-evaluate what is truly important for future generations.
When this pandemic is all over, remember that time when briefly we barely tiptoed across the surface of the Earth and life sprang back. We must hold ourselves and each other and our institutions to higher standards. We deserve more, the animals and plants on this Earth deserve more. We can do better. We can eat better, we can drive less, we can demand that the companies that create the things that make our modern life easier do so in a way that’s sustainable and in harmony with the planet for the sake of us and the life we live amongst.
In the village of Saxapahaw, buildings that once pumped dangerous chemicals into the Haw River now churns out music and art and places for fellowship and discussion. Over the past decade, most of the local farms surrounding Saxapahaw have become sources of sustainable food production, and our shops and restaurants are the gateways for bringing this sustainability to the public.
We’re barely into this year, we’re barely a month into this pandemic in the US and for many, it seems like a lifetime. It will certainly be exciting when we can gather again with friends, families, and strangers, but maybe when that time comes, we can remember this moment in history and not come back onto the scene stomping and screaming and belching pollution back into the air, acting as the Earth is a place we can just run roughshod over without consequence to everything else. But for now, just let the birds sing without machine noise accompaniment, let the wild beasts roam unhindered to remind them of what life was like before the highway traffic and plastic detritus. We may never be able to give them this opportunity again, but we can work towards harmonious existence for all.
Maybe 2020 is the year we truly wake up and realize that it’s in our own best interest to turn things around.
Lead photo for this article was taken by Heather LaGarde