The annual Day of Mourning occurs on Wednesday April 22 this year. I recall the excitement around the first Earth Day in 1970. Environmentalist Senator Gaylord Nelson (defeated by a non-environmentalist Republican ten years later) and a cynical Nixon White House promoted what I hoped would become a change in consciousness, a beginning to the end of our war on nature.
It did give a boost to the environmental movement, but the depth of the catastrophe and the technical and political complexity of achieving change was far greater than I understood as a 17 year-old. An intransigent global system of seeing nature as a convenient commissary and sewer has so far been impossible to dislodge. Millions of us have at once been convinced by the pro-nature message of Earth Day while also being largely ineffective in fostering needed change.
In this country the nature of nature unfriendly corporations and their politicians have continued to stall or work to reverse critically needed actions. Global heating, massive animal die-off in the Gulf of Mexico, and insane projects like building another Atlantic to Pacific canal through Nicaragua garner little attention beyond the nearly powerless circle of environmentalists.
Economist Jeffry Sachs has pointed out that while the earth’s human population has grown tremendously in recent decades, the earth itself has not increased in size. On Earth Day 1970 the human population was around 3.7 billion. Now it is around 7 billion. Over forth years later the total number of individual mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish has dropped by hundreds of millions. Perhaps there is an equation of proportionality. For each x% rise in human population there is an x% decrease in the total number of wild animals.
The biggest recent response to the crisis has been California’s plan to reduce lawn watering. Get used to not having green lawns their Governor recently warned. Once we reacted differently to threats. The free peoples of the world banded together to fight the three parts of the 20th century world war against fascism and communism. At a considerable cost in lives and treasure. With climate change and species extinction the stakes are even higher now. Then our freedom was at stake, now it is about our survival. Yet, many (most?) American politicians, bending to the will of their paymasters, have lost the will to fight for the environmental survival of our country and our planet.
National policy is to take timid steps or none at all. At the same time that there is a growing movement towards Iraq War III to save civilization, there is not much interest in saving the climate that has nurtured us for thousands of years since the last ice age.
So we can celebrate the nature we have left, but we should also mourn for the nature we are losing. My wish for Earth Day is that we take a moment to ask: Why have we lost the will the save ourselves?