Isaiah 40:12-14, 28-31
Each Earth Day for fifty years now we have taken a look at what is happening around us with an eye to the long term health of the planet, not just the people but other life forms, plants and animal. We look at the ecosystems in which they live and wonder how things have changed in the past year, and what it suggests might be coming in the future. This year is different.
Had we predicted what a 50th celebration would be like last October, we would have imagined a very different experience that what has unfolded. We would have expected ongoing discussions about all types of pollution, the impact of conservation and recycling, what can be done to reduce our carbon footprints, preserving the quality of soil, water, and air. We would not have expected that large segments of people in countries around the globe would be staying home to avoid the contagion of a deadly virus.
So what has changed? What do we see now? I’d like to suggest that we think about this time not just to observe what is but also to see it as offering us an opportunity…. and opportunity for a change of perspective.
Perhaps you’ve seen the pictures: People in India are getting clear views of the Himalayas for the first time in decades. Dolphins swim up canals in Venice. Deer roam the streets of Nara, Japan. Turkeys gobble while walking the streets of Boston. Coyotes cross the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Noise in major cities has been reduced by 30 decibels allowing city residents to hear birdsong they’d forgotten and hear the sound of birds in flight. The reduction of stress improve the ability of wildlife to reproduce and increases their sense of safety.
It would be shortsighted to look at this and see it as a quick fix to the environmental problems that confront us. We know many of us want only to return to what was familiar. We want to return quickly and fully to life as we experienced it before. We know there are concerns that we will do just that and that some will use of this downtime to discontinue the following of best practices in environmental standards and relax monitoring of compliance with protections for wildlife. Compound that with the worry that today’s challenges to the world economy will leave fewer resources to address the climate crisis. Those are very real concerns and will require our diligent attention, but while we wait and wonder I’d like to suggest we take another approach.
What if we look of the reports of improved air and water quality simply as a sign that such progress is possible? What if we take this opportunity to rethink our relationship with the planet, all its elements and life forms? As we consider this relationship let’s think of it in light of what we value and miss the most during this time of confinement. Let’s listen to the sound of earth breathing. How might we change of habits and our consumption if we keep the health and wellbeing of the entire planet in mind?
This week Yes Magazine published an opinion piece by its editor David Korten, “From Emergency to Emergence.” Korten says,
“The combination of the two emergencies [coronavirus and climate change] is helping us awaken to the profound implications of the simple truth that we are living beings born of and nurtured by a living Earth. Our well-being depends on Earth’s well-being. Life is the goal, community is essential, and money is only a tool.”*
I believe that the actions suggested here align with the words we read from the psalmist and Isaiah. The one who set creation in motion,who flung stars and planets into space creating the galaxies and bringing life to the world and its inhabitants calls us to care for those myriad interconnected component parts. Let us take this time to remember the great and wondrous gift and to reset our plans and priorities to reflect our gratitude for all we have received.
*David Korten, “From Emergency to Emergence,” Yes Magazine, April 23, 2020, https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2020/04/23/coronavirus-rebuild-economy/