We may be able to look back on 2019 as the year when the most people realized just how stupid it is to destroy our own planet and started changing their own habits and crying out for systemic change.
I certainly hope so. It’s about time! In fact, it may be just about the last minute.
Whatever we do now, our sweet green Earth is going to get hotter. The summers will be longer, and the plants will bloom at the wrong times, and the oceans will rise, and the storms will rage, and things are going to be different around here. It’s too late to stop the processes already in motion. But we still have a chance to stop things from getting even worse. We have about 12 years to reduce fuel-burning and other pollution, to keep most of our planet livable–warmer, yes, but not the charred husk it will become if we just keep on burning through all our stuff as fast as possible.
I’ve been thinking about my own environmental impact for 30 years now, changing some habits every year. I’ve been watching and praying and trying to say motivating things (instead of nagging things!) as my fellow Earthlings slowly show more interest in being “green” and businesses slowly make “greener” products more available. Slowly, so slowly, like the beginning of spring when this one tree has tiny hard buds but there’s a whole forest of dead sticks as far as the eye can see, and it’s hard to believe in leaves…
But now I really can see that things keep getting better. (Not everything. We still have some terribly lax laws, including some recent rollbacks. But laws aren’t the only thing that influences behavior.) People in general are becoming more aware, a lot of waste-reducing behaviors are becoming more mainstream, and efforts to reduce single-use plastic are everywhere this year!
I’m so glad to see momentum building, people determined to make changes themselves and demand changes from corporations. There’s still hope for keeping this planet pleasant. The time has come.
Back in 1984, at a Unitarian family summer camp whose theme that year was “peace” heavily focused on nuclear disarmament, I saw a film that has haunted me ever since. I can’t find the film itself on YouTube, but here is the song that was the soundtrack for a story told in mime:
The story was about an arms race that ended up killing everyone, basically. I’d spent the whole week in a room of ten-and-eleven-year-olds hearing how unless we personally get all the bombs dismantled we’re all doomed doomed doomed any second now, but it was the song that really made me think, not just about the bombs themselves but about what our species’ willingness to build nuclear bombs says about our attitude toward the abundant, amazing habitat we’ve been given.
You may live in this garden if you keep the grasses green,
And I’ll return in the cool of the day….
Now is the cool of the day.
When I imagine God coming back to visit us, expecting a lovely cool evening of strolling barefoot over the springy grass . . . and seeing what we’ve done with the place . . . it just makes me shudder! If our original sin was gaining the knowledge of right and wrong, well then, now that we know and we’ve chosen to do so much wrong, now that we’ve demonstrated just how little we respect the intricate balance of nature and the lives of even our own species let alone all the others of which we were given stewardship, oh God oh God oh God, being kicked out to grow our own food is too good for us! God may not have to punish us again–we might just poison our own soil and ruin our own atmosphere and make growing food impossible, or we might just take turns killing each other until there are none of us left, and God isn’t going to give us another do-over.
I’m normally not afraid of God. I’m the kind of Christian who mostly focuses on God’s love and grace and kindness. But when I think about the cool of the day, I feel fear–and it’s not so much fear of God’s wrath as fear of God’s disappointment, disgust, and despair at the way we are destroying ourselves and the planet he gave us.
Now is the cool of the day. Now is the time to get our act together, change our course, stop making things worse and start making things better, before it all gets too hot to handle.
This isn’t all hard work. A lot of it is about what we don’t do: stuff we don’t use, trips we don’t take, places we don’t let corporations destroy. Back off all that chewing up and spitting out, and we’ll have time to walk in the garden and soak up its coolness.
Now is the cool of the day. And now being green is cool. Instead of buying my plant-based cleaners from some obscure mail-order company in the classified ads of an extreme left-wing magazine, I can pick those up at almost any store. I’m not the only one bringing my own bag, asking for a real mug, refilling my water bottle, recharging my batteries.
These little gestures aren’t enough to solve this big problem. But each little gesture is part of a larger pattern, part of a choice to resist self-destruction. Many little people making little choices add up to something much bigger.
When we change our ways, we change our views. We start to see more things that ought to be different. As we not only survive a change but find ourselves enjoying it, we spread the word and try to make that change easier for other people by making the good choices more convenient than the bad ones.
I’ve believed in this for a long time, but it’s often been hard. It’s so wonderful to see and hear the growing excitement about knowing better and doing better. This year I got a letter from an old friend who just wanted to tell me how much he appreciated my opening his eyes to the eternity in your hand of disposable plastic dishes, several years ago, and how he’s been opening other eyes ever since. This year I offered a “12 Tips for Reducing Single-Use Plastic” handout to a co-worker, and within a week she bought a reusable bag and completely stopped with the plastic bags she’d been getting from the supermarket literally every day, and a month later she showed me the reusable bags she’d bought for all her family and friends.
I’ll conclude with the same words that ended an article 12 years ago about how I worked really hard to start a recycling program, only to see it stop after two years–because I forced out those encouraging words at that point, and then without my taking any further action myself, the recycling came back the very next year! Because I don’t always have to be the one who stands up for what’s right, but sometimes I do have to be the one, because somebody has to, and it could be you!
You could be the one who turns the tide, at least in one place, at least for a while. You’ll never know until you stand up and get out there and give it a try.
UPDATE: This is the article I’m going to share in Welcoming the Twenties at Hearth & Soul. May we all use this decade wisely!