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Mother Earth or Planetary Playground?

It has been 45 years since Wisconsin’s Senator Gaylord Nelson provided the idea and impetus to begin what became known as “Earth Day.” The struggle in this country of ours, hugely blessed with natural resources and financial might, over our role in protecting our part of this small planet we share with others is troublesome. Some think our planet is ours to use and abuse until spent, others think it is our responsibility to pass it one to the next generation in equal or better shape than we received it. Most, I sadly think, remain apathetic or unthinking about it.

I would ask you, in this celebratory year, to think about this: The UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights says that

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” In essence, this means that human beings should live in a way which allows them to maximize their potential. The “rub” comes in the fact that the pursuit of such a goal comes at an immense cost. Capitalism, which is a rational desire to improve quality of life, comes at the cost of over two billion people in the world living in poverty, and over a billion left hungry, due to an immense inequality of wealth and resource distribution. Through aid and legislation, however, the international community tries to define and remove these inequities so as to provide a fairer deal for all, but the results are spotty.

Our environment, too, suffers immensely through our relentless pursuit of “maximizing our potential.” If we just think about the enormous age and complexity of our biosphere (including the earth, oceans, forests, plant and animal life, and our atmosphere) we are moved to wonder and awe, and as a consequence, to revere it with the highest respect. However, our actions do not reflect this. We, as a people, run ethical mathematics, perceiving the benefits (for example, reliable access to energy) of actions, such as mining, drilling, and farming, to be greater than the intrinsic value of the parts of the environment they affect. We are selfish and reflect a uniquely one sided view where we, as a species (and often as a various socio-economic groups) act out of self-interest, largely outside any consideration for the wider planetary space in which we exist. The current reality is that our want of “maximizing our potential,” comes at a cost we simply cannot accept, namely, immoral and crippling poverty as well as the destruction of the very environment that sustains us all.

Reflecting on these words, I hope we can all be renewed in our desires to live the fairly current tag line that implores us to “Think Globally – Act Locally.”