I am writing to send you warm greetings on Earth Day, 2020. This is the day when people around the world commemorate the beauty and wonder of our planet and its ecosystem, acknowledge the harms and challenges which humans pose to the planet, and pledge ourselves to the work of healing our ecosystem and building a worldwide culture of sustainability.
It may seem ironic to celebrate and be optimistic about our planet’s future during a pandemic which seems only the latest in a series of emerging planetary challenges. Ironic because those challenges are the consequence of human actions and behavior–that’s why geologists call this the Anthropocene era. At the same time, society doesn’t seem to be doing very much to address or reverse these baleful developments.
But there is reason for hope–plenty of reasons for hope. We have more knowledge of these issues than ever before, there are breathtaking developments in scientific understanding and capability, and there is growing awareness and determination among millions of people that action must be taken and not deferred, that wisdom is needed along with expertise. And there are communities, societies, even countries that are already learning how to build a sustainable future.
I attended one of the first Earth Day celebrations–fifty years ago! I’ve often felt discouraged at how long it has taken to make any progress in meeting those goals. But teaching history has taught me patience, to see that change takes place in complex ways that often exceed the comprehension of a single lifetime. And working with young people reminds me that we humans can learn how to do anything once we have the desire to do so. Who ever thought that human beings would be able to fly or build a machine that can think?
Earlier this morning I was sitting on my back porch drinking coffee when I saw a field sparrow land in our bird bath and expertly wash itself, meticulously and efficiently. I thought, “that bird has really learned how to be a bird”! I continue to hope that we humans will eventually learn how to be human, to fit in expertly with the planet around us. Working with students like you convinces me we can and will get there, so please don’t be discouraged and take a moment today to celebrate this wonderful place where we live.
With affection and respect,
Feature Image: “Earthrise” photograph from Apollo 8, Dec. 1968 (NASA)