Why Not to Celebrate Earth Day…

April 22nd. Earth Day. The national holiday set aside to celebrate this great planet that we all share. Are you planning to commemorate the occasion? Here is our advice: Don’t.

Let us explain.

We are all for celebrations (trust us, we know how to have a party). And we are all for the earth (it is our home, after all). But here is the thing about making Earth Day a celebration: the essence of Earth Day is a lifestyle, not an occasion. It is much more about a way of being we should cultivate than simply a day we should honor.

What, then, is the lifestyle that captures the Earth Day spirit? At root, it requires a fundamental shift in how we think of ourselves and how we live…

We need to live as caretakers, not consumers.

The shift here is from thinking of ourselves as takers to thinking of ourselves as stewards. The first can lead us down a path of short-sighted, mindless use of what we want to possess or consume. It is, by nature, fragmenting. The latter – thinking of ourselves as stewards and caretakers – takes a holistic approach. It reckons with the impact of actions on other living things and on the future. It bears a sense of responsibility.

Though the shift itself is to a mindset and a way of being, the role of caretaker versus consumer plays out on the plane of daily life. In fact, we don’t even have to look beyond ourselves to get started: it begins with our body. The revered conservationist-author Wendell Berry wrote in an essay, “While we live our bodies are moving particles of the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures. It is hardly surprising, then, that there should be some profound resemblances between our treatment of our bodies and our treatment of the earth.” And the great English agriculturist Sir Albert Howard said, “The whole problem of health in soil, plant, animal, and man is one great subject.”

Both declarations recognize that the way we approach the welfare of one thing reflects a pattern by which we (often unconsciously) approach the welfare of all things.

Here is an example…
The human gut microbiome is in a great day of scientific discovery and popular awareness. Nearly every week, it seems, scientists discover a new connection between the bacteria in our gut and our overall wellbeing. We are now beginning to recognize that generally we have not been sufficiently attentive to supporting this internal ecosystem. A drug-happy medical system and processed industrial food have certainly not been our allies in this respect. Fortunately, significant positive changes are being made by many individuals and medical practitioners to care for their health more holistically and foundationally.

Now here’s the important connection: microbes in the soil function in many ways like the digestive system of plants. They help regulate nutrient absorption, decomposition, and can even communicate with plants and each other, much like the bacteria in our bodies communicate with our organs and biochemistry. Their presence is vital to good soil, healthy plants, well-nourished animals, balanced ecosystems, and a nutrient-rich food supply. But chemical herbicides, fungicides, pesticides, fertilizers, and poorly managed land are lethal to these microbes. Our overreliance on these substances in agriculture seriously jeopardizes the long-term health of our land and environment – in much the same way that our inattentiveness to our gut microbes leads to a host of health problems.

On the other hand, a caretaker mindset would recognize and value the vital role that even the most invisible of life forms play in the whole community of life. It would look for root causes of problems and prioritize long-term solutions, not quick fixes to cover up unpleasant symptoms. It would consider the soil equally as valuable as the body, the oceans equally as important as the farm, the plate equally as critical as public policy.

The wisdom of Berry’s statement becomes clear: there are profound resemblances between how we treat our bodies and how we treat the earth.

When we speak about Earth Day as “a lifestyle,” that’s really only partially accurate. In truth, there is no single lifestyle that represents holistic caretaking. The mindset of caretaking can be applied to many ways of living. And here is the encouraging point: you have a lifestyle already. Whatever it is, you can own your caretaking role within it.

Are you a workout fanatic? Consider what caretaking looks like for your body and our plant in that context. Do you love to cook or want to cook more? Think about environmental stewardship in the kitchen. Are you a parent trying to raise healthy, happy kids? The opportunities for caretaking and nourishing abound. Are you a business professional who spends days indoors at a computer? Just a bit of imagination can create a caretaking-conscious environment. Are you an adventurer? Think of caretaking as part of your adventuring!

When you start to think about how you eat, move, travel, work, serve, and relax, nearly every area of life becomes an opportunity to nourish life rather than starve it. And that is a heap more than just celebrating a day. That is what we call living well.