My son wants our family to stop using electricity for Earth Day – all day.
I want to tell him that's too difficult; I have computer work to do; so does his father. What if it's cold and we light the wood stove? That's surely worse than electricity consumption? And he'll be at school most of the day – he can't expect them to just throw the main breaker. But in his expression I don't see enthusiasm, I see concern. Maybe fear, even. He isn't suggesting this because it makes him happy; he's suggesting this because his entire generation has grown up afraid. It's an act of desperation.
Earth Day is forty-five years old, this year. It's only been global for twenty-five. When I was young, we thought it was about recycling, and maybe about saving trees. Those were doable. Those changes were within our means. We felt empowered by special plastic bins marked 'paper' and 'cans'. It's not like that anymore. Various surveys over the past few years have indicated that climate change is one of the biggest fears of our youth. They don't feel empowered; they feel helpless. Our children watch hurricane after drought after tsunami after blizzard, tearing people's lives apart; turning our beautiful world to a wasteland. They're not fooled by our blinders. They watch unfathomably large companies exploit the land, waste and pollute the water, and leave their futures barren. They watch desperate people campaigning and protesting to stop it all, and they watch those people vilified; arrested; beaten. We offer our kids treats to soothe the pain; toys and vacations to distract them. But they can't stick their heads in the sand as we do, while we truck our refuse away to be recycled, and feel good about driving a little less than would be convenient. We turn off the news when the climate disasters come on, and they chastise us for being so weak. Our children are not weak. They see our hypocrisy. They want us to shut off the power for the whole day.
What if Earth Day wasn't about cutting back? What if, instead of self-denial and negative emotion, we instead made Earth Day about abundance? I'd much rather celebrate and promote an abundance of Earth than squeeze myself into a little corner of abstinence and fear. Because you know, even if I did that, it wouldn't exactly be easy to convince other people to join me. I want to do something that makes me feel good and moreover, that makes my children feel good.
Let's be extravagant about that. I'd like for my whole life to be about celebration. I do some such things, already; I help survey for forage fish eggs as part of Ramona de Graaf's conservation work, all over our coast. It's a relatively small act that nevertheless connects me with the beach in a very purposeful way, every few weeks.
Connection is a big deal, I think. How can we protect the local ecosystem if we don't understand it? We might introduce invasive species in an attempt to help out, and create ecological havoc, as has happened frequently and on quite massive scale, worldwide. But if we really connect with the ecosystem – from the animals and insects to the plants and moss and fungi, to the bacteria, soil, weather and seasons, to our own biological and emotional place in this system – imagine what we could understand, then.
I never realized, before learning to sample for forage fish with Ramona, how populated the seemingly barren gravel is, just below the high tide line. In years of leading outdoor exploration programs, I used to head only for the logs, plant-life, and rock crevices, where I knew I could find life. I never thought about my footsteps on the beach, until I started sampling bits of it for forage fish eggs.
Imagine if every day was an opportunity to experience our own ecosystems.
This year for Earth Day I'm not going to cut the power and give my husband a forced vacation day. I'm going to make a renewed effort to connect with my ecosystem – not just for the programs I lead, either. I'm going to do it for me. Every day.
Years ago, when I had free time, I walked out every morning and photographed my surroundings. I harvested wild foods not just once in a while, but weekly. Somehow, in the meantime, I've allowed myself to get lost in a less connected life, mostly in an effort to keep up with the societal demands of my kids' lives. And I've failed my kids, in doing so. Now they come to me pleading to just not use electricity for a day. I need to listen to those needs. This year for Earth Day, I'm hitting the main breaker on the busy life. I'm going to make time to go out every single day and connect. I'll share some discoveries about our island ecosystem every couple of months. Watch for them! And while I'm out, I won't be using my car, I won't be using electricity, and I will be actively participating in my own ecosystem. Happy Earth Day!