Earth Day Celebration in Times of Ecological Crisis

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 22 March) — The first annual Earth Day celebration was observed in the United States on April 22, 1970. Its original goal was to promote a worldwide ecological consciousness. Let us call to mind the two events that led to this global celebration. On the one hand, there was the captivating beauty of the first Earth photograph from space (known as Earth Rise) taken by the astronauts of the Apollo 8 mission on Christmas Eve in 1968. Inspired by this beautiful picture, American poet Archibald MacLeish (1892-1982) wrote: “To see the Earth as it truly is, small and blue and beautiful in that eternal silence where it floats, is to see ourselves as riders on the Earth together, brothers [sic] on that bright loveliness in the eternal cold—brothers [sic] who know now that they are truly brothers [sic].”[1] Al Gore noted that the Earth Rise photograph “exploded into the consciousness of humankind” and, within two years, it gave birth to “the modern environmental movement.”[2]

Earth Rise, as photographed by the Apollo 8 crew on 24 December 1968. Photo credit: NASA

On the other hand, there was the horrible scenario in 1969 when an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 barrels of crude oil spilled into the beaches of Santa Barbara County in Southern California, where large areas of marine life were destroyed together with thousands of sea birds, dolphins, elephant seals, and sea lions. Arguably, this tragic event has dramatically triggered a worldwide environmental awareness movement, including the launching of an annual Earth Day and the eventual legislation of many environmental protection laws all over the world.[3] Needless to say, both contrasting faces of Earth—the sublime and terrifying pictures—proved to be powerful visual aids for promoting ecological consciousness.

We are Earth

It can be said that Earth Day is not just a celebration for our planet’s existence but for all earthly creatures whose body was made out of earth-dust. According to the new cosmological theory, earthly creatures, including human beings, were not just inserted as finished products into this planet to serve as their common habitat. Rather, they emerged on Earth and were formed out its dust. This theory is similar to what Genesis creation story tells us: “the Lord God formed the man out of the dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7). Moreover, nonhuman creatures, including plants and animals, were also formed “out of the ground” (Gen 2:9, 19). Significantly, the Hebrew word for “human” is adam and for the ground (soil) is adamah. This play of words essentially implies that we have an existential oneness with Earth.

Earth Day celebration should remind us that human beings belong to the Earth—and not the other way around. In the words of Thomas Berry (1914-2009), “humans are for the perfection of the Earth.” In fact, not only humans but all other earthly creatures exist, ultimately, for the perfection of the Earth. Human beings, for instance, contribute for the perfection of the Earth by giving it a consciousness of itself. As integral part of the Earth, human capacities—such as feelings, thoughts, and actions—are properties of the Earth. Building on this anthropological insight, Brazilian theologian Leonardo Boff (b. 1938) recognizes the reciprocal relationship between Earth and human being. On the one hand, it is  through human beings that “the Earth feels, loves, thinks, cares, and venerates.”[4] On the other hand, human beings have the capacity to think of themselves as Earth, feel as Earth, and love themselves as Earth. In any sense, the joy and pain of the Earth is also our joy and pain, and vice versa.

The Earth Is Sick and Needs Our Care

Sadly, our beautiful planet is globally threatened today by climate change and other anthropogenic ecological crises, including zoonotic diseases such as the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, we are abnormally experiencing the Earth’s wild and terrifying forces that make our future uncertain and awaken our instinct for survival. In his famous analysis of the crisis, English scientist James Lovelock, who named our planet after the Greek goddess Gaia, controversially suggested that the present ecological threats are part of the Earth’s revenge for unsustainably exploiting her resources.[5] To survive, therefore, we must be ready to strengthen our adaptation measures.

Contrary to Lovelock’s view, Boff invites us to see the Earth as a Great Mother who has given us “great signals that she is ill”[6] and now she is using her forces (typhoons, droughts, floods, etc.) to catch our attention because we unduly ignored her early warnings. Hence, to avoid the worst scenarios, it is imperative that we listen to the cry of the injured Mother Earth. For Pope Francis, that is clearly what ecological conversion means. We have to take care of the Earth like children who extensively take care of their ailing mother. To take care means to feel “involved and emotionally linked to the other.”[7] Part of caring for the Mother Earth is to revitalize her health by repairing the damages we have done to her. By doing so, we allow God to fulfill His dream for the Earth and to actualize “the hidden potential for a larger and wider-than-human future creativity that still lurks in the folds of the earth’s complex ecosystems.”[8] With the Mother Earth, let us dream for a sustainable future!

[Reynaldo D. Raluto is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Malaybalay. He is the Academic Dean of St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Cagayan de Oro where he also teaches fundamental/systematic theology and Catholic social teaching. He is the author of Poverty and Ecology at the Crossroads: An Ecological Theology of Liberation in the Philippine Context (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2015). His ecological advocacy includes planting/growing Philippine native trees, mountain climbing, and defending the indigenous peoples.]

[1] Quoted by Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergency of Global Warming and What We can Do about It (New York: Melcher Media, 2006), 12.

[2] Gore, An Inconvenient Truth, 12.

[3]See  Eugene Odum, Ecology: A Bridge between Science and Society (Sunderland: Sinauer Associates, 1997), 2.

[4] Leonardo Boff, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, translated by Phillip Berryman (New York: Orbis Books, 1997), 14.

[5] See James Lovelock, The Revenge of Gaia: Why the Earth is Fighting Back—and How We Can Still Save Humanity (London: Penguin Books, 2006).

[6] Leonardo Boff, “Coronavirus: Gaia’s reaction and revenge?” (April 16, 2020); available online: https://leonardoboff.org/2020/04/16/coronavirus-gaias-reaction-and-revenge-2/ (Accessed: April 18, 2020).

[7] Leonardo Boff, Essential Care: An Ethics of Human Nature, translated by Alexandre Guilherme (London: SPCK, 2007), 59.

[8] John Haught, The Promise of Nature;122, and his The Cosmic Adventure (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 76.

 

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