I remember learning about “the greenhouse effect” in fourth grade – 1988. We had to make little greenhouses out of plastic wrap and see how it trapped the heat from the sun. That is my earliest memory of learning about environmental problems. I remember being eleven years old and washing out dog food cans, painstakingly removing the labels so they could be recycled. I tried, and still try, to make the best choices I can make for the environment. I’m in no means perfect at this – I am significantly worse at it than some people I know. But happily, I see many others trying as I am. Together, we can make a difference.
But, lately I’ve been pondering – if there were more of “us” – the ones who care about the planet we share – couldn’t we make a bigger difference? Which brings me to this Earth Day 2011, when I stand ready to make my new promise to the planet. I commit myself to learning more and more about how we can help the environment. I commit to staying abreast on current advances in the sciences, and current political movements for (and against) the environment. Hopefully, I can communicate what I have learned to those around me, especially those who may not already understand. Those around me who VOTE. And even if my neighbors do not vote, they certainly shop, and are faced with choices every day – to recycle or not, to waste energy or not.
The beauty is, in 2011, we have an extraordinary communication tool at our fingertips – the internet. We have watched in amazement the effect it has had in catalyzing political revolutions. Could it not have the same effect on an environmental revolution? We’ve had our military leaders tell us we need to “win the hearts and minds” of citizens of other countries with whom we are interacting. I think we environmentalists also desperately need to win the hearts and minds of our neighbors – for all our sakes.
It’s not productive to think that there’s no way to convince the people who don’t believe in climate change. It’s not productive to throw your hands up and refuse to engage with people who may mock (sometimes loudly) your commitment to humane food products, recycling, or even just picking up litter! I know how frustrating it is to face the ignorance, and the sometimes malicious attacks on the green movement.
This brings me to the second half of my commitment – emotional healing. I really believe that most of the environmental problems we in the developed world contribute to stem from individuals making selfish choices. And I know that selfishness both comes from and creates pain and anger. I commit to treat those around me – especially those who attack the green movement – with love and compassion. I think this is the only way to get through to most people. How could it be otherwise? How could vilifying people and treating them with disrespect make them want to see things from your point of view? Surely there will be people who cannot be reached. Internally, I commit to wish them well, and hope that they someday see the light. But reacting to them with rancor will only drag me down.
Gandhi once said “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” If I want people to behave toward the planet in a loving way, I must commit to behave in a loving way. This promise to the planet is a tall order, I know. It will be much harder than recycling those dog food cans or buying cruelty free groceries. But I know there will be rewards. If I can plant a kernel of caring in just one heart, crack open one mind just a little bit, that may be the start of a beautiful transformation. We as a society need to transform to halt our runaway greed. And our society will be transformed one heart and one mind at a time.