From Bono to the Age of Man

Posted by Renee Magyar on April 22, 2013

Seeing Earth Day in a New Light


The first time I heard of Earth Day, I was in my 6th grade social studies class, scribbling my ardent devotion to my latest celebrity crush. "I [heart] Bono" covered multiple pages in my notebook in all sizes, shapes, and colors. The Joshua Tree album was taking the US by storm and I was pulled out of my reverie (yes, I joined Bono on tour, onstage) by grim photographs of oil burning on water, forests turning to desert, and other apocalyptic images that my teacher passed around in class.

On the board, he made a list of problems. We talked about garbage, rainforests being cut down, turtles choking on plastic bags. He asked us for solutions. "Don't litter, don't waste paper, don't litter" were my immediate, obvious solutions. Back to Bono.

At that time, everyone was talking about the ozone layer and global warming.  Exxon Valdez was around the corner. Earth Day took on a newfound, urgent importance.  

I thought of Nature as this conglomeration of animals and plants and landscapes, out there somewhere away from the concrete suburbia I knew so well. And the disasters seemed to happen in faraway places, distant and removed from real life. Meanwhile, Man, the master, had risen above all this and we were now the caretakers tasked with fixing our planet. We had to take care of it, as if the planet were precious but separate from ourselves.

A few years ago a term appeared in scientific circles to suggest that a new geological epoch may have begun. Some say we have moved from the Holocene, which began at the end of the last Ice Age, to the Anthropocene (the 'Age of Man'). Perhaps we humans are simply self-centered and like to think we're important. But compelling evidence shows that we are radically changing our atmosphere, our landscapes, and our natural systems enough to alter the course of the planet's history. Humanity and Earth are now inextricably linked. Everything we do - everywhere - affects our entire planet.

If indeed this is the Age of Man, should we approach the health of nature and humankind as one and the same issue? This is our philosophy at Sustainable Northwest. We believe in harmonizing the interests of land and people, because we believe they are, at heart, really the same. If we can learn how to take care of ourselves and our human needs, we can better take care of the planet too. When we shift from "my land, my water, my rights" to "our land, our water, our shared rights," we find that the solutions to our challenges are not mutually exclusive after all.

So I wonder. On Earth Day, we like to celebrate the planet and trumpet our role as stewards of its beautiful natural systems. But stewardship of the planet alone may not be enough. We are also the stewards of our global civilization. Economy is just as important as ecology, human communities matter just as much as wildernesses, and the spiritual health of our culture is just as critical as the physical health of watersheds, rainforests, and deserts. After all, a lack of this socio-economic, cultural health in our society created the problems we see in our natural systems. Let's heal the rift. Our interests are one and the same: health, longevity, well-being, care and love for our fellow man and environment. We are interdependent. Here's to an Earth Day that celebrates this deep connection.