What is blue and green, bigger than a bread box, smaller than a universe and is home to — give or take a few million — some 7.157 billion people?
OK. OK. You got it right. You must have studied. Yes, the answer is Planet Earth. Give yourself a pat on the back, go grab a shovel and plant a tree. And while you’re doing it, make a pledge to yourself to stop contributing to the gradual death of our planet.
Here’s our reasoning. It’s the only planet we’ve got. NASA tells us the moon and Mars aren’t yet ready, Pluto’s too far and too cold and still hasn’t regained planetary status anyway, and all those other worlds might tremble at the thought of a spaceship filled with humans headed their way.
Yes, it’s Earth Day.
Any who thought it was just Tuesday were wrong.
It’s also Arbor Day. Some might know it as Go Green Day or Be Nice to Mother Nature Day or Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You Day or This Land is My Land Day.
By any name, its fragrance is just as sweet. But left unguarded against the abuses of those who lack vision, our beloved Planet Earth — also recognized as Mother Earth for it is she who gives us the sustenance required of life — is doomed to become a barren field of brown infertility.
For those unfamiliar with Earth Day, it isn’t somebody’s new idea. Actually, it is 44 years old. Celebrated annually on April 22, the principle of Earth Day was given birth in 1970, and as with all good ideas it evolved. It isn’t just an American concept. It is observed globally as the Earth Day Network. Some 192 countries now celebrate its message.
Originally, the whole idea sprang from a UNESCO Conference in San Francisco in 1969 when peace activist John McConnell proposed the day for two purposes — to honor Earth and to promote the concept of peace. Both were noble then. Each is just as honorable now.
McConnell’s original idea was documented as a proclamation and adopted by the United Nations. A month later, a separate Earth Day was founded by U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in first held on April 22, 1970. Originally limited to an American observation, Earth Day eventually went global 20 years later thanks to Denis Hayes who had served as the original Earth Day’s national coordinator.
Meaningful, celebratory events were promptly organized in 141 nations; that number continues to grow.
Some might view Earth Day as a token gesture of kindness to our home world. But its meaning is clear. Its impact is inarguable. Its focus on mankind’s future is unquestioned.
Others agree. Consider these thoughts about Earth Day or at least the principles of its message:
- “I had assumed that the Earth, the spirit of the Earth, noticed exceptions — those who wantonly damage it and those who do not. But the Earth is wise. It has given itself into the keeping of all, and all are therefore accountable.” — Alice Walker, American author and activist
- “It’s Earth Day. I wonder if we can plant more trees than people for a change?” — Stanley Victor Paskavich, American poet
- “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.” — John Muir, Scottish-American naturalist
- “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.” — Native American proverb
- “The proper use of science is not to conquer nature, but to live in it.” — Barry Commoner, American biologist
- “For 200 years we’ve been conquering nature. Now we’re beating it to death.” — Tom McMillan, Canadian farmer
- “What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?” — Henry David Thoreau, American author
- “Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realize we cannot eat money.” — Cree Indian proverb
- “The Earth is what we all have in common.” — Wendell Berry, American environmental activist
- “We have met the enemy and he is us.” — Walt Kelly, American cartoonist
As inspiring as these mindful reminders can be, some have approached the same message in humor, albeit quite biting. For instance, longtime, late-night TV talk show host David Letterman mused, “Fall is my favorite season in Los Angeles, watching the birds change color and fall from the trees.”
Everyone’s favorite funny man of film, Groucho Marx, gave us, “Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?”
And American columnist Bill Vaughan suggested, “Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them.”
As inspiring as an Earth Day observance can be, it too often is limited to just one day out of the year in many communities. What about the other 364? We suggest 365 Earth Days. But the only ceremony we recommend is the simple act of kindness — in all decisions, starting with our own Cleveland and Bradley County hometown — toward that which nurtures our very lives.
To support our plea, we refer to the vision of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson who reminded us all, “The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.”
Life itself should be thanks aplenty.