Earth Day is an annual event celebrated worldwide on April 22nd and an opportunity to reflect on environmental themes. First celebrated in 1970, Earth Day events in more than 193 countries are now coordinated globally by the Earth Day Network. The annual Red Oak Assembly here at Matthews Hall is our school’s opportunity each spring to highlight what should be a daily commitment to responsible environmental stewardship, action and education.
Earth Day is often a day of political action and civic participation. People march, sign petitions, meet with their elected officials, plant trees, and clean up their towns and roads. Corporations and governments use it to make pledges and announce sustainability measures. Faith leaders around the world connect Earth Day with protecting all of creation – human beings, plants, animals, biodiversity and the natural resources of the planet that we all live on.
Not surprisingly these days, climate literacy and environmental education are recognized priorities in most curricula. It is also not uncommon to see billboards and bumper stickers extolling the virtues of environmentalism with “calls to action” intended to rally people around the goal of a better planet for future generations. However, Canadian author and academic, Gerry Burnie, offers a slightly different perspective. He thinks that we “talk so much about leaving a better planet to our kids, that we [may] forget to leave better kids to our planet.”
This perspective is filled with meaning and can be appreciated on many levels. On the one hand, it is important to raise children to be respectful of the environment. The first step in doing so is to nurture a respect for the natural world and the ways in which we can protect it. However, shouldn’t the real emphasis be on forming children to have the kind of deeply-held convictions about the right and wrong treatment of self, one another AND the world in which we live?
A human being who learns to appreciate nature, but does not learn coherent expectations for how to treat others is actually not a real environmentalist at all. Aren’t people members of the natural world? Part of teaching environmental responsibility is an honest assessment regarding our culture’s emphasis on getting, having, using and wasting – things, people and opportunities. Our real challenge is to form human beings who eschew selfish ways of thinking and behaving. If we can deliver on this, then leaving better kids to our planet will accomplish our goal of leaving a better planet for them.
On Earth Day, a lot of people only see the trees – without recognizing those responsible for “leaning” on the trees.
The Lorax reminds us that “a tree falls the way it leans.”
We need to be careful which way we lean – whether it be on the trees, on the planet or on one another.
Ric Anderson, Head of School