We tend to think of environmentalism and concern for the Earth as a modern concept; however, men and women were practicing environmental stewardship long ago. Even in our own families – and not that far back in time – our forebears made responsible use and re-use of everyday items and materials. From food and fabric to containers and compost heaps, items in our lives were cared for, passed down, recycled, repaired, upcycled, and maintained. Until comparatively recently, there was really no such thing as a “throw away” culture. People had less and valued it more.
Can we say the same thing today? Do our children see good example in our homes, cities, schools and country? Is there room for improvement?
Our First Nations peoples view the Earth as alive and worthy of our care and respect. They teach us that the bond between human beings and the living world is strong and codependent. That great environmental saint and advocate from centuries ago, Francis of Assisi, would agree. In his Canticle of the Sun, he extolled “Brother Sun”, “Sister Moon” and “Mother Earth” and taught that the bonds of life extended to even the smallest creatures (…and that was around 1200 AD!)
And so we cannot say that today’s environmental sensibilities are novel or innovative or especially creative. They are actually a reminder of what we already know, if we are being honest with ourselves – that “happiness [in life]” requires that “the link between [human beings] and nature shall not be broken” (credit to Leo Tolstoy).
Today our school gathered for our annual Red Oak Assembly in honour of upcoming Earth Day. While “every day is earth day”(!), we have an opportunity each spring to emphasize the global imperative of environmental stewardship among our students. Is such a commitment a worthwhile thing?
Conider what Earth Day has accomplished since its inception in 1970. Environmental protection agencies, national commitments to clean air and water, protection of endangered species, conservation policies and practices and cooperation among nations to manage finite resources.
A quick glance around the world, across our country and in our own homes is proof that there is still a long way to go. However, it is better to light a single candle than curse the darkness!
While the modern lives we lead may make it challenging to return to the simpler patterns of consumption practiced by our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’, we nevertheless have a duty to take action in the small ways we can. These small ways are learned first at home and reinforced at school.
When internationally-renowned scientist, Jane Goodall, visited my former school, she left the students with a powerful message. She said that when you realize that “you cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you” and that “what you do makes a difference”, “you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”
Great advice for Earth Day and great advice for life!
Ric Anderson, Head of School