As we pay attention to the environment and how to take care of our planet during the celebration of Earth Day, it is my desire that doing so will plant seeds of awareness that will continue to grow and blossom throughout the year. This is of fundamental importance because we need small acts from a multitude of people to make a change. It is great that leaders from 175 countries signed the historic Paris climate accord to reduce emissions affecting climate change through policies. That is a huge step. But, each person needs to consider the consequences of our actions and how each one of us, as an individual, is affecting our environment. As U.N. secretary-General Ban Ki-moon commented, “We are in a race against time. The era of consumption without consequences is over.”
Since I was a child, I always loved nature and eagerly celebrated Earth Day as a way to thank our Mother Earth for providing so much. But, like many I thought of the environment as something “out there,” separate from myself. Sure, I recycled, tried to conserve resources, and volunteered at clean-ups. I was paying homage to our Great Mother. But then at some point a shift happened. Perhaps it was due to my study of Environmental Health, the ancient Indian science of Ayurveda, or a meditation practice that opened my consciousness – and likely it is from all of the above and more. What shifted for me was that I no longer thought of the environment as something different from myself. I realized that we ARE our environment. From the food that we eat, the air that we breathe, the water that we consume, the sensory inputs that we experience – this is the stuff that we are made of. The earth is our body. The rivers are our blood. The air is our breath.
Considering all of this brings me to tears. Why? We have poisoned our planet and therefore we have poisoned ourselves. Just look at the recent news such as the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan (and thousands of other cities), the methane leak in Porter Ranch, and the classification of fluoride (added to a majority of municipal water supplies) as a neurotoxin. Despite spending more money than any other nation on healthcare, we are sicker and the incidence of chronic illnesses is only increasing. Just consider cancer, which affected 1 in 4 people when Rachel Carson’s sentinel environmental book “Silent Spring” was published. Despite the efforts of the “War on Cancer,” launched by President Nixon in 1971, our rates of cancer have increased in the last 50 years to now affect 1 in 2 men and 1 in 3 women. And during this time our world has become more polluted with more than 20,000 unregulated chemicals entering the market since 1976. It doesn’t take a genius to consider that there might be some correlation between this and a number of other diseases on the rise.
But, my sadness about the pollution (both visible and invisible) on this Earth and its effect on the health of humans and other creatures is alleviated by rays of hope as more awareness is bringing about actions that can make some real change. Thich Nhat Hanh, a great Buddhist teacher has said, “When you realize the Earth is so much more than simply your environment, you’ll be moved to protect her in the same way as you would yourself. This is the kind of awareness, the kind of awakening that we need, and the future of the planet depends on whether we’re able to cultivate this insight or not. The Earth and all species on Earth are in real danger. Yet if we can develop a deep relationship with the Earth, we’ll have enough love, strength and awakening in order to change our way of life.” From governments to companies to individuals, many people are doing their part – planting seeds for change. It is time to realize that saving the earth ultimately saves ourselves. It is no longer a question of sustainable resources, it is about sustainable life. So, it is my hope that in some way you will carry a little piece of Earth Day with you every day. What’s good for the planet is good for you.