Often messages about the environment go like this: 1) “Look at this terrible thing that we are doing to the earth!”, 2) “Feel outraged!”, 3) “Do your duty to stop this evil!” I always have trouble getting from outrage to action. It’s tough to stay worked up all the time.
To explain another way of approaching environmentalism, I want to share a few lines from a poem by Wendell Berry, an essayist and farmer who can get feisty at times. The poem is called “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”. I highly recommend it and all his other work.
The mood of the poem is easy to identify with for me as a resident of Chicago. I do get upset and indignant about all of the ready-made products, the parking lots and cars everywhere, the light pollution and the processed food made of who-knows-what from who-knows-where. We take and take and take and use and use and use.
Berry is angry and can be too. But anger eventually fizzles out. The line I want to share from Berry’s poem comes after his rage has subsided. Instead of despairing, he does a 180 degree turn and says:
“Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.”
It’s beautiful advice. What are the facts? Don’t ignore them. We are abusing our planet. Granted. It’s getting worse. Okay. But it’s still beautiful if you take the time to notice. Really? Yes.
What most motivates me to change my own “green” habits isn’t any speaker or argument but my love for some of the little green spaces near my home in Chicago: River Park along the North Branch where I once saw a Kingfisher, the enveloping shade trees blanketing Argyle Street, even the little patch of green, Gross Park, where I used to hear the soccer games going on until midnight across the street in the summers.
Righteous indignation and anger will only get us so far. That kind of motivation burns too brightly and quickly flames out. What we need is a generation married to the earth. Only love can last a lifetime and it will take us many lifetimes to heal our earth. So, consider all the facts, and do all the right stuff. Follow all of the “green” tips. Be responsible.
BUT don’t forget to walk or bike when travel distances are short not because you’ll save energy, but because you’ll notice your neighborhood. Take a trip to the wilderness if you can. Revel in its goodness. Stroll around your block and get to know your corner of the world better rather than staring at images on a screen. Get intimate with the earth we share so that we’ll love it enough to do right by it. Be joyful! The world is a gift for you.