It’s Earth Day. Here in the mountains that seems incongruous. As the sun peeks over the eastern ridge and splays fingers of light through the cleft and across the lake below us, it seems to me that it is always Earth Day.
You can’t live here or anywhere that’s in proximity to the skin of the planet without acknowledging it. Its presence is overwhelming. We are high enough that the sky is part of the view and you can’t look anywhere without being reminded that our home is on a planet.
At least, cognizant folks have that reconnection. Like all neighbourhoods, our home in these hills is despoiled by those who disregard everything except their own convenience. They speed down the road and miss the view. They toss garbage out their windows and litter the roadside or they take their garbage up the timber roads and dump it wherever they want just to avoid a $5 dump fee.
Walking through our community there are homes and properties that are kept immaculate. Trees are pruned, gardens are landscaped, houses are maintained. But there are others where junk is piled everywhere. There are places where dead autos are used for doghouses, housing materials stay in the same discard pile for years and garbage is allowed to become strewn and forgotten. There is a jarring dichotomy within this community that’s unsettling.
I can’t walk anywhere in our area without a deep and resonant sense of kinship with the Earth. Regardless of season, there is always something that beckons my attention, unhinges me from my consideration of worldly problems and forces me to look at the truth of things - that my home is on a planet and that it is beautiful and needs my care and attention.
So when Earth Day rolls around each year, I’m puzzled. For the life of me, I cannot figure out how we can be so casual with our stewardship responsibilities. We treat our role as caretakers so cavalierly that we come to believe that designating one day of the year to focus on the planet qualifies as responsible and proactive.
When your home is on a planet with finite resources and a finite breath, every day should be about caring for it.
But we’ve gone too far for that. We have become hooked on the idea of convenience. We have come to believe that what’s necessary in this life is getting our due and in the most expedient way possible. We want things fast. We want our communications to be fast, and our service and our reward needs to come to us at high speed too. Anything less is inconvenient.
We’ve also become hooked in the idea that someone else will take care of it. Recycling is a great idea, but someone else will do it. Someone else will use less fuel. Someone else will conserve energy. Someone else will take public transit just as someone else will look after the water, air and plant life. The greatest and most devastating addiction in our world is the narcotic effect of living for convenience and waiting for someone else to do what’s needed.
It’s not our fault, really. We live with a government that ignored the Kyoto Protocol. Someone else will do it, they believed. We live with a government that allows corporations and big business to determine when carbon limits will be met instead of regulating them right now.
That’s too inconvenient because they need their tax dollars and they need their votes.
We live with a government that refuses to believe that petroleum is a finite resource.
It’s a government that offers financial bailouts to car companies without insisting that they use the money to develop green energy vehicles.
It’s a government too, that asks the frontline workers of those companies to take wage cuts while not insisting that grossly overpaid executives take it on the chin instead.
When your leadership displays a churlish disregard for what’s necessary, it’s hard not to follow suit, and that’s where the problem lies.
Government should lead by example. We elect people who we deem capable of making decisions that affect our daily lives. We elect people whom we believe to be staunch, dedicated and soulful. We have come to trust that our governance is in the hands of those who have our collective best interest at heart. So when they ignore our most basic need—the need to have a home planet that is healthy—they convince us that there’s nothing we can do, either.
It’s a grand lie. I say, regulate the hell out of those who emit depleting carbon, shut them down right now if they won’t meet limits, show them and us, that government is not afraid to lead and to make Earth Day an everyday event.
Richard Wagamese is Ojibway and the author of Keeper’n Me. He won the Canadian Author’s Award for Dream Wheels and his new novel, Ragged Company, arrives in August from Doubleday. He can be reached at email@example.com