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Wednesday, 21 April 2010 17:37

The Naturalist's Corner

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Earth Day: hope vs. optimism

Lordy, lordy look who’s 40 — Earth Day and the EPA. Officially created and established in 1970, Earth Day was the spirit and philosophy that was going to take us to Nirvana; was going to create that idyllic symbiotic lifestyle of social and environmental justice where humans cared for the planet and a clean, healthy beautiful planet nurtured and nourished us. The EPA was the vehicle that was going to take us there.

Forty years later, species are disappearing at an alarming rate; war and genocide, as well as famine and pestilence, are the norm across much of the planet, clean, pure water is vanishing, and a dark cloud of pollution and acid rain envelop the Earth.

Chuck Dayton, who splits his time between St. Paul, Minn. and Waynesville, penned a personal, poignant, retrospective piece regarding Earth Day for Conservation Minnesota Magazine. You can find the article at http://www.conservationminnesota.org/news/?id=4729.

It is a great read by one who was inspired by Earth Day and dedicated his career to the environment.

Dayton recalls that first Earth Day: “The first Earth Day was a dramatic expression of a growing awareness that corporations had been using our air and water as a free dump, and something needed to be done. It occurred at a time of anti-war protests and anti-establishment rhetoric: a time when change seemed not only possible but also inevitable.”

And juxtaposes it with the present: “Today, Earth Day 40, while still an important affirmation of the need to care for the planet, seems to me less optimistic than in 1970. I no longer think that the big environmental problems will be solved in my lifetime. At nearly 71, I know that we are surely passing on huge burdens to our descendants, including those that may become impossible to solve, if climate feedbacks are allowed take over ...”

Retired after decades on the environmental frontline, Dayton still expends a large amount of time and energy working on environmental issues. Where does he find his resolve?

“Hope is important, even if we’re not able to be optimistic ...” he writes. And he quotes civil rights advocate, peace champion and former Yale Chaplin, William Sloane Coffin: “Hope is a state of mind independent of the state of the world. If your heart’s full of hope, you can be persistent when you can’t be optimistic. You can keep the faith despite the evidence, knowing that only in so doing has the evidence any chance of changing. So while I’m not optimistic, I’m always very hopeful ...”

I believe another quote from Coffin is also appropriate: “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”

Perhaps with hopeful hearts steeled by truth and buoyed by love we can effect a change in paradigm that will lead to Earth Day every day.

(Don Hendershot is a naturalist and writer who lives in Waynesville. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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