Today is the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, and in this strange time of the global pandemic due to the Coronavirus, COVID-19, we are seeing decreasing pollution all around the globe as our travel has dramatically decreased, along with decreased economic activity due to the pandemic. I thought it might be a time to re-think Earth Day. It’s not that environmental issues have gone away; they are actually more relevant than ever. It is just that the conversation about environmental issues has expanded, as have many of the problems since those first Earth Day teach-ins in 1970.
Don’t get me wrong, I consider myself a strong environmentalist and have spent my entire adult life in environmental education and working towards sustainability. So of course, I love that we have at least ONE day a year when we are guaranteed some attention to promoting these issues. But it is only one day. And really, I think that we all know that a one-day feel-good event is not going to cut it. We need to shift our mindset in order to achieve the bright and sustainable future that we all want for ourselves and for future generations.
When we consider the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, set in 2015, we see that the global conversation has moved beyond a narrow understanding of environmental issues. We now think about sustainability as encompassing equality, human rights, clean water, climate action, sustainable communities, peace, and more. Caring for the environment goes beyond filling the recycling bin. It gets into thinking about all aspects of sustainability.
We can no longer say “Yep, I recycle”, check that environmental box in life and think that we are done. We want true sustainability and this includes social, environmental and economic considerations.
So, what about calling it “Planetary Wellness” rather than Earth Day? The word “planet” evokes an image of the Earth from space, reminding us of the finite aspect of this amazing and beautiful place. The planet is our one and only home. The home that we share with all creatures, in an interdependent web of life.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines a planet as a “a celestial body moving in an elliptical orbit around a star.” It is not a great leap to see that the “celestial” part of the definition overlaps with words that describe the holy, and sacred. As it should be, no matter what your spiritual beliefs, most people derive some deep inner calm and connection to their purpose when in nature. So, it is only fitting to have a term that evokes sacredness in whatever form as part of this new name.
Now, onto the “wellness” part of the proposed re-branding of Earth Day. Not to jump on any trending wellness bandwagons, but the reality is that today we are much more interested in holistic ideas around health that go beyond the obvious of keeping disease at bay. Wellness is what we strive for today, understanding it as contentment, mental wellness, resiliency, connectedness and meaning. And personal wellness cannot be achieved without also working towards planetary wellness.
Without clean air and water, access to whole, nutritious food and a functioning ecosystem, we cannot be physically and mentally well. Human wellness is inextricably linked to planetary wellness. We are the air and the water and the food. There is no “outside” when we consider that we integrate molecules into our bodies minute by minute, and day by day as we breathe, eat and drink. We are one with the environment. On a very physical level, we must be involved with planetary wellness as we seek our own health and wellness.
Indeed, the very actions that make the planet well also build human wellness, such as eating whole natural foods, reducing pollution and restoring ecosystem health. So, how about re-thinking this half-century young “Earth Day”, giving it a re-branding and a fresh perspective? It’s time to re-think Earth Day, and our role in the change that needs to take place.
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