My daily commute takes me past a small farm with a field where sheep graze every afternoon. Lambs walk with their mothers beneath the sunshine and play at the edge of a small pond where geese paddle lazily and shake droplets from their feathers. No matter how rotten a mood I’m in, how intense the tribulations of the day’s labours past, the innocence of this little place is unfailingly soothing, like visual yoga for the soul. Tonight we are asked beginning at 8:30 pm to turn off our electronics and live in that same silence and simplicity for an hour. Communities around the globe have thrown down the gauntlet to see who can outdo the other in terms of the biggest percentage drop in power demand. The ostensible goal of Earth Hour is to raise awareness of what the consumptive attitude of humanity is doing to its only home. But it behooves us as a species to be aware of the earth every hour of every day; of the treasures it holds and of the unparalleled, impossible-to-duplicate magnificence in something as small as a blade of grass waving in the breeze. Just pause, for one cleansing breath, before we climb back in the SUV and crank up the thousand-megawatt subwoofers.
This is a tough time for our planet. The human population has surged past 7 billion, and shortsightedness and greed on the part of a wealthy few has led to extreme poverty for the majority. And when the economy slows down, it is left to the earth to make up the difference. Dirty industry flourishes in the interest of quick growth; environmental review processes are gutted to get factories moving fast. Moneyed interests push misinformation about climate change into mainstream accepted thought. Anyone who suggests we slow down and give less destructive alternatives their due consideration is pilloried as a job-killing, tree-hugging, pinko Communist (Stalin’s and Mao’s lasting legacies being their keen environmental stewardship, naturally). The Lorax, the recent movie based on the fable by Dr. Seuss, was trashed in certain segments of the press for pushing an undesirable agenda onto kids, because it dared to suggest that levelling all the trees in sight wasn’t necessarily a good idea. We are in an era of reverse ecology – it has somehow become “cool” to hate the earth, and morally sound to sacrifice it on the altar of the GDP at every opportunity. As a result, turning one’s lights off for an hour one Saturday night a year feels like shouting into the winds of a rising storm.
The ad hominem counter-arguments will no doubt come fast and furious. “Oh yeah, well, why don’t you give up your car and your computer and go live in a cave somewhere, you stupid eco-fasci-socialist.” I’m not suggesting that the world shut itself off and return to a purely agrarian existence; that’s fantasy. Surely human beings are clever enough to figure out a way to have our toys and clean air too. As Al Gore said in An Inconvenient Truth, what is lacking is the will. How do we change our collective attitude from hungry consumer to responsible warden of a suffering world?
Maybe it begins with taking that moment to watch the lambs in the field, to reconnect with the innocent. To recognize that whatever you believe put us here – God, evolution or random chance – also gave us the capacity to appreciate and cherish beauty in all its forms, and an abiding wish to not see beauty destroyed for selfish, temporary gain. If it is indeed our duty to leave to our children better than we ourselves have inherited, then we owe each of them the chance to experience the forest, the ocean and the snow-capped mountain peak as we have. This can be the nobler purpose to which we aspire. We can start making the hard choices that reflect both our individual and societal commitment to achieving that purpose – saying no to the cheap and easy solutions and the leaders who peddle them, and embracing our human responsibility to tend the garden of our unique home. For all the beauty present in the world is of the earth, and as the earth dies, so does beauty. No matter our political stripe, we can agree that beauty is worth saving. And it is a solemn obligation that extends far beyond the dying seconds of Earth Hour.