That photograph, a singular piece of knowledge, generated remarkable and enduring efforts to protect the planet. We share in that effort today.
Motivations to protect the planet derive from many sources, secular and religious. One need not be religious to be motivated by self-preservation. Impure water and polluted air obviously harm life, all life. Protecting oneself, family, friends, and community are motivation enough for many to become active in efforts such as joining or supporting environmental organizations, writing letters to the editor, lobbying political officials at all levels of government, and participating in protests. Beyond organizational or mass efforts, there are also individual actions that can be taken.
Individual actions are large in number and diverse in character. A simple google search discloses thousands. Many revolve upon the three “Rs” – reduce, reuse, recycle – that are low-cost but effective means to reduce one’s impact on the planet. For “Earth Day,” individual and public actions abound. A glance at the website “earthday.org” generates seemingly endless ways to participate. We can plant a tree, read an environmental book, even adopt a hummingbird to help protect a single life. We can reduce consumption of Earth’s resources and preserve resources through reuse and recycling. We can assist with the education of the next generation. Every action is meaningful. Furthermore, we can express our concerns to politicians and government officials who seek to weaken or destroy environmental protections or fail to respond to climate change. We can and should become activists who advocate for ourselves, family, community, and generations yet unborn.
Yet, indeed, there are major reasons to actively pursue efforts to protect the earth beyond self-preservation and secular ones. There is a moral obligation. The earth was not created for humans to ruin through ignorance, indifference, and greed. The primary concept is that of “stewardship” or the idea that each generation is morally responsible to protect the earth for each succeeding generation. A sculptural artwork at the Metropolitan Museum of Art makes that point to the observer. God, holding the earth and protecting it, is assisted by an angel.
Earth Day activities are valuable, not just for the day of occurrence. They endure because of their educational value. Eventually, every day will be “Earth Day” for many. That number will grow as knowledge that sustains activism continues to expand and deepen our understanding about earth, life on it, and perils to that life such as pollution and climate change. In the meantime, if the knowledge seems insufficient to get us involved for some reason, remember that there is a “better angel” to be invoked within ourselves, an angel tasked by God to be a steward of the earth and all of God’s creation.