We celebrate Earth Day as if Mother Earth was a person, sometimes called Gaia, worth recognizing. This analogy between the interconnected ecosystems of the Earth and person is actually a pretty good one. We have many internal systems in dynamic equilibrium, that is to say, held in place between a balance of forces. We get low on energy, the body signals hunger, and we eat. We get tired, and we are compelled to sleep.
Both we and the planet have “multiple stationary states” – if we get overweight, exercise is too hard, and we find a new norm. We get run down, and a bacterial infection keeps us at a low energy level, where it can continue to keep us sick. The planet loses vegetation in a region and the ground heats more quickly in the sun, drying out to become desert where there was once forest. A predator gets too numerous and the prey is hunted to extinction, leading to the demise of the predator. The planet warms, forests burn, more CO2 is released, raising temperatures even further via the greenhouse effect. Glaciers are lost, making less sunlight reflect away, and causing temperatures to rise further. The balances are fragile and not to be taken for granted, as any student of geology will tell you.
Where the analogy breaks down is that we as sentient beings have willpower. We can find the discipline to exercise; we can take care of one another to recover our health. We wish that the planet had an independent will and a purpose, but it apparently does not. Mother Nature can be very cruel and turns an indifferent shoulder to those beings that cannot compete for a place in the circle of life.
The antagonism between Mankind and Nature is an old one, but it presupposes that we are apart from, or somehow above, Nature. That is, of course, one of Mankind’s dumbest ideas. We are interconnected with the web of life, irrevocably inseparable from our planetary home. Even if we travel into space, we must take a piece of our home with us.
But more than just being a part of Nature, we are the only part that has the ability to understand the balances and act with the will and discipline to restore a gentle healing balance and avoid a scorched or desolate planet. Take a lesson from Mars and Venus. It does not matter whether Mankind is causing “global warming”, only that we are the only creatures on the planet that can apply intelligent will to maintaining a healthy balance in the face of random insults to its health. If you believe that God gave Mankind dominion over the planet, then it is our duty as caretakers to face our responsibility to preserve it.
And so we celebrate Earth Day, to become more attuned to the awesome interplay of forces that make up our home, to honor and develop our understanding of the interconnections of life, and face our responsibility as stewards of our planet. Not just for one day, but all year, every year of our lives, until we pass the burden to the next generation, in hopes that the circle of life will remain unbroken until the end of time.