A friend of mine once asked me a fascinating question: If travelling to Mars were possible within our lifetime, and I had the opportunity to go to help start a new population, would I do it?
He was shocked when I quickly said no.
I didn't really have a clear reason for why I said no back then, but it was just an instant, gut-reaction. I know why now, but I'll get to that later.
As you may know, today is Earth Day. I'll be honest, I didn't realize it until I saw an above-average amount of beautiful mountain and sunset pictures on my Instagram feed this afternoon. Looking closer, they include captions about how thankful we should be that we're here, and how pretty everything is, and the whole "love your mother!" thing. That's a great thing - I'm not being cynical here; it brings immense joy seeing my friends love up on the Earth. That's all part of the deal. We should be thankful and relish in her beauty. We should love her with every fiber of our being. We're only here because she is. We literally owe her everything, and we will return only to her. Think about it. Maybe your soul goes elsewhere, but your body returns to the Earth. We are tied to her...I guess until we get up to Mars.
So it burns me, and maybe it burns you, too, when so many people seem to treat our planet like an afterthought. As if our lives do not depend on her wellbeing. As if we'd somehow be okay without her. I look around in grocery stores sometimes, and find it hard to swallow when I realize how much plastic is in this huge space, waiting to be used only once, and thrown away to sit somewhere on the soft ground for hundreds or thousands of years to come. Everything I see in that grocery store will be in the ground in a year, only to be replaced perfectly by another round of the same shit, to be dumped and disposed of and forgotten about, until it becomes so massive that we drown in it.
Do you think I'm being dramatic? I'm only getting started.
I used to sit on the highest hill at my university, which overlooks the George Washington National Forest, just to admire the little mountains blooming there. I loved that spot, except for on days when it was so smoggy in the valley that the mountains disappeared altogether. They were only ten miles away. It ensued an almost inexplicable dread in me; maybe you can relate to it. The same dread can be found in a trash can overflowing with Starbucks cups and water bottles. It's dangling in the trees on the highway medians, next to a shopping bag that got stuck in the branches and is now choking them out. It's on every corner of Amazon's website, and every single news station at every minute of every day. It just sits with me - sits with us - because there is no way to get rid of it. I'm sorry, I'm gonna be a cynic for a second: we cannot do this by ourselves. The dread doesn't go away even when you completely rid your household of single-use and otherwise wasteful products. Even when you start growing your own food and cut out meat and make non-toxic household cleaners. Even when you are the best environmentalist you can possibly be, you cannot make the problem go away.
Why not? Because your neighbor isn't doing any of it. And the next ten houses in both directions aren't doing it, either.
Let's not even stop there, because truthfully, that isn't even the core of the problem. It's not much of a secret these days that the climate crisis can't be cancelled out by the average civilian community, because it's the billion-dollar corporations that couldn't give a shit what they're doing to the planet, so long as there's money involved. They know, and they don't care. They know, and they lie about it to keep their pockets full. We know this, so I won't harp on it.
What do we do, then? How do we overcome this? I think the only logical answer is to somehow make environmentalism so trendy and profitable that the CEO's couldn't possibly look away - but it's just not that simple, and the individual has no way of controlling that. Therefore, we take care of what we can control, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. We can always do at least that much.
That said - I don't know about you, but I really don't know how many more "sustainability tips" I can take. If one more person says to me, "oh, well you should really just start bringing your own bags to the grocery store!" I'm going to scream. We should be so far past this. But yet - look around the next time you're in the grocery store - you'll be the one person in 25 who brought their bags. Let's even take that a few steps back, thinking about the past year with the pandemic. The disposable masks that are on every business counter when you walk in, now on every sidewalk from Florida to Washington state, the tubes and tubs of hand sanitizer that get tossed in the trash without a second thought, the plastic cutlery that every single takeout restaurant has to give you, and even when you say "I don't need a bag, or silverware, or anything," they don't listen. Either it gets stockpiled, or it gets tossed. I can't think about it too much, or I really do believe my brain will explode.
The reality is, of course, that it's not about the bags or the masks or the plastic overflowing the trash cans anymore. It's about the feasibility of the next few generations of humanity surviving. Maybe then I can start to see the point of moving to Mars, if we can. I mean, that'd be awesome. But I had another friend say to me, in that same conversation, something along these lines: "I think if we were ever able to leave Earth, we should just pillage it. Take everything. Take all the resources we could possibly take with us." My heart sank into my stomach, the dread filled my lungs. I'd never been in a conversation that felt so deeply wrong.
This little rock made us. She MADE US. She made the possibility of our lives, and the lives of all creatures around us, a reality. Have you ever considered why we might call her "Mother?" I think if Earth were living and feeling and expressing in a way that we were able to understand, she would say to us (the human species), "I love you, but you are not as important as you think you are. You are so little. I'll be fine without you - I'll adapt - but if you take my resources away, you kill your brothers and sisters, you kill all my children. You change me forever, and I will no longer be able to support you."
Earth is a tough mother, and she will not hesitate to act. If we fuck up badly enough, she'll have her way with us, and it will be swift. I'm not sitting here trying to allude to the fact that we're all going to die if we don't get our shit together, but...you've seen the news lately. You know we are not in a good position.
I know it, too. And on this Earth day in particular, I feel the gravity of the question: What can we do? I'll keep taking my bags to the grocery store, and I'll grow tomatoes and lettuce and green beans in the garden with my mom this year. We'll collect our chickens' eggs and plant flowers and do our best. But sometimes our best just doesn't feel like enough, and then what else is there to do but feel the gravity of it? It's okay, I think. We can allow ourselves to feel how deeply we are into this. We can hurt, and question, and cry about it all. I have a feeling Earth gets a little satisfaction out of knowing that some of us care enough to give her our tears. Maybe she takes on some of the pain once we're done with it. She's really resourceful like that.
I could never live on Mars because I am rooted to my Mother, Earth. Today I celebrate her and give thanks, as we do every Earth Day. But I also mourn, and cry, and apologize to her on behalf of my human brothers and sisters. We didn't know what we were doing.
I believe we are slowly learning, Mother. I just hope we can repay you in due time.