I remember with extreme clarity, a day in third grade in 1963. This was years before the first Earth Day. The teacher was talking about natural resources, you know, one of those topics that are listed when you look up the basic stats of any country along with population, terrain, climates etc. This particular day we were talking about natural resources around the world and how the United States had an abundance of many things that were scarce in other parts of the world, Gold, Silver, Copper and Iron Ore to name a few. As she spoke, I remember this bad feeling coming over me, a feeling of foreboding and ill. Much as if your mom had announced her impending arrival to your room to check that you had tidied up and made your bed, when indeed you had not.
We had terrariums in most of our classrooms back then and the teachers had explained to us that it was a closed system. One of them actually had a lizard inside to balance the oxygen and carbon dioxide so that it could be truly sealed. Our earth is no different, just a matter of scale. My eight year old brain grasped this instantly. As she talked about our use of natural resources I was overwhelmed with one distinct thought: The Earth is a closed system and we will eventually run out of all of it.
The word that should be in front of all natural resources is limited. None are limitless save the air we breathe and the water we drink, going through their endless natural cycles, oxygen to C02 and back again. Water on the ground or in our oceans and lakes, into us, animals and plants, then out again and back to the sky, over and over.
At this tender age and every day since, I think how we must be good stewards of this planet. We have all seen the slogan “Save the Planet”. This is really a misnomer, the planet will survive. If we blew ourselves up today, the Earth would be here until consumed by our Sun when it goes nova millions of years from now. What the slogan should be is “Save Life”. That is the real focus here, how we use those resources, how we care for the fragile ecosystems that make up this giant blue marble, this largest of terrariums, hurtling through space.
I have to admit that the feelings on that first day, that epiphany of understanding of our world and its limits, have diminished greatly since that day. That was my first Earth day. No marching, no angry talk. Just a profound sadness over the fact that we aren’t doing a very good job as stewards of our planet.
The current disaster in the gulf is the first time that my feelings have returned to what they were that day in third grade. How is it that the most powerful nation on earth can’t plug a hole in a pipe less than two feet across? That this has continued to spew, unabated this long is unconscionable. Where is the Army Corp of Engineers, where is the outcry and the effort to fix this and fix it now? All I see is talking heads on both sides pointing fingers. We need to put all possible effort into this and find a quick and complete solution and we need to do it now.