Yesterday was the 49th year we celebrated Earth Day...in the 4.5 billionth year of the Earth’s existence. In 1970, at the height of counterculture in the United States, the protest movement, and rising dissatisfaction with the environmental abuses of the modern world, U.S. senator and governor of Wisconsin Gaylord Nelson conceived the idea of Earth Day. In a speech during that inaugural day in 1970, Nelson said:
Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.
Some people talk about protecting the environment as if it only involves clean air and clean water. The environment, Nelson urged, “involves the whole broad spectrum of man's relationship to all other living creatures, including other human beings.”
Basically: We live on earth. We come from the earth. We will become earth when we die. So we should probably treat it with some respect.
The Stoics spoke of this at length. In fact, they had a word for it: sympatheia—“a connectedness with the cosmos.” It is one of the lesser known Stoic concepts, in part because it’s so incredibly easy to focus on the self and lose sight of the whole. As Marcus Aurelius wrote:
Meditate often on the interconnectedness and mutual interdependence of all things in the universe. For in a sense, all things are mutually woven together and therefore have an affinity for each other—for one thing follows after another according to their tension of movement, their sympathetic stirrings, and the unity of all substance.
No one is saying you have to stop driving a car or go off the grid. But it is your duty to care and to care for this place you call home. You can find the little places where you can make small differences. You can try to limit yourself and your appetites. You can be good to your fellow human beings.
We are all connected and unified and made for one another and this should never be far from our minds. We should be humane to the Earth we inhabit and to each other—yesterday, today, and every day. Let’s take care of each other.
Happy Earth Day.