Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Earth Day; or, a wild flash of optimism

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Happy Earth Day, everyone.

To tell the unvarnished truth, as I sometimes like to do, I have absolutely no idea what Earth Day is. I heard someone mention it on the wireless this morning, but I was not concentrating. If I had to guess, I should say it's a day for remembering that the planet must be saved. And it absolutely must. The problem, it seems to me, is that no one has any idea how. (Answers on a postcard.)

My fear is that Earth Day might be an excuse for all the most extreme sides of the argument to come out and dance the pasa doble. In one corner, we have the mad flat-earthers, who insist that climate change is unproven (it's just a cycle, see) and that business must have its sway and we must all drill, baby, drill. In the other corner, we have the smug greens, who want you all to go and live in yurts, and intimate that if you ever set foot on one more aeroplane you will be personally responsible for the next cyclone in Bangladesh. Meanwhile, China, who answers to no man (nor woman neither) is building a coal-fired power station every week, the ice caps are melting, the polar bears have nowhere to go, and the people of the South Pacific islands will very soon have to live on rafts. At this point, your dutiful installation of low energy lightbulbs might seem very slightly irrelevant. It's all too crazy and unstoppable, and everyone shouting at each other will not stop people wanting to drive cars, and we are all doomed.

And yet, and yet. Astonishing, unthinkable things do happen. Entrenched attitudes do change. Regard human history: slavery did end, women did get the vote, a man did step onto the very surface of the moon. So maybe you and I, with a little recycling and buying local and turning off the lights, can make a difference. Perhaps it's not such a puny plan after all.

My own, personal Earth Day is going to consist of contemplating the absolute wonders of the world. Outside my window, as if in celebration, a vivid sun is shining out of a high blue sky. The first of the cherry blossom is out. The fat, sticky buds of the horse chestnut have just unfurled into tiny new leaves of stinging green. In the south meadow, newborn lambs are actually skipping, just as lambs are supposed to do. The oystercatchers have come in from the coast, and are celebrating their mating season by singing raucously all night long. Down by the burn, the ducks are building their nest in their usual secret location. I watch each day for the swallows to come back all the way from Africa to my garden shed.

Slip the lens a little, and contemplate the wider view. The truly astonishing thing about those photographs of earth taken from space is not just the timeless beauty of the blue planet, but that it is the only blue planet to be seen in the known universe. Of all the lumps of rock out there that we have discovered, it is the single one that has the exact conditions required for life. A few miles closer to the sun, a little less carbon dioxide and phtt - solar storms and arid rock; no Mozart, no Shakespeare, no nothing. There are, of course, many other universes that the Hubble telescope cannot see, that may be beyond anything in our imagination; the physicists are talking of a possible eleven dimensions and that parallell universes are not science fiction but science fact. But in our little corner of the cosmos, we are the only ones that got lucky, which is perfectly extraordinary in itself.

So just for one day I am going to, as the great Johnny Mercer once wrote, accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, and not even think of messing with Mr Inbetween. It's Earth Day, and Earth is a bloody miracle. I'm going to listen to Mr Louis Armstrong, old Satchelmouth himself, because just sometimes, despite all the sorrows that flesh is heir to, it is worth remembering that it is a wonderful world.

For your very own dose of Satchmo, click here:


  1. Well that optimism needs a Hallejiah and Amen, I feel. One really needs to stop and smell the roses. I was raised by a very progressive mother who was "green" before her time. We had sheep, in our large garden in the inner city to "mow" the lawns, huge composts bins for the vegetable gardens. I grew up being taught to look after the Earth. Was so shocked when I moved to LA to find that not many people recycled. Only in the last year has my rubbish included a recycling bin. Shocking really when there are 25 million people in the county of Los Angeles alone.
    I was picturing the burn, how gorgeous. xxC

  2. So Lovely - Adore the idea of sheep mowing the lawn. My lawn is like crazy jungle just now, perhaps that would be the answer. I also have a slight hankering for a goat.

  3. You can borrow my husband while he's in mowing mode today - he needs regular rest periods, but he won't eat your pants.

    And a few other things, apropos of nothing and the above. Is it me or is the blossom this year absolutely extraordinary? One of my favourite things to do - both as a child and now - is to look at pink blossom against a blue sky - slightly Anne of Green Gables, but it does fulfil the 'queer ache' desire. Maybe because the winter was a real one, this Spring seems so much more as if sprung into life, but whatever the reason, long may it continue...

    You might be interested/wryly amused that Notting Hill waterstones have moved your book from Self-Help to Philosphy, a butterfly wash of colour amongst the prosey books on the table.

    8/10 June is Ocean Day - I don't know if it's the same concept, or whether Earth Day encompasses both land and sea, or whether we can only appreciate one at a time, but I'm unsure as to whether to celebrate it with a glorious seafood fest, or with something decidedly land-based to show concern at the admittedly revolting pillage of our oceans (says the girl off to the fishmongers in a mo for squid and fish for tomorrow night's barbie...)

    Also, pondering on 'burning bush from Hermes' randomly last night - is it not a colour as she bought 2 jackets? - Although in my head it's an autumnal sunset of something that should be burnt umber and ochre and old-fashioned paint colours, the green and red of a robinia also come to mind.

    And re: sheep (i will stop soon) my family used to have sheep when i was younger. Mot memorable was Louise, adopted as a motherless lamb by our then-butchers from their own flock, raised as a rather rumbunctious poodle, bathed every week, taught to walk on a lead and jump in the back of a pick-up truck. We adopted her when they realised they could neither tend to her much-needed bathing nor send her to slaughter. So we adopted her into our small flock where she spent the first 3 weeks under the horse until the other sheep decided she smelled right. From then on she was Queen sheep - or She-baa... (sigh.). But they did keep the field marvellous.

  4. Just thought - given the theme of the blog that this article might be of interest about literary works by women and how they remain disparate rather than pulled together into a literary tradition. (hope this works!)

  5. Jo - absolutely delighted to have made it into the philosophy section. Self-help makes me come out in hives.

    Thanks for Elaine Showalter link. I adore her and had not realised she had a new book out. I am running straight to the library.

    Love your sheep story.


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