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In honor of Mother’s Day, we pay tribute to the mother we all share – Mother Earth. The imagery of nature and the natural world, and all its bounty, has its origins in many cultures. In Greek mythology, Gaia is the ancestral mother of all life; the Latin word for nature – natura – means birth. Legends of indigenous peoples similarly reflect the Earth’s bounty and indeed life, as being derived from an Earth Mother or goddess. And we have for thousands of years honored and celebrated mothers for giving us life and taking care of us all.
But like all mothers, Mother Earth has been taken for granted by we humans. Increasingly we have been stressing the natural world well beyond its ability to take it. We pollute into the air, land, freshwater and ocean. Our pollution fills the skies all the way to the edge of the atmosphere, where man-made chemicals are blowing holes in the Earth’s protective ozone layer. Man-made plastic pollution can be found in the deepest part of the ocean and from the Arctic to the Antarctic.
We have destroyed mountaintops and arid plains to pull minerals from deep within the Earth. We have dumped toxic chemicals into freshwater. We are in the process of using up all the groundwater stored in pools under the Earth’s surface and even drilling miles under the seafloor to extract oil. We have pumped our air so full of carbon that we are changing the chemistry of the planet. And our oceans are growing increasingly acidic due to the same carbon excesses. We have so denuded that “natural” parts of Mother Nature that we are on the verge of causing a catastrophic wave of extinction of many forms of life on Earth.
If the Earth was our real mother, she would be dirty, battered, and run down — a shadow of her youthful fertility and bounty. But like our mother, we need nature to live. Our very survival depends upon clean air to breathe, clean water to drink, and the biodiversity of life to sustain us. And what is now abundantly clear is that when we make the natural world sick or injured, we humans are not far behind.
The COVID pandemic may have infected humans in a lab or a wet market in China, but what we can be certain of is that it originated in an animal whose habitat was destroyed at the hands of humans. Powerful storms that now batter our coastlines and fires that burn our interiors are the result of our refusal to clean up our greenhouse gas pollution and live more sustainably.
It is shocking that so many people are surprised to learn that the Earth’s bounty is not limitless. Or just shrug off the bad news and damaging signs. Or worse yet, refuse to face them. They refuse to see that we cannot just keep taking, destroying, damaging, and dumping without regard for the long term costs. But the pandemic has forced a cessation of modern life and industrial activity that has given us a glimpse of the battering we are doing to our collective mother. But we ourselves are so distracted by our own troubles we may not have a chance to see it. This week, the government announced it would be studying the impacts of all that ways the planet is better off thanks to our slowing down – so that with scientific precision we can know the extent of the damage we are causing. But the signs are already there.
We’ve seen the headlines that air pollution is dissipating and waterways are running clearer as a result of humans staying home but we cannot think that once our economies reopen that we will magically see the error of our ways. Environmental protection and conservation have to be fought for and prioritized. Just as we work to honor our moms and seek to make them proud, we must also do the same for our planet.
This isn’t an argument of individual action over systemic change, it’s our ask that all of us begin to view our planet with regard and respect. That we take the time to think about where things come from and where they go and how we all might orient our actions (as consumers, voters, and Earthlings) to honor our source of life. We’ve clearly lost our way as stewards of our planet but it’s not too late to change our ways—to be the prodigal children who return to our Mother Earth and honor her once more.
The imagery of the Earth as our mother may seem contrived or archaic, but there is a reason why humans have used it for thousands of years. Because if the Earth is our mother, how could we possibly destroy it?
This piece is dedicated to our moms, Jeanne and Natalia, who brought us up to care about our other mother. Thanks Mom! Happy Mother’s Day.
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