Earth Day 2024: Hope, not Carnage

by JAKE NORTON

April 2024
Looking for other Earth Day thoughts and inspiration? Check out these posts. As I sat down this morning at the keyboard to write - to write about the Earth, about Earth Day, about our world - my hands began quickly, almost automatically, to click out a treatise of doom, a tome of despair about the […]

Looking for other Earth Day thoughts and inspiration? Check out these posts.

As I sat down this morning at the keyboard to write - to write about the Earth, about Earth Day, about our world - my hands began quickly, almost automatically, to click out a treatise of doom, a tome of despair about the state of our world, our environment, our earth. After all, there is a lot of bad in the environmental and climate landscapes, much cause for worry.

Elk enjoying the morning.

And, then I looked up. Across the yard, grazing placidly not fifty feet away, were five elk. A couple of awkward young bulls, crooked and splintered antlers speaking of their losses to the stronger males, their small harem underscoring the fact. They paid no attention as I walked closer, and turned but slightly as Kibo did the same. The morning sun shone brightly on melting snow while songbirds chirped their gratitude for a new day. Cotton clouds scuttled lazily through the sky, pointillizing the landscape.

All was good. Not perfect, but not horrid. Spring has arrived, and Kibo and I went for a walk. No apocalypse today.

Oddly, as I walked toward Bergen Peak, my mind spun back in time, back to January 20, 2017 and Donald Trump’s famous “American carnage” speech. Full of apocalyptic rhetoric, it painted a picture of utter horror, chaos, and impending annihilation, a picture containing elements of truth perhaps, but certainly distorted, twisted, warped for effect and purpose-built to paint the day in stark black and white.

Sunset on the slopes of Mount Fury in the Pickets Range, Washington.

I started laughing, as I was beginning to unconsciously do the same, typing out my own “Environmental carnage” speech. I was, without realizing it, being drawn to what in 2003 Rebecca Solnit discussed as the peculiar Puritanism of the Left (apologies to Noah Rothman, the National Review, and others who thought this was their idea - it wasn’t).

In Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (library), Solnit talks about how the left - or at least many of its loudest voices - often fixates on the bad, on the gloom, on the coming horror and tragedy, the certain death and cataclysm, and fails to see the light, the good, the accomplishments and successes and achievements, adopting a perverse negativity that, in the end, is self-defeating:

But part of [this negative way of thinking] is a personal style: I think that this grimness is more a psychology than an ideology. There’s a kind of activism that’s more about bolstering identity than achieving results, one that sometimes seems to make the left the true heirs of the Puritans. Puritanical in that the point becomes the demonstration of one’s own virtue rather than the realization of results. And puritanical because the somber pleasure of condemning things is the most enduring part of that legacy, along with the sense of personal superiority that comes from pleasure denied. The bleakness of the world is required as contrasting backdrop to the drama of their rising above.

- Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (library)
A man in a handmade, wooden kayuco (kayak) paddles at sunset across the waters of Lake Atitlán near Santa Catarina Palopó, Guatemala. Volcán San Pedro rises in the distance.

Yes, we face a lot of challenges on this day, this Earth Day, and we should be aware of that. But, we also should celebrate the many successes, and allow that celebration to nurture the spark of hope in our collective future:

…we have a seldom-told, seldom-remembered history of victories and transformations that can give us confidence that yes, we can change the world because we have many times before. You row forward looking back, and telling this history is part of helping people navigate toward the future. We need a litany, a rosary, a sutra, a mantra, a war chant of our victories. The past is set in daylight, and it can become a torch we can carry into the night that is the future.

- Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (library)

If we’re overly Puritanical, there is no room for hope. And, without hope, all motivation is gone.

To hope is to give yourself to the future, and that commitment to the future makes the present inhabitable. Anything could happen, and whether we act or not has everything to do with it…I say it because I have noticed: wars will break out, the planet will heat up, species will die out, but how many, how hot, and what survives depends on whether we act. The future is dark, with a darkness as much of the womb as the grave.

- Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities (library)

So, no. Today, Earth Day, I’m not going to proclaim our immolation. I’m going to celebrate all we’ve done, all we’ve accomplished, all that’s been protected and preserved and cleaned and cared for. And I’m going to use that to kindle the hope we all need to keep the fight going, to keep the process moving, to ensure we can all keep celebrating Earth many years from now.

And, I’ll go for a hike, or a run, or both. I’ll celebrate - and revel in - the nature that abounds, taking in the roaming elk and skittish coyote, the hungry bear and hidden lion that call our woods home. I’ll breath deep of the butterscotch ponderosa and the view of snow-clad Mount Blue Sky etched searingly against its namesake.

Geminids meteor shower over Mount Blue Sky from Juniper Pass, Colorado. In recognition of the suffering of the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes in the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 - and then-Governor Evans' refusal to comdemn the massacre - Mount Evans was renamed Mount Blue Sky in 2022.

I hope you will, too.

One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: You will outlive the bastards.

- Ed Abbey -

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