Fifty years ago today, as a freshman in high school, I walked the streets of Lexington, Massachusetts, with a parade of others, picking up trash. It was the first Earth Day, a joyful celebration of the beauty of the world, and a pledge to clean it up. It was such a great promise.
The act of picking up trash indicates something of the ethos of that time: We’ve made a mess, now we have to pick it up. It seemed relatively simple. As the years and now decades have gone by, it seems harder. There have been many successes, thanks to the hard work of many, many people and the recuperative power of Earth herself — cleaner rivers and lakes, restoration of a number of species, lasting protection of millions upon millions of acres of land. Nevertheless, the challenges have increased in scale and complexity. Our ability to make messes has outstripped our ability to clean them up.
The premise of our work at Kairos Earth is that, in addition to systemic conservation, policy, economic, and technological change, a deeper level of change is needed — change within individual human beings. The path of spiritual change is largely invisible, not sexy, and often arduous. On the other hand, it can be joyous, filled with beauty, and instantaneous.
The need for human beings to transform is never-ending, as it must happen one person at a time, for all time. On the other hand, the work is its own reward, as we see each other filled with joy and light as we experience the beauty of Nature around us.
This is the new frontier of “environmentalism,” and a different kind of work — and worker — is needed. We can’t stop doing what we’ve been doing for 50 years (and more), but there is other work to do that we didn’t understand, the hardest work of all: changing ourselves.
From the poustinia ~