Earth Day reminds that the job's not done

Happy Earth Day.

This celebration calls us to reflect on the miracle of our planet, the teeming life it has nurtured over the past three or four billion years, and its future.

Earth Day also is an invitation to express our love and gratitude for the deep origins of our own lives, and for the natural world that nourishes and sustains us.

Loving the earth is easy this time of year, when we are showered in the falling petals of fragrant trees, warmed by the sun, and witness to the miracle of sprouting seeds, blooming flowers, and swallows returning from their winter journey.

But our relationship with our beloved planet is complicated. Population growth, climate change, and pollution belie the inconstancy of our respect for it. These problems, left unchecked, threaten to make modern civilization impossible to sustain.

Today, we balance on the edge of hope and despair — hope because humanity is awakened to the challenges we face and working to address them; despair because this work is so halting, so uncertain, and so often opposed by powerful interests more focused on the present than the future.

This is further complicated by the depth of our ignorance about everything from salmon genetics to climate forecasting. Much as we wish to be guided by science, we never know enough to be certain that our efforts are sufficient.

Those who’ve fallen into despair now turn to astronomers, who are searching for a “Goldilocks planet” that might provide a new home to refugees from a ruined earth. Thousands signed up to be part of a quixotic mission to colonize Mars. One young, applicant said she wanted a one-way ticket to Mars “because Earth doesn’t love us anymore.”

Such a sad belief is what Earth Day is meant to counter. Our future depends not on Earth’s affection for us, but on our allegiance to it, and to each other. And surely there is no point in fantasizing about colonizing other planets until we have learned to live in harmony on this one.

There are many reasons for optimism and action. The world is finally wide awake to the challenges of protecting our land, air and water, and people in many countries are waging campaigns to bend the arc of history toward a sustainable human civilization.

Now the recognition of our planet’s fragility has gone mainstream. The challenges ahead are daunting, to say the least, and our stubborn reliance on fossil fuels is chief among them. So is the reduction of global poverty and the education of girls, which are the two most effective strategies for reducing the human birthrate.

Earth Day calls us to redouble our efforts to solve these problems. But first and foremost, it calls us to express our gratitude and affection for the miracle of this little blue marble in space. And there is no better place on the planet to do this than downtown Olympia, where we celebrate this Saturday afternoon with our unique and joyous Procession of the Species.