By Melody Stanford, Editor
For many years I thought everybody who cared about the environment ran around shooting butchers and smoking dope. As a result I rolled my eyes when I heard the phrases “loving the earth” or “conserving natural resources.” Worse yet, I tuned them out. I refused to enter conversation because I thought adopting such ideals would turn me into someone I didn’t want to be.
Also, I reasoned, this is America, a free country. Who cares if I live my life the way I want to live it? I have the right to spend my money however I want.
It wasn’t until an incredible experience living in Italy that I began to deeply question these assumptions. I can only describe it as moving from “short-term thinking” to “long-term thinking.”
My host family was American. My host mom, Lisa, had her masters in public administration from a great university, and my host dad, Kurt Wenner, was an internationally-renowned artist. Both highly educated, intelligent, and for all intents and purposes, very normal people. No dope or hand grenades. We did, however, live on a nature preserve in the region of Umbria – near towns that dated back to the Etruscan era.
In this surreal and beautiful landscape, I found my defenses down. I began to see that this scene likely would not be here for me to enjoy if Italians hadn’t insisted on living simply, being resourceful, and cherishing the land the supported them. There would not be the incredible mix of different plants and species in the woods; the air would not be so clean. The landscape would not be so free from congested freeways and billboards. There would not be the incredible balance of life I was witnessing. “Loving the earth” came to have a whole new, positive meaning for me.
Italians, in my experience, buy what they need, when they need it. They don’t need huge homes, like many Europeans, they are satisfied with smaller spaces and cars, even practically living on top of each other in some cases – but totally happy about it, because those things are inconsequential to most of them. I met several families who didn’t comprehend the need to own refrigerators or dishwashers. Might I add, this didn’t make them backward people; they lived in the 21st century and have access to the Internet. They were just simply resourceful.
There was a general sense of sharing there. It reminded me of the patriotic American song, “this land is your land, this land is my land.” The people I met were careful to not impact the land negatively for their neighbors or for future generations. They understood what it meant to care for the earth, because the earth sustains and feeds all of us, together.
That lead me to understand that I do not live in a vacuum. In an increasingly global economy, what I do as an individual has ripple effects across the globe. What I buy has ripple effects.
Initially, this thought terrified me. I realized something worse than “becoming a hippie” was happening: I was becoming responsible with my knowledge. Any couple who has been married for a long time can tell you: True love inevitably involves sacrifice. To love the earth would require sacrifice. That’s why anyone who chooses to truly live “green” has chosen the harder path.
While I know America has different assets than three-thousand-year-old histories, we do have similar incredible natural resources. In fact, I realized on my plane ride back to California that the landscape looks very similar to Italy from the air. While I don’t think its practical to get rid of refrigerators, we should live in the best possible way that we can – by respecting the earth in our own way. By loving the earth with our spending habits and our policies. And by using our voice to impact mass change wherever we can.
On this Earth Day in 2011, I applaud global forward thinking legislators who are making history by initiating the first ever bill of rights for Mother Earth. We need that sort of creativity and ingenuity – that radical love for earth – to sustain our planet for the long term.
As the green movement has made its way from Nader to supermarkets, and from far left-wing politics to chic suburban soccer moms, many people I know are growing “fans” of sustainable practices. It’s socially easier now than ever to be “green,” but is this just a fad? What happens when pop-culture moves on to something else?
If we keep the goal in mind – responsibly love our earth – then it can become a discipline, woven into the true fabric of our long-term cultural morality. Do we still have a lot of work to do? Absolutely. But that is the joyful challenge of love.