In honor of Earth Day 2014, actor Matthew Modine contributed this op-ed for Metro. He admits it’s “not tremendously uplifting,” but that a call to action must be made if we are going to save the planet.
Earth Day is here again. Why it is recognized only one day a year, like a birthday, is a mystery — and a colossal mistake.
Environmental compassion, if it is to have any tangible significance, requires vigorous minute-by-minute action by each and every human we share the Earth with. To do less is like wearing colorful ribbons to remember the passing of friends or family members. Sure, there is a sentimental merit to the ribbon, but we know a day of “remembrance” and pious speeches will not alter the past. Our tears and words will not bring anyone back from the dead. Our planet is not “dying.” But human behavior is, with absolute certainty, killing it. Being a passive environmentalist is not only useless, it is almost as if you are doing nothing at all.
Without any exaggeration, our planet, our home, the only one we’ve ever known, is in dire condition. If you want to argue that human behavior is not directly responsible for global climate change, the acidification of the oceans, unfit air, disappearing top soil, the daily extinction of species or polluted rivers, lakes, streams, ponds and oceans, well, that is your right. But, let me say, you are an ignorant ass for believing so. That’s like believing, with the mountains of scientific evidence available, that smoking tobacco won’t contribute to multiple forms of cancer.
Global censuses have determined the human population to be over 7 billion people. In the history of the planet, there has never been this number of human beings crawling about and devouring the Earth’s finite resources at an unsustainable and nonrenewable speed. We can no longer ignore the scientific evidence that details human impact on the environment. We either change our habits today or become an incidental footnote in the history of the Earth’s billion-year history. Sure, the planet will continue to spin, but life as we know it will be gone.
Environmentalism requires a fundamental change of consciousness. We’ve grown up in a period of history unlike any in the past. We worry about violent murder when the truth is there is a much greater risk of dying in an automobile accident or from heart disease brought on by high-fat diets. Our parents and grandparents worked hard to give us material wealth and comfort. And they succeeded. We have so many luxuries we take for granted. We have lifestyles that, a century ago, could only be realized by the very, very wealthy. We eat fruits and vegetables out of season, shipped from all corners of the world, unimaginable only a half century ago. And yet, despite all our royal comforts, we are unhappy. We always want more. The “American dream” of continual prosperity is really a nightmare of unsustainable growth. How can we expect everything to give us comfort? To eat more and gain less? To purchase a new car every year? When we fail to get what we want, we feel cheated and become depressed. Instead of looking inside ourselves and discovering the power to change is within each of us, we look for something or someone to blame for our unhappiness. Our interior and exterior environments require a fundamental change of consciousness. Earth Day, healing the environment, must become our daily global skirmish.
Being an environmentalist requires each of us to truthfully acknowledge our own self-destructive choices. We must be personally responsible and accountable for our actions — every day, not just for one day a year.