InsightOut: Helping Earth Day Become a Celebration of Renewal

InsightOut: Helping Earth Day Become a Celebration of Renewal

Rosemary Boissonneau is a climate justice activist and a doctoral student at St. Michael’s Faculty of Theology, where she studies ecotheology and scripture. Her research involves applying ecofeminist and decolonial methods to the interpretation of Old Testament texts in order to retrieve an understanding of the land as an active participant in the covenant with God and the people of Israel. Before embarking on graduate studies, Rosemary enjoyed a long career as an elementary school French teacher.

This Friday, April 22 marks Earth Day, an event that has grown into global prominence since its first iteration 52 ago during the heady days of the U.S. college protest movement. Now recognized as the largest secular observance in the world, Earth Day is commemorated by over a billion people each year as a day of action centred on our planet’s well-being and its protection from human-induced degradation and destruction. Residents in over 190 countries use this day to raise awareness about pressing environmental challenges and demand the individual behavioural changes and the multi-level policy changes that are needed to stop the damage we are unleashing on the Earth.

Friday, April 22 marks Earth Day, an event that has grown into global prominence since its first iteration 52 ago

Occurring during spring and the Easter season, Earth Day ought to be a celebration of renewal and hope but, increasingly, it is an occasion for lamentation, despair and desperation as year after year the cries of environmentalists and the Earth itself seem to go unheeded, and the devastation of the planet continues at an ever more rapid pace. The interrelated crises of biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change pose an unprecedented threat to the health of the planet. Referring to the most recent report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released earlier this month, the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, warns that without drastic reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions in the next few years, we are “firmly on track to an unlivable world” thanks mainly to “a litany of broken climate promises” by governments and corporations still banking on the fossil fuel economy and blocking efforts to enact a just transition to a decarbonized future.

And yet … despair need not have the final word. There is still reason for hope on this Earth Day. The same IPCC report details how, if the global community takes immediate and significant action using existing technology and methods, it can still keep the Earth within the 1.5C degrees of warming as pledged in the 2015 Paris Accord and avoid the worst of the impending climate catastrophe. For an overview of the many initiatives and behavioural changes that we must undertake or ramp up to achieve net zero emissions, take a look at the list of the climate solutions and their many social co-benefits outlined by Project Drawdown at . As you will see, these solutions respond to both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.

The future can be bright, healthy and equitable! Alleluia! However, none of these positive paths forward can take effect until we humans first experience what Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ calls an “ecological conversion.” This is especially true for those of us living in the so-called developed global North, where our normative worldview understands humanity to be separate from and superior to the rest of creation. If we remain stuck in this anthropocentric mindset, even our most noble efforts to “save the planet” this Earth Day will lead to failure. Because the truth is we humans cannot single-handedly save the planet even though we are in the process of single-handedly destroying it.

The Earth is not a damsel in distress waiting for us humans to save it. The Earth is the regenerative, creative, living masterpiece of God’s creation, which has been creating, regenerating and regulating the dizzyingly diverse array of life in its biosphere for many millions of years, since long before humans emerged as one of the most recent members of God’s community of creation. As Laudato Si’ reminds us, “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.” If we enter mindfully into the mystery of creation, the living embodiment of God’s love, we humans can learn how to collaborate with the Earth and its regenerative powers, how to live and indeed thrive within its means, so that we can unlearn and cease the destructive activities and attitudes that are preventing the Earth from saving itself, and saving us humans along with it.

Fortunately, none of this is new. Before modernity and before we developed our unquenchable thirst for empire-building, we humans more or less knew how to live in right relationship with the rest of the community of creation. And Indigenous peoples continue to live out the knowledge and wisdom intrinsic to such relational ways of being despite the genocidal brutality of colonialism past and present. In fact, as a hopeful sign of our growing recognition of this reality, the latest IPCC report for the first time ever listed colonialism as a historical and ongoing driver of climate change, suggesting that the paths of decolonization and decarbonization are united. This view is echoed in the final document from the Synod on the Amazon released in 2019. It recognizes that being attentive to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, especially the Indigenous peoples of the Amazon, calls us to “a personal and communal conversion which commits us to relate harmoniously with God’s work of creation.” It also acknowledges that this conversion involves honouring “the pattern of thinking of indigenous peoples [that] offers an integrated vision of reality, capable of understanding the multiple connections existing throughout creation.”

On this Earth Day we must not remain blind to the grave threats that imperil our planetary home, but neither should we disregard that the Earth itself is humanity’s formidable and wonderous ally on our path of conversion toward ecological and social healing. I will conclude with advice from Laudato Si’. On this Earth Day, “let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope.” To learn more about Laudato Si’ and St. Michael’s ecotheology offerings, please visit the Elliott Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology.

Read other InsightOut posts.