Thirty-nine years ago today we celebrated the first Earth Day. I was 9. I remember learning about my planet. We didn’t study global warming or the melting polar ice cap or even nuclear power — oh sure, we worried about nuclear bombs but not nuclear reactors.
If scientists in 1970 foresaw big ecological disasters, they weren’t telling the 9-year-olds. We didn’t have a clue that polar bears would drown when the glaciers melted or that South American frogs would go blind from vanishing atmospheric protections.
We worried about litter. We had good reason. Pollution was everywhere. I lived in Pawtucket, R.I. The Blackstone River was walking distance from my house and it looked more like a landfill than a tributary. I remember watching every kind of refuse float by, even kitchen appliances.
In Maine the waterways were polluted with toxins smaller than refrigerators and far more deadly. Volatile chemicals floated atop rivers and occasionally one errant compound would collide with another and burst into flames.
On Earth Day 1970 we focused on cleaning up the mess we had made with all that inorganic waste. And in our classrooms we were taught the reasons our surroundings were so environmentally unsavory. We learned that for many years we had been too lazy to clean up after ourselves.
As you know, laziness is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
Of course, if you’re a biblical scholar who has studied the book of Proverbs you might call laziness “sloth.” And today sloth is only one of the aggravating factors behind our environmental degradation. Our ecological problems are far more complicated than just discarded refuse. If we take stock of the other six deadly sins, we will see that we are killing our planet — and ourselves — with an assortment of sinful behaviors.
Here, you’ll see what I mean:
Envy: That’s when you want something that your neighbor has — like natural resources. You might want to take the day off from work and grab a couple of history books. Cortez and the Incas are a good place to start. You can’t desire another peoples’ or place’s natural resources without plundering an awful lot of Mother Nature. Mankind has been doing it for centuries.
Greed: Mountaintop removal has to be the most flagrant example of unbridled greed since we stole this country from the Natives. Just ask the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: “Since mountaintop removal coal mining began in 1970, an estimated 1.5 million acres of hardwood forest have been lost, over 470 mountaintops have been blasted, and 1,200 miles of Appalachian streams have been buried.”
Lust: Dictionary.com defines this as a “desire to gratify.” This sin is hurting our planet in a very basic human sense. You can see in a mirror that our need for self-gratification is killing us. WebMD says that our insatiable desire for food and drink will kill more of us this year than our lust for cigarettes and is far more deadly than our desire for sexual gratification. If you thought this was gluttony, I disagree. When it comes to gluttony: our desire for food is dwarfed by other self-indulgences.
Gluttony: No matter what it is, we just can’t get enough of it. Take televisions for example. According to USA Today the average U.S. household has more TVs than people. And in addition to plastics and other nonbiodegradable components, discarded cathode ray tubes and other heavy metal components are calamitously contaminating our planet.
Pride: Have you got the nicest lawn on the street? The New Jersey state Web site has great information on chemical fertilizers and pesticides and their very short journey to your water glass. Take a look and see what our pretty lawns are costing us. Seriously, if the chemicals on your lawn require a sign warning pets and pregnant woman to stay away, your pride is killing our planet.
Now for the most deadly sin:
Wrath: Hunter Lovins once asked, “Did we put our kids in 0.5 mile-per-gallon tanks and 17 feet-per-gallon aircraft carriers because we failed to put them in 32 mpg cars?”
But Toby Keith best sums up wrath, “We’ll put a boot in your ass. It’s the American way.”
Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.