April 22 was Earth Day. It is a day set aside to think about how our way of life impacts the world. It is a time to ask ourselves whether we consume to live or live to consume; to question the justice of gratifying immediate desires by robbing our children of clean air, safe drinking water, and a world fit for them to raise children of their own.

Though Earth Day speeches provide much to despair about, the day really is not about despair. It is about our ability to transform despair and resignation into hope and reformation. The first step is the simple but powerful act of declaring that our stewardship of the earth does not grant us privilege to destroy it. With stewardship comes responsibility to sustain its life-giving and life-supporting powers.

This responsibility is no normal obligation. It is a sacred duty born of a fundamental human need for life to mean something. To sacrifice convenience or preference to maintain the Earth’s ability to give and support life affirms that life is worthwhile. It affirms that our parents, and parents before them, our children, and the very possibility of their children, mean something to us.

Failing to make this commitment affirms that life is pointless and absurd. We are willing to barter meaning and purpose for vulgar baubles and trinkets. We agree, by default, that extinction – or perhaps worse, a protracted miserable existence for our children and grandchildren on a polluted and virtually lifeless planet – is acceptable to us. We proclaim that those who lived before us and made us possible, those who live now, and those who might yet live mean less to us than immediate comfort, convenience or cost.

Earth Day is a day for speeches: flowery and uplifting ones, stern and foreboding ones. It is a day for honoring our planet and for lamenting its abuse. But it is much more.

Earth Day is an opportunity to exercise our unique human capacity to conceive of the future and to say no to where we are headed. More importantly, it is a clearing from which to see that other worlds are possible. It is an opportunity to say yes to meaning and to life.

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