Earth Day – Optimism Required!


Earth Day has been on my mind a lot. My last post was about Earth Day from a Gardening Artist’s perspective. But today I realized that I’m not done with Earth Day yet.

Our sons are all grown up now, but I can remember a particularly black day back in the early 80’s when one our sons came home from elementary school very upset and very depressed. When we tried to find out what was the matter he finally answered.

He said, and I paraphrase here, but you’ll get the gist, “What is the use of anything? We are all going to die in a polluted stinking world, with no water, and food full of pesticides. The air is going to be unbreathable and there will be too many people to be able to feed them all. Why am I even going to school? What is the point of going on?”

To say that I was appalled and shocked, would be an understatement. I knew I had to think fast. This son of mine was truly in a state of deep despair and very very pessimistic for his future. The schools and the teachers, having finally latched onto ecology had pushed all the negatives way too hard. But they had forgotten to temper all that bad news with some good news. I had to suddenly come up with as many things as I could to convince him that all was not lost. I had to think of things where pollution had been turned around, like the fact that the Thames had been cleaned up from a stinking cesspool to a pretty respectable river. That people like Green Peace were out there fighting for the ecology and making a difference. That a lot of people were conserving water and not polluting in all sorts of ways. I won’t go into all the things I had to come up with that day but hopefully you get the point.

I know why he felt this way. I get pretty down about the future just watching Nature shows. In fact, no disrespect to David Suzuki, but I quit watching his shows years ago. I renamed those shows, Guilt with Suzuki. Each show made me feel so sad, hopeless, guilty and despairing. And that is what my son faced, complete despair. And with that was a sense that all was lost and why bother? Keep in mind that this exchange with my son happened in the early 80’s. There was a lot less going on out there to show that we could turn it all around.

That day I had to convince my son that there was hope for the future. Although I also had to tell him that while the future of the Earth might not be perfect, we could each of us make a difference by doing little things. And all those little things would in the end make a huge difference.

And I look around today and I see lots of little things to be positive about. Like the fact that we have Blue Boxes here as part of the municipal services. We even have a garden waste compost program for our municipality. Ok, these are actually, in my mind, BIG things.

We and lots of other people recycle. We carry our own bags to shop. Lots of people buy second hand like we do. We are not the only people who don’t flush for every use and turn off the tap when we brush our teeth. Ok, all little things but everything counts when more and more join in. We even spend a lot of time making sure our cast stone sculptures are as green as possible. So I’m not going to list all the little things we can do and try to do. Besides I like to keep my posts to around 500 words. It’s a blog after all, not a book or an essay.

Nowadays, I look for positive signs. I look for optimism for the future. I have not seen Al Gore’s movie, feeling that it will probably be more of the same old pessimism and will also not add to my sometimes tenuous feelings that there is actually hope for the earth. And with that, I’m not saying, put your head in the sand and forget about the bad things. If anything, my plea is to see the bad things but balance them with remembering and celebrating the good things we are doing for the Earth.

The point I want to make here is that by remembering the good things that we can do and have done, and by being optimistic, we redress the balance of hope and despair. Like my son back there in the 80’s, totally blown away by a black and polluted future, if we concentrate only on the bad and the negative, we will lose one of the most important things that we need for change and that is hope. And if we lose HOPE we will lose the most important thing of all, the WILL to make it better.

So this Earth Day I hope, there’s that hope word again, that you will tell your children or grandchildren (if you are a boomer like me) about all the little things that are making a big difference. And also think of and celebrate all those who have helped to make significant changes to our thinking about ecology. Ok I’m going to get off this soap box now. I’m going to end with two photos taken here in Victoria, my own personal symbols of Earth Day.

Happy and Hopeful Earth Day Everybody!




19 thoughts on “Earth Day – Optimism Required!

  1. Meredith says:

    Well, Helen, I couldn’t agree more that we need optimism. I was just telling my sister yesterday that I am sick of the guilt-path of ecological awareness, and I’d like to inspire others to live the love-path. If you love this earth and the other human beings and creatures on it, you will act with intention to step as lightly as possible on the land and to encourage its health and continued viability for generations to come. 😀

  2. Helen at Summerhouse says:

    Hi Meredith, I, too, am tired of the guilt-path, as you put it. I really believe that we need to feel encouraged by our successes in caring for the earth to help us to carry on to doing even more. Too much pessimism and guilt will, just, like as it did to my son, make us feel like giving up…feeling that it is all too little, too late. Nothing could be further from the truth. Every little thing taken together will help and let’s face it, all this beauty is worth saving.

  3. Gail says:

    Helen, You are so right, we have to try another path to change~~Guilt and shame hardly ever work effectively to motivate change…they just guilt and shame people and create reactivity and resentment. I am so glad you found the words to ease your son’s despair~Hope is so important. Keep up the good work. gail I did like this essay!

  4. Helen at Summerhouse says:

    Hi Gail, You’re right, we don’t want to create reactivity and resentment especially when the cause is so important. We are making some inroads and hopefully those successes will spur us on to do even more.

  5. Edith Hope says:

    Dear Helen, What a very moving story. And how very difficult it is to convince the young of something otherwise, particularly when they carry their feelings so deeply. One is, of course, so gratified in a sense that when your son was still a schoolboy he had a concern for environmental issues. But, as you rightly say, there is much to be positive about and each one of us has a responsibility, where and when possible, to do our bit. Your wonderful images do, of course, speak volumes.

  6. noel says:

    aloha helen,

    i enjoyed your post and story, it was so touching to share this with your son….its so important to play an individual role to this and being green and influencing their friends and family, i’m very hopeful about changing our course for the near future.

  7. Helen at Summerhouse says:

    Hello Edith, Children, as you note, do carry their feelings deeply. It is too easy for teachers or anyone in the eco movement to overstate the negatives and scare children and make them feel like the future is hopeless. We really must all remember to tell children of the successes we have had and how little things will change the environment for the better. We must pass on hope as well as eco awareness, after all. So glad you picked up on the photos, because it is so beautiful here and we love it, it reminds me of how important it all is.

  8. Helen at Summerhouse says:

    Aloha Noel, That day with my son really made me aware of how important it is to try to see things from a child’s point of view. Somehow the teachers at school, had missed giving the class the other side, the side of the story where we can make the future better and about how some strides had already been made. Children are very easily frightened. I really feel that we must tell them of all the successes we’ve had to balance it all out. And that what they do can be part of our success in the future of the environment, too.

  9. Byddi says:

    Helen, I can so identify with your son. When I was sixteen I felt over burdened with the responsibility of “being green.” I had a book called “1001 ways to save the planet” and I was down on myself for not being able to do all 1001 things. I went on to graduate with a degree in Environment Biology and was able to look at things in a more realistic way. As a teacher I felt it important to empower children by showing them the little things they could do rather than scare the wits out of them.

  10. Helen at Summerhouse says:

    Hi Byddi, You can obviously relate then to what my son was feeling, he was only 11 at the time. It is easy to become overburdened as you put it and I’m glad that you went on to university and learned to be able to see things more realistically. I’m so glad to hear that you teach children now and have this sensitivity born, no doubt, from your own experience as a teenager.

  11. Shirl says:

    Happy Earth Day (week?) sis, a little awareness goes a long way. Nice dragonfly! was that hovering around your garden? Hi to the family too eh. Love ya Shirl

  12. Noelle / azplantlady says:

    Hello Helen,

    I think the despair your son felt is something so many of us can feel – it can seem so overwhelming. But, I love how you point out that the little things are what matter – especially when many of us all start to do something, no matter how little…

  13. Helen at Summerhouse says:

    Hi Noelle, I think you are quite right, many of us do feel overwhelmed and it is important to remember all those little things that we can do that make a difference too. I really feel that if we feel overwhelmed, imagine how kids may feel. Kids don’t always understand the big picture and need to see that it’s not hopeless and we can make a difference, easily.

  14. debsgarden says:

    Excellent post! I, too, see improvement. I remember when smog was a common and expected sight hanging over all our cities. I remember when there was no such thing as recycling, at least not officially. I remember when natural, eco-friendly products were very hard to find. This year I am seeing them in the big box stores. so there is cause for optimism. Ultimately, it depends on each of us as individuals, and that comes to education.

  15. mary-lou says:

    Hi Helen, thanks for the optimistic post. I too go through bouts of depression (grieving) for the state of the world, but remind myself what Joan Baez said so many years ago:

    “Action is the antidote to despair.”

    So, to tip my hat (so to speak) to Earth Day, I wrote a letter to the Oceans and Fisheries minister about strengthening the Fisheries Act to protect our wild salmon stocks here on the coast (which will soon be under their jurisdiction). Anyhoo, it’s not a grand gesture or anything like that, but it felt good to do it and now I’m thinking I may just have to do this (write a letter) every other week or so just to keep the dark dogs at bay.

    FYI: tune that was going through my head today: “Oh let the sunshine in…”

  16. Helen at Summerhouse says:

    Hi Deb, You are so right, there are so many reasons for optimism these days, so much more eco and organic available now. And though there is still lots to do, it’s nice to take in and appreciate where we’ve gotten just in the last 20 years.

  17. Helen at Summerhouse says:

    Hi Mary Lou, That is so great of you to sit down and write these letters. It’s really worth it too, because I’m sure they realize that for everyone that writes in, 100 are feeling the same way and they should pay attention. Good song to have stuck in your head for Earth Day.

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