Today, millions of people around the world will celebrate Earth Day. With a call to action to Restore Our Earth, more than 1 billion people across the globe will come together to mark a fundamental and familiar truth: That our planet is ailing and that human activity continues to have a profound impact. But there is hope! There's tremendous power in engagement on this scale, in the passion that transcends diverse cultures. As we move towards recognizing social justice as environmental justice, the strength of this movement can transform the status quo.
During the Non-GMO Project's Butterfly Effect campaign, we've explored the complex interconnection of the world around us, how small actions and shifts in perception can lead to remarkable change. With our own butterfly effect in mind, we recognize Earth Day with two questions: How do our perspectives and stories of the natural world impact our relationship with it? How can our points of view also bring us into a better relationship with our only home?
The extraction story
As Western ideas dominated the globe through colonization, the practices of extraction and consumerism also spread. This pattern is one example of how a viewpoint drives action: Resources were of value because they could be harvested and monetized. If we see the world as a collection of commodities, the logical next step is to gather and sell those commodities.
What gets left out of this equation? That which can't be traded is undervalued, leaving so much — including complex connections that make up the web of life — beneath our notice.
Ultimately, this is a losing proposition. No matter how deeply we mine the earth, our understanding of it remains perilously shallow. This extractive mentality has continued to the present day — outpacing what nature can regenerate — and leaving in its wake income inequality, environmental destruction and a food system that fails to nourish us.
The exile story
We are at a moment of clarity about the high cost of extraction-based thinking. In trying to correct those wrongs, we risk the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction, separating ourselves from nature. It's like realizing a relationship has become toxic and breaking up for the good of both parties, but on a planetary scale. Extreme versions of this "exile" philosophy sound like science fiction: an entirely laboratory-based food system that eliminates agriculture from the landscape or the privatized movement to colonize new worlds.
Just as we've learned after centuries of extraction, there's danger in taking an essential truth — such as using resources for survival — to an extreme. Solving our present-day dilemmas by moving farther from the natural world also poses unique risks, particularly when it goes so far as to exile humanity from nature.
Where each of these perspectives fails is in accepting that we are part of nature and that our fate is tied directly to our home. This separateness is a story we've told ourselves for far too long, one that distorts our relationship with the Earth and directs our actions — so far, for the worse.
We are earthbound
There is another perspective: We are very much part of the natural world, as much as any of the continents, valleys, plants, animals, or bacteria we live with. We are among the forces that shaped the landscape for millennia. When we accept our place as part of the natural order, our actions begin to honor that relationship.
This is not a new idea. There's an important tradition of Indigenous land stewardship stretching back through time immemorial. In Latin America, Indigenous peoples are successfully preserving some of the most biodiverse and vital ecosystems in the world. Writer, professor and activist Nick Estes argues that there is a broader precedent at work here:
"For Indigenous caretakers, land use isn’t premised on a return of investments; it’s about maintaining the land for the next generation, meeting the needs of the present, and a respect for the diversity of life."
Across the globe, Indigenous peoples protect and sustain 80% of the world’s biodiversity. With the knowledge and leadership of Indigenous people now recognized in pivotal ways, new paths open up, with opportunities for learning, partnerships and practices that offer real solutions to the issues we will face.
What we will face in the coming decades will require a combination of tradition, innovation and adaptation. The planet has changed, and we have changed with it — but the future is not fixed. On Earth Day, let's work to restore our Earth and our humanity.