On this Earth Day, coming up Wednesday, please stop for a moment and ask yourself, "Of all the people I know, who are the happiest?" Personally, I believe the happiest people are the most appreciative people. They appreciate you, themselves, their health, the beauties of nature, and, most important, they appreciate their world as it is right now. People who aren't caught up in the frenzy of "Get More" are able to live in the moment, enjoy their blessings, help those who are less fortunate and thus live a life that is satisfying and fulfilled.
This seemingly simple concept has wide application to our present state of affairs. Greedy people in the financial world took more than was reasonable and threw all of the rest of our lives upside down. Even though these folks had more money and possessions than the rest of us put together, it still wasn't enough to make them content. So in their lack of appreciation for what they had and in their huge rush for more, the whole world's economy has been shattered.
But what about the rest of us? We also share responsibility. In our search for instant gratification, we charge the price of unnecessary material things to our credit cards, rush to earn more so we can pay those charges and then rush even more to take care of all that "stuff" that we didn't need in the first place. Our culture has played on our insecurities to make us think that getting more will make us feel worthwhile.
This quest for more has had awful impacts on the Earth; our rivers, soil and air are polluted by the drive to get more and get there faster. We spew carbon dioxide and other pollutants onto the Earth so that we can have more and cheaper products made in faraway lands that are then shipped here by fossil fuels. Our economy has fallen apart because so little manufacturing actually is done in the United States, and we weaken other countries' economies by exporting subsidized food that's too cheap to compete against. In short, we've made quite a mess of things by putting quantity and cheapness above quality and sustainability.
In his commentary published in the Steamboat Pilot & Today on April 14, Thomas Friedman describes a picture of a sustainable Earth and all her inhabitants that would look quite different. He wrote these difficult times actually give us the chance to re-evaluate the destructive and unsustainable economy and society we've created. Some of the answers to this dilemma we know: valuing people and relationships above material things, respecting and appreciating the Earth, and taking responsibility for our lives in all ways. He stated we also can learn from other countries. Costa Rica, a tiny nation, supplies 95 percent of its energy from renewables such as hydroelectric, wind and geothermal. When Costa Rica discovered oil, they decided not to drill because their environment was more important to their economy. Costa Rica has a single Ministry of Energy and Environment with the philosophy that "you have to pay for using nature" so that the real cost of growth is evaluated. This policy has benefited indigenous people and steered the country on a renewable, energy-independent future.
Here in the U.S., it especially is important that we value the Earth on her day. Everything we have, eat and use comes from her, whether it's made of plastic, manganese or potatoes. We've grown so far from appreciating our "roots" that we tend to forget that the products we consume all begin with the Earth. When we take too much and don't respect the Earth's limits in renewing herself, we are stealing from our children and our future. Living within our means includes living within the Earth's means, too. Being appreciative and respectful of what we have, sharing with all, and valuing the irreplaceable "ground of our being" will bring true economic and social well being. Let's celebrate this Earth Day by living within her means and ours and by working together to build a culture and an economy that truly values people, community and the Earth above all else.