Are we alone in space, or will our Earth Day messages be found and understood?
PHOTO: ALAN Z. USTER
On the night of April 22, 1990, Earth Day, the contents of the March/April 1990 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS was broadcast into space from the summit of Mount Everest. The following is a collection of messages, commemorating Earth Day and reflecting on the seriousness of the human situation in balance with the planet.
Most scientists know what needs to be done to save our Earth. But the politicians don't listen to them. They will listen to popular pressure; the people got to supply that.
—Peter Seeger, Folksinger
We are hopeful that you will want to visit our planet in the near future. We are in the process of restoring our environment to its original grandeur, and hope to have completed the task before your RSVP.
—Jeremy Rifkin, Greenhouse Crisis Foundation
We could have saved it, but we were too damned cheap.
—Kurt Vonnegut, Novelist
To be alive on this planet is to be oriented. Plants will twist into contortions to achieve proper alignment with their source of energy. A cat, after falling to the ground, will immediately recalculate its coordinates. A hospital patient, after regaining consciousness, will always ask, "Where am I?"
Good question. Human beings ask the same question about all basic orientations—about love, family, work, status, meaning, eternity. The answers are increasingly unclear. The conditions of modern life are now disorienting, and therein lies the human dilemma.
The human species began wandering the African savanna 5 million years ago. For most of that time, it was not a remarkable species. It was comparatively slow, weak, and vulnerable. Its only advantage was social cohesion, which was dependent on its ability to generate signs and symbols and communicate meanings and memories.
From these accidental and bare beginnings, humans slowly learned to elaborate on the rudiments of culture. Culture itself began to evolve. Sophisticated cultures drove simple cultures into extinction. Today, the most advanced human cultures evolve so efficiently, so powerfully, and so rapidly that mere biological evolution is rendered irrelevant. Cultural change now determines the human condition. The recent acceleration of cultural evolution, particularly its information component, has brought confusion and dislocation in its wake.
The human repertoire of biological attributes—especially the brain, glands, and senses—is still oriented toward survival on the savanna. It is poorly designed for coping with the complexity, turbulence, and speed of its cultural inventions. In short, the human species is dis-oriented; and the result is wholesale retreat into mental illness, obsessions, addictions, brutality, indifference—anything that provides escape from the chaos of disorientation. At the moment of triumph, this dominant species threatens its own existence, using the means of victory to fashion destruction. Modern culture is destructive of the most basic orientations. Without such orientations, life itself is impossible.
—Douglass Lea, Writer and gardener
I hear the Earth singing on its spindle the sacred incantations of the celestial spheres—do you?
—Linn Barnes, Lutenist and composer
We humans have spread over our planet's surface, and some, like my ancestors, have even settled on tiny islands lost in the immensity of the seas that cover much of our globe. But in our rush to subdue nature, multiply our numbers, and fill our lives with comfort, we have fouled our nest.
To reverse this awful process, we need to remember our natural origins and relearn how to respect nature. We Polynesians believe that the earth, being the great mother Papa-honua-moku, is sacred, and that the sky above, being of masculine identity, is the great father Wakea. He is the atmosphere and the light, while Papa is the rock, the land. We humans and all forms of life flow from their union.
The love of our eternal parents, Earth Mother and Sky Father, is all-embracing and will continue to provide for us, but only if we respect the earth, the sky, and the waters that mediate between them. We need to harness our science and technology to protect the domains of Papa and Wakea, not desecrate them.
—Kawena Johnson, Native Hawaiian environmentalist and spiritual leader
Dear Madam, Sir, or Whatever
Rural Route I, Outer Space
First I want to congratulate your linguistic experts for the ease with which they translated my message into your native tongue. Our experts could never have accomplished anything like that so quickly, if at all. Obviously you beings have benefited enormously from being able to eavesdrop on our radio and television programs for so many years.
I hope you won't take offense at my presuming to give your citizens some good advice. It is this: For heaven's sake, don't foul up your own spaceship as we have the Spaceship Earth. Just a few hundred years ago, our ship was clean, pure, and beautiful. Now it's a dreadful mess. We hope to change that. But remember: The most important thing you can do is to imbue your children's consciousness with a conservation ethic to guide them in their
dealings with nature. We didn't do that.
We have been exploiters without such a guiding ethic. Several years ago Joseph Wood Krutch pretty well summarized the extent of our anemic conservation ethic when he wrote, "If people destroy something replaceable made by mankind, they are called vandals; If they destroy something irreplaceable made by God, they are called developers."
Don't follow our example. We hope to rectify our mistake beginning on Earth Day 1990. Wish us well.
Until we meet, best regards,
—Gaylord Nelson, Founder of Earth Day
This year marks the first step towards political self-determination for the nations in Eastern Europe and the Baltic states. Although it will take time to overcome the extensive psychological damage wrought by 45 years of Stalinist terror on our people, the hearts of all Estonians around the world are reaching out to a future of renewed hope for a united mankind, living in harmony with each other and with the planet Earth. We are all in the process of growing towards the light.
—Linda Pakri, Estonian-Canadian stage director
We are sentient beings who live on a small and lovely planet graced with a hospitable climate, an abundance of water, and gravity enough to hold in place a mantle of life-giving air. Our planet is, from what we can tell, a rare oasis in the vastness of space, a place where life-forms of incredible number and variety can arise, grow, and evolve.
During our relatively brief time on earth, we have lived with great intensity and have created much that is beautiful and grand. But we have also raised up an artificial and toxic environment that threatens nature itself. While our greatest poets have told us that love is what moves the sun and the other stars, it is ambition, greed, and war that dominate the pages of our daily press, and our history books as well. Clearly, our knowledge, no matter how puny when viewed against the vastness of the universe, still far outstrips our wisdom.
How, then, could we presume to send a message to the unknown reaches of space? Who would hear us? Who would care?
But wait! There is something about our species that might yet redeem us here on Earth and grant us a larger destiny in worlds beyond our own: We began our journey on this planet in societies so simple and unadorned as to possess no clothing other than the loincloth, no tool other than the stick or stone, no permanent dwelling place, no carving or other plastic art. Still, the brain of our primitive ancestors was no different from the modern brain. It was capable of understanding calculus, playing a Chopin sonata, flying a jet. Nor is this surplus brain power even beginning to be used up. The creative capacity of the human brain is, for all practical purposes, infinite. At essence, we are mostly unused capacity.
Here, then, is perhaps the most profound mystery on this planet: Why this surplus human capacity? What is its ultimate purpose? Will it be used for good or evil? What worlds will we build, what vast range of experience will we explore?
Our potential defines our quest. The odds are long, the outcome far from certain. But there is still the possibility that we shall eventually travel to the stars and add the best of what is still latent within us to realms that now exist only in our illimitable imagination.
—George Leonard, Author
I suppose the universe will last longer than an oak tree or a wooden desk, so I want to carve this: "Dolly, I love you. Elbs.”
—(Full Name Withheld)
Our planet is dying. And unless we pull together to reverse this hideous trend our children and our grandchildren are doomed.
—Ann Landers, Syndicated personal columnist
A shipwrecked sailor marooned on a desert island would send a message for help by sealing a note in a bottle and tossing it into the ocean, in hopes it will drift into the hands of his rescuers. A message broadcast into space on Earth Day is the same thing, and this is what I want to say to our rescuers:
Greetings from Earth. If you have been here earlier, you would not recognize the place now. If you haven't, I would like to give you a brief rundown on who we are and what we have become.
A lot has changed since the early days when we were tribal and used a lot more common sense in our daily routine. Too much knowledge has been transformed into arrogance. We are too messy and won't clean up after ourselves. It is hard for a lot of people to see the ancient constellations in the night sky, because the air is dirty. We are in too much of a hurry and think that money and power are more important than happiness.
We have not been very good tenants.
Our children may save us if they are taught to care properly for the planet; but if not, it may be back to the Ice Age or the caves from where we first emerged. Then we'll have to view the universe above from a cold, dark place. No more jet skis, nuclear weapons, plastic crap, broken pay phones, drugs, cars, waffle irons, or television. Come to think of it, that might not be a bad idea.
—Jimmy Buffet, Songwriter
There is no way that a human being can see a real leaf when all leaves are gone, and it is impossible to envisage the loss to the human soul when the only leaves are plastic replicas of an organism that used to obey its own laws, which are the laws of God.
No substitution is possible, or ever will be.
—James Dickey, Poet and novelist
Well I don’t know it seems like
God puts time on fast forward
When you get out of high school
This time last year...
Best we could with what we had
Hope you can read this writing
—Regards to Natalie Wood
—Robert Ashley, Composer © 1990
Warning: Stay away. Planet dominated by extremely primitive societies. Rudimentary civilizations now evolving, but outcome is uncertain. Try back in 10,000 years.
—Marvin Harris, Anthropologist
Man on Earth becomes aware that he himself is the most disastrous pest that ever devastated this planet. Man starts to recede behind environmental barriers so that Earth can regenerate.
The forthcoming treaty with nature will englobe:
A waste-free society
Tolerance of spontaneous vegetation
Man restores to nature the territories that he has illegally occupied.
Fulfilling cosmic law: All that is horizontal under the sky belongs to nature.
Roofs will be forests, highways will become woodlands. Man creates habitat for nature.
Man learns the language of nature to communicate with her.
The creations of man will match the creations of nature.
Man has everything to be happy on this Earth.
We have snow and every day a new morning.
We have trees and rain, hope and tears,
We have humus and oxygen, animals and plants
In all colors. We have distant lands,
Sun and shadow. We are rich.
Theology, philosophy, and science all speak of a harmonious universe, of a "cosmos" endowed with its own integrity, its own internal, dynamic balance. This order must be respected. The human race is called to explore this order, to examine it with due care, and to make use of it while safeguarding its integrity.
...the seriousness of the ecological issue lays bare the depth of man's moral crisis. If an appreciation of the value of the human person and of human life is lacking, we will also lose interest in others and in the earth itself. Simplicity, moderation, and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative consequences of the careless habits of a few.
An education in ecological responsibility is urgent: responsibility for oneself, for others, and for the earth. This education cannot be rooted in mere sentiment or empty wishes. Its purpose cannot be ideological or political. It must not be based on a rejection of the modern world or a vague desire to return to some "paradise lost." Instead, a true education in responsibility entails a genuine conversion in ways of thought and behavior. Churches and religious bodies, nongovernmental and governmental organizations, indeed all members of society, have a precise role to play in such education. The first educator, however, is the family, where the child learns to respect his neighbor and to love nature.
—John Paul II
Love is a lie, until you prove it to be true. Marriage is a lie until you prove it to be true. Earth care is a lie, too, until you prove it true. Indeed, everything is little more than a promise to behave. The future is a promise we can make behave. We can even make it cave in on us if we want.
—Ray Bradbury, Author
Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why.
—Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, Author
"Behave or I will take you to the hairy white man!" was one way my mother used to ensure we obeyed, and to a six-year-old Eskimo boy in 1956, any person with hairy arms, a pale, colorless, hairy face, and strange habits and language, was enough to stop me from misbehaving and to start thinking of what demon spirit was personified in our community, which consisted of one family of five, two qablunaat (white men), one Hudson's Bay Company clerk, and one Roman Catholic priest.
I was born in an igloo in Repulse Bay in the Canadian Arctic. Other than the fear of being taken to the white man and of the fires of hell the priest talked about, there was not much else to fear while riding with the family on the dogsled with only the sound of Husky dogs panting as they crisscrossed their lines in the fan-hitch style over the hard-packed snow. Destruction of the environment was unheard of; however, preservation of nature was taught even then: Don't camp in one spot for more than three years, so you don't destroy the land; don't give sickness beings (germs) time to settle, and so on.
Now, just 39 years later, I find it hard to believe that I am sitting here in front of a computer, aware that CFCs are destroying our skies and that oil spills, PCBs, and other toxic wastes are destroying our precious seas. I'm also aware of the effect that misinterpretation of the "science and mathematics" culture (fads and greed) has on our people's children, who will not be able to share our world of nature with their children.
I teach my children and my people about not being alone in trying to save the world, about how millions of people south, north, east, and west of our small population genuinely care about nature and humans just as our forefathers did.
You see, Eskimo hunters, too, are countryfolk who care about the preservation of their lands and livestock (the caribou) here in the barren lands of short summers and -50° winters. But the cold does not stop the destructive forces of the never-ending search for fuel and nuclear weapons. And I can assure you that, unlike what the Roman Catholic priest taught us, hell is not necessarily fire: For even in the cold Arctic, God's great works are destroyed, and that is also hell.
Peace be with you,
—Josie Kusugak, Rankin Inlet, Northwest Territories, XoC oGo
The rain forest has plants and animals found nowhere else in the world. It has medicines found nowhere else. It also helps us breathe.
We have to start cleaning up our own spirits before we can start cleaning up this land.
—Michael Kramer, third grade, Davenport Ridge School, Stamford, CT
Often in human history, crises have served as the impetus necessary to propel humanity forward in its development. The fact that so many people from all over the world are taking heed is proof that environment is the crisis of our time, and that it is playing the role of stress necessary to thrust us into a new and higher order of development. In a very real sense, our pathology is our opportunity.
—H. E. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of Uganda
I want to say hello to my great-, great-, great-, great-grandchildren and let them know some of what I either loved or admired: tulip trees, the Sahara Desert, the Golden Gate Bridge, dew, great horned owls, Shakespeare's history plays, sauerkraut, river islands, Mozart, this one woman a long time ago, my son, and the capacity in human beings for healing.
The Quran states that human beings are God's vicegerents on Earth. It is therefore incumbent upon them to care for and to protect the natural environment which God has created and sustained and which reveals at every turn the glory of His creative power.
—Seyyed Hossein Hasr, Islamic scholar