A Real Celebration of Earth Day


A family plants a tree

Photo from stock.xchng

by Donna Sinclair

In my own small way, I love to care for Mother Earth. Today I worked in my still-almost-bare front garden, pulling grass (where does it come from?) ignoring passing cars, envisioning summer.

The lupines are just poking through, and the daylilies show their green tips everywhere. Soon the Oriental poppies will blast their way into bloom, and I will scatter seeds for gold-orange California poppies in the very front of the bed, and for taller pink and red Shirley poppies farther back.

Tomorrow I will help plant maples and oaks in the spaces left for them in a downtown parking lot, a vision coming true. Parking lots should have trees. Hooray! I will work with like-minded people, and we will have a glorious time, digging a dream into fresh soft earth.

And after I have played in the mud to my heart’s content, I will immerse myself in the real dirt that afflicts Mother Earth. Caring for her now is not all pleasantly-tired muscles and a good day in the sun. It also involves figuring out the ways Canada is treating Mother Earth disrespectfully, and standing up strongly against those insults.

Here are some of the most recent problems:

  • The federal government has effectively muzzled environmental scientists. According to the Montreal Gazette, “media coverage of climate change science, our most high-profile issue, has been reduced by over 80 per cent.”
  • At the same time, citizens who speak out against damage by oil or pipeline companies, or worry audibly about supertanker traffic, are called “radicals” or “terrorists.”  (Really, the only thing I ever threaten is the grass in my flowerbeds, and even that not very effectively.)
  • The National Energy Board Joint Review Panel, which is currently assessing the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, cancelled hearings in Bella Bella, B.C. after Heiltsuk youth holding “no tanker” signs held a peaceful, well-policed demonstration at the airport when they arrived.
  • Finally, despite budget cutbacks, the federal government has managed to find an additional $8 million for the “education and compliance” of non-profit organizations. The government is making sure that foreign cash doesn’t seep into Canadian good works and that no more than ten per cent of any charity’s budget is spent on advocacy. (Um. Did you know that foreign companies lobby – i.e. advocate with – our government extensively? And that Canadian taxpayers subsidize fossil fuel extraction to the tune of $1.4 billion annually?)

All of this amounts to the stifling of dissent, a serious threat to democracy. Which  means that, while planting trees and cleaning creeks are extraordinarily valuable ways to spend April 22, stopping there would be a bit like taking Mom breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day (highly recommended) but leaving her all the laundry and dirty dishes the rest of the year. There’s more to do.

We need to clean creeks and speak up. Both. This is especially true for people of faith. If our government is trying to stifle those non-profit organizations that defend Mother Earth, then those of us in churches, mosques, and synagogues – the biggest and oldest charities around – need to care eloquently and visibly for God’s Creation. Loudly, publicly, sorrowfully perhaps, but with a very clear voice.

Like those six Anglican Bishops who, last Good Friday, formally asked the National Energy Board “to pay close attention to the concerns expressed by First Nations communities whose traditional territories and waters the proposed pipeline and the marine supertanker traffic would cross.”

People of faith are able to say – with the integrity and backbone provided to us by our sacred stories – that cutting environmental reviews short is wrong, that failing to listen to aboriginal voices is wrong, and that silencing dissent is very wrong indeed.

The churches are not unassailable. Witness the sudden shift of some Canadian foreign aid – once funneled through the church coalition KAIROS or the Catholic Development and Peace or the Mennonite Central Committee – to more pliant bodies, often associated with Canadian business interests. It would be extremely awkward, though, for any government to inform longstanding religious organizations of the withdrawal of their charitable status.

And even if this – surprisingly – came to pass, we know our job. Christians are called to preach the Gospel: to cherish the lilies of the field, to proclaim the sacredness of the waters of our baptism, and to seek justice for all, including those who make their living in the coastal rain forests of this land.

I think about these things, stooping in my front yard, listening to the cars pass, watching for green shoots, praying for rain. I am celebrating Earth Day in my own peaceful way. And in the months to come, I’ll be signing petitions, talking with my neighbours, raising my voice against a government who would label me “radical” for cherishing the pristine waters of the Pacific coast and the watershed of the mighty Athabasca River.

That will be celebrating Earth Day too.

A journalist for more than 30 years, Donna Sinclair is an award-winning writer who has traveled widely in Canada, Africa, Central America, Britain, and Eastern Europe. Her most recent book is The Long View: An Elderwoman’s Book of Wisdom. She is also the author of The Spirituality of Bread, The Spirituality of Gardening, A Woman’s Book of Days, A Woman’s Book of Days 2, and numerous other titles. Donna lives with her husband Jim in North Bay, Ontario.

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Categories: Donna Sinclair, Ecology and Environmental Issues, Gardening

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