TWH — Tomorrow marks the 46th anniversary of the celebration of Earth Day. This holiday is considered to be the largest secular celebration recognized throughout the world, with “more than a billion people” honoring the day every year. It is considered to be “a day of action [to] change human behavior and provoke policy changes.” While Earth Day has always had its detractors and critics, it is regularly acknowledged in many diverse ways, both small and big, around the globe. And, in that way alone, it could be considered an Earth Day.
[Photo Credit: Kate Ter Haar / Flickr]
The actual celebration of a national Earth Day wasn’t marked until 1970 at the height of the American cultural revolution. Founded by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, Earth Day was born from a buildup of tension and cultural events occurring over time. This began with the 1962 publication and popularity of Rachel Carson’s landmark book, Silent Spring.
More directly, according to reports, Sen. Nelson was personally propelled to launch his mission to create an Earth Day “after witnessing the ravages of the 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California.” A 2014 article at ClimateProgress explains how that one spill “changed everything.” The article explains, “The scope of attention focused on the spill grew along with the mess of oil […]” As reported, then-President Richard Nixon said, “It is sad that it was necessary that Santa Barbara should be the example that had to bring it to the attention of the American people …. The Santa Barbara incident has frankly touched the conscience of the American people.” The article goes on to say:
In the years that followed, the lasting impression of the spill on the public, government officials, and the private sector led to coordinated action unheard of in today’s starkly partisan Congress. Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act in 1969, which led the way to the July 1970 establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Clean Water Act passed in 1972 and the Endangered Species Act in 1973.
As a result, the American Earth Day was born. Interestingly, Canada launched its own Earth Day ten years later, September 11, 1980, but neither caught on in global terms at that time. The Earth Day idea reportedly “limped along” with limited acknowledgement until the 20th anniversary of the American version in 1990. Nelson spoke to a crowd of “800,000 gathered on the National Mall in Washington D.C.” and said, “I don’t want to have to come limping back here 20 years from now on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day…and have the embarrassing responsibility of telling your sons and daughters that you didn’t do your duty—that you didn’t become the conservation generation that we hoped for.”
Earth Day was then celebrated again in 1995, 2000 and, by that point, had garnered increasing international attention as climate change moved to the forefront of global concerns. By 2010, April 22nd had become internationally recognized as Earth Day. And, just as it was back in 1970, the celebration still has its critics. Is it all “just words?” Has the “holiday” become too commercialized, losing its purpose and activist roots?
[Image Credit: Beautygala.com]
Since its beginning, Earth Day was not propelled by global organizations and large advertising campaigns. It was grassroots operation, encouraging small local actions, cleanup events, and educational efforts, all created by a diversity of people and communities. That idea continues to this day.
Many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists have been participating in the Earth Day experience since its inception. Not only did the environmental movement and the modern Pagan movement in the Unites States come into being around the same time, but many Pagan religious beliefs are deeply Earth-centered, or at the very least, land-driven. This marriage seems logical.
Consequently it is not surprising that, over the years, Pagans, Heathens and polytheists of many backgrounds and traditions have closely worked within the environmental movement, speaking out, hosting actions and even attempting to contribute to the environmental stewardship movement within the global religious sphere. This has become particularly pronounced in recent years.
In 2014, blogger and former editor of Humanistic Paganism John Halstead was inspired to bring people together to create A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment. Critics said that it could not be done. But, less than one year later on Earth Day 2015, the diverse group of internationally-based Pagans, Heathens and polytheists launched that statement. It now has 8,173 signatories from over 80 different countries.
But, looking back, is it all just a bunch of words?
We asked Halstead about the statement and whether he’s seen any tangible results stemming from its creation. While being involved with the process was “transformative” for him personally, Halstead said, “I hope that it has awakened or helped focus an ecological consciousness for those who have signed it, and even for some who haven’t.” But more tangibly speaking, Halstead added, “I have also seen signs that the statement is already helping to increase the credibility of Pagans in the interfaith environmental community, as evidenced by the interest shown in the statement by the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology and other interfaith groups.”
However, Halstead also said that he was disappointed by some in the interfaith community. “I had hoped that the Pagan Statement would be added to the collections of similar statements gathered by Interfaith Power & Light, GreenFaith.org, the Alliance of Religions & Conservation, and others, but so far we have not been successful. Unfortunately, some interfaith environmental groups are still only interested in working with certain religions. I think we Pagans still have work to do to improve our credibility with the interfaith environmental community.”
When asked what most surprised him about the statement project, Halstead noted the number of people who have signed the document over the past year, from well-known figures and organizations to “ordinary individuals” from every continent. The organizing group was hoping to reach 10,000 signatures by April 22, but Halstead said, “Even if we don’t meet that goal by Earth Day, we will soon.”
In conclusion, Halstead added, “Having said all that, [the statement] is just a statement of intention, and without corresponding action on our part, our words will be meaningless. It remains to be seen whether we Pagans will live up to the challenge the Statement sets before us.”
Greening of Religions Symposium
In early April, Cherry Hill Seminary (CHS) took this Earth stewardship conversation one a step further and sponsored a symposium focused on the intersection of religion and the environmental movement. The keynote speaker was Bron Taylor, professor of Religion, Nature and Environmental Ethics at the University of Florida. Taylor is the author of several books, Dark Green Religion: Nature Spirituality and the Planetary Future. The event was held from April 1-3 at the University of South Carolina in Columbia.
Dr. Wendy Griffin, CHS Academic Dean, explained why they picked this particular topic:
In 2015, the American Academy of Religion discussed the need for religions to become involved in the challenges we are facing because of climate change. There is much discussion involving rising seas and their impact on populations in terms of coming displacement, famine and war, but very little on the spiritual crises and needs we will be facing as these devastating events occur. We see climate change as the greatest moral issue to ever face humanity, as it brings into question our relationship with the entire web of life and its future. The greening of religion is a phrase that suggests the growing awareness of religions of our responsibility to and dependence upon nature.
As a seminary, we chose this theme for the symposium because scientists tell us there is a window of opportunity in which we can make some significant changes and prevent the worst of what may come. For this reason, we made the symposium an interfaith event, because it will take all of us together to take the necessary action.
Both Griffin and CHS Executive Director Holli Emore put together this unique Pagan symposium that attracted people from a number of different religions, backgrounds and countries. Griffin said, “For me one of the highlights was getting to meet, spend time with, and learn from people who are passionate and doing something about this issue. From the Salvation Army researcher in Australia to the Pagan scholar from Canada, there were many different approaches to action. All of them are needed. ”
Emore added, “For the first time, CHS hosted a truly interfaith and religiously-diverse event. At the same time, that event had firm footing in a Pagan seminary (with a public university), underscoring the importance of the ideas and values we Pagans can bring to the coming environmental crisis.”
As we reported in the past
[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]
, Pagan attendees spoke highly of the symposium, its content and of its importance, but they also noted the low Pagan turnout. When asked why she thought that was the case, Griffin said, “To be fair, at least half of those attending we knew to be some form of Pagan, but the low response was a real disappointment for me.” Then she added:
Symposiums are intellectual forums, and even though we included a strong activist element, perhaps this appealed more to scholars, whose institutions are reluctant to pay travel for small conferences. Perhaps the topic of climate change seems too distant (polar bears and Micronesia) or too huge and overwhelming to inspire people to attend. The fact that it was designed to be interfaith may have made it less attractive to some. People tend to argue that Pagans have no money, but we know that Pagans make choices in how to invest their resources and that their demographics are not that different from other people. […] A symposium on climate change doesn’t sound particularly fun or magical. And if people feel overwhelmed or helpless by the issue, it simply won’t attract, however vitally important it may be.
Emore said, “As Pagans, we accept that change is a given, but as humans we are seldom prepared for it, and still less often are we prepared to take action that will serve others experiencing change-related distress.”
Emore and Griffin will be evaluating how and if to move forward with the symposium in the future. More specifically, they are hoping to offer their unique standalone 3-hour environmental leadership workshop at other venues, Pagan or interfaith. In addition, CHS will be publishing the entire symposium’s content “as Cherry Hill Seminary Press, with Dr. Jonathan Leader of the University of South Caroline leading the editorial team.” That book will be available in paper and digital formats through CHS and other online retailers. The specific publication date is not yet known.
But, with only two weeks gone since the symposium ended, CHS has already made strides in the continuation of this dialog. The seminary has just announced the launch of a new Environmental Leadership Certificate program. Griffin explained, “It covers a range of information: human and non-human living systems, the science of denial, advocacy and organizing, earth congregations and nature spirituality, fundraising and nonprofit skills, leadership, and more.” CHS is currently taking applicants and, although it requires college-level work, students “do not have to have any kind of degree to take the classes, just courage and determination to change the world.”
But is it all just words? Did any tangible work come out of the CHS weekend event? Like Halstead, Griffin noted the important connections being made on an interfaith level. For example, she cited that she was able to “link up with the Green Seminary Movement.” She believes that “Pagans can make a unique ‘green contribution’ in Interfaith and in the events these communities sponsor.”
But, like Halstead, she also doesn’t believe that “we are doing enough.” Griffin said:
Many of us recycle, but that is just a very tiny part of what is needed. We need to make the issue of climate change, the causes of it, and the possible remediation actions more visible. Pagans are immensely creative, and we need to use that creativity in bringing the issues to the forefront. We can’t all make movies like “Avatar,” but we can tell stories and make music, create and share rituals, develop video games and children’s play, and a million other things. We need to make the discussion of climate change commonplace. And we need to march and lobby and petition.
That very concern was directly raised at the symposium. Halstead, who was at the CHS event, explained, “At the Greening of Religions conference in South Carolina last month, Bron Taylor asked the Pagans present whether there was a Pagan environmental network in existence.” The answer was no. As a result, a new group was formed. Halstead said that Taylor’s question “prompted Wild Hunt columnist, Manny Tejeda-Moreno, to create a Facebook group by that name (Pagan Environmental Network), which has taken the Pagan Community Statement as a starting point.”
Tejeda-Moreno explained further: “The keynote speaker said that there didn’t seem to be a group for intergroup dialogue […] so, I set up the Facebook group, added the conference attendees and then we started to add others based on suggestions.” This new group is small with the objective to serve as a “clearinghouse, link source and dialogue center for environmental issues and Pagan-centered responses to them.” Tejeda-Moreno added that they already have talked about migrating from Facebook when and if they grow.
As Earth Day approaches, global attention is being diverted to our planetary ecosystem and our role as stewards. Some of that attention is genuine; some of it is talk; some of it is purely commercial. Griffin said, ” Of course it is becoming commercialized. At the same time, it raises awareness. Personally, I’d like to see large public rituals on Earth Day that we design and lead.”
Roadside trash found during a cleanup action [Public Domain]
Many Pagans, Heathens and polytheists are doing just that. They are preparing to celebrate or honor Earth Day, as well as the unique role their own spirituality plays within the larger interfaith environmental movement. From local communities to national organizations, actions, events, prayers and rituals are scheduled.
For example, in Michigan, the Ancient Faiths Alliance is sponsoring a “Plant Your Dreams Earth Day Event.” In Virginia, Spiral Grove is hosting a Saturday lake cleanup event, saying: “In addition to keeping the lake areas clean, the experience allows us to focus on the simple and natural education that the lake environment provides to both adults and youth.” And similarly, as we posted Monday, the Jean Williams London Earth Day cleanup action and picnic tradition will go on as it has in past years.
The New York Environmental Pagan Coalition has posted an article listing general New York-based Earth Day events for its membership to attend. In Wisconsin, where Earth Day was founded, Circle Sanctuary will be hosting a full moon circle Friday, and Rev. Selena Fox will offer a “Earth Day Every Day” Sunday Service April 24 at the Open Circle Unitarian Universalists in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
For those who are unable to join a live community event but would like to participate in the conversation, Pagan activist and author Starhawk will be speaking at a free online conference called Earth Day Summit 2016. The event, held Apr. 22, is described as “an unprecedented gathering of esteemed green experts, innovators, activists, scientists, visionaries and spiritual leaders coming together to unite their wisdom for you.” Registration is required.
You can also hear Starhawk speak about her environmental work with Circle Sanctuary’s Rev. Selena Fox on the Circle Talk podcast called “EcoPagan EcoMagic,” which originally aired Tuesday night at 7 p.m. CT. Additionally, Rev. Fox has also offered for free download her “Nature Pathways guide with Environmental themed rites, meditations, actions.”
We welcome all of our readers to list their local, public Earth Day activities and events in the comments below.
Happy Earth Day from The Wild Hunt!
[Public Domain / Pixabay.com]