COVID-19 Is Reshaping How We Think About Earth Day

Every year, around this time, there is a flurry of articles centered around Earth Day. A day to think about and look at the ways in which we can care for the earth we live on, the creation of which we are a part. I’ve previously written a piece on the call for the church to see this as a discipleship opportunity, a matter of stewardship. 

But on this year’s Earth Day, we find ourselves in a unique time as many across the globe deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. My own state is currently in a shelter-in-place mandate as we attempt to flatten the curve. 

Of course, there may be some who say, “How can someone write on Earth Day while people are dying of this virus, while people are being furloughed, taking pay cuts and losing their jobs?” 

However, we miss the point if we let current circumstances rebuff a conversation around care of creation. In fact, this may actually be the opportunity to broaden our view of Earth Day, of care of creation. An opportunity to broaden the impact, the ripple of caring for creation.

Here’s what I mean. For the most part, we have narrowly focused creation care into two categories: environmental care and animal care. Both of these are important, worthy focuses. I have said it before and I will say it again: if it is all God’s and if he has declared His creation good, we should be mindful of the ways we are supporting systems that treat these categories unjustly and unkindly.

And yet, we have left out a third category from our understanding of the care of creation: the human. 

We also are part of this creation. We also are created. And we also were, at least in the beginning, declared good. This is where I see the opportunity to broaden the view of Earth Day. A day that often focuses on only a part of creation and sometimes throws humanity under the bus. Now, yes, we have a much higher responsibility. And yes, we often have ignored our call of stewardship and care. And we do need to rethink many aspects of our actions and systems. 

However, the opportunity here is found in the ways in which we have seen many come to the aid of fellow neighbors. Many have written on staying home, social distancing and how these are acts of loving our neighbor. A way for us to care for each other. There have been many examples of people helping and supporting other people.

From the viral videos of throngs of people cheering healthcare workers to those going out grocery shopping for more vulnerable neighbors. Even walking around with my family, to get my stir-crazy children a chance to stretch their legs, we are seeing more people wave, say hi and acknowledge the humanity of each other.

I see these as small steps in humanizing those around us. And in that, we begin to care for others. This is a new Earth Day opportunity for us. To broaden our call to care of creation to the fellow created beings around us.

There’s a second opportunity before us, one that has come as a side effect of social distancing and a ripple effect of our lowered activity and our lowered drive to production and consumerism. This forced margin and slow down has affected creation around us.

While many of the viral animal videos floating around seem to be fake, some are real. It seems as though the lowered activity is giving some animals more freedom and security to wander a little further. More importantly, we are seeing a decrease in air pollution. Skies are clearing over many cities. The grand views of the Himalayas are visible to many now. As the noise around us has been forced to lower, we are hearing more, seeing more. Or at least hearing and seeing what has always been there, but was drowned out.

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There are other side effects happening as well, many of them less positive. There is an increase in one-time use items, like Starbucks cups. There is an increase in medical supplies. Nothing is as simple as we hope or want. The decrease in pollution is due to severe restrictions on movement and production that are probably not sustainable without significant overhaul.

However, is there something, at least a small something, we can learn at this moment and foster small changes?

Is this an opportunity for industries at a larger level to assess the degree to which they produce? Is there an opportunity for individuals to assess the degree to which we consume? Are there opportunities for many to assess the degree to which we go, go, go and buy, buy, buy? And in turn, attempt to simply be in our local economies and neighborhoods?

In short, it seems the opportunity before us is a matter of the old spiritual discipline of simplicity. For all the pain, death and devastation the coronavirus has caused, this could be one of those moments where God also provides an opportunity for healing and restoration.

I hope we see this time as an opportunity for us, as created creators, to partake in that story. To broaden our care of creation to the neighbors around us, and to begin habits of less, of slowing down. This all begins at the personal level. The individual takes steps to see those around them differently and to slow long enough to process their own feeding into a system that might run counter to the call of the garden.

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