Yesterday, the world commemorated an Earth Day of blue skies slowly clearing of pollution; of dolphins frolicking in the lagoons of Venice, baby turtles being born on the beaches of Thailand, and penguins walking down the streets of Cape Town. An Earth returning to some sense of normality, but in the deathly shadow of a pandemic that is decimating the human population of the world.
Some believe that the pandemic is a “serious wake-up call” and that once we have conquered COVID-19, humankind needs to plot a new course, adopt a “new normal” – to respect and revere the Earth – otherwise we will wipe out any environmental benefits of the shutdown and continue on a path of inevitable destruction.
This plea for men to respect the Earth has echoed throughout our history. I was reminded of a very moving passage that I read as a high school student. It was a letter written in 1854 by Chief Seattle of the Suquamish Tribe in Washington to President Pierce who was seeking to purchase the Northwest Territories which today make up Washington State. His letter is regarded by some as one of the most profound environmental statements ever made. I include below some excerpts from the letter:
How can you buy or sell the sky, the warmth of the land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you buy them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every clearing and humming insect is holy in the memory and experience of my people.