“Treevivin’, and it feels so good.”
by Sarah Parsons -- April 18th, 2012
A conversation about reviving grace in the environmental movement.
I was going for the “Reunited” song lyric from Peaches & Herb – did you get it? No? Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised. What do you call those people who are really good at coming up with catchy titles and song lyrics? Yeah… I’m not that.
The Treevival Project, however, IS a catchy name, and it was born from the great mind of Scott Shashy, a fellow classmate of mine. Our class was coming up with a lot of different names; “The Giving Tree,” “Tree Back,” “The Sacrificial Tree” – the latter of these was not very popular, as you can imagine. But low and behold, Scott always came up with the good ones. And when he said “The Treevival Project” in our brainstorming session, we knew it was a winner.
Why was it a winner, you may ask? Well, “The Treevivial Project,” as it is now called, is a project focused around reviving the moral duty all of us have to protect the planet and its creatures. For some of us, especially those of us at the Nicholas School of the Environment, we wear that moral duty on our sleeve. For others, it may be a moral duty that has never been nurtured; it may reside deep within, subconsciously playing in the background soundtrack of our lives. Some may argue with me. Some may say, “Sarah, you optimist; you are not going to be able to change everyone’s mind about the environment. Not EVERYONE has a sense of moral duty to the planet.”
But I would disagree. I think that everyone has the potential to feel a duty to protecting the planet if given the opportunity to explore that duty. We need to be more graceful toward one another. Too often we write off people as not being “environmental,” especially those people who live in cities separated from nature entirely or people who walk on the political platform opposite of the platform on which many environmentalists walk. However, we can all be “environmental” if we have people in our lives who believe that we can be. We need to show grace to one another and believe in one another. If we keep writing people off, they are going to really believe that they cannot be “environmental…” AND then what do we do?
I am an optimist, and maybe I am for the sake of my sanity. I try to see the potential that we all possess to reconnect with our moral duty to protect the planet. Some days, admittedly, it is harder than others. Some days I want to crawl in a hole and separate myself from the world, so that I am a) not contributing to the environmental problems of the planet and b) not exposed to the problems of the planet. And some days I do not think I should bring children into this world in my future years. The world is too terrible a place – the air too dirty, the presence of chemicals in our everyday lives too omnipresent. What quality of life will a child have that enters into this world today? Other days, however, I see the wind blowing through the pines, and my faith in life is restored. Other days I take a hike and stop and look at wildflowers along the way, and I remember that life is worth living… And the fight to protect the life around me is worth fighting.
Maybe one of the reasons why we feel it is so hard to sell the “moral duty to the planet” spiel is because it’s depressing. It’s hard. At least with your basic moral duties -“be good to thy mother and father,” “share your toys,” “say ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’” etc – if you mess up you can generally make up for it later. Additionally, there is usually someone on the other end willing to give you a second chance.
Grace helps form the foundation of our morality, and we feed off it. Grace rejuvenates us, and encourages us to do the right thing. Many of our moral duties expressed to our fellow man is derived from grace. So why cannot a moral duty to the planet be derived from grace too? Well, it’s because we don’t have a human face on the other end smiling when we recycle, like we have when we say “thank you.” We don’t have a human presence on the other end to say, “It’s okay if you didn’t recycle this time. I know you can and will do it next time, and even if you don’t… I’m not going to condemn you.” It is hard to connect with another life if there is an absence of grace.
With the planet, however, there is an abundance of grace everyday. The planet is graceful every moment of life. It gives us air, water, and food every minute, and it keeps giving. And even though we often abuse that grace, the planet still gives on. Guilt does not inspire, but grace does. Maybe some people do not think they can make a difference, because the problems are too large. Maybe they do not like “environmentalism,” because it is grace-less. I would have to agree that the environmentalism movement can be grace-less. Despite devoting my whole life to working on environmental issues, I still feel as if I get a condescending look from fellow environmentalists if I accidently forget my water bottle and buy a bottle of water. However, I would have to disagree that the problems are too big. We can all make a difference; we all have the potential to make a difference. We can all tap into our moral duty to protect the planet in whatever big or small way. I believe in you, and more environmentalists should. Don’t feel guilt if you forget to turn off the light in the bathroom; just remember to do it next time… and know that the planet will be grateful when you do. Let us treevive our moral duty to protect the planet, and let us rejoice.