Climate Corner:‘The most wonderful time to be alive’

Apr 22, 2023

Jean Ambrose

Botanist and bestselling author Robin Wall Kimmerer was recently in Athens, lecturing on indigenous wisdom, scientific knowledge and what we can learn from plants and the natural world. As both a scientist and a registered member of the Potawatomie tribe, she has unique advice for us as we mark Earth Day today.

Straddling two worlds, Kimmerer learned that scientists might learn about the natural world, but in her tradition people learned from the natural world. Take mosses, for example. Mosses have stayed basically unchanged for more than 450,000 years, while more than 99% of all species have gone extinct. Such resilience is unmatched and Kimmerer wrote an entire book on what we can learn from mosses in a time many species are standing on the brink of extinction. Learning from moss is difficult for those who think of humanity as the dominant species, but the humility that allows us to be a student of the Earth rather than her conqueror permits us to observe, learn, and be changed.

Kimmerer had advice for what we can do:

* Raise a garden because of all you will learn.

* Raise children to love and learn from the Earth.

* Raise a ruckus.

The first Earth Day in 1970 didn’t happen through government action but was a spontaneous global movement prompted by seeing the first pictures of our beautiful planet against the black void of space.

The Clean Water and Clean Air Acts, the Environmental Protection Agency, the protection of endangered species, and much more was sparked by our visceral need to protect our fragile planet and was accomplished in a bipartisan manner under Richard Nixon. We who participated in that first Earth Day 50 years ago were sure that we would have solved the threats to the Earth by now.

Speaking for her generation, Alayna Garst, the sophomore Climate Ambassador at Williamstown High School writes “These past few years, we have watched as wildfires destroyed the beautiful landscapes of Australia and California, turning the sky orange and the hills into barren wastelands. 467 species have gone extinct and 14% of the world’s coral reefs have been killed in just the past ten years. The climate crisis can feel hopeless. So what if I use a plastic straw or buy fast fashion, when everything is literally on fire? Does it really make a difference if I carpool to work, when only 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions?

“Given the dire consequences of our past actions, we can waste our energy wishing we could prevent the Industrial Revolution from ever happening, or that we had started to act 30 or even 20 years ago. However, the best time to act is now because it’s all we have.

“Fear mongering and doomsday talk only hurt the movement to stop climate change. Polling from September 2020 showed that more than half of adults in the U.S. were anxious about how climate change affects their mental health. And nearly 40% of surveyed Gen Z Americans, born after 1996, said addressing climate change is their top personal concern. While this anxiety can lead to action, all too often it leads to paralysis in the face of something we perceive to be too far gone or outside of our control. It is important to maintain a positive, healthy mindset and realize the battle is not over. There is still time and that time is now.”

Alayna isn’t giving up and neither can we. This Earth Day, make it a point to talk to a young person about their relationship to the natural world. You may be surprised at their answers, like Dr. Kimmerer was, when a graduating student of hers told her not to despair because “This is the most wonderful time to be alive.” When asked how she could believe that, the student said, “It’s like the old Wiley Coyote cartoons where Wiley is standing on a teeter totter over a precipice. It matters where I stand. Every choice I make matters, everything I do matters.”

On this Earth Day, get outside. And remember, everything you do makes a difference to our Earth, our common home.


Jean Ambrose is trying not to be a criminal ancestor.