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Celebrating an Earth Day for the Ages
Have you read The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury? If not, I encourage you to make that part of your personal goals for 2020. The linked stories describe Earth’s attempts to inhabit Mars over a long period of time and the interactions with the unfamiliar landscape and, as importantly, with the essence of the native Martians who preceded them. In Bradbury’s inimitable way, he places the stories in an alien atmosphere only to emphasize how central and constant certain problems of human life remain, regardless of the geography.
Working on sustainability during this time of pandemic is similar. I feel like I woke up on Mars after a long period of in-transit suspended animation. Then I look around and see that the issues are still the same – climate change, environmental protection, worker protection, workforce development, human rights in times of severe governmental stress and strain on resources – and the list goes on.
So how do we “do” sustainability in a time like this?
Prioritization is key. A colleague once asked me, “Isn’t your job really to make us do everything better?” It’s tempting to see sustainability in that way; it’s certainly a broad umbrella of topics. At the same time, it’s easy for someone with my background to become so enmeshed in the environmental issues that other topics get short shrift. Both extremes are problematic, and it is important for any sustainability program to have a process by which it assembles broad information but then benchmarks performance and prioritizes its focus.
That’s the other word – focus. Especially during times like this, it is so easy to lose focus on issues that need action now in order to preserve values over the long term. Today’s actions on climate, workforce development, and other long-lived issues are not likely to see an immediate return on investment, but without today’s action, our hope for tomorrow becomes dimmer. Most of our key federal environmental laws are at or near the half-century mark. It’s taken a while in some instances, but those laws have spurred tremendous progress in the fight for a cleaner, more livable future. Now is not the time to not let our focus blur.
Bradbury published his first novel at eighteen. When he was eighty, he won the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters – quite a feat for a “science fiction” writer. In accepting the award, he remarked:
We’re always asking, “What are we doing here on earth” We are the audience. There’s no use having a universe, a cosmology, if you don’t have witnesses. We are the witnesses to the miracle. We are put here by creation, by God, by the cosmos, whatever name you want to give it. We’re here to be the audience to the magnificent. It is our job to celebrate.
So, take time on Earth Day to celebrate the progress we’ve made. I’ve had the good fortune during my tenure at Entergy to work for a company that values environmental stewardship in both word and deed. We have far to go in creating a world where justice, kindness, and humility reign, but over the arc of our careers and our lives, we can make investments that will provide an irreplaceable return in years to come.
In “The Green Morning,” one chapter of The Martian Chronicles, a character hopes the trees he has planted will survive and make Mars awash with oxygen and green light:
He lay listening to the dark earth gather itself, waiting for the sun, for the rains that hadn’t come yet. His ear to the ground, he could hear the feet of the years ahead moving at a distance, and he imagined the seeds he had placed today sprouting up with green and taking hold on the sky, pushing out branch after branch, until Mars was an afternoon forest, Mars was a shining orchard.
And then, miracle of miracles, they grew.
Chuck Barlow is vice president, sustainability and environmental policy, for Entergy Corporation.