596. Earth

There are nine planets in our solar system, and we all had the good fortune to be born on what is probably the only one that can sustain human life. There may be planets in other solar systems that can do it even better, but I think earth is pretty good at it. And I like the way earth looks. I realize that to people from another planet, my words in praise of earth may sound terribly provincial, but those people probably won’t read this essay. If you’re from another planet and you’re reading this, please understand that earth is actually the only one I’ve seen close up. Yours may be nice, too.
Children seem to like earth. They like the woods, fields, lakes, rivers, and oceans. They enjoy the rocks, and the forms of life we have here. They have fun with snow, mud, ice, and sand. Earth is much more than a playground, but in some ways, it’s a great playground. I think we owe it to children to make sure they know what a marvelous planet they live on. And we don’t have to travel far to show them that; there are marvels all over the place.
Somehow, while we’re making sure children appreciate earth, we try to also make sure they know that our planet is in trouble. On the one hand, we don’t want to scare them, but on the other hand, we sort of do. Part of the reason earth is in trouble is that some people aren’t sufficiently scared; they think that earth will do fine – that those of us who are concerned about the destruction of the natural environment are a bunch of worry-warts.
I’ve listened to children, and I’ve heard what some of them have said about earth. They’ve sounded both delighted by earth’s beauty and worried about its destruction. I’ve sometimes wondered whether their worries are just echoes of what they’ve heard from adults; children often want to please, impress, and/or imitate adults, and some children hear adults who are sincerely worried. Adults (including me) often react positively when children say and show that they care about our environment. But I’ve heard children express their concerns in ways that sound sincere enough to me. If, at first, they’re just echoing what they hear from adults, that’s okay with me.
Like most adults I know (again including me), children’s caring is selective. Plastic is not biodegradable, but just as most adults I know sometimes use plastic, and sometimes throw it out right after using it,
most children I know do, too. In this country, and in many other countries, humans live high-impact lives.
I hope we can figure out how to keep this planet inhabitable for our descendants. It’s a big job, and I don’t know how much good we do and
whether we do any harm when we give children the impression that returning bottles is a way to help save the earth. I hope children are learning that we’ve got to do much more than return bottles.

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