A debate has raged for aeons as to the effect civilization and human progress has on the environment . . . be it the air we breathe, the water we drink, or the ground we walk on. Some passionately argue that global warming, climate change, or whatever its name du jour is caused by man and our disregard for the environment, and they predict the end of life as we now know it. Famous scientists, academics, and celebrities tout irrefutable evidence to support their position. Others, equally passionate, argue that climate change is not the product of human civilization but reflects the pendulum of the earth’s natural evolution swinging back and forth . . . this planet’s natural ying and yang. Other famous scientists, academics, and celebrities tout their own irrefutable evidence to support this position. The scientific data, statistics, and other materials are mind numbing in volume, as is the rhetoric on both sides of this debate.
I do not profess to be a scientist or environmental expert of any degree, but I do consider myself an intelligent person with common sense that has served me well so far. Which side of the environmental debate is right, I cannot say. What I can say is that using my common sense will serve me and the environment well. Like Fulghum, I like to simplify the environmental debate and how to act thereon to a simple premise that I will call: All I Really Need to Know about the Environment I Learned from a TV Commercial, a Rock Song, and Dr. Seuss.
The “Crying Indian” Commercial
I was in high school in 1971 when the modern ecological movement was in its infancy, and one of my earliest memories about the need to protect the Earth came from what I will call the “Crying Indian” television commercial. In what is now considered an iconic public service announcement, the ad traced the travels of a Native American as he paddled his canoe through river waters polluted and strewn with floating litter. He paddled past factories with smokestacks filling the air with black smoke and disembarked on an equally litter-strewn riverbank. He hiked to the side of a car-clogged highway when a bag of trash and garbage thrown from a passing car exploded at his feet. The camera panned to his saddened face and then to a single tear rolling down his cheek while we all heard the dramatic tagline: “People start pollution. People can stop it.” This incredibly simple tagline stuck with me then and continues to this day. For you young’uns, Google the commercial and you’ll understand.
“Mercy Mercy Me”
Also in 1971, society’s growing concern with the environment and ecology made it to mainstream radio with Marvin Gaye’s poignant “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).” The song’s smooth, soulful melody and Gaye’s sexy and sensual styling made it an instant “make out” song for me and my high school peers. It was a mainstay played at our high school dances and played from the eight-track tape players in our cars while parked at our local “inspiration point,” simply known as “The View.” I must admit that the mood the song evoked during those times—and not the lyrics and their meaning—was paramount to me then. But the message (realized by me later) was innovative for those times. So, take a second and conjure up Marvin’s classic melody in your mind and play it along while reading the lyrics that may have been lost on you, as they were initially lost on me while trying to make out (with varied degrees of success . . .) with that pretty high school girl:
Woo ah, mercy mercy me
Ah things ain’t what they used to be, no no
Where did all the blue skies go?
Poison is the wind that blows from the north and south and east
. . .
Oil wasted on the ocean and upon our seas
Fish full of mercury
. . .
What about this overcrowded land
How much more abuse from man can she stand?
In addition to the “Crying Indian” commercial and Gaye’s classic song, the year 1971 also marked the publication of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax and its message of environmental awareness to children and adults alike. After all, who doesn’t like Dr. Seuss? It is a story about the Once-ler, who exploited the environment by cutting down and harvesting all the Truffula trees to manufacture Thneeds, a product “everyone needs.” The character of the Lorax, saddened by what he saw, “spoke for the trees” and became an advocate preaching a message of sustainability and of the dangers of exploiting our natural resources. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to call the Lorax our first advocate of being “green.” Learn from and heed the Lorax’s message, as told by the Once-ler:
Now all that was left ’neath the bad-smelling sky
was my big empty factory . . .
the Lorax . . . and I.
. . .
And all that the Lorax left here in this mess
was a small pile of rocks, with the one word . . . “UNLESS.”
Whatever that meant, well, I just couldn’t guess.
. . .
“But now,” says the Once-ler,
“Now that you’re here,
the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear.
UNLESS someone like you
cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better.
. . .
You’re in charge of the last of the Truffula Seeds.
And Truffula Trees are what everyone needs.
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax and all of his friends may come back.”
Know What We’ve Got Before It’s Gone
The lessons of the Crying Indian, Marvin Gaye, and the Lorax are pointedly simple. They are not filled with scientific jargon, statistics, or end-of-the-world predictions. They are, to me, simply common sense. Does the burning of fossil fuels cause the earth to warm, the polar caps to melt, and the seas to rise? Who really knows? All I know is that putting crap in our air cannot be a good thing. Putting crap in our waters cannot be a good thing. Putting crap in the ground cannot be a good thing. And if you put crap in the air, the water, or the ground, clean it up and don’t leave a mess! It’s not too much to ask!
As a Boy Scout, I was always taught, “Leave your campsite better than you found it.” It’s another simple concept and easy to implement. As we all learned in kindergarten, put things back where you found them and clean up your own mess! Governments, corporations, and individuals alike can learn from those five-year-olds.
Marvin asked, how much more abuse from man can our planet stand? It is a question we all need to ask ourselves and heed. I challenge you all to answer his call. As Joni Mitchell sang in “Big Yellow Taxi,” “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone? They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”