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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Ancient Wisdom for Earth Day

Air Date: Week of

A stone sculpture of the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Earth Day was born 48 years ago out of anger at the vast neglect and harm being wreaked on the planet. Host Steve Curwood reflects on the state of our only home today and how by adopting the principles of love, sincerity, kindness and support for others urged by the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu, we might better protect the environment today and for all our future.


CURWOOD: Two score and eight years ago some 20 million people showed up to say ‘no’ to the way humans were treating our planet, and Earth Day began. Eagles were in trouble, rivers were on fire, and the dirty air choked folks from New York to Los Angeles. Some things have improved, but much is still terribly wrong. Even though we know better, we are about to flood and fry civilization as well as nature with global warming, the air is way too toxic in many places, and a sea of synthetic chemicals and plastics endangers health. We could blame politics of course: one doesn’t have to look further than the Trump Administration’s efforts to cripple the Paris Climate Agreement, unchain dangerous chemicals or turn our wilderness into sources of yet more global warming, to point a finger. But in a democracy that finger points right back at us. Those who simply blame ‘the system’ forget that it is the product of we humans, and that if it’s broken—and indeed it is—we can fix it.

The first Earth Day took place on April 22, 1970. (Photo: New York Times)

But how?

There are many answers, and the lawsuits brought by young people is one answer. Another comes from Lao Tzu the great thought leader of ancient China, and we’ll have a bit more on him later in the program, but right now let’s consider his four rules for happy and harmonious living in balance with nature.

Number one is the love and reverence for all living beings, not just the ones we like. In other words, noisy crows and dandelions deserve unconditional love just like our dearest family and friends.

Number two is natural sincerity—being honest and living in the truth.
So let’s not kid ourselves that filling one more wetland or spraying one more pesticide or buying one more gas-guzzler won’t hurt.

Number three is kindness—a nonviolent and gentle approach takes away the occasion for war, whether at the kitchen table or between nations—and war is a super polluter. And number four is supportiveness—being there for each other freely, without expecting something in return.

Trash washed up on a Hawaiian beach. (Photo: NOAA)

I recall one day a bird was trapped inside my backyard gazebo, banging into the screened windows trying to escape; but when I spoke quietly she let me come near, and cup her in my hands. When I opened the door and released her, she flew to a nearby branch, turned and seemed to thank me. The thanks was just a bonus; freeing her had already made me happy. And so if we follow the rules of Lao Tzu and love nature, be gentle and honest, and truly help all creation, we can make Earth Day celebrations resonate with “Yes”!



Azriel ReShel's essay on Uplift: 'Lao Tzu's Four Rules for Living


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