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World Mother Earth Day as a time to reflect



Like everything else in the world, dedicated days have histories that witness to change. World Mother Earth Day is no exception. Its early origins lay in Earth Day. It brought together the environmental groups in the United States that grew in strength after Rachel Carson’s seminal book, Silent Spring and later major pollution. The movement and the Day, held on 22nd April, focused on the delicate relationships that constituted the natural world and and the need to protect and nurture them. Its impetus echoed the Romantic celebration of the beauty of nature.

Woman among tropical leaves (Getty images/David Trood)

In 2010 the United Nations built on Earth Day by instituting its own World Day on 22nd April, calling it World Mother Earth Day. The naming was largely an initiative of some Latin American governments, and reflected the cultural and religious respect for Mother Earth. The image expanded the earlier focus on the natural environment as distinct from human beings by seeing them as dependent on and nurtured by it. It teased out the relationships that placed human beings within the natural world.

In May 2015 Pope Francis published Laudato Si, in which he stressed the urgent need for conversion and action to save the environment in the face of human-made global warming. He later named May as a month for Catholics to reflect and act on the message of the document. He, too, described the earth as mother.

The document both narrowed and broadened the focus on relationships. It narrowed it by emphasising the value of each human being and the importance of the relationships on which their flourishing depended. It expanded the focus by considering the systemic factors — economic, governmental, cultural — that encouraged or damaged human flourishing. He showed that environmental vandalism and the gross inequality of the poor were correlative, both reflecting relationships poisoned by greed and apathy. He concluded that the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor were signs of a world that needed healing. They had to be heard and responded to together.

Over fifty years our view of the relationships involved in the concept of the environment has broadened and deepened. The change has partly been in response to traumatic events like oil spills, drought, melting ice caps, bush fires and rising sea levels.

This year the celebration of Mother Earth Day encourages us to reflect on how the COVID-19 pandemic and our response to it has shaped the interrelationships on the wellbeing of the world and of human beings in it depends.


'This year Mother Earth invites us to consider one of the smallest of her creatures.'


The lessons are many. In the first place we and coronavirus share the same world. Its ancestors preceded ours and its descendants will outlive our generation. The relationships that made it unlikely that it would mutate to affect human beings were delicate and disturbed by poverty, the destruction of natural habitats, and global trade in wild animal meat. We have now seen the cost of these things and must address their causes.

Though small, too, the coronavirus showed the limitations of human power, ingenuity, weaponry and technology. It shut down nations, upset economies and has the cleverest scientists struggling to catch up. We have now seen that our economies and cultures are dependent on a network of relationships that reach to the smallest organisms. They need to be respected.

The response to the pandemic has shown the shallowness of received wisdom about human flourishing. The idea that this is achieved by the competitive zeal of individuals in search of profit, and is demonstrated by economic growth, is now discredited. The response recognized that people needed to sacrifice their individual goods in order for the whole community, including themselves, to flourish.

Although social distancing cost jobs, income and created anxiety it was accepted because the good of individuals was subordinated to the common good. The alien nature of such shibboleths as achieving budgetary surpluses, paring government spending and refusing government support to struggling businesses was exposed. Economics served human flourishing, was not identical with it.

The fact that emissions have fallen sharply during this period of social distancing has shown both how possible it is to attend to the cry of mother earth and how costly it will be to refuse to do so. It invites us to deploy the same energy and solidarity to protect our environment as we have in this emergency.

The response showed also that between state and individuals lie communities, large and small, on whose benevolence and altruism a nation relies. Doctors, nurses and other health workers who were prepared to risk their own lives to attend to the sick have rightly been celebrated. So should be other groups that have given themselves to make social distancing bearable.

The pandemic has created possibilities. It also leaves the risk that as a world we may attend to the cry of the poor. It has already been seen in the failure to care for refugees, prisoners, the homeless and the long term and visiting unemployed. If they are left to take their chances they will be a natural seedbed for a return of the coronavirus.

This year Mother Earth invites us to consider one of the smallest of her creatures. It also invites us to imagine a world in which our human relationships with our environment are just and the cries of the poor and the earth turn to laughter.



Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street

Main image: Woman among tropical leaves (Getty images/David Trood)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, COVID-19, Christian, Easter



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Existing comments

Beautiful ideas; wonderfully expressed!

Kimball Byron Chen | 17 April 2020  

15 April 2020 at 11:47 PM There used to be an elephant in the room. Then there appeared the global giraffe poking its neck into every nation’s backyard, cleaning this one out, leaving that one for the benefit of an exploitative few. But because the giraffe, somewhat fortunately, has been cobbled together in a Lamarckian way, it can’t manage the abrupt challenge that has come upon us this year. Is it back to square one? What happened to ‘small is beautiful’? Charity begins at home? Can all those wanderers (not the international humanitarian agents) who lately scurried to get back to their own countries from abroad be encouraged to stay home and take notice, for example, of the thousands in Aged Care Homes whose residents are often cared for by individuals on work visas. Of course, there is no solution offered here; but maybe there is an opening for an evolutionary scientist to step up and tell us more about the manifold agencies we must deal with, from the global giraffe to the invisible virus, in order to be responsible before Mother Earth.

Noel McMaster | 17 April 2020  

Another fine exposition, with an ethos diametrically opposed, in the matter of conservation, to that of Australia's predominant lay Catholic influence as the conservation movement began . Victorian Matriculation English Syllabus then used a thematic approach to text and topic selection. In 1970, the theme was "Authority and the Individual", named after Bertrand Russell's collection of related essays, part of the main Reading List. At the time, many male Year 12 students faced conscription the following year for an ideologically driven war that would kill 3.8 million men, women & children. Australia's rabid right condemned the syllabus for permitting debate where only blind obedience should thrive. Shock and awe arose also from the Syllabus' inclusion of Rachel Carson's SILENT SPRING. As far as Franco's and Salazar's admirer and apologist B.A.Santamaria and his adherents were concerned, the Conservation Movement was the latest Communist Front Organization. Allowing debate on conscription or the Vietnam Crusade had long been called "manipulating children". This applied thenceforth to those who invited questioning the ungoverned use of revered DDT. A previous target of N.C.C. Stasi clones from the late 1950s was the Aborigines' Advancement League. Our anticommo brothers in Christ were caught copying down the rego numbers of cars parked outside local AAL meetings masterminded by notorious subversive Pastor Doug Nicholls.

james marchment | 17 April 2020  

Andrew your article is spot on again. "In the first place we and coronavirus share the same world. Its ancestors preceded ours and its descendants will outlive our generation."... The response to the pandemic has shown the shallowness of received wisdom about human flourishing. The idea that this is achieved by the competitive zeal of individuals in search of profit, and is demonstrated by economic growth, is now discredited." Perhaps like the wake -up call over the looming crisis of our Church, this pandemic heralds the need for real change in our relationship with the earth in which we are unfolding in God.

Terry Cobby | 17 April 2020  

Andrew your insights and suggestions in this article highlight the great need for each of us to show respect to each other, our beautiful earth and especially the smallest of Gods creatures and the most vulnerable of Gods people. Thank you.

Bev | 17 April 2020  

All three Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam see Humanity as being Stewards of the Earth. This Stewardship comes from Humanity's relationship with God. This is how Christians see St Francis of Assisi as the Patron Saint of Nature, including its animals. St Francis lived in a different age when technology was not as developed and most people in the West worked on the land and were very close to and reliant upon Nature. In those times factory farming and vast abattoirs did not exist. Indeed, both Judaism and Islam have strict rules on the humane slaughter of animals, which was well before the time of these vast abattoirs. Perhaps we need to look at the way we act in our stewardship? Perhaps we need to cultivate and nurture the Earth rather than exploit it? One thing that struck me about the COVID-19 was the tracing of it to China's 'wet' markets and bats' blood. A Muslim commentator pointed out that the eating of animals with fangs, which includes bats, is expressly forbidden in Islam. Eating bats was never common in the West, even in time of famine. So perhaps some ancient cultural practices need to go out the window?

Edward Fido | 18 April 2020  

Andy...hello. have you read the recent biography by Andrea Wulf entitled The invention of Nature ..the adventures of Alexander von Humboldt. A lost hero of science. A man of enormous influence whose legacy is so relevant for his understanding of the inter relatedness and inter dependence of everything. Do read this book ... it's a gem. How come so many in the English speaking world hardly know of him today when he was a legend of his time.

Rosemary livingstone | 18 April 2020  

I'd hope Mother Earth's world-wide solicitude for "the smallest of her creatures" extends to the lives of unborn children, and not just on her eponymous Day.

John RD | 20 April 2020  

Kimball Byron Chen refers to "charity begins at home"perceiving , as many people do, that acts of charity should be first extended to people of one's own family, neighbourhood or nation. However, an alternative meaning resounds with me: that charity is first learned in the home through compassionate parents who have shown to their children empathy with people in need whoever and wherever they may be. People who have absorbed this message in childhood are likely to help others in places far away. This will be needed more and more now that we learn there will be "starvation pandemics" in developing nations, especially in Africa, in the future. Those of us living in Australia need to make preparations for our response now.

Mary Samara-Wickrama | 23 April 2020  

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