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  • Prof. Dilys Williams

What difference does naming a day make?




Many things that appear, boldly, clearly, apparently suddenly, involve long hours, days, years or more in the making. As artists and designers, we know this only too well. Whether a photograph, book, song, sweater or statement, everything comes from way beyond that which is seen. The same can be said about culture, what you see, hear or taste involves material and immaterial elements relating to stories of ourselves and each other that are formed and evolve over time. There is no better example of ‘more than is seen’ than with the earth. The lives that we enjoy have been forming over millions of years. The time that humans have endangered the whole earth and its life, is relatively short, however the stark and profound impacts of overstepping planetary boundaries, is still, apparently, not seen clearly by many more than those directly experiencing the most devastating elements of the climate emergency. Access to goods, resources, safety, rights and status is also dependent on behaviour that has taken place over time.


How can we connect past and present actions and their effects in ways that are seen and felt by everyone at the same time?


Perhaps the greatest limitation in human thinking is the difficulty that we have in between doing something and the deep time in which the effects of that action on the earth and on people can be discerned in terms that we can really understand. It is for this reason that naming a day matters. Not only because April 22nd is a day to honour, reflect and commit to our wider selves, not just because the day has involved a billion people from very many countries around the world, but because it is a day of hope as well as of loss. Many days are named in solidarity for suffering caused through acts of violence, disaster and injustice, but when Earth Day started on 22nd April 1970, it was a coming together of self-identified environmentalists, for a day of honour and respect for the earth. Over time, the day has borne witness to a great many things. At times the focus has been not on the earth, but on the catastrophic mess that people have made. It has been called Earth Day Network, in recognition of the connections between us and to recognise myriad localised actions, too numerous to count.


And now, what does Earth Day mean in 2021?


2021 is a time when the connection between crises in racial, ecological and human wellbeing is better recognised and over the past year, we have seen what happens when we take a crisis seriously (and not.) Earth Day 2021 is a chance for us to treat the climate crisis as the crisis that it is. To go to a place of deep understanding of ourselves and to act accordingly. As with the pandemic, the climate crisis is not felt equally, or distributed evenly and our responses to its interconnected dimensions may include spiritual, religious, cultural aspects of care and commitment at an earth wide level and technical, rational and pragmatic actions due to concern for something specific. Until we reach shared understandings and intentions in relation to these crises, we will continue to be caught in an ever-diminishing loop of apparently enjoying, whilst endangering life at human and planetary levels. Each time we refer to people as consumers, we underestimate our role as contributors. We have the skills to live well, coming together helps us to demonstrate that we have a collective will to be recognised for what we give as well as for what get in the world.


We can practice hope actively in this crisis, which is not the same as optimism that something beyond ourselves will mean that it turns out alright. On 22nd April, we can expand our thinking to link cause and effect and despite that fact that we won’t wake up to a different world on 23rd April 2021, we can be actively making a world for ourselves and each other to see and enjoy.