From Earth Day to Earth lifestyle

Christopher Meehan

“Hippies. They’re everywhere. They wanna save the Earth, but all they do is smoke pot and smell bad.” Professional hippie-hater and part-time food connoisseur, Eric Cartman (of “South Park” fame,) does not pretend to hide his disdain for the long-haired relics of the sixties. “We thought the hippie subspecies would have died out long ago,” he laments, “- a result of one too many acid trips. However, the hippie is apparently extremely resilient. Each generation seems to spawn new, hybrid forms. The hippie counterculture is spooky and will forever be a mystery to us: Peace.”

On April 22, 1970, New York’s Fifth Avenue was closed to make way for over 100,000 people (some of whom were hippies). America had publicly recognized the concern for environmental health: the first Earth Day was born. America finally acknowledged the link between environmental quality and personal well-being.

Today, over three decades later, the Villanova community perpetuates the commitment to planetary stewardship in a campus-wide Earth Day celebration. Students, faculty and staff have taken over the Connelly Center with a battery of eco-friendly weapons – weapons that possess great potential yet apparently can’t even smite a sapling.

Activities through the afternoon include Vespa motor-scooters, free organic appetizers and campaigns for purchasing wind power.

Students of the Environmental Studies Program are also displaying results from several on-campus environmental research projects.

Perhaps most notable is the lecture featuring world-renowned environmentalist, David Orr of Oberlin College. (The talk, entitled “Environmental Education in an Era of Global Climate Crisis,” begins at 2:30 p.m. in the Connelly Center Cinema.) I question popular claims to the apathy of fellow students in the face of such a spontaneous, good-natured celebration.

The prevailing political “flavor” of the student body seems to be more along the lines of cherry-red than McCartney Technicolor, but, all hippie jokes aside, an honest concern for our environment often remains yet to be something respected, honored and most importantly, practiced. Somewhere down the line the well-being of life as we know it became inseparably and erroneously associated with the “sinister” left.

I offer no political criticism. Go forth and vote Republican; have guilt-free barbecues with juicy half-pound burgers (who honestly cares about the plight of the Bovine Nation?); shamelessly watch the Donald can another “Apprentice” if that’s what floats your boat.

But make sure you know why you act the way you do; Don’t take pride in environmental ignorance. The welfare of the planet – and the humans intricately tied to it – is a bi-partisan issue.

There’s an ancient proverb that translates roughly to read something like this: “Don’t defecate where you sleep.” To put it plainly and simply, it’s just not cool to destroy priceless wilderness, alter global climate or blanket the world in toxic compounds.

The real world usually presents us with complex situations that inevitably require allowing some degree of environmental degradation. But we should exercise care and humility when making such decisions – and never pride.

All too often I hear students on campus cheer for the destruction of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or the obnoxiously inefficient gas mileage of their SUVs as if they are – something to celebrate! To them it’s “Republican Power” against the annoying Democrats. Don’t let yourself fall into such a trap; that sort of behavior disgraces both parties.

Unless you can find another inhabitable planet or transcend space and time, you and your descendents will be stuck here on Earth with the rest of us.

We therefore must remember that environmental stewardship will always be an invaluable conviction, regardless of the stereotypes provoked by the activist “flavor of the week.” Think of it like this:

Do we use Marcus Garvey’s eccentric Back-to-Africa campaign as evidence that the entire civil rights movement was illegitimate? Do we allow Cindy Sheehan’s antics at the gates of the Bush ranch to represent all objections to the U.S. campaign in Iraq? The answer to the former question: No; the latter: Yes. (Ignore that one.)

Which brings me to my main point: Going “green” doesn’t make you a hippie. Likewise, driving an Escalade doesn’t make you a devil.

But we would nonetheless be wise to acknowledge and respect our dependency upon a healthy environment.

And one major example of how the health of our environment directly affects the health of our bodies is the food we eat.

In the spirit of Earth Day 2006, if you are at all concerned for the environment or yourself, I suggest the following: go organic.

The concept of organic agriculture often remains ill-understood despite its rising popularity. I commonly hear people use the term interchangeably with “vegetarian.”

The two are not synonymous: what it means for something to be organic is that it was raised without pesticides or any other synthetic chemicals. It was not subjected to hormones, antibiotics or genetic “modification.” Organic food need not be vegetarian; it can even be a rib-eye steak with fries.

When we eat food grown and processed with synthetic hormones, pesticides and other chemicals, we unavoidably eat these chemicals as well. More importantly, we store the chemicals in our fat and other bodily tissues where they build up over time.

Long after the milk you drink passes through you, the hormones it contained linger within your body. This build-up can throw off our bodily chemistry and even cause mutations, the effects of which can include abnormal development, impotency and even cancer.

Personally, when I’m 40 years old and looking for that extra spring of “well-earned confidence and respect from the neighbors,” I’d rather just think happy thoughts than have to resort to a humiliating purple pill.

By purchasing organic food, you do more than improve your immediate health; you also do a service to the environment and the economy.

No chemicals in the food means that there were no chemicals in the field where the food was raised and therefore no chemicals will drain off from the field into surrounding areas and water supplies.

It also means that the field can be sustained for agriculture over a longer period. (Fertilizers and other chemicals allow for higher crop yields but put a heavy toll on the earth.) And less toxic chemicals in the environment mean that less of our tax dollars go to the eventual clean-up of the areas they leach into and contaminate.

Eating organic food is a realistic way for you to improve the health of yourself and the environment and keep alive the message Earth Day embodies. You won’t even need to change the way you vote or the car you drive. And as the demand for organic food grows, production will become cheaper, more automated and more efficient.

Environmentalism does not have to be radical and obnoxious. You may find the results from subtle lifestyle changes surprisingly rewarding.

Just don’t get too carried away with a newfound love for Mother Nature to the point of turning hippie. The potent toxins contained in cannabis will completely defeat the purpose of going organic.