Breaking Earth’s Stillness

Earth Day and the month of April are commemorated across the world as a time to celebrate our planet and focus on action to protect it. During this month I often remember the poem “Keeping Quiet” by Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, which urged the world “to count to twelve and all keep still, for once on the face of the earth”:

“It would be an exotic moment
without rush, without engines . . .
Fishermen in the cold sea
would not harm whales
and the man gathering salt
would look at his hurt hands.

Those who prepare green wars,
wars with gas, wars with fire,
victories with no survivors,
would put on clean clothes
and walk about with their brothers
in the shade, doing nothing.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about.
I want no truck with death . . .

Perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth could teach us . . .”

This month is a reminder that Earth’s silence is being broken by the felling of thousand-year-old trees and other sounds of industry and environmental destruction leading to the tinker of coins in corporate coffers. Earth’s quiet is also broken by the sounds of children gasping for breath as asthma and other respiratory diseases from the pollution of the air and land around them ravage their bodies and staunch their learning.

There are many other kinds of dangers making the Earth a treacherous playground rather than a safe one. Children are now threatened by toxic pollution from the airwaves and internet along with the air and water. We hear the bickering and horse-trading between politicians and special interest groups who are often debating how big a tax break to give to the non-needy instead of investing in a cleaner, safer environment for the future. And Earth’s stillness is shattered by the sounds of guns and war across our nation and world, killing more civilians than soldiers, including children.

As we conclude this month, I hope it can spur us to build an even more powerful moral movement to protect all children and young people against interrelated poverty and violence and environmental degradation and to preserve the Earth we hold in trust for them. As they have done so many times before, young people are already leading the way forward. When TIME magazine named then-16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg their 2019 Person of the Year, the youngest person so far to receive that honor, it noted her representation of an entire new wave of young people who refuse to accept the world adults have created for them: “She is a reminder that the people in charge now will not be in charge forever, and that the young people who are inheriting dysfunctional governments, broken economies and an increasingly unlivable planet know just how much the adults have failed them.”

Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School® Scholars are part of that wave. They’ve engaged in civil action proclaiming that climate justice is racial justice, and they’ve partnered with Youth vs. Apocalypse, a diverse group of young climate justice activists working together to lift the voices of young people, especially youth of color and youth from low-income and working-class families, to fight for a livable climate and an equitable, sustainable, and just world. They join millions of other young leaders emerging around the world as the global youth climate movement boldly advocates for climate justice amidst this crisis and reframes the need for urgent action. All of them are breaking the stillness too, but by using their voices to speak out for change.