I was recently watching the nightly news when I saw a heartbreaking story about a dying killer whale and her baby. It hurt so much that I almost changed the channel. But my inner activist whispered, “Don’t turn away. Learn about these whales. They will teach you something about yourself.”
So today I want to share this story and my broader revelations with you. Don’t worry, they’re not graphic. And please don’t turn away because you too may learn something, just like I did.
Scientists near the South Pole were making house calls (so to speak) to check on the health of these majestic beings. Using a drone, they were able to evaluate the whales’ conditions. What they saw was shocking. The mother and baby were wasting away, literally starving to death because they didn’t have enough food. Why? Climate change. The warming ocean temperatures have greatly diminished their food supply.
After the news segment, I faded into the sofa and slept for hours. It all just felt so big, depressing and out of control—familiar feelings for me around environmental stories. When my hubby asked if I was OK, I lied and told him that I had a tummy ache and was tired from a long work day—that I’d be fine. I just needed to sleep (with my comforting heating pad).
The next morning, I woke up and immediately thought about those whales. As tears poured down my cheeks, I went from wondering what happened to our world to questioning why we let it happen.
Ten years ago when I was pitching my film, Crazy Sexy Cancer, to TV networks, there seemed to be a popular resurgence of the environmental movement. “Green” was hot. The Sundance channel had a green station, Al Gore made a hit movie, there were many trendy eco blogs and news sites with dedicated green sections. It felt very hopeful. People had awakened to the seriousness of the situation and it seemed there was no turning back. Pretty soon we’d all be driving cooking oil fueled cars. I imagined pulling into McDonald’s instead of Citgo to filler’ up.
And then, like most bubbles, green burst. As if it was a fad—no more important than an outdated fashion trend. Today, even though environmental issues are more critical than ever, they rarely get the coverage they deserve. And when they do, society doesn’t always seem to show interest.
One reason for this is because of a very deliberate effort to influence how we think about the issues. Special interest groups, lobbyists and corporations have done a banging job to undermine the credibility of science and reality itself to create a false narrative about the perils of climate change. So much so that standing up for the planet (our lifeline and future) is now often met with hostility and ridicule.
However, here’s what we know to be true: the science is real and irrefutable. Humans are by far the number one cause of our rapidly warming planet. Do you know what else is true, despite what you may have heard? It’s absolutely possible to create jobs and care for the environment at the same time.
But politics aside, back to the question of why we (everyday citizens) don’t care. Perhaps we seemingly “don’t care” because many of us actually do care—deeply. Huh?
We are compassionate by nature—we’re wired that way. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. But when the pain of suffering is too great, it’s natural to shut down and even turn away. We feel powerless. The bigger the problem, the more powerless we feel—and there’s no bigger problem than climate change. So perhaps it’s this underlying feeling of helplessness that makes us shrink.
As Earth Day approaches, it’s the perfect time to reflect on how each of us actually does have the power to stop shrinking and start rising. That’s why I don’t feel comfortable staying silent about issues that matter to me. At the top of my list: the environment. So I gotta be honest, I’m having a really hard time with our current administration. And while I’m willing to be patient and pray for their success, I’m also keeping a close eye on what they’re actually doing.
As a cancer patient, wellness advocate and animal rights activist, I know that the health of our planet is interconnected with the health of the individuals and species residing on it. In fact, each one of us is like a little mini-planet made in our mother’s image. We have rivers, streams and delicate terrains inside us. When our complex terrain is out of balance or polluted, we get sick.
Sometimes I think of my own illness like inner climate change. The ecosystem that is me is struggling, and I have a choice: I can ignore myself or I can take responsibility for how I care for myself. That’s self-love. That’s also environmental activism. And that’s what it takes to get well, inside and out.
Now this doesn’t mean that genetics don’t play a factor in disease. It means that our choices also matter and the same wellness principles apply to the larger organism—our planet. Therefore, the rivers, streams, oceans, skies, trees, terrains and sentient beings that help us thrive deserve the same level of respect and protection.
Clearly, this is heavy stuff and it’s all well and good to philosophize, but what do we actually do if this conversation is important to us?
Apply a heaping dose of courage to the wound.
Courage is the only prescription that can heal our planet. Courage to look at the facts, the images and the beings affected. Courage to educate ourselves through credible sources outside of our various information bubbles. And courage to take action, to turn toward the suffering so we can actually do something about it.
Because it’s the doing something that makes a difference, that makes us feel better, that connects us to our community and the world at large. Even if the something is very, very small, it’s never insignificant.
It’s easy to think, “Why bother? I’ll never make a dent.” Not true. Simple actions can create a ripple effect of healing. We may not see a global transformation in our lifetimes, but we can find peace and pride knowing that we contributed to it.
I don’t know what to do about the mother and baby whale. But I do know that I can be more conscious about conservation in my own life. I have a voice, you have a voice and, today more than ever, we are called to use it.
So where can you start? The first step is staying informed and focusing on an area that you’re passionate about. It might be national parks, clean air, our oceans or endangered species. It could be sustainable farming and eating a more conscious, plant-based diet. Whatever it is, take the time to learn more about it. Connect with organizations you can trust and do everything you can to support them. Also, get to know how your local representatives are voting on these issues. Let them know how you want them to vote and don’t back down.
Use this link to find your representatives and track how they vote.
These are some of the organizations I follow and support. Please add yours in the comments below and share ways you’d recommend getting involved.
- Sierra Club
- National Resources Defense Council
- Environmental Defense Fund
- The Humane League
- The Climate Reality Project
- Plate of the Union
- Environmental Working Group
- Food and Water Watch
Peace & planet,