Healing Our World: Weekly Comment

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

My Stolen Earth – Flag

As I was thinking about what to write in this 200th "Healing Our World" commentary, I was presented with a powerful metaphor for our times and my contributions – the Earth Flag hanging in front of my house was stolen.

Each day brings more and more news of how our Earth is being stolen from our children through reckless resource use, the creation of toxic substances, the destruction of ecosystems, and the obscene treatment and torture of animals as slaves to experiments and as food sources. And the theft of my Earth Flag somehow provides a dismal reminder of those events.


The Earth Flag shows a photograph of the Earth taken from space. Since its creation in 1969 by John McConnell, the Earth Flag has been presented to U.S. Presidents, foreign dignitaries, and leaders from all over the globe. (Photo courtesy Earth Flag)
So who would steal an Earth Flag that was hanging in front of someone’s house? Probably not someone who needed it, since it has been my experience that people who fly such flags have less petty ideals. No, more than likely it was someone who interpreted it, in the midst of all the American flags flying in my community, as an unpatriotic act or a statement of weakness in a culture where acts of cruelty often make the television news instead of acts of compassion.

Over the last five years and 199 commentaries, I have reflected on many of the tragedies of our times and tried to reveal some of the historical roots for those abuses. It has been difficult to provide words of hope in the midst of such atrocities to the Earth, her people and her animals, mostly because of greed. But through activism and an appreciation for the interconnectedness of all life, I have tried to show that hope is possible.

A few weeks ago, Karen wrote me that my collection of commentaries was “so full of despairing stories ... they are true and need to be told, but we also need to have some hope as well ... What about regular success stories ... rivers reclaimed, animals brought back from the brink of extinction, forests saved, etc.”

I wrote her back that it is pretty easy for people to hear about some of the “success” stories elsewhere. But to be honest, I don't feel there are many success stories out there. Most of the actions taken are often token ones to make the public think that progress is being made when actually the reverse is true.


Blue whales in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary (Photo by Dan Shapiro courtesy NOAA)
And since the study of the last 125,000 years of coastal archeological information was published in the journal “Science” last year, some now think that nearly ALL animal populations are on the brink of extinction, whether or not they are on any list. The numbers that are used to claim a species is "healthy" once again are pretty meaningless.

In my commentary "Human Arrogance and the Decline of the Earth, I discussed how this new interpretation of the data suggests that today's fishing and hunting quotas may be nearly meaningless. Such quotas are based on estimates of how many animals would be present if not subjected to human pressures of but a few years ago. The historical evidence is now showing that populations of marine animals - before human predation began – were in the millions, and that this abundance was necessary to insure the health of the Earth’s ecosystems.

I told Karen that what I need to provide for people is full exposure to the magnitude of our impact on the world and offer ways for them to decide whether or not they want to do anything about it. I won’t be a party to the sugar coating of the wanton destruction of the Earth. I won’t report on claims by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that some species have “recovered.” Too often this status means that hunting will again be allowed.

A comment from a reader of “"Healing Our World” who works for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said she got my message. In response to one of my commentaries she said, “Being an animal lover I realize that with all the horrific things that are happening to our world and the people in it, the animals are way down on the totem pole and don't stand much of a chance. It all is very depressing. I appreciate articles like this - there is hope. I mainly want to tell you this morning how much your balance of telling what’s bad, while still retaining your love of humanity, and so eloquently expressing that in your articles, means to me. Thank you.”

As I reflect back on the past 199 commentaries, there are a few that stand out. The commentary that received the most emails over the years is probably “Food Even a Dog Shouldn't Eat - Killing Our Pets with Every Meal,” about the unhealthy, and often disgusting, ingredients in most commercial pet foods. Although written three years ago, I still get emails to this day from folks sharing the story of a pet’s fatal illness and wondering if the food caused it.

Cruise Ship Pollution - A Holiday of Toxins” told the story of how one cruise ship, carrying 3,000 passengers, generates as much as 7,500 kilograms (16,500 pounds) of waste a day, much of which is dumped at sea into fragile marine ecosystems.


Seattle waterfront (Photo courtesy NOAA)
I was recently interviewed on camera by an independent news segment producer who came across the commentary while researching the cruise industry. She had been hired by a local television station to prepare a supportive piece about the industry and wanted an opposing opinion. She interviewed me at the Seattle waterfront in front of a mega cruise ship that claimed to have all the modern environmental controls.

I had to point out that even though the ship may have the capability to treat its wastewater, the Port of Seattle doesn’t require the company to do so! Until the ship is at the dock, it can discharge any amount of waste. And the port doesn’t even have any way for the ships to safely dump their waste even if they wanted to. There are no sewer lines at the ports in Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria, San Diego, and Los Angeles, Miami or any Alaska port.

With all the awareness that I and others have generated, many still wonder if there will be any real changes made by governments and industry before ecosystems collapse and millions die.

I am convinced that we can only be saved by the choices of individuals. Industries and governments have no motivation to change, particularly if greed is their reason for being. But an individual can want a better future, either for his or her own children or for the children of the world. An individual can decide to buy only what he or she needs and to need only what doesn’t cause harm. An individual can decide that enough is enough.

We have to ask hard questions if we are to survive. We have to ask if people should be allowed to start any business they want, even if it generates toxic substances and produces a product that we don’t need. We have to ask if animals should be our slaves.

In an email sent by one of my readers a few weeks ago, she misspelled the title of this column, but it was a very prophetic misspelling. She wrote “Hearing our World.” Maybe this is what we should all focus on, like Buddhist Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hahn says, "to hear the sound of the Earth crying."

I would like nothing more than to have this 200th commentary be the last. Sadly, I think I will be in business for quite a while longer. And what of my stolen Earth flag? For now, I am not going to replace it.


1. Read “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James W. Loewen to learn about many surprises in American history. Visit a website devoted to this book at: http://www.uvm.edu/~jloewen/

2. Learn about ongoing harassment of native and indigenous people around the world at: http://www.blackmesais.org/index2.asp

3. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Demand that they stay strong and work harder to protect our health, the environment and animal rights. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.asp

4. To get help redesigning your concept of the “American Dream,” visit: http://www.islandpress.com/ecocompass/dream.asp

5. Joanna Macy's work will change your way of looking at the world. Get her book "Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World" (with Molly Young Brown), New Society Publishers, 1998. Learn about the book at: http://www.newsociety.com/cblfs.asp

6. Read articles by Macy's articles at: http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC34/Macy.htm and at: http://www.context.org/ICLIB/IC28/Macy.htm

7. Explore the wisdom of renowned activist Malidoma Patrice Some in his work "Ritual: Power, Healing and Community," Swan/Raven & Company, 1993.

8. Follow the work of Echoes of the Ancestors, Inc., a non-profit group headed by African scholar and activist Malidoma Somé, at: http://www.malidoma.com/Malidoma/

9. Try on a new perspective and see how it fits. Visit the Indigenous Women’s Network at: http://www.honorearth.com/iwn/

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle and the author of "Healing Our World", A Journey from the Darkness Into the Light," available at: http://www.xlibris.com/HealingOurWorld.asp or your local bookstore. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com}