The Debt of Nature: 10 Earth Day Quotes

Photo by the US Department of Energy, via Wikimedia Commons

Editor's Note:

Who doesn’t love a good quote? For more like this, check out our quotations archive.

Perhaps it’s significant that Earth Day falls so soon after our Tax Day; both serve as a day of reckoning, forcing us to measure our hopes and assumptions about our everyday lives and against cold, hard facts and numbers.

In 2018 these occasions have become especially intertwined, since the past year resulted in new corporate tax cuts and widespread environmental deregulation. Cries of “America first!” have shriveled our nation’s interest in global affairs, despite our stake in peaceful and inhabitable world, and that message has been distilled into a widespread economic policy of “Me first!” that ensures wealth will continue trickling upward, not downward.

All is not lost, but those with even a small green streak of environmentalism in their soul now recognize the uphill battle we face in not only curbing humankind’s terrible habits, but embracing a model of sustainable growth and progress that only enhances the Earth’s natural gifts, increasing their accessibility to literally everyone.

The following authors offer solemn meditations on the importance of tending the lighthouse of knowledge and reason during times of greed and chaos, reminding us of our true place of the scheme of things. Some write with the benefit of a scientific background, others imagining a fictional timeline where it’s already too late.

When it comes to ecological matters, the more you learn about everything, the worse you feel. But as these quotes remind us, knowledge is also the pathway to illumination, as well as action. To find out how you can help, visit EarthDay.org.

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1994
“The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.”

Cormac McCarthy, The Road, 2006
“Once there were brook trout in the streams in the mountains. You could see them standing in the amber current where the white edges of their fins wimpled softly in the flow. They smelled of moss in your hand. Polished and muscular and torsional. On their backs were vermiculate patterns that were maps of the world in its becoming. Maps and mazes. Of a thing which could not be put back. Not be made right again. In the deep glens where they lived all things were older than man and they hummed of mystery.”

Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, 1962
“Why should we tolerate a diet of weak poisons, a home in insipid surroundings, a circle of acquaintances who are not quite our enemies, the noise of motors with just enough relief to prevent insanity? Who would want to live in a world which is just not quite fatal?”

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed, 1974
“My world, my Earth is a ruin. A planet spoiled by the human species. We multiplied and fought and gobbled until there was nothing left, and then we died. We controlled neither appetite nor violence; we did not adapt. We destroyed ourselves. But we destroyed the world first.”

Ha-Joon Chang, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You about Capitalism, 2010
“People ‘over-produce’ pollution because they are not paying for the costs of dealing with it.”

Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2005
“People often ask, “What is the single most important environmental population problem facing the world today?” A flip answer would be, “The single most important problem is our misguided focus on identifying the single most important problem!”

Jane Goodall, Jane Goodall: 40 Years at Gombe, 1999
“Only if we understand, can we care. Only if we care, we will help. Only if we help, we shall be saved.”

Annie Proulx, Barkskins, 2016
“All must pay the debt of nature.”

Neil deGrasse Tyson, Death by Black Hole: And Other Cosmic Quandaries, 2006
“When scientifically investigating the natural world, the only thing worse than a blind believer is a seeing denier.”

Barbara Kingsolver, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, 2007
“Each food items in a typical U.S. meal has traveled an average of 1,500 miles….If every U.S. citizen ate just one meal a week (any meal) composed of locally and organically raised meats and produce we would reduce our country’s oil consumption by over 1.1 million barrels of oil every week.”