Seventeen, April 1990
We are the world
By River Phoenix
On April 22, Earth Day, millions of people will pledge to clean up our
ailing planet. But, as River Phoenix shows us, every day will have to be earth
day to save the world.
Heavens mourn above us until dawn
Weeping see her tears as rain they fall
Winds whip through canyons
Manifesting splintered wrath
Mother knows that we've betrayed her
Dealing with the aftermath.
Sailing ocean cross the sea
Floating vessel carries me
Once I'm there, what is it worth
If I'm betraying Mother ?
Stormy weather abruptly
Changes my course suddenly
It's so unfair starting at birth
Still mistreating Mother Earth.
So you see my friends what we have done
Shadows linger overhead
Heavy like the fog in the valleys
Under heavy earth lay dead.
In a boxcar hides an orphan
Seeking shelter, nothing more
Gliding now tracks lay before him
Leading him to distant shore.
- These lyrics are from a song called Betraying Mother. This year,
1990, the year I leave my teenage years behind, I realize nothing else
matters but this : We must heal our planet if we're to survive. Because
my parents are so closely connected with nature and share the reality that
Planet Earth is our home, I have always been conscious that we need to care
for the earth as the living, breathing, supporting, feeding, nurturing home
it is for us. As a young person, there were always other threats that seemed
much greater to me along the way - nuclear war, the many hand-to-hand wars
all over the planet, famine, poverty, crime, drugs, political prisoners, and
an overall lack of compassion for every living thing. And closer to home,
each of us has our own struggles with growing up.
- There's a lot packed into our teenage years. We go from childhood into a
time when hormones start taking over. It all seems to come at us so fast -
we are developing physically and taking on much more responsability at home.
We're dealing with our school workload, peer pressure, the continual " What
are you gonna be when you grow up ? " question, trying to set
a good example for siblings, choosing a college - and the million of other
things on our minds that have really little or nothing to do with our
relationship to Mother Earth and our true nature as human beings who have
taken it upon ourselves to be " in charge " of the
- With so much going on, it was quite a relief to think that our elected
officials would take care of all of those major planetary concerns while we
were just to concentrate on growing up. It's obvious now that not only was
no one taking care of our home as we trusted, but that people were, and
still are, perpetuating this planetary destruction.
- Now as I look ahead to my future, I'm amazed at how the earth itself is
letting us know in so many ways that there has been a gross injustice done
by humankind. The many recent devastating floods, landslides, and weather
changes show the earth's pain and how out of the balance our ecosystem has
become. At this point, not only have we polluted the earth we live on, the
waters we drink and swim in, and the air we breath, but we have even altered
the atmosphere itself.
- We are now in a global emergency, and for this reason I'm most thankful
for Earth Day 1990, which hopefully will mobilize a worldwide massive
citizen army to avert planetary disaster.
- There are solutions to these problems, but most of them will take a
conscious effort by every human being to eliminate from his or her life the
things that are leading us to impending disaster. I list the following
problems and I ask you to join me and become a part of the solution.
The greenhouse effect
- Gases get trapped in the atmosphere, which acts like the glass of a
greenhouse, letting sunlight in but not letting all the reflected infrared
heat out. Because our forests and oceans can't filter out all of the carbon
dioxide we spew into the atmosphere (from power plants, large-scale burning,
and cars), it gets trapped and starts to put pressure on the planet. We must
use less energy, less electricity, and reduce the burning of fossil fuels
(mostly coal and oil). We really need to improve gas mileage for cars. We
must make a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources - like
solar power - that don't contribute to global warming. We must plant more
trees because they are nature's storehouses of carbon dioxide.
The ozone layer
- The ozone layer is seven miles up in the atmosphere and is a shield from
the ultraviolet rays of the sun. This delicate membrane is being destroyed
by man-made chemicals that drift up there - mainly the chlorofluorocarbons
(CFCs) that are used in air conditioners, refrigerators, Styrofoam ( as in
fast food cartons), and industrial solvents. These CFCs eat away at the
ozone and also contribute to the greenhouse effect. We need to work for laws
that will ban CFCs. That's the key. We can't wait for everyone else to do it
- you change the world by changing yourself.
Rain forest destruction
- Forty-nine millions acres of rain forest are destroyed or degraded each
year. That's equivalent to one and a half football field each second. These
forests are vital sources of oxygen : They moderate our climate,
prevent floods, and are our best defense against soil erosion. Forests
recycle and purify our water. One quarter of all prescribed medication in
the U.S. is derived from raw materials found in these forests. They are home
to millions of plants and animals. The beauty and inspiration of these
forests are important to millions of people. Rain forest destruction
contributes to the greenhouse effect because there's no way to replant these
jewels of nature fast enough to soak up the exorbitant amount of carbon
dioxide they release into the earth's atmosphere when they're burned.
- One force behind the destruction of the rain forest is our country's
importation of millions of pounds of meat annually from Central America. To
provide pasture for cattle, these countries have been burning and clearing
their priceless rain forests. We must make our outrage known to the
businesses (especially fast food places) that use this meat ; we must
demand that they stop contributing to the destruction of our rain forests.
One reason our Central and South American neighbors have participated in
this destruction is because of the tremendous debts they have to countries
all over the world. By exporting meat they make some of the money they need
to pay back these debts. I say we should figure out a way to forgive them
their debts so we may all live.
- It's a tragedy that one thousand plant and animal species become extinct
each year due to the destruction of tropical rain forests - and that the
native rain forest tribes are being forced out. As the rain forests
disappear, many of our migratory birds are also losing their winter homes.
They're dying, and this is harmful because they naturally control the
population of insects - and tragic because their beauty will be lost to the
- We've run out of room for all the garbage our " throwaway "
society has created. We must implement recycling programs in our homes,
schools and communities.
- You can start by recycling aluminum, glass, newspaper, cardboard, and
paper. Talk to your teachers and call your elected officials to find out how
you can get involved. Buy products that come in recyclable containers. Be
persistent. Be enthusiastic. Be determined.
Chemical, toxins and pesticide
- We are literally poisoning ourselves because of the pesticides sprayed on
our produce ; the chemicals dumped on our farmlands to " nourish "
the soil ; the hormones, growth stimulants, tranquilizers, and
antibiotics fed to animals that humans meat ; and, of course, the
pollutants spewed into the air.
- Pesticides don't just affect the creature who ingests them first. They
accumulate in the tissues of animals and then, as one organism is eaten by
another, they build up in even higher concentrations. This means that a worm
living in the soil will store pesticides in its tissues. Then a bird will
eat the worm and ingest the pesticide eaten by the worm - and the tens of
thousands of other worms it ingests in its lifetime. At each stage up the
food chain, the concentration of toxic chemicals is greatly increased. The
same is true of cows or chickens or pigs. Animals raised on factory farms
build up especially high concentrations of chemical toxins because they're
fed great quantities of fish meal (made from fish swimming in polluted
waters) ; their other feeds are grown on land heavily sprayed with
pesticides ; and they are dipped in, sprayed with, and intentionally
fed many toxic compounds to keep them " healthy " while
living in filthy and unnatural conditions inside these factory farms. The
days of livestock animals grazing together in lush green meadows are over.
- These poisons are retained in the fat of animals. Each step up the food
chain, animals become ever more concentrated carriers of the most deadly
chemicals. You sit at the very top of the food chain, and whenever you eat
anything that comes from nature, you are ingesting these toxins, too.
- The solutions to these problems will take time, but they will be
accomplished. I've learned that if you can't get it all together to
accomplish this thing called peace, you do at least your part in your own
life, because that's where you can truly make an immediate difference. I'd
like to stop all of the world wars, but that's really an impossible endeavor
for one person. But I can stop all the wars in my life. I can start
with myself and improve my personal relationships with everyone I'm in
contact with. I'd like to stop world hunger and famine, but one man
single-handedly couldn't possibly stop everyone's hunger. What I can
do is spend my own time, energy, and money enlightening others about the
plight of the poor. And although I can't stop all cruelty to living
creatures on the planet, I can be kinder to every living creature in my
- Peace begins with you. Now. We must light the lamp of our consciousness so
that we never react without thinking and questioning the means to get to the
end that we are seeking. Because if the path along the way is covered with
thorns, selfishness, cruelty, and greed, you can be pretty sure that the
result will lead us to just about where we are today... near the end, if we
don't do something quickly.
- Therefore, I question everything with my consciousness lamp on to see if
the road I take along the way will lead me to peace. In my life, I
- Not to eat meat or animals products or to use their skins for my
clothing, shoes, or decorations. There's such immense cruelty involved
with the raising of animals for human consumption that if I can stop
their pain by boycotting their products, I will immediately make a
- To recycle. Also to question my habits of consumption. I try to use
less of everything and reuse things whenever I can.
- To speak out and know that my voice can be heard by writing government
officials, becoming politically active, lobbying in Washington, and
becoming part of peaceful, educational demonstrations.
- To use less and less of those things that add to the demise of our
- In our family, we never were big for celebrating holidays, but this year
my mother is asking for something on Mother's Day for the first time. She
wants us to help her call attention to the world that this Mother's Day,
1990, should be dedicated to the most nurturing mother of all - Mother
Earth. If gifts are to be given on this day, let all mothers request that
they be gifts to the earth. We could plant trees, make donations to
environmental groups, or give other gifts to promote understanding of the
condition of the planet. This would truly make for a day worth celebrating.
- With the help of all of you, I look forward to the years ahead of us when
our generation can work together to create a happy, healthy, clean, and