April 22 2020
Excerpt written by River Phoenix for Seventeen Magazine, 30 years ago today.
We are the World
By River Phoenix
April 22, 1990
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 responsibility 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 planet.
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 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 world.
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 Pesticides
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 eat; 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 life.
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.
In my life, I have decided:
To 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 difference.
To recycle, and also to question my habits of consumption. I will 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.
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 loving environment.