Earth Day 2017; Thoreau's Legacy

 

This Saturday, April 22, marks the 47th Earth Day, which many regard as the birthday of the modern environmental movement.  So many activists have dedicated their lives over the years to make environmentalism what it is today. This year we pay tribute to one of the movement's earliest thinkers, Henry David Thoreau, whose exploration of humanity and its relationship to nature helped inspire generations.

A Different Kind of Bucket List

Thoreau, whose bicentennial is being celebrated this year, is best known for Walden, a book he wrote while living in a tiny cabin he built on the banks of the eponymous Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts.  Thoreau’s Walden gave birth to an eco-philosophy that embraced simplicity and a “back to basics” idealism that have endured to this day.

Thoreau’s search for the essence of living, turns the contemporary idea of a “bucket list” on its head. In contrast to today’s bucket list pursuits—such as racking up visits to exotic locations or skydiving from an airplane, etc.—Thoreau’s quest involved following a quiet inner path toward the golden light of truth.

Fashion Trends Out of Control

Throughout his writings, Thoreau observed that people who complicate their lives in the pursuit of material rewards become existentially lost and "lead lives of quiet desperation."  He railed against the destructive powers of economic materialism and rapid industrialization, stating that a person’s wealth should not be measured by how many things he or she owned, but rather, “in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.”

Thoreau loathed wasted time and wasted resources. Among his many criticisms of modern industrialization, Thoreau singled out clothing and fashion as being particularly out of control, which he claimed were leading individuals to purchase new clothes too readily and too often.

“No man ever stood the lower in my estimation for having a patch on his clothes,” he wrote. “Yet I am sure that there is greater anxiety, commonly, to have fashionable, or at least clean and unpatched clothes, than to have a sound conscience.”

His fundamental advice regarding clothing was characteristically simple: “I say, beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”  

Clearly, Thoreau’s warnings about clothing consumption continue to ring true today, especially given the impact that the fast fashion industry is having on people and the planet. It is for this and all of his magnificent and inspiring work that we salute Thoreau this Earth Day.

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