Don't Punch Grandma in the Face: A New Perspective on Earth Day

06/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Much of the current environmental dialogue revolves around the themes of sacrifice and fear: "If you don't trade in your SUV for a Leaf, by 2050 we'll all be breathing through gills in Atlantis 2.0 and scarfing down three-eyed, mercury-laden tuna monsters for breakfast."

This kind of rhetoric is understandable. Should future global temperatures rise to the upper half of the predicted range (3 to 7°F) under business as usual, the outlook is undeniably terrifying.

Yet, I believe bringing about real change in the way we treat our planet requires a different kind of strategy. One that revolves not around fear, but around respect. To illustrate, allow me to present a thought experiment. In the first scenario, you learn that every time you eat ice cream there's a one percent chance you'll get a stomach ulcer. Now, at first, you may steer clear of the freezer aisle at your local grocer's, but eventually there's a good chance you'll decide "screw it" and play the odds ... because let's face it, life doesn't get much better than chocolate chip cookie dough.

But in the second scenario, you learn that every time you eat ice cream, a masked man will punch your grandmother in the face. Now for a handful of readers this might sound like a win/win situation, but for most of us, it wouldn't even be a question. When we see that our actions cause direct harm to someone or something we care about deeply, it doesn't require much of a sacrifice to eliminate those actions from our lives. I'm pretty sure you can figure out where I'm going with this.

I can't identify the exact moment it happened, but at a certain point I began to see planet Earth as something worthy of a tremendous amount of respect, even love. And once I began to see things that way, it became easy to make my own environmentally conscious choices, rather than having to be told by the EPA or some dreadlocked hippie named Moonflower how to live my life. I want to carry my own canvas bags to the market instead of contributing to further deforestation. I want as much of my electricity as possible to come from renewable resources rather than literally blowing the tops off mountains to extract coal. You get the idea.

So I'm going to ask you a favor -- and no, it doesn't involve donating money to the "Alexis C. Jolly Save the Earth Fund" (though contributions to the "Treat Alexis C. Jolly To A Nice Dinner Fund" are always welcome). Take ten minutes this Earth Day to go outside to the most natural place you can find. Maybe it's the courtyard in your office complex. Maybe it's Central Park. Maybe it's the Rockies. Wherever it is, head on out, find a comfortable spot to sit alone or with a friend, and just be quiet. I mean really, really quiet. Watch, listen, and see what happens. Maybe you'll reflect upon the billions of years that went in to creating this very moment, so that robin could hop about on that branch, or the wind could whisper through the grass just so. Or maybe you'll remember a childhood stroll through the woods with your family, or the way your knees felt in the damp snow while building a snowman with the most important person in your life.

Or maybe you'll find the whole nature thing just isn't for you, at which point you can feel free to go back to life as usual. But just do me a favor and try it. If you feel like it, share how your experience goes in the comments section. Maybe you'll decide punching Grandma in the face feels just fine. Perhaps you'll discover yourself reconnecting with something you forgot about long ago.