4th of July – Patriotism and the Environment

Protect the people and the land that you love.

As 4th of July Independence Day celebrations draw near, I find myself contemplating the intersection between patriotism and environmentalism.

At its most basic patriotism is love for one’s country.

What patriotism means to you, me, and every other American is deeply personal. To me, patriotism and environmentalism are complementary isms. I feel there is a strong connection between loving my country and protecting its people, land, water, air, and non-human denizens.

This post probably has its roots in 2012. I do not remember specifically what set me off (probably 4th of July sales), but I had reached a point where I could no longer stand being referred to as a consumer by the media and my own government. That year, I wrote a post entitled I am an American Citizen not just an American Consumer.

That post has led to other 4th of July posts exploring the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Statue of Liberty. By combining ideas from these three posts, I hope to illustrate my point that patriotism and environmentalism do intersect.

Declaration of Independence with a Green Twist

Every kid who goes to school in the United States studies the Declaration of Independence. I did, but it was a long time ago.

In honor of the 4th of July in 2013, I decided to reintroduce myself to the Declaration of Independence. After researching its history and reading the original Declaration of Independence, I created the green version below.

Declaration of Independence of 2013

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve corporations and laws that enable special interests to control our government and destroy our planet, we should declare the causes.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and a Habitable Planet.

We are not disposed to suffer evils any longer and require corporations and our government to change and serve the greater good or face extinction. We submit these reasons.

  • Corporations are allowed to pollute our land, air, and water.
  • Corporations make and sell products that harm people and the planet.
  • Corporations enable the wealthy few to become wealthier at our expense.
  • Corporations waste Earth’s resources and generate mountains of trash.
  • Corporations spend millions of dollars to finance political campaigns and elect politicians that will serve their interests, not ours.

We have appealed to our government to seek redress for our grievances but the government continues to allow these injustices to occur and in some cases actually abets them.

We mutually pledge to current and future Americans and other citizens of the world, that we’re not going to take it anymore.

We will use the freedom hard won by our nation’s founders to fight our oppressors with our actions, our voices, our smartphones, our wallets, and hopefully not our lives.

If you are interested, you can read a brief history of the Declaration of Independence in the post 4th of July – Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

11th Amendment to the Bill of Rights

Another year, I refreshed my knowledge of the Constitution of the United States and the events leading up to the Bill of Rights.

During my research, I discovered that 12 amendments had been proposed but the states only ratified 10. Therefore, the third amendment on the list became the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights guaranteeing the personal freedoms and rights of individual American citizens.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

In the post 4th of July – Be a Green Citizen, I provided a historical overview of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights as well as proposed an 11th amendment to the Bill of Rights (it would be the twenty-eight amendment to the Constitution).

Group of Kids Playing at a Park

The people have the right to a habitable planet with clean air, clean water, fresh food, and nontoxic places to live, study, work, explore, and play.

The Statue of Liberty and Diversity

In 2017, I was reflecting on what it means to be an American and urging readers to do the same.

That year, I looked into the history of the Statue of Liberty, which is recognized around the world as a symbol, perhaps the symbol, of freedom and democracy.

Statue of Liberty Holding Torch and Tablet of Law
The Statue of Liberty holding a torch and tablet of law – Photo Credit iStock/EG-Keith.

You can read about the Statue of Liberty in the post entitled 4th of July – What Does it Mean to be an American?

The beautiful and powerful sonnet below is engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus

Today, the United States of America is home to a wondrous mix of people all seeking freedom, opportunity, equality, liberty, independence, democracy, and a chance for happiness.

Diversity is strength.

Mother Nature believes this, too. The healthiest ecosystems are those with the most biodiversity where different plants and animals live together, sometimes competing, sometimes collaborating, but somehow managing to find a balance for the good of the overall community.

I believe it is going to take the entire kaleidoscope of American people all working together with other people around the world to grapple with the climate crisis and to learn how to live sustainably on Earth.

Let us live joyfully and in harmony with other people and the balance of nature, so that we can all flourish on Earth now and in the future.

Happy 4th of July!

Featured Image at Top: A pile of buttons with a U.S. flag background with the saying “Planet Earth First” – photo credit iStock/cbies

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Minimalism – Living More Lightly on the Planet

What would a minimalist do?

Minimalism appeals to me because owning less stuff helps me live more lightly on Earth. I guess you could say I am a minimalist environmentalist.

Stuff is an umbrella term for everything we wear, use, and enjoy in our daily lives like clothes, kitchenware, jewelry, electronic devices, artwork, toys, furniture, books, appliances, gardening tools, and cars. Making all this stuff, transporting it (often by airplane), and then getting rid of it takes a heavy toll on our planet.

You, I, and everyone else can help keep Earth habitable by living happily with fewer belongings.

My minimalism journey began during the height of the Christmas season in 2016 and I convinced my spouse to join me. Over the past two years, we have cleared our home and much of our garage of unnecessary things. This is no small feat as my spouse is an I-might-need-that-someday kind of person and I am not.

During this time, I have ruthlessly divested myself of my own belongings that I no longer need, use, or want including clothes and gifts. I do not miss any of the things I no longer own. I am happily living with fewer belongings.

A few weeks ago, when I hung up my 2019 calendar on the tack board next to my desk, I realized that I was in the third year of what I intend to be a lifelong minimalism journey. January seemed like a good time to review my 2018 efforts and decide if I need to do anything differently this year.

I have made progress but I clearly underestimated the gravitational force of our consumerist society. Divesting yourself of excess stuff is just one part of the minimalist journey. Keeping additional stuff from creeping back into your minimalist home is a lifelong pursuit.

The good news is it gets easier after the first year.

Plugging the Stuff Acquisition Pipeline

During my pre-minimalism days, I was a discerning shopper (some would say picky).

A blue and purple reusable water bottle
The blue reusable water bottle is the one I bought that day.

An image comes to mind that illustrates this point perfectly.

Several years ago, I was standing in front of a wall of reusable water bottles at an REI store with my then 8th-grade niece (now a college freshman) and my sister. They were thinking that I would select a bottle and we would be on our way, and we were, twenty minutes later, after I had evaluated all the bottles and chosen one (which I still own).

Even though I was a discerning shopper, I sensed that in order to transform my relationship with possessions I would need to understand and change my shopping and buying habits.

At the beginning of 2017, using a simple spreadsheet, I embarked on a yearlong effort to track what I bought for myself, for my family, and why I bought it.

My danger areas turned out to be buying things for insurance (just in case) and shopping on vacation. In Living Happily with Less Stuff – To Buy or Not to Buy, I recounted my experience and provided assessment alternatives for spreadsheet averse readers.

For 2018 I committed myself to squeeze the acquisition pipeline tighter and succeeded in reducing the amount of stuff I bought for myself (down by 64%) and for my family (down by 40%). I did not buy one item for insurance.

During my Omaha, Nebraska trip in September 2018, I bought a refrigerator magnet shaped like Nebraska, a cross-stitch pattern with a John Muir saying on it, 3 books (2 used), and a laminated Nebraska native plant guide (that I did not need). This was a substantial improvement over 2017.

However, it was not all smooth sailing.

Impulse Buys

One day when I was shopping with my mother for some much needed short sleeved t-shirts, I bought myself a pair of earrings and a necklace (with a tree) on impulse.

I heard an announcement on the store loudspeaker that there was a 70% off sale going on in Fine Jewelry and convinced my mother to go over and “just look.” I confess I had already bought a pair of gold earrings at another store.

Purposeful Extra Shopping

Another time, I bought something I did not need on purpose. A grassroots group was attempting to pass an initiative called Measure G that would have banned future expansion of oil and gas exploration in our county. Oil companies were spending millions of dollars on ads, social media, and road signs trying to defeat the measure and the Measure G campaign was relying on donations.

View from the Summit by Karen Fedderson Print and Frame
I photographed the framed print lying on my wood floor to reduce glare.

A post appeared in my social media feed saying that several local artists had donated artwork to raise funds for Measure G. I talked my spouse into going to see what they had and fell in love with a print called View from the Summit by Karen Fedderson.

I bought it, had it framed, and it is now gracing a wall in our kitchen. Measure G received a lot of votes but not quite enough to pass (this time).

Desperation Purchases

Last year, I needed a new pair of boots for working in our wild yard and weed whacking the 4-foot tall grass before the fire season. My feet are narrow so finding any kind of shoes that fit is always a challenge.

My spouse accompanied me on several shopping forays with no luck. One day we found a store with a large selection of boots so I did what any discerning shopper would do and tried on every pair in my size. None of them seemed quite right, but I was desperate so I bought the best (least worst) pair.

The next day I put on my new boots and within minutes of walking around the hilly and uneven terrain in our yard, I knew they did not have adequate ankle support for me. I donated the new boots and I hope they found a good home with someone who has a flat yard.

I did eventually find a suitable pair of replacement boots.

Out of the three examples above the only purchase that I regret is buying the desperation boots. I enjoy wearing the impulse buy jewelry and the print makes me smile every time I walk in the kitchen.

Repairing and Holding on to Things

Another positive aspect of minimalism for my spouse and I is that it encourages us to try to repair things instead of replacing them.

My spouse excels at doing simple and complex repairs. For instance, the utensil cup holder that broke off our dish drainer in now wired on and works fine and so does my weed whacker now that it has a new motor. My spouse printed a replacement handle for our 9-year-old vacuum with the 3D printer in our garage prototype shop.

Striving to be a minimalist reinforces my tendency to hold onto things, especially electronic devices, instead of upgrading to newer models.

iPhone 4 Phone and Purple Bird CaseTake a smartphone for instance. Making one is not a benign environmental process and the rare earth materials used to make it are, well, rare. My 7-year-old smartphone is an iPhone model 4 but it still works so when the case cracked last year I bought a replacement because I intend to keep this phone indefinitely.

I hope the examples in this post adequately illustrate that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to minimalism.

Every time someone chooses to become a minimalist living happily with less stuff, Earth smiles.

“One day or day one. You decide.” —Joshua Fields Millburn

Featured Image at Top: Earth shaped like a heart – photo credit iStock/pearleye

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