If you are one of the devoted change makers working on the pursuit of environmental sustainability, and you truly understand the scope of our challenges – the planetary boundaries we’re exceeding, the realities of climate change, the billions of dollars fueling the climate denial machine and the impacts of human activity on our world, then you understand we’re on a rough path, a road that runs up a steep hill most of the time. Depending on the work you do, it’s completely understandable that you might feel somewhat daunted at times. You might wonder whether your work is significant enough, and question whether you’re making a difference. Sometimes our big splashes seem like ripples in the pool. And, as if our personal struggles are not enough, have you encountered people along the way who try to discourage you, derail your efforts, or say it’s just a waste of time? I certainly have!
Whenever this happens to me I am reminded of two things; a parable and a conversation. Each provides a worthy reminder that, as long as we’re making a difference, the work we do is worthy. I’ll recount a private conversation I had with “The Father of LEED,” Rob Watson, a few years ago at Greenbuild, the U.S. Green Building Council’s annual conference and expo. I asked Rob for his two cents about something many of us don’t like to talk about, I asked: “At the end of the day, do you think we’re cooked?” He said, “Greg, you’re throwing life-preservers overboard. You’re saving lives.” This gave me a sense of renewed hope in the work I do, a reason to keep fighting the good fight. I share Watson’s words of wisdom with many, and I replay them in my head almost daily. The second thing I think about is a parable adapted from Eiseley’s 1978 anthology, is called “The Star Thrower.”
A man was walking on the beach one day and noticed a boy who was reaching down, picking up a starfish and throwing it in the ocean. As he approached, he called out, “Hello! What are you doing?” The boy looked up and said, “I’m throwing starfish into the ocean”. “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?” asked the man. “The tide stranded them. If I don’t throw them in the water before the sun comes up, they’ll die” came the answer. “Surely you realize that there are miles of beach and thousands of starfish. You’ll never throw them all back, there are too many. You can’t possibly make a difference.” The boy listened politely, then picked up another starfish. As he threw it back into the sea, he said, “It made a difference for that one.”
So I say to all the heroes who are planting trees, picking up garbage (or starfish) on Miami Beach, to the educators who devote their lives to transforming others and to the leaders who work tirelessly to improve the quality of life for future generations — your work is not only appreciated and worthy, it is necessary! On this year’s Earth Day we celebrate more than Mother Earth. We celebrate the heroes, the Star Throwers. Keep throwing stars!