It might be time to rethink our relationship with ‘Mother Earth’
When I was a little kid, a very close friend had a very cute oversized T-shirt with a childlike drawing of the Earth printed on it and the sweetly scripted commandment: “Love Your Mother.” The shirt was a tent when we were fourth-graders, billowing over primary-color leggings and dirty sneakers. But by high school, it had become soft and a little snug and more than a little ironic given that we, as teen girls, were inexplicably and consistently mean to our actual mothers.
Many would agree that the idea of “Mother Earth,” that dear old cliché of the environmental movement, has become equally worn out. There’s little doubt that the concept of “Mother Earth” is well intentioned: Think of the Earth as someone you love — your mother! Who could you love more than that? Treat her with respect and care and she will provide for you in perpetuity.
That advice immediately begins to fall apart, however, when you consider the societal-level sacrifices climate experts say we humans need to make in order to avert the worst consequences of global warming. Thinking of Earth as a mother hasn’t inspired much in the way of filial piety. You might even say the relationship has become toxic — or at the very least, extremely one-sided.
But if our view of Earth as a mother hasn’t done her any favors, what are our alternatives? One option is to think of the planet in slightly more intimate terms. Environmental activists, artists, and romantic partners Beth Stephens and Annie Sprinkle are considered to be the cofounders of the ecosexual movement — a philosophy in which we cherish the Earth as a kind of romantic life partner. In their new book Assuming the Ecosexual Position, they urge you — yes, you, inhabitant of this planet — to consider taking the Earth as a lover. My own personal aversion to the phrase “take [x] as a lover” aside, the intention here is pure. If you develop a relationship with the earth as intimate and caring as one you might have with a significant other, you’ll care for it.
Here’s where things get a little bit alternative, even for the Savage Love devotees among us. Ecosexuality is more than a thought experiment: Stephens and Sprinkle have held wedding ceremonies between themselves and the Appalachian mountains. They’ve married the moon, the soil, the sky. Relationships with the earth are meant to be polyamorous and sensual; the definition of a sexual experience, for example, should extend beyond whatever happens between two human bodies to what happens between a human body and the springtime sun, morning air, alpine lake water. If there’s not sufficient pleasure in the relationship, after all, there’s less incentive to preserve it. The artists “think about sustainability a lot differently than other people do;” in that if a particular practice isn’t at least a little bit fun, you won’t keep doing it.
So why the emphasis on a romantic, sexual connection? “There’s an urgency to please one’s lover, where there’s not so much with your mother or friend,” explains Stephens. “I feel like with a lover, I’m more aware of my missteps. A lot of people take their mothers or friends for granted.”
Stephens and Sprinkle elaborated on their approach during a long phone conversation over breakfast in their San Francisco kitchen. They said they consider themselves “matchmakers, trying to help people fall in love with everything around them.” Sprinkle pointed to the recent oil spill in her native Southern California to illustrate their point.
“If you really really deeply love the beach, and feel a real heart connection and concern, and imagine the beach is alive and it’s sentient, you’re gonna be more heartbroken and want to protect that beach from the horrible tar,” she said.
There is certainly something appealing about this ideology. The world is your love, your love, the world; sounds like a nice life! (As Sprinkle says: “When you’re an ecosexual, you’re never alone!”) We have to admit that over the history of humans on Earth, the bar for “environmental care” has been lowered so far it’s in hell. Any meaningful improvement would require a real transformation in how we see the ecosystems and natural features around us, and believing you can fuck a mountain would certainly constitute a significant transformation.