Viewpoint: Don’t Call The Planet ‘Mother’ Earth

By anthropomorphizing our planet, we find it inconceivable that it might become inhospitable to human life

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Planet Earth

As soon as reminders for Mother’s Day pop up on calendars, environmentally minded writers get invitations to weigh in on our love for Mother Earth. I’m refusing them all. Referring to our planet as Mother Earth gives us a false — and dangerous — sense of security.

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Yes, we humans crawled out of some dark stew of primal ooze. In that sense, Earth is our mother — and of course we are nurtured by the food that springs from her.

We expect mothers to love us. Mothers care, they protect. Mothers are even willing to give their lives, if that’s what it takes so that their young can survive. New parents know that profound alteration, that ready sense of ferocity and tenderness that must be at the heart of what we call mother love. Once we have babies, we might as well take our hearts out of our chests and pin them on our sleeves — that’s how vulnerable we can feel.

But our planet could care less about us. We have a Mother Earth who is totally agnostic at best. She could care less who or what is creeping and crawling over her warm belly: humans or cockroaches.

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We keep forgetting this. By anthropomorphizing our planet, we lull ourselves into thinking that those marvelous ecosystems that have sustained us for so many centuries us will magically right themselves, that Mother Earth will take the abuse we mete out and adjust herself to take account of us. And she has, of course — all those lovely carbon sinks filling up with our slop. But only to a point. Somewhere deep inside, we have a hard time wrapping our minds around the fact that our planet could become inhospitable to human life. It’s magical thinking, reinforced by terms like Mother Earth.

Heavens knows that having a Mother Earth sure doesn’t mean we’ve taken good care of her. I won’t even begin to venture an analysis of the mass psychology of children who foul their nest. Suffice it to say that the best way out is to focus on the globe’s real mothers — and fathers, aunts, uncles, brothers and sisters. We’re the ones who have the capacity to care about our children’s future. We might be better off thinking about our world as our child — and indeed, she is a galactic child, at 4.5 billion years, compared with the universe. If we act like responsible parents, perhaps we can figure out a way to safeguard Baby Earth’s future.