Mother Nature is not a Grumpy Inspector

Apple’s Mother Nature ad can be seen from a certain angle as a light-hearted, endearing – even if cringe – effort to show us that they indeed care about people, about forests, about the planet. It’s kind of an ethical status report for Gen Z.

And, from a purely statistical point of view, Apple is indeed doing more for corporate sustainability than most other companies, which is great because the others are likely to try their best to catch up with the leader of the sector. So we can assume that many other consumer tech companies are going to increase their sustainability efforts. 

Apple went so far as to create a new green symbol for carbon-neutral products, launched their first one (an Apple watch), and developed a flagship green landing page, packed with different types of sustainable initiatives and the occasional green news, but still guilty of the “vagueness” sin of greenwashing.

With their carefully curated brand image and the bright new green coat of paint, we might be forgiven for believing that Apple is genuinely a company that’s doing its best for the Earth. 

And we do have to believe it, too, in order to rationalize upgrading our phone or laptop every few years, all the while we may be well aware of the climate breakdown that now has officially started.

Even the most informed and well-meaning of us often need to perform exquisite mental gymnastics to dissociate and turn a blind eye to the daily wave of “climate doom” to continue our ingrained consumption habits. I know I do that a few times a day.

The bigger picture though is that Apple is a multi-trillion dollar company (the most “successful” in history), whose main reason for existing is literally to make more money for its shareholders while, of course, keeping its customers happy. 

By reminding ourselves of this sobering fact, we might see the Mother Nature clip in a different light: Apple is very carefully navigating the tension between infinite corporate growth (the current extractivist economy) and the rapidly evolving customer concerns about the climate emergency, by virtue signaling about sustainability, while still releasing new, non-upgradable versions of their massive list of products multiple times per year. I am sure this is not how Mother Nature wants us to “live with the seasons”.

Thinking that cardboard packaging and a phone vibration system made from recycled tungsten absolves Apple (and, by extension, each one of us, as consumers) from radically changing our entire way of living, is fooling ourselves, and missing the fantastic opportunity to have a real impact in changing the direction of our society, which is currently choking the Earth.

Imagining Mother Nature as a slightly grumpy, hard-to-please kind of inspector would be funny, if the reality would be less dramatic

When asked what is the best thing we can do to care for our planet, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying.” 

To hear within us the sounds of the Earth crying! 

This is HARD. It can make us deeply anxious, even depressed. It can make us run into despair.

But Thich Nhat Hanh has also inspired a new generation of activists how to practice with this eco-anxiety and despair. The brilliant environmental activist Joanna Macy wrote extensively on the topic, Active Hope being a book of reference in activist circles. Time Magazine made a good roundup of other useful resources.

Turns out the antidote to despair is not to pretend that things are not so bad after all and that we can still consume as before, as long as the products we’re getting are part of the new “green economy”, from companies that pursue “green growth”.

If we listen to the masters, the antidote is actually to recognize that the ecological breakdown is real and it’s already happening, and at the same time, to create space for touching the wonder of being alive, of being part of such an intricate and precious web of life, and to enjoy every moment of it.

This joy and gratitude towards Mother Nature, if practiced regularly, will, in turn, help us not to succumb to despair, nor to ignorance, and instead to do more to protect what we can, to be more honest regarding our consumption patterns, and to tread more lightly on our precious earth.

We are sharing here one of the Love Letters to the Earth that Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:

Dear Mother Earth,

Each morning when I wake up you offer me twenty-four brand new hours to cherish and enjoy your beauty. You gave birth to every miraculous form of life. Your children include the clear lake, the green pine, the pink cloud, the snowcapped mountain-top, the fragrant forest, the white crane, the golden deer, the extraordinary caterpillar, and every brilliant mathematician, skilled artisan, and gifted architect. You are the greatest mathematician, the most accomplished artisan, and the most talented architect of all. The simple branch of cherry blossoms, the shell of a snail, and the wing of a bat all bear witness to this amazing truth. My deep wish is to live in such a way that I am awake to each of your wonders and nourished by your beauty. I cherish your precious creativity and I smile to this gift of life.

We humans have talented artists, but how can our paintings compare to your masterpiece of the four seasons? How could we ever paint such a compelling dawn or create a more radiant dusk? We have great composers, but how can our music compare to your celestial harmony with the sun and planets—or to the sound of the rising tide? We have great heroes and heroines who have endured wars, hardship, and dangerous voyages, but how can their bravery compare to your great forbearance and patience along your hazardous journey of eons? We have many great love stories, but who among us has love as immense as your own, embracing all beings without discrimination?

Dear Mother, you have given birth to countless buddhas, saints, and enlightened beings. Shakyamuni Buddha is a child of yours. Jesus Christ is the son of God, and yet he is also the son of Man, a child of the Earth, your child. Mother Mary is also a daughter of the Earth. The Prophet Mohammed is also your child. Moses is your child. So too are all the bodhisattvas. You are also mother to eminent thinkers and scientists who have made great discoveries, investigating and understanding not only our own solar system and Milky Way, but even the most distant galaxies. It’s through these talented children that you are deepening your communication with the cosmos. Knowing that you have given birth to so many great beings, I know that you aren’t mere inert matter, but living spirit. It’s because you’re endowed with the capacity of awakening that all your children are too. Each one of us carries within ourself the seed of awakening, the ability to live in harmony with our deepest wisdom—the wisdom of interbeing.

But there are times when we have not done so well. There are times when we have not loved you enough; times when we have forgotten your true nature; and times when we have discriminated and treated you as something other than ourself. There have even been times when, through ignorance and unskillfulness, we have underestimated, exploited, wounded, and polluted you. That is why I make the deep vow today, with gratitude and love in my heart, to cherish and protect your beauty, and to embody your wondrous consciousness in my own life. I vow to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before me, to live with awakening and compassion, and so be worthy of calling myself your child.

You can read here the other nine contemplations, and order the book, which also contains other teachings and practices.


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