Today, people will celebrate Earth Day with “Invest in our Planet” events put on by climate change activists, but there are many people who don’t know such a day exists—and yet they are much better acquainted with investing in the Earth for survival than we are.
Boniface, 14, knows the toils of the Earth. A few years ago, he lost his father, a farmer who got hit by a car. His widowed mother has no rights, no ability to own property that has not been generously given to her by family members—often begrudgingly in these situations—and no way to sustainably provide for her children. As the oldest child and a male, the brunt of the work and providing rests on Boniface’s shoulders.
He works the land in the mornings, before walking several miles to school. He studies diligently and feels the pressure to succeed. After school, he must study and return home to continue farming so his family can eat. Twenty-four hours in the day do not give him nearly enough time to compete all his laborious tasks. Still, he must do everything he can to succeed in school and bring food to the table at home.
Though only 14, Boniface’s shoulders droop defeatedly as he learns how to be the man of the household, a student, a son, and a sibling. He is investing in his family, and he is well acquainted with the Earth and its hardships.
He is growing skilled at investing in crops, fighting seasons of drought and too-plenteous rain, and harvesting much—or little. The far-off and remote possibility of climate change is the last thing on his mind. Instead, he thinks about getting through each day. And conquering each day leads to graduating secondary school. All the while, he is the sole provider and protector of his mother and family.
And yet, he sits proudly. That is the memory I have from spending two weeks with him and other students at the school in an unmapped village an hour’s drive from Arusha, Tanzania. He did not want help—even though it was offered—and he did not complain. He carried himself like a man, proudly, dutifully, wholeheartedly. He assumed the responsibilities of his father and moved forward. Resilience like that stirred my heart to desire to complain less and choose thankfulness more often.
I am thankful because I have electricity and clean water, though I usually give little thought to these gifts unless I am reflecting on a day like today. Young activists in developed countries—whose very lives are powered by energy that enables them to be on a phone making videos—champion the climate change cause. But there are far more pressing difficulties than climate change on the minds of those suffering from energy poverty.
Those trying to beat poverty against the odds are without clean water or electricity—these things we take for granted. Climate change policies will hurt them, not help them, by crippling economies and limiting access to energy. Boniface is not thinking about the world ending; he is thinking about the best way to feed his family and succeed in school so he can get a good-paying job to continue supporting his mother and siblings. A greater cause than “Invest in our Planet” is “Invest in our people all over the planet” whose lives would radically change if given access to energy that is for now being denied.
Today, while many use Earth Day to promote “a partnership for the planet,” we should partner with communities all across the globe to get them clean water and energy that can power their homes and increase both quality of life and life expectancy. We should celebrate people like Boniface, who toil daily to beat the odds and provide for their families. And we should educate our friends and family on the effects of energy poverty so that one day they won’t have to learn the hard way.