There is a scene in the movie Crocodile Dundee when Sue, the journalist sent from New York City to report on the outback in Australia asks Mick Dundee who owns the land they are exploring.
"Well, you see, Aborigines don't own the land," replies Mick. "They belong to it. It's like their mother. See those rocks? Been standing there for 600 million years. Still be there when you and I are gone. So arguing over who owns them is like two fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on."
While most people remember the 80's movie as a warm hearted comedy about a swashbuckling character bringing his simple philosophy of life to socialite New York, Crocodile Dundee was actually a powerful parable about the earth and what we are doing to it. The interactions between Sue and Mick represent the conflicting ideologies between human cultures -- one of a lifestyle built upon extraction, domination and materialism, and the other based on reciprocity, harmony and respect for mother earth. The film follows Sue's transformation, or "healing" as she falls for Mick and his way of life, and ends with her shunning the trappings of elitist New York society for a future with a man who prefers fishing to shopping and living in a shack in the middle of nowhere to a luxury apartment in Manhattan.
It is a love story about humans, but also a love story about our planet and the relationship we ultimately need to build with it should we want to survive as a species. Mick's Aboriginal parable about the earth being our Mother is seen in the West as a metaphor -- a perception that must change.
Because from a scientific and rational point of view, the earth is our Mother given we came from, and depend on her delicately balanced eco systems to survive. We are made from the same organic material as all life on earth and are subject to all the same laws. As British scientist James Lovelock argued in his groundbreaking theory of 'Gaia', the "organic and inorganic components of Planet Earth have evolved together as a single living, self-regulating system." We are a part of this single, self-regulating system, not apart from it, and the sooner we realize this as a species, the faster we can go about bringing ourselves back into balance with these systems that are under tremendous strain due to our errant behavior.
Today is Earth Day, the one day out of the year we are supposed to pay our respects to the organism hurtling through space we are living on. Of course it is better than not having an Earth Day at all, but the notion that we can forget about it for the other 364 days in the year is not only irrational but potentially lethal. If we don't come to terms with what we are -- children of the earth and subject to her laws -- there's a good chance we disappear in the not so distant future.
So while referring to the earth as our Mother might seem like a New Agey attempt to sound spiritual, it isn't. It is a biological fact, and continuing to fight over who "owns" her is, as Mick Dundee said, like fleas arguing over who owns the dog they live on.