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Wild Green

Former Utne Reader senior editor Keith Goetzman on environmental issues from climate change to composting.

For Earth Day, Be a Dirt Hugger

 by Keith Goetzman

Tags: Environment, Earth Day, Dirt the Movie, agriculture, climate change, forests, food, environmental justice, Independent Lens, Keith Goetzman,

Dirt!Face it, Earth Day is kind of daunting, and I think that’s one reason it isn’t as widely or exuberantly celebrated as some environmentalists wish. Merely acknowledging the tenuousness of our existence on this planet makes us confront fundamental issues of mortality and sustainability and the possible end of the world as we know it. That’s not nearly as fun as the mindless consumptive revelry of birthdays, Christmas, or Halloween.

So my concept for this Earth Day—Thursday—is to keep things simple. I’m going to celebrate the beauty and power of dirt. My inspiration for this personal back-to-the-roots movement is Dirt! The Movie, a documentary that premieres on PBS’s Independent Lens series tonight, April 20, and also recently became available on DVD from New Video.

Of course, dirt might seem like the most boring and mundane film topic you could imagine, and indeed, a procession of soil scientist interviews would send many viewers fleeing. So Dirt!—starting with the exclamation point, it seems—goes out of its way to inject humor and visual effects, with microorganism cartoons and goofy interludes that will keep even younger kids interested. Beginning with the Big Bang and bringing us right up to modern agriculture, mining, and other earth-intensive human pursuits, it does a wonderful job of showing and telling us that “the living, breathing skin of the earth” is a fantastic and fragile resource.

The film takes a turn toward gooey eco-earnestness near the end, and cynics may groan as Kenyan “Green Belt” activist Wangari Maathai tells the tale of one brave little hummingbird trying to put out a forest fire drop by drop. But I won’t be joining them. If there’s one time when I’m willing to suspend pessimism and cheer on the treehuggers, it’s for Earth Day.

Sources: PBS Independent Lens, New Video