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What Martin Luther King Jr. Would Say About the Planet Today

January 20, 2020 3 min read

What Martin Luther King Jr. Would Say About the Planet Today

Happy MLK Jr. Day, Earthlings!

I have no doubt that Martin Luther King Jr. respected nature with the same reverence he gave to human life. If he saw how much havoc we’ve wreaked on the environment by 2020, he would likely stand up to defend the rights of nature. Here’s why I think so:

Martin Luther King, Jr. advocated fearlessly for justice, equality and peace, not only for his fellow Black Americans, but for all people. This is not least because Dr. King set for us a universal agenda that embraces all people and all living things.

The emotional resonance with which Dr. King preached in his "I Have a Dream" speech of 1963 still sends shivers down my spine. As a civil rights movement leader and a renowned orator, he unified people by speaking directly to their sense of humanity. Though he did not survive beyond his tragic assassination in 1968, his words transcend his death. We still turn to him in trying times.   

Martin Luther King Jr.'s own time was plagued with the threat of nuclear war, the Vietnam War, violent racial tension and economic inequalities in the U.S., particularly in the South. But he bestowed us with wisdom that rings true in our own historical moment. Indeed, he ignites bold, courageous action in any era.

We are now faced with the unprecedented challenges of a warming planet and human-caused mass extinction. Our oceans are filled with plastic waste, and our water supply is drying up. These threats contribute to greater economic inequalities and instability globally. Dr. King's words renew us with a vital uplifting force that inspires hope, even in these dark times.  

Dr. King’s death occurred on the eve of the environmental movement, whose leaders drew inspiration from strategies Dr. King employed. Just two years after his assassination, 20 million Americans celebrated their first Earth Day in 1970.  

In many ways, Dr. King foreshadowed the movement, remaining cognizant of how privileging of profits over people leads to injustice. He cautioned against our "thing-oriented" society, critiquing a world that favored technological tools of warfare and materialism over people's fundamental life-sustaining needs. He always never ceased to preach the significance of love and acceptance among people, and this philosophical foundation can easily extend to the natural world.

Dr. King also highlighted the injustice of the degraded environment when he said: “cities are gasping in polluted air and enduring contaminated water.” And by writing, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” in his "Letter from Birmingham Jail" written on April 16, 1963, he left the door open for us to consider the rights of our natural resources and fellow living creatures.  

We can also observe a small but significant intersection of peace-making and ecological insight in his use of natural metaphors and emphasis on the interdependence of all life. By building bridges between people, the planet, and even the cosmos, his words inspire us to think beyond our limited perspectives to live in harmony and solidarity with each other and with nature.

Below Are Some Consciousness Raising Quotations by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

"The time is always right to do what is right."

“Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.”

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

"Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it."

"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly."

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a ‘thing-oriented’ society to a ‘person-oriented’ society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

"Even if I knew that the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree."

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

"Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

Tell us how Martin Luther King Jr.’s words have led you to a higher calling. What have you done to promote justice in your own life?