The never-ending media outrage machine is undoubtedly focusing on the next soon-to-be crisis and amplifying anything that could possibly pit one of us against the other. Outrage drives ratings up, but it also drives people apart. I’ve been focusing instead on causes that bring people together. Since this Friday we celebrate the 52nd annual Earth Day, I want to focus on my love of nature.

For years, I thought my love of nature was due to the times I had spent as a grade school student outdoors with my family. When I was a child, my father (former House Speaker Newt Gingrich) was an environmental studies professor at West Georgia College (now the University of West Georgia) in Carrollton, Georgia. When I was still in grade school, our family of four often tagged along on my father’s college student field trips, during which we hiked, canoed and camped in the Okefenokee Swamp.

But recently, I came across photographs that lead me to believe my love of nature came even earlier. I was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, where my father was a graduate student at Tulane University; the earliest photos of our family were taken at Audubon Park, which was within walking distance of our duplex apartment. The 350-acre park was originally a plantation and now houses a zoo, sports facilities and a variety of wildlife. It is a refuge from the surrounding urban jungle — a place to walk, play or simply sit and be still while enjoying God’s creation.

In 1971, when I was in first grade, our family spent the second Earth Day picking up trash from the side of a road. By this time, we had moved to rural Georgia. What I remember from that day were bags and bags of trash, including a toilet seat. Odd, indeed. In recent years, my husband Jimmy and our children have participated in cleanup days in Atlanta. During our cleanups, we have found tires, liquor bottles, beer cans and a lot of chicken wings in addition to the normal trash. It’s interesting to see what people think is OK to throw out on the earth for others to pick up — or not.

One of my earliest memories is of the “Keep America Beautiful” commercial, which was produced for the first Earth Day, when I was 4. It portrayed what appeared to be an American Indian crying over the pollution that littered our country. Later, we found out that the actor was neither an Indian nor was he really crying. But his message was real: We should take care of the land that we inhabit. It’s a message we need to hear again today.

While many might view this belief as liberal, I believe it’s biblical. If you believe that God created the earth (which I do), and if you believe that humans were entrusted to take care of God’s creation (which I also believe), then the question of how we should interact with the environment becomes a question of stewardship. How do we best take care of the earth, which was given to us by God?

If we take on this challenge of stewardship, we must think about the best approach. When you are faced with a problem, how do you solve it? Do you solve it by subtracting and controlling, or by adding and incentivizing? Does the approach matter? I think it does. While it’s human nature to attempt to control, this can lead to limiting options, limiting actions and negative results. Incentivizing and building on positive actions tend to provide us with more options, energy, possibilities and better results.

“I understand the intellectual appeal of government control but recognize that it contains two key flaws,” I wrote in my book, “Our Broken America: Why both Sides Need to Stop Ranting and Start Listening” (Center Street, 2019). The flaws: “(1) Government is neither efficient nor effective; and (2) When government attempts to overcome its inefficiencies, it does so by taking away people’s freedoms.”

For myself, I focus on what I can do to assist in saving God’s creation through community involvement and nonprofit organizations. I’ve served for years on the Georgia advisory board of the Trust for Public Land, which saves land for people. Its projects include the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, the Rodney Cook Sr. Park at Historic Vine City, the Atlanta BeltLine, and the Chattahoochee RiverLands Program. We believe that parks unite people, and that all people need to have a place to play outside. Clearly, these parks need to be kept clean.

We all need to pitch in and do our part to be good stewards of the earth.

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