Earth Day – does it matter?

Posted April 22nd, 2010 in Blog, Featured 2 Comments »

Fostering Ecological Hope
Today from Margaret Swedish:

There’s something disquieting about the trendiness of Earth Day.  I mean, I’m glad it comes each year and that some consciousness-raising gets done. But compared to the intensity and progressive edge of its first years, something is lacking – like perhaps the exigencies of the change required in order to restore the human connection to the planet.

Gaylord Nelson, Earth Day founder, announces its beginnings - Image source: NOAA

Forty years ago, we were just coming to grips with the danger looming before us of the combination of environmental wreckage, accumulated waste and toxins, accelerating population growth rates, and the approaching tipping point when humans would pass beyond the Earth’s biocapacity – taking more from the Earth than it can replenish, putting more waste into it than it can process and absorb.

The NY Times caught a bit of the flavor of the mainstreaming, the softening of the edge, of Earth Day: At 40, Earth Day Is Now Big Business.   Then there’s all that focus on individual actions – recycling, replacing light bulbs, buying a new hybrid car, etc. Add in the phony greening of all those fossil fuel companies whose message implies that they can deliver cleaner fossil fuel energy – which is true at the end point of the burning, but not at the ecological damage done before it gets to that point.

I think of some of the ‘greenest’ people I know carrying around the latest hi-tech communications gadgets full of toxic chemicals and all requiring the steady input of electric power to keep the batteries charged.

I think of Obama and other politicians talking about ‘clean coal’ and new nuclear energy plants (still without a concerted plan to dispose of the waste) and liquified natural gas and new cleaner oil drilling rigs off our coasts and on and on – and I know that Earth Day has truly lost its prophetic edge.

Fact is, we are still trying to find a way to get ‘green’ without changing our lifestyles or economic/financial/consumer aspirations in any significant way – which we all know now is impossible.

So I wanted to find a couple of expressions of the original Earth Day mission, places where real change, not superficial change, is occurring, where we can see ecological hope being realized.  Here’s one, an opinion editorial in today’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Respect our land; rethink our ways, by Winona LaDuke. Writing of the special impact that mining of fossil fuels, especially uranium, has had on Indian peoples, she writes:

We are on the front lines of Earth Day, and we still have the same questions: Why does the predator not change? When will the brilliance of humanity restore an economy that is just and respectful? And when will our lands have peace? It is 40 years after the first Earth Day.

We’ve managed to fend off some major uranium mines, coal mines and clear-cuts… We’ve saved our planet from a few projects, but more are on the horizon. Until we shift the paradigm and change the level of consumption, our Earth will still be threatened.

And that ought to be the real message of Earth Day – until we make this shift, it doesn’t matter if we change some individual behavior (though this is, of course,  also necessary). The scale of the crisis requires a new paradigm, not thought and written about, not discussed in book groups and fretted about on the editorial pages, but actually brought into being, as LaDuke and her community are creating, or re-creating.

So where is that new way of life coming into being? Well, of course, there are numerous expressions of this all over the planet, indigenous groups, urban farmers, local co-ops, bartering systems, farm-to-school initiatives, incipient bioregional food systems (organic farming, community supported agriculture, farmers’ markets, etc.), radical down-scaling of lifestyles, return to simple living, work to defend our waters, soils, other species and ecosystems, local and regional renewable energy initiatives, political action at the local, national and international levels.

All of this comprises the emergence of the new human consciousness, the rediscovery of the place of the human within the remarkable living reality of this planet.

By way of example, and of great hope, I want to introduce you to The Greenhorns.  Their mission: “to promote, recruit and support young farmers in America.”  This is not some romantic ‘back to the land’ movement, but rather a return to farming as a way of life, a commitment to the land, to health, to a reversal of industrial agriculture, one of the most ecologically and health damaging industries on the planet. Check out this trailer for a new documentary on The Greenhorns:

I enjoyed browsing around this website, and I’m sure you will, too. The policy implications for me are fairly straightforward. It’s time to end all federal support, tax subsidies and tax breaks, for industrial agriculture and to turn that support to these and other organic, family, private farmers. Our food system would change very quickly if we did this.

We just learned a sobering lesson with the volcano in Iceland. When air transportation shut down across Europe, the food and flowers for export industry in Africa went into crisis. I don’t think most of us realize how much of our food supply depends now on real-time, long distance production and transportation. We have been harping on this point for some time, in my book, on this site, in talks and presentations – this globalized economy is vulnerable in many ways, but among the greatest vulnerabilities is that this economy does not live within the real dynamisms of this planet. It depends now on nothing bad happening, no interruptions. We are all used to things running on time, and because the global economy demands greater and greater efficiency, we are ending up with less and less resilience, more dependence on nothing bad happening, so that when natural disaster strikes, we have economic disasters.

Then there is the justice issue: over the past 3-4 decades, the economic powers of the world have forced more and more poor countries into the global economy, producing for the consumers of the affluent nations. Folks in Mexico, Latin America, Africa, and Asia once produced food largely for their own consumption. Now their lands have been sold off to international players; now they work on a globalized assembly line at low wages to produce broccoli for US consumers in February, or rose bouquets sold at train stations or on street corners.

Or they work long hours in factories assembling the hi-tech gadgets for wages that cannot keep their families fed, housed, and healthy, gadgets that will require hundreds of new coal-fired power plants to provide the energy, after which other workers making even less (in China, for example) will deal with the toxic waste as they disassemble these gadgets ‘recycled’ or thrown away to get the newest and latest version.

Organic vegetable cultivation - Source: Wikimedia Commons

THIS is the paradigm that needs to be changed. The Greenhorns are doing this in the farming world – and they are young, and that gives us so much hope – they need our support – THIS is the food we should all be eating, and if we don’t have it where we are, we ought to figure out how to create this new farm economy right where we are.

Then we have to create this new paradigm in other parts of the economy, one of the crucial points being how we create and consume energy.

Time to bring an edge back to Earth Day. Time to make this the annual inspiration for a movement bent on changing how we do business here, how humans live on this planet, and how to support the generations coming up after us as they find their own new paths into a regenerative, and ultimately sustainable, future.

From The Greenhorns website:

United in our commitment to soil fertility, local nutrition,  national health and a yummy hereafter. Land. Liberty. Stamina. Sunshine.  These are the natural ingredients for an edible future.
We heartily agree!

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2 Responses

  1. Fritz Kreiss

    So much to do and so little time- education is a key component and making scalable solutions that improve our sustainability without people feeling like they are sacrificing. I hope you will consider coming and doing a workshop at our July 16-18 near Lake Geneva WI. 100s of workshops from bee keeping to recycling to installing a wind turbine.

  2. Margaret

    Thanks for the invite. I will check it out for sure.