First Earth Day reflections

First Earth Day   2 short stories still relevant today.  Greg Gerritt

I had never really organized an event when I heard about the first Earth Day in 1970, but I immediately decided to do something.  I ended up organizing a school wide assembly at my high school with a bunch of students giving short presentations about environmental topics.  For some reason, lost in the mists of time, I decided to give a talk about the restoration of the Meadowlands, the estuary of the Hackensack River that was a few miles from my house, and that I had never really looked at. I just knew it was a very polluted industrial area. I included a one liner about ospreys too, which at the time were being devastated by DDT.  At the time the Meadowlands were still being diked and filled, pollution was rampant, and no one was talking about restoration.  I moved away right after high school and for many years gave the Meadowlands very little thought.  All I heard the Meadowlands in the intervening time was that Jimmy Hoffa was buried in the foundations of the football stadium built there.  

Sometime in the 1990’s I was with my wife driving south from New England long the Jersey Turnpike and there were a series of signs as we went through the Meadowlands about restoration.  Cleaner water, bird habitat that sort of thing. Made me smile and triggered the memory of what I said more than 20 years before.  The restoration efforts continue to this day.  It is also interesting that many of the events I organize these days have the same basic format as the event I organized for the first Earth Day.  And that yesterday I saw an Osprey sitting on a post right in front of a billboard in a heavy industrial area in Pawtucket right next to I-95 and the still very polluted Moshassuck River, a place I had never seen an Osprey in before.   

The other thing I did for the first Earth Day was join a park creation effort somewhere in Manhattan.  Big vacant lot in a lower income POC neighborhood.  I have no idea how I heard about it, but I did and I went. Worked all day with a rake and shovel. I also gave it very little thought after that until many years later.

What struck me many years later was that so much of the discussion these days is about how white the environmental movement is, how it always ignored justice issues.  All of that is true, but it is interesting to note that even at the first Earth Day the park creation was a POC led project in a POC neighborhood with a wide diversity of volunteers.  These days we talk about this much more, and we all know that the real energy is in the Climate Justice and Environmental Justice movements, but we should not ignore the fact that the justice strand of the environmental movement was present at the first Earth Day.

I am at the age when I occasionally reflect on all the things I have done, and I kind of like it that the things I did for the first Earth Day 50 years ago, are still themes in my work encompassed in my slogan  “You cannot heal ecosystems without ending poverty,. You cannot end poverty without healing ecosystems.  And you will do neither if we do not shut down the war machine”.  

The situation on the planet is in many ways worse than ever.  There are only half as many wild animals as 50 years ago, and the massive deforestation is not only worsening the climate crisis, it is unleashing new diseases like the current pandemic that is making the 50thEarth Day a virtual event, but the linking of the movements for justice,  the environment, peace , and democracy still gives me hope and keeps me fighting.  

A Statement on the Climate Crisis by Green Party Elders

A Statement on the Climate Crisis by Green Party Elders

Linda Cree  former Co-Chair of the the GP-US Platform Committee and educator, folk artist of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula

Greg Gerritt  One of the founders of the Green Party of the United States and an Activist and Writer in Providence RI

We remember when the world had twice as many animals and half as many people as it does in 2020.  When we were young there was 50% more forest, the Arctic Sea Ice was bigger and made of older ice, and much of the winter rains we see today came as snow in our northern communities.  We remember the post WWII prosperity and how widely it was shared, when democracy seemed ascendant, when the Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Wilderness, Clean Air and Clean Water acts all passed in a few short years.  We remember the corporate and right-wing blowback that, since 1973, has tried to return us to a robber-baron-like patriarchy and oligarchy.  To a racist and violent past where the rich could pollute for profit with impudence and America was all about corporate empires.

We also understand that the climate crisis didn’t happen overnight.  It’s been exacerbated by greed and corruption in high places, but the roots go far deeper. When we look for the roots of the crisis we realize that climate change is only one symptom of our culture’s ecocidal disruption of natural systems. That disruption owes its power to our unquestioned faith in “growth-as-progress,” to our anthropocentric belief that Nature is simply “resources” for our use, to our patriarchal attitudes of dominance and control, and to the hyper-industrialism and population overshoot we’re experiencing as a result.

The Climate Crisis is not only at the door, it is ransacking the house with fires, floods, famines, driving millions of people from their homes and fostering wars. We have seen politicians dither, corporations lie, good science bashed, and democracy squelched to protect the power and the money of the polluters and the politicians they pay.  Every time the scientists come out with a new report, it is more dire than the previous one, forecasting faster and more disastrous results, while  still lagging behind the ever more dangerous reality.  

         Green Elders have not only seen the climate crisis developing for a long time, we have seen a bit differently.  A worldview shaped by an understanding of the connections between ecology, equality, democracy, and peace means that for many years Greens have known that to end the climate crisis and mitigate the results we are too late to stop, we must not only halt  carbon emissions and plant trees; we must also embrace social justice and an economic transformation that returns power to communities.  Local communities must be empowered to set their own green courses and transform dangerous industries into those that affirm life and community.  They must have democratically structured rights to stop inappropriate economic scams in the name of growth that make inequality worse. They must have the ability to move intelligently and together into an economy that is working for everyone, not just the few.  

As Elders,we know that it is unlikely that we will see the worst of the heat waves and storms that are being baked into the climate today. That is the unfortunate legacy for the youth.  We may see the end of coral reefs, the tipping point pushing the Amazon from forest to scrubland, continents on fire, a world in which only billionaires have a say in the halls of government.  But it is these things that have not yet come to pass, rather than the past, that must drive us today.  

We must make sure that clean energy, properly sited by the people who live in the community, replaces all fossil fuels, that forests, soils, waters, and wildlife as well as humans and human communities are healed and restored.  That living wages and maximum wages shape an economy that provides life affirming work for all. That healthy environments for children are the norm. And that democracy is of the people, by the people, and for the people.  

As calamities have proven time and again, when a society decides to go all in on doing the right thing, to do the critical things to assure survival, then great things can happen.  That we can rebuild our infrastructure, figure out how to protect the public and provide healthcare for all, stand down the war machine, and expand democracy is well known, but the oligarchs continue to scheme about how to protect their wealth and power through gerrymandering and propaganda.  

         Green Party candidates were the first to call for a Green New Deal, several years before anyone else picked up the cry.  We welcome all the Green New Dealers.  Greens realize, however, that the solution to our energy crisis involves much more than substituting alternative technologies such as wind and solar for fossil fuels and nuclear.  Our GP-US Platform advocates for“decentralized bio-regional electricity generation and distribution” to restore community control and to “prevent the massive ecological and social destruction that accompanies production of electricity in mega-scale projects”. (GP-US Platform).   It also calls for reducing our energy consumption, and cites the moral responsibility we have to all of our relations, and the need to halt “the destruction of habitats which are being sacrificed to unqualified economic expansion”.(GP-US Platform)

         As Elders, we remember the early days of the alternative energy movement and the importance attached to keeping such energies appropriately-scaled and community controlled.  Today we see neo-environmentalists lauding as “green” any mega-scale corporate project involving solar panels or wind turbines, no matter how ecologically destructive the project may be.  We oppose the colonial attitudes toward rural and wilderness areas such developments often represent. We see these mega projects as a transition to renewables according to the rules of the current centralized, corporate-controlled system that’s fixated on growth and profits.  It plays into corporate agendas that enable our wasteful energy appetites, when what’s needed is to rein them in.

         The hard reality is that the scale at which modern industrial civilizations operate is a big part of the problem.  Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute warns us that we can only have a post-carbon future if we in the heavily industrialized nations reduce our energy use “significantly.”  And James Kunstler, author of “The Long Emergency,” questions the viability of large-scale solar and wind projects when we run out of fossil fuels.  In the long run, he concludes, there is no energy resource that will allow us to continue using energy at our current rates.  Thus, our Green value of Future Focus compels us to look at our situation honestly, and begin planning for a transition to simpler, localized lifestyles and technologies.

A just transition, not only of the energy system, but of our society and the entire economy is a prerequisite for surviving the climate crisis.  And time is running out.  We’re experiencing what many are calling the Sixth Great Extinction.  As Chickasaw author, Linda Hogan, reminds us in her essay The First People,  “We are losing everything of true worth in this world.  In all the four directions, the animals are leaving. Through our failed humanity they are vanishing, and along with them we are losing something of utmost importance: the human traits of love, empathy, and compassion.” Greens believe it’s critical that we recognize how destructive our Western culture’s human-centeredness is as we try to move to more Earth-gentle, sustainable lifestyles.

It will take great resources to make it happen, but the resources are available.  It has been proven time and again, that governments can fund public infrastructure without enriching the bankers.  This can be done without causing inflation by using publicly created money.  We could transfer 50% of the military budget to a just transition for communities without taking away from our national security one whit.  All it would do is require us to give up the idea of empire and the demand that countries follow our prescriptions to oligarchical power.  We know that we can rebuild soils and forests and clean up the waters while providing more jobs than currently exist in those fields.  That supporting farmers and helping them stay on the land reduces the pressures on the community and provides healthier food.    We know it will require real local democracy and governance that pays close attention to real data and open discussions.

Mandates to reduce emissions are absolutely needed, as is funding for alternatives.  But just as much, maybe even more, we need to develop the collective political will to do the right thing, to practice justice, to demand and create equality, to put the needs of healthy ecosystems at the heart of the needs of human communities.  

This is much harder to do than the technical stuff.  People know how to erect a wind turbine and build a solar electric grid.  But, while we know how to build things, unless we get the human relations and our relations with other living things right, it will be for naught.  Unless justice is at its heart it will only lead to the next disaster. Unless all humans participate in creating the new world, it will recreate the disaster of the current era.  Unless the healing of nature and deep respect for all life is a core value we shall continue to see unprecedented destruction from the next new thing.  

Unless we get right with all of our relations, human and non human, that inhabit this little planet in the vastness of space, it will be very hard sledding for those who follow in the time of no snows.