The first Earth Day was fifty years ago today. Denis Hayes, a graduate student at Harvard and Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. senator from Wisconsin were the creative and political forces behind the genesis of this now global celebration. Twenty million people took part in first Earth Day demonstrations.
So, how are we doing today?
If we were a covid-19 patient, I’d say we are intubated and on a ventilator. So, not so good. Covid-19 prohibits responsible Earth Day gatherings today, therefore, Denis Hayes, now recommends that we “…make Election Day Earth Day…This November 3 vote for the Earth.”
Ten percent of the country’s population participated in demonstrations, prompting Congress to pass, and Republican president to sign into law, the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts, plus create the Environmental Protection Agency. Today we have largely gutted the EPA and rendered impotent the three key pieces of legislation protecting much our commons—the, land, air, water, and all species living on and within them.
Here’s how I think this has occurred. Large corporations and those with extreme wealth gained more and more influence in the political arena. They subsequently squeezed wealth and resources out of the middle and working class, causing an ever-increasing disparity in income, wealth, and access to the natural resources of the commons.
I recognize that these superorganism corporations do not make up the majority of businesses, the majority of which are small, locally owned, and good corporate citizens. The actions of the very powerful few however, have generated considerable and understandable frustration and anger. Republican party (and yes, I think primarily the Republican party) has seized upon that anger and used it to create a very vocal minority providing cover needed to gut of environmental protections, largely protecting those fomented into vocal anger and rage, for the purpose of maximizing profits. They know exactly what they are doing and doing so to increase wealth for a select few. It was brilliant political strategy. Mitch McConnell is maestro of such strategy. I also think this makes them sociopaths.
I understand corporation and landowner frustration with the bureaucracy created to enforce our environmental protections. I work for the Minnesota State Colleges system. I’m very well acquainted with bureaucracy. Like everything else, the most sustainable norm is always moderation, and certainly at times bureaucracy leads to regulations with unintended consequences, and because of the bureaucracy itself it is difficult to revise the regulations. It’s a nasty positive feedback loop for sure.
Here we are now on life support. There’s a new norm. Crisis. Moderation is no longer an option. Bold action must be taken or our children and grandchildren will live in a time of constant states of coronavirus-like emergencies as one pandemic, food crisis, water crisis, sea-level-rise refugee crisis washes over them like an ocean surf tumbling a drowning swimmer over and over, wave after wave.
We cannot allow this to occur. If we do, we are all complicit in the next generation’s new normal being a struggle for survival. Because of our continued inaction, our only choice now is to take bold action that will be costly and painful.
Our response to the coronavirus is microcosm of our response to the larger environmental crisis. We can commit to the difficult, painful, purposeful, science-based approach, and shelter in place and practice proper social distancing so we can manage the rate of infection (which means we must financially supporting those who cannot afford to take the necessary pause to minimize collateral damage) or we can lose patience, incite the angry vocal minority, and make short-term decisions that end up costing us more in the long run, but start the flow of profits to the corporate superorganisms.
Earth Day is often treated as a celebration of the Earth and the natural world. Today, instead, on this 50th Earth Day celebration, I think it should be a day of repentance and contemplation of our relationship with the natural world and what we can do to replace our adversarial relationship with a reciprocal relationship.
Step one. We must reject leaders who incite sedition, insurrection, and violence for their own political gains, power, and wealth acquisition at the cost of the rest of the human population. We must choose leadership willing to lead us in the collective action necessary (as only collective action will work) to begin living each day as if every day is Earth Day.