"Celebrated every April 22 for the past forty-two years, Earth Day is showing its (middle) age. Instead of rallying public pressure for far-reaching reforms, Earth Day is becoming, at least in the United States, a bland, tired ritual that polluters and politicians have learned to ignore or co-opt. . . . Frustrated by such cynicism, some environmentalists have called for abolishing Earth Day. But that would be throwing the baby out with the polluted bathwater. Instead, why not recall the real history of Earth Day and revive its original—and much more demanding—vision?"-- Mark Hertsgaard, "Save Earth Day," The Nation
Mark Hertsgaard has covered politics, the media and the environment for 20 years for leading publications around the world. He is The Nation's environment correspondent and the author of six books, including most recently, “HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth." Hertsgaard is one of the leading voices on climate change and environmental justice, and he needs to be heard and his advice needs to be heeded.
Wen Stephenson at The Roost, a blog for The Thoreau Farm, interviewed Hertsgaard at length about the politics of hope, how parents can get active in the climate fight and why giving up is not an option. (The interview is worth reading in its entirety, as are those Stephenson does with David Roberts, Bill McKibben, and others.)
Hertsgaard talks about parents as "probably the single most under-organized constituency on climate change." He and some colleagues are working on “Climate Parents,” to give a voice to parents who understand that climate is frightening but don't know what to do about it and so they practice "soft denial"
It’s a different kind of denial than the nonsensical, economically or ideologically based denial that we’re so familiar with. Soft denial is when people know perfectly well what’s going on — and are scared about what it means, both for them and especially for their children or grandchildren — and yet they continue to carry on with their lives as if it’s not this five-alarm fire that is about to burn down their kids’ house.A National Day of Action will be coming soon:
The news hook is the new national science education standards for K-12 that are being promoted this year by the National Research Council, which is part of the National Academy of Sciences, and the pushback from the Heartland Institute types, who want their nonscientific curricula put forward. And we are going to try to get parents to support the national science standards, as a first step to get them moving on this issue.Hertsgaard contends that the reality that we are already locked into a significant amount of climate change, does not mean we shouldn't be looking for ways to slow it down, particularly on the food side of the climate dilemma:
We have an enormous opportunity to extract carbon, and store it in plants, and especially the soil. That is one of the few, few tricks we still have up our sleeves, with things like bio char and ecological agriculture. And the irony is, there’s all this talk about carbon capture and sequestration in the coal and energy field, billions of dollars being promised or even invested in it, and we don’t know whether it will work. Compare that to the fact that in agriculture, we know perfectly well that it will work: it’s called photosynthesis. And we know it works, but we have to figure out ways to bring it to scale.Clearly, this is not enough, and even under an optimistic scenario, there does not appear to be any way to avoid "at least three feet of sea-level rise."
But how soon that comes is going to be very, very important. If that doesn’t come for a hundred years, that’s something we can prepare for. If it comes in fifty years, which is a kind of, not worst-case but very plausible scenario, that’s a lot harder.While Hertsgaard understands the despair of those who believe it is too late to do anything, he fervently believes in the "politics of hope," which he learned from Vaclav Havel: "Hope is not some silly, light-hearted feeling that you maintain just to keep going. Hope is an active verb."
Hertsgaard has long understood that environmentalists need to "stop being a special-interest group and to start connecting with other people, and realize that their struggle is other peoples’ struggle."
I’ve said that environmentalists needed a jobs program, or I would go even further and say an antipoverty program. Because that’s the main thing I’ve learned from traveling around the world — most people want to save the environment. They understand, at an intuitive human level, that we can’t survive without the world around us. But because of the way that the world economy is structured, and other reasons, they’re faced with the more immediate task of putting food on the table that night for their kids.So if environmentalists wanted to make progress, they needed to have a jobs and antipoverty message, that could attract more supporters, because the people who are opposed to progress are the big corporations who make their money from the way things are.This is a lesson that environmentalists are beginning to learn as reflected in the recent victories of the Beyond Coal campaign and over the Keystone XL Pipeline.
In Hertsgaard's piece for The Nation, he reminds us of real history of Earth Day -- that after 20 million people took to the streets, President Nixon, hardly a tree-hugger, felt politically compelled to pass what remains the most ambitious environmental legislation in the world. And this is the key: "America’s first and biggest environmental victories were won after mass grassroots activism persuaded an otherwise indifferent president that he had to deliver or risk losing his job."
So, let's get to work.