Thoughts on the 40th Anniversary of Earth Day
By Rich Whitney, Green Party candidate for Governor
The 40th Anniversary of Earth Day reminds me of the very first Earth Day, in 1970. I was a high-school Freshman that year and I remember an upper-classman named Billy Barth who recruited some of us to go out to a local stream and pick up litter and trash that had been dumped into it. The problem was very visible and easily identifiable and the solution was equally clear. We just went out, did some work and solved the problem.
A lot of things haven’t changed much since 1970: The principal cause of the contamination arises from the fact that most industrial activity is conducted by large-scale corporations that, in the absence of regulatory or other controls, naturally find it more profitable to dump contaminants into our air, water, and land, rather than incur the expense of controlling or safely disposing of the contaminants. Giant agribusiness conglomerates find it more profitable to overuse pesticides and herbicides in agriculture, than to use more environmentally friendly practices. And the public policy changes needed to curb such abusive practices are frustratingly slow in coming, with limited victories coming only after years of concerted public pressure. Why? Because the same giant multinational corporations that benefit the most from these practices also bankroll the campaigns of the candidates that the people rely upon to regulate or prohibit environmental contamination.
What has changed since 1970 is that the most menacing environmental threats are much more insidious and hidden from plain sight than the highly visible forms of air and water pollution that most concerned us at that time. The threat of invisible nuclear radiation was there, of course, and the threats posed by pesticides and herbicides were subtle. But today those threats are joined by new invisible threats: GMO foods, endocrine disrupters, and above all, greenhouse gases, which now threaten the balance of nature on a global scale.
The environmental movement continues to fight the good fight against these new, more subtle and more challenging threats. Corporate control over the political process has made it more and more difficult to win victories, as the giant corporate and banking interests have tightened their grip on both the Democratic and Republican parties. Environmental groups keep banging their heads against the proverbial brick wall, only occasionally chipping off a bit of progress.
Despite all of these disturbing and ominous trends, however, there are reasons to have hope that we – humankind – may yet prevail in our struggle against our own most destructive tendencies, and create a clean, healthy, sustainable environment that comports with the natural world we inhabited when our species first emerged.
For one thing, environmental consciousness has become much more mainstream and predominant today than it was in 1970. Environmentalists still get bashed from time to time but environmentalism, and the notion that we must safeguard our natural environment from further degradation, is not a fringe concern any more.
Second, the realities of the end of the era of cheap oil has brought about the realization that we, as a society, must make profound changes in the way we obtain and use energy and other resources – and that environmental sense also makes economic sense. A corollary to this is that the labor movement, and workers generally, are increasingly seeing environmentalists as their allies instead of perceiving them as their enemy.
Finally, a new political force is emerging to help win the struggle for a healthy and sustainable environment: The Green Party. An international movement for political change, Green parties in Europe and throughout the world have already had a substantial impact on public policy and helped effect positive changes in the struggle to establish sustainable agriculture, promote renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable transportation. Here in the United States, our “winner take all” electoral system has kept us behind the curve, but even here, we are making progress, and nowhere more than right here in Illinois.
In the Green Party, the labor movement, the environmental movement and the more forward-thinking and productive sectors of the economy have a natural ally. A party whose foundational principles include the values of ecological wisdom, grassroots democracy, social justice and community-based economics, the Green Party refuses corporate campaign contributions as a matter of principle. We are determined to build genuine government of, by and for the people. We can’t be bought and we won’t sell out.
Thus, instead of continuing to batter their heads against the proverbial brick wall, the environmental movement, the labor movement and all the other popular movements that are constantly thwarted by these institutions known as the Democratic and Republican parties – such as the peace movement, the civil rights and civil liberties and social justice movements – now have the potential to directly influence public policy. The real solution has always been an obvious one: Instead of protesting the repeatedly bad results of government policy from the outside, these movements need to be on the inside, getting into government in order to directly change what government does.
To do that requires getting movement people elected to office. That requires having an organization that can accomplish that – a political party. That party has been formed – the Green Party.
Now all the movement groups have to do is support their party and get their people elected. It’s that simple.
It’s a lot like seeing a lot of trash dumped in a stream. What do you do? Put on some boots, wade in where you need to go, and pick it up. Problem solved.