Facing South

Earth Day's Demise?

Facing South
Facing South
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In covering Earth Day activities today, the online magazine Grist makes a compelling point:

Today, on the eve of the 35th anniversary of the first Earth Day, the House of Representatives is voting on, and widely expected to pass, a grossly porkified energy bill that would dole out billions in subsidies to fossil-fuel industries, shortchange alternative-energy and efficiency initiatives, and indemnify makers of the gasoline additive MTBE against liability for groundwater contamination. And this time the bill may actually have a chance of passing in the Senate, perhaps as early as next month, after years of stalemate.

This and other dismal news rolling off Capitol Hill of late would seem good reason to make Earth Day 2005 a revolt, not a celebration. Yet when Muckraker searched high and low for organizers of big, spirited, on-the-ground protests, we found little resembling the kind of mutiny the current political moment would seem to demand.

Meteor Blades over at DKos asks a similar question, surveying Earth Day's 35-year history: "Are We Getting Anywhere?"

It is shocking that at a time when many environmental threats are coming to a head -- global warming comes to mind -- environmental issues are so far off the public radar. They barely registered in the 2004 presidential debate. What a far cry from the early 1970s, when a crooked right-winger like Nixon was slamming through legislation for clean air and water, and an Environmental Protection Agency to make them reality.

When I was on the national staff of the Student Environmental Action Coalition in the early 1990s, environmentalism was going through its first revival since 1970. A big factor was our ability to use environmental justice issues to connect to the everyday lives of African-American, Latino and poor white communities, especially in the South.

If environmentalism is to have another renaissance, it will again have to figure out how to make inroads into new communities and make environmentalism everybody's issue. It shouldn't be too hard. Do you think hunters and fishers like battling mercury-polluted waters and logged-out forests? That families enjoy having to keep their kids and grandparents inside on a sunny day because of high-risk "ozone days"?

We just have to find issues that cut across the old lines, reach out to people and make our case ... and as Grist suggests, turn up the heat.

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