Earth Day 1970 — Earth Day today 2020

I shared a short bit of serenity in the previous post on Earth Day. If ever we needed to calm our synapses, it’s now, in the turbulence of a pandemic and a certain (ir)response. So much is going on it almost seems like something else is breaking or being deliberately broken by the minute.

That’s what I want to spend a few minutes on now with serenity as a foregrounding. Going back to the first Earth Day in 1970, one of AIRE’s early guides and mentors was a part of it there in Berkeley. Loren Cole died in 2018, but his story about the lead up to Earth Day 1970 can teach us now. He argued within the planning group, that the “event” should be something material and structural and not merely a celebration one day a year. His preference would have been to create grassroots organizations and collaborations that did useful things for people in communities and that, in doing so, would embody the ultimate aim of Earth Day. (See Loren Cole here and here.)

It seems to me that maybe those various movements have managed to do a little of both. For the casual Earth Day participant though, there’s still work to be done in that we do NOT need to get back to “business as usual.” In response to the coronavirus crisis, the difference between charity and solidarity have come to light. Charity is nice but often lacks the heart and critical understanding of what’s happening beneath the daily orbits of the charitable. Charity is the boot on the neck at times. Solidarity, on the other hand, does understand struggle and immerses in it, and it’s been gratifying to see so much mutual aid being mobilized. I think that’s what Loren was getting at. That ordinary folk help each other like that gives us reason for hope.

The road to change doesn’t have to be long but we better get going.

“Looming” has been a word and a feeling lately; threats to be more specific. I won’t tick them off since anyone reading this is on top of that list. A few phrases from article titles I’ve seen in the past few days gives the flavor:

Abrupt ecosystem collapse” [1] reminds us of the nature of complex systems and of our stubborn inability to grasp exponential change. Even, it seems, in some quarters, the growth of COVID-19 hasn’t taught us how rapid change works. Wonder if the dramatic collapse of oil prices has taught anything of a sort? That’s exponential too!

A researcher is quoted at the end of the collapse article, summing up the takeaway about rapid change:

“The risk doesn’t accumulate gradually, but can go from low risk to high risk within a decade. This abruptness of risk was really a shocking finding for us.”

Cascading and multi-layered crises” [2] is another phrase that underscores the fact that we’re in serious trouble this 50th Earth Day. The worse these things get, the more difficult and costly it is to recover. At some point the band snaps (as in above “abrupt ecosystem collapse”).

The autopsy of governance” [3] suggests that in a time when we need actual governance we see none, we see the opposite, we see atrophy and corruption. The theft that is taking place so rapidly with these coronavirus “bailouts” should be a grave concern to everyone (except for obviously those few who are the plutocrats; they love their upward redistribution, socialism for the rich). Without accountability and transparency, we’re in trouble.

The price of oil, an amazing and unprecedented collapse, as spectacular as it truly is, should be our que to usher in a better idea, up to 21st century thinking since we’re 1/5 ways through it already. The dinosaurs are dead. Why would we keep pouring good money into these insane and criminal dead ends? The intrepid David Roberts at Vox, always on target, says it in plain language- “Coronavirus stimulus money will be wasted on fossil fuels“. Getting back to governance then, the alternative aims of the trillions of dollars being lavished on oil companies, airlines and other dinosaurs ought to be invested in something that could help break the chain of crises and serve people.

So, “To Rebuild Our Cities and Towns, We Need to Design a Green Stimulus” [4]. Thus, from today forward for the next six months:

The task before us now is to reclaim our planet’s authorship — to take it away from capital and give it back to workers, to envision a future design for people and nature and not by markets, and to make the world a Green Stimulus intends to build as beautiful and just as possible.


[1] See Robert Hunziker’s piece on counterpunch.
[2] See Vincent Emanuele’s piece on counterpunch.
[3] See Melvin Goodman’s piece on counterpunch.
[4] See Billy Fleming and Alexandra Lillehei’s piece on Jabobin.

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