GREEN IS GOOD
by Meg White
Once the purview of radical environmentalists, at age 40, Earth Day has settled into a rut. Across the nation today, people will be pledging to use less plastic, take fewer trips to the gas station and maybe even plant a tree or two. Perhaps the ultimate sign of decline is that fact that you can send Earth Day cards from none other than Hallmark.
Rather than the soothing salve of corporate platitudes, the only way out of this deadly rut is to get rowdy.
Of course, that is quite far from the official message. In advance of Earth Day 2010, I received an e-mail from Vice President Joe Biden announcing the dedication of $452 million in Recovery Act funds to encourage energy efficiency. Of course, Biden also encouraged citizen participation in the day’s festivities:
Of course Earth Day is about more than just government action to protect our air, water and environment. Since the first Earth Day forty years ago countless Americans have taken action to make their local communities cleaner and healthier and to have a positive impact on our planet.
This year, President Obama is calling on all of us to pitch in and participate in the Earth Day of Service. On Serve.gov/EarthDay you can find thousands of Earth Day Service events in communities across the country.
Whether you pick up trash at a local park, plant trees, or clean up the river or stream in your hometown, there are plenty of ways to get involved. I hope you’ll join President Obama and me in celebrating the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.
I’m pleased President Obama is using Earth Day to call for a national day of service to get people out in the community lending a helping hand and thinking about how they can make small changes to reduce the demand for dirty energy sources. But this is also part of the problem with the now milquetoast celebration, and why many are tuning out.
In an era of boutique, win-win options for reducing your carbon footprint, Earth Day has taken on a luxe pallor, where those who can afford to purchase carbon offsets do so and the rest of us clean up trash at a local park. Now, I’m not knocking the notion of cleaning up your neighborhood. But individual responsibility means more than just buying the right kind of light bulb. It means becoming a lobbyist for Mother Earth.
Thanks to all the lawyers speaking on behalf of Big Oil and Coal as well as the largely untested new extraction techniques such as hydraulic fracturing, the current administration is showing signs it’s giving in before it even really starts on cap-and-trade. In moves widely interpreted as give-aways to the dirty energy sectors of our past and the conservatives supported by them, Obama announced the opening of coastal areas to offshore drilling and professed confidence in the flawed notion of clean coal technology. This was construed as being something of a pre-apology in advance of cap-and-trade legislation.
If the environment had lobbyists as well-heeled as those of the oil, coal and gas industries, would such a preamble to change been necessary? OK, the well-heeled thing is not something we can do much about. But — whether we realize it or not — us lobbyists for nature have morality, facts and, most importantly, passion on our side.
Let’s start with the facts. As Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman pointed out in an extensive piece on the costs and benefits of cap-and-trade recently, conservative critics are finding that they have to really fudge the numbers (and throw in a healthy dose of ideological hypocrisy) to convince people that action against climate change is too expensive (emphasis mine):
This reaction — this extreme pessimism about the economy’s ability to live with cap and trade — is very much at odds with typical conservative rhetoric. After all, modern conservatives express a deep, almost mystical confidence in the effectiveness of market incentives — Ronald Reagan liked to talk about the “magic of the marketplace.” They believe that the capitalist system can deal with all kinds of limitations, that technology, say, can easily overcome any constraints on growth posed by limited reserves of oil or other natural resources. And yet now they submit that this same private sector is utterly incapable of coping with a limit on overall emissions, even though such a cap would, from the private sector’s point of view, operate very much like a limited supply of a resource, like land. Why don’t they believe that the dynamism of capitalism will spur it to find ways to make do in a world of reduced carbon emissions? Why do they think the marketplace loses its magic as soon as market incentives are invoked in favor of conservation?
Clearly, conservatives abandon all faith in the ability of markets to cope with climate-change policy because they don’t want government intervention. Their stated pessimism about the cost of climate policy is essentially a political ploy rather than a reasoned economic judgment. The giveaway is the strong tendency of conservative opponents of cap and trade to argue in bad faith…
The truth is that there is no credible research suggesting that taking strong action on climate change is beyond the economy’s capacity.
Big Energy lobbyists like to try to take over the moral majority on climate change by saying pointy-headed liberals don’t care if grandmothers freeze to death because they can’t afford their heating bills.
(One wonders how many subsidies for low-income customers Big Energy could afford if they sliced a piece off of their lobbying budget, but that is a suggestion for a different day.)
The truth is, they are the ones with blood on their hands. It’s folks such as Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship who value profits over the safety of the workers in West Virginia coal mines. But we don’t need dramatic events like the recent deadly explosion at a Massey mine to illustrate the dangers of coal mining. As the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health confirmed this year, black lung disease among coal miners is actually on the rise.
And even if all the missing workers from an explosion of an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday are found alive, this week’s events show that Obama’s attempt at placating the industry with more drilling permits isn’t a completely safe bet either.
Traditional energy sources don’t just put adult workers at risk, either. What of the coal fired plants that are polluting our neighborhoods? You can bet their lawyers are lobbying Congress to avoid having to cap or trade pollution permits. So who will speak for the kid living down the street from the plant with chronic asthma if not you and I?
So, we have facts and we have morals on our side. What happened to the passion? Much like the muted enthusiasm at an over-the-hill birthday party, turning 40 has given a midlife crisis feel to this year’s Earth Day. But there’s no doubt our problems of sustainability have reached actual crisis proportions already.
The other side of the environmental debate may rely on lies and industry financing, but they do have passion. But they don’t have a monopoly on it. So while tea partiers are sending around e-mails with photo-shopped birth certificates in them, shouldn’t you be sending around pictures of the newest garbage island discovered in our oceans?
So, yeah. Go pick up trash in the park today. But make a couple of phone calls when you get back. Tell the Obama Administration that part of your Earth Day pledge is to tell them they need to lobby Congress and the international community harder. Express your disappointment in the latest give-aways to dirty energy sectors.
Call your representatives and demand they pass climate change legislation that actually makes a difference in our carbon output now. Tell them Waxman-Markey was a flawed first try and that you expect better environmental protections in the future. Tell them that while you’re making sacrifices this Earth Day, you expect politicians to take a stand for the environment, too.
Contact your local representatives and ask them what specific legislation they’re supporting to make your neighborhood cleaner. Ask them to prove that they’re really concerned with your quality of life.
The fact is that cleaning up a park may make you feel better today, but talking about climate change with your elected representatives could be the catalyst for real change that will make the difference in years to come.
The point here is to make your concerns heard. Because right now your representative may be paying more attention to lobbyists and right-wing protesters, and that is one of the biggest reasons that the call for change is concentrated on light bulbs and not new ideas about the true cost of dirty energy.
GREEN IS GOOD