On Earth Day 2015, humanity is facing increasing environmental dangers: climate change, air and water pollution, toxic chemicals spreading worldwide, soil and water challenges, and many more.
Movements to solve these mounting problems and crises are growing, from the 400,000-strong People’s Climate March last fall to local struggles against fracking and the toxic effects of factory farms, to fossil fuel divestment campaigns, to opposition to coal and to explosion-prone oil trains. Workers and unions are increasingly part of these struggles, and there is an increasing awareness worldwide that international action is a necessity. These movements are essential elements of a growing broad coalition demanding action to address climate change and other environmental problems.
When corporations feel they can pollute our common water resources at will, when oil train explosions well beyond the capacity of any local fire department erupt in many communities, our shared environment is at risk.
When Exxon, Shell and other oil and gas corporations, the most profitable ever in the history of the world, work to exploit fossil fuels that must remain in the ground if we hope to prevent catastrophic climate change, our shared atmosphere is at risk, all for the profit of a handful of already super-rich.
When drought ravages California and increasingly threatens Oregon and Washington State (where the snowpack is at 24 percent of normal and melting faster than usual), yet Nestle and other companies continue to utilize water needed by all of us for their own private profit, this shared common resource belonging to us all is at risk.
As rainforest destruction continues to threaten the lungs of the world, as desertification spreads in many parts of the globe, as forest fires expand in number and intensity, as coral reefs die, as plastic contaminates the rapidly heating oceans, as factory farms pollute our soil, air and waterways, the natural world upon which humanity depends for life, for sustenance, for medicine, for diversity, for our very existence, is at risk.
Capitalism is at the root of many of these problems, and is the biggest obstacle to solving many of them as well. When private profit endangers the health and existence of all humanity, more is needed than technological fixes and tinkering with our laws and economic practices – though those changes are important and necessary, as is personal change such as recycling, reusing, and consuming in more environmentally responsible ways. Fundamental, systemic change is necessary to address the massive challenges to a healthy humanity and a healthy natural world.
On this 44th Earth Day, radical action is required more than ever. Every delay caused by corporate resistance and political gamesmanship by ultra-right Republicans fronting for Big Oil and other polluters means that the costs of change will be heavier, and that the impact of environmental crises will fall every more heavily on the poor, the oppressed, and the exploited of the world. Our common future requires common action by people in the billions, and this requires more struggle, more unity, more understanding, more coalition-building, than ever before. The super-rich can, for a time, use their excessive wealth to personally avoid the worst effects of climate change and other environmental problems, but all humanity will suffer for their short-range, short-sighted profit-taking at our common expense.
This year of environmental struggle will culminate this fall in Paris at a United Nations conference to negotiate an international agreement to curb harmful climate change. Millions from around the world will be watching, demanding real and aggressive action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Countries from China to the United States to most of Europe are pledging to make significant changes to their energy production and environmental laws. But we know that these steps, important and ground-breaking though they are, will not be enough by themselves.
Fundamental transformation of our energy, economic, agricultural, and industrial systems and practices is needed. This can only be brought about by a force greater than that of the billionaires and their right-wing stooges, the force of billions of people fighting for survival. Environmental struggles joined with economic struggles joined with peace and justice struggles, across the globe, can bring into being the political power to create this fundamental change.
As these movements are growing, so too is our scientific and technological knowledge and experience. But there is no one magic bullet to solve these problems – it requires political will, political organization, and the power of the organized working class.
There are many ways to get involved right now:
* Join climate change demonstrations and petition campaigns, Earth Day activities, and civil disobedience campaigns to place the blame for the crisis on the system.
* Participate in the fossil fuel divestment campaigns growing rapidly on college campuses, directed at pension and other funds inflating their stock valuation based on fossil fuels that need to stay in the ground. These campaigns expose the house of cards that is the fossil fuel industry. The super-profits of the oil, gas and coal companies are one reason why income inequality has been growing so sharply, and it is based on the illusion that all known reserves can be burned.
* Support and organize for “just transitions” to a green economy, to protect workers in fossil fuel and carbon industries, and the communities that currently depend on those industries. Make the oil and coal companies guarantee continued wages until workers are retrained and employed, or retired. Make those companies provide support for the many coal and oil towns decimated by closures.
* Get involved with local struggles on environmental issues: land use, fracking, oil spills, water use, or any others in your area.
* Oppose the right-wing deniers of climate change and of all science that threatens profits, and oppose Republican efforts to hamstring the Environmental Protection Agency and enforcement of environmental laws.
* Demand “people and nature before profits.“
Photo: A sign at the People’s Climate March in London, Sept. 21, 2014. | Garry Knight (CC)