By Anne Petermann
Global Justice Ecology Project
I am writing this Earth Day blog post, quite ironically from an airport. I am stuck here in the Chicago O’Hare airport because of yet more bad weather.
In 2010 the Weather Channel announced that the definition of “severe weather” was being upgraded—in other words, weather had to be even more severe before it could be called severe. And yet, in recent months there have been days on end of severe weather reported across the United States.
In North Carolina last week, three tornados struck simultaneously. Eyewitnesses reported them swirling around each other. April 2011 has been called the most tornadic month in US history.
No, the weather ain’t what it used to be. Nor will it be again.
I am expected to arrive home—after a reroute and a 7+ hour delay (and counting…)– later tonight. But I am one of the lucky ones. The Departure Boards both here and in Atlanta (where I flew from this morning) were littered with bright yellow flight cancellations.
Of course, I haven’t left yet. We shall see. It would not be the first time I have been stuck in Chicago overnight due to bad weather.
But back to the topic at hand. The first Earth Day was in 1970—it was part of an upswell of environmental activism that resulted in the passage of some major environmental legislation in the US—including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Air Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the National Forest Management Act—all of which gave citizens the legal tools to challenge environmentally destructive acts either perpetrated or condoned by the US government.
By 1990, Earth Day had been almost entirely co-opted by corporations. GJEP Co-Director/Strategist Orin Langelle was part of a protest in St. Louis, Missouri on Earth Day 1990 against the co-optation of Earth Day by Monsanto—one of the biggest, baddest, most ecologically heinous corporations on the planet (inventors of PCBs, Agent Orange, and other nasty chemicals; not to mention they have virtually covered the earth with their genetically engineered “franken” seeds). Back in 1990, they had made a very large donation to the Earth Day committee in St. Louis to “sponsor” Earth Day—and hence, greenwash their image. Happy environmentally responsible toxic chemical and biotechnology company…
The protest—in the old “Yippie” style (Orin was a Yippie back in the day)—included “Mud People” publicly protesting the Monsanto co-sponsorship. The Mud people—activists covered from head to toe in sticky mud—were interviewed by a local news station. Because they only spoke Mud Language, Orin acted as interpreter for them. They would be asked a question by the reporter, which Orin would translate into Mud Language, then the Mud People would respond in Mud Language, and Orin would translate their response for the reporter. This went on for some 5 or 10 minutes and made the lead story on the evening news.
Today the co-optation of Earth Day has become commonplace. Jet Blue celebrates Earth Day, as do most of the dirty corporations—Earth Day has become the favorite opportunity for greening one’s disgusting filthy image.
To truly celebrate Earth Day, it seems to me that activists would need to find the dirtiest company in town and shut it down for the day, the week, the year, forever… The strategy of marching in circles, or symbolic sign-holding (no matter how strongly worded the sign) just isn’t cutting the mustard.
Which brings me back to where I started. Climate Chaos is here. If we want to avoid full-scale climate catastrophe, we need to get serious about the world we want to see. We need to begin the process of transformation. Like the caterpillar that metamorphoses into the butterfly, we need to begin the difficult process of transforming this dominant culture into one that is truly sustainable and exists in harmony with the natural world—which, by the way, we are a part of and always have been. Some in Latin America refer to this as “buen vivir”—the good life. The notion that we are somehow separate from the natural world or above it is a large part of what has gotten us into our current mess in the first place.
P.S. Some of you are probably wondering what the heck I am doing in an airport on Earth Day anyway. Well, As Fiu Elisara, an Indigenous ally of ours from Samoa once explained: “you have to fly—we need you out there organizing. If you won’t do it, who will? My islands will drown.”
So, no matter how much I hate these lifeless concrete boxes filled with disaffected humans, or the stifled metal tubes that hurtle through the air at ridiculous speeds, or the airless hotels and conference centers, or eating in restaurants that serve toxic, industrial food, it is something that must be done. Until the metamorphosis is completed…
Here’s to ¡Buen Vivir!
And F$%K Earth Day.