Working towards peace and sustainability

Earth Day & Who’s Responsible for this Mess?

If there was no demand for the oil and gas produced by these deep-water drilling rigs, they, of course, would not be operated.

For the 30th consecutive year, Peaceworks is hard at work to put together Columbia’s annual Earth Day Festival. While many people love Earth Day, we also usually hear at least a little bit of grumbling from those who question the relevance of attempting to live more sustainably.

A refrain heard on more than one occasion is “We’re not going to save the world by taking shorter showers.” And, of course they’re correct. Eco-conscious folks simplifying their lives and reducing their impacts are not nearly sufficient. That said, such actions are necessary. They raise awareness and enhance the credibility of the messenger. More on this below.

First, here’s another example you may have seen on-line. In July 2017, the Guardian reported that “Just 100 companies have been the source of more than 70% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988, according to a new report.” Without really understanding what was being said, before long people were making memes like this:
This meme is worse than inaccurate, it's just plain wrong and should be called out as such.
While surely well-intentioned, what the meme-maker misses is the fact that those emissions are coming from burning the fuels those corporations are extracting. But the burning is going on in the homes, schools, businesses of consumers, in the power plants burning coal and gas to make electricity and in the various places where the goods we consume are produced.

That’s right, each of us who heats our home in the winter and cools it in the summer, runs appliances, drives cars and flies in planes, consumes food produced by mechanized agriculture and shipped to market, and buys various goods and services that are produced using fossil fuel energy is creating the demand for the fossil fuels these companies extract.

Now the Guardian, and the organization that produced the report understood this. The report author, Pedro Faria, makes it clear that the take home message isn’t that we’re not all responsible for the mess we’re in, but rather that “a relatively small set of fossil fuel producers may hold the key to systemic change on carbon emissions . . .”

So, how can we get these companies to stop producing fossil fuels and, instead, to provide clean, sustainable wind, solar and other renewables? Well, to get these highly profitable companies to stop what they’re making money hand over fist doing is no small feat. It takes political clout and that clout comes through educating, agitating and organizing on a scale akin to—or even greater than—that of the Labor Movement of the 1930s, the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s or the Peace Movement of the late 60s.

We, of course, have been working for years to develop such a movement and the glass is partly full. We still have quite a ways to go and the time to make the transition is short, so action now is essential.

We will gain clout through a variety of actions from demonstrations and direct actions to boycotts, divestment campaigns, lobbying, engaging in legal interventions, supporting or opposing candidates and, of course, continuously educating. And we’d make progress much faster if more of those now cheering us on would jump into the fray and make their voices heard.

The other piece of the puzzle is addressing our own carbon footprint. As noted above, public policy must be addressed, but taking some personal responsibility is also important. We say this for the following reasons:

  First we lead by example. If we want people to listen to us, change their ways and start being responsible, we are far more credible if we are walking our talk.

 Second, by being a visible role model we encourage others to take steps in a positive direction. If people see that we are enjoying the process of establishing creative, satisfying, sustainable lifestyles they are much more likely to begin the process themselves.

• Third, by demonstrating the feasibility and desirability of a low carbon lifestyle we encourage those who set public policy to recognize that these sorts of changes are good, are well received and will win them support.

  Finally, our collective impact is the sum of all our individual impacts. If we just reduce our personal greenhouse gas footprint we don’t solve the problem, but we do diminish, even if ever so slightly, the harm we collectively are inflicting on the planet.

So, Earth Day is really about both. It’s learning about opportunities to engage locally in essential activism and, at the same time learning to live in a more eco-conscious fashion. The two are not mutually exclusive, as some seem to think. Rather, they are complementary. So, come to Earth Day to learn, to renew your commitment, and also to celebrate the Earth. Hug a tree. Hug a fellow human. Embrace our collective creativity and capacity for change. Together we must rise to the occasion. And together we shall. Happy Earth Day y’all!
While we might not be "the enemy," we are, collectively, responsible for the harm being done to the planet and it is within our capacity to help heal the Earth. This can be done partially through individual action and also through political engagement to change public priorities and policies.