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Assessing the US Environmental Movement

Wednesday, 23 April 2014 12:33 By Anton Woronczuk, The Real News Network | Video Interview
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ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.

It has been 44 years since the first Earth Day protests in 1970, when 20 million Americans demonstrated for a cleaner environment in protests and rallies across the country, setting the groundwork for what was to become the modernday environmental movement.

To discuss the significance of Earth Day and its history and the current state of environmentalism are our two guests.

Ted Glick is the national campaign coordinator of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. He has been a climate activist for ten years and a progressive community and political activist since 1968.

Also joining us is Jenny Marienau. She is the U.S. field manager for 350.org and works with students organizing on their campuses for fossil fuel divestment.

Thank you both for joining us.

TED GLICK, NAT'L CAMPAIGN COORD., CHESAPEAKE CLIMATE ACTION NETWORK: Thank you.

JENNY MARIENAU, US FIELD MANAGER, 350.ORG: Thank you. Glad to be here.

WORONCZUK: So, Ted, let's start with you. Can you talk about the roots of Earth Day? Like, who were the main participants at the time and what issues were they trying to address?

GLICK: Well, I know Senator Gaylord Nelson is seen as in many ways kind of the father of the Earth Day movement. He was a key person. I know, just read something today that of all groups you might think would not be a big supporter of Earth Day, the United Auto Workers actually was a significant supporter. And I'm sure many of the groups that exist today, groups like the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, were part of the original Earth Days and a lot of local groups that were fighting around local issues. Back then I was only about 19 at the time, on the first Earth Day. I did go to the first Earth Day event in 1970 in Philadelphia. But I know that many of the issues had to do with poisoning of air, poisoning of water, industrial pollutants from the growth of corporations, their power, and what they were doing to our land and our air and our water. Unfortunately we still have many of those same problems today in different forms. There has been some progress, certainly, that has been made over these years. There's much more of a consciousness, and we do have institutions like the EPA it, etc. That's pretty much my understanding of the history. I have been active with it, have been at various first Earth Day events, of course, over that time.

WORONCZUK: Well, The Real News has also reported on divestment campaigns that have taken place, for example, at Washington University in Illinois. Jenny, can you give us an update on some student campaigns throughout the country? 'Cause we've seen since 1970 that students have become a lot more significant part of the environmental movement.

MARIENAU: Yeah. The youth have always been a guiding force in social change. On the divestment campaign, I think the campaign you're mentioning is the students at Wash. U. in St. Louis, who have been maintaining a two-week occupation to push their university to cut ties with Peabody Energy, which is the largest domestic coal company in the country. And they have continued their occupation for the last two weeks. Last weekend they had a 400-person community rally with support from all across the St. Louis community, urging the University to take a stand and cut ties with Peabody Energy.

This week also, today, the students in the National Divestment Network have kicked off two weeks of action. They're calling it "Beyond Earth Day". And students all over the country who are running divestment campaigns are taking some form of action on their campus to urge their universities to divest from the fossil fuel industry.

So it's an exciting time for student activism on climate change.

WORONCZUK: So Earth Day comes once a year, and some critics say that its observance has been more or less co-opted by corporations and big oil companies. So you have, like, Chevron sponsoring some events. And Apple has included green leaf accents over its logo in some of its stores, and in some ways this seems to distract people from the horrible labor conditions faced by Chinese workers in some of the factories that produce Apple products.

So, Ted, let's start with you. What would you say--what would you be response to this kind of criticism? How does Earth Day play a role or does it play a role in really challenging corporations and their role in environmental devastation today?

GLICK: I would say that generally Earth Day does not do that. In general that's true. Earth Day is an extremely broadly based effort. It ranges across the spectrum. And as you're saying, it definitely does include corporations, who essentially are using it to greenwash their image. There's no question about that.

The thing that's good about Earth Day, though, is that it's not just corporations that are involved. It's something that I think many young people, for example, may begin to have their first taste of activism, through going to an Earth Day event. You know, it's very broad, there definitely is good messaging, good education, consciousness-raising that does take place as a result of the activities that take place today and that there's followup on.

But without question my experience with Earth Day is that, again, it's not on the cutting edge of the kind of action, for example, happening out at Washington University in St. Louis that we need if we're going to solve the general environmental crises that we have, and very specifically the climate crisis, which, if we don't solve the climate crisis, we're basically not going to solve not just other environmental issues but just about every other issue that we're trying to make progress on.

WORONCZUK: So let's also take a sober, like, inventory of some of the--maybe the missteps that the environmental movement has taken. So, for example, the Keystone XL pipeline has in a sense become, like, the symbol of the environmental movement, one of its chief causes, perhaps to the expense of other significant issues. So, for example , we see other pipelines being given to greenlight, like the Enbridge Line 9 Pipeline to Canada, what would you say to the lack of a more systemic critique? Like, for example, for example, in the State Department's report on the Keystone XL Pipeline we saw that they said that even if the pipeline gets rejected, there'll be someone else that will build it. It seems like unless you address the underlying economic incentive to continue building these kinds of things, there won't be an end to environmental devastation and there won't be an end to these serious contributors to Climate Change.

Jamie, let me get your response to that.

MARIENAU: Yeah. To your question about missteps in the environmental community, I think the greatest misstep that we can make is putting too much emphasis emphasis on top-down solutions, so hoping that decision-makers like President Obama will be, you know, the final break between the fossil fuel industry and reality. And, in fact, you know, the greatest mistake we make is when we count on the government to solve problems for us without building community along the way. So, yes, the Keystone fight is a huge fight right now, because it is a referendum on Obama's willingness to take action on climate change. But there are--I mean, the fossil fuel industry's a bit of a hydra--you cut off one head, and seven more sprout. So we're really working to build community power all over the country and all over the world, because that's really where we're going to be most successful. So I'd say our biggest misstep is losing sight of community power, which is where, you know, our real strength comes from and relying too much on top-down solutions.

WORONCZUK: And, Ted, let's get a final response from you to the same question.

MARIENAU: I think the Keystone fight is an extremely important fight. In some ways it is a symbol right now, in terms of which direction the country, the United States, is going to go in. That doesn't mean that if Obama eventually would turn down the Keystone pipeline or if the pipeline just kind of fell from its own weight and the constant delays that it's experienced now for years, it doesn't mean that--as Jenny said, there's plenty of other pipelines, oil pipelines and gas pipelines that are being planned, that are trying to be built, beginning to be built, and we absolutely need to be fighting on as many fronts as we can fight on, and we need to be building a movement and a movement that's out there.

And in many ways, I think that's what the Keystone pipeline fight has been--one of the really positive things that it's done is helped to--help other people around the country and around the world see that there is a movement in the United States that has the political strength, has the guts, has the willingness to fight, that it can hold this thing up and it can prevent it from being built. And that gives inspiration to other fights.

My group, for example, right now is working to try to stop a liquefied natural gas export terminal. They want to send fracked gas all around the world. And we're fighting one at Cove Point, Maryland. That's 60 miles from the White House. We're actually planning major demonstration July 13 in Washington, D.C., on that to fight that Cove Point--to try to prevent that from being built, and to oppose all of the other plans for sending fracked gas all the way around the world.

So we need to find on all these fronts and we need to build a movement that's cross constantly growing, as generous Jenny says, so that people in local areas can take on all these fights, 'cause that's what we need.

WORONCZUK: Okay. Ted Glick and Jenny Marienau, thank you both for joining us.

GLICK: Thank you.

MARIENAU: Thank you. Happy Earth Day.

WORONCZUK: Happy Earth Day to you, too.

And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Anton Woronczuk

Anton Woronczuk is a producer with the Real News Network.


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