Putting Out the Planetary Fire: Earth Day to May Day
For the last decade, I have worked with the Green Party and other progressive groups to promote Earth Day to May Day (ED2MD) to highlight the full-scale system change needed to respond to the climate emergency. Movements for economic, environmental, and social justice are interconnected and need to unify to win the changes needed.
One of the reasons I helped launch the call for a Green New Deal in 2010 was the recognition that the transition to a clean, renewable energy future must be paired with an economic bill of rights to ensure a decent living for all. By linking Earth Day to May Day, we highlight the need to connect with movements for labor and immigrant rights.
We won’t stop fossil fuel companies from threatening life on the planet absent an overhaul of our political and economic system. We need to put People, Planet, and Peace over Profit. Even Pope Francis has pointed out that the mentality that allows humans to exploit our natural resources beyond the point of sustainability is the same mentality that powers economic exploitation, racial injustice, sexism, and the military-industrial complex.
Capitalism and its focus on perpetual growth and the drive to maximize profits is incompatible with a world that focuses on the common good and sustainability. The climate movement needs to highlight an anti-capitalist perspective, embracing approaches such as ecosocialism.
Two years ago, President Biden used Earth Day to announce a national goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50-52% by 2030. While still far short of what is needed to keep global warming below the 1.5 degrees C target, it is faster than what states like NY have adopted.
One step the President should take this Earth Day is to formally declare a climate emergency. He needs to use his executive powers (see ClimatePresident.org) to ramp up the transition to a clean energy future. The Biden administration also needs to halt new fossil fuel projects (such as Willow in Alaska) and begin the rapid phase-out of existing uses. The recent announcement to speed up the requirements for electric vehicles was a step in the right direction.
A climate emergency needs to be far more than a press release or even executive orders. It needs to be a commitment to mobilize the nation’s resources like what FDR did after Pearl Harbor. It needs to be the government’s top priority, a race against time to ensure a decent life for future generations. It means taking public control of the economy, including companies, to produce what is needed to rapidly transition to 100% clean renewable energy. It is too late to stop climate change, but we can reduce its impact and take steps to help everyone adapt.
The first Earth Day was organized 53 years ago under the banner “a future worth living.” At the time there were no national legal or regulatory mechanisms to protect our environment. Earth Day successfully forced this issue onto the national agenda. Mainstream America had been largely oblivious to environmental concerns and how a polluted environment threatens human health.
While the birth of the modern environmental movement had some major initial successes such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and the formation of EPA, over time corporate polluters and their campaign donations and golden parachutes for lawmakers have regained the upper hand in Congress. The U.S. has not been an international leader on environmental protection for decades.
To survive climate change, we must build a different world, one where the needs of the average person takes precedence over the needs of th1%. Such a transition of course will not be easy and there will be many bumps along the way. To accomplish this, we need both courageous political leadership and a public who believes their government and leaders will do their best to protect them. We lack both now.
The lack of such political courage was on recent display in New York. Governor Hochul suddenly proposed a major retreat from the state’s modest and inadequate goals to reduce greenhouse emissions when she apparently suddenly realized that putting a price on carbon emissions means that fossil fuel companies would raise their prices. A price hike at the gas pump or at the thermostat is scarier for politicians seeking re-election than the threats of escalating extreme weather and possible civilization collapse.
We need political leaders who will stand up to fossil fuel companies. Making polluters pay for the damage they have caused over decades will make cleaner alternatives a bargain and speed up the transition. The revenues raised from polluter penalties need to be reinvested in rebates to consumers and subsidies to purchase cleaner energy technology such as air heat pumps and electric vehicles.
Elected officials also need to clearly communicate with the public as to what is going on and why. They will need time to build up trust among the public that officials are actually on their side, not just mouthing sound bites to placate voters while doing the bidding of the fossil fuel companies and the 1%.
Climate justice starts with reversing centuries (millennium) of exploitation of the poor and people of color, ensuring that they are a priority in the transition to a clean energy future. They are the principal victims of climate change, including those in the Global South. But it also requires a commitment to lift everyone, including workers and communities presently dependent on fossil fuels.
These themes are explored in my new book, Putting Out the Planetary Fire: An Introduction to Climate Change and Advocacy. The book is available for free on the Green Education and Legal Fund website. Info on how to order a printed copy will be there starting on Earth Day. I will be speaking about climate with Howie Hawkins, who initiated the call for the GND in 2010, on his green socialist podcast on Earth Day (April 22) at 3 PM.