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Reclaiming Earth Day
Alex Steffen, 22 Apr 04

Worldchanging friend and ally Denis Hayes, who coordinated the first Earth Day, has written a fiery op-ed condemning the elitism and timidity of some environmental groups, and calling for Earth Day to be taken back to its early, diverse and overtly political roots -- in essence, Denis is saying "Earth Day is a tool. Sharpen it and use it again."

"In truth, the environmental movement has been playing defense for the past three years, and it has been losing more often than it has been winning.

"Environmentalists would be wise to discard the elitist values that characterize some green groups and reach out again to the original coalition of working people and poor people who stood together on that first Earth Day. Not just for this election, but from this day forward.

"Childhood asthma rates are skyrocketing. In polluted parts of Harlem, more than a quarter of all children now have asthma, and the American Lung Association reports that asthma is now the leading chronic illness among children.

"Many schools are in such desperate need of repair that they are an actual threat to our children's health and ability to learn. Shrinking school budgets mean that buildings are cleaned less frequently and ventilation systems are poorly maintained. Dust and mold build up, triggering asthma and allergies.

"A lack of parks and a surplus of fast-food outlets in low-income areas have led to an epidemic of obesity. Nationally, the rate of obesity among American school-age children has doubled since 1980, from 8 percent to 16 percent.

"The first Earth Day defined "the environment" as literally everything that surrounds us. We eat the environment. We drink the environment. We breathe the environment. In 1970, Earth Day included eagles and pesticides, but it went beyond those issues to talk about the overall quality of life. It was concerned with the health, diversity and resilience of all living things, including Homo sapiens.

"We can and must reclaim that vision. By flexing our collective political muscle we can once again work together to fulfill that original promise to change the world. As it did 34 years ago, Earth Day can again provide common ground for all of us and find common cause with the people who live and work in those communities most at risk. Together, we can redefine the environmental movement as one founded on the belief that all of us deserve the same opportunity to live in healthy communities and are entitled to the same basic human rights."

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Exactly right!

But achieving prosperity for all is a huge challenge, much bigger than energy or environmental advocates are normally willing to face up to. We likely will need to at least triple world product by 2050. How do we do that while meeting environmental goals as well?

Posted by: Arthur Smith on 22 Apr 04

Some of the question is, of course, *how to define productivity*.

In many ways, that's the critial problem. If productivity is defined by measuring the rate of take-make-waste, we're doomed...

Smarter measures of productivity - measures which consider a cast-iron pan which lasts for 20 years as *more valuable* than a teflon pan which dies after 5 years - are critical.

Posted by: Vinay on 22 Apr 04

Indeed critical questions.

One more: can we invent sustainable productivity, provide sufficient prosperity for all, and heal the planet's natural systems while doing it?

Posted by: Alex Steffen on 26 Apr 04



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