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What Will Inspire You to Take Action? 5 Earth Day Photos You Should See

What will it take before we have a critical mass to move us toward a sustainable future?
 
 
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This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

Since 2011, when I first read Deep Green Resistance by Derrick Jensen, Lierre Keith and Aric McBay I’ve been haunted by a question Jensen posed in the book’s preface.

He asks, “Where is your threshold for resistance?”

He goes on to write that 90 percent of the large fish in our oceans are gone. At what point do you get angry and fight back? “Is it 91 percent? 92? 93? 94? Would you wait till they killed off 95 percent? 96? 97? 98? 99?” he writes. “How about 100 percent? Would you fight back then?”

The question doesn’t just pertain to fish. “There is 10 times as much plastic as phytoplankton in the oceans, 97 percent of native forests are destroyed, 98 percent of native grasslands are destroyed, amphibian populations are collapsing, and so on,” he writes. “Two hundred species are driven extinct each and every day.”

The dark cloud of climate change hangs over us, each new report bringing worse news. And the political climate is no better -- anyone not concerned with oil industry profits is branded anti-American or anti-jobs, and our elected officials have run from any meaningful action, straight into the arms of industry. Add to this a slurry of articles that have either declared environmentalism dead or the movement itself a failure, and it would seem we’re in a pretty tough spot.

“We're not breaking records anymore; we're breaking the planet,” Bill McKibben wrote this month in Rolling Stone. “In 50 years, no one will care about the fiscal cliff or the Euro crisis. They'll just ask, ‘So the Arctic melted, and then what did you do?’”

What did you do?

Forty three years after millions of people gathered for the first Earth Day, this is where we stand. It’s a precarious spot at best. I keep coming back to that poem attributed to Martin Niemöller; there are various versions, but it goes something like this:

First they came for the socialists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.

Written during the rise of Nazi Germany, it became a powerful reminder of the consequences of staying silent. Today, the poem takes me to a different frame of mind. I wonder, as we destroyed our fisheries, who spoke up? What about our forests, our farmlands, our wildlife? What about our wild lands and sacred places? Our clean air and clean water? Who will speak up for the people of Appalachia being devastated by mountaintop-removal mining? What about those fighting against fracking or the Keystone XL pipeline or tar sands mining?

When the next toxic spill or superstorm happens in your neighborhood, who do you think will stand up and say something? When the planet we live on tips past the point of repair, what is left to say?

“Where is your threshold for resistance?” 

I’m not among those who count the environmental movement as dead. I think it’s reinventing itself; I’m just hoping it happens in time.

If the environmental movement succeeds, it will be because it becomes something else entirely; because people stop seeing these issues as something for lefties or treehuggers or liberals or the like and start realizing that these issues are important if you’re human – if you care about your community, your family and essentials like healthy food, a livable climate, clean air and water.

“There are plenty of horrors to make you weep this Earth Day,” Jim Hightower wrote this week. “But tears don't bring change. That comes only from the determined effort of ordinary grassroots people to organize, strategize and mobilize. The good news for our Earth and our own existence is that such people are on the move in every part of America. They're confronting the greedheads and boneheads, creating effective energy alternatives, forging fresh and sensible polices, lifting heads out of the sand -- and producing the change we must have.”

Today is a good day to take stock of the things that keep us going: the people who inspire change. Here are five images I’ve seen lately that are reminders of such things.

1. What Love Looks Like

Photo Credit: 
Ed Kosmicki/ Yes! Magazine

(Photo by Ed Kosmicki/ Yes! Magazine)

Today, after serving two years in federal prison, Tim DeChristopher was released. You may have heard of him, “Bidder 70,” and how he disrupted an oil and gas lease auction, but perhaps you don’t know the whole story, or what motivated him. “When I jumped into that auction, I had no idea who would be there to catch me,” he said. “But people came from many different paths to form this activist community that holds one another.”

The activist community he helped to start, Peaceful Uprising, wrote, “Tim urged activists to take the long view, and be ready to go to jail to defend their principles and their cause. ‘We don’t need to figure out how to keep me out of jail,’ Tim explained to a concerned Santa Fe supporter. ‘We need to figure out how to get more people intojail.’”

So what motivated Tim? His action wasn’t premeditated; it was an act of courage and love. Peaceful Uprising explains:

While Tim was taking his final exams at the University of Utah, advocates for Utah’s wilderness like Robert Redford and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance were attempting to bring attention to a controversial auction of Utah public lands, orchestrated by the outgoing Bush Administration. The auction included parcels adjacent to cherished natural resources like Canyonlands National Park. SUWA and other regional advocates brought a lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management in efforts to halt the auction pending further review and public comment. Through no fault of SUWA or their allies, the lawsuit could not settle the issue prior to the auction. On December 19th, Tim finished his last final exam and took TRAX to the protest that SUWA and others had organized outside of the auction. On arrival, Tim decided that the protest needed to be moved from outside of the auction to inside, where the action was happening. With no prior plan of action, Tim entered the building where the auction was held and approached the registration desk. When asked if he was there to bid, Tim made a quick decision. He registered as Bidder 70 and entered the auction.

Tim intended to stand up and make a speech or create some other kind of disruption. Once inside, however, Tim recognized the opportunity to stop the auction in a more effective, enduring fashion. He sat quietly with his bidder paddle lowered, until he saw a friend from his church openly weeping at the sterile transfer of beloved red rock lands away from the public trust and into the hands of energy giants. It was then that Tim decided to act.

At first, Tim simply pushed up the parcels’ prices (some starting as low as two dollars per acre, and were ultimately sold for $240 per acre). Once almost half of the parcels had been sold to oil and gas companies, Tim felt he could no longer bear to lose any more public lands. Tim bid on and won every subsequent parcel, until he was recognized as an outlier and escorted from the auction.

Tim refused to take a plea deal and was sentenced to two years. He offered these words at the end of his trial:

You can steer my commitment to a healthy and just world if you agree with it, but you can’t kill it. This is not going away. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow.

2. Direct Action

(Photo by Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance)

A few weeks ago I wrote about Nancy Zorn, the 79-year-old Oklahoma grandmother who decided to take action against construction of the Keystone XL pipeline and locked her neck to a piece of heavy machinery. She is one of many people who have been engaged in direct action for months to stop pipeline construction. For those who think this kind of monkey wrenching is the domain of young radicals, think again. Actions against the Keystone have involved people of all ages, backgrounds and political affiliations.

Here is what Zorn had to say about what motivated her:

 … There is the Cree Indian prophecy, which inspired Greenpeace. “There will come a time when the Earth grows sick and when it does, a tribe will gather from all the cultures of the world who believe in deeds and not words. They will work to heal it… they will be known as the “warriors of the Rainbow.” Scientists estimate that burning more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide risks catastrophe for life on earth. Energy corporations now have five times that amount in their reserves and will burn it all unless we stop them. The time for speculation and debate is over. I hope this one small action today will inspire many to become warriors of the rainbow. The earth needs us all.

3.  Solidarity

(Photo by 350.org, India Beyond Coal)

Last November 10, actions took place all across India to move the country beyond coal. India gets 66 percent of its electricity from coal and is the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. India Beyond Coal, a project of 350.org, raised awareness through creative actions.

The group wrote

Our excessive dependence on coal threatens a future where we can pull millions of Indians out of poverty. Rising costs of coal, reduced availability, excessive deforestation, negative health impacts and the climate crisis are strong reasons to begin the transition towards renewable energy and energy efficiency.

There were many great photos from the action, but I loved this one in particular because it spoke to our interconnectedness, and how much more apparent that becomes every day we face environmental catastrophes.

This photo captures the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance of South Africa standing in solidarity with India. If anyone knows the problems coal burning and mining can create, it’s South Africans. The country gets 90 percent of its electricity from coal and is the fourth largest coal exporter in the world. 

If we’re going to solve our climate crisis, it will be through looking at the big picture and thinking about other people – even if they live on different continents.

4. Bright Lights

(Photo by Solar Lancaster)

We can’t spend all of our time fighting against things like dirty energy, we have to also fight for things. The brightest light in the latter fight is likely solar energy. It will never be our entire saving grace – it can be poorly used and it still has environmental impacts. But, we’ve only just begun to understand its potential if we actually put some resources and smarts behind it -- and it’s encouraging.

In Lancaster, California, the New York Timesreported that the high desert city will “require that almost all new homes either come equipped with solar panels or be in subdivisions that produce one kilowatt of solar energy per house.” About time!

And there are other exciting efforts happening. Earlier this year Mosaic launched as a crowd-sourcing project to let ordinary people help invest in solar development. If big business and big donors aren’t willing to move this change along, let’s see if the rest of us collectively can.

Small, distributed solar projects that can be made available to all people, regardless of their income, is an enlightening idea.

5. One Watershed at a Time
 

(Photo by Doddridge County Watershed Association)

Last week the local watershed group in Doddridge County, West Virginia got together for a cleanup day. Earth-shattering? No. But really awesome, anyway. There are thousands of local watershed groups across the country. They’re usually small, volunteer-driven and underfunded, but their impacts can be great -- especially if you consider all their actions collectively.

I got to meet some members of the Doddridge County Watershed Association and they’re an admirable bunch. They formed after a significant spill or dump of chemicals by the gas drilling industry endangered nearby Buckeye Creek, posing a threat to wildlife and drinking water.

Since that time members have learned how to use monitoring equipment to test water supplies. In an area of the Marcellus Shale where the fracking industry has run rampant, the group is now a key watchdog and community asset.

To be sure, we need to act at every level of society, from individuals and small communities, right up to international bodies. We need people asking, “What is my threshold for resistance?” and faced with all our envrionmental problems, “What did I do?”

Tara Lohan is a freelance writer and former senior editor at AlterNet. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis, including Water Matters: Why We Need to Act Now to Save Our Most Critical Resource. Follow her on Twitter @TaraLohan or visit her website, taralohan.com.

 
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