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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?

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.

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