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5 Critical Actions That Really Can Put Us on a Sustainable Path

Annie Leonard's new short film, "The Story of Change," shows why we have to do more than just vote with our dollars.
 
 
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Do you buy organic? Purchase fair-trade products? Shop only from businesses whose ethics you support?

That’s great! You are being the change you want to see in the world.

News flash: it’s not enough.

In Annie Leonard’s new short film, The Story of Change (which you can view at the end of this article), she explains that we have to do more than just vote with our dollars. Leonard is the creator of The Story of Stuff, a popular short film about our consumption and production patterns that has 15 million views. As Leonard continued to make new films and provide her audience with information about environmental problems, she realized something was missing.

“We kept getting letters from viewers who said they agreed with the information, shared our concern but didn’t know how to get started to make change,” she said. “So, this summer we made The Story of Change, to remind people that change comes from people working together as engaged citizens and to inspire them to get involved.”

Leonard says she researched past social movements that brought about change and found that three things are needed: a big idea for how things can be better, commitment to work together, and participation in action. Leonard says we’re missing the last factor.

While progress is being made, overwork and corporate influence has impeded social movement in recent decades. Americans are the most overworked of all people living in industrialized countries. Leonard said, “Sharing our work hours more equitably … can facilitate civic engagement and social movements.” She also added that although people feel powerless against corporate power, we must rise up and “get the corporations out of our democracy and the people back in!”

Leonard said she believes most people ultimately want healthy products, healthy children and a healthy environment, despite the fact that we don’t always make the best choices to achieve these desires. Some people are too busy, misinformed, or don’t know what they really want. She said she hopes people who are ready for change make healthy, sustainable products and a healthy, sustainable way of life the new default.

“Then we won’t have to choose between our values and having things like a phone, because they will be aligned,” she said. “That’s the ultimate solution for stuff, but we can’t get there through better shopping or nagging each other; we get there by engaging as citizens to ensure our policies and laws put safeguarding people and the planet first.”

We can’t shop our way to a better planet; we need to join our communities in demanding real change. In the spirit of her new video, here are five critical environmental actions that need your support:

1. Mountain Mobilization, West Virginia (July 25)

The Radical Action for Mountain People’s Survival (RAMPS) is mobilizing people in Southern West Virginia on July 25 in order to prepare participants for the “Take Back a Mountain” nonviolent direct action on July 28. Activists are ready to put their bodies on the line in order to shut down a strip mine in the Appalachian Mountains. Working with other environmental activists, RAMPS, in the past, has stopped nine coal trucks from entering a mine. RAMPS said, “We are calling for as many people as possible to come together and do what the politicians, the regulators and the courts have been unwilling to do; to defend the land and the people; to stop strip mining.”

Strip mining, or mountaintop removal mining, is a process in which coal companies use explosives to blow off the tops of mountains. Rocks and dirt are dumped into the valleys and streams below. People living in communities faced with strip mining are among the unhealthiest people nationwide. Strip mining has been shown to increase rates of mortality, contaminate drinking water and increase flooding. The process also causes damage to homes. In one case, a half-ton boulder crashed into a home in Virginia, crushing a 3-year-old boy.

2. Texas Keystone Convergence, North Texas (July 27-29)

Rising Tide North Texas and Tar Sands Blockade will join forces July 27-29 in North Texas to host a three-day training session for anyone interested in participating in a nonviolent direct action against the Gulf Coast portion of the Keystone XL pipeline, which is critical to the expansion of Alberta tar sands and their delivery to Gulf refineries. Those who attend will brainstorm and organize tactics to sustain a blockade to prevent TransCanada from building a pipeline.

Organizers said: “We’ll risk arrest in a sustained nonviolent direct action … The fact is, other tactics — like lobbying, petitioning, and packing public hearings — have failed to halt the pipeline. State authorities have bent to every TransCanada desire, and they show no signs of stopping now.”

In March, President Obama issued an executive order accelerating the approval process for the southern arm of the Keystone XL pipeline. Permits for the pipeline’s construction are being automatically granted without any environmental reviews or opportunity for public intervention.

Tar sands is a mixture of heavy crude oil, sand, clay and bitumen that produces three times the greenhouse gas emissions of conventional oil. Tar sands pollutes water, air and land and has been proven to cause various diseases. Tar sands pipelines have also been known to spill, like the massive Enbridge spill two years ago that sent 877,000 of crude oil into a Michigan river.

3. Stop the Frack Attack, Washington DC (July 28)

Members of environmental organizations and other supporters will converge on the nation’s capitol July 28 to call for a halt to the recent rush to frack our land. The oil and gas industry has continuously promoted lies about gas drilling in order to exploit new areas. During the Stop the Frack Attack rally, protesters will demand an end to fracking and a push to put the environment and communities over profit by first removing special exemptions and subsidies for oil and gas corporations. Organizers of the gathering said, “We all want to Stop The Frack Attack – the out-of-control rush to drill that is putting oil and gas industry profits over our health, our families, our property, our communities, and our futures.”

Speakers will include Bill McKibben of 350.org, Allison Chin of the Sierra Club, and Josh Fox, maker of the film Gasland.

Fracking or hydraulic fracturing, is the process of using a high-pressure mixture of water and chemicals to break up shale rock to extract gas. The process harms the environment by contaminating water and polluting air. Fracking has also been linked to various health problems including cancer and kidney, liver and neurological damage.

4. Spare Change for Big Oil, Massachusetts (Aug. 4)

Activists across Massachusetts will hold Spare Change for Big Oil! donation drives on Aug. 4, to raise awareness about and protest Big Oil subsidies. Organized by the Massachusetts branch of 350.org, protesters will tell passersby: “The Big Five oil companies only made $137 billion in profits last year. In order for companies like them to continue cutting jobs and poisoning our air and water, they need our help! The $11 billion we already give them annually is not enough. Will you help these companies back on their feet so they can keep causing catastrophic climate change?”

Hundreds of activists will hold out coffee cans, set up lemonade stands or hold bake sales while handing out flyers that explain how our taxpayer dollars are used to subsidize oil corporations. The flyers also clarify that subsidizing Big Oil actually leads to higher gas prices and fewer jobs.

In September, 350.org Massachusetts will hold a press conference and present a check to elected representatives who have supported Big Oil. They are especially targeting Senator Scott Brown who has received at least $256,760 from oil giants and who has continuously voted to protect their interests.

5. Coal Export Action, Helena, Montana (Aug. 12-20)

On Aug. 12, Montanans and their supporters will gather at Helena, the state capitol, to begin a weeklong sit-in to urge officials to stop coal exports. The sit-in leads up to a Montana State Land Board meeting on Aug. 20, where activists will urge noard members to reject an Arch Coal permit application to build the Otter Creek Coal Export Mine, which would be one of the largest coals mines in North America. Arch Coal is the second largest coal producer in the United States and is expected to submit a permit application to the board in late August. 

Coal Export Action organizers said, “Montana has the largest underground coal reserves in the U.S., and what we do with that carbon will affect the global fight for clean energy more than almost anything else in the world. Years of petitioning, rallying, and turning out to public hearings have not been enough to get Land Board members to stand up to some of the world’s most powerful energy corporations. Now it’s time to take matters into our own hands.”

Coal mining in Montana has damaged ranchlands, depleted clean water, polluted communities and contributed to climate change.

Alyssa Figueroa is an intern at AlterNet. She is a recent Ithaca College graduate who double-majored in journalism and politics. Follow her on Twitter @alyssa_fig.