Since 1970, the purpose of Earth Day has changed from one day each year when corporate polluters were exposed (what corporations should do), to a celebration of the personal (what you can do). Today’s bland, uncontroversial event typically features everything from 5k runs to esoteric spiritualties, but almost always carefully avoids any discussion of local polluters or environmental bad actors. If environmentalism is mentioned at all it is confined to climate change and recycling. The fierce green warrior has been replaced by the frugal green consumer now focused laser-like on the grass-fed beef at the local farmers’ market.
Earth Day has converted attention from the public realms of pollution, environmental degradation, and over-development into the personal realm of the spiritual and inspirational. Certainly, all of us should improve our personal habits and recycle more, ride bikes, “reach out” to others, and listen to more Pete Seeger. But “all of us” don’t cause pollution from oil refineries; only a few people do, and Earth Day is the one day of the year they should be called out and shamed even more than usual. Corporate sponsors open their checkbooks for Earth Day to avoid having individual companies’ behaviors singled out for scrutiny. To accomplish this, they are willing to furnish unlimited seedlings, paper bags with green writing, and funds to print brochures on how to recycle containers that shouldn’t have been produced in the first place.
And it is not as though corporate malfeasance was eliminated in the years after the first Earth Day. To take one of many examples, since 1970 the entire industrial factory farm (concentrated animal feeding operation, or CAFO) system has flourished. Today commercial meat factories have taken over most of the meat production in the US. Over 20,000 CAFOs have concentrated American meat production but have also concentrated American manure production, and now create the overwhelming majority of animal manure in the U.S. This proliferation across the country has been almost entirely unnoticed and unchallenged. They are now polluting our rivers and bays with antibiotic-, hormone- and nitrate-laden runoff, and ruining summer barbeques and property values for anyone who is unfortunate enough to live anyplace near one.
Of course, we don’t want to discourage Earth Day activities just because they are non-controversial. It is necessary to find ways people can do things appropriate to their level of awareness and commitment. It is a good thing to advocate for more bicycles and recycling options, to replant trees to replace ones we cut down, encourage solar power, and to teach kids how to build worm farms. But, alas, saving the environment cannot occur with non-confrontational projects alone, any more than a drug-infested community can be cleaned up with posters and police visits to schools. A community with drug and crime problems cannot restore a crime-free environment merely with “partnerships” with drug dealers. It must confront its criminal element. Indeed, it would be a foolish community that financed its crime-prevention program with “sponsorships” from drug dealers. If it did, it would get toothless programs to fight crime problems just like the toothless diversions corporations promote to “fight” environmental problems. A community that adopts solutions to either crime or environmental problems that treats criminals or polluters as “partners” and gives them plaques for their “small, but positive steps” is not stopping crime or pollution. It is just becoming, at best, an enabler and, at worst, an accomplice.
If we are to create community-based environmental awareness, we need to encourage practical projects. Activities and projects that can be packaged in a kit can be sent to schools and local groups looking for alternatives to the thin gruel that presently serves as teachers’ aids. Here are practical, hands-on projects suitable for community groups and students that will educate people about the most important environmental problems facing their communities. They are hands-on opportunities that are easy to organize, fun to do, and will provide substance for people who want to do something for Earth Day. They will help restore the balance between well-funded, well-connected, and politically powerful corporations and the average person.
Earth Day project suggestions
1. Who controls the land in your county?
All community environmental activism starts by finding out exactly who controls the land, how they got it, and what they intend to do with it. Tax and property records are open and available to everybody. To understand the true sources of “power” in an area, prepare a report identifying the top ten landowners in the county, how much property they own, and where their land is located. When the Coast Range Association researched all the counties in western Oregon for industrial forest ownership, they learned that four or five corporations owned 70 to 80 percent of the land in those counties, most of those corporations were out of state, and the largest landowner was a non-U.S. corporation! From this type of research, people will learn that a corporation powerful enough to flout environmental laws is also strong enough to get its taxes assessed at reduced rates and obtain public funds to run its business. When you get around to advocating environmental enforcement, these kinds of facts will make it easier to get your message understood and acted upon.
2. Who owns your local newspaper?
Most of what you know about your community depends on what your local newspaper is willing to tell you. Who really owns the news in your community? Count up the column inches in the advertisements to see what individuals and businesses actually pay the salaries of the editors and reporters. If your community’s biggest problem is sprawl and over-development, it is useful to know what percentage of the local paper’s revenue comes from real estate ads.
3. Make a checklist of environmental-related contacts.
Make a list of all city, county, state, and federal officials and agency staff who have responsibility for the environment: state environmental quality offices, Army Corps of Engineers; city, county and state planning and land-use departments; and state and federal Fish and Wildlife agencies. Include a one- or two-sentence description of the responsibilities of each, along with a contact name, title, address, fax, phone, and email. Call it the Citizens’ Action List. Then when citizens want to inquire about a potential problem, they will have a way to do it. No matter what issues arise, there will be a guide in-hand that shows people exactly where to inquire, who is responsible, and who to contact.
4. Who finances Earth Day in your area?
It will be hard to do anything substantive to improve things for Earth Day if the planning committee and organizers are the same people who have created pollution, sprawl and over-development in the first place. They will be paid to participate and you will probably be just a volunteer. And they will have more time and resources than you do. Keep them off the planning and organizing committees in the first place. If corporate “bad guys” want to get together to help with recycling or promoting bicycles, that is fine. Just don’t get real activism mixed up with their treacly feel-good “everywhere and nowhere” schemes. At a minimum, make sure your Earth Day committee doesn’t include any corporate criminals.
1. Who finances the political campaigns of your elected politicians?
If you are involved in any environmental campaign where the solutions you seek involve elected politicians (or anyone accountable to an elected politician), you need to know who pays for their campaigns. Fortunately, in the United States, contributions to politicians must be reported. Every contributor’s name, occupation, contribution date, and amount is on public record for anyone to examine. For example, if your county’s biggest problem is corporate pig farms and the hog industry is providing the lion’s share of funds to finance state political races, you are unlikely to get anyone on the state level to take you seriously. Political contributions provide perfect pointers to the issues and positions that politicians will favor and the people to whom your elected officials will respond.
Many contributors will be names that are unknown to you, but by looking for their addresses and common surnames, you can find spouses and children of corporate employees who use this to get around the campaign limits. If any names of large contributors are unknown to you, track them down to see what special interest they represent. In general, especially for politicians and officials friendly to “bad guys,” nobody donates $500 or more without some financial interest. When a corporation wants to invest in a candidate, you may find half or more of their contributions coming from their company attorneys, lobbyists, members of their board of directors, and their families.
2. Has your representative sponsored any anti-environmental bills?
The best-kept secret in America is the continual stream of anti-environmental bills that legislators generate. Many more bills pass in committees and sub-committees than ever become actual laws or make the news. The voting record of legislators is usually far worse than is generally understood. The continual passing of laws restricting land-use control and enforcement of endangered species acts, the defunding of environmental enforcement, and the advancing of pro-development and sprawl-type schemes, hobble regulatory agencies and keep them continually on the defensive. Most citizens are completely clueless about what their legislators are doing. Your local newspaper is not likely to tell you. Monitor the legislative committees and find out about environmental issues and about “bad votes.” Write them up as letters to the editor or op-ed articles for the local newspapers in hopes you can inform your community about legislative issues that adversely impact your area.
3. What bad bills are moving through your state’s legislature?
Get a list of bad bills and special interest legislation from the League of Conservation Voters, the League of Women Voters, the Sierra Club, Audubon, the Wilderness Society and other national groups with a presence in your state. Most likely they will know what will be coming up for a vote. Find out how a bill works its way through the legislature and where bad bills are in the process. Learn how your representative intends to vote on pending bills and publicize this information.
1. Where are the toxic dumps and Superfund sites in your area?
Recently, information has become available about the location of every toxic dump and polluter anywhere in the country. If you are concerned about air and water pollution in your area, find out who is responsible for creating it. Make multi-colored maps showing the prevailing wind and surface- and groundwater flows in your area relative to the known polluters and toxic hot spots. This information will be useful in dealing with proposals for plant expansions, new housing developments, and all “growth” and community health related issues. To find the names of your community’s polluters just go to http://www.scorecard.org/ and enter your zip code.
2. What development and sprawl is in the pipeline?
County planning department records are open to the public and there is no reason for anyone to be surprised to find bulldozers going in and destroying a forest or filling a wetland. All development plans in the U.S. are filed and processed months—sometimes years—in advance and there are usually many ways citizens can modify or stop these schemes. But you must know at an early stage exactly what projects are being proposed if you hope to influence them.
Make lists that track the status of proposed projects, where they will be sited, and when hearings will be held. Look back at the meeting minutes to see what members of your planning commission always vote to approve bad projects and who votes against them. Find out those members’ backgrounds and who appointed them and when the next vacancy will occur. If there are limitations on how many developers can serve at one time, see if these rules are being observed. Are developers and contractors getting appointed to planning boards without disclosing who they really represent? Do developers recuse themselves from decisions where they have a conflict of interest?
3. Are there threatened and endangered species in your area?
The first responsibility of all people, and especially environmentalists, is to protect and retain the full complement of all species in viable ecosystems. To do this, you need to know what plant and animals are in danger and where they are. State and federal agencies maintain listings and surveys for Threatened and Endangered Species. Know where they are located so you can track, and hopefully stop, any projects that might adversely affect them. Talk to your local and state fish and wildlife biologists. They always know where adverse activities to threatened and endangered species are being planned.
Get on the Army Corps of Engineers’ list to be notified of any wetlands fill and removal permits. Set up tours to visit these places.
4. Find your elephant in the room
Every area is guaranteed to have one or more world class environmental problem well off the public radar. For example, real estate agents and home builders in Houston prevented FEMA from issuing updated floodplain maps so home building in areas guaranteed to flood could continue. Pennsylvania turned its university system into a publicly funded PR firm to promote fracking. For mere pocket change, billionaire hobby farmers get the federal government to grant perpetual leases on millions of acres of public land to create private empires that stretch from horizon to horizon. New York pays billions of green energy dollars to subsidize foreign companies to build industrial wind turbines that kill birds and ruin communities or subsidize industrial biomass projects that require whole forests to be logged and turned into pellets. States pass freedom-to-farm bills (to allegedly protect Old MacDonald’s Farm) that allow the creation of industrial meat factories (CAFOs) that cause horrific pollution and air quality problems. Where do you start looking for your elephant in the room? Without exception, every bad project gets a focus group tested name that is soothing and friendly. So, do a google search with your community’s name, then add these words: green energy, sustainable economic development, renewable energy, resilient (thriving) local communities, family wage jobs, and partnerships.
If you are cursed with factory farms, make a map of all of them in your area and find out when they were permitted and how many animals they imprison. Find out where they spread their manure and check water quality downstream from them. See if the state has any permits to expand any of them. Has it had any environmental violations for spills? Where does it store its manure? Check with property records to see if adjoining property values have been lowered. Survey adjoining homeowners to see what problems it has caused.
6. Boycott businesses that finance anti-climate change advocacy.
Are there any major companies who promulgate anti-climate change propaganda in your area? Expose them and start a boycott against them.
7. Have a community trash pickup day.
Every community needs at least one day each year where the whole community picks up all its trash. Divide up the community into sectors—each with a captain—and create teams. Get someone to donate the trash bags and pickup fees. These always create a lot of good morale and give people a better feeling for their communities. Also, cleaned up areas are less likely to attract trash in the future.
1. Examine your state’s energy programs.
Who are the main beneficiaries of your state’s programs to create or save energy? Are funds available to help average citizens weatherize homes and reduce energy bills? Do existing programs encourage small local energy businesses to help homeowners save money on their heating bills? Are homeowners incentivized to replace energy inefficient appliances? Most energy saving/creating subsidies are distributed to large foreign corporations for solar and wind projects and large engineering companies for biomass boondoggles.
2.Where does your community’s energy come from
Find out the types and sources of the local fuel types your community uses. Find out where it comes from and make maps showing how it gets to you.
As this is written hundreds of thousands of people in Houston are coping with homes which are flooded with a toxic stew of sewage, pesticides and chemicals. If even a tiny amount of the energy that went into Houston’s Earth Days had been spent organizing and educating the community on the very real environmental dangers created by Houston’s wildly obsolete and erroneous flood plain maps, and the systematic gutting of building codes that allowed home building in areas certain to flood, possibly tens of thousands of homes would not have been flooded and their owners would have been spared the horrific trauma they are now suffering.
The first Earth day almost 50 years ago organized 40 million people and led to strong clean air, clean water and environmental legislation with real teeth. Nothing would improve the environmental condition of the country more than re-establishing Earth Day as the one day each year people get together to take real action against individual polluters and the specific problems in their own communities.
In 1970, our country created the amazing tool of Earth Day to show how citizens can work together to solve environmental problems in their own our communities. Let’s use it.
This essay is a chapter from the book “Organize to Win Vols 1-3”
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Photo: Members of the South Carolina’s Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (SC-HART) perform rescue operations in Port Arthur, Texas, August 31, 2017. Multiple states and agencies nationwide were called to assist citizens impacted by the epic amount of rainfall in Texas and Louisiana from Hurricane Harvey. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez)
Thanks Jim! Much to chew on here. I think the answer to the title is simple – corporations have become richer and GLOBAL while environmental volunteers have become fewer and have less political clout. 50 years ago, environmentalism was considered a noble, good cause. Now? Corporate money has poisoned politics and business so much that anyone standing up for environmental concerns is an enemy, not a concerned citizen. With corporations becoming more profitable by the day by eliminating the middle class, where will future environmental warriors come from? People working 3 jobs don’t have much spare time or cash on their hands. The wealthy are going to continue to build their wealth via the corporations of which we speak. So who is to step up?
It is hard to be hopeful reading these must do’s ! Thank you for explaining how to ascertain the scope of the problem in your area and where to get the info but it is a daunting list. And I like to watch small victories such as road salt awareness in the area, pollinator gardens, composting, farmers markets. Not exactly an eco warrior stance but one that is satisfying to me.
Daunting list? Certainly. But big things often take sustained hard work. Jim’s diagnosis and cures are spot on.
How do you eat an elephant?
Well, first you have to decide you want to tackle that task.
Now, pardon me while I deal with my own reluctance to take on my neighborhood CAFO’s.
Elephant in the room. https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/
Human population has doubled since 1970.
Good point. The article had a very long list of environmental problems to address yet not one mention of the earth’s unsustainable population growth. Hard to complain too much about overdevelopment without acknowledging our increasing population and need to feed and house everyone. Remember back in the 70s when overpopulation was an issue (think “The Population Bomb”). Now there’s scarcely any mention of it, possibly for fear of offending family planning critics. But its simple math. Double the population means double the pollution and half the available resources.
Smitty and Eric – you both said the sme thing. And I agree with you. But last week I talked to a 20 years former board member of a national enviro organization and he said had just been removed from his board and canceled because someone discovered that 20 years ago he signed on a letter advocating zero population growth. This is now considered a racist view. But of course you are right and so was he. Why don’t you and Eric get together and research the issue and start publicizing it if you are concerned about it – no one else will. This is the whole point of my essay, no one else is going to do these things so we all need to start working on whatever things we notice as problems that others don’t.
Woah there, hold your horses OP. Population control theory IS a totally racist idea, and is completely out-of-sync with our modern understanding of actual human impact on the environment. I was thinking about whether or not to give some thoughtful feedback on your article but you’ve just completely lost me. People should call their electeds and advocate for “population control” to solve environmental crises??? Anyone taking that position absolutely should be revoked of leadership positions in any environmentalist org that wants to be taken seriously in the year of our lord 2021. It’s not “cancelling” if you demonstrate how wildly out-of-touch you are, and then other people notice.
The average American emits far FAR more pollution an average dozen of people in many nations in the global south. Should we keep Americans from reproducing?? There’s absolutely no way that controlling people’s reproductive capacity is either a viable or moral solution. I am shocked to have to type these words.
Much of what is in this article is good advice, but I have to admit I’m not sure what news or activist circles you follow, where you think we all need a wake up call that corporate money has corrupted the environmentalist movement. Everyone knows that. Lots of us are part of orgs that are already advocating for change. Anyone in this comments section should tell me what you want to fight for and I can give you the name of a good group to join.
Woah. Triggered much?
You gonna back up your racism claims or you just gonna shout “racist” because you don’t agree with the author’s opinion?
Here’s a little tip for you from an X-er to help you relate in a more positive and productive way with the Baby Boomers. Don’t scream “racist” at them when you disagree with their point of view. It’s ridiculously childish, and reductive behavior and it simply isn’t true. The Baby Boomers did more for civil rights in this country than any other generation. They marched, they organized sit-ins, they pressured politicians. They were the driving force behind Johnson signing the the Civil Rights Act of 1968. (It certainly wasn’t because Johnson was a cool guy from Texas who thought women and minorities needed to be more empowered and integrated.) They put women in the workplace on a level never seen before. (Trust me on this last bit, my generation isn’t referred to as “latch key” because someone thought it was a cool name.) So it’s super disingenuous and insulting to scream “racist” at these folks when if it wasn’t for them you likely wouldn’t be enjoying many of the freedoms which afford you the platform to express yourself today, and which you are apparently young enough to arrogantly take for granted.
Its certainly not that you don’t have a right to disagree, but you don’t have a right to your own facts and you certainly don’t have the right to just brand individuals and swaths of society as racists every time they have different views from you. It’s extremely reductive and juvenile behavior. It reminds me of ‘They Boy Who Cried Wolf’. Eventually y’all gonna be standing there screaming racism, and there really will be racism, and nobody is going to pay any attention to you because you wore the word out and robbed it of its meaning.
There’s a very “pot calling kettle black” vibe about you thinking I’m “triggered” and then proceeding to rant even more, and imo far more insultingly so than I did, my friend. I may write a long comment, but at least I’m self-aware of the stuff that causes an emotional reaction. I don’t think it’s crappy to be emotional about racist ideas (the evergreen point being that we’re actually not calling people “racist” when debating racist ideas. But I did call OP and especially OP’s anonymous friend “wildly out of touch,” which I admit is unkind. I’ll wait for you to similarly walk back all of the demeaning things you just said about me….)
Now to respond on the merits: as far as I can see from his photo, OP is a white activist who may not have been old enough to participate in any civil rights marches. By implication, it seems like you’re crediting boomer white leftists (if this guy is indeed a leftist) with all of the work done to advance civil rights…
…which is also a wildly problematic idea. Rather than convincing me of any error, imo you just doubled-down to indicate that you may not understand the topic being discussed. I know lots of boomer leftists of many races because many of them are still out in the field making a difference. None of them talk like OP. No one on the real left cares about “cancel culture,” but we do have some concern re deplatforming for (critically) illegitimate reasons.
But OPs comment seems to be his real viewpoint, which again, for reasons I explained separately below, features an idea that is deeply racist. Population control is so outmoded that we now classify it under the highly “triggering” term “eco-fascism,” and I bet no one would have liked it if I used OPs ideas in the same sentence referring to fascism either, yes?
Activism is a brutal contact sport. If OP is a real activist, this likely isn’t his first rodeo and he should defend his idea on the merits. Very, very few other serious activists defend that idea. If you’re so “triggered” at someone of any age pointing out (admittedly in a grouchy fashion) that your idea oppressed someone based on their race, then I don’t think you’re actually a part of the modern left.
So triggered and beyond reproach. I see.
This is the problem trying to engage with the “modern left”, as you describe it, though I truly fail to see what is so modern about the movement. Maybe by modern you mean disrespectful, narcissistic, and nebulous.
You need to do your homework on the OP before you come here spouting utter rubbish. You told us you looked at his photo, concluded that he was a white dude, then proceeded to unleash a pile of shade on his character. Perhaps if you had taken a moment to look into it, you would have found out about his extensive contributions to both environmental and academic causes going back to his days at Utica College in the late 50s and early 60s. Armed with this information you may have been able to start a dialog about the things you disagree about rather than screaming “racist” at people and expecting that to somehow advance the conversation or achieve anything beyond displaying your egotistical virtue signaling and propensity to infantilize anyone who doesn’t have such a monolithic approach to social and political issues.
You would do well to learn from OP if you ever want to succeed in activism. Justice is a process, not an outcome.
MP, OP doesn’t need you to argue with me. Especially not if he’s a serious activist. I conceded that I was a bit grouchy in my tone, but my point is rock solid. Advocating for population control in any form is prohibitively racist. No serious environmentalist takes that position anymore. It’s totally fair, especially if this person claims to represent organizing, to call out an organizing strategy or idea that, in my opinion, the vast majority of the movement is opposed to.
You can try as hard as you want to intimidate or insult me, but that doesn’t change the facts. I am debating OP on an idea, whereas it seems all you’re doing is telling me I’m not allowed to speak, and calling me names. I think it’s very, very clear which activity does more to advance the left, which again, no one here but I is claiming to be a member of.
Just a friendly reminder to leave out the name calling in the back and forth discussion.
My goodness Vanessa , I feel sorry for anyone who has to listen to you on a regular basis.
“Advocating for population control in any form is prohibitively racist.”
I do not know what “prohibitively racist” means. This is a global, human problem, not a race problem. If we cannot control our own population, Nature will certainly do it for us. Unchecked, nearly exponential, population growth of any species always leads to dramatic “corrections”.
Our current modifications to the environment to provide protein and grain to over 7 billion humans are neither sustainable or wise. Oceans where plastic is rapidly replacing fish as well as energy and water-intensive agriculture adding to already serious environmental instability is not a racial problem. It is a human problem. Ignoring this fact in order to be politically correct is misguided. We shouldn’t allow racial politics to interfere with solutions for humanity.
I completely agree with Boreas.
It is patently UNTRUE that “population control” is a racist, pseudo-scientific crackpot theory! In fact, many myriads (tens of thousands) of scientists have signed on to declarations warning humanity that overpopulation is a primary cause of our current environmental crisis. There is an abundance of widely-accepted, peer-reviewed literature that continues to indicate population control as our most necessary and effective means of limiting pollution, climate change, ecological collapse and human suffering.
Some quotes from one of many such warnings about overpopulation coming from the scientific community:
“Twenty-five years ago, the Union
of Concerned Scientists and more
than 1700 independent scientists,
including the majority of living Nobel
laureates in the sciences, penned the
1992 ‘World Scientists’ Warning to
… The scientists pleaded that we stabilize the human population, describing
how our large numbers—swelled by
another 2 billion people since 1992,
a 35 percent increase—exert stresses
on Earth that can overwhelm other
efforts to realize a sustainable future
(Crist et al. 2017) …
… We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically
and demographically uneven material
consumption and by not perceiving
continued rapid population growth as a
primary driver behind many ecological
and even societal threats (Crist et al.
2017). By failing to adequately limit
population growth, reassess the role
of an economy rooted in growth,
reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize
renewable energy, protect habitat,
restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt
defaunation, and constrain invasive
alien species, humanity is not taking
the urgent steps needed to safeguard
our imperilled biosphere.
… As most political leaders respond to
pressure, scientists, media influencers,
and lay citizens must insist that their
governments take immediate action
as a moral imperative to current and
future generations of human and other
life. With a groundswell of organized
grassroots efforts, dogged opposition
can be overcome and political leaders
compelled to do the right thing. It is
also time to re-examine and change
our individual behaviors, including
limiting our own reproduction (ideally
to replacement level at most) and
drastically diminishing our per capita
consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and
other resources. …
… We have also made
advancements in reducing extreme
poverty and hunger (www.worldbank.org). Other notable progress … include the
rapid decline in fertility rates in many
regions attributable to investments in
girls’ and women’s education (www.
… Sustainability transitions come
about in diverse ways, and all require
civil-society pressure and evidence-based advocacy, political leadership,
and a solid understanding of policy instruments, markets, and other drivers. Examples of diverse and effective
steps humanity can take to transition
to sustainability include the following: …
… further reducing fertility rates by ensuring
that women and men have access to
education and voluntary family-planning services, especially where such
resources are still lacking …
… estimating a scientifically defensible, sustainable human population
size for the long term while rallying
nations and leaders to support that
vital goal. …
… [EPILOGUE] We have been
overwhelmed with the support
for our article and thank the
more than 15,000 signatories from all
ends of the Earth (see supplemental
file S2 for list of signatories). As far as
we know, this is the most scientists to
ever co-sign and formally support a
published journal article. … ”
(William J. Ripple, Christopher Wolf, Thomas M. Newsome, Mauro Galetti, Mohammed Alamgir, Eileen Crist, Mahmoud I. Mahmoud, William F. Laurance, 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries, World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice, BioScience, Volume 67, Issue 12, December 2017, Pages 1026–1028, https://doi.org/10.1093/biosci/bix125)
Humanity had lived for hundreds of thousands of years with a relatively stable reproductive rate. Several thousand years ago, various dispersal events began to occur, spurred by the development of new technologies. On every continent except Antarctica, certain populations invaded new areas and displaced or assimilated native populations. Examples include: Linear Pottery Culture colonization of the Balkans and then much of Europe; Displacement of the Goths by the Huns and then the Romans by the Goths; Mesoamerican hegemony of the Tlatilco, Olmecs, Maya, Aztecs, etc. and subsequent Spanish colonization; Assimilation of a multitude of groups by the Han of the Yellow River Basin in modern-day China; Colonization of the Japanese archipelago by the Yayoi; The absolutely massive displacement of African cultures known as the Bantu expansion.
Enabled by dominance and technology, populations exploded. Then, populations crashed before exploding again the world over. This colonial procession has since continued to present day, most notably in past centuries in North America and most notably in past decades in the third world (Africa, Asia and South America). Populations have exploded during this time, spurred once again by cultural and technological dominance, with one important difference: Technologies and globalization have created a scenario in which population crashes are greatly delayed and anthropocentric ecological damage and climate change, as well as human suffering, are exacerbated.
We will not live for another thousand years without seeing either controlled population growth or catastrophic population declines. Technology will never allow us to circumvent planetary boundaries in a way that would sustain current population growth rates. Neither will political ideologies. You can disagree with science, but mischaracterizing science as something that it is not (the deus ex machina) is either science fiction or propaganda.
So many years ago in the 1970s, when the world’s population was much smaller than it is today, environmentalists learned the hard way that it was counterproductive to touch the “third rail” of pariah subjects – population.
Any suggestion that unlimited expansion of the human population cannot be sustained by Earth’s limited resources still remains off limits today as a topic for discussion.
I submit this Almanack exchange as exhibit “A”…
It’s the elephant in the room .
Great article. so true!
This is a terrific article. Personal responsibility is a good thing, of course, but it is a drop in the ocean when it comes to addressing climate change. Sure, cut way back on your meat consumption and be aware of your carbon footprint, but if you really want to make a difference, support candidates who are serious about keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
This quote guided the UHEAC in 1970, and its wisdom still to holds true today:
“If you cannot do something about that stream or those lovely marshlands in your town, then how do you think you are going to save the globe?” Rene” Dubos
love this, Louis! I’m going to “borrow” this quote for my newsletter today 🙂
Also, let me add to my much grouchier comment that the majority of the advice here is solid. Grassroots advocacy always gets the goods. I 100% agree with Louis’s quote.
Truly, I do not mean to be such a curmudgeon. It’s just that most people I know are out in the streets and etc about many of these topics. They can use help and extra people power, but often they don’t get it because politicians and powerful interests know how to divide us all by wedge issues very well. And in the ADKs there is the fact that often conservation is seen to be at odds with economic development, which is a totally false dichotomy that prevents many (but not all) local groups from aligning with natural allies. That’s a specific hurdle that needs to be examined more.
The point is that as long as we’re not endorsing really heavily debunked approaches, almost all of this is absolutely the right direction.
“New York pays billions of green energy dollars to subsidize foreign companies to build industrial wind turbines that kill birds and ruin communities or subsidize industrial biomass projects that require whole forests to be logged and turned into pellets.”
Wind energy ruins communities? That’s a good one. Also, which whole forests are we cutting down in New York?
This smacks of Koch Bros propaganda
Tried the link http://www.scorecard.org/ but the page says they are “on break”
In New York State, your readers may find interesting information at https://gisservices.dec.ny.gov/gis/dil/ which is the DEC Info-Locator mapping tool that has 75 categories of environmental interest. Not equivalent, but maybe helpful.
Come on folks. Let’s get real. Fossil fuels, carbon emissions, dietary choices, renewable energy, and yes, the elephant in the room; increasing population, human caused global warming are all legitimate issues.
I understand how the population question can be seen as racist and in the context of the lives of white Europeans and people of color, Asians, Indians there is a valid argument. But in the end if we keep increasing the population at the current rate, how do you expect the quality of life of those very people whom racism has kept down to really catch up to the quality of life that every human being should have?
It’s complicated. As an agnostic, I still find myself preying for all our descendants.
An important thing to keep in mind on this topic is that science pretty much agrees that the human population will peak in a little bit (I think I read 8 billion?) and then drop significantly in 100 years-ish, as long as development indices improve in the global south. The more you educate and empower women, the less babies a family has, go figure! That’s one of the main reasons I get so annoyed at people proposing population control: it values the idea of coercing people, particularly women, over the very real fact that women are highly conscientious on this topic when given basic human rights. I believe that almost all of the most developed countries where women have freedom are below replacement rates for fertility. There are not enough babies to form a tax base to support aging boomers in many of these places – making the topic of a growing population pretty much exclusively centered on the developing world. (This is why it’s racist to frame the discussion generally, as in “we need to control the population.” The only places population is growing are non-white – its super problematic to omit that fact.)
And on the darker side of the coin, there are environmental problems that are *deeply* affecting human fertility, so it’s gonna be quite moot to care about this in 20-30 years. I recommend a new book called “Countdown” which predicts (with science and a lot of citations) that due to exposure to man-made toxins in our environment, natural human fertility may be gone by 2045. That’s everywhere. Plus climate change is unleashing lots of cruddy diseases that decrease both fertility and life expectancy, which will make it much tougher for the population to grow.
This should be a discussion of proper use of limited resources. Before industrialization, humanity lived literally almost a million years without exhausting the bounty of the planet. We can get back to that old way of living alongside the natural world. Doing so will not involve any coercion, because besides for being wrong, coercion never works in the long run.
The two most promising attributes that humanity possesses is our tendency to yearn towards freedom, and our tendency to love and be in harmony with the natural world. We have a job to make the 2nd tendency as valued and as available as the first. I think that’s the true spirit of Earth Day. Thank you for coming to my impromptu TED talk :p
Nowhere do I espouse population control! That smacks of “master race” stuff. As a Jew I bet you know my opinion on that.
Your mention of more and better educated women is laudable but reality is not so pretty.
Fertility data is too new to be sure.
And remember this Whole issue of population is just one part of the larger question in this essay.
I don’t think you do, apologies! I wanted to respond to your comment with a less ranty take, 100% my bad if I still came off as ranty. I guess I have that issue, LOL.
I worry mostly about the fertility stuff. Human fertility is going down for sure. Ever seen the Alfonso Curon “before he was cool” film called Children of Men? Very before it’s time but more relevant than ever imo.
Argh typo, I meant “before its time”
I don’t see anyone here doing research or listing grassroots organized groups they are participating in . I am not doing much except advocating for green power and fighting new fossil fuel power. Solar power, wind power, battery storage all need to be built. I don’t care if the wind towers cause someone to lose their view in the ocean or on mountaintops. I used to think stuff like this was important. It is not. The important thing is to stop climate change.
I can advocate for green power. There is enough to chew on right there. What is racist about new wind towers and power lines and solar farms is where they are sited.
Northern ny above the park is a good place to start. Advocate for green power in new york.
I live in the southern tier and the local sierra club is doing this. It is not without controversy.
Stay away from telling people not to have children. Do something that has results.
And do it now not next year.
I was involved with 350.org for a while and they’re still cool, but all of the really “cool kids” energy is with the Sunrise movement at the moment. They have chapters in the North Country! If you’re into climate alarmism, Extinction Rebellion will scare the crud out of you and is big in Europe. All of the “old school” orgs such as Sierra Club, Nature Conservatory, Greenpeace, NRDC, and etc have advocacy arms, but some younger and more militant activists think these groups are not intersectional enough.
There are congresspeople (including in NY) that are advocating for the Green New Deal, which is legislation that will prioritize economic wellbeing along with environmental wellbeing, and needless to say I’m a big fan. But there are also national groups like Climate Hawks Vote that do PAC-based fundraising for candidates, if you’re interested in electoral politics.
The area of zero-waste and reducing plastic use has a lot of energy, though I’m not aware of a group devoted exclusively to this topic. And of course there is lots to be done locally! If you don’t have a group focused on a topic that you like you can start one. But I find working with already established groups to be both valuable and more effective. If you have a sub-topic you’re interested in, let me know and I’ll look up some groups for you 😀
I am a lover of birds. Billions have been lost in north america due to habitat destruction and climate change. A much smaller number will be hurt from wind turbines but there are monitoring systems that can help with this during bird migration.
It is not a good reason to oppose wind farms that are sited correctly.
I think the Adirondacks would be a great place for solar and wind power , make the entire park dedicated to it . Just imagine all the forest land and mountains cleared off and covered in solar panels and windmills , what a beautiful sight…..It would show that New Yorkers are willing to make sacrifices to save the planet.
One small thing people can do at the local level is advocate for zoning that allows solar panels on every roof that can support them. Another is to advocate for walkable/bikable complete streets in your town. I doubt it would ever happen, but I would like to see a state law mandating walking and bicycle access to every school and public building. Too often I see something like a new municipal building erected somewhere that only allows car access in a safe manner.
I think solar panels on certain buildings is a good idea , but on others it can be an issue for firefighters. What we’re seeing locally is solar farms replacing farmland , and in some cases wood lots being cleared out for the panels also . In the case of farmland being used it helps to increase the demand for corn and soybeans so the price goes up and the farmers are clearing out yet more woods to be used as cropland to replace what’s been turned into solar farms.
In Holland they are discovering that PV panels on rooftops are having a negative impact on the bat population which uses the traditional clay roofing tiles as habitat. Alternative mounting options are being explored that will hopefully eliminate this issue.
There will always be pluses and minuses for any energy solution, but I think the pluses are in solar’s favor. I’ve been using small-scale solar since the 1980s and even with those old primitive panels they proved their worth in off-grid situations. I keep thinking of the untapped solar potential atop schools, big-box stores, parking garages, warehouses, etc. These are places where nobody would ever see them and they could be easily incorporated. Solar has the advantage of being nearly maintenance free for at least 10-20 years. I just retired a panel that was at least 25 years old–I got it used from the previous owner. 25 years of power generation with zero maintenance or fuss.