On Earth Day, the environmental movement needs repairs

Bill McKibben says – “Forty years in, we’re losing”.

This weekend, when speakers at Earth Day gatherings across the country hearken back to the first celebration in 1970, they’ll recall great victories: above all, cleaner air and cleaner water for Americans.

But for 20 years now, global warming has been the most important environmental issue — arguably the most important issue the planet has ever faced. And there we can boast an unblemished bipartisan record of accomplishing absolutely nothing.

To mark Earth Day this year, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) were supposed to introduce their long-awaited rewrite of the House’s climate legislation. Now that’s been delayed for at least a few days, which is probably just as well, since, as Graham points out, it’s no longer really an environmental bill…

Worse, the bill might specifically remove the strongest tool the environmentalists won in the wake of Earth Day 1: the Environmental Protection Agency’s right to use the Clean Air Act to bring the fossil fuel industries to heel. Enforcement may be preempted under the new law. Even the right of states to pioneer new legislation, such as California’s landmark global warming bill, apparently could disappear with the new legislation…

That weakness has many sources, including the corrosive power of money in politics (and human beings have never found a greater source of money than fossil fuels). But at least part of the problem lies within environmentalism, which no longer does enough real organizing to build the pressure that could result in real change…

I remember interviewing Pete McCloskey, the California House member recruited by Gaylord Nelson to be the Republican sponsor of the original Earth Day…But just as important was what happened next: “About two weeks after Earth Day,” McCloskey said, “there was an article on the sixth or seventh page of the Washington Star — some of the Earth Day kids had labeled 12 members of Congress the Dirty Dozen and vowed to defeat them. Nobody paid much attention.

On the first Wednesday in June, though, everyone in Washington opened the paper to find that the two Democrats on that list — one a powerful committee chairman, the other a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee — had lost primary fights by fewer than a thousand votes. Within 24 hours, seven of the 10 Republicans on the list had come to me, even though I was despised, being against the war and all. ‘What’s this about water pollution, about air pollution? What can you tell us?’ ” For the next few sessions, anything tinged green passed Congress with ease: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act.

The Golden Rule for American politicians is – “Get re-elected!” Nothing else really matters.

Get up on your hind legs and register folks to vote. Do it as a Green activist. Scare some Democrat or Republican into pretending they have a conscience and an understanding of science beyond Howdy Doody.