But what can we DO?

It’s not enough to simply lament the disappearance of species, or the poisoning of the air, water and soil of the planet.  The urgent question of our time is WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT?  How can any of us–how can I–act to staunch the hemorrhage and resuscitate this dying patient, our planet, before it’s too late?

Let’s review the options.

There is political reform, through various channels: appealing to our duly elected representatives and/or supporting environmental groups that lobby these politicians and try to pressure the relevant federal and state agencies charged with protecting the “natural resources” of our country.

I have to say that I am quite skeptical of this approach, which doesn’t seem to have worked at all in the 40 years or so since I first became a Ranger Rick reader and aware of the environmental movement.

Things have gotten much worse for the natural world in my lifetime, despite all the efforts of big, well-funded groups like the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy, or even Greenpeace, the most radical of them all. Greenpeace is the most willing to go out on a limb to protect species and habitat, but its actions have failed to make the kind of global difference we need.

There is international peer pressure to do the right thing–conventions, treaties and protocols.  Even as I type these words, I inwardly despair.  From Kyoto onward, the U.S. has been the bully who refused to play nice in the community of nations whenever it’s come to putting the common good before the holy Free Market.

There is actually going around the blowing up the worst aspects of civilization, like dams, power plants, cell towers and chemical plants, as the proponents of Deep Green Resistance advocate.  Eco-terrorism, anyone?

Or there’s crowd power of the Occupy Wall Street variety, which certainly seems right now to hold the most promise.  ‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has,” Margaret Mead said.

But how to convince those crowds that the fate of seals, bees and goldfinches–not to mention the oceans and the boreal forests of North America–is actually more important than the injustices of economic inequality here in the U.S.?

Of course, it’s all important.  I have several friends who are on unemployment now and having serious trouble finding jobs.  If the Tea Party had their way, unemployment itself would be a thing of the past, a quaint relic of the old New Deal.  We can’t let these radical conservatives shred our social safety net, and we do need to start creating jobs again–green jobs, of course.

But there is no single issue more urgent than climate and environmental health, because if our climate goes haywire and our life support systems here on Earth fail, folks, we are all going down with the ship.

How to convey this to the crowds who are willing to turn out to protest economic injustice, but give it a miss when the issue is global warming?  How to convince people that what we should be demanding as we flood the squares and Main Streets of our country are well- subsidized options to reduce our energy consumption?

Doesn’t sound very glamorous, but the truth is that there’s nothing more important to be fighting for right now than subsidies to install solar roof tiles, like they’ve been doing in Europe for a decade already; and solar hot water heaters; and geothermal ducts for large buildings; and affordable green tech cars.

As Mark Hertsgaard and others have been saying, it’s not enough to make individual green lifestyle decisions, like recycling or composting or turning out the lights when you leave the room.  These individual actions are all well and good, but they’re not going to make the dramatic change we need to get our climate back into shape.

For the kind of change that will save the polar bears and the walruses and the coral, we need our government to step up and protect the interests of its people.  Not the interests of the corporations which have collectively driven our planet to the brink of ruin with their shortsighted greedy ethos of extraction and exploitation.

Government by the people, for the people.  And for the environment that sustains these people in a web of life that includes all living beings on this planet.

How to say this in a way that will light up the imaginations of the 99% and ignite an unstoppable movement for change?

I will keep trying.  What more can I do?

Leave a comment


  1. Alfred L.

     /  October 29, 2011

    It does seem to be sort of a Catch-22. On the one hand, when people are struggling just to survive, it’s hard to rally them around a cause outside of themselves, but on the other hand, it can be even more difficult to rouse the financially secure out of their self-indulgent stupor. But we cannot let the difficulty of the task outweigh our will to accomplish it.

    Bill Maher said on a recent episode of his HBO talk show Democrats are catching on to the Republican tactic of repeating themselves until their lips fall off. Continually hammering an idea into the heads of reluctant or uncertain constituents can be an effective way to get the message across, for good or ill. I’m not sure if, indeed, that’s the way to go, but I have learned (as far as writing school papers goes) that presenting a sympathetic view of the opposing side can hurt my argument. Fair-mindedness can be mistaken for flip-flopping and weakness. If I’m going to stand on a soapbox, it’s best to do so loudly and firmly.

    That said, the content of the message is doubly important. In this world where there are so many immediate and long-term problems that need solving (a good many of which you’ve pointed out), it can be hard to pin things down into one concise manifesto. As clichéd as it may sound, I’m going send out the call for Unity.

    We call ourselves the United States, but I see very little Unity. We have a United Nations, but still, no Unity. When we have a United Earth, then, perhaps, we will finally understand Unity. If we could teach every individual around the world a spiritual and practical understanding of Unity, one that reaches across borders and religions, then we would understand that beyond our dualistic world of opposites–white and black, rich and poor, human and animal, good and bad, left and right, right and wrong, love and hate, life and death–there lies something higher, fuller, and more complete; that they are all two sides of the same coin; that the yin and the yang come together to make one whole; that maybe, just maybe, there is a middle way; somewhere, there is an eternal hope and truth.

    With a solid understanding of the connection between all lifeforms, there would come an outpouring of love and respect for this beautiful world. Many people have already reached this level of understanding. In time, enough people would understand it, then they would have enough power to champion all of the causes of this messed up world and all of it would add up. It would be heaven on earth. Utopian? Yes. Impossible? I don’t think so. It’s probably best not to be defeatist before giving it a try.

    I hope this reply doesn’t sound too New-Agey and absurd. I’m just in an optimistic mood. Cheers!

    • Jennifer Browdy de Hernandez

       /  October 29, 2011

      For too long we’ve been silenced by the fear of seeming “new agey,” which is a kind of dismissive short-hand for believing in and honoring our connection to the earth. But science too is showing that we ARE connected to the earth, we can’t get around it and we shouldn’t be trying. We also can’t give up the hope that we can imagine and manifest a better world. I still believe it’s possible, now more than ever. It is certainly worth a good try! Because the alternative is too horrible to contemplate.


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