Healing Our World: Weekly Comment

By Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D.

Earth Day 2002: No Time for Craft Fairs

“Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Young girls picked them, every one.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn”

-- Pete Seeger

"Compassion is sometimes the fatal capacity
for feeling what it is like to live inside somebody else's skin.
It is the knowledge that there can never really be
any peace and joy for me
until there is peace and joy finally for you too."

-- Frederick Buechner

The list of events planned around the U.S. for Earth Day 2002 is chilling. While tens of thousands of people die from soil, air, and water poisoned with pesticides and scores of toxic chemicals, craft fairs, discussion groups, and lectures will be held. Lost is the passion and sense of urgency that heralded in the first Earth Day 32 years ago.

The 32nd Earth Day this year will mark an unprecedented time resource consumption and environmental violence against the Earth and our health.

On Earth Day this year, while speeches, conversations and trinket sales take place:

Earth Day has become a time when the right wing corporate, industrial, and political leaders probably rejoice in the passivity of the population. Of course, there are exceptions and a number of groups throughout the nation will be mindful of the significance of the day.

Nelson

Gaylord Nelson, former Senator from Wisconsin who also served as Wisconsin's Governor (Photo courtesy The Wilderness Society)
But the first Earth Day in 1970 saw an estimated 20 million people across the nation participating in peaceful demonstrations that called attention to our environmental dilemmas. Senator Gaylord Nelson and activist attorney Denis Hayes organized it as a nationwide teach-in about the environment. Over 10,000 grade schools, 2,000 colleges, and 1,000 communities participated, sending a strong message to political leaders that the environment was part of everyone’s lives and needed attention.

What happened to the grand expectations we had at the first Earth Day, 32 years ago?

Senator Nelson said the purpose of Earth Day was "to shake up the political establishment and force this issue onto the national agenda.”

"It was a gamble," he recalls, "but it worked." There is no gamble any longer. Earth Day is hardly controversial or threatening to anyone.

Some would argue that although many people are more aware of environmental issues today than in 1970, little has been done to stem the tide of environmental destruction in a world where economic growth outweighs planetary health. If anything, the destruction is happening at a greater level than ever before. It is often less visible because industry leaders and politicians know how to keep things quieter with the help of well paid public relations firms.

The first Earth Day's message was heard and in the few years that followed, sweeping environmental legislation was enacted including the Endangered Species Act, The Federal Clean Air Act, the Federal Water Pollution Control Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.

It was a powerful time of reawakening and it appeared, for a while, that the sobering realization of our impact on the natural world might result in positive change. Species were saved, habitats protected, and development projects were stopped. In New York City, over 100,000 people attended an ecology fair in Central Park. Congress adjourned for the day and over five hundred of its members attended teach-ins at universities or made speeches about saving the environment.

On Earth Day 2002, will the President join Congress and adjourn for the day to attend teach-ins? Unlikely. In fact, the current presidential administration is working hard to weaken most of the environmental rules that emerged from the awareness raised from the first Earth Day.

starfish

The Earth abounds with wonder to be protected (Photo © Jackie Giuliano)
There will be many events across the nation on Earth Day 2002. In Seattle, there will be a lecture entitled, “Global Warming: Can We Stop It,” at the University of Washington. On the Saturday before, there will be an all-day conference entitled “Community Based Solutions for Environmental Health and Justice.” It will be held at the University of Washington’s Ethnic Cultural Center and will cost $25. The fee and location pretty much insure that few of the people of color and low income who are being affected by the issue will be able to attend. They are having a hard enough time paying their heating bills, if they can afford any heat at all.

At 4pm the day before, there will be an “Earth Day Conversation” at Seattle’s Elliot Bay Book Company.

In Knoxville, Tennessee, EarthFest 2002 will have live music, demonstrations and crafts. There will be speakers, entertainment, and children's activities at the Santa Fe Earth Day event in New Mexico and in Duluth, Minnesota, the 2nd Annual North Shore Beach Clean-up will take place.

Big deal.

Since the first Earth Day 32 years ago, global population has increased by as much as it did in the last 100,000 years. And as the number of people has grown, the amount of land and resources has also expanded. The gap between the rich and the poor has also widened dramatically.

The global economy has more than doubled in the past 31 years, putting pressure on most countries to increase export income, often at the expense of natural resources. Overfishing is decimating one ocean species after another, and the catch is getting thinner and thinner.

Tens of thousands of toxic chemicals stream into our world and into our bodies and there is no end in site. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that more than 32 million workers are exposed to harmful substances from more than 3.5 million workplaces. Forty-nine million tons of solvents are produced each year in the United States and 9.8 million workers are exposed to them daily. Yet over the last 30 years, OSHA has issued only 170 citations to employers for not having proper procedures to protect against toxic substances leaving the workplace.

While the lectures and conversations take place on Earth Day in the United States, in Bangladesh, hungry people fight to get fish from polluted sewage treatment plant water.

A recent U.S. government study shows that the nation’s waterways are filled with billions of pounds of toxic substances that are combining in unknown ways. The chemicals include caffeine, contraceptives, painkillers, insect repellent, perfumes, and nicotine. Virtually nothing is known about the health effects of ingesting this toxic mix of pharmaceutical and personal product pollutants. At least 31 antibiotics and anti-bacterial compounds were found in water samples from around the country.

These chemicals are being linked to deformed sex organs in wildlife, sex reversals in some fish, declining fertility in humans, and cancers.

Thirty-two years after the first Earth Day, I am feeling rather cynical. Earth Day 2002 continues to be a Hallmark card holiday, a day of a few beach clean-ups, educational booths, tree plantings, speeches, conversations and parades. Many festivals and fairs will be held throughout the U.S. with food, exhibits and, I am sure, many opportunities to buy products to filter our poisoned air and water.

group

Earth Day could be a national day of listening (Photo © Jackie Giuliano)
There will be a whole variety of experiences, most press releases for Earth Day events say. Except there will be few demonstrations demanding an end to the madness sweeping across our world and few events pledging solidarity to those fighting for the cleanup of our Earth, our seas, and our skies. It should NOT be a day to sell T-shirts as fundraisers. It should be a day to teach simplification, to model how to end our consumption-at-all-costs lifestyle, and to highlight the importance of establishing a deep and profound connection to the natural world, the cycles of life, and the rhythms of nature.

On Earth Day 2002, maybe more than ever before in history, we need to reflect seriously on the fact that time may really be running out for our planet's life-support systems - and for us.

Maybe Earth Day should be a global call to stop work, to stop driving, to sit quietly at home, use as few resources as possible, and teach our children that the raping and plundering of the Earth in the name of economic growth has taken us to the brink of disaster.

Maybe Earth Day should be a day of national listening, listening for, as Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hahn says, for the sound of the Earth crying. If we really heard that sound, our only choice would be to act – now.

RESOURCES

1. Visit an Earth Day website at: http://www.earthday.org/. Contact the organizers and ask them to help put the spirit back into Earth Day. They need to hear from you.

2. Calculate your ecological footprint and see just how much of the Earth you use. You will be quite surprised. Start at: http://www.lead.org/leadnet/footprint/default.htm

3. See a fact sheet on women's health and the environment at: http://www.wedo.org/monitor/health.htm

4. Find out who your Congressional representatives are and e-mail them. Tell them it is time to protect environmental legislation and for sweeping environmental changes. If you know your Zip code, you can find them at: http://www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html

5. Earth Day 2002 might be a great time to get your family to watch the “Diet for a New America” video by Jon Robbins, possibly the most important 60 minutes you and your family and friends could watch. You can get a copy by clicking here.

6. Follow a broad range of environmental issues with the Earth Island Institute at: http://www.earthisland.org/home_body.cfm

7. Give an Earth Day gift to your local high school, such as a powerful 30-minute video from the Video Project called “We All Live Downstream,” available at: http://www.videoproject.org/we_all_live_downstream.html

8. Visit the World Game Institute at: http://www.worldgame.org/wwwproject/ for their amazing "What the World Wants Project" to get details on the costs and assumptions to repair the world. It is a remarkable resource that will open your eyes forever. Send a copy of their chart to every philanthropist and political leader in your community.

9. Stay in touch with pesticide issues with the help of the Pesticide Action Network at: http://www.panna.org/panna/

{Jackie Alan Giuliano, Ph.D. is a writer and teacher in Seattle and the author of “Healing Our World, A Journey from the Darkness Into the Light,” available at: http://www.xlibris.com/HealingOurWorld.html. He can be found wondering how to make every day Earth Day for his 11 month old son. Please send your thoughts, comments, and visions to him at: jackie@healingourworld.com and visit his website at: http://www.healingourworld.com}