Spaceship Earth: Earth Day, nearly 50 years later

Although every day should be treated like it is Earth Day, the day we have officially designated to celebrate this space rock we all live on is now upon us. As we all take an extra bit of time to make sure we are doing the best we can for our planet and thinking about plugging into groups working to fight for the planet year-round, it is important to look at Earth Day’s origins to see what we can learn from past environmental struggles.

The fight against climate change is by no means a new one, and people have been protesting dirty water and air for over 50 years. A notable figure in this movement was a Wisconsin senator named Gaylord Nelson. Motivated by FDR’s New Deal policies and a passion for the natural world, he worked to introduce congressional legislation to create jobs in conservation and improve education, infrastructure and healthcare programs. He helped to create the nationally recognized Earth Day after being inspired by anti-Vietnam style teach-ins. The effects were massive, and he was key in making climate change and conservation a national priority.

Nowadays, many groups are once again working to fight climate change and are attempting to create a global dialogue about the issue. Around the world, a group by the name of Extinction Rebellion has occupied spaces, demanding that the severity of climate change is recognized and solutions begin to get drafted in government. Domestically, the Sunrise Movement has been working on a Green New Deal that will comprehensively tackle climate change along with problems of unemployment, healthcare and infrastructure. These movements have both done a lot to get people talking about climate change and helped to form dialogues about a need for action; however, we must also analyze the means by which the Sunrise Movement and related groups hope to go about solving this problem.

Both Extinction Rebellion and the Sunrise Movement are attempting to use electoral politics to solve the problems of climate change. Their power stems from uniting people and their votes as a means of gaining political power over politicians. This can create change and will likely lead to some progress in the coming years. However, one must still be skeptical of whether the roots of the problem will be solved in this way. Regulations can do a lot of good, but they will never fully tackle the desire of CEOs and shareholders to profit by any means possible. They will never stop these people’s ability to corrupt politicians with their influence and wealth. Since politics are so susceptible to manipulation by those they are trying to regulate, a new path needs to be taken. Instead of attempting to change the rules, perhaps the companies themselves should be fundamentally changed. A company run by its workers is a company run by the ethics of its workers. Although a shareholder may place profits over the environment, a democratic group of workers would prioritize protecting the environment they and their families live in. Environmental groups must look at this path if they want to create lasting change, and, on this Earth Day, they should have a conversation about exploitation of workers and the environment, as the two go hand-in-hand.