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Earth Day Manifesto: Love, Death, and Global Warming

April 22, 2005
By Mike Tidwell

We call it Earth Day, not Everglades Day or West Coast Day or Yellowstone Day. It’s the one time each year when we’re encouraged to think beyond our local ecosystems and try to comprehend and appreciate the Earth as a whole. We meditate on this huge, life-giving sphere full of mystery and power yet so delicate and complex and ceaselessly vulnerable.

So when we step back today and gaze at our planetary home, what’s the most striking thing we see? What’s the bottom-line big news? Hint: Something’s happening on our planetship that hasn’t occurred in 65 million years when the dinosaurs made their final exit. Something’s happening that Tony Blair’s chief science advisor loudly and repeatedly calls a much greater threat to human civilization than global terrorism. Answer: our life-sustaining global climate is rapidly changing. The very system that makes life possible on our planet and not on others – our atmosphere – is in upheaval. It’s happening today, right now, on Earth Day 2005, right before our eyes.

Scientists can longer even keep up with the massive impacts occurring worldwide due to our use of oil, coal and natural gas. Greenhouse gases have already totally transformed Alaska into a melting, eroding place of dying forests and disrupted native cultures. Sea level rise is dooming proud fishing communities on islands in the Chesapeake Bay. A heat wave killed 30,000 Europeans in 2003. And now scientists say a staggering one third of all land-based plant and animal species could become extinct – totally gone – by 2050! One third. This rate of extinction, just a few years away, happening largely in our lifetime, has not occurred since T-Rexes roamed the planet.

But for now, let’s put all of this aside and return to the exuberant spirit that has always defined Earth Day: hope. What really defines this day are all the special events and festivals and speeches that point to the virtues of recycling and planting trees and buying hybrid cars. We all know the planet need helps or there wouldn’t even be an Earth Day. What we want most from this day are ideas and guidance on how we can make a difference – no matter how small – in the struggle for ecological sanity.

So here’s a big piece of guidance: A major switch to clean, efficient energy can single-handedly solve almost all of our most pressing environmental, economic, health, and national security problems. That’s right. Clean energy, by itself, can transform our planet from one of impending doom to one where ecosystems rebound and sustainable economies emerge and war fades away and – finally -- peace and justice and love are given the space to take hold and grow.

Today, on Earth Day, right now, I want you to close your eyes and imagine a different world. Imagine a world where there is no more mountaintop removal for coal in Appalachia. Imagine a world where there’s no more mercury poisoning of our children. Imagine no more Code Red smog days in summer and a huge drop in childhood asthma and no more acid rain. Imagine no more wars for oil, no more September 11ths. Imagine all of this, AND an end to global warming. How do we get there? Answer: We switch to clean, renewable energy as fast as we can.

You want hope today? Here’s hope: Wind power is the fastest growing energy source in the world today. Wind power is dramatically cheaper than even coal-fired electricity when the true costs of each are factored in. And wind farms can easily exist with zero – that’s right zero – impacts on bird populations, according to a wave of new radar studies conducted across the East Coast. Hybrid cars, meanwhile, are here and are growing in popularity. And hydrogen cars could be ours in ten years if we made a national push a la the Apollo moon mission. And radically improved energy efficiency throughout our economy is imminently achievable. Where’s the proof? Europeans use half the energy per capita as we do and have the same basic income levels and modern lifestyles. We can do much, much better.

So why aren’t we doing better? That’s a good question to ponder on Earth Day. The answer is that America’s incredibly powerful energy companies and their political champions in Washington thrive on the assumption that most American’s are “energy illiterate” and simply don’t care about climate change and dinosaur-like extinctions in this century. And they’re basically right. Most Americans are ignorant or just don’t care.

Which is why you are so important. You obviously care or you wouldn’t be reading this essay. You’re obviously informed and conscientious or you wouldn’t give Earth Day a second thought. We need a revolution in this country right now. To make the massive switch to clean energy in time to stave off the worst impacts of global warming, we need a true moral and social revolution in this county – a reawakening. And history shows that all great moral/social changes in this country – from women’s suffrage to civil rights -- have occurred only through committed, broad-based grassroots movements involving people like you.

So on this Earth Day, make a commitment to clean energy. Learn how you can change your light bulbs and buy wind power for your home (www.chesapeakeclimate.org). And get involved in the clean energy movement wherever you live. Get political. Write letters. Go to rallies. Pick up the phone.

Here’s the reality. We are very, very busy people, we Americans. Soccer, church, family, work: we’re by far the busiest people on Earth. We only have so much time to devote to any one social or environmental issue, no matter what its merits. We also only have so much money. We can’t write checks to all the great causes out there. We have to choose very carefully. We have to prioritize.

Given this fact, I submit to you that no issue deserves your attention more than clean energy. No issue brings anywhere near the “multiplier benefits” as clean energy. Again, imagine the end to moutaintop removal, mercury poisoning, sky-rocketing asthma, wars for oil, Code Red smog, acid rain, September 11th attacks, and sky-rocketing, economy-strangling foreign oil spikes. And imagine an end to the biggest threat of all, global warming, with its disastrous sea-level rise and disruptions to agriculture and threats to all living species.

Every minute and every dollar you devote to the clean energy revolution helps directly solve every problem on the list above. Step back today, on Earth Day 2005, and think of that blue orb out there with a newly preserved climate and a new lease on life. It’s not a pipe dream. It’s not a far-fetched idea. It just needs you to make it happen.

Author and filmmaker Mike Tidwell has been active in D.C.-area environmental causes for more than a decade, ranging from fighting the trash incinerator in Montgomery County to Mike and Catherine Tidwell promoting alternatives to sprawl development. Mike’s most recent documentary film – “We Are All Smith Islanders” – details the dangers and solutions associated with global warming in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C. In 2002, Mike founded and now directs the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, a grassroots nonprofit dedicated to fighting global warming in the region through the promotion of clean, renewable energy. Toward this end, Mike's pioneering home in Takoma Park is fueled almost entirely by wind, solar and corn power, and is regularly opened to the public as a community laboratory. Last year, in recognition for his clean energy work, Mike received Audubon Naturalist Society’s prestigious “Conservation Award.” Mike is also a writer whose five published books include Amazon Stranger (detailing efforts to save the Ecuadorian rainforest) and Bayou Farewell (about the rapidly disappearing wetlands of coastal Louisiana). Mike lives in Takoma Park with his wife Catherine and their seven-year-old son Sasha. To learn how you can join the clean energy movement visit http://www.chesapeakeclimate.org/ or http://www.climatenetwork.org.

FOR OUR FAMILIES, FOR OUR FUTURE!

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The Delta Chapter is 3,000 of your neighbors supporting the work of the Sierra Club in Louisiana. We advance the cause of protecting Louisiana's environment in a variety of ways, including lobbying the state legislature in Baton Rouge, sponsoring a Mercury Public Education Campaign, raising public awareness about climate change, and working to keep the Atchafalaya Basin, America's greatest river swamp, wet and wild. In addition, we encourage our members to get outside and enjoy our beautiful planet.

The Sierra Club's members and supporters are more than 1.3 million of your friends and neighbors. Inspired by nature, we work together to protect our communities and the planet. The Club is America's oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization.

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