This year EARTHDAY is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Lots of things have changed for the better in those 40 years and environmental awareness is certainly growing. But unfortunately that has not stopped us from carrying on with our polluting ways. CO2 emissions have hugely increased since then, despite the fact that we now also have windmills and solar-power and more energy efficient gadgets.
A big part of the problem is told by 'the story of stuff': which is the story about our ravenous consumerist appetite that treats resources as infinite – a disastrous fallacy which nevertheless forms the foundation of our current economic system with it misguided idea of infinite growth. That infinite growth is an illusion, and a glaringly obvious one at that. I shared this little flic here once before. It shows the insanity of consumerism as we know it: As a reminder of the absurdity of it all watch the Story of stuff on thestoryofstuff.com. (Great site!)
Climate change is the biggest issue of our times, there is no denying it. Those who have had the least impact on it are going to be the ones who will suffer its consequences most severely: plants, animals and the poorest people. As the Climate Conference in Copenhagen has shown, rich countries have not the least intention to take responsibility for the mess they have created. A lot of talk has resulted in little more than just more hot air. It is unlikely that we will make any progress with the old way of doing things. We need entirely new paradigms, a vision that cuts through the materialistic, greed-based model of reality in which we are all presently caught up.
Despite the sobering outcome at Copenhagen, I feel heartened and actually more hopeful about Earth Day than I have done for years. Why? Because a groundbreaking initiative is underway in Bolivia: the call for the 'World Peoples Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth'. A bit of a mouthful, I admit, but this conference promises to become the most meaningful Earth Day Event ever:
The Government of the Plurinational State of Bolivia calls on the peoples of the world, social movements and Mother Earth's defenders, and invites scientists, academics, lawyers and governments that want to work with their citizens to the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth to be held from 20th to 22nd April 2010 in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
"If we are all part of a single interdependent system, why should only humans have rights, and nature be treated simply as the object of human interests?" reads a conference statement. "Only by recognizing and defending the rights of Mother Earth can we restore balance on the planet. ... As long as humans treat Mother Earth as a slave with no rights, it will be impossible to recover our humanity."
I could not have put my feelings on this matter in better words of my own. I am truly elated that at long last the sacredness of Mother Earth is being addressed and in an international public and political forum at that!
Of course, giving 'rights' to something or someone, be it humans, animals, plants or Mother Earth, is only meaningful if we implement a system that protects and defends these rights. Abusers must be held responsible and prosecuted. And while there are such notions afoot, the practical implementation is absolutely daunting.
Criminalization has many inherent problems. For a start, the biggest polluters are not individual people that can be prosecuted but corporations or even governments. How can they be held accountable, except through paying fines? When money is involved at this sort of scale I always get suspicious. What judicial system can be trusted to stand above corruption? Those who will benefit the most will be lawyers. How will fines be used to clean up the mess in question? Or would it not be better to let fines pay for research into cleaner technologies, while the guilty should pay for the clean up of their mess separately. And what about pollution that has long been, and still is, politically sanctioned by the majority, despite its implicit and explicit dangers for future generations?
Take nuclear power for example. To this day there is no practical solution as to how to deal with or dispose safely of its waste materials, let alone methods for safely dismantling old facilities. The technology should never have been allowed to be developed in the first place. But now we are stuck with God knows how many reactors and some people are even trying to paint this technology as a 'green' energy solution, because it does not produce CO2 emissions. However, the waste is highly toxic – the most toxic substance known to wo/mankind. Who will be held responsible for unleashing it onto humanity? And even if we identify a scapegoat – that does not render the waste any less toxic, nor does it make it any easier to deal with for future generations.
We need to find solutions that are workable. Even solar panels contain harmful chemicals. How will they be disposed of? What will be their legacy for our children's children? Or, consider all the highly toxic wastes generated by old computers that are filling up the landfills right now? We have all contributed to these.
We have to find a way forward, and fast, but I fear simply criminalizing polluters is not going to solve the problem. We need a paradigm shift that takes these matters – the long-term effect of new technologies, into consideration BEFORE we go all out with the manufacturing phase.
The well-being of all life on earth must become the guiding principle for all political and economic decisions and actions. As long as our corporations and governments continue to promote business and policies that pollute and harm the planet we all as citizens and consumers share in their guilt and will pay the price, one way or another. But, as citizens and consumers we, the people have the power to demand that paradigm change and vote with our purchasing power for a 'greener', healthier way of life – MAKE EARTH DAY EVERY DAY!
Even if you don't do anything else for Earth Day, please do watch this film (click on the image to watch it online for free). It is a powerful and moving documentary about earth, our home, its predicament - caused by us, and some glimmers of hope as to how things could be changed...
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