Earth Day protests demand ecological justice

By CARL SACK

 Protests in more than 20 cities around the U.S. marked Earth Day on April 22. Many were organized as part of a series of “Earth Day to May Day” events sponsored by a coalition of left groups dubbed the Global Climate Convergence. The nationwide effort sought to link the fightback against attacks on working people and immigrants to the struggle to save the Earth’s climate and ecosystems from the ravages of capitalism.

In Chicago, about 300 people marched past the headquarters of military contractor Boeing, oil (spill) giant BP, and Chase Bank, highlighting the roles played by multiple industries in the destruction of human lives and the environment. Some rally speakers urged the crowd to boycott SodaStream, which greenwashes its products by claiming they cut down on soda bottles but runs a factory in an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Another speaker demanded the city stop shutting down its already inadequate public mental health clinics—services badly needed in poor communities that suffer the triple-health-whammy of high unemployment, racial segregation, and pollution from dirty industries.

In New York’s Zucotti Park, about 200 rallied against Wall Street’s funding of polluters. Some protesters disrupted the city’s official Earth Day event, which was sponsored by United Airlines, Toyota, and other fossil fuel promoters. The protesters especially targeted TD Bank, which claims on its website to be “carbon neutral” but has invested $1.6 billion in the Keystone XL pipeline. That pipeline would carry tar sands bitumen—a heavy form of crude oil—from northern Alberta, Canada to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico.

Tar sands have been called the “dirtiest of fuels” by NASA scientist James Hansen, who says they contain “twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history” and has warned that the pipeline’s completion would mean “game over for the climate.”

Perhaps the most unique and inspiring action of the day was in Washington, D.C., where members of the Cowboy Indian Alliance, a coalition of farmers, ranchers, and Native Americans from areas along the proposed pipeline route, rode onto the National Mall on horseback. The Alliance set up a five-day tipi camp and held a number of protest actions throughout the week, including a round dance that blocked a downtown intersection and a march of several thousand on April 26.

This year’s weekday actions were a far cry from the thousands who took to the streets to demand an end to pollution during the first Earth Day in 1970. But they showed the leading edge of a growing ecological justice movement, one that rejects the slick feel-good marketing campaigns and fake solutions that are all capitalism can offer to address the accelerating planetary crisis.

Over 100,000 people have pledged on-line to commit acts of civil disobedience if the U.S. State Department indicates the Keystone pipeline might get approval to cross the U.S. border. Thousands have already been arrested at blockades and protests that have forced the Obama administration to delay a decision on the pipeline until after the November election. Countless others are engaged in fights against other oil pipeline expansions, explosion-prone oil trains, plans to ship crude oil across the Great Lakes, natural gas fracking, and devastating new copper, iron, and uranium mining projects impacting Native American communities.

Instead of promoting more dirty energy and environmental destruction, the U.S. government could take up the suggestion of the political prankster group The Yes Men, who presented at a conference of Homeland Security contractors a plan to convert the country to 100% renewable energy sources by 2030. We should push for such a commitment and beyond, one that includes free and convenient mass transit and government-sponsored climate jobs employing the unemployed in efforts to reduce our carbon footprint.

Ultimately, though, capitalism can’t solve the crisis it created because it requires an endlessly expanding economy using ever-increasing inputs of energy and natural resources—the antithesis of sustainability. When we replace capitalism with a socialist system—in which decisions about production are made democratically by workers and farmers, not by corporations—protecting the planet for future generations will be more than just a pipe dream!

Socialist Action photo by Tony Savino: Earth Day 2014 in New York City.