I support the excellent efforts of environmental groups to restrain the forces of industry and greed in their determination to extract every last resource out of the earth. From the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, and the Environmental Defense Fund to our own local Clean Wisconsin, WI. League of Conservation Voters, Midwest Environmental Advocates, and Milwaukee Riverkeeper, all are trying diligently to protect our land, water, and air.
But I’m beginning to feel the futility of our struggle. Every once in a while, we put a stone on the small pile of “victories”—Gogebic Taconite decides to leave Wisconsin instead of tearing apart our northwest. Great, but Scott Walker’s already lining up other mining companies, no doubt. We’ve laid down some decent sized stones protecting several fragile wetlands, but the Republican State legislature, along with land developers just blew through that little pile of rocks. Even our great victory—the Great Lakes Compact—is being pressured by Waukesha to let water flow out of the watershed. And the enacting legislation (the little that exists three years later) needed from all eight Great Lakes States looks pretty weak, probably too weak to hold back the forces of national and international water demands in the future.
As a person who thinks our security and a bright future lies in a clean, healthy environment providing life-sustaining resources for all Earth’s creatures, I’m feeling helpless and discouraged about making that day come. I think we have lost the battle to contain global warming. CO2 emissions continue rising every year. The struggle to replace fossil fuels as our main energy source with renewable fuel sources keeps getting beaten down. The voices crying out that it “costs too much” on any effort to clean and protect our land, water, and air drown out the whispers for environmental values and sanity.
I can no longer answer people’s question, “What can I do?” with “Live your individual life by conserving water and energy as best you can. Every little bit helps.” I’m sorry, but it doesn’t really. It might make us feel good for the moment, like religion makes the poor and enslaved content to stay in their misery while their masters play and wreak havoc on our Earth-home.
The only way we will win this war against extractive economic forces that have little regard for natural and social capital is by getting money out of politics. While we all continue working on our specific environmental issues, either personally or in groups, we also need to join forces with those groups who are trying to disengage corporate money and politics.
To solve the problems of global warming, inadequate quantity and quality of drinking water, air pollution that kills thousands, perhaps millions around the world, it is essential that we have strong, national environmental policies and direction set by our governing bodies. These policies can only be created when corporate lobbyists and money no longer control the politicians, who should be controlling corporate behavior.
I just rejoined Common Cause after years of inattention because they are working to counter the Citizens United fiasco of the Supreme Court. I also read Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson’s book, Winner Take-All Politics, which motivated me, and will you if you read it, to turn your attention to and add your personal voices and those of your organizations in demanding that policy-makers must be allowed to govern independent of big or any money. Finally, I heard a fascinating presentation (“Republic Lost”) by Lawrence Lessig, a professor of law and ethics at Harvard law school, on Blip.TV that sealed the deal. Watch it. It’s an eye-opener. (http://blip.tv/lessig/republic-lost-my-favorite-version-5697728)
We have to get money out of politics to win the war for the environment. As I turn my attention toward the corrupt and entangled relationship between corporate power and governance, I find a bit of hope stirring in me once again. I’m still not sure my individual actions of turning off the water when I brush my teeth or unplugging all my electrical devises before bedtime will change anything, but I am beginning to think we might still win the big victory for the environment if we can get the money out of governance and politics, especially electoral politics.