By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

I remember 2007, when we started this website. People were tip-toeing toward greener behaviors. Activists were writing kids’ books explaining the greenhouse effect and urging tots to turn off the faucet while brushing their teeth. Scholars had assembled tomes, politely pointing out that we’d be running out of oil pretty soon.

Trash in Bin promo size

Recycle much? We’re doing better, with ample room to improve.

Even though it had been around for many years, we were about to learn what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was, when this alliance of scientists won a  Nobel Peace Prize that December for letting us know the earth was on a dangerous trajectory.

These were the quaint beginnings of the resurgent green movement, after the first push to save the planet had burned itself out in the 1980s, which were more about Wall Street, “Material Girls” and Ronald Reagan ripping those solar panels off the White House.

Even though experts like James E. Hansen and Bill McKibben and Al Gore sounded the alarm about climate change throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it was like they were a banging drums in a distant field. We could see them moving, but couldn’t hear the message. Most of us were sealed safely inside our careers and families, tending to the baby boomlet and buoyed by Clinton-era prosperity as we unknowingly chowed down on growth hormones and the first genetically modified foods creeping into our grocery carts.

Want proof Americans were oblivious? We drove SUVs; bought flats of bottled water and failed to learn what Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) was until we’d been drinking it for five years. We thought extra packaging was a good thing, because it meant we were a special consumer.

Oil and Gas Sources Declining

Clean energy may not be just a “good thing” to do. Here’s one of many charts showing oil and gas sources peaking early in the 21st Century.

It wasn’t that we were idiots. We were busy, and our government did us wrong. It approved chemicals, hormones, pesticides on industry’s say-so. It failed to counter advertising that suggested these things were safe. It failed to sign the Kyoto Treaty to try to keep carbon dioxide emissions down around the world. Our federal and state governments took some positive steps, approving tax credits for wind, solar and geothermal power. We got Energy Star appliances. But the right hand didn’t necessarily make up for the left hand.

We experienced the march toward a greener existence differently, of course, depending on our phase in life. The more frugal “Greatest Generation” skipped many high-impact activities. Tap water and properly scaled cars worked for them. They’d lived through the Great Depression and World Ware II.  And Gen X and Y may have snapped out of the fog a little quicker as the Internet opened their eyes. Many boomers finally remembered their roots and became big recyclers.

But Gen-whatever. Most of us were asleep.  We hadn’t connect the dots between fossil fuels and the changing upper atmosphere. We didn’t realize that corporations had hijacked our food system (even Willie Nelson probably didn’t realize how profoundly we’d be affected by the loss of family farms.).  We believed that RoundUp was biodegradable (it is not!) and we were unaware that our car companies really could make cars that got MUCH better gas mileage.

Tar Sands Blockade TreeSitBanner_9.24

Tree sitters in Texas tried to stop the Keystone XL pipeline in the fall of 2012.

Thankfully all that has changed. This Earth Day 2013, we’re no longer in the freshman class.

Most of us don’t really need a list of “10 Things We Can Do to Live More Lightly on the Earth” — we’ve got some good ideas about that now. We know what we need to do, it’s a matter of changing our routine to get it done.

All those basic steps are still important and we need to keep working on them: Use less water, install efficient light bulbs, carry a reusable shopping bag, recycle everything possible, and stop buying plastic water bottles (sadly, we’ve not made enough progress on this last one; it’s still a $20 billion annual industry according to KOR, which launched a big campaign today to “Free Water” from plastic bottles).

But it’s time to step up our game. And here’s the really great thing about 2013, compared with 2007, many of us have. We’re getting more than impatient, we’re getting mad.

  • Several groups are fighting ferociously to stop the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is poised to enable a gusher of toxic tar sands oil from Canada. Just today another activist, Alec Johnson, 61 of Ames,  IA, and a member of the Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance locked himself to heavy machinery to slow the pipeline’s construction in Oklahoma. He joins a long list of activists that have been throwing their bodies in the path of the pipeline. The strategy started in Texas with the Tar Sands Blockade, a coalition of angry landowners and climate activists, furious that the pipeline owner was using eminent domain to build the southern leg of the 1,700 mile pipeline between Alberta and Houston.
  • Similarly, dozens of groups in New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Colorado have organized against natural gas fracking, another polluting activity that is looking less and less like its marketing image. These groups are worried about how fracking threatens clean water sources, releases the potent greenhouse gas, methane, and causes small earthquakes in heavily drilled regions. Despite government and industry protestations, this new more invasive, more polluting method of drilling leaves more than a trace of pollution in its wake.
  • In a variety of other states, citizens are trying to make space for a cleaner food system by demanding labeling for the genetically modified foods they believe are threatening our health. There are no definitive answers about whether these foods impair human health. Many of the studies looking at their effects have been done behind closed doors by the companies that stand to profit. Labeling proponents say that argues for a precautionary approach: Label the food and let consumers decide.  For more about these movements see the Non-GMO Project , Just Label It and Millions Against Monsanto

Many concerned citizens have been pushed too far, and are fighting to save the commons, slow climate change and switch to cleaner energy sources. It will take multiple concerted efforts.

Just like those car companies that had electric technology in their back pocket, we’ve got the wherewithal. We may just not know it.

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