Today is Earth Day. Perfect timing for the last entry in our How to Eat An Elephant series. Over the last 4 weeks we’ve talked about how to remove single-use plastics and soft paper products from our homes, and the importance of combating food waste. You guys have offered great suggestions in the comments on each newsletter. I’ve learned a lot. So many of us are trying to carry our weight in these crucial years. It makes the load feel lighter. But perfecting our daily habits isn’t enough. We have to change how we see and talk about the road ahead. We need to turn towards hope. This moment is a calling.
Humans are aiming too low if all we want is to avoid a cataclysmic future. We should build an intentionally beautiful one. We have the solutions, we have the technology, and we even have popular support. People are waking up to the reality of climate collapse despite what all the bots might say. According to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communications in their 2022 report, Americans who believe global warming is happening vastly OUTNUMBER those who think it is not real by a ratio of more than 4 to 1 (70% versus 16%). When an overwhelming number of people care about something and demand change, shit changes. We’ve built beautiful futures before. We’ve adapted and changed. We can do it again. Just look at Earth Day.
Earth Day started in 1970 as a response to a visibly worsening environment. It was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin who wanted to create a movement around the rising public awareness of pollution and the effects of industrialization on the world, similar to the student-led anti-war protests of the 1960s. It was well-timed. The publication of Silent Spring by Rachel Carson in 1962 and its massive success made environmental issues no longer fringe, they were front page news. People were horrified by what we had done to the natural world because of our greed and myopic vision. They were hungry to put that knowledge into action and Earth Day was the perfect vehicle.
The first Earth Day was a huge success, with over 20 million American’s participating, and is considered the origin of the modern environmental movement in the United States. Environmental action wasn’t part of party politics yet and Earth Day was championed by both Republicans and Democrats at its creation. This alignment of values and awareness of our effect on the climate led to lots of real-world action. By the end of that year, the US had created the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and passed the National Environmental Education Act, and the Clear Air Act. In the years that followed, the government passed the Endangered Species Act, the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, and the Clean Water Act. These all marked a huge leap forward in how we treat the earth and its resources. They made the country a safer place for millions of people and animals. Imagine what today might be like if we hadn’t made those changes, however embattled they may be. Imagine how much worse off our climate, rivers, soil, and animals would be. We have changed before and we can change again. Earth Day shows us that.
It is easy to look at the data, read the headlines, and assume all hope is lost. Imagining a horrible future where no one gives a shit doesn’t take much work at all. But that is not because it’s more likely, human brains just expect entropy. We lack historical memory and imagination when it matters most. Things change all the damn time in miraculous and terrifying ways. We forget all the big leaps that led us to this moment; all the terrible futures we’ve avoided by altering our course. Rebecca Solnit puts this amnesia and negativity bias into perspective:
If you don’t understand the past, you don’t understand that people have faced the end of their world. Things change powerfully and profoundly over and over again — change is the one constant — and then you can narrow in and focus on the fact that grassroots movements, citizens organizations, NGOs, activists — people who are often considered to be powerless, irrelevant, marginal — have changed the world over and over again.
We need to pressure the global 1% who’s disproportionate contribution to climate collapse can no longer be ignored. But those demands can go along with hope. We have to ask ourselves, in the words of Dr. Araya Elizabeth Johnson, what if we get this right? This isn’t a time to despair. Sure, we’ve fucked up the only world we have. We can’t hide from reality. But we can do better. This moment is a calling for us to show how truly clever we are and fix our mess. To humble ourselves and plant trees whose shade we’ll never enjoy. To decenter ourselves and be good stewards of this planet. The next few decades will be full of important choices that need to be made with our eyes wide open. Our future could be so beautiful if we build it that way. This moment is a calling. How will you answer?
Thanks tofor the poem and to you all for reading this series and subscribing to The Broiler Room. None of our work would be possible without you. If you’ve liked this series, let us know or consider becoming a paid subscriber. We’d love to have you at our table.
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I've been trying to figure a response, but I want to say the Maggie Smith poem really resonates with me. I feel I was on the opposite end of that "decent realtor" in highschool. I was so angry because I felt like people were just trying to force this hopeful idea on my generation and that we were going to solve all the problems created. It felt so fake and covered up. When I realized how perilous everything was that made me so mad. I had a teacher who advised the GSA club and she was a pretty radical feminist. She taught us that our anger could be used for change. That we could make a difference. She took us to women's marches and LGBTQIA rallies and I realized all of the amazing things people are capable of. It made me realize that change is possible no matter how small. Just wanted to say thank you for all the work you guys do. I'm really happy to have found this community.
Happy Earth day. What better way to spend it than being outside. Walking the dog this morning I had poop bags in one hand and as much garbage as my other hand could hold. It’s stunning given where we live (Ottawa) with all the city garbage and recycling cans along the sidewalks that people still through their garbage on the ground.