Context and Purpose, Activities
“South Korea wants to build large-scale PV along highways”, PV magazine, April 9, 2021, Emiliano Bellini. Image: Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport. Featured by student Gritzko Erickson in a presentation to a town sustainability committee on the importance of finding places to put solar that do not involve cutting down trees.
Among all the distressing news of our impact on the planet is evidence of rising awareness, which brings the hope of behavior change. As a lifelong environmentalist I am used to hearing that “people don’t change”, and while my own profession showed me repeatedly that they can - for the better, too – the dominant trends have too often seemed to reflect arrested development of the body politic. And while so many steps have been taken towards the world we deserve and the rest of life deserves from us, it has so often seemed pathetically not nearly enough. Nevertheless, at the same time that one grapples with that feeling, one can and should also recognize good news.
To mention just a few highlights: Scott Cassel’s decades-long work with the Product Stewardship Institute, after quiet victories in state after state, got national attention with Maine’s plastic recycling mandate;[i] Norway, the leading European producer of fossil fuels, just had what is being called a “climate election”;[ii] Representative Barbara Lee, the sole opponent of the Authorization for Use of Military Force[iii] which gave G.W. Bush the power to wage war in Afghanistan and then Iraq, is now joined by “almost every Democrat” and 49 Republicans in her decades-long effort to repeal this open permission to wage war,[iv] and the aid provided during the pandemic has substantially reduced the poverty rate. For those who realize that protecting the planet requires not just smart regulation but also reorienting government towards peace and prosperity, these are good signs.
Purpose and Context, Law for Sustainability
Jacques-Louis David, The Emperor Napoleon Crowning Himself. Ca. 1806-7. Musée du Louvre, Paris, France. © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY.
On Thanksgiving in the United States many no doubt expressed gratitude for having won the freedom to breathe. With the defeat of a president working only for the interests of a few, rather than the many, we have won a reprieve from autocracy. We can now return to the effort to face the great responsibilities before us. We must restore environmental programs and ramp them up to head off the coming climate catastrophe; stop accelerating extinctions; save natural areas; stop poisoning the world, and develop food, shelter and waste systems for billions, while instituting justice and greater economic equity. All of this depends on policies that embrace universal needs, and overcoming the lie that the world rightly belongs to any exclusive club. This deception has captured so many. The vote has given us a chance to be free of such dangerous delusions. There is much work to be done before we are truly liberated.
Environmental citizens are those who face the truth of what is happening to the world. Re-establishing the primacy of fact takes work and courage. In addition to having the courage to see pollution, diminishing wildlife, and heating oceans, we have to take a good look at what people believe and why they don’t see or seem to care about what’s happening. We need the conversations that will free us from an onslaught of lies. We have been tricked into battling each other when our fate depends on the ability to combine all perspectives in order to solve the great puzzle of how to exist together. Great questions are presented: how can we continue advancing excellence if meritocracy itself is divisive? Are those who succeed to blame for the plight of those left behind? These are pressing questions but immediate focus should be undoing the noxious cliché that equates liberalism with elitism. The historical fact is that Democrats are the ones who have tended to support government action to care for people, while Republicans have become the party of those who have most benefitted from exploitative and damaging behavior. The money from these harmful sources has funded Republican campaigns and relentless propaganda to blame the wrong elites. The resentment of the exploited has been misdirected. Many intellectuals so despised by the right are indeed guilty of neglect, but anti-intellectualism has so confused public discourse that the real violence being done – the right’s support of economic and political oligarchy - is unrecognized by their followers, many of whom focus their ire on immigrants, minorities, and pregnant women. The healing of a sickened planet begins with treating the disease of this political confusion.
Law for Sustainability, Purpose and Context
Justice, by Pierre Hubert Subleyras (1699-1749), at the Musée Thomas-Henry
When Justice Roberts was quizzed by Senators on his judicial philosophy during his confirmation hearings he said that judges ought to be like umpires. They don’t make law, they just call balls and strikes. But what about the role of the judge in providing justice? Let’s say the rules of the game have been corrupted – the strike box is smaller for one team than for the other. The judge must be a backstop, and apply the concepts of fair treatment embodied in the Constitution and our hearts. That would meet the original intent of the founders in creating a government of the people, and that would be making law. Of course judges are to restrain themselves, the judiciary is only one branch of government and the function of making and executing statutory law is reserved to two others. But judicial restraint must not include failure to defend the fundamentals. Judges must protect the basic purposes of government – to balance such things as freedom and equality on the scales of justice. In order to do that, they must occupy the center, and not the extremes, of our politics.
Sustainability Policy and Events, Law for Sustainability, Purpose and Context
https://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/24/graphic-the-relentless-rise-of-carbon-dioxide/. “This recent relentless rise in CO2 shows a remarkably constant relationship with fossil-fuel burning".
In 2009 climate activist Bill McKibben’s group 350.org had a day of action with rallies all around the world – sending the message that we need to keep the level of carbon dioxide lower than 350 ppm. It’s now approaching 420.
As a lifelong environmentalist people sometimes tell me that they really care about the environment but don’t know what they can do. This leads to discussions about flying less, buying less-polluting machines and products, recycling, eating less meat. But nothing compares to the good every American citizen can do this Fall. This is not a political blog. There have been many Republicans we should respect for their environmental commitment. But at this historic moment the environmental citizen must take sides and must vote to save the world. If we vote wrong, we can expect more descent into the abyss.
A National Academy of Sciences study just found that the number of people exposed to “extreme heat” in cities will sharply increase (by a factor of 12.7–29.5 by 2100) if we continue to fail to restrict greenhouse gases. We are seeing the West in wildfire emergencies every summer now. Hurricane Laura just caused from $8 – 12 billion in damage, but the fire at the Biolab plant in Lake Charles, Louisiana should make us think about all those facilities refining oil and producing chemicals on the Gulf Coast. It’s one thing to have your house flooded, it’s another when the flood waters and the air are toxic. Global warming is not just about Greenland melting. It’s about all hell breaking loose.
I was recently asked if there is a real difference between the current presidential nominees, or if they really aren’t all the same in being beholden to corporate interests. As an educator I strive very hard to avoid partisanship. I do not consider my role as helping a political party. I believe fervently that liberals need to understand honest conservative concerns about proposed changes, and that conservatives need to respect the hopes for greater justice that liberals express. I have spent my life trying to mediate between extremes – and have been successful an astonishing number of times. I believe in the vital center. But at this particular point in history, it is necessary to see and say that the very survival of life itself depends on people opening their eyes and voting this current Administration out of office. Trump is a wrecking ball and Biden offers a chance to save what’s left. I am a partisan in defense of the Earth and I call on all of Nature’s children to stand up for her, and themselves, as well. We have the vote and we can use it to save the world.
The Environmental Citizen is for people who want to help meet the challenge of how to live within the biosphere without harming it, and thus protect ourselves, other living things, future generations, and the source of all wealth and value that we hold dear. It builds on topics in the text Developing Sustainable Environmental Responsibility but is addressed to anyone interested in what each individual can do on their own, as members of the societies in which they live, and as members of the universal group - the human race.
Designed to easily be used as classroom resources or to offer people direction, many of the articles within The Environmental Citizen include activities, questions, and recommended readings.
I welcome your input and ideas.
Rick Reibstein teaches environmental law at Boston University and Harvard’s Summer School. He has helped develop toxics use reduction policy and assistance practices for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and has served as an attorney for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He has trained businesses and governments in developing programs for pollution prevention, compliance assistance and environmental performance improvement. He initiated the Massachusetts Environmentally Preferable Purchasing program, founded two Business Environmental Networks and is an individual winner of the EPA’s Environmental Merit Award (2000). Reibstein has published in Pollution Prevention Review, the Environmental Law Reporter, the International Journal of Cleaner Production, the Journal of Industrial Ecology, and the Journal of Ecological Economics, as well as producing many reports, guidance and proposals as a state official.
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