We are in a planetary emergency.
And I’m not talking about the coronavirus. Viruses are part of nature. This is their planet, too. They are a form of life. And like another species I know well, they are killers. The current pandemic is simply acting as a gentle warning from Mother Nature. Gentle?? Over 3 million infected worldwide, and a quarter million dead? Gentle?
Yes, it is truly awful. But take it as the Earth’s slap on our collective face: nature telling our species to back off, slow down and change your ways.
For many years, we have been in the middle of what scientists call the world’s Sixth Extinction Event. This planet can remove us all in a snap of its fingers. Thank god it doesn’t have fingers. Nonetheless, if you think Covid-19 has been a bummer, well, trust me, you literally can’t imagine just how awful Earth’s revenge is going to be against us for trying to choke it to fucking death.
Yes, we are in a serious, multi-level planetary emergency – and it involves climate, water, food, topsoil, overconsumption, missing species, ocean life and humans. Mostly humans, and our various nonsensical greed-induced behaviors and systems.
Now for the bad news. Many of the people and organizations who are working hard to save us, aren’t. It’s not that they haven’t tried. They have. And we are proud of them and ourselves and all the the work we’ve done in the environmental movement. We are very grateful to our environmental leaders. Brilliant research, writings, protests, successes.
Except it hasn’t worked. The climate battle has been lost or it’s being lost. We all know that we are WORSE off since the first Earth Day 50 years ago. Here’s what’s been achieved since 1970:
•90% of the large fish (cod, halibut, salmon, etc) in the oceans are gone. We ate them.
•60% of all the mammals are gone – and 95% of the mammals that are left are either humans, our pets, or our dinner.
•Somewhere between 2,000 and 10,000 species are going extinct every year;
•We have lost HALF of all our topsoil. Some predict it will all be gone in 60 years. It takes 1,000 years to regenerate just three centimeters of new topsoil;
•Of the Earth’s 37 main aquifer systems (our underground fresh water), 21 of them are at near-collapse.
•We lost 1.2 billion acres of rainforest in 2018. In just one year.
•We were not supposed to go above 350 parts per million of the carbon we spew into our atmosphere. We are now at 415. Which means we are beyond the point of no return.
We will have no chance of even coming close to halting the coming collapse if we cannot first admit we have failed. We can no longer solar panel and windmill our way out of this disaster. I’m so sorry I have to say this, but friends, we are no longer on the right road. And if we don’t change course immediately, if we’re too proud to ask for directions, new directions, to start a bold new discussion of what must be done – and do so without “green” hedge fund managers at the table – then we might as well keep driving this electric Buick off the cliff.
I cannot remain silent about this any longer. I’ve devoted myself to the environmental movement since I was a teenager. I was part of the first Earth Day. I was 15 and had just made my first documentary with the exciting title, “Pollution in My Hometown.” It was my Eagle Scout project where I showed all the businesses that were poisoning our air and water. It deeply upset the local Chamber of Commerce and they tried to stop me from showing it around town at the churches and schools and Kiwanis clubs. Six years later I started my own alternative newspaper, “The Flint Voice.” One of our first cover stories was entitled, “Here Comes the Sun,” my full-fledged effort to get Michigan — a state in which only one in four days each year is considered “sunny” — to go solar. The next year I founded the Huron Alliance, a Flint-based anti-nuclear group. We organized massive demonstrations to block the building of the Dow Nuclear plant in Midland, Michigan. Remarkably we were successful in its cancellation.
All of that took place before I was 23-years old. I’ve spent the rest of my adult life trying to figure out how to stop those who are hell-bent on destroying our home, the Earth. I also came to sadly see that some of the Earth’s worst enemies were the people who claimed to be on our side but couldn’t resist taking corporate money, thinking this would help the cause. It hurt the cause. I began to believe little of what we were being fed. I subscribed to the motto of investigative journalist I. F. Stone: “All governments (and corporations) are run by liars and nothing they say should be believed.” But soon after I started my newspaper, I had to confront some awful truths that I truly didn’t want to acknowledge: that some activist groups I supported, and some liberals who were my good friends and allies, were not always doing good for the people. Often they were well-intentioned, or occasionally misguided, or just simply wrong. And a few were up to no good. I saw unions hop into bed with management. I covered Democrats who were really Republicans. In my last film I called out Barack Obama for going to Flint and pretending to drink Flint water and telling people that their tainted water was safe — when it wasn’t. I love Obama. But there’s the rub of my quasi-lonely life as a citizen and filmmaker: I will never, ever cover for anyone who’s not doing right by the people, who is harming the least among us, who, even with good intentions, has contributed to the eventual death of this planet.
And now, 50 years after that first Earth Day, I have to stand here and tell you, with my support of Jeff Gibbs’ film, that we must ask the difficult questions of the people we love on our side of the political divide: Is “green” capitalism really our savior? Are we being manipulated with fear and forced anxiety so that we will buy more, more, more? To what ends? When the pandemic is over, do you want to go back to the old way of being wage-slaves, no real power over your own lives, accepting that the democracy is probably over, that you’re no longer citizens, you’re simply consumers, and that your contribution to the Earth’s decline is to continually feed the beast.
It is amazing that we have all put up with this for so long, and that we have been afraid to admit our losing record on our precious environment. Something has to change. And it has to change now.
Planet of the Humans has no personal bone to pick with anyone. We’ve all messed up and we’ve all been on the wrong road. What’s our way out? Besides planting a billion trees (yes!), ending capitalism/greed/the 1%, nationalizing the energy companies as a matter of national security, bring back teaching civics in our schools, instituting a guaranteed annual income, universal health care, and free child care — and how about we apologize to our children, our students, our young adults under 40 for the Destroyed Earth we’ve handed them and then let them lead us out of this madness. The youth have already risen up to create the new movements we desperately need. We, the adults, the lifelong environmentalists, have failed to stop climate change. The Western world uses too much crap, too much energy and eats too many cows and chickens. As Greta rightfully, angrily said to us adults: “You have stolen our future! You have stolen our youth!” Indeed we have. I’ve admitted it. I want the rest of the movement to admit it, too.
I am most heartened and encouraged by the bull’s-eye focus of youth-led movements on the real target. I totally agree with Greta’s condemnation, “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosytems are collapsing. We are at the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairytales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
I think that she was not just directing that at the oil, gas and coal industry. I believe she’s aiming it, rightly so, at all of us. Many on our side have told us that capitalism is the solution to the problem it created. That strategy has failed. While decimating the planet is “good business,” it is bad for the people and all the living creatures on it.
I urge you to join me in committing to support and fight alongside the Student Strike for Climate, Sunrise Movement, Black Lives Matter, March for Our Lives, Women’s March, Extinction Rebellion, etc. to change this world immediately. We need new blood! Fresh ideas! People who won’t be co-opted! We must commit to following their lead. Some of our beloved environmental leaders may have to step aside and help in other ways. We need these young people to do what we haven’t had the guts to do: Slam the door shut on the “green capitalism” that funds and poisons the movement. The youth will refuse to participate in the eco-industrial complex. Let them lead!
That’s not a lot to ask for if it means that Mother Nature gives us one last chance to get it right. I’m hoping she sees, as I do, that the kids are all right.