As you might expect, I’ve got a soft spot for environmental activists: I love the passion they bring to their actions, and I respect their willingness to put themselves in sometimes-dangerous situations. But while street theater, march and sit-ins might have been all the rage in 1968, they don’t even make the local news anymore. And if media — any media — aren’t covering it, then the corporate targets of your activism aren’t paying attention.
Michele Kaplan wants us to mind the gap. The space between a subway car and the platform might not seem like a big deal if you’re bipedal, but it can pose a safety hazard if you’re using a wheelchair, cane or walker. Michele got fed up on July 10 when she tried to board a train in a supposedly accessible station and her powerchair got stuck in the gap. She was forced to rely on “two burly-looking passengers” to get her chair out of the doors and onto the train. When she got home, she decided to fight back. Michele started up a Tumblr and set up a petition, and she’s been putting the word out ever since.
Ever protested the actions of a big company? It can feel kind of hopeless: They’ve got money and power, and unless the word spreads widely, big businesses can just ignore those pesky protesters outside. Without some kind of “force multiplier,” activists can easily become disillusioned.
Change.org is like AA: it works if you work it. That was made quite clear this week when Holly Kearl of StopStreetHarassment.org posted a petition on Sunday and got results in less than 24 hours.
Got a tattoo of your favorite endangered species? If you’re my age, you’ll probably answer “No” with an annoyed look. However, if you’re a twentysomething, I may have you thinking “Heyyy – that’s a great idea!” Generation Y is into its tatts, as well as making the world a better place. If someone figured out a way to bring those two things together, they’d likely have plenty of people willing to pitch in.
Of course, the next line of Edwin Starr’s iconic anti-war anthem is “Absolutely nothing.” If you take a look at the incoming press releases I’ve received for the past month or so, you might conclude that’s an appropriate judgment for the current manifestation of Earth Day: brands and companies have latched onto it as their opportunity to show their commitment to the environment. If that “commitment” doesn’t involve addressing a company’s main environmental impact, well, you know, look the other way, and take one of these reusable shopping bags with our logo on it.
It’s Earth Week again, and, more and more, we treat this event as a sort of green New Year’s Day: what changes can I make to benefit the natural environment? For many of us Americans, the answer could be as simple as “take a walk.”
It turns out that Americans walk less than the citizens of any other industrialized nation. Unless we live in dense urban centers, we drive to work, drive to the store, and often even drive to places to, well, take a walk. Despite this being the most natural of activities, we design it out of our daily lives: how many suburban subdivisions have sidewalks, much less stores, restaurants, and other destinations within walking distance. Shoot, we even speed it up when we have to do it: think of the moving walkways in airports.
So, why wouldn’t residents of Bristol Bay, Alaska want this open pit gold and copper mine planned for the area? I mean, doesn’t that mean jobs and economic growth (the standard answer to all questions about new extraction efforts)? Are they a bunch of communists?
Even if you buy the science behind climate change (which is very compelling), it’s still hard to make an emotional argument about global warming: all of the bad stuff’s going to happen in the future, so you can’t show someone a victim. Right? Not so fast – not only are parts of the developing world, particularly Africa, already feeling the impacts of a warming world, but the children and grandchildren of current generations will “feel the heat.” The victims of global warming are all around us, even if they’re not experiencing the worst of the phenomenon yet.
Count Xena: Warrior Princess among your guilty pleasures? Got a thing for leather armor mini-dresses and overdubbed battle wails? Miss that smack-you-over-the-head sexual tension between Xena and Gabrielle? Hey, who doesn’t? But since the show’s been off the air for over a decade, actress Lucy Lawless has time on her hands – and is dedicating at least some of it to environmental activism in her native New Zealand.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and even if you think its an overhyped “holiday” designed to get you spending money on cards, flowers, and candy, you’re probably not going to ignore it – could get lonely otherwise! The organizations that contribute to the Restore the Mississippi River Delta campaign hope you’ll share a little love with the Gulf of Mexico, also: while the BP Oil Spill seems eons ago, February may be the month in which BP settles with the Justice Department on fines related to the spill, and the numbers could top $20 billion. Without specific legislation, though, that money could be swallowed up by the federal budget, with little or none of it going to restore and support the states damaged by the months-long spill.
Remember when threats of a global government were symbolized by black helicopters and implied by the phrase “New World Order.” They’re so 20th century, it turns out: these days, the phrase “Agenda 21″ and compact fluorescent light bulbs are the new signs of “They’re coming to get you.”
Agenda 21 – it does sound a little spooky. You might think of it as a plan for world domination cooked up by a cabal of wealthy evildoers in a dark backroom. In truth, it’s much more innocuous: Agenda 21 is the title of a non-binding plan released at the 1992 Conference on Environment and Development in Rio. No secrets or backrooms here: Agenda 21 even has its own UN website.
Potholes and sidewalk cracks are an ugly reality of urban living – but they don’t necessarily have to be ugly! East London guerrilla gardener Steve Wheen sees such blemishes as opportunities “to put smiles on peoples faces and alert them to potholes” (as well as show authorities “how shit our roads are”). As the video above shows, Wheen goes beyond just sticking a plant into a hole in the pavement: he creates very small themed gardens in the crevices he finds in his part of the city.
While those of us following the Occupy movement online or on television may see it as a fairly conventional protest movement, complete with marching and chanting, a quick look at various encampments (or remnants thereof) around the country shows something quite different: alternative communities that value the input of all participants. Those communities themselves are the real protest: by living something quite different, even temporarily, Occupiers are able to highlight the absurdities of the current political structure.
If filmmakers are poets, than documentarians stand out for their use of synecdoche: the most powerful docs almost always rely on stories that point to issues bigger than themselves. AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH isn’t just about climate change, but also about human shepherding of resources. GASLAND isn’t just about fracking, but corporate power, and its effects on the lives of individuals.
Two documentaries premiering at this year’s Sundance Film Festival not only follow in this poetic tradition, but even revel in it.
Heard about the Chevy Volt fires? Seems like you’re most likely to answer “yes” to that question if a) you’re a true car geek, or b) you get your news from right-leaning media. Conservative commentators have latched onto news about fires in two of the vehicles after test crashes as proof of everything from the immaturity of the battery technology to logical outcome of government investment in the auto industry. In response, General Motors has not only worked closely with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on its preliminary investigation, but also offered Volt owners loaner cars and even buy-backs to address potential concerns.
Heard much about the Keystone XL Pipeline? If you get most of your news from mainstream sources, probably not. While there hasn’t been a lack of news about the transcontinental pipeline that would run from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf Coast, it hasn’t exactly been hitting any front pages. Oil spills get that kind of coverage, but proposed pipelines, not so much. Regardless, the environmental community has taken to the streets, and luminaries within the movement, from writer Bill McKibben to actress Daryl Hannah to scientist James Hansen, have all spent some time in handcuffs because of their vocal opposition to the pipeline.
Food gardening seems like a pretty innocuous activity. Even “radical” acts like guerrilla gardening are pretty tame in the overall scheme of things. But we’ve already seen one instance in which a gardener faced jail time – simply for gardening (and, no, there weren’t any illegal plants involved).
You might be tempted to argue “Oh, but that was small town Michigan. Of course they’re going to respond negatively to something different.” But before you hang your hat on that argument, consider the case of Ron Finley, a fashion designer and Los Angeles resident. After taking a gardening course at the Natural History Museum, Ron decided to turn the 10 x 150-foot parkway in front of his home – the whole thing – into a food garden. Living in the Crenshaw neighborhood, Ron had taken his instructor’s words about edible food gardens in urban “food deserts” to heart, and began to share produce with his neighbors once it began to ripen.
Think what you will about Greenpeace and their often aggressive brand of activism… they do know how to create clever, eye-catching campaigns around important environmental issues. Rainforest destruction is a big one for them (as well as most of us), and after tracing the pulp source of packaging for toys from brands like Mattel, Hasbro, Lego, and Disney back to Indonesian rainforests, they did what any responsible organization would: they broke the news to Barbie’s longtime companion Ken. You can see the fallout in the video above…
When did you first hear the term “fracking,” the shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, a decades-old natural gas extraction technique that’s come under scrutiny from both activists and governments alike? It was probably around the time of the release of Josh Fox’s GASLAND (which won a Special Jury Prize at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival). No doubt that director Bill Haney and the producers of THE LAST MOUNTAIN (an official selection at Sundance this year) hope their activist documentary will bring similar attention to the practice of mountaintop removal by coal mining companies… another extraction method that’s been in use for years, and received a ton of attention within environmental and activist circles, but that hasn’t hit a tipping point in terms of general awareness of the damage it does to Appalachian communities in West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky (as well as watersheds that feed huge portions of the Eastern US).
Bamboo’s been touted as the ultimate green material, both because of its quick ability to renew itself, and its durability. While the environmental aspects are complex, the tropical grass has become a favorite material for everything from building materials to fabric to bicycles. A team of riders set off on a cross-country journey yesterday to tout the material itself, as well as the economic potential of growing it in the United States… specifically, in Alabama.
Ever get frustrated when you see someone throwing away a recyclable item… right next to a recycling bin? Or throw a recyclable item in the wrong container? High school junior CJ Joseph certainly has, and has played the role of “recycling police” (or “recycling nazi” if you prefer) at Queens’ The Renaissance Charter School: “If I see somebody I’m like, ‘You’re throwing that out in the wrong bin. Follow the signs people! I know you’ve heard it: Papers go in the blue (bins), and bottles in the green.”
But as many of us have learned, badgering only gets you so far… so CJ decided to apply her other passion, music, to her recycling fervor, and wrote the song “R to the E to the Cycle.” If you read the lyrics, you’ll see they’re not much different from her “recycling police” instructions… but definitely more catchy!
College kids running around campus in various states of undress… doesn’t sound that unusual, huh? If you see such a thing this week, though, it may be an activism event. PACT Underwear, a company that makes its products from organic cotton, and donates 10% of its sales to a variety of environmental non-profits, has released its “Beyond Coal” line of underwear… and students are protesting coal power on campus in the fashionable undergarments… and nothing else.
This Saturday, April 2nd, is National PB&J Day. While such an event seems aimed at our sense of childhood nostalgia, the folks at the PB&J Campaign have latched on to it (they didn’t add it to the calendar… they swear) as an opportunity to get us all thinking about the environmental impact of our lunch choices.
A couple of year ago, I took a look at New York City’s 20+ year plan to transform the closed Fresh Kills landfill into the city’s largest park. That plan represents the end of the story: for years, residents and leaders on Staten Island worked to get the landfill closed… with some even threatening “secession” from the city over the health hazards and sensory displeasure created by the US’ largest dump.