The 40th anniversary of Earth Day provides a great opportunity to look back at the progress of the environmental movement -- and how we are doing meeting the growing environmental challenges of the day.
As luck would have it, I am spending the 40th anniversary of Earth Day in Moscow. Since I have spent a significant amount of time the last 20 years working with grassroots environmental groups throughout Siberia and the Russian Far East, reflecting from Moscow seems somehow appropriate.
What have we learned in the last 40 years?
First, the environment is about people. To protect the environment, we have to work with people. We have found that building an effective, widespread environmental movement is critical to our success. The environmental movement has been criticized for not reaching out broadly enough. Time and again, we have proven that the environmental movement is not narrow. The environmental movement is not limited to scientists and bird-watchers. The environmental movement is made up of poor people, rich people, everyday people, people from labor unions, journalists, teachers, kids, parents, and many more.
Here in Russia, we have seen the environmental movement become widespread and influential, even if the government does not welcome environmentalists with open arms. The environmental movement is among the most effective of civil society movements in Russia and has helped to stop or improve some of the most egregious, environmentally destructive industrial projects. The movement has helped protect vast territories of forests and watersheds throughout Siberia and the Russian Far East.
We have seen the environmental movement grow throughout the Pacific Rim -- from California, to Alaska, to China. In China, we see young people in universities take on the challenge of environmental protection and figure out how to involve hundreds and even thousands of volunteers in their efforts. In Alaska, we see indigenous communities becoming the most powerful and effective defenders of their traditional territories. In California, the environmental movement is seen as the mainstream, and we are working to encourage our politicians to catch up to us!
Despite the growth in the environmental movement, we face enormous challenges that are far beyond anything we have faced before. We will all need to work together to overcome the climate crisis. The melting of sea ice and other transformations of the Arctic as a result of climate change is just one aspect of the changes we see. And it will take all of our cooperative efforts to overcome this crisis.
Speaking of the Arctic, much has been made about how Arctic nations are vying for the oil and gas resources that have now become available under the Arctic Ocean as a result of climate change. I came to Russia to participate in a meeting of the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North to talk about how to deal with industrial developments in the Arctic in the face of climate change. The pressures on the Arctic continue to mount. After talking to many people, I am convinced we can find solutions. For starters, we need to support and strengthen the indigenous peoples of the Arctic who depend the most on the Arctic for their survival. Let's listen to their wisdom to help find solutions.
Solutions to the climate crisis will require actions from everyone. As the December negotiations in Copenhagen demonstrated, we can't afford to wait for our national governments to come to agreements. We can make progress now at the local, state, and regional levels.
We need to make some tough choices. We need to transform our electricity systems by multiplying energy efficiency measures and to invest only in renewable energy, not in more fossil fuels. We need to transform our oil-dependent economy by stopping our rush to explore for new oil and gas resources in the riskiest and most remote areas of the world, such as off of our coasts and in the Arctic. We need to put that money instead into solutions that will transform our energy and transportation.
Let's start by shutting off subsidies for fossil fuel industries and putting those subsidies into energy efficiency and renewable energy. Let's create policies like Feed-in Tariffs that will reward people for investing in renewable energy. We need to make some tough choices - but if we do, we can find the solutions.
Earth Day helped spawn the ideology of "Think Global, Act Local." This truism remains critical to everything we do within the environmental movement. We are stronger if we work together at the global level. We will achieve our victories at the local level, and taken together, they can and will create global change.
On this 40th anniversary of Earth Day, let's re-commit ourselves to creating real environmental change around the world. Let's re-commit ourselves to building and growing a widespread, grassroots environmental movement that involves everyone and can create this change.