This past weekend, we “celebrated” two things: Earth Day and the 2nd anniversary of the largest accidental oil spill in U.S. and world history. The ironies in their co-occurrence are varied. One is obvious, the other, maybe not: together, they represent both the buying of our political system, and the lack of action to protect our nation.
Even after such a devastating spill, the highly profitable oil and gas industry (we’re talking billions here) continue to be subsidized by U.S. taxpayers (again, we’re talking billions), year after year for decades. Just mentioning removing those subsidies elicits shouts from Washington and oil companies about “gas prices” and “jobs.” But the majority of American voters don’t even support these subsidies.
So, what’s the deal?
In 2010, the energy industry gave nearly $75.5 million to federal candidates (64% Republican, 36% Democrat). They have already given nearly $50 million for this election cycle, and 2012 is far from over. With the 2010 Citizens United decision opening the floodgates and this being a presidential election year, who knows how high that number will go this time around. These corporate investments pay off.
I’m not saying politicians are directly responsible for the oil spill. I’m not even saying they don’t care about the environment. But we all know money doesn’t grow on trees.
This is where you come in.
Does anyone remember when Earth Day meant more than posting “Happy Earth Day!” on Facebook? Remember when it meant even more than planting a tree in a park one day out of the year? Earth Day started as part of the environmental movement. A whole lot of people (around 20 million) got a whole lot of angry about the state of their environment back in the early 70’s and told their government how they felt through rallies and demonstrations.
And it worked.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, The Endangered Species Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act. All of our current major environmental legislation was passed during the “environmental decade,” the 70’s, because people got angry and spoke up.
This is how democracies work. We can do this again.
Specials interests have bought and paid for our democracy, and now it’s time for us to speak up.
For more images of the first Earth Day, see National Geographic.