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Melicity Groundwood Occupy Earth: A Light in the Crowd James K Galbraith, former staff member to Congress and son of the renowned economist John Kenneth Galbraith, writes in his 2008 article “Plan:” “We were the bulwark during the Cold War. Our system wasn’t imperial: we spoke instead of community, of freedom, of common purposes and common values, and the world took us seriously because we paid our dues.”1 America is known as the Fast Food capital of the world, a consumer wasteland and one of the least environmentally-friendly nations in the world. And most recently, participants of the Occupy Movement see the government as an evil enterprise, sleeping with Wall Street and promoting the values of the richest one percent of the nation. Is it possible to get back to this state where other countries can trust us financially and morally? Galbraith’s argument is that America needs a common cause to unite the public: in this era, environmentalism. With many economic issues affecting environmental ones and vice versa, promoting sustainability could open up a generation of jobs, healthier people, and a united nation. But is this kind of movement possible or sustainable? As the Occupy movement grows across the nation and across the world, a sub-group, “Occupy Earth,”2 is also spreading its way from coast to coast. Although most Americans think economy is more important than environment, Americans might be able to see that changing our environmental practices can help them achieve their goals for equality for 100% of Americans, not just 1%. 1 “Plan”, Harper’s Magazine, November 2008, 42 22 More information on Occupy Earth: http://www.thenation.com/article/164232/occupy-earth- environmentalism-zuccotti-park The first question to consider would be: can the entire Occupy movement take hold? According to the October 22nd The Economist article “Rage Against the Machine,” with movements such as the Tea Party, tax reforms are basically impossible to get through Congress. And as government struggles (or does not struggle) to improve tax reform to make it heavier on the rich, the public becomes more angry, and protest is inevitable. “And it will get worse: austerity and protest have always gone together.”3 The article also warns “Populist anger, especially if it has no coherent agenda, can go anywhere in times of want.”4 Finally, the article argues that although occupiers all over the world have different viewpoints, there is close to a common goal represented: “Higher taxes for the rich and a loathing of financiers is the closest things to a common denominator…”5 With this in mind, it is not a stretch to believe the movement can advance. In another sense of “Occupy Earth,” the movement has spread across continents, with the advance of technology and a common distress over high taxes and unemployment. “Via the viral distribution channels of social networks, this world-wide phenomenon is now "occupying" events and motivating activists to pour onto the streets of thousands of cities and colleges across the planet.” 6 Certainly the general movement to tax the rich more and find jobs for the masses of unemployed will be around for quite a while, and must have some affect. If we can believe the Occupy movement will survive, it cannot be too much of a stretch to believe the Occupy Earth movement can last as well. According to a recent About.com article, “environmental concerns are well represented at Occupy Wall Street and other 3 “Rage Against the Machine,” The Economist, Oct 22, 2011, 2 4 Rage, 2 5 Rage, 1 6 99 Percenters Will "Occupy Earth" To Prove The 1 Percent Wrong, Callari, Ron http://inventorspot.com/articles/99_percenters_will_occupy_earth_prove_1_percent_wrong protests…”7 According to a May 2010 Gallup poll, the majority of Americans (55%) favor environmental protection over energy development, a 12% increase since 2000.8 Galbraith himself states that as the environment becomes bigger of an issue as time goes on, protesters might be able to unite over this cause and bring about change. But what about Americans and their standard of living? One of the biggest problems with the environmental movement is getting people to change their behaviors, and certainly reliance on energy sources and on things such as plastic bottles and certain electronics will not be easy to convince Americans to lessen. Another Gallup poll shows that Americans consider the economy to be much more important than the environment (54% over 36%).9 However, Chip Ward, proponent of the occupy earth movement and contributor to CBS news, makes the point that Occupants of Earth are relating environmental concerns to the fact that the 1% with the power of reaching the entire nation with alternative energy and motivating people to change their behavior “Naturally… don't live next to the radioactive or toxic-waste dumps that their corporations create; on the other hand, impoverished black and brown people often do live near such ecological sacrifice zones because they can't afford better…It’s a simple formula, in fact: wealth disparities become health disparities.”10 Americans simply are not given the technology America is capable of producing to not only help them change their behaviors (Galbraith claims America has “the science, the technology, the engineering, and the educational 7 http://greenliving.about.com/od/greenprograms/a/Occupy-Wall-Street-Environmental-Protest.htm 8 Oil Spill Alters Views of Environmental Protection, Jones, Jeffrey M. May 27, 2010 http://www.gallup.com/poll/137882/Oil-Spill-Alters-Views-Environmental-Protection.aspx 9 Americans Increasingly Prioritize Economy over Environment. Jones, Jeffrey M. March 17, 2011. http://www.gallup.com/poll/146681/Americans-Increasingly-Prioritize-Economy-Environment.aspx 10 Occupy Wall Street Turns Into Occupy Earth. CBS News, Ward, Chip. October 27, 2011. http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-215_162-20126423/occupy-wall-street-turns-into-occupy-earth/ capacity to take the lead”11), but to provide jobs and make America more efficient in general. With companies such as Google and Apple innovating perhaps infinitely, it is hard to doubt that the same kind of market could thrive in America if more subsidized by the government, providing jobs and giving America a union that other countries used to admire before environmental and recently economic crisis. Ward states that environmentalism and economy in America are directly related: “If the country gets it right, all of us can have work for a generation, a better living standard afterward, and leave the planet more or less intact. And, in addition, we stand a chance, otherwise improbable, of persuading the rest of the world to keep our line of credit open.” 12 It is far-fetched to believe the Occupy Earth movement will take over the majority of the Occupy movement, though it is common ground on which Americans can stand to shift government’s focus away from big business and be more run by the needs of the people that live in these large corporations’ wastelands. But before we move on to environmental concerns, we have to address economic ones first. Give credit where it's due: it's been the genius of the protesters in Zuccotti Park to shift public discourse to whether the distribution of economic burdens and rewards is just and whether the economic system makes us whole or reduces and divides us. It's hard to imagine how we'll address our converging ecological crises without first addressing the way accumulating wealth and power has captured the political system. As long as Washington is dominated and intimidated by giant oil companies, Wall Street speculators, and corporations that can buy influence and even write the rules that make buying influence possible, there's no meaningful way to deal with our economy's addiction to fossil fuels and its dire consequences. 13 11 Galbraith, 1 12 Ward,1 13 Ward,2 Galbraith’s vision can be reached if the Occupy Earth movement can sustain itself beyond the purely economic concerns of other occupants. But as polls show America becoming more environmentally aware, it seems likely that Occupy Earth will take hold on a more major level, and perhaps push the entire occupy movement over the fence: having the unification needed to convince the government to change.
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