La Crosse, Wisconsin
April 22, 2006
I thank all of you who are here, to celebrate Earth Day, today.
It’s a beautiful day in Wisconsin, hard not to appreciate Earth Day in a place like this.
Today, we honor Gaylord Nelson, who passed away last year, we honor him for his vision.
“The real wealth of a nation is its air, water, soil, forests, rivers, lakes, oceans, scenic beauty, wildlife habitats, and biodiversity,” he said. “Take this resource away, and all that is left is a wasteland.”
And I bow to him not only for raising environmental consciousness around the world, but for his courageous anti-war stance.
He was one of only three Senators to vote against Lyndon Johnson’s 1965 expansion of the war in Vietnam. He stood up to LBJ, telling him: “You need my vote less than I need my conscience.”
But you know I like my heroes life-sized, and when I was at the Memorial Service for Gaylord in the Capitol Rotunda at Madison last July, one of the speakers told the story of Gaylord and Carrie Lee’s 60th wedding anniversary.
At that party, his wife, Carrie Lee, was asked the secret of their long and successful marriage. Without skipping a beat, she said: “We’re both in love with the same man.”
Earth Day is a holiday of great personal significance for me.
I’ve been a birdwatcher since I was about 4.
I’d never seen a sandhill crane before coming to Wisconsin. I’d never seen a whistling swan or a snowy oil or a prairie chicken. And each time I’ve seen them since coming here 23 years ago, it’s been a thrill.
But there is something weird going on now.
A Baltimore oriole was seen in Appleton yesterday, two weeks early.
A ruby-throated hummingbird was seen in Milwaukee last week, three weeks early.
A scissor-tailed flycatcher showed up last summer way up north in Manitowish Waters.
These are like the robins in the Arctic Circle, where the Inuit people have no name for robin.
Or the rain on Christmas Eve up there.
Or the polar bears drowning because they can’t swim the now vast distances between ice floes.
Or the tsunami that killed more than 200,000 people in South Asia.
Or Katrina and the devastation it brought to the Gulf Coast.
Mother Nature isn’t whispering to us; she’s yelling at us: Wake up!
But our President doesn’t want to hear it.
He has consistently downplayed the risks of global warming, and cast doubt on the science.
He prefers Stalinist science. He listens to modern-day Lysenkos, scientists who will parrot the Administration’s political line, regardless of the data.
He said abiding by Kyoto would destroy our economy. Which is false. Since there are plenty of green jobs to be had out there.
But not abiding by Kyoto will destroy the planet.
And that’s what Bush’s policies are doing.
At last, in his State of the Union address, Bush admitted that the United States is addicted to oil—and he knows a thing or two about addiction.
But rather than kick the habit, he keeps throwing an open bar for his friends in the oil industry.
He has consistently opposed the single most effective short-term remedy: and that’s raising fuel efficiency standards in cars, SUVs, and trucks. Right now, the U.S. fleet is below the mpg standards of 1985. We’re going in reverse.
He opposes a windfall profits tax on the oil companies, even though 80 percent of Americans, including 75 percent of Republicans, favor it.
ExxonMobil had $32 billion of profits last year, and its CEO, Lee Raymond, is getting a retirement package of $400 million. This is obscene! Especially when working people are sweating under the weight of $3 a gallon gas.
Bush has begun to talk about solar and wind power and geothermal power, but he barely has given it any funding.
For Bush, it’s just a line, it’s not a commitment.
Cheney, who is running the show, pooh-poohed conservation as a mere lifestyle choice. His energy report in the spring of 2001, written with the consultation of the oil companies themselves, assumes we’ll be as dependent on foreign fossil fuels two decades from now as we are today.
Cheney’s answer is not to wean ourselves off fossil fuels but to secure control of those fossil fuels.
Rather than being serious about kicking the habit, rather than being serious about conservation and alternative energy, Bush and Cheney are serious about empire.
One of the main reasons we’re at war in Iraq is because Iraq has the second-biggest oil supplies in the world.
One of the main reasons Bush is contemplating bombing Iran is because Iran supplies China with 11 percent of its oil, and Bush wants to show China who is boss.
My friends, we can’t preserve the Earth while being an empire.
We can’t preserve our democracy while being an empire.
To save the Earth, we must insist on democracy in America.
Bush wants to export democracy because he has no use for it here.
To save the Earth, and to save our democracy, we must oppose the Bush Administration down the line. It’s lawlessness and recklessness about war, and its abominable record on the environment. It is the single biggest pillager and despoiler of our environment here ever.
But our problems are deeper than that deluded man in the Oval Office, snarkier than the Vice President and the Defense Secretary.
For once they are gone, we will still have the empire to deal with.
Once they are gone, we will still have our overconsumption problems to deal with.
Once they are gone, we will still have the American superiority complex to get over.
Once they are gone, we will still have the technological model that threatens to turn the world into a wasteland from here to China.
But we can do it.
We’ve got to do it.
And we do it by starting just this way, by meeting together, by committing ourselves to defending the environment and defending our democracy.
And by doing it locally, with our own hands, and with our own vocal chords.
And these hands then will link up with the hands of all the millions of others in this country who are dedicated to turning this country around.
And our voices will mingle with the millions of voices around the world dedicated to a green, and to a peaceful, and to a sustainable future.
So let’s use our hands, let’s raise our voices, and fight nonviolently not only against the Bush Administration, not only against war,not only against empire, but also against a technological model that is suicidal.
And as we do so, we affirm the vision that Gaylord Nelson himself set before us.
We affirm that we are for peace.
And for democracy,
And for the Earth.
And for the Water.
And for the Sky.
And for the cranes, and swans, and the prairie chickens, and the snowy owl and that drowning polar bear.
And so on this Earth Day, and in memory of Gaylord Nelson, let us go forth with our hands and our voices,
And together let’s tell Mother Nature that we hear you calling, and together let’s save this cherished Earth.
Matthew Rothschild has been with The Progressive since 1983. His McCarthyism Watch web column has chronicled more than 150 incidents of repression since 9/11.