Earth Day cometh — the 43rd year of this national focus on the state of our globe. So, how is Earth doing? Should we be weeping ... or cheering?
The first step to any recovery is recognition of the obvious: Earth has a problem. In fact, beaucoup of them. For example, despite the squawking of profiteering polluters and professional deniers, our very atmosphere — without which everyone and everything is dead — is rapidly being degenerated by our own addiction to fossil fuel, literally altering Earth's climate in disastrous ways. Yet, as we burn, energy corporations blithely fiddle.
They're fiddling with tar sands oil in Alberta, Canada, uncaring about the vast amounts of ozone-destroying carbon that will be released by ripping open Northern Alberta's boreal forest to get at the junk oil, or about the extra carbon-dioxide contamination that will come from processing this especially toxic sludge at Big Oil's Gulf Coast refineries.
Also, they're fiddling with the Earth itself, by fracking deep underground shale to bring gas and oil — plus more ozone-depleting methane — to the surface. And they're still fiddling with the priceless ecology of America's ancient Appalachian Mountains and streams by exploding off the mountaintops — merely to make it easier and cheaper for Big Coal to extract the ozone-killing carbon.
There are plenty of horrors to make you weep this Earth Day. But tears don't bring change. That comes only from the determined effort of ordinary grassroots people to organize, strategize and mobilize. The good news for our Earth and our own existence is that such people are on the move in every part of America. They're confronting the greedheads and boneheads, creating effective energy alternatives, forging fresh and sensible polices, lifting heads out of the sand — and producing the change we must have.
The courageous and tenacious mountaineers of Appalachia, for example, are at last beginning to score big victories in their long, hard fight against the coal giants, including winning an agreement last November from one, Patriot Coal, to cease all mountaintop-removal coal mining.
Also, from Vermont to California, the frackers are getting fracked, as local groups are winning fights in city halls, legislatures and courts to stop the rampant exploitation of their land, water and communities.
And, all across the country, including in the reddest of red states, grassroots advocates are producing a sensible shift from fossil-fuel dependency to renewable fuels and conservation.
That's what Earth Day is about, so don't weep — cheer the progress we've made, and join the movement for more.
In fact, some communities are going so far as to imagine achieving "net zero." That's the wonky name attached to an elegant idea, namely a conversion to total renewable energy, complete recycling and a culture of conservation to bring humankind's carbon footprint into a sustainable balance with a healthy earth.
Now, imagine the least likely place you'd expect this net zero ideal to take root — and even flourish. How about oil-saturated Texas? Yes! On an Army base, no less. Astonishingly, America's sustainable energy future is being pioneered in El Paso on a sprawling military base named Fort Bliss, home to 35,000 soldiers.
The post already has a 1.4 megawatt solar array and rooftop solar panels on all base housing (generating 13.4 megawatts of energy), and it's in partnership with El Paso Electric to complete a 200-acre, 20-megawatt solar farm by 2015.
It also has a plan with the city of El Paso to convert the post's waste into energy, and it's engaged in wind, geothermal and conservation projects. Adding to the effort, base officials are encouraging the use of energy-efficient vehicles — and even building bicycle lanes throughout the base.
The Army! Who knew they cared?
Practically everyone on the base is committed to achieving the goal of net zero by 2018, meaning the base will generate all of the energy it uses — and do it with renewables. The troops have planted nearly 15,000 trees and have become converts to recycling. To encourage the latter, the base commander, Maj. Gen. Dana Pittard, has put the million-dollar-a-year recycling revenue that Fort Bliss earns into skating parks, exercise facilities and other morale-boosting recreation projects.
"Everybody is getting involved," he says, noting that the effort is changing behavior and fostering a conservation culture, which he hopes "our soldiers will take with them when they go on."
There's hope for the Earth when even the Army begins to care, take action and change attitudes. In this case, let's all "join the Army."