|Sign at Sierra Club rally in support of environmental protection
outside EPA labs in Edison, NJ (photo/Jan Barry)
The new administration in Washington is determined to roll back environmental protection regulations and dismisses global climate change as a hoax. As a nation poisoned by industrial pollution, we’ve been there before. But more people today have the means to learn what they can do about it. There are good models of effective civic actions all over this country.
A group of residents in a rural corner of New Jersey organized a campaign that saved a large wetland area called the Great Swamp from being paved over for a proposed airport, before there was an environmental protection agency. A larger group of residents in towns along the New York-New Jersey border waged a campaign that saved Sterling Forest, a headwaters area for drinking water for millions of people, from being paved over to create a new city. An even larger coalition of civic groups waged a campaign that transformed the Hudson River from an industrial and municipal sewer into a much cleaner estuary.
Those are three examples I highlighted in A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns, a book published in 2000 based on my newspaper reporting on effective civic actions. Back in the day, federal environmental protection laws such as the clean water act were enacted because of a nationwide campaign that turned out 20 million people on the first Earth Day in 1970. And that was done the old-fashioned way, before the Internet or cell phones. What is needed now is a sustained campaign to focus what people can do working together to be as meaningful as that first Earth Day event.
Recently, a statewide coalition convinced New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to ban hydraulic fracking for oil and gas to protect New York City’s water supply streams and reservoirs in the Catskills and water supply aquifers across the state. In Philadelphia, PA a citywide coalition named Green Justice Philly convinced Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to back a plan for a greener expansion of port facilities, rather than a gas fracking company’s proposed project.
On the West Coast, San Diego, California, is implementing a plan to dramatically reduce greenhouse gasses by shifting to renewable energy. This is a result of the work of a diverse coalition of elected officials, business leaders, labor unions, environmental, social justice and community organizations. San Diego’s Climate Action Campaign reports on its website that it is now “engaged with thirteen other municipalities in San Diego and Orange Counties to develop and pass similarly transformative plans.”
At a Sierra Club rally outside Environmental Protection Agency labs in Edison, NJ a few days ago, commercial tractor trailer truck drivers repeatedly honked in support of signs such as “Global Warming Is Real It’s 70 Degrees in February” and “EPA is for Environmental Protection, not Corporate.” Among the signs brandished by a vocal crowd of citizen activists was US Representative Frank Pallone and state and local elected officials. “We need to protect Americans’ fundamental right to clean air, clean water and a safe environment to raise their families,” Pallone said. “I am proud to stand with the Sierra Club and committed citizens against President Trump’s dangerous environmental policies.” It was a scene that has flared up and fired up people for years in New Jersey, where civic campaigns have forced cleanups of toxic sites and saved large swathes of the state from destructive development.
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