The newly founded Environmentalist Solidarity (ES) working group of New York’s Occupy Wall Street organized Climate Justice Day to take place on Sunday, October 30th, 2011, in New York. The program began with a panel discussion titled “Nightmare on Wall St: Capitalism and the Roots of the Ecological Crisis” and was followed by an afternoon in Zuccotti Park with several teach-ins on various forms of energy.
An increasing number of people involved with Occupy Wall Street have expressed a feeling of “transformation” as they realize the movement’s connections to climate change and the environmental crisis.
The purpose of Climate Justice Day was to further educate on these connections and, as stated by a representative of the ES working group, to “guide the debate towards a holistic system of solutions and to mobilize the network of environmentalists.” Participants expressed the concern over an unhealthy relationship with nature – on the political, social, and economic levels – that has resulted in systematic problems, which also reflect the objectives that the Occupy movement is addressing. The diverse group of panelists discussed such problems by analyzing the structural difficulties of current economic systems, our relationship to natural resources, and obstacles which prevent positive action.
Chris Williams, NYC professor and author of Ecology and Socialism, defined Wall Street and the capitalist system on which it has run as “anti-ecological to its core.” He emphasized it as a system that is based on a constantly expanding market, in spite of the finiteness of the planet. According to Williams, between ½ and ¾ of resource inputs in production processes return to the environment as waste – an amount that is growing. Williams also emphasized the short-term thinking and sectioning-off of ecological and social crises as key obstacles to effectively addressing these issues.
Charlie Kamanoff, environmental policy analyst and economist, observed how the Occupy movement has already positively affected Americans by providing them with an education on economic equality. He also questioned how the formation of a carbon tax could resonate into this fight for justice.
Claire Sandberg of Frack Action and Water Defense discussed extreme forms of energy as they relate to many aspects of the Occupy movement, and explained the parallels between hydraulic fracturing and the housing crisis. The fight against fracking has included the issues of corporate accountability, public health, and human rights. Accrding to Sandberg, as we, “enter an age of extreme energy extraction and economic extraction, we need to become aware of our unchallenged assumptions.” She also emphasized that Occupy Wall Street is an opportunity to “redefine our relationship to nature and attitude towards one another.”
NYH20 Vice President Buck Moorhead identified how economic values and environmental values have become competing interests. The energy industry does not have to negotiate at the federal level and has been granted a “free regulatory pass.” While NY Solar Energy Society’s Wyldon Fishman spoke of a myriad of renewable energy sources that have yet to be realized in their full potential. She also called on innovators to develop more effective educational tools for conservation. The emerging technologies of renewables and efficiency is of utmost relevance to the Occupy movement in its potential to create jobs.
Cecil Corbin-Mark (weact.org) spoke about his vision of people reclaiming agency in the decision-making process on the direction in which the world is going. He discussed the connection between food security and climate change, commenting that, “people need food and a healthy climate in which to sustain ourselves.” Corbin-Mark especially highlighted the commodification of pollution and highlighted how little the nation’s public truly knows about the dirty energy industries which have become an “addiction.” He encouraged Occupy Wall Street to “frame the government as good and to recognize the power people have in their hands.”
Before moving on to the teach-ins at the park, the ES working group concluded the discussion: “We know the solutions… will we mobilize?”
By Melanie Sluyter, 2011 Human Impacts Institute Environmental Services Intern