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Earth Day Special: Gillian Caldwell, Majora Carter and Peter Goldmark on the past and future of green

,    /   Apr 22nd, 2010News

Forty years ago, Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson created Earth Day to call attention to impending ecological crises. Today, over 192 countries will observe it. To capture the day’s meaning, we asked three leading environmentalists – Gillian Caldwell, Majora Carter, and Peter Goldmark – to reflect on the past and future of the movement.

GILLIAN CALDWELL – Campaign Director/CEO, 1Sky
Gillian Caldwell directs 1Sky, a nationwide organizing campaign that uses technology and new media to connect and strengthen climate change activists. Check out our earlier interview with her here.

What’s been the major achievement in the environmental field since Earth Day 1970?
The realization that our problems, especially the problem of climate change, go far beyond isolated localities and regions and require global solutions.  That has led to [the] recognition that success depends on a wide variety of groups and individuals coming together and working for a common goal.  At 1Sky, we have almost 600 (and growing!) allied groups within our network and over half of them are very specifically not from the environmental sector.  That is the kind of dedicated coalition we will need to fight this continuing battle in coming years.

What do you see as the next major step for the field?
To continue to motivate and engage this coalition in order to achieve a large scale victory against the fossil fuel interests that are still trying to cling to their remaining power base no matter what the ultimate cost to the planet. Demonstrating that we can win a sizable victory—be it through strong comprehensive legislation, defending the Clean Air Act, or helping to generate investment to create millions of good-paying, domestic clean energy jobs. Once we have rewritten the conventional wisdom, other victories that once seemed out of reach will be within our grasp.

MAJORA CARTER – President and CEO, Majora Carter Group
Majora Carter is working to create green collar jobs and improve public health in her native South Bronx, Northeastern North Carolina, Detroit, New Orleans and more — tapping into the  potential of our nation’s most impoverished and polluted communities. The MacArthur Fellow
founded Sustainable South Bronx and currently runs her own consulting firm.

What’s been the major achievement in the environmental field since Earth Day 1970?
In the shadow of the largely white and affluent conservationist movement that came into its own around the time of the first Earth Day and President Nixon establishing the EPA, a philosophy of environmental justice was born. Many unsung heroes laid the ground work for this movement, but in the past 40 years we can see more and more people who will not accept environmental inequality for themselves or for others – and that gives me hope. [Editor's note: environmental justice refers to the movement to ensure that low-income and minority populations do not suffer disproportionately from environmental hazards.]

What do you see as the next major step for the field?
We need to draw attention to the point sources of greenhouse gasses: the environmental sacrifice zones where our fellow citizens live unequal lives, with no compensation.  Fossil fuel extraction, refinement, and burning produce health hazards borne disproportionately by poor people. Our diesel truck and bus transport infrastructure is always located near poor people.  This makes their streets less safe and their local air dirtier.  Instead of weeping over polar bears, we need to stand up for equal environmental rights for all.  If we had located all this dirty energy infrastructure near affluent people, we would have had a clean green economy decades ago – and the polar bears would be doing just fine.

PETER GOLDMARK – Director of Climate and Air, Environmental Defense Fund
eter Goldmark has worked in the business, public, and citizen sectors, as CEO of the International Herald Tribune, budget director for New York State, and president of the Rockefeller Foundation. This has prepared him for his current position at the Environmental Defense Fund, which partners with business, government and community groups to tackle environmental problems.

What’s been the major achievement in the environmental field since Earth Day 1970?
The decision by Europe to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through a cap-and-trade system. Europe is today the only major geopolitical region that has plateau’d its greenhouse gas emissions and is now on a downward slope. That is where we all have to go. And they have helped to show us the way.

What do you see as the next major step for the field?
The next, and essential, critical step is for the U.S. to pass similar legislation this spring. Earth Day may well coincide this year with the release by three U.S. senators of a draft bipartisan bill to curb U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. As I write this, we do not know what the key provisions of this bill will be, and whether it will represent a reasonable compromise between the urgent need to move forward and some of the countervailing political trends it will be necessary to accommodate to get 60 votes. But passing a serious carbon bill and establishing a large global carbon market is the next major threshold for all of us.

Lead photo: Twolia
Gillian Caldwell photo: Paper Magazine
Majora Carter photo: SF Bay View
Peter Goldmark photo: Politico

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  1. [...] of environmental leaders Gillian Caldwell of 1Sky and Majora Carter of the Majora Carter Group at Dowser’s Earth Day Exclusive. var object = SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title:'share', summary:'Share'}, {button:false}); [...]