From the streets to the screens

Organizer of the first Earth Day discusses the holiday’s 50th anniversary

Denis Hayes is best known for organizing the first Earth Day, which is now recognized in 192 countries and is considered the world’s largest observed secular holiday. Denis has headed Seattle’s Bullitt Foundation since 1992. Photo courtesy the Bullitt Foundation.

The seemingly quiet things people are doing from the comfort of their own homes are having a big impact, said Hayes. Things like political organizing and contributing to campaigns can bring about a substantive change in our national leadership come November.

“If we have another four years of Trump, for a lot of things, it’s kind of game over,” said Hayes.

Voting, organizing voter registration drives and working toward highlighting environmental issues are key actions people can take for the future of our climate.

“A vote for Trump, it’s basically a vote for a pretty miserable climate for the next couple centuries,” said Hayes.

Besides political advocacy, there are personal actions individuals can take to reduce their carbon footprint.

“If you’re going to be effective in this area, as in most any area, you have to walk your talk,” he said.

Actions like driving a sports car, taking flights and eating steak are not consistent with a low-carbon future.

“Use this opportunity at home to do some home improvements. Put in some better windows. This is an opportunity to insulate your attic if you haven’t done it before,” said Hayes.

Personal actions are helpful in reducing the carbon footprint when multiplied by a large population, but the most effective action people can take is to advocate for environmentally-friendly politics.

“You can do all of that and it’s not enough if we don’t have political change at the top,” said Hayes.

Furthermore, political advocacy should go beyond election day. People must continue pressuring politicians to pass environmental policy and enforce environmental regulations even after they get elected.

“No matter who it is that you get elected, they will behave only to the extent that they are under constant, unrelenting pressure to do so from the forces of good because you know there will be constant, unrelenting forces from all the lobbying forces on the other side of these issues,” said Hayes.

Environmentalists in the past have made the mistake of sitting back and relaxing after their politician who ran on an environmental campaign won, relieving them of pressure during their term.

“We’ve got to win in November and then we need to take advantage of that winning over the course of the next four years,” Hayes said. “This is only the start.”

This call-to-action is reminiscent of his insight that was published in the March/April issue of Northwest Prime Time.

“People with authority are always too bound up by perceived constraints. Real change tends to emerge outside the power structure at the grassroots. People are most free to follow their conscience when they are very young or very old,” said Hayes.