When Earth Day started off in 1970 it was immediately a big hit, attracting more than 20,000 people. The movement´s second major milestone was the Millennium. The Earth Day Network then successfully spearheaded massive international expansion, engaging over half a billion people by mobilizing activists in 17,000 organizations in 174 countries.
So it’s little surprise that the inaugural year of the new Presidency has been seized as another impetus to Earth Day observations. And by no one less than Van Jones, the former Oakland, California activist who´s an adept at mobilizing people at the grassroots. Jones, now President Obama’s green jobs “czar,” gathered together reporters as part of his first media blitz campaign and made no qualms about it; 2009 is a very special year to celebrate Earth Day. The reasons are obvious.
As we move forward, one of the big differences is that we recognize now that the debate over whether we can do right by the environment and right by the economy at the same time is over,” said Van Jones who is now Special Adviser for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
He added that Earth Day is for everybody in the traditional sense, but stressed that laid-off workers are especially included in what Earth Day means for 2009.
This Earth Day is for everybody … for those of us who are concerned about the natural world in the traditional sense, but also for laid-off workers,” he said.
Timing has always been Jones’ strong point it seems and he’s nailing it yet again. The first tangible signs that the U.S. stimulus package is triggering the green economy are beginning to be visible. One example is the $200 million project in Kansas City, Missouri, that is retrofitting 150 low income apartment blocks in poor areas. The funds are sourced by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. “They’re calling it a ‘Green Impact Zone’ … showing you can fight pollution and poverty at the same time,” Jones said.
Jones believes that home owners and people who run small businesses will benefit from taking energy efficiency measures funded by the economic recovery funds.
Jones’ own new job is to advise on the creation of green jobs as part of new climate change policies. Jones knows how the grassroots networks operate from the inside out. His own recently published book The Green Collar Economy made it to 12th place on the New York Times best sellers list within a week from being launched with activist support kickstarted by Green For All, the organization Jones used to run.
Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has risen to the challenge of creating its own spin on Earth Day (pdf). The Catholic Climate Coalition called on the 1 billion Catholics worldwide to celebrate Earth Day by considering ways to reduce their impact on the planet and especially the effect on poor and disadvantaged people who bear the brunt of the consequences of climate change.
The campaign could stir up the controversy surrounding the recent comment by the Pope that condoms do not prevent AIDS. Earth Day’s origins coincide closely with the 1970s drive to save the environment by achieving population growth reductions. That is clearly not what the Catholic Church propagates and the new campaign appears designed to put a different stamp on Earth Day.
Catholics in Africa do take the Church’s opinion very seriously and there were even rallies in favor of the pope’s comment. So let’s hope that the Catholic church’s communication about Earth Day is equally effective. A U.S. News blog cites a Zogby opinion poll’s result which shows that half of all Catholics see global warming as a serious problem and that another two-thirds believe that future generations will be affected by climate change. Over two-thirds believe that we know enough about the issue to act now. The Catholic Climate Coalition is lobbying for cap-and-trade legislation and other climate policies on Capitol Hill.