The United States has a varied history with environmentalism. Americans have always taken pride in their natural heritage. The conservation movement of the 1890s, championed by the likes of John Muir, gave rise to civic, public and private sector institutions dedicated to conservation. The industrial revolution, however, coupled with the rise of modern capitalism, the era of the New Deal and the economic boom following WWII assimilated Americans into growth economics. This varied history, two opposing Americas, came to a head in the decade of change, the 1960s. The modern environmental movement finds its roots in the discourse of this era.
This modern environmentalism, fueled by the energy of a growing anti-war movement, bore the first nationally recognized Earth Day – April 22, 1970. On this day, 20 million Americans occupied streets, parks, college campuses and public squares to build a social movement for sustainability.
As a result, the floor of the cage expanded. The sustainability movement yielded the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency along with the Clean Air, Clean Water and Endangered Species Acts. Though progress was made and the floor expanded, the cage still remained.
Progress can be good or bad, regardless, it is unavoidable in nature and human society. Since the rise of industrial capitalism and then Reagan era neo-liberalism, “progress” has been gauged by growth – the cage: More roads, more cars, bigger government, bigger corporations, bolder nation-states and a too big to fail financial sector. The very institutions that the modern environmental movement helped craft are part of this cage. Don’t get me wrong, there are very concerned, dedicated and intelligent people fighting the good fight within the current power structure, but alas, their efforts are bounded by the cage. Regardless of the moves made on behalf of public and environmental health, the nation-state remains the largest wrecker of climate, air, soil, rock, water, flora and fauna of all time.
Our species, however, is driven to ask questions. On this Earth Day, and ever afterward, I ask that our intrinsic, inquisitive nature be turned to manufactured political boundaries. Why is the greatest threat to the environment great militarized nation states? If we are to take pride in democratic values, are these values not the anti-thesis of concentrated authority? Does the concept of continual growth in the name of “progress” allow for sustainability? Or should we perhaps rid ourselves of this cage and redefine progress?
As a species humans are incredibly adaptive. If given the chance we can and will plant the seeds of a future society that will make life on Earth worth living for our posterity. We can liberate our labor from the current economic system, decentralize our institutions, respect natural boundaries such as bio-regions and cultivate a society in which every individual will have a genuine say in the decisions that impact their lives. This is the fight of the 21st century — to rid ourselves of the cage and claim democratic control of society.
Individual agency over our institutions, society, labor, property and person is the ultimate libertarian praxis. In such a society we would be freed to protect our cultural and natural heritage, place connections, watersheds, landscapes and biodiversity. Our inclined labor and disposition to liberty will free society from centralized economies and hegemonic governments.
On this Earth Day may we realize that all the complex problems facing humanity – climate change, hunger, war, corporate colonialism, extinction, depreciating ecosystem services, etc. – are tied to the current state system. May we also realize that we have an answer to these problems – that answer, as always, is liberty.
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