Guest Opinion

Let’s Take Back Earth Day in Tucson

We need to stop playing games with the issue of climate change. The situation is deadly serious. We have just come out of the warmest year on record, and all the recorded 10 hottest years on the planet have occurred since 1998. The online journal Science Advances has predicted that the Southwest is entering a period of drought that will be the worst in 1,000 years.

While climate change is certainly the biggest single threat the planet is facing, it's not the only one. Faced with endless resource wars, freshwater depletion, habitat loss, soil depletion, nuclear threatsand unrestrained mining and extractivism, the prognosis is not good. In fact, the situation is so bad that since 1970, global biodiversity has declined 30 percent , with a 60 percent rate in tropical areas, and freshwater biodiversity has declined by 55 percent and by 33 percent in the oceans. That is why Tucson's upcoming official Earth Day Parade and Festival is so very out of step with what the times call for. Despite the intentions of many good people involved, and whatever legitimate efforts are represented, they will be participating in a spectacle of green washing—a celebration of an unsustainable status quo dressed up in earth tones.

We are at such a dire point in our natural history that we have no choice but to pursue radical (as in getting to the root of the problem) solutions, or we are going to lose everything. There is no time left for half measures and false solutions. The sponsors of this corporate Earth Day not only do us a disservice, but actively divert us from the gravity of the situation and the kind of response we need to give.

The four primary or "platinum" sponsors of Tucson's Earth Day events are the City of Tucson, the Central Arizona Project, Quick Print and the Southern Arizona Environmental Management Society.

The backing of the Southern Arizona Environmental Management Society (SAEMS) is an affront to all true environmentalists. Included among its member organizations are Rosemont Copper, Raytheon and Materion Ceramics, formerly known as Brush Wellman. Some of the other 200 corporate and government members include Alcoa Aluminum, the City of Tucson Department of Environmental Services, Tucson Water's Water Quality Division and the still majority coal burning Tucson Electric Power. Not featured among their ranks are the kinds of grassroots groups and movements most of us associate with environmental activism.

This is not a bottom-up kind of group attuned to the voices of the people, but rather, an organization that represents the voices of boardrooms and shareholders.

Are we to believe that the heads of Raytheon care anything about the ecological health of our region, much less the planet? Rather, they see global warming as an opportunity to make more money. In her book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein writes that, " a moment of candor, the weapons giant Raytheon explained, 'Expanded business opportunities are likely to arise as consumer behavior and needs change in response to climate change.' Those opportunities include not just more demand for the company's privatized disaster response services but also 'demand for its military products and services as security concerns may arise as results of droughts, floods, and storm events occur as a result of climate change.' This is worth remembering whenever doubts creep in about the urgency of this crisis: the private militias are already mobilizing."

The goals of war profiteers like Raytheon and Materion are in direct conflict with the goals of the climate justice and ecological movements. According to an article by David Querio in Biz Tucson, "Raytheon, the world's largest missile manufacturer, builds missiles for just about everybody except rogue nations. The Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines bear missiles from Tucson, as do the militaries of 40 countries. Any time your hear about Tomahawk, Sidewinder or Stinger missiles, they were designed and manufactured in Tucson by Raytheon.

Since 1954 the company has produced and delivered more than one million missiles."

Rare is the voice that proclaims anything about missiles as environmentally friendly.

Earth Day co-sponsor Materion is a producer of beryllium ceramic products the uses of which include essential applications for the nuclear and military industries. Beryllium dust and fumes that result from the production process are harmful both to the company's workers and the community. The Arizona Daily Star reported that some 35 employees of the Materion/Brush Wellman plant have contracted beryllium disease, which leads to fatalities in about a third of those affected, leaving those who survive with lifelong disabilities. It was revealed in 2009 that the US Department of Justice had paid out $1.4 million toward compensation and care of disease sufferers. In 2001, Materion, in its past incarnation as Brush Wellman, was penalized $145,000 for releasing beryllium dust into the air via a clothes dryer. Materion's new agreement with Pima County lets the plant self monitor its safety features. SAEMS is connected to the military-industrial complex in other ways as well. A 2010 letter from SAEMS President Kristie Kilgore notes that

"Collaborating with environmental community members such as Davis-Monthan Air Force Base...provides a forum to learn from one another on fronts such as sustainability and contingency planning."

This is, once again, typical green washing, casting the Air Force base as an "environmental community member" concerned with "sustainability." We tend to turn a blind eye to the ecological effects of militarism and when we don't, there are actually exemptions and gag rules in place to circumvent or outright prohibit breaching this issue. For instance, the United Nations climate summits fully cooperate with a rule that exempts the US military from discussion in negotiations.

The US military is on of the world's largest energy consumers, responsible for 90 percent of US government fuel consumption. It constitutes the world's single largest institutional purchaser of petroleum products and single largest institutional emitter of green house gasses. According to a 2005 report by the American Forces Information Service, "Jet fuel constitutes nearly 70 percent of the Department of Defense's petroleum product purchases." With a US military budget that roughly is equal to the rest of the world's combined military expenditures, and with globetrotting military advisers and multiple and endless wars and bases around the world--that's a whole lot of jet fuel. We already see how companies like SAEMS's Raytheon and Materion are linked dependently to the military. But there is no need to in turn link them to Earth Day.

Davis-Monthan is sometimes trumpeted as an environmentally friendly base by virtue of its large array of solar panels. But even if the military and big corporations are to develop new, clean energy sources, that's simply not sufficient. The military and its industrial allies exist not so much to "protect our freedoms" as to protect the access of global corporations to resources and markets. Even if every bomber were solar powered, what we can expect from the marriage of militarism and unrestrained capitalism is more resource wars, more extraction, more privatization and more profit.

Let's be clear that it's not the workers at Raytheon and Materion who are to blame. We should stand shoulder to shoulder with these workers to demand safe conditions and economic conversion from a war economy to one that is focused on healing our planet, fixing our national infrastructure and taking care of our people. During the large marches against the Iraq War, more than a few Raytheon employees marched with us. One engineer told us that Raytheon would be well suited to convert to light rail production. We don't want these workers to lose their jobs. We want their jobs to be for peace and the planet.

The green washing that we will see at Tucson's official Earth Day events will extend beyond issues of war and militarism. Witness the participation of Rosemont Copper as an SAEMS member. Just this month of March, another ocelot has been photographed in the Santa Rita mountain area threatened by Rosemont's proposed copper mine. The mine also puts at risk jaguar habitat and an important and sensitive water table. Canadian based Augusta Resources, the proposed mine's parent company, reports the mine will use "approximately 5,000 acre-feet per year delivered at 5,000 gallons per minute." An issue paper by Rosemont Mine Truth states, "To put that amount of water into perspective, the Rosemont Mine will consume the water of over 15,000 households each year it operates ... The Rosemont Mine will be located at the headwaters of Davidson Canyon in the Cienega Creek Watershed. According to Augusta's documents, at well over a mile wide and up to a half mile deep, the pit ... will be larger than the Berkely Pit in Butte, Montana, a closed copper mine that became one of the nation's largest superfund sites." A proper grassroots, peoples Earth Day would be protesting and denouncing this mine, not providing it cover.

It is also not enough to just denounce militarism and corporations that assault the Earth. The issue of climate change, or rather, climate justice, and other ecological threats cannot be adequately confronted without the participation of government. But what we don't need is for the city and county to support a military-industrial-extractivist Earth Day.

The Arizona Peace Council and Alliance for Global Justice are coming together with other activists and sincere environmentalists to be present at this years official Earth Day celebration to protest this green washing and to present an alternative, indeed, a reminder of what that original Earth Day back in 1970 was all about. We want to take back Earth Day, to bring it back to its activist roots. We will call for real solutions, not false ones, and we will we will advocate for our elected officials to pursue policies that put people and planet before profits.

We are not alone in this. We are working with coalitions locally, nationally and internationally to develop a calendar of actions as similarly minded people around the world take the road to Paris,

December, 2015. That is where the United Nations is charged with coming up with new measures for dealing with climate change.

Unfortunately, the doors of these summits are open to big businesses, but closed to most of us, and the process is producing many a declaration, but very little that is substantive and enforceable. That is why we must be there from Tucson to Washington, D.C. to Paris, demanding system change, not climate change.

Why is it important to take back Earth Day? Because by doing so, we begin to take back our movement. We begin to save the Earth, not from the top down, but from the grassroots up.

James Jordan is a Tucson resident and activist, and national co-coordinator for the Alliance for Global Justice.

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