EARTH DAY ACTIONS – Madison, Wisconsin, and Washington DC

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Madison, Wisconsin

As part of an organizing action of Global Climate Convergence and Wisconsin Wave, University of Wisconsin students, professors, teachers and other members of Madison area community marched down Madison’s State Street on the 44th Earth Day, Tuesday, April 22, 2014, with the purpose being to add to the public’s growing awareness and concern regarding the grave environmental threats and social injustices going on around them. The continuing and reckless mining and overuse of the earth’s valuable natural resources, often primarily for the profit of a few, was a common theme expressed at the march in posters and verbal forms. There was an overriding concern about the overuse of fossil fuels, metals, sand and gravel, to the great harm being inflicted upon the earth’s clean water and limited atmosphere, which are showing signs everywhere that they have reached the limit of sustainability for all of the earth’s future populations.

As reported in a April 23 article by Dana Kampa in The Daily Cardinal, titled “Madison environmental, social justice advocates converged on Earth Day” to “Protect our Water–Reject the Mines and Pipelines!”, mining in Wisconsin was cited as one of several significant environmental issues the protesters voiced concerned about.

Wisconsin used to be an environmental leader. It was the home of naturalist and writer Aldo Leopold; it was the first state in the country to ban the use of DDT as a pesticide on farmland; and it was the birthplace and home of U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson, who founded Earth Day in 1970 and was instrumental in waking up the nation’s awareness of the damaging ecological, health and economic costs of air and water pollution and the need for tough federal and state laws and regulations to minimize it. The State of Wisconsin did just that in the decades that followed, maintaining and protecting its natural resources throughout the decades that followed.

But natural resource protection in Wisconsin took an about face in Wisconsin in November 2010 with the election of Republican Governor Scott Walker. After passage of a bill into law that allows for significant environmental degradation from ore mining in the state, an environmentally sensitive area of northern Wisconsin could ultimately become the home of the world’s largest open-pit iron ore mine. Wisconsin’s once strong environmental laws and regulations have been weakened, and environmentally conscious people throughout the state are rising up and taking notice.

The mine is proposed to be built by Gogebic Taconite and is currently undergoing review for development in the Penokee Hills, despite the fact that the mine would destroy a vast, water-rich ecosystem that President John F. Kennedy in 1963 called “a central and significant portion of the freshwater assets of this country” after his visit there.

The $1.5 billion mine would initially be close to four miles long, up to a half-mile wide and nearly 1,000 feet deep, but it could be extended as long as 21 miles. It lies in the headwaters of the Bad River, which flows into Lake Superior, the largest freshwater lake in the world. Six miles downstream from the site is the reservation of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, whose livelihood is threatened by the mine. Environmentally conscious citizens of Wisconsin are protesting, as evidenced by the Earth Day march in Madison.

The protesters also voiced strong concerns for the overall degradation being inflicted on Wisconsin’s landscape by frac sand mining, as well as the human health concerns which occur over time when people breath in silica sand fragments, and the noise and dust from the various digging, processing and trucking of the sand from the mining sites to drilling sites, located out-of-state, mostly in North Dakota. But student marchers also expressed major concerns about the overall future and well-being of the entire planet earth, as its oceans are warming, becoming more acid, while sea levels are arising, from melting ice and snow on land masses and due to the thermal expansion that occurs when water warms, and as the air at the surface continues its record warming. The adverse effects on people and animals from the increasing weather extremes associated with the warming (longer and more dangerous heat waves, worse flooding in some areas and larger areas of drought in others; more and higher coastal flooding with stronger and stronger storms); in other words, more devastation of human and animal life and real estate as the earth continues to heat up. Property and life insurance rates the world over are rising as a result.

The protesters began the march at Madion’s Monona Terrace building, which is Madison’s Convention Center (designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright), and marched past the Wisconsin’s State Capitol Building, and then down State Street, where they convened at the UW campus Library Mall.

At the mall, several speakers referenced the latest projections made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), citing numerous examples of recent environmentally injurious governmental decisions of late, not just by our own state senators and representatives in the Wisconsin Legislature, but by current Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker.

As most Wisconsinites know, Wisconsin has tens of thousands of individual and families living in poverty in the state, most who have been been able to just barely get by on the low income jobs they’ve been working up to now. Yet just this last November, the U.S. Congress voted to end the 2009 Recovery Act’s modest monetary increase in food share benefits (food stamps), by its failing to continue funding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for poor individuals and families, cutting the funding source of the food budget for many thousands of Wisconsin individuals, families and their children on November 1, 2013. This action by our Congress resulted in a benefit cut for nearly every household receiving food share benefits. For families of three, the cuts amounted to $29 a month — November 2013 through September 2014, totaling a $319 for families of three for that period.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said that the cut amounted to “a serious loss, especially in light of the very low amount of basic SNAP benefits available”, and that “without the Recovery Act’s boost, SNAP benefits will average less than $1.40 per person per meal in 2014”. Unfortunately, it is individuals and families eligible for receiving SNAP funding – a large percentage who are Blacks of African and American descent who live in Milwaukee or Dane (Madison area) counties, as well as many thousands of rural preschool age children, and minority families who have children enrolled in public elementary, middle or high schools throughout Wisconsin – who were hurt the most by the November 2013 federal SNAP program cut. Studies show these are the times of human life that are most essential for the child to receive proper nutrition – when their bodies demand the largest amount of good food to grow properly and function well while in school as well as play. When children of any race are deprived of good, nutritious food in their preschool and school age years they are more likely to be more anxious and distracted in school and elsewhere, and they are thus more prone to act in ways get them into trouble in school and elsewhere.

Studies show that when deprived of good, nutritious food at a very young age (2 – 6 years of age), any child, regardless of their race or ethnicity, will be impaired for life as those years are key in proper brain development. When family poverty results in these young children being fed less than nutritious food, or not enough food, during the ages of 2 to 6 years of age, it saddles these young children with impaired mental capabilities, making it more difficult for them to succeed when they enter school, and ultimately reduces their ability to compete for good grades and reduces their chances of succeeding in school and the work place, which can increase their risk of getting into trouble with the authorities and land in prison. To generate this sequence of events for children of families having limited income, in a country as wealthy as the U.S., is an American tragedy of intolerable proportions. Yet, inflationary food pricing brought on by likely global-warming-caused drought in large portions of the western United States, southwestern California in particular, over the past 3 years, and the harsh political decisions affecting Wisconsin’s poor families by our Wisconsin political representative have made this situation worse, especially for the large African-American and Latino populations living in and around Wisconsin’s two largest urban areas – Milwaukee and Dane Counties in particular.

Many who marched this Earth Day (Tuesday) in Madison claimed that they were totally outraged by the fact our own U.S. Representatives and Senators in the Congress have hugely shirked their responsibilities as government employees and public office holders by their continued refusal to initiate or act on legislation to significantly bring down annual U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) to the atmosphere, both by each individual state, as well as the country as a whole, and fund the development of community strategies to adapt existing and needed infrastructure to handle higher flood waters and drier and hotter condition affecting water supply and air conditioning during heat waves for those who can’t afford it; while creating alert systems and emergency response networking as extreme weather events become more extreme and potentially deadly,as is predicted in the coming decades due to human-caused global warming.

Not only is there now clear evidence of global warming, nearly everywhere, but studies also show the warming is likely to accelerate, the longer countries, such as the high carbon dioxide emitting, or those projected to become high annual greenhouse gas emitters: United States, Canada, China; India; Australia; European counties; Southeast Asia countries, Brazil, and many of the more prosperous South and Central American countries that rely heavily on the tremendous greenhouse gas emitting aviation industry, as well as the many countries having large numbers of military transport vehicles, ships and aircraft and who them on a regular basis, for training purposes and in war, and the very lucrative cruise and airline tourist industries, all who continue to fail at drastically cutting their annual GHG emissions, to the detriment of future decades.

Scientists the world over have already essentially issued a RED ALERT and sounded the alarm bells on the looming state, national and worldwide threats that are now becoming reality as rapid global warming becomes reality. Economists have reported that major industries which depend greatly on a stable climate are unlikely to prosper when they begin to experience heavy losses as they already have because of increasingly severe droughts, unusually fast and heavy rainfalls causing terrible flooding.

It is a fact that every time someone on the planet burns fossil fuels, whether the fuel is gasoline that gets burned up in a car or a lawn mower, ATV, boat jet ski, snowmobile; or if its diesel fuel for running a truck, train, bus or generator, or whether its aviation (jet) fuel from a plane; or natural gas, oil, propane or any other fuel source burned in one’s furnace; more carbon dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, where it mixes with the other GHG’s already present in the atmosphere.

During their march down State Street in Madison, participants chanted phrases such as “keep the oil in the soil, keep the coal in the hole,” “people power, not corporate power” and “beat back the frack attack, we’re gonna say no mine, GTAC” to promote their individual and collective goals.

Trudi Jenny, a 350 Madison member, said she thought the main message of the march was to “protect our waters.” She said she opposes climate disruption and pipelines.

“We hope that [people attending the rally] learn to become active in the climate change arena,” Jenny said.

Jenny also said she hopes people will write to their congresspeople about creating legislation to keep the planet healthy, promote a carbon tax and oppose a pipeline coming through Minnesota, and support divestment from fossil fuel industries.

Madison Action for Mining Alternatives member Carol Buelow said frack sand mines need more regulation, and bills altering iron mining regulation need to be repealed.

“I think people need to pay attention to the threats to our environment and do what they can to stop them,” Buelow said. “[Iron and frack sand mining] are very destructive to the environment, and they’re very poorly regulated, if at all. The state is doing a totally inadequate job of protecting the environment.”

Environmental advocate Brandi Browskowski-Durow, a public school teacher and University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Education graduate student, said she wants to see more environmental education in schools.

Browskowski-Durow added one of her biggest concerns about the frack sand mining industry is the development of silicosis, which is the accumulation of fine sand in the lungs.

“Right now, [the government is] allowing permits to be more lenient, especially in Wisconsin, and that’s not going to be good for future generations,” Browskowski-Durow said.

Self-described “raging granny” Rebecca Alwin said she thought the rally was a convergence of issues and uniting of progressive groups.

“Raging grannies typically don’t like walking this far, but I’ve got my good walking shoes on,” Alwin said.

Multiple peace marshals walked with the group to help the large group comply with the law and stay safe around traffic.

After the march, several speakers voiced their environmental concerns in a rally.

Federation of United Tribes spokesperson Larry Littlegeorge said he would like to see a complete stop to sand mine construction. He said he got involved when he heard about the potential creation of a 5,000-acre sand mine.

Littlegeorge connected his current concerns to Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act moving all Native Americans west of the Mississippi River.

“Now in 2014, we have another forced removal,” Littlegeorge said. “The Federation of United Tribes is commissioned by the elders and their beliefs to stand up and be accountable for the rights of Mother Earth and for the people who are not in harmony and balance with one another.”

Speakers then led a traditional Native American dance, encouraging people to join hands in a line that eventually converged in the center of Library Mall.

350 Madison spokesperson Beth Esser addressed climate change policy for future generations, specifically her children at the rally.

“Like every parent out there, I want so many wonderful things for their future, but most importantly, I want a healthy, vibrant planet for them to live on,” Esser said. “The time has come to move beyond changing light bulbs.”

Esser also spoke of the fossil fuel divestment program on UW-Madison campus.

“If it is wrong to wreck the planet, surely it is wrong to benefit financially from doing so,” Esser said. “Together, we can put people, planet and peace over profit.”

Finally, Carl Whiting spoke of the No Keystone XL Pledge of Resistance’s opposition to building a pipeline through the Midwest to transport crude oil with civil disobedience.

“It’s high time we all got together, celebrating our collective vision for a healthy planet and flexing our collective muscle,” Whiting said. “All of us here are deeply concerned about the future, and rightly so.”

A rally coordinator said despite the smaller-than-expected turnout, the positive energy of the crowd was encouraging and empowering.

More Info:
For more information about the Global Climate Convergence in Wisconsin, go to https://wisconsinwave.org/global-climate-convergence-wisconsin-0

Regarding Earth Day news in Washington DC, USA Today journalist Paul Singer, who gives weekly reports to Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Central Times” show on Congressional activities, said nothing special for Earth Day was happening there, and that Earth Day is seldom celebrated in the nation’s capital, as it is perceived mostly as an celebration only by Democrats.

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About Mike Neuman

Environmentalist; Father; Senior Citizen; Husband, School Crossing Guard; Green Bay Packer Fan; Wisconsin Badger Fan; Animal Lover; Humanitarian

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