Saving the Planet Requires Direct Action, Alternative Media

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Alabama Power’s Miller Steam Plant on the Locust Fork River emits more mercury into the air than any other power plant in the country.

Under the Microscope
by Cliff Griggs

Back in 1971, the environmental movement was just a dream in the minds of people who wanted the governments and the corporations of the world to respect the planet that we all live on.

In other words, quit setting off nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, and quit spewing toxic chemicals into our air, our water sources and on our land. Back then we still had lead in our gasoline, with Los Angeles and other big cities covered with air so toxic it was literally killing people.

Our national forests were being treated as a piggy bank for the large lumber firms who clear-cut the forests and turned them into agricultural plantations, row after row of straight lines that wiped out most of the forest eco-systems. Our rivers were used as dumping grounds for chemical manufacturers, fouling our drinking water and poisoning any living thing that lived on or near it. The Cuyahoga River in Ohio actually caught fire.

An awareness of those problems led to the first Earth Day, and to passage of the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, as well a host of other environmental regulations that led to the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency.


Over the years, numerous environmental groups sprang up to tackle serious issues until today they are recognizable names like the Sierra Club, The World Wildlife Federation and literally thousands of others. Many were single issue groups that fell apart, and others managed to hold on to their membership and take on other issues.

But today, it seems, the environment has taken the last seat on the bus, as the nation focuses on job creation, deficit reduction — and hate filled politics.

Even with the specter of global climate change, with larger, more violent storms, and Texas and much of the South and Mid-West in deepest drought, nobody is sounding the alarm to concentrate attention.

At least Greenpeace is still there. More on that in a moment.

What has happened to the environmental movement?

Most of the groups have sold out, in my opinion. It has been a long, slow process, but most of these groups are useless.

Part of the problem for most was in the formation of what is known as 501-c-3 groups. The 501 is a designation of tax status from the IRS. The c-3 part of that means they are tax exempt, but it also means they cannot get political. They can’t make campaign contributions, they can’t advocate for political candidates and therefore they get shuffled aside when it comes down to a fight.

In addition, most groups are formed to fight a particular battle; to stop the degradation of a river, or clear-cutting of a national forest. After they win or lose their fight, mostly losing, they may still try to keep their group alive. With their leftover funds they hire professional staff, and then seek grants from the government, large foundations and sometimes major corporations.

Like a pet, you could say they are neutered. Suddenly, they are reduced to the level of bake sales and getting everyone to buy a T-shirt.

Basically, there is little fight left in them. They don’t want to piss anyone off, because then the country club donors won’t give anymore. Neutered!

Now back to Greenpeace. This group is still going strong. They were formed back in 1971 by a group out of Vancouver, British Columbia, to try and stop nuclear weapons testing by the U.S. in Amchitka, Alaska. They were originally a committee named Don’t Make a Wave, and they named their first ship Greenpeace. Later they took that name for their group.

The Greenpeace movement spread around the world and became famous for taking direct actions, getting in the face of governments, whalers and corporations. They are most responsible for bringing environmental issues into public parlance, and now lobby governments, conduct scientific research and still get things done.

By the way, they don’t take grant money from big corporations and governments and they don’t do bake sales. They are not 501-c-3, and the money you contribute to Greenpeace is not tax deductible.

Most smaller 501-c-3 groups, and I’ve helped in the formation of a lot of them, think they can depend on corporate media for their publicity. But as I quickly found out that is a dream. Corporate media is a hoax.

How do you compete with TVA, the Southern Company (parent of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi Power) when they spend literally millions of dollars a year with these same corporate media? You are going to be portrayed as a bunch of tree huggers.

The people who have gotten the attention have been members of Greenpeace, and the former Earth First!, who were labeled environmental terrorists.

You want to know who the terrorists are, look to Dow, Monsanto, TVA and Southern Company and the politicians who take their money and go along with the policies they demand.

These corporations have dumped millions of pounds of chemicals into our air, water and soil, causing millions of cases of cancer to those around them. Many of those chemicals are still hanging around and will cause cancers for thousands of years. If they get caught, by EPA or the state agency equivalent, like the Alabama Department of Management in this state, they may get hand-slapped with small fines. It’s just a part of doing business, and the major media sources just interview the company PR spokesmen who tell us…”There is no danger to the public.”

Hey, some of these small environmental groups, when working on their initial issues, do good work, but after that initial spurt, they turn into social clubs where the officers sit around arguing about how to support their worse than useless staff members. But you can get some nice T-shirts, tote bags or colorful calendars, and feel like you are doing something useful for the environment.

But don’t fool yourself. Corporations and quasi-government corporations like TVA don’t give a damn about The Friends of the Tennessee River, Inc.. They simply outspend and outlast them.

Direct action, getting in their face with demonstrations, whether through your own chapter of Earth First!, or by your annual donations to Greenpeace, are the only true way of changing behaviors.

Forget about corporate media sources or your state congressional delegations. These congressmen need more than $2 million to mount an election campaign every two years. That means they have to raise $3,000 a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year for two years. Senators have to raise even more to meet their $6 million threshold. Unless you are a major campaign contributor, you aren’t even going to get to see a member of congress unless you go to a town hall meeting — and those get more infrequent as we go along.

I sometimes think that we have waited too long to change our ways and now we are going to pay for environmental degradation. But it is not too late to take action on a lot of issues.

Yet we are going to need people who are not afraid to tell the truth, and to get in there and take direct action to call attention to what is being done to us. Forget about starting a 501-c-3. Organize people who are directly affected and learn from what Earth First! and Greenpeace have done. Look it up on the Internet and learn the methods that work.

Perhaps most importantly, support alternative Web media, as they are the only ones that support your views and see the world as you do — and they are willing to step into the breach with you when bad stuff happens.

Cookies are good to eat, but bake sales have never stopped a war — or prevented a dam on a river.

Cliff Griggs is a writer, photographer and activist living in Arab, Alabama.

© 2011, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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