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Occupy Wall Street: An Environmental Protest?

What do the Occupy Wall Street protests have to do with green living?


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Environmental concerns are among the issues at the forefront of the Occupy Wall Street protests.


The protest movement known as Occupy Wall Street has grabbed international attention by rattling its tin cup against the pillars of the financial community. But Occupy Wall Street has also garnered criticism for lacking a simple, coherent message.

According to the Occupy Wall Street website, these protests are now being endorsed by everyone from mainstream groups like the American Federation of Teachers and the United Auto Workers to political activists like MoveOn.org. But is Occupy green?

Occupy Wall Street and the Environmental Movement

Most environmental protests have grassroots origins, and they often result from business actions or political decisions. In that sense, they're much like the Occupy Wall Street protests (which have grown and spread organically to now include similar protests in Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and in cities and towns around the world).

In recent months, there have been focused nationwide protests against fracking or hydraulic fracturing, against the Keystone pipeline, against increases in oil drilling and other specific environmental issues.

But the Occupy movement doesn't have a single focus, which some observers feel is a good strategy for the nascent movement. Instead, the Occupy protests have a plethora of demands: campaign finance reform, corporate welfare, funding for health and education, unemployment, police activity, economic disparities and social justice. Where, though, does the environment fit into all this?

Occupy Wall Street Goes Green

A visitor to the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City will see a number of environmental concerns being raised -- in addition to a lot of street musicians, well-organized labor union representatives, babies in strollers, bespectacled grandmothers and ad hoc protest signs scrawled on cardboard pizza boxes.

There are also individual protestors on Wall Street concerned about fracking, which uses toxic chemicals to drill for natural gas and destroys air quality and water quality in the process. It is, of course, supported by multinational energy corporations. There are protestors alarmed about the Keystone pipeline, a massively expensive engineering project that will pump crude oil across 1,700 miles of Canada and the United States -- also, predictably enough, supported by oil companies (and, suspiciously, by the U.S. State Department as well).

Of course, one of the main concerns of the Occupy Wall Street protests is jobs, and the lack of funding for jobs programs. The alarming shortage of oft-promised but rarely seen green jobs has been cited as a source of aggravation for some Occupy WallStreet protestors.

If only for these reasons, environmental concerns are well represented at Occupy Wall Street and at other protests, though it's easy to see how green issues aren't the only focus of the worldwide Occupy protest movement, and it's easy for any single message to get lost in the crowd.

Occupy Wall Street and the '99 Percent Declaration'

After many weeks, supporters of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations released a written document titled The 99 Percent Declaration that details their concerns. Among the statements condemning the influence of corporations over Congress, the tax code and military intervention is the following (abridged) statement on the "Protection of the Planet":

"Human greed, exponentially magnified by corporations, is destroying the only habitable planet known to humanity. The evidence of climate change due to human activity can no longer be denied by rational people. New comprehensive laws and regulations must be immediately enacted to give the Environmental Protection Agency, and other environmental protection regulators, expanded powers and resources to shut down corporations, businesses or any entities that intentionally or recklessly damage the environment, and to criminally prosecute individuals who intentionally or recklessly damage the environment. The 99% of the American People demand the immediate implementation of new and existing programs to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels to reusable or carbon neutral sources of energy and higher greenhouse gas emission standards so that something will be left for our children and grandchildren. The rights to clean air, water, and conservation of the planet for future generations shall no longer be infringed by greed-driven corporations and selfish individuals."

Sounds pretty green to me.

To a large degree, many of the environmental problems we face -- and the obstacles to sustainable, green living -- were put in place by the same billionaire plutocrats and the multinational corporations that are the underlying cause of the protestors' outrage. Oil companies, nuclear energy developers, agribusiness, real estate developers, automobile companies and other manufacturers have historically contributed far more to environmental destruction than they have to a green, healthy planet. What green concerns these multinationals might have are more often motivated by the savings that can accrue through conservation (e.g., lower energy bills), and their much-touted environmental ethos is often just greenwashing.

Not sure what to think about the Occupy protests or their role in the environmental movement? Just visit one and see for yourself.

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