The Earth Day is observed on April 22. It's a day for the planet's future but it also gives climate change naysayers an opportunity to dig up some old controversies about the beginning of the observance. The extreme right wing in the US debunk the Earth Day, saying that it originated as a ruse to celebrate the 100th birth anniversary of Vladimir Lenin, the father of Russian revolution.
The right wing has never forgiven US Senator Gaylord Nelson for conceiving and organizing the Earth Day back in 1970. The most insane of the lot called him a 'Democ-rat'. The US far right believes environmentalism was a plot by the far left to stall the march of capitalism.
Curiously, in India, it was the left that grew suspicious about environmentalism and the causes it espoused in the beginning. When the Chipko movement in the Himalayas ushered in a new age of nature awareness, it was debunked as a capitalist/imperialist plot to prevent India's rise as a socialist power.
However, in the 90s the tide turned again. When India formally shed its socialist leanings in the early 90s, the environmentalists were still seen as enemies but of a different hue. Medha Patkar and her band of activists were branded as socialist conspirators who were trying to stop India's growth as a neo-liberal economy.
Environmentalism is an ideology that will never cease to surprise because of the ironies it presents. A whopping 80 percent of the Americans say they are environmentalists (according to a National Geographic report in 2012), yet their country leads the global race in maniacal consumption. True environmentalists around the world never realize they are environmentalists, let alone profess the love of nature. Closet environmentalists write many a fine thesis on global warming sitting in AC rooms. Urban concrete jungles are marketed as the 'green side of living'.
The Earth Day debunkers in the US now have the time of their lives. Their messiah is the president now. Donald Trump became the first US president to call global warming a hoax. He pulled the US out of the Paris climate accord last year. That's the far right's revenge on Senator Nelson and Vladimir Lenin. In another irony, Trump maybe secretly thanking another Vladimir from Russia for helping him ascend presidency.
Seriously, was there a link between the first Earth Day in 1970 and the Left movement? Objective studies have trashed rumors of any obvious link. Senator Nelson had been ineffectually campaigning about the ills of rising pollution, climate change and unruly consumption patterns for years. However, no one had listened. Then came the massive oil spill at Santa Barbara. Nelson put together the activist army in his influence and announced a great gathering for the cause of Earth.
Nelson's pro-Earth campaign became a huge success, with around 20 million people across the country participating in it. But the choice of the date irked some. April 22, 1970 was the 100th birth day of Vladimir Lenin. Soon the detractors said Earth Day was more red than green.
There were extenuating factors that gave conspiracy theorists the benefit of doubt. Late 60s were marked by the fervor of anti-Vietnam war protests in the US. The anti-war movement was initially a movement by the New Left, which was then taken up by the hippies, the campuses and the civil rights advocates. The anti-war movement got its energy and orientation from the numerous "teach-in" sessions held in campuses across the country. Nelson's Earth movement had also started off as a string of teach-ins.
It's immaterial if the first Earth Day was a communist plot. What if it really was one? The crux of environmentalism is resources -- their use, misuse and the inequalities in the access to them. The politics of the environment is more relevant today than ever. The demonization of environmentalism is a useful ploy used by all resource monopolies -- whether they are bourgeoisie, communist or neo-liberal.
When the poor people in the countryside try to protect their livelihoods, their farms and their lakes they are easily branded as enemies of the system. Quite evocative terms like environmental terrorism are created. When the whimper becomes a bark, other isms are ascribed to them -- Naxalism, Maoism etc.
However, all along, everyone loved the glossy environmentalism - the public tree hugging, the ceremonial planting of trees on Mahatma Gandhi's remembrance day and countless other tokenisms. Now it looks like the fight for the environment has been outsourced to the corporations, including oil companies, refineries and mining behemoths.
Big corporations have big money to spend in the social responsibility projects, and invariably spending money on environmental projects is the cool thing. In most cases it's akin to handing the cancer awareness project to tobacco companies.
Despite all campaigns, consumption never decreases and relentless urbanization never stops. The alienation of the people from nature is only increasing. Cities thrive and expand while the countryside and the people who live there are relegated to a lower level existence. Cities are magnets that suck in resources, and one day they will become more powerful than even nation states.
That's the travesty that environmentalists should fight to avoid.
(Opinions expressed are personal)