By Carol Pierson Holding
"Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do."
Wendell Berry, Author and Activist
Berry’s belief in nature’s influence was powerfully validated on October 29th, the day that Occupy Wall Street’s Environmental Action Group scheduled its first Climate Justice day. On that very day, Mother Nature hit New York with the first October blizzard in recorded history. The weather event was national news, and Occupy Wall Street’s (OWS) Climate Justice day got a lot more coverage than it would have otherwise. What journalist could resist the irony of a panel called “Nightmare on Wall St: Capitalism and the Roots of the Ecological Crisis” being canceled by a freakish snowfall, itself an example of ecological crisis?
This blizzard is not the only evidence that nature has joined forces with the Occupy movement. Even the movement’s structure is a living system, a forthright rejection of the rigid hierarchies of Wall Street and the government. A living system cannot exist in isolation, is never in equilibrium and is constantly generating new forms. What better context from which to produce results that support the environment?
At first, public reaction to “greens” was generally negative. Many said that they were a fringe group co-opting the Occupy movement for publicity, or even worse, that environmentalists were diluting the message of income inequality.
Then, for a while, you didn’t hear much about them. The Occupy movement’s first official statement contains 23 planks, and only one addresses an environmental issue, “(Let the fact be know) that they continue to block alternate forms of energy to keep us dependent on oil.” There was nothing about climate change or saving the earth.
However, living systems demand energy and produce waste. Prodded by regulators who threatened to “clean” the Zuccotti Park and confiscate generators, a sustainability group emerged. The working group KSS — Kitchen, Sustainability and Sanitation — took on the job. Members process waste, using bicycles to carry compostable material to three local farms. Three stationary bicycles are attached to a car battery that replaces the generators the city was about to confiscate. The “energy of the people” system was designed by an MIT engineer.
Tabitha, a member of the Occupy Seattle Sustainability Brigade Working Group described the purpose of these sustainability groups. “We are a small experiment as to what our society could look like. …There is lots of garbage produced here, it’s a mess, but it reflects society.”
Her group composts, uses grey water systems, water catchment and solar panels to generate clean power. The whole idea is to create a community organized around sustainability. This in turn provides experiential learning to create environmentalists out of all movement members.
Environmental Action Group (EAG) is a separate group working for the direct action component of environmentalism. Rather than try to build its own environmental action, EAG contacted the major environmental groups with the offer of support and partnership. Bill McKibben, founder of the environmental group 350.org, spoke at OWS on October 17 and invited the crowd to join him in Washington, D.C. to protest the Keystone tar sands pipeline. And many from both OWS and Occupy Seattle are going.
Is Mother Nature occupying Wall Street? Certainly, OWS is finding it must accommodate her. Whether it’s dealing with the necessities of life or co-opting her weird weather or accommodating members whose passion for the earth demands a hearing, nature insists on being a party to the group. Environmentalists are speaking out, defining how environmental destruction and economic inequality are closely connected. Nature doesn’t insist on being the dominant issue, but she will certainly have her say.
Carol Pierson Holding writes on environmental issues and social responsibility for policy and news publications, including the Carnegie Council's Policy Innovations, Harvard Business Review, San Francisco Chronicle, India Time, The Huffington Post and many other web sites. Her articles on corporate social responsibility can be found on CSRHUB.com, a website that provides sustainability ratings data on 5,000 companies worldwide. Carol holds degrees from Smith College and Harvard University.