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The Environmental Side of the Occupy Movement

With the Occupy protests still going strong, many are taking a more critical look at the actual issues the movement is addressing. Although the environmental aspects of the Occupy movement may not be at the forefront of mainstream media attention, they are playing a significant role in the demands of protestors. As Marc Lallanilla, writer of About.com's Green Living Guide, points out:

“The Occupy Wall Street protests don'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 targets: 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?”

Concerns for the wellbeing of the environment actually are one of the vast number of issues being raised by Occupy protesters both nationwide and on a global scale. Current pressing issues like hydrofracking, the Keystone pipeline, and the lack of green jobs (many of which my fellow Weave bloggers are covering now) are perhaps the most commonly discussed environmental dilemmas being focused in on at many Occupy protests.

196 from 350.orgClearly, environmental issues are intertwined with many if not all of the other issues the Occupy protests are addressing. The multinational corporations which are behind most of the injustices the Occupy movement is targeting are similarly behind a great deal of the environmental destruction that is taking place today. As this article from About.com’s Green Living Guide makes clear, the majority of multinationals are not concerned with the harm they are causing to the environment, and only become interested when they are introduced to certain types of conservation that can actually save them money: there is very rarely any sense of “environmental ethos” within these companies, and that’s where greenwashing also comes into play in an attempt to appeal to particularly eco-conscious categories of consumers.

The two biggies when it comes to underlying factors which cause many of the issues the Occupy movement hopes to change are money and politics. More often than not, we see environmental injustice and economic inequality going hand-in-hand. As Chip Ward states in his highly controversial article titled "Occupy Earth: Nature is the 99%, too", "When there's money to be made, both workers and the environment are expendable." Ward believes that Mother Nature is a part of the 99% as well, for she too is being exploited and disenfranchised as the 1% continue to cook our planet. Ward directly addresses the connection between the Occupy movement and the environmental movement when he says:

“What if the degradation of our planet's life-support systems - its atmosphere, oceans, and biosphere - goes hand in hand with the accumulation of wealth, power, and control by that corrupt and greedy 1% we are hearing about from Zuccotti Park? What if the assault on America's middle class and the assault on the environment are one and the same?”

Lloyd Alter makes the point that our current capitalist economic system "both creates and depends on unsustainable consumption" in his article "Why the #Occupy Movement is an Environmental Movement." Most people are aware of these or similar statistics, but Alter reminds us that "The world's richest half a billion people- about 7% of the global population- account for half of the world's emissions. Whereas, the poorest half of the world's population account for just 7% of emissions," and yet they are the ones who are most often forced to contend with the effects of environmental degradation which manifests itself in a variety of detrimental forms that have a great impact on their everyday lives. Ward put it bluntly when he said, "An unsustainable economy is inherently unfair, and worse is to come. After all, the car is heading for the cliff's edge, the grandkids are in the backseat, and all we're arguing about is who can best put the pedal to the metal."

Protestors at Occupy sites across the nation are also working hard to maintain a green lifestyle within their camps, which can be difficult with so many diverse people packed together in very close quarters with limited access to electricity and other amenities. This video by Reuters demonstrates how Occupy Wall Street protestors are keeping up with a compost system, generating energy from bike-pedaling, and maintaining a gray water treatment system to prevent contaminants from re-entering the NY water supply at their camp in Zuccotti Park. As one protestor points out at the end of the video, the Occupy Wall Street camp is developing a "toolbox of skills and appropriate (green and self-sustainable) systems" that can be put to use by other occupations as well as everyday communities in general.

The Occupy movement could prove to be a big step in the fight for environmental justice, as well as justice and equality on a vast number of other fronts. I look forward to keeping up with the latest actions being taken by Occupy protestors at various sites in the name of environmentalism. Please share any examples of the role the environment is playing in the Occupy movement that you are aware of by commenting below!