The Earth Day Network’s campaign is about fast forwarding green economics, green jobs, and industrial infrastructure

Kathleen Rogers, president of Earth Day Network, has worked more than 20 years as an environmental attorney and advocate, focusing on public policy, international law, litigation and community development. She was Chief Wildlife Counsel for National Audubon Society and has held senior positions with the Environmental Law Institute, Piedmont Environmental Council and the United Nations Conference on Women.

Earth Day on April 22 marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970. Since then a billion people all over the world take part in activities related to that day. After the failure of Copenhagen, the challenge is to push for a fair and legally binding climate agreement at Mexico. In an interview to The Hindu , Ms Rogers who is touring India to mobilise support for this year’s Earth Day activities, speaks about her optimism for the future but is clear that local initiatives are no substitute for far reaching policy changes that are needed to combat climate change. Excerpts:

What are your activities this year for Earth Day’s 40th anniversary on April 22?

The Earth Day Network is in 192 countries now and the events range from global days of service and we are hoping to have a “billion acts of green” by Earth Day if we can — a billion actions. Companies are doing company-wide events, individuals, teachers, schoolchildren and school districts are involved and we have 16 million people committed so far. We are hoping to reach a billion by Earth Day but otherwise we’ll keep going. And those actions range from registering the vote, and that’s an act of green as far as we are concerned, changing your light bulbs or planting a tree, making substantial commitments, weatherising your houses and signing petitions. But we feel that a billion people will join together the world over and the governments can’t help but be impressed. We also have a global day of action and we are working with lots of NGOs around the world on meetings between governments. We are hoping that at least a 1,000 mayors [including Delhi and Kolkata] from medium size and large cities hold global days of conversations. We are asking world governments, including our own, to adjourn for the day. It’s to talk to people — not about environmental degradation, though that’s an issue, but this campaign is very forward thinking and it’s about fast forwarding green economics, green jobs, and industrial infrastructure.

Has the outcome of Copenhagen changed your plans?

Originally, when we started planning Earth Day a year and a half ago, we thought it would be about implementing Copenhagen. Everybody was extremely optimistic believe it or not, but we now have to change our course and tactics to respond to the political reality that we don’t have an international agreement. A lot of NGOs want to talk to their governments about what do they do next. The vast majority of governments are not culpable. It’s not as if citizens can go and demand a climate agreement — they were ready to do it. Instead those countries and their NGOs are plotting, if you will, on how to convince the rest of the world to get it together. And the final part is to observe Earth Day generally and we are hoping to have an event in Mumbai, in Rabat, in Washington DC, Buenos Aires, Hawaii, in Obama’s home state, and other cities around the world like Tokyo, Shanghai, apart from the U.S.

How do you see the world moving ahead in the absence of an accord at Copenhagen? These Earth Day actions are significant but how will they lead to a concerted political policy?

Yes, I mean there was a real fight at the end of Copenhagen, whether cuts will be mandatory or voluntary or do we just shoot for targets and whether you can verify them. There was a big China problem when it said no to independent verification which is really silly. These days if you hang something out of your window you can figure out the pollution impacts in any city. We have the technology. On the other hand we really need implementing legislations in the U.S. too. In that void, mayors and governors have been doing an extraordinary amount of work. I saw an article about the impact of the Obama presidency which even though we don’t have implementing legislation, he’s invested under his leadership billions of dollars in weatherising houses, and new money into green jobs and better standards. Lisa P. Jackson who heads the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided that she’s going to control greenhouse gases as a threat to human health, which the Supreme Court, as conservative as it is, says you have the power. So that’s what she did. About 70 per cent of the world’s population lives or will live in cities so what will mayors do? In the absence of federal plans in the U.S., there are cities like New York or LA [that] are making rules.

Finally, do you think individual actions will contribute more to a green future rather than big policy changes?

They are doing it to fill in the void. That void is getting bigger and bigger. And they can’t possibly keep up with the climate emissions nor can they be responsible for it. We elect the federal government to protect the whole country -- we don’t depend on mayors that are thousand miles away to do the job for us. Will it be Mexico City, will it be Earth Day that will lead the way?

I am hoping there will be real progress in Mexico City [the venue of the Conference of Parties (COP) 16] and we’ll not just tread water.