Earth Day, oddly, has never been a huge deal for me. I’m just a little too young to really remember its remarkable debut in 1970, when one American in 10 went out in the streets to demand action on clean air and water. That unprecedented activism laid the groundwork for the swift passage of legislation, and the almost-as-swift rehabilitation of lakes and rivers. But in the years after, many Earth Day celebrations drifted in a slightly more corporate direction; there wasn’t anything wrong with them, but they didn’t seem to be helping arrest environmentalism’s slide into relative impotence.
This year, however, the holiday really resonates, because there are two heroes reminding us of the sacrifices they’ve made to move the fight forward, and the way the rest of us need to step up our game.
One is Tim DeChristopher, who will be out of federal custody today after serving 18 months for an inspired act of civil disobedience. He participated in an auction for federal leases to drill for gas and oil even though he ... wasn’t a rich oilman. The federal government was unamused—instead of charging him as an activist who’d pulled off a creative stunt, they treated him as a financial criminal whose intent had been to defraud. (This was the same Department of Justice that didn’t manage to find anyone to prosecute for bringing down our financial system with their greed.) And so he’s given up a year and a half of his life.