Earth Day is a lovely occasion for communities to come together and celebrate our common Earth and humanity. To renew our commitments to environmental stewardship, with numerous volunteer opportunities to contribute time and effort. Volunteer labour is a wonderful way to contribute to environmental stewardship, whether on Earth Day or any day, as truly all our days are Earth Days.

But let us stop to consider a broader view, to think about what it means to steward our environment as a means of living, rather than as if it is something ‘extra’ we do at the end of the day. People cannot survive on volunteer labour. The labour movement spent many long hours (literally) fighting for fairly paid wages for contributions of labour–and now, at least in the U.S., we seem to be heading back to where we started, by encouraging a kind of incrementalism in giving our labour away for free as a contribution to the common good. Sure, if you have other means to support your life and home, this is fine. However, it is a real challenge for people who find themselves trying to earn a living while still working for environmental stewardship. Hence, this is where the environmental and labour movements begin to converge, a necessary confluence for a new and fair economy to emerge.

It is dire that we advocate for an environmental ethic that includes sustaining people’s livelihoods. The Green New Deal in the United States has garnered much support because is based on the idea that we need more meaningful paid work that advances the goals of a healthy society and environment. It is a whole systems approach to social change that has the capacity to empower society to make the drastic changes necessary if there is any chance of stabilizing the climate in a hundred years.

For this Earth Day, I encourage you to innovate new ways to include people in a new environmental economy that sustains livelihoods. Many people do not have any hours left in the day to contribute to volunteer labour. The convergence of the environmental and labour movements is truly an act of liberation. From wherever you are, in whatever positions of power you may have, I implore you to act with urgency to advance economic and environmental justice.

With my local WILPF branch in the U.S., I am sharing these sentiments during our Earth Day community celebration on the city centre commons in Ann Arbor, Michigan. There are many homeless people here, and there is an admirable effort to distribute news from the ground up—The Groundcover News. This is a way the local homeless and low-income community engages in the larger community, and the newspaper vendors sustain their livelihood (at least in part) by selling the newspaper. Others are hosting art shows, and homeless artists earn money from the sales of their art. Some craftsmen sell handmade jewellery on the street – I know one fellow, who has been doing this for more than ten years.

Include low-income communities in your economy. Support their businesses, however simple it may be. It will mean a lot. This is the new community-based economy we need. From the ground up.


Guest blog by Dawn Nelson, member of WILPF US and convenor of WILPF Environment Working Group.