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Protecting the environment requires more extensive systemic changes if we want to see a tangible impact on the current climate crisis. Joining us today to explain how we can achieve that is Maya K. van Rossum, author of The Green Amendment: The People’s Fight For a Clean, Safe & Healthy Environment. Maya is also the Founder of Green Amendments For the Generations, a grassroots non-profit inspiring constitutional recognition and protection of environmental rights in every state and ultimately at the federal level. She chats with host Corinna Bellizzi to discuss why we need these constitutional changes prioritized to help mitigate and solve the threats against our environment. The current policies benefit corporations that contribute to massive environmental destruction, and it’s up to the people to demand better. Listen to this episode to learn more about what they’re doing and what you can do for your state, the country, and the world as we know it.
About Maya K. van Rossum
Maya K. van Rossum is the author of the book The Green Amendment, The People’s Fight For a Clean, Safe & Healthy Environment (2d edition coming November 1, 2022). Maya is the Founder of Green Amendments For the Generations, a grassroots non-profit inspiring constitutional recognition and protection of environmental rights in every state and ultimately at the federal level. van Rossum is also the Delaware Riverkeeper, leading the 4 state, watershed-based advocacy organization, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, for 30 years. Since launching her national Green Amendment movement, New York passed a Green Amendment in 2021, proposals are advancing in 12 additional states, and there is increasing use of amendments in Pennsylvania and Montana.
Additional Resources Mentioned
List of Active States – https://forthegenerations.org/active-states/
02:40 How The Green Amendment came to be
06:23 Why current policies are not enough
14:24 Maya’s background and achievements
17:05 The flawed reward systems and the dangers of the fracking industry
23:55 Harmful laws and policies used against citizens
28:17 How to protect and keep these amendments in each state
43:09 Maya’s podcast with her daughter
45:10 On gun violence
49:11 The awareness of the youth and feeling empowered
53:15 Final thoughts and where to learn more
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Maya K. van Rossum On The Green Amendment: The People’s Fight for A Clean, Safe, and Healthy Environment
Every week I invite you to care more so we can learn, grow and create a better world together. I’m thrilled to get back to the topic of climate activism with someone who has made protecting our home planet her life’s work, Maya K. van Rossum. She is the Founder of Green Amendments For The Generations, a grassroots nonprofit inspiring constitutional recognition and protection of environmental rights in every state and, ultimately, at the Federal level.
She is also the Delaware Riverkeeper, leading the four-state watershed-based advocacy organization, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, for several years. Since launching her National Green Amendment Movement, New York passed a Green Amendment in 2021, with proposals advancing in twelve additional states.
She authored the book, The Green Amendment: The People’s Fight for a Clean, Safe, and Healthy Environment, which has its second edition coming out on November 1st, 2022. I’m holding it up right here for all of you. It’s incredible work. I had the pleasure of spending some time now with this advanced reader copy. With that, I want to go ahead and introduce you to the amazing and lovely Maya K. van Rossum. There’s a name to remember, Maya, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much. With an introduction like that, I feel like I should walk away so I don’t mess it up.
As we commence that, I want to invite you to tell your story specifically about why we should care more about seeking to champion this idea of a Green Amendment. I love for you to share how you came to this idea and even The Green Amendment epiphany that you describe in Chapter 1 of this work.
Throughout the entirety of our lives, we all learn about these powerful, fundamental rights that we have protected in the Bill of Rights section of our constitutions, the right to free speech and freedom of religion, Civil Rights, Property Rights, and even the right to bear arms. As we learned about those rights and saw things in action in the world, we have come to realize and recognize that those fundamental rights that are in the Bill of Rights section of our constitution get powerful protection from our government officials whenever they take action.
Let me think of the right to bear arms.
We see how the right to bear arms because it’s explicitly written in the constitution. The Supreme Court has used that language to strip away protections from people who are being harmed by those guns, children in schools and families at the groceries, walking, watching or enjoying a parade. The right to bear arms is deemed to have a higher entitlement than the right of people to be safe in school or public because it is written in the Bill of Rights section of the constitution.
I don’t think that’s an appropriate interpretation, mind you, but that’s how it plays out. On the converse, we have also seen how the right to bodily autonomy has been undermined and stripped away. Even for many years, people believed that was a constitutional right but because it’s not, it’s explicitly talked about in the constitution. The court when it deemed that it wanted to, the US Supreme Court was able to take away those rights.
From those two examples, we can see how powerful explicit constitutional protection is for a fundamental right. At the same time, we often hear in the news or if you are an environmentalist and you have been to a rally or gone to a press conference, you hear people talk about how we have a right to clean water. We have a right to clean air. That is a powerful statement, which raises people up right. It gets their emotions going, “Yes, we do.”
The truth is here in the United States of America, no, we don’t. We don’t have those rights because we can’t enforce them. They are nowhere in the Bill of Rights section of the constitution. When they are infringed upon through the actions and activities that government allows to happen, there is not much that people can do about it.
Think of Flint, Michigan. It’s exactly the same thing.The green amendment is about people having a right that, when it is infringed upon, they can take action. Click To Tweet
When there is a misuse of authority by the government in a way that allows themselves or others to contaminate our water and air, destabilize our climate and decimate ecosystems that are essential for our healthy lives because we don’t have constitutional recognition and protection. We are all left to the mercy of the legal system and the political system that allows that to happen. There are not much people can do about it except protest, which is powerful.
Protest and voting are powerful. When you are in that moment that something has happened, protests and votes often can’t carry the day and give us the protections that we need. If we have a constitutional right, we can use that to avoid those devastating outcomes and also challenge them often with great success, if we do have that constitutional protection.
Let’s talk about this from the perspective of some positive news that has come out, the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, which gives $359 billion to support green energy and green economies of scale in the United States. Why isn’t this enough, and how is it different than a passage of a Green Amendment?
Things like the IRA are about investment. How is the government going to use its sellers or authority to encourage good stuff and discourage bad stuff? Although the IRA does have a lot of giving me for the fossil fuel industry, which is counterintuitive when at the same time, they have so much for clean energy and also for environmental justice.
With that being said, it is about getting the government to use its power and authority to encourage good things, whereas a green amendment is about people having a right that when it is infringed upon, they can take action. We think about the IRA is a better investment to encourage good things but on the flip side, when we look at our Environmental Protection Laws at the Federal level, we have a lot of laws across our nation. Laws that are focused on managing the who, the when, and the where environmental pollution and degradation are going to be allowed to happen.
Fundamentally, at its core, our system of Environmental Laws is not about preventing pollution, degradation, and harm to our environment. It’s about accepting, legalizing, and managing it through those reviews and permits. That is part of the problem. Pollution and degradation are accepted as foregone conclusions. That’s where our government officials start with this idea, “We have to decide what is going to be the right permit that we are going to give to legalize this pollution or degradation.”
It’s also a system that fails to look at what is happening on the ground. It is a system and through a lot of the ways about how it operates and puts together, which I’m not going to go into because that is more for a law school class. The reality is that we can see what’s happening on the ground. Under this current system of laws, environmental racism is real. We have communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities that are disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution and degradation. We also have communities across our nation that are drinking contaminated water and breathing polluted air.
We are facing a climate crisis. We have many species on the brink of extinction. We are losing critical ecosystems. Wetlands and forests that are essential to every aspect of our lives are being cut down, filled in or contaminated left, right, and center across the United States of America. All of that is happening because of how this current system of laws is focused on legalizing and managing the degradation it allows to happen, not preventing it.
It’s because all of those things are happening under the auspices of these laws that are in place and that allow them to happen, when people are suffering from pollution and degradation, they are stuck because the law and the political system said it was okay, and there is no backstop. There is no way for people to turn except to, as I noted earlier, perhaps try to elect better people to the office. There are a lot of things that are not regulated. What we call emerging contaminants often are not regulated.
A lot of people on your show might have heard about PFAS contamination, Per-and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances. This is a manmade family of chemicals that are on Teflon, stain-resistant clothing or carpeting. It’s part of the firefighting foam that the military uses and often uses to put out fires and even practicing to put out fires on their bases and out in the world.
They have a long life. They end up in our water tables.
They end up in the water, groundwater, and fish tissue. They are found in deer meat. They have been infecting cows and cow’s milk. Farmers had to throw away millions of gallons of milk and destroy their cows because they were contaminated with this toxic family of manmade chemicals. Those chemicals are contaminating drinking water supplies for hundreds of millions of people in over 33 states at this point across our nation, as well as around the world.
Those contaminants got into the environment because of an absence of law and regulation. There was nothing to prevent it from happening under law and regulation. When those chemicals were used in a way that was harmful, there was nothing for people to do because there was no law to enforce. When you have a constitutional right to clean water, clean air, a stable climate, and healthy environments, in those situations, for whatever reason, our system of laws and politics fails us and allows our environment to become contaminated and degraded that it is harming our health and lives.
We can turn to that constitutional right to seek and force action from our government officials to remedy the problem. That’s what’s different. It provides a backup. We don’t have to find every nook and cranny way that our pollution could be degraded and that it’s going to harm us because we have this overarching protection of the constitution that we can turn to in all those places and spaces. When our system of laws and politics and governance fails us.
You’ve hit the drum quite resoundingly on a relatively simple concept. environmental rights should be human rights. They are human rights. We haven’t done a good job of protecting them here in the States. I’m reminded also of a statement by the CEO of Nestle saying things like, “People in these other countries where they are seeking to capture their water, bottle it and sell it to us don’t have rights to those water. The water is not guaranteed. It’s not a public utility. It’s available to whoever comes in and steals it.”
These are the challenges that we face even here on our home turf, where there is this extractive view of how we run our entire economic principles. We are more likely to pave over our deserts to create sprawling cities like what you have in Phoenix. It no longer cools off at night because there is so much pavement everywhere.
What I always knew was that a desert would cool at night. It would get cold, even though it might have been hot during the day because of how the weather works. It’s because we paved everything, and that pavement retains that heat for so long, then the desert doesn’t operate the way the desert normally does. We are changing our environment in ways that are irreparable, which do need some protection.
You have stated that you believe and are laying the case for that quite well in the book, that we come from this perspective of getting states to adopt these Green Amendments on a state-by-state basis until we hit this critical mass and can do something on a more national scale. You have successes in states like Pennsylvania. I would like for you to talk about what you have been able to accomplish thus far, given your background in law and being a lawyer for the planet.Under this current system of laws, environmental racism is very real. We have communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities that are disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution and degradation. Click To Tweet
The way the Green Amendment Movement came about and how I came upon this epiphany that we needed to go down this pathway of constitutional protection for environmental rights was through my activism and advocacy as the Delaware Riverkeeper. I have been working day in and day out for a few decades to advocate for the protection and restoration of the Delaware River and its watershed.
In the course of that work, among the things that we have to battle to protect our rivers and watershed from is fracking for fossil fuels from shale. We have had tremendous success here in the Delaware River watershed. My organization, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, led the way to secure a moratorium early on. That has now been turned towards being turned into a ban that has prevented the fracking industry from being able to come anywhere within the boundaries of the Delaware River watershed to wreak their havoc.
The thing is that while we got protections within the boundaries of the watershed, through the mechanism that we were able to utilize for that protection, we weren’t able to get protection for the portions of our watershed states that are outside of the watershed. One of those states is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, where there was a lot of shale housing and gas that the industry was seeking to frack. While we got protections within our watershed outside of our watershed, the fracking industry was going along at quite a clip, having its way with Pennsylvania’s communities and natural resources.
In 2012, the Pennsylvania legislature, a pro-fracking legislature, decided that they wanted to help make it even easier for the fracking industry to devastate our environment, climate, and communities for profits for the shale gas industry. They took a piece of legislation, which we later learned was written by the fracking industry leaders themselves. They passed it into law. The thing is that often people think, “That thing doesn’t happen.” Yes, it does.
They paid a lot of money to make sure that happened.
You could see it in every line of this law. It was like a Christmas gift basket to the industry. It was because they wrote it for themselves.
In which the stock market then rewards that. That’s the reality of the system we have built, “This thing passed.” All this prospecting for shale oil is going to go through the roof. The futures for oil, all of those bets that we make that we are gambling with our future benefits those with money in it. That becomes that self-fulfilling principle, more money goes in, and politics are affected.
It’s great the way you framed it because one of the truths about the fracking industry is that while more money goes into it, often from the government, we don’t see a lot of money coming out. It is not an economically successful or sustainable operation. One of the reasons why the frackers have been able to economically sustain themselves is because of this constant infusion of cash.
They are not getting enough gas out or over in terms of volume and duration necessary to self-sustain their operations. That’s another hold. There are a lot of great experts who powerfully make that case. Not only are people paying for their profits and operations with cash. We are also paying for it with our health, the quality of our lives, the property values of our homes, and our businesses, all of which are being decimated by this industry.
It’s under the guise of a couple of different things like giving jobs to people in these economically depressed areas and self-subsistence. We don’t have to rely on Mother Russia for oil and things along those lines.
Those are exactly the arguments that are put forth by the industry and also the false arguments because it has been proven time and time again that the fracking industry does not create sustainable jobs. It is a boom bus cycle. They come in, and it looks like there is a lot of activity, with the majority of the jobs going to people from outside the area who were brought in to go along with the industry. When they are done with their operations, things go away. The community is left in a devastating economic condition as well as a physical condition. Increasingly more of that gas is intended for overseas markets.
Not just now, where people are hearing about the need for gas because of the Ukraine War but that has been part of the life cycle of this industry. That’s why you hear a lot more about liquified natural gas facilities, pipelines, and all of these things. All of this infrastructure is being constructed to help the frackers get their gas to other nations where they can sell it for more than they can sell it for here in the United States.
It’s not about energy independence. It’s about total dependence because while we are busy taking this fracked gas, shipping it off overseas, fracking for fossil fuels, and staying dependent on that energy source. In other countries, they are advancing quickly toward clean and renewable energy options. They are building those solar panels and developing that technology and workforce. When fossil fuels run out here in the United States of America, which is not too far off in the distance, we will now be dependent on those foreign nations for clean and renewable energy technology and materials.
It’s because we have been left behind.
This law was passed by the legislature. It was signed by the governor in 2012 and was called Act 13. It did a lot of bad things but by way of example. One of the things that Act 13 did was it preempted the authority of local governments to use their zoning to decide, “If you are going to frack in our community, you are an industrial operation. You need to frack where other industries are operating but you can’t come into the heart of our residential communities.”
This law says, “No. Local town councils, you no longer have that authority. Fracking has to be allowed to happen in every part of every community by virtue of this State Law, including operating fracking well pads had to be allowed to be located as close as 300 feet from people’s homes, playgrounds, hospitals, and schools.” That is less than a football field.
Can you imagine in your community where you live that suddenly, less than a football field away up, emerges this massive industrial operation to frack gas from shale with 24/7 noise, light, and pollution, devastating your community, quality of life, and peace of mind in your home? People can’t even go out into their backyards for a party or enjoy a quiet cup of coffee. They are forced inside, where even there, they are not protected from the devastations of this industry. That was one of the things it did.
The law put in place automatic waivers from environmental protection standards that applied to every other industry. It said that if frackers had contaminated private drinking water wells that were servicing people’s homes, the frackers were no longer obligated to notify those people that their drinking water had become potentially contaminated by toxic fracking operations. The chemicals and the toxic pollution that had come from nearby fracking. It did more.It's been proven time and time again, that the fracking industry does not create sustainable jobs. It really is a boom-bust cycle. Click To Tweet
At the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and as the Delaware Riverkeeper, we know and know that fracking anywhere is bad for all of us everywhere. Certainly, having fracking within one of our watershed states was devastating. We are one of the few organizations that litigate, we knew we had to find a way to take on this law but it was passed by the legislature. It was signed by the governor. We were trying to figure out how can we challenge this. How can we stop it from going into operation before any of this horrible stuff can even start?
Before we have complete decimation of the environment and these local areas close to people’s homes, uprooting them, devaluing their properties, taking away their livelihoods and also their health. This is huge.
Once that loss starts being implemented and starts happening, you are not going to be able to roll them back. We had to stop it before it started.
They haven’t stopped since you started telling this story. I got goosebumps all over my arms.
It was scary stuff and everybody in Pennsylvania. Fracking is still happening in Pennsylvania but this was going to allow for its exponential expansion of it. People who come right into the heart of communities in many ways.
Those communities didn’t have the mineral and oil rights to land underneath their homes either. Did they?
That’s part of the problem too. In Pennsylvania, they have what they call a split estate. Unbeknownst to many people, while you might own the surface of the land in your home, somebody else, often the oil and gas industry, owns the subsurface mineral rights, and they are entitled by law to access them. What does that mean? If you have gas under your property, under your home, they are entitled to come onto your property to drill down and access their entitlement. You want to say no, but you can’t say no because they have a level of right to access their property, which happens to be below your property.
You could theoretically have an oil rig right in your yard.
Yes, even though you didn’t want it there. I have stories in the book of people who have experienced the harms of the fracking industry. Sometimes what will happen is you might be fine on your property and have all the legal ability to say no but your neighbor didn’t say no. They leased their property to the frackers. Guess where the fracker decides to put their well, on the edge of the property line, where your house sits, not where your neighbor’s house sits. That’s part of the deal that they struck with the frackers when they leased their properties. There are many ways that this plays out with such devastating consequences.
For Act 13, all of this was going to get even worse. When we were developing our legal strategy, one of the things we realized and recognized was that in the Bill of Rights section of the Pennsylvania Constitution, there was language in the Bill of Right section that said that the people of Pennsylvania had a right to pure water, clean air, and a healthy environment. The Pennsylvania government was constitutionally bound to protect the natural resources of the state for both present and future generations.
This was a language that had been added to the constitution in the early ‘70s but very quickly, the Pennsylvania courts had declared it to be a statement of policy. Under the law, what that means is that it was good advice. Policy under the law is good advice. As we all know, with advice in our personal lives, you can take it or leave it. The Pennsylvania legislators decided that they would leave it.
For several years, we had this great language in the Pennsylvania Constitution but nothing had changed legally when it came to environmental rights and environmental protections. That was because some people made some stupid choices in the early cases that they brought to try to use this constitutional language. We had this bad precedent for several years.
My organization felt Act 13 was such an egregious overreach by the industry and by the Pennsylvania legislators that maybe we could get the court to see that several years of precedent was bad and needed to be overturned. We challenged Act 13 with one of our key arguments being that it would violate the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. We had seven municipalities join us in that litigation. That case went all the way up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. It’s a conservative Supreme Court led by a conservative chief justice.
In December of 2013, we got an amazing victory with the majority opinion written by that chief justice. Amongst the things he said was that the provisions of Act 13 that we were challenging were unconstitutional because they would violate the environmental right of the people of Pennsylvania. In one fell swoop, we got declared. We were stripped of strength in all those provisions of Act 13 because they were now declared to be unconstitutional. At the same time, we breed legal life into that long ignored Environmental Rights Amendment. Suddenly, the people of Pennsylvania had a living, breathing, thriving right to pure water, clean air, and a healthy environment. It was an amazing victory.
To this point, even though it was constitutionally protected, it was ignored. Much of this is, what are the courts willing to do? What is the will of the people? How much power do these individual people and also, where’s the money? Ultimately, often, we end up caving to what the power authority in any particular area wants. How, as a people, do we keep these Green Amendments so that our past and part of constitutions stay in that central frame without losing their power and ability to shape our futures?
The important thing is that, first off, we have to be smart ourselves. When we are successful in getting constitutional Environmental Rights Amendments added to our constitution, at this point, there are only three states that have it. There are Pennsylvania and Montana, and we secured one in New York. There are a lot of other states that talk about the environment, even environmental rights, in their constitutions. They don’t raise environmental rights to the same highest constitutional standing as those other fundamental rights we hold dear, like speech and religion, etc.
That is one of the epiphanies I had after our victory. I looked at all the constitutions in the wake of this powerful victory. I made that determination that at that time only Montana had this highest constitutional right. It was essential that we changed that because if we didn’t have this constitutional language, we wouldn’t have had the constitutional hook we needed to defeat that law.
As you have indicated and we experience in Pennsylvania, that’s not to say that it is an instant panacea, and we can always count on it. If you have language in the constitution, even when our government officials and the courts get it wrong, we can always come back time and time again until they get it right. We have seen that strategy in the Gun Rights Movement.Every time we go into a new state and we start this conversation, we are adding power and strength to the green amendments that we have and the green amendments that we're going to get. Click To Tweet
They have pummeled the political system and the judicial system until they finally brought it around to the place where they wanted to be, where they were stripping people away from critical protections. Having that language in the constitution, as much as people in government or judicial officials might want to ignore it or not give it legal authority and power, it is difficult for them to do that. It is difficult to justify ignoring constitutional language.
If a judicial body ignores it once because of the strength of the language and the placement, we always have the ability to come back as people and make them get it right. I believe, with our Green Amendment Movement going state by state with the power and importance of giving constitutional protection and recognition to environmental rights, what we are doing is preventing the ability of courts and governments to ignore the power of this language. We are now lifting up this concept, writ large across our nation, and lifting up the expectations of our people.
It’s changing the conversation in terms of whom we vote for and how we hold them accountable when they are in government. The more states that we have passed Constitutional Green Amendments and put in place strong and powerful interpretations of that language, the more precedent we create that will prevent that backsliding, misuse, and effort to ignore the environmental rights of the people.
I believe at this point, with the powerful decisions that we got, not in our Act 13 victory but other decisions that have been secured since that time, as well as decisions in the State of Montana. We are now in a place where we have prevented the ability of our government officials to ignore Constitutional Environmental Rights Amendments when they fulfill the Green Amendment criteria. That has all the elements essential to preventing the government from being able to interpret that law in a way where it can negate its power.
You have a right to free speech. You have an expectation of a right to free speech or freedom of religion. You know that if your government officials take action that infringes upon that right, you have the ability to go into court and say, “That government action stripped from me directly or through the action of others my right to free speech.” You can hold them accountable. We have several years of precedent that prevent the courts from ignoring your constitutional right to free speech.
We are putting in place that precedent when it comes to environmental rights by using the right language and placement in the passage of the Green Amendments. We are preventing that backsliding and ignorance, which is powerful. Every time we go into a new state and start this conversation, we are adding power and strength to the Green Amendments that we have and the Green Amendments that we are going to get.
As it stands now, you have a few microsites for specific states so people can get more involved and more engaged with what you are doing. If I remember correctly, you have one for West Virginia like WVGreenAmendments.org, and one for Washington, New Mexico, Arizona, and New York, where you already passed. People can go to ForTheGenerations.org. You have a listing of all the states where there is activity. I know that there are fifteen there, and even in the State of California, we have work to do, where the building regulations seem to be somewhat onerous if you are in the world of construction.
We have a lot of work to do. There is nothing. There is no amendment in our constitution to state that this is a human right. What are the steps to get there? How would you entice people to get involved so that we can stay engaged and optimistic about our roles and the things that we can individually do and as a collective to help push forward? Get this to a spot where it can become something that is penned and inked into our Federal constitution.
To get a Federal Green Amendment, you must have three-quarters of the state’s vote in support. To be able to get that vote count, we have to do our work of going across our communities and nation, getting people to understand what a Green Amendment is, why it’s important, why it makes a difference, and how it makes a difference. Even getting them to understand that they don’t have a right to clean water and clean air, and a stable climate because we don’t have Constitutional Green Amendments. Letting them understand why the language that looks pretty in their state constitution now doesn’t make a difference and how a Green Amendment does.
If we have to go across our nation and every state getting people to understand and appreciate this while we are doing that work, we might as well go forth and get the passage of State Green Amendments. Here in the United States, the states have a lot of power when it comes to the environment. The Federal Government has a lot of power too but so do the states. We need Green Amendments at the state level and the federal level.
The good strategy says, “Constitutional amendments are more accessible at the state level. We are going to get a meaningful difference when we secure a State Green Amendment.” Let’s go forth state by state, educate people, engage people, get Green Amendments, prove that they make a difference, and all the while, will be building the power base necessary to ultimately get to a Federal Green Amendment. We will reach a tipping point. It will be clear when we reach a tipping point, and then we’re going to add that federal strategy to what we are actively working on.
If people want to get engaged, as you said, ForTheGenerations.org is the main site. If you type in GreenAmendments.org, you get to the main site as well. You can also get to all the individual states where there is key action and activity happening now. If you are in a state where there’s a Green Amendment advancing, the way to find it, as you said, with those microsites, it’s the state initials. For New Mexico, it would be NMGreenAmendments.org. NJGreenAmendments.org for New Jersey. DEGreenAmendments.org for Delaware. That’s the pattern. We have state-specific information and engagement opportunities that way.
In every state, the Green Amendment language that is advancing is not cookie cutter because every state, people, goals, and environmental challenges are unique. When I go into work with a state that wants to advance a Green Amendment, one of our starting places is, “What’s the right language?” I talk about the key criteria. I share model language and ideas but we work together with their state partners to figure out what’s the right language for that state.
People can own it because it’s the people of the state that are going to make a Green Amendment happen. It’s not going to be me. I want to be one of the partners at the table. In every state where we have a Green Amendment advancing, not only is the language unique, and this strategy that’s implemented to advance the effort to get a Green Amendment is unique because every state is different. The way the movement got started is different. Sometimes it was a person who heard me on a radio show or on a podcast or read the book and said, “I think that’s cool.”
They picked up the phone and called me. I care deeply about this movement. I pick up the phone and answer it. We begin a conversation to figure out how to make it happen in their state. What are the right partners to reach out to? How do we build that power base? Sometimes it has been an environmental organization that reached out. Not the national ones. Usually, it’s the smaller ones where you’ve got great grassroots activism and frontline communities working on environmental justice issues.
Sometimes, it’s a progressive legislator that heard me speak at an event like the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators. They said, “I want to do this in my state.” They reached out. We started to work together on the language and grassroots activism. The truth is, for this Green Amendment movement, anybody can make it start.
I want to point out an example. I had an individual reach out to me who is a thought leader in the coaching space who helps businesses work through these concepts of engram like personality types. He is specifically using the framework for climate activism. He reached out, “I’m a little skeptical of a lot of those management tools.” I’m like, “How are you working to come on this show? What are we going to talk about?”
It turns out that he is involved every Friday and this Fridays For Future meeting in Palo Alto, connecting with other people that are working to push change through legislation. He goes to the city council meeting in Palo Alto every Monday and utilizes his three minutes to lobby his local chamber and tell them the things that are wrong and that we should be approaching. I’m like, “This person is engaged in his local community in a way I have yet to make time for myself.” I’m now choosing to piggyback.
I’m saying, “I want to learn from this individual. I’m going to go and be present for his Fridays For Future, starting September 9th, 2022, because that’s the next Friday that I have available. I will work to engage and see what’s working there because I can take some of those strategies and implement them in my backyard if I want to.” I’m learning from someone who’s already doing it.
That’s the beauty of what you are talking about here because you have already been through those rigors for several years, working with this watershed and, ultimately, helping to get an amendment recognized in the State of Pennsylvania so that it can have its power back. This is a prelude to what will be coming. I’m going to begin doing little mini-episodes called Fridays For The Future that are going to dive into specific topics. Perhaps sometimes I will have you come back on so we can do that together and share some news with our community about the things that are going forward.
My goal here is also to help inspire people to act. Each of us has some power. If we can remain optimistic and engaged and see that these connections are building something meaningful and you are advancing these forward, it’s not lip speak. You’ve got this site organized. You have California, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and New Jersey. I’m rattling off the ones I can remember that I saw in this list. As part of my show, what I want to do is create a list. It’s in there, and people can go and jump right to their state if they are in that area and say, “I’m going to educate and engage. I’m going to get myself a little bit more knowledge so I can dive in and be a part of this.”
I want to thank you personally because you are inspiring me as we are going through this conversation. You are creating a wave that can be powerful, and I’m impressed. Thank you for that. I want to touch on something that you said earlier. You are sometimes a guest on podcasts to push these things through like coming on my show but also host a podcast with your daughter. I would like for you to talk about that for a moment.
I am honored that she wanted to follow in my footsteps and be an environmental activist. Since before she was born, she’s gone with me in all protests and advocacy. I have a picture of me being pregnant with a don’t damn the Neshaminy on my pregnant belly. She has testified and done things throughout the entirety of her life since she was a child.
She saw the value of being an attorney, so she went to law school. She graduated and is following in my footsteps to be an environmental activist. As we’ve talked about her work, my work, and the things that we care about, what we came to realize is that the issues that she is concerned about now as a young person are issues that I have been working on for many years. It’s the things having to do with the climate, contamination, species loss, activism, people not being given a voice when they are being harmed, environmental justice issues, and more.
She has a way that she talks about these things, and I have a way that I talk about these things. We decided to create a podcast. She describes it as a podcast that talks about environmental issues through a generational lens. It’s called Green Genes. It was very clever. I didn’t come up with it. She came up with a colleague.
We tried it once a week. We take on hot issues of the day and do it that way to get that young person’s perspective and get, “I’m still a young person.” Get that person who has been doing advocacy for a long time perspective and see where they intersect cross and how they are different. Sometimes there are issues leading up to the IRA when we had Senator Manchin being inappropriate about all of that. We both joined voices and railed on that bad thing or that bad person. It’s quite fun. I enjoy it because I enjoy my daughter.
I had the pleasure of watching one of your episodes in which you were talking about the gun violence issues that we are confronting. The reality is that we don’t have good solutions in hand. Even voicing our challenges and giving thought into the open space and sharing that with the world can help other people get through these rough times.
If we can ban, act, and create change together, we will create a better future. That’s everything that this show is about. We invite people to care more so we can all be better. I have mostly stayed away from the gun violence topic because it is such a hard topic. Many people are touched personally by it. I don’t want to cry on the show.
One of the reasons why we did it was that it is an issue that is striking because it is not an issue that I have worked on throughout my career or my life. When I was young, it was not a thing. We didn’t have it like it is now. Every other day, somebody goes in and shooting up a school. Not only are kids afraid to go to school but I have moments. I have a sixteen-year-old and a husband who’s a high school teacher. I often have moments of fear, especially when a shooting happens.
As she has grown up, this has become more prevalent. This is something that she grew up with when attending school. That was one of the reasons she said, “Mom, I think that we should talk about it because it is one of those things where we have entirely different life experiences depending on when we were attending school.” I thought that was interesting.
I recall one threat of a drive-by shooting at my high school. This was several years ago in Cupertino. It’s not like I’m living in an inner city area or anything like that. This is home of Apple computers, technology, and all this stuff. Several years ago, we had a drill. That was new then. It wasn’t something that you typically heard of or saw. The fact that there are active shooter drills, which are far different now at elementary schools, is disheartening.
It shows that we have so far to come from a socially aware perspective to get to the point where we will accept that we should and always should protect the underdog. There is something about our culture which says, “Each man for himself doesn’t think about the greater good as some endemic societal pressure that we have that First Amendment and Second Amendment right perspective.”
That’s one of the things that I appreciate so much about your show because it is not about people being all in it for themselves. It is talking about the different ways that people are acting together and/or serving one another. We can push for change. When I was young, we didn’t have active shooter drills. That was also not a thing.
To learn that there are bulletproof backpacks that parents can buy for their children that they can use as a shield when going to school, how scary? I talked with my son about it. He was part of a gun violence event, and there was a conversation with young people and adults. Somebody had raised that these things exist, and I had never heard about it.
I asked the question of the group of young people in the room and said, “Is this something that you would want your parent to buy you? I wanted to know, “Is this something that I should be thinking about buying from my son?” The parents were separated from the room where their children were. My son was in another room.
This one wise young person said something insightful, “No, I wouldn’t want that because if my parent bought me that, every single day when I picked up my backpack to go to school, I would be reminded that I might get shot that day and need to use my bulletproof backpack. It would make me scared every day to go to school.” I thought, “How insightful and wise that young person was to recognize that.”
That’s something to share with people. Sometimes it seems like we will give them protection but you have to remember also what it does to people’s minds. Pollution and contamination do that. Our young people are hearing so much about the climate crisis. People are hearing much about water contamination of all kinds. Learning that air pollution from vehicles going down the road doesn’t just create asthma attacks and heart attacks but is the cause for some people ADHD and Alzheimer’s disease. Pollution can be significant when nearby a school. It can prevent children from learning.
As people become aware of these things, it becomes frightening. Sometimes, people want to turn it off because they don’t know what they can do about it. As you demonstrate through your show and I hope the Green Amendment Movement helps people to become a part of it. There are things that we can do about it when we join forces together. We can make a meaningful and powerful difference on the Earth now and also for future generations.
When we feel empowered that we are doing something, not to hold up a shield, not to drink the water from our faucet or have a bulletproof whatever but we are preventing the harm from being able to happen in the first place. It creates an incredible strength within our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls that we have the fortitude to continue to go on. It’s no longer as frightening because we know that we are part of the solution, not part of the problem, and we are not ignoring it. If you ignore it, then you are also not protecting yourselves, which is important.
That is a perfect note on which to wrap up but I want for people to take this meaning forward. What we are talking about is that we, as a people, can be more powerful than the fracking companies and the oil companies. We, as a people, can be more powerful than the NRA. We, the people of the United States, to form a more perfect union, need to engage because if we are disengaged, if we say, “There is nothing I can do,” then there is nothing you can do. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
There is something that we can do together. It doesn’t have to be super complicated. You can champion your own effort by going to your local city council meeting, letting your thoughts be known, picking up a book, and emailing your congressperson. You write in this book also the nexus of that is climate change. Paul Hawken has this entire site, Regeneration.org, that educates people on the different aspects of climate change and how we can get involved. It gives details like the contact information for CEOs of multinational corporations that you could send an email to and tell them why you are displeased. We have the power in our grasp to make change happen. We need to activate.
We need to get together and make a difference. When you talk about a more perfect union, in terms of the constitution, we always have to remember that the constitution is the people’s document. The constitution is we, the people, telling our government officials, “We are giving you permission to govern over us but we have some rules of the road.” Amongst the rules of the road is the rights that are in the Bill of Rights section of our constitution.
When we say to you, “You have permission to govern over us,” these rights we are holding unto ourselves and telling you that as you govern, you may not govern in a way that overreaches and infringes on these environmental rights that we, the people, have kept for ourselves. We are now adding to that the right to clean water, clean air, a stable climate, and healthy environments. Passing Green Amendments is people taking our power back. That is meaningful and important. That’s empowering and does make a difference.
Thank you so much for having this conversation with me. We have given this resource a few times throughout the show but people can go to GreenAmendments.org or ForTheGenerations.org because this is for the generations. That’s what we are talking about here. Do you have any closing thoughts you like to leave our readers with?
I want to thank you for this opportunity and for your show because you are making a difference in people’s lives and our world. Thank you. I look forward to coming back on those Fridays.
I keep being enticed to do something like that. That’s more of the moment and newsworthy. Sometimes I have been doing it via live stream and minimally editing those shows. It is powerful and keeps people abreast of what’s presently happening so that they can get involved now as opposed to the weeks later that this episode might air. Thank you so much for joining me.
To connect with Maya K. van Rossum yourself and pre-order your copy of The Green Amendment: The People’s Fight For a Clean, Safe, and Healthy Environment in its second edition this November 1st, 2022, visit ForTheGenerations.org. It is critical that we keep this conversation going with small actions like sharing this show with your community or notes for your congresspeople. Write a few notes to them.
There is hope, after all. We can all play a role in resolving our climate crisis and our environmental protection. Visit CareMoreBeBetter.com. I hope you will let me know what you think of this episode. You can leave me a voicemail by tapping the microphone icon in the bottom right-hand corner or send me an email note to Hello@CareMoreBeBetter.com. I will be happy to answer any community questions you have for me or for Maya K. van Rossum about her work. Thank you now and always for being a part of this show and this community because together, we can do so much more. We can Care More Be Better and even pass that nationwide Green Amendment federally. Let’s go.
- Green Amendments For The Generations
- Delaware Riverkeeper Network
- New York – Green Amendments For The Generations
- The Green Amendment: The People’s Fight for a Clean, Safe, and Healthy Environment
- Washington – Green Amendments For The Generations
- New Mexico – Green Amendments For The Generations
- Arizona – Green Amendments For The Generations
- National Caucus of Environmental Legislators
- Fridays For Future
- Green Genes