I'm hopeful the recent disco revival won't last but that other resurging movements of the 1960s and '70s will. That era saw the birth and explosive growth of the modern environmental movement alongside other sweeping actions for peace and equality.
Public pressure led to critical environmental laws that continue to protect our natural resources and our health and safety. In 1970, Congress created the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and enacted the Clean Air Act, which authorizes the federal government to limit air pollution, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which established the first nationwide program to protect workers from on-the-job harm. Two years later came passage of the Clean Water Act, a landmark amendment to existing anti-pollution law that requires our government to restore and maintain clean and healthy waterways across the land.
That was some era — the last great upsurge of government protections.
As successful as those solutions have been in cleaning up our air and water and making our workplaces safer and healthier, we need to adapt and strengthen them — and innovate additional, robust ones — to address the challenges of today. Those challenges stem from a globalized economy, our accumulated dependence on fossil fuels, an intensifying climate crisis, and extreme inequity in capital and power. They require new paradigms for government intervention. Change won't be easy, but the public demands it.
We're on the verge of another such heyday of social movements and legislative change. The environmental justice movement — long known for its storied opposition to toxic dumps and contaminated waterways alongside communities treated as sacrifice zones — is taking local fights against whole industries to the national level. The climate movement is big and brawny and unyielding, a far cry from its 1970 Earth Day inspiration.
Political movements like the Green New Deal and the Sunrise Movement are upturning elections, shaping policy, and building a national imperative for higher environmental and public health standards; stronger regulations; major public investments in a clean economy and overburdened communities; and tighter regulation of markets and the functions of corporations.
It's a fraught time, but an exciting one as this movement (of which we are a part) seeks to transform public demand into political will and policy action. If successful, it will also force major legislative change and spawn a new era of vigorous government action.
Three Core Ideas
What does this moment mean for us? Our Public Protections program centers on three principles:
As we look back at the generation that brought us disco, we're thankful for the sweeping laws of that era, which still protect our air, water, and workplaces. It's up to us to address the challenges of our time. It's up to our era to ensure our legacy is equally worthy — and more lasting than virtual reality, Uber helicopters, and squishy furniture. That is the challenge, and goal, of our public protections program at the Center for Progressive Reform.