• Ideas
  • Earth Day

Don’t Fall for Political Distractions. Saving Our Planet Must Come First

4 minute read
Redford is an actor, a director, a trustee of the Natural Resources Defense Council and co-founder of The Redford Center.

Collusion, obstruction of justice, impeachment or not, greedy tax breaks, medical care for all or none, refugees seeking compassion at our borders — as a citizen, I care deeply about all these things. But I also fail to see how any of it will matter without a planet to live on.

We are approaching an irreversible tipping point. The science of climate change is backed by examples of the damage mankind has caused all around us, every day and everywhere. None of us are immune anymore; no matter where we live, no matter our political party.

I can’t think of anything that should compel and demand our attention more. What will it take for our short-sighted leadership to stop questioning the reality of this global crisis?

It’s hard to believe, but 49 years ago a new awareness of our environmental responsibilities was born. The founding of Earth Day marked an important moment in time, a pivotal recognition of how precious and fragile and sacred our connection is to our natural world. And on this Earth Day, I find myself searching for words to express my sense of urgency on behalf of our one and only home — to create yet another new awareness of those same responsibilities.

President Trump has promised to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, appointed climate change deniers to head the EPA, weakened protections for clean air and water, and tried to cut funding efforts to advance renewable energy. He has made terrible decisions followed by worse decisions.

It’s heartbreaking, yet we’re all in this mess together.

It’d be pretty thoughtless to pretend we’re not divided right now in America. There are many complex reasons for this, but I stubbornly continue to believe that more unites us underneath it all, and that when push comes to shove, we all want a better and healthier future for our children and grandchildren.

Many young people have not waited to ask for permission to change things because, unlike some of us, they’ve wisely realized they are literally fighting for their lives. They’ve watched as our leaders unravel protections instead of strengthening them, argue endlessly without doing enough to advance innovation, and pass the buck, hoping someone else will save us.

We’ve wasted so much already, but the most tragic loss has been time. I’d give anything to be celebrating this Earth Day with enthusiasm for our progress, pride for our American creativity, global leadership and collaboration in tackling the largest challenges of our times, remembrances of how wasteful and short-term our thinking had once been, and how far we’d come since that first gathering in 1970.

So what should we do with the rapidly shrinking window of opportunity we have left? I suggest we finally make it count by electing leaders who share our vision for the future, our values and impatience and frustrations. By making our voices heard in every local, regional and national election possible, and by encouraging the next generations to take over and demand the changes mine could not deliver. There should be no “climate change candidates” or “climate change voters” — because each one of us should put this issue at the top of our list of why we choose to elect who we do. It’s more important than ever to remember we do not have to share the same motivations to want the same outcomes.

Our children deserve to look back after 100 Earth Days and breathe a sigh of clean, healthy relief, knowing that when our eyes were wide open, when all the facts were known, we did everything we could for them. We corrected our course, and we changed the outcome. Nothing stands in our way but ourselves.

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.