Friday, July 10, 2015

Are Environmental Issues Freedom Issues?

Two hundred and thirty-nine years later after our independence from Great Britain, the United States remains an independent nation and a global symbol of freedom. Today the discussion of freedom resonates through different citizens who question its definition and application. As a student, a woman, a young adult and a citizen with close family members in another country, defining and understanding freedom is something I often grapple with.

Is freedom situational? Is freedom about the inclusion or exclusion of others? Does freedom extend beyond national and geographical borders or does it just exist within them? Is freedom only justified in accordance with what certain laws and governments deem appropriate? Is freedom the ability to take up as much space, and do whatever you please?

The answers to these questions aren’t definite and freedom, equality and justice aren’t monolithic and without systemic bias. Nonetheless, freedom exists and has powerful and tangible effects for those who do and do not have it. Freedom is more than just a political topic, it is an entity that provides certain people with more platforms, opportunities and privileges than others.

While I may not have definitions of what freedom is, I have definitions of what freedom is not. Freedom is not the privilege or excuse to use and take without consequences. Freedom has limits and consequences for those who abuse its power. As dependent as we are on Earths’ natural resources, these resources are finite. They have no owner, they have no agency, and they exist outside of our built societies as the basic elements for sustaining our lives. Yet, humans, corporations and nations use, take, capitalize, privatize and exploit these resources in the name of freedom. Where we were once free to use as much water and extract as much oil as we cared for, we now face controversies of privatizing water (the very substance we all need to survive) or extracting oil in the name of national security and freedom. The environmental resource crises we are facing now, such as the pollution and limits of these resources, are the consequences of over extraction, inconsideration, and are justified as essential to guarantee freedom.

Does freedom guarantee justice and equality? What about in regards to natural resources? Who is entitled to these resources? At what point do the basic elements needed for life obtain a price tag? Does freedom entitle you to damage and exploit resources, even if they constrain others who need it for basic survival?

These questions, like the those in the beginning, have blurred lines and are not easy to answer. In thinking of these questions, I realize that the research I am doing here in Menomonie has a special relationship with freedom. Freedom comes with the responsibility of recognizing and utilizing privilege. Freedom extends to our natural resources by understanding how privileged we are to have such tenable natural resources that others may not even have access to. Freedom isn’t the agency to use as much and however much, but the ability to speak up about the right to a clean and sustainable environment. Freedom is the ability to have access to these basic and necessary resources, to have conversations and fight for sustainability through an environmental, economical, and social lens. Freedom is the ability to question, raise awareness, assemble and fight for your need to have the adequate and clean resources needed for your survival without being silenced.

So, in lieu of this blog post prompt, my research here in Menomonie relates to freedom through the work and conversations students, residents, city council members and more are having regarding the dynamics of Lakes Menomin and Tainter. I’m proud to be working on an environmental issue where I am reminded of my privilege and appreciation for my freedom. I am glad to become an integral part of the community that facilitates large discussion of the appropriate policies, solutions and finances for a sustainable future for our natural resources.

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