Friday, July 10, 2015

Week 4: Environmentalism For Everyone

This past week, we, as a nation, celebrated the 4th of July. A holiday of freedom and liberation. The advent of this day in 1776 led to further successes and conquests for the young nation. Expansion, growth, trade- the United States would continue on the path towards global and political hegemony. Though the U.S. is a 'super-power' today, within the U.S., citizens are not regarded as super-heroes. Throughout the U.S., portions and pockets of this country's citizens feel the poignant externalities of our countries' elitism. Global economic and political success comes at a cost that is felt by individuals both within the country and by citizens for outside of the U.S. that feel the impact of these harms. They are felt due to the exporting or outsourcing of externalities to places that will accept the reward (financial compensation) over the risk.
Within the U.S., though we feel the impact environmentally of our agricultural, business, and political endeavors, they are not felt equally. Certain groups of people are impacted far differently than others. Unfortunately, the negative impacts are often distributed among groups of lower socioeconomic status, people of color, and generally geographic regions that contain both of these groups. It would seem that systematically, when it comes to environmental degradation and the health harms that come with it, these two groups are disadvantaged. There are many groups in the U.S. that are insulated from environmental and global climate change. They are insulated through their financial ability and stability. If the gas prices change, they can afford it. If it gets too hot where they live, they can move north. And most importantly, if a proposed dump, nuclear power facility, logging or mining endeavor gets too close for comfort they have a voice that will actually be heard. Not all people have this privilege. In fact, many times the people most acutely feeling the degradation of global climate change (spurred by anthropogenic lifestyles) are the people contributing least to it.
I will share an example that I got to experience first hand in Yasuni National Forest, in the Amazon of Ecuador. I had the ability to spend a few days in a beautiful rain forest in Ecuador this past January. We were in a national reserve and stayed at a research site of one of the local institutions. This site is about a 10 hour drive on a bumpy gravel road from the nearest "town."Though, there are plenty of the Waorani people living in the area, a larger felt presence is the Suzuki oil reserve. Sharing a boarder with the national forest, the reserve is pumping raw petroleum and natural gas and some of it directly into the atmosphere and Tiputini River. The river that the local people use for recreation and sustenance. Unfortunately, do to the language barrier, and the disadvantaged position these people are in, they are not being heard within the country's political sphere. Rather, they are being bought off. They have been bought off with tools and toys they don't use and aren't beneficial to their local situation. They have purchased cars and boats that they didn't teach them how to operate, and unfortunately were crashed or broken almost immediately. However, there is a large indigenous rights movement that has a presence in Ecuador and hopefully is only growing in strength.
Pipes carrying natural gas
Tour guide demonstrating the raw petroleum at the surface of the waste pond
Waste pond
Burning off natural gas
This experience from Ecuador was rather depressing, but I want to be clear that this environmental racism and the injustice that happens "abroad" is not as far away as I would like to think it is, and cannot and should not be distanced from the U.S. As a hegemonic power, the U.S. has power, privilege, and influence among many other nation states. We as citizens have some of that power and privilege, too. When it comes to purchasing (oil or other products) we have the ability to vote with our dollar. Every time something is purchased from a factory farm, an agro-business, or a company with exploitive practices, economically, they see that purchase as continued demand for their products and the means that produce them. The U.S. dollar holds a lot of power. I don't pretend to not struggle with this fact. I am a college student spending time researching at an institution an hour from my home town and will spend part of the summer making that commute. I will buy groceries at the local Wal-Mart for the same reasons as ever: convenience. Cheap and easy products that are available 24 hours of the day. Systematically, some groups of people are disadvantaged. This is clear in multiple facets of the United States, but individually, we all have agency in our day to day lives. The first step is awareness, and the second conscientious choice.
Some helpful sources on the concept of environmental racism and the unequal and inequitable distribution of resources' costs and benefits will be attached.

Here is an article chronicling U.S. environmental racism regarding nuclear waste and it's costs and benefits.

Here is another example in California.

And a final article.

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