Monday, November 23, 2009

Who, What

One of the reasons that I have worked in the environmental movement for the better part of the past ten years (though I would also count my efforts to start environmental organizations in elementary school as well - no, I didn't have many friends growing up, thanks for asking) is because protecting the environment is a human rights issues. I am here because people need trees and water and polar bears to live better lives.

I often find myself in conversations with other enviro activists about why we are drawn to this work and most of what I hear is people can fend for themselves but animals can't. These answers are bullshit, not thoughtful, and total fucking previldged. There is no difference between the environmental movement and any human rights movement. They are intimately connected in every situation.

The fact that this is lost on almost every public conversation about the environment is infuritating and encourages me to be more active in moving internal messaging within the movement. Those of us who campaign on trees and water and polar bears tend to ignore the human rights struggle involved and only speak about what our actions (buying too much shit, throwing away too much shit) do to the trees and water and polar bears. And so people reading the local newspapers only hear about what bad people they are for not caring more about the trees and water and polar bears. This is how we seemingly keep losing the public argument to economics. We, with consistent moral authority, ignore what people really care about, themselves.

We, selfishly view, being selfish in how we don't confront environmental issues as not understanding the importance of the issue at hand. If you don't care about polar bears, you must be too selfish to understand why polar bears are more important than your family. I know this is all sounds really harsh on a community that has taken me out of working in restaurants and provided me with a purpose in my life, but criticism isn't just for your enemies. In order to be better, you must pressure yourself and those around you to step it up. Or industry wins and people get polluted.

The New York Times published an article about Haiti on Monday. Having spent most of my life in Florida, specifically south Florida, I am particularly familiar with the social impacts on the mess that is Haiti. Creole was one of the major languages spoken at my high school along with Porteguese and Spanish.

The NYT article speaks about how the mixture of deforestation and constant rainstorms is causing real destruction, including killing families who get caught up in runoff and collapsed buildings. Part of the problem is that most of the energy needs are being solved by charcoal, a practice that persist in large part because of the lack of job opportunities. Then it goes into a possible solution for both deforestation and economic stability, jatropha seeds. Jatropha can be planted as a bio-fuel that can replace charcoal as a major energy source.

Another interesting project that I recently discovered is the Louisiana Green Corps. Actually I discovered a rap video some of the kids made about weatherizing your home. I think New Orleans is another prime example of where human rights meets environmentalism, what many call environmental justice. Though the internal controversy around who can and can not use the term environmental justice is another reason why many people hate environmentalists and human rights advocates and how we have not been able to accomplish as much as we could if we had all just agreed to work together. But people are dysfunctional in a room all by themselves, so of course they are going to be even more dysfunctional in a group.

The main point to take away is if we can't bridge the gap between environmental issues and human rights internally, how the fuck are we going to shut down polluting facilities when communities are being splintered by industry spokespeople saying enviros don't care about your jobs or family's financial security?

I actually think the climate change movement is getting better at this. I have seen many campaigns step up the human impact side of their discussion, which absolutely strengthens any discussions. I've also seen human rights campaigns ignore the obvious environmental impacts in their fights and that too bothers me. I was once told that hurricane season and climate change isn't significant to raising awareness about superfund cleanup, in fact I was told by someone that lives in upstate New York that I don't know when Hurricane season was (they said it started in late August sometime). Really, a girl born in southern Louisiana and raised in South Florida doesn't know when Hurricane season is or how socially and environmentally impactful hurricanes are to communities? Our movement is also extremely arrogant and myopic.

I'm extremely self critical and it extends to the world of my work as well including all those within that world. Given all the weakness in the environmental and social justice movement, I think that there are some brilliant things happening that are changing the way the world works. Such as the bans on plastic bags and BPA, which has infuriated the chemical industry. They aren't ignoring us any longer, they are just fucking pissed and nursing sore egos.

I'm always so impressed and moved by the people I get to work with. I just can't believe I get to share space with these people. Incredibly smart, talented, and brave. The only way to get better, smarter, and more talented is to keep a critical eye on yourself and your own actions. Often there is crisis after crisis that we find little time to truly reflect on where we are and what we have done. Good and great are separated by a very fine line.

I'm almost finished with Nonviolence: The History of a Dangerous Idea. Here is a good excerpt about the movement to end slavery:

"Brown carried out the raid in Harper's Ferry in October 1859 with a force of twenty-one men, of which only five were black. He took the arsenal and in fact the town but then failed to take further action, and detachment of marines led by Robert E. Lee arrived and overtook them the next morning. The first of Brown's men killed in the battle was Dangerfield Newby, a large and powerful ex-slave who had been freed by his white father. On Newby's body were found letters from his wife, still a slave some thirty miles from Harper's Ferry, who wrote that he had to free her soon because her owner was in financial difficulty and might sell her. . . .

Brown was convicted of treason and hanged. After the initial cry of alarm, a surprising number of Northerners supported his actions, including some nonviolent abolitionists Henry David Thoreau spoke of how Brown defended 'the dignity of human nature' and Emerson compared him to Jesus Christ. Lydia Maria Child wrote that the Harper's Ferry incident 'stirred me up to consecrate myself with renewed earnestness to the righteous cause for which he died so bravely.' Even Garrison was supportive, though he took exception to the violence. In a speech in Boston on the evening of Brown's execution, Garrison said that although he had 'labored unremittingly to effect the peaceful abolition of slavery . . . I cannot but wish success to all slave insurrections . . . Rather than see men wearing their chains cowardly and servile spirit, I would, as an advocate of peace, mush rather see them breaking the head of the tyrant with their chains."

I'm off to find a new bike. Mine was stolen yesterday. oh well . .. good thing there are double the amount of bikes than cars here, shouldn't be too difficult to get a new one.

Renee Claire

And in case you haven't read about an article about the Maldives meeting underwater . . .

1 comment:

Renee Claire said...

Hey there - Here is an example of the local bans on things like polystyrene:

This article was featured in the American Chemistry Council's Smartbrief this morning. Smartbrief is a daily email that includes important articles and information that this chemical lobby group wants people to know about. Its a good way to track what the industry cares about on a day to day basis.

I think these kinds of bans are important because it shows that a healthy and safe community is one that takes chemical exposure into their own hands (by minimizing it). Democracy only works when YOU participate and take action in your own community.

You know that slogan "Only you can prevent forest fires"? It's also true that only you can hold the chemical industry and the politicians that are at their beck and call accountable.

Anyways, check out the article it talks about bans that are sweeping the west coast.

Good on ya, kids!