Socio-environmental Justice

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Originally published on Hybrid.Life here: http://hybrid.life/socio-environmental-justice/

Issues surrounding climate change and pollution are often in the forefront of the environmental debate. Some blame our global ecological problems on the rich, some even fault the poor. In the midst of the whole discussion is a fashionable new inclination toward eco-friendly consumer products, which some would say is part of the problem and others would argue is a large portion of  the solution. Regardless of what position one takes concerning these issues, the rich and poor alike are affected by environmental degradation; however inequality does seem to play a part in the situation.  We need to address these concerns from a social justice perspective in order to ensure the health and wellbeing of all the earth’s inhabitants.

The question I will be discussing here is whether or not the issue of environmental sustainability is a problem of social justice. There are many who would say that the environment is self-regulatory, and that climate change is a normal, cyclical occurrence in nature. Others would argue that we humans are damaging our planet beyond repair and that our activities have greatly contributed to the recent increase in overall global temperature, which has been causing the melting of polar ice caps, the rising of sea levels, and many other problems that are still yet to be discovered. Regardless of the position that one takes, sustainability and environmental justice could certainly be considered an issue of social justice.

Saving the environment has become somewhat of trend these days, as is evidenced by the plethora of “green” and “sustainable” products being marketed by even the largest corporations in America. The government is touting Energy Star rated appliances by giving tax credits for purchasing them, car companies are developing vehicles that run on alternative fuels, and even the President has been known to promote green jobs and a “cap and trade” initiative to encourage businesses to limit their own emissions without hindering their financial standing. We seem to have this idea in our country that more and better consumerism can make everything all better. The contradiction in this line of thinking couldn’t be more obvious. What is really contributing the most to our lack of environmental action is the unequal distribution of wealth that plagues our country and our world.

Regardless of what government and big business do to help the environment, humans also need to live well and eat, and what we consume can have less of an impact on the environment if we are willing to change our habits. Consumers drive demand for goods in a free market, and if we purchase products that help save energy and reduce our “carbon footprints,” our environmental problems can begin to self-correct, if we take a sensible, comprehensive approach to sustainability. It is obvious that the demand for eco-friendly items is steadily increasing and more and more companies are offering alternative “green” products that both satisfy the need for us to be more sustainable and also help educate consumers about sustainability.

In an article published in New Internationalist magazine several years ago, Bob Hughes makes a strong case for the argument that inequality has some very negative environmental impacts.  Hughes begins his essay by discussing how being among the poor in the world’s most affluent countries has been shown to not only diminish life, but also shorten it, as he states that “In the US (the world’s most unequal rich country) being among the least wealthy 20 percent takes 14 years off your life and diminishes its quality in ways that go too deep and too wide to quantify” (pg. 16, para. 3). Hughes also discusses the issue of “positional consumption,” where items lose value because they become ubiquitous and they “cease to be luxuries and become necessities” (pg. 18, para. 2). One good example of this is the prevalence of the automobile, which is so commonplace now that everyone perceives they have a need for one. This creates a problem because the poor can’t afford decent cars and often must go into debt in order to obtain them. Whereas many of the rich have various vehicles, which may be all paid for, but the ownership of multiple vehicles for one person, or even a small family, has devastating consequences for the environment. In a recent book titled Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (DeGraaf, et al., 2005), it is noted that “Americans have reached a new milestone. We now live in a country that has more cars (204 million) than registered drivers” (pg. 33, para. 1). I think this statement speaks volumes about the inequality and the lack of justice that both the poor and our natural world experience.

On the other hand, some would say that both our country and the rest of the world enjoy a great standard of living due to our economic activities.  If we aggressively reduce carbon emissions, our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) “could very well fall to a catastrophic 10.1 percent—setting back the standard of living in the US and the world by decades,” (2008, para. 16), says Jon Entine, author of the article How Green Hysteria Will Hit Home. Entine also notes that “because of accelerating conservation efforts, the US was the only industrialised country in which greenhouse gas emissions fell during the most recent year data is available, 2006” (para. 12). This is definitely good news in the face of all the talk these days of environmental calamity brought on by unrestrained climate change.

Then there are also those who would say that our environmental problems aren’t caused by over-consumption at all, but they are actually based in the misuse of resources. Jack M. Hollander, author of The Real Environmental Crisis: Why Poverty, Not Affluence, Is the Environment’s Number One Enemy, states that “The poor, in an effort to survive, overuse resources and pollute their environment. Affluence, on the other hand, actually fosters environmentalism” (para. 1). He goes on to describe how conservation efforts only arose once our society started to become more affluent and that the poor would become more concerned about the environment if they were to become more affluent as well. Hollander says that “Impoverished people often do plunder their resources, pollute their environment, and overcrowd their habitats” (para. 6). However, they are not usually the ones with the means to extract valuable minerals and precious metals, which probably contributes much more to environmental degradation than mere overcrowding. Hollander also argues that a healthy economy is all that we need to ensure socio-economic success and environmental vigor. He says that “With the increase of freedom and affluence—both are crucial—people are then likely to become motivated and increasingly able to apply the necessary political will, economic resources, and technological ingenuity to address environmental issues more broadly” (para. 15). But what if it is not the common people who are primarily able to fix our ecological problems?

When those with authority decide to craft initiatives to help alleviate the depletion of our natural resources and the polluting of the environment, they don’t often take into account the actual humans that are impacted. As journalist Tony Iltis has stated in his recent article Why the Market Cannot Solve the Environment Crisis, “The problem with market-based solutions is that profitability, by definition, involves a large share of resources going to increase the obscene wealth of the corporate elite, rather than meeting human needs, including the need for a sustainable relationship with the planet we live on. Reducing consumption and placing strict regulations on emissions will inevitably impact the wealth of the rich and powerful, and this is precisely why ‘market-based solutions’ will not help the environment and will only continue contributing to the growing gap between the rich and poor.” (pg. 1, para.5)

What we need to do is reassess our patterns of consumption and make our economy better suited for conserving resources and protecting the environment. When the only solutions we can come up have to do more with maintaining the status quo than actually improving the state of our planet, I think a great injustice is being perpetrated on us all. Neither the rich nor the poor can live without fertile land to grow food or a habitable landscape. But we seem to either be trying to convince ourselves that nothing is wrong or just masking the effects of our impact, or maybe we are just waiting for some catastrophic event to push us toward making any significant changes.

What is probably most disconcerting about our societal and environmental problems is that they are all so enmeshed together. We tend to focus on these issues one at a time, but unfortunately we are running out of time to adequately address them all. As author Jared Diamond describes in his book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, there are 12 major problems that we face and he explains how they must all be addressed together. Regarding those 12 problems, Diamond says that, “If we solved 11 of the problems, but not the 12th, we would still be in trouble, whichever was the problem that remained unsolved. We have to solve them all” (pg. 498, para. 1). This quickly becomes a dilemma for those who work for social justice, because, as Jared Diamond once again suggests, “the world’s environmental problems will get resolved, in one way or another, within the lifetimes of the children and young adults alive today” (pg. 498, para. 2). However, he offers an ultimatum regarding the situation saying, “The only question is whether they will become resolved in pleasant ways of our own choice, or in unpleasant ways not of our choice, such as warfare, genocide, starvation, disease epidemics, and collapses of societies” (pg. 498, para. 2).

This is a bleak description of the future, for young people just now getting out into the world, for our unborn babies, and for all the plants and animals that we have coexisted with for thousands of years. It is imperative that we work together, all of humanity, to bring about environmental justice. We must do it not only for the sake of our own survival, but also for those who cannot stand up for themselves. If ever there was an issue of social justice that affects all the earth and also has the potential to unite us all, it is the matter of environmental justice. I maintain that, regardless of how one believes we should address our environmental problems; the issue is certainly a matter of social justice.

References

De Graaf, J., Wann, D., & Naylor, T.H. (2005). Affluenza: The all-consuming epidemic. (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Diamond, J. (2005). Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed. New York, NY: Penguin Group.

Entine, J. (2008). How green hysteria will hit home. L. K. Egendorf (Ed.), Opposing Viewpoints. The Environment. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press. (Reprinted from Ethical Corporation (2008)) Retrieved from Gale Opposing Viewpoints database.

Hollander, J. M. (2003). Poverty causes environmental degradation. (2006). In M. Munoz (Ed.), At Issue. Is poverty a serious threat?. Detroit: Greenhaven Press. Retrieved from Gale Opposing Viewpoints database.

Hughes, B. (June 2010). Inequality costs the earth: if we really want to avert climate change, argues Bob Hughes, we’d better tackle inequality first.  New Internationalist, 433. p.16(4). Retrieved from General Reference Center Gold via Gale.

Iltis, T. (2007). The market cannot solve the environmental crisis. (2010). In D. Miller, J. Woodward, & J. L. Skancke (Eds.), Current Controversies. Conserving the environment. Detroit: Greenhaven Press. Retrieved from Gale Opposing Viewpoints database.

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Writing, timing, riding, fighting

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Though this blog has been seriously lacking in content over the past six months or so, I’m going to be posting many more writings here, published both personally and professionally. Recently I started writing for a publication called Hybrid.Life, which I would highly recommend for anyone interested in herbal and holisitic living. I’ll be writing about everything from sustainability, environmentalism, and activism, to spirituality, gardening, healthy living, and cannabis, of course.  So I’ll be reposting articles that have been published on Hybrid.Life, and will also be posting more personal writings, poetry, and photography in between.

This year, I’ve been getting more and more passionate about marijuana policy reform, as my life was greatly impacted by a possession of marijuana charge I received while travelling into Bellaire, Michigan back in April. Though I was fortunate not to serve any jail time, and haven’t denied my responsibility for making a bad decision (considering present drug laws), I am still going to be paying for this so called crime for about a year or so. However, this experience has focused my attention on the injustice of marijuana prohibition and has clearly exemplified the ineffectiveness of our Draconian legal system.

As I said, I feel somewhat lucky for the way that my legal situation played out. Even though I was ordered to do forty hours of community service, and have to spend the next year on probation (while randomly drug testing four times a month), and I’ve been ordered to pay more than a thousand dollars in court costs and fees, many who are charged with possession in our state lose out considerably. If my skin were a different color, or if I had a larger amount of marijuana, a large sum of cash, or some valuable items with me when I was arrested, I probably would have been jailed, may have been severely mistreated, or had my possessions seized by the police, which is a popular method of fundraising for law enforcement these days.

Now if I were black man, I think it’s pretty safe to say that my chances of being jailed for possession would have been much higher. Most of us are well aware of the countless recent incidences of police brutality perpetrated on blacks, most of which have involved minor threats or violations that have escalated into severe beatings or murders perpetrated by various officers in several places all over the country. Needless to say, with these things on my mind, I was relieved to be white and thankful that I was able to escape a confrontation with the police alive.

It may seem like I’m exaggerating a bit here, but it’s hard not to think this way when there are many more arrests for marijuana possession than for violent crimes in our country these days. And in the state of Michigan, blacks are about four times more likely to be arrested for possession than whites, despite very similar overall usage percentages. This is a disturbing trend, especially at a time in our country where black folks seem to be getting targeted by police more and more, and are even losing their lives in their encounters with the cops. Moreover, I now know how it feels to be profiled, as I believe my encounter with the State Police in Antrim County, Michigan was initiated due to the fact that I was bearded and long-haired, while heading to an Anniversary party at a popular brewery where many “hippie” types were congregated, obviously drinking, probably smoking pot, and listening to live music.

Unfortunately, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time when I took a very small amount of medical marijuana (which I was using as medicine after hernia surgery), on a trip up north. And even though I wish it had never happened, I have learned a lot and have been inspired by the experience. I am now working as hard as I can to help raise awareness of the benefits of cannabis and the injustice of prohibition. I’m helping to collect signatures with MILegalize for a petition to put a ballot initiative for legalization of marijuana in Michigan next year, and am writing to state and federal lawmakers to encourage their support of decriminalization…and I’m telling you all of this because I hope you will too.

When I was charged with possession, I had a legitimate medical purpose for using cannabis, which neither the police nor the judge had any concern about. I didn’t (and still don’t, in fact I never will) have a medical marijuana card to allow me to use it medicinally. I don’t feel it should be necessary, don’t really want to be “officially labeled” a marijuana user, and at the moment, I don’t really have a condition that necessitates it. Although I could technically get a card for back pain that suffer sometimes, due to scoliosis, I’ve also been ordered by the court not to use medical marijuana anyways.

Personally, I don’t feel that I need a reason, an excuse, or even a medical condition to justify the use of cannabis. The fact of the matter is that it’s a useful and enjoyable healing herb. It should be more readily available to everyone for medicinal use, and for recreational use for adults if they should so choose. It’s safer than alcohol, more effective for pain relief than most prescription drugs, and more and more, science is finding that there are few, if any, drawbacks or possible long term detrimental effects, even with regular usage!

I believe the time has come. Prohibition is a massive failure; our jails and prisons are over populated with non-violent offenders, families are being financially drained, emotionally strained, and sometimes even completely destroyed by misguided laws and overly aggressive courts, demanding large fees and often harsh sentencings…all for what? Because of a misunderstood, unduly maligned and demonized plant? Enough is enough…it’s time to legalaize it!!

Environmental Requirements

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Originally published on Hybrid.Life here: http://hybrid.life/environmental-requirements/ by Evan Farmer

As I bend and scoop, pick and stoop low to the ground, amidst all the trash and debris, my heart hurts for the frogs, for the birds, and worms, even the slugs who call this urban habitat their home. They have no choice but to live with our mess; but we do. And although we could easily take responsibility for it, too often we don’t.

Honestly, I wouldn’t be spending as much time as I have been lately cleaning up garbage along the bed of a little stream that runs through the park at the end of my street had I not been ordered by the 86th District Court to do forty hours of community service, part of my sentence for a “use of marijuana” charge this spring. However, I took the opportunity to make the consequences of a bad experience better, by serving my community in a meaningful way. And I feel better for it, as it is something I care about and is something I have done before, and will continue to do even after my time is served.

When I started this clean up project, there were pop cans and plastic bags floating in the water. There was a plethora of rubbish that had been collecting amongst the log jams and weedy patches. The banks of this barely-trickling, polluted stream were lined with crushed water bottles, old lighters, straws with empty cups, chip bags and candy wrappers, hypodermic needles, and of course, plenty of cigarette butts. After years of neglect, this little piece of city forest had literally become saturated with trash.

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Almost every time I dislodge a plastic bag from the soil, worms and bugs squirm in the bright morning sunlight. I’m amazed at how the woodland creatures just adapt to life with our junk, but I wonder how it affects their well being, their health, and even their reproductive capabilities. The frogs seem quite plentiful, regardless of the iridescent sludge that coats the surface of the water they live in. But still, I’m concerned about their quality of life, and I can’t help being troubled about the toxicity of their environment.

 

These days, I feel much like the animals I see living in murky, polluted waters, when I consider the state of our legal system, and specifically the so-called ‘War on Drugs’. Throughout the process of being charged, arraigned, and sentenced by the court, I often felt attacked and assaulted by the barrage of orders, demands, and paperwork; and then all the stipulations placed on me for allegedly committing a crime…an act that does much less harm than good. The stress of being made to feel like a criminal often left me feeling overwhelmed and hopeless, like I was swimming in poisonous water, fouled by a debase system that was designed to disgrace, shame, and destroy me.

Still, I feel persecuted for living my life how I see fit; for using one of nature’s greatest medicines to help heal myself after undergoing a hernia operation. I admit that I’ve used the herb for other purposes as well, but on this occasion, I was legitimately using medical marijuana for the pain and nausea I was experiencing after surgery. Unfortunately, I didn’t have card to allow me to use it, and the reason I got in trouble is simply because I had some cannabis with me and just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Often it seems that is also the case with the rest of the animal kingdom…too often they are just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Unfortunately, for many animals, the wrong place is just about anywhere they might live, and the wrong time is increasingly becoming anytime they’re present. The creatures that live in the patch of woods at the end of my street don’t deserve to have their habitat trashed and contaminated. But that is the reality they live with, and they can’t even do anything about it; unless humans are willing to make a change. Now that I’ve put nearly forty hours of work into helping clean things up, their home is starting to look more like a forest again, rather than a dump.

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Much like the other animals, we live amongst the detritus of a society that has been polluted by corrupted ideas of right and wrong, good and bad. Our garbage is an act of violence against our friends, our animal sisters and brothers, ourselves, and our one and only earth mother. Marijuana prohibition is as much an abomination in our legal system as the trash that clutters our greenscapes, rural or urban. We must fight against all this desecration and injustice, and begin the process of cleaning up our legal and physical habitats for the future of our planet, and for the sake of our collective health and posterity. If we don’t do it, then who will?