Friday, June 29, 2012

Pollution, Poverty, and People of Color

One of the biggest environmental justice issues is the interconnectedness between pollution, poverty, and people of color. Too often, the victims of pollution are those already marginalized in mainstream society by class or race and those with fewer voices to fight with. But even with the difficulties facing them, some communities managed to win against the big corporations and industries polluting their water, air, and land. This past June, the Environmental Health Network launched a special news series highlighting the environmental justice issues facing seven different communities across the United States. Check out the articles!

Day 1: The Factory on the Hill. The people of Richmond, CA live within a ring of five oil refineries, three chemical plants, eight Superfund sites, dozens of other toxic waste sites, highways, two rail yards, ports and marine terminals.

Day 2: 'We are Richmond.' A beleaguered community earns multicultural clout. Richmond's jumble of smokestacks and storage tanks overlooking a port is one of the most industry-dense areas in the San Francisco Bay Area - and one of the poorest and most beleaguered.

Day 3: Stress + pollution = health risks for low-income kids. Facing financial strain, racial tension and high crime rates can wear down immunity and disrupt hormones, making kids more vulnerable to everything around them, including the lead in their yards and the car exhaust in their neighborhood.

Day 4: No beba el agua. Don't drink the water. “They think it’s normal not to drink water from your tap, that it’s normal to have to go buy bottled water. Part of our job is telling people, ‘This is not normal,’ ” said Susana De Anda, co-founder of the Community Water Center.

Day 5: Sacred water, new mine: A Michigan tribe battles a global corporation. The Keweenaw Bay Indians are fighting for their clean water, sacred sites and traditional way of life as Kennecott Eagle Minerals inches towards copper and nickel extraction, scheduled to begin in 2014.

Day 6: Dirty soil and diabetes: Anniston's toxic legacy. As a cleanup of West Anniston stretches into its eighth year, new research has linked PCBs exposure to a high rate of diabetes in this community of about 4,000 people, nearly all African American and half living in poverty. Even today, people there are among the most highly contaminated in the world.

Day 7: Falling into the 'climate gap'. Climate change is adding a new dimension to the three-decades-old environmental justice movement as researchers and activists focus on the inequities of the impacts. The rich can turn up air conditioners, move to higher ground, get bailed out by insurance. The poor and minorities are left – as with other environmental injustices – to cope as best they can.

Day 8: Asthma and the inner city: East St. Louis children struggle with life-threatening disease. What is it about this city, and other poor, African American cities, that leaves children with a disproportionate burden of respiratory disease? Is it the factories? The traffic exhaust? The substandard housing? Medical experts have struggled to unravel the mysterious connections between inner-city life and asthma, and they suspect they know the answer: All of the above.

Day 9A: Birth of the movement: "People have to stand up for what is right." A Q&A with two environmental justice pioneers. Just before the 30th anniversary of the protests against a toxic waste landfill at Warren County, North Carolina, Ferruccio and Ramey talk with EHN about their days as pioneers in the environmental justice movement.

Day 9B: Opinion Essay by Bullard: Much of America has wrong complexion for protection. In commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Warren County protests, we cannot celebrate too long because the “NIMBY” (not in my back yard) practice continues to be replaced with the “PIBBY” (place in blacks’ back yards) principle.

Day 10A: Opinion: Fighting environmental racism in the name of charity and justice . The “have not’s” or “have nothings” of the world often get blamed for their poverty as a moral failing on their own part. But perhaps the “haves” are the ones whose hardness of heart is the true moral failure because they don't act upon environmental inequity and destruction.

Day 10B: Opinion: Environmental policies must tackle social inequities. Even today, 30 years after residents of a poor, rural, predominantly African American county in North Carolina tried to block a hazardous waste landfill, the burden of proof still is placed on communities to demonstrate hazards and push for action. This needs to change. Social equity concerns should be incorporated into environmental policies and regulation.

Friday, June 22, 2012

The Other Inconvenient Truth

I've been feeling pretty drained after spending weeks and weeks writing this urban agriculture review, almost to the point of wishing I'd never heard about it at all. But then I watched this following video and now I'm very much determined that the work I'm helping with is important and necessary.

The following is a short video on the HUGE impact agriculture is having on the planet. We need food for the 7 billion people on this earth, but we need to produce it in a way that won't kill the planet. Think that we can keep going the way we are now with agriculture? Think again - we're running out of land, water, and energy to sustain what we have now. There is no silver bullet to this problem so we're gonna need everyone on board to talk about solutions. Every place is going to have a different solution, be it GM crops, local food, greywater, drip irrigation, or vertical farming. But it's important that we all do this.

A more complete version of that video is given here with Jonathan Foley's talk at TEDxTC. Summary from TED shown below.

A skyrocketing demand for food means that agriculture has become the largest driver of climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction. At TEDxTC Jonathan Foley shows why we desperately need to begin "terraculture" -- farming for the whole planet. Jonathan Foley studies complex environmental systems and their affects on society. His computer models have shown the deep impact agriculture is having on our planet.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Jame Oliver: Teach every child about food

This is one of my favorite TED talks. It's SO, SO important to teach kids now where their food comes from, especially with supermarkets everywhere and agriculture becoming less and less a tangible idea for kids growing up in the cities. It's not just about the feel-good urban agriculture of community gardens or farmers market, it's about knowing what goes into growing food and learning how to be self sufficient. If this generation of kids can't tell what the basic vegetable names are, society has a pretty huge problem on their hands once the current generation of farmers are gone. Everyone's gotta eat and someone has to grow the food.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Birke Baehr: What's wrong with our food system

This kid is 11 and he's talking about organic farming and the local movement, stuff I never even thought about until college! Man, I wish I had his oral presentation skills at his age! This is what the world needs, more kids like him. That being said, I wouldn't be as quick to dismiss genetically engineered food as he. Genetic alterations happen naturally (think transposable genetic elements) and having some genetic strains that are more drought tolerant will definitely be useful in the future. The problem with such GM food is decreasing the genetic diversity and not having the whole pool of diversity to go back to if something happens (ie flood happens and you don't have any genetic strains that survive better under very wet conditions). And of course, there's always the possibility of introducing a combination of genetic material into the ecosystem that reacts poorly.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Why Art? Community Art Project Video

Ever wondered what the point of doing art was, what benefits there are to participating in the arts, or how you might get involved? You've come to watch the right video!

I've been involved in a year long community arts project with the Centre of Multicultural Youth. The artist in residency project started off as focused on the very broad topics of building relationships between young people of color and art organizations, developing best practice models for art organizations, and ways to encourage families and young people to participate in art. Over a series of brainstorming sessions and discussions, we spoke a lot about of the role of art, identity and labeling, addressing social issues with art, skills developed during the process of art, challenges art practioners and organizations face, and more. Eventually, we narrowed down our focus to getting families and young people involved in the arts through examining why art is important. We interviewed a bunch of people over Nov 2011-Jan 2012 (including me!!) and came up with the short documentary video below. I'll shut up now and let you watch the video because it is AWESOME and speaks for itself.

The long term intention is to build on this short video and develop a feature length documentary on the many issues touched upon in this video. But for now, the goal is to get the word out to as many people as we can about this video. We're planning on distributing it to as many families and young people as we can. But they won't be our only target audience - it's important for city councils, community organizers, youth workers, and funding bodies to watch this video too. If you can forward it to your networks and get them to watch it, it will really help!