Friday, September 20, 2013

Challenge of Ecosystem Conservation and Sustainability Rests with Relatively Affluent People

            What if the challenge of ecosystem conservation and sustainability actually rest with the relatively affluent people who already live here that are ruining the Chesapeake Bay, and not the world's masses fleeing oppression and seeking a better life (v. Immigration is an environmental issue September 03, 2013| By Tom Horton) ?


            Fred Tutman, the Patuxent Riverkeeper asks, "Isn't it the technologically advanced nations that contribute most to the loss of greenhouse gasses and create climate effects that give rise to drought, famine and floods? Aren't some immigrants refugees of ecological catastrophes in their own homelands?"


            Tutman has given me permission to post his comments in full.


            "I think that if the Bay were populated primarily by immigrant populations it would possible be better off than than under the current population and regime that seeks to preserve a certain social status qou (albeit while cleaning up the trash and saving turtles) instead of seeking ways to share our natural resource wealth with those humans less fortunate than ourselves.

            When we speak of "population" in abstract terms it gives rise to why some detractors see environmentalists as lacking in compassion. We appear to be all about protecting the earth without much stomach for addressing the plight of its human population--aside from assessing how surplus populations threaten our 1st world incumbency.

            So not only is population a tough subject, it is one potentially laden with classist significance depending on who is doing the finger pointing and making the policy recommendations. That's all I was trying to convey. That the Chesapeake Bay is perhaps not the best illustrator of forum for population concerns.

            The troubling thing that I have learned after ten years of Riverkeeping is that the movement to address this problem (i.e poverty, population etc), has almost nothing at all to do with the "Save the Bay" cause movement as currently configured. In fact "Baysavers" will for the most part struggle to keep the focus on natural resources rather than on human impacts and problems. So, the aim to save crabs and oysters has managed cheerfully (and sadly) to isolate itself from much striving to restore justice and fairness to actual people and communities. The more I travel and interact with other environmentalists outside of the Bay States, the more I realize how ideologically parochial our regional movement has become.  

            Moreover, because of who generally funds and controls environmental movements in our society, there is far more interest in saving nature than in protecting the oppressed and those with few hopes of environmental decency or dignity-- or for that matter very little bandwidth for expanding our potential as humans who live in a natural world. We'll "educate" folks before we will use our powers of activism to help them acquire a living in a decent environment.  The mere mention of the term "environmental justice" conjures up visions of minorities or civil rights which many in our movement see as way "off message" for "the Bay" or at least a separate and far less fundable movement. Actually these themes are much more  fundamental and complex and really hard to control. In fact, they are problems way bigger in scope than the primary focus of Tom Horton's article (the Bay).

            My overall point is, changing the dialogue or its frame of reference generally alters who gets to control the messaging and who reaps the benefits of our efforts. So for me at least, this is ultimately just as much about freeing the minds of those with the most influence over what we regard as "environmentalism" and challenging entitlements. By the way, I have noted that while 1% funders do not always directly tell us what we can and cannot work on, nonetheless funding considerations often severely limit the range of ideas and themes many of us are willing to consider.

            While my ideas are not at all fixed on any of these points, I am always eager to find ways to look at environmental problems with a different lens. The old one hasn't work as well as I might like."

            Environmental justice is a major issue that rarely comes up in ecosystem discussions, a fact about which I have commented in 2008 in a blog post on this site: Minority involvement in environmental conversations.

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