Panel Discussion on Environmental Inequality

The panel discussion on, “Food and Water Activism in Global Asia,” brought together activists of various disciplines to weave together their approach towards solving inequality. Despite the diverse interests of the panels members, they shared agreement on how to increase environmental equality. The general consensus involved increasing education about environmental issues so that ordinary people can help start grassroots efforts to promote positive change.

Environmental policy will not come from the top echelons of society, but require mass social change from the common folk. In order to achieve this, the process of approving policy must include the people it will receive the bulk of the impact. One panelists from China highlighted how groups of ordinary Chinese have been effective at organizing and having their demands met. Re-asserting, and sometimes inventing, their right to participate in the decision making process, these groups have been able to avoid being subjected to dangerous ecological outcomes. Also, large companies such as Apple that patronize polluting factories have been held accountable by Chinese environmental groups. Apple was sent several letters informing the Cupertino Headquarters that its factories were major sources of pollution. At first, the tech company thought the letters coming from these organizations was a hoax, and refused to recognize the claims. Apple asked itself “How could China have active environmental groups?” The letters were eventually authenticated and Apple took steps to correct its pollutive policies. Other panelists admired the activism of the Chinese and suggested that Americans need to become more sensitive to environmental issues. Using the Chinese as an example, a cultural transformation, where citizens en masse demand environmental accountability, would be the ideal state for America.

Indigenous tribes can be seen as model for long term social change. American’s tribal communities have viewed the destruction of the environment as a part of their tribal history. Tribes, thinking in generations, want options that will protect their land currently and also for the future. The harmful impact that extractive industries have had on indigenous life culturally, politically, and environmentally, has greatly inhibited their upward mobility. Therefore, they are particularly keen at revealing the harmful aspects of profit seeking environmental policies.

Sandy Nguyen, a Vietnamese fisherman advocate from Louisiana, described her experience educating fisherman about benefits that they would normally not known about. After the BP oil spill, itinerant fisherman communities were left devastated. Uninsured, poor, and lacking basic english skills, they had little opportunity to restore their primary source of income. She acted as a liaison between the state and the fisherman. Through Nguyen’s work, fishermen were able to gain access to benefits that restored their lifestyle. Without her contribution, BP would not have felt pressured to compensate the fishing communities for their losses. Nguyen, Making decisions based on “being there” experiences was advocated by each member. Inviting politicians to the fishing communities, humanized the result of lackluster environmental policy.

The structures that promote inequality include the unfair distribution of resources. Whether it be land, water, or fossil fuels, there is a selfish protection of theses resources. Often times, according to Canadian filmmaker Gary Marcuse, “the profits are privatized and the problems are socialized.” The benefits received by natural resources are not spread about fairly, and the negative byproducts are spread throughout masses. They argue that people benefitting from unjust environmental policy are the very people who play a major role in its development.

Ultimately, I agreed with much of what the panel discussed. Inspiring grass roots efforts to bring about change is necessary. This is achieved through educating the masses of the problems, but more importantly, the rights they have to correct it. A cultural transformation of environmental awareness will help etch away at the massive structures that perpetuate environmental inequality.

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