Friday, December 20, 2013

holocaust: 3A-who do the odds favor?

It’s probably not a shock I like dystopian novels and consider them cautionary tales. Since my oldest is into The Hunger Games, it’s on my mind a lot. Plus there are similarities that make us uncomfortably like the folks in the capitol. 

Without digging beneath the surface of things, we are preoccupied with entertainment in the forms of fashion, sports, reality TV and ‘human interest’ stories, as though what media presents is all there is to see. We have more consumables than we could possibly use or need. In a nod to globalization, these consumables come from outlying districts we’re only vaguely familiar with. Our goods have been extracted, harvested, and manufactured in conditions and through means of which we are oblivious. 

You may think the disparity between those in the capitol enjoying their coal driven technology and leisure and the poverty in District 12 is fabricated but it aptly parallels the true poverty of coal ravaged Appalachian regions and our own coal driven technology and leisure. 

And although we claim we would not endure the suffering of others, we are willing to sacrifice others to maintain our standard of living in the capitol. In our case we sacrifice nature and people.

This is environmental privilege.

In my fuel usage, I experience benefits without having to regard the true price. I drive my child across town for camp. I burn fuel to pursue my interests. In fact, some of my entertainment is based on burning fuel. I am unaware of the environmental privilege scaffolding me and mine above others. Even more so with tar sands oil, privilege allows me to think what I pay at the pump is the cost and boy, am I miffed if that seems too high. But my heritage is not being siphoned. My family’s private land is not coopted from me. My neighborhood doesn’t compromise my health and my water supply is, for the moment, safe. As for my children’s future of diminishing fresh water and an unstable climate, I can busy myself with test scores and extracurriculars.

Privilege allows me to disengage from the slow motion holocaust of people and nature while perpetuating it. Again, like those in the capitol, I feel entitled to focus on my own comfort and pleasure. And why wouldn’t I? I’ve earned it, right?

I have no more earned the right to clean air, water and soil than a First Nations Cree child deserves to eat tumor-encrusted salmon. Does yours?

I know. No one wants to hear this.

We want easy, convenient things to do like don’t idle or don’t top off the tank. We want the particulars of our lives to continue unaffected. But what about the particulars in the lives of those affected by tar sands? We have created a mess through ease and convenience and something more is required. Easy and convenient would be like asking the people in the capitol to tone down their hairdos in order to equalize the distribution of goods to outlying districts. 

Addressing environmental privilege is different than addressing racial, class or gender privilege. Leveling the playing field, in this case, doesn’t mean equal squandering of natural resources for all. Because environmental privilege is predicated on destruction-based consumption, the goal isn’t for everyone to be entitled to the same environmental license I have.

For those of us in the capitol, it means understanding the flip side of environmental privilege is environmental injustice. For starters then, it means educating ourselves about the resources we gobble up rather than unquestioningly consuming them. 

Tar sands pipelines crisscross North America compromising habitats, fresh water and the health of other beings (environmental injustice) to support my fuel consumption (environmental privilege). If I understand where my energy comes from, how it gets to me, who and what it impacts along the way, would I use it so blithely? If I myself would not pay with my health, habitat and heritage, why would I be content letting others do so?

Despite the illusion of the capitol, my choices do not exist in a bubble and are not neutral.

What makes Katniss such a compelling heroine is her compassion. Compassion moves her to volunteer as tribute, to honor Rue and to risk her life for Peeta. Through the trilogy, Katniss struggles with saving her own skin and her sister's-the privilege to protect one's private bubble-or choosing what will ultimately benefit everyone. To be clear, it is privilege to think one can hide out in a private bubble, protecting one's own. But that only works for so long; environmental destruction harms everyone.

Addressing environmental privilege will require a change of heart. Compassion has to move us beyond our privilege, personal comfort and overweaning addiction to entertainment in order to see the environmental injustice inflicted on marginalized people and nature

It's the only way the odds can be in everyone's favor.