Law in Contemporary Society

Environment in the Limelight

-- By MonicaRuiz - 10 Mar 2017

In class we inquired why we believed it was so difficult for people to be provoked about environmental issues. However, in the past few years the media has given much attention to environmental issues that have sparked widespread mobilization. In particular, the nation and the world has seen the United States struggle with environmental policy regarding potable water and the effects of such policies on marginalized communities. However, the environmental issues surrounding the larger issue of climate change are inferred to be harder to mobilize because the effects of climate change at the individual level are practicably invisible. Although the topic of climate change has its challenges in regards to big oil companies, lobbyists, and skeptics, climate change continues to be a hot topic under the recent administration despite regressive policies.

Environmental Justice

The past year we have seen two high profile environmental issues involving water: the Flint Water Crisis and the Dakota Access Pipeline. Both were examples of neglectful environmental policy with respect to drinking water and both required the public to inquire what role race, minority, or socioeconomic status played in environmental policy. These two issues painted for the public an image where underrepresented communities are often, or perhaps, more likely to be tasked with fighting for equitable policies regarding environmental recourses. The Flint water crisis magnified the environmental issues intersected with race and socioeconomic factors. The crisis was a result of cost-cutting measures where the city turned to the Flint River to provide the city with water. The water was found to be extremely corrosive with high lead levels and caused a number of illnesses among the Flint residents. The media connected this environmental issue to the racial and socioeconomic components of the crisis where 56% of the Flint’s population was African-American and 41% of the population was below the poverty line. This environmental justice concern highlighted the inequities minority populations face when the government enforces policies that show both negligence and discrimination. The news and social media outlets questioned whether this environmental crisis would have occurred in a white wealthy community. The current result is that the water remains contaminated while current funding attempts infrastructure upgrades. Flint activists have remained diligent in creating initiatives in response to the crisis and continue to fight for safe drinking water. In a distinct but related issue, the conflict surrounding the Dakota Access Pipeline dominated headlines in 2016 through today. “Water is life” became the appropriate slogan regarding the issue surrounding the Bakken Oil Pipeline. The Native Americans resisted the rerouting of the pipeline near the Standing Rock reservation that was seemingly approved without adequate environmental analysis and consultation. The passage of crude oil through these pipes concerned the Native American’s residing in the reservation because it could threaten the quality of the water. The clash also became a symbol for cultural preservation where the pipeline threatened sacred burial grounds. The public continued to elaborate on the role Native Americans have played in United States history where they have been historically displaced from their lands and disadvantaged in countless ways. The conflict resulted in a lawsuit and world-wide mobilization in solidarity for the Native Americans resisting the construction of the pipeline. DAPL sparked a grassroots movement as a reaction to the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline and has been a symbol not only of environmental protection of water, but also as a movement for cultural preservation and spiritual resistance of the people. This sparked an enormous amount of attention from the news, celebrities, and individuals on social media. This movement also appealed to the issues surrounding the Flint Water crisis and sparked solidarity marches across the United States. Although the Trump administration ultimately approved construction, this is another example where individuals who have been historically disadvantaged in the United States have had the duty to heavily mobilize for environmental issues, and subsequently gained momentum from the public as a whole.

Climate Change

It is easy to see why it is harder to mobilize for climate change as a whole. On the day to day, people are not generally worried about the ozone layer or rising sea levels. In addition, the issue surrounding climate change is met with skeptics who refuse to believe the majority of scientists who assert the existence of global warming. However global warming is still met with much attention among Americans and the globe and was a big player in the recent election. Bernie Sanders was the biggest proponent of progressive climate change legislation and gained followers on this platform. Sanders had considered climate change as the “single biggest threat facing the planet” and pointed the finger to the billionaire class of big oil, gas, and coal companies as the culprit for climate change denial and blockage of environmental legislation. Ultimately the Democratic candidate went to Clinton, and the election to Republican Donald Trump. However, Trump’s rollbacks on these policies continue to push the issue of climate change in the forefront. With less than six months in Trump’s administration, we have seen policies that are rather frightening to the individual concerned for global warming. These changes include limiting Obama-era measures to limit pollution and substantially limiting funding for environmental science and the EPA. Furthermore, the EPA has dismissed members of their scientific board and the EPA itself is now ran by climate change skeptic Scott Pruitt. The issues surrounding climate change though “invisible” will continue to be in the limelight during Trump’s administration and will continuously be challenged by numerous environmental activist organizations and scientists. Alternatively, society has already begun moving in the direction of renewable energy where industrial nations are turning to clean energy and sustainable resources. Ultimately, regressive environmental policies in the past few years has been met with some resistance or general disapproval where they are harming or fail to mitigate the larger issues of climate change. Although environmental concerns may not always result with a protest, many will continue to be met with publicity and public opinion.

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r3 - 01 Jun 2017 - 03:33:05 - MonicaRuiz
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