• Abigail L Terry

Environmentalism and Sustaining Life - Part 2

To answer the questions posed in Part 1 of this piece, let’s first look outside of New England. Lets use Flint, Michigan as an example. A city who’s water crisis started in April of 2014 and is beginning to be resolved only recently. To this day, many in this Michigan community still don’t have clean drinking water and/or are feeling the health implications of ingesting toxic water. The Michigan state auditors that came into Flint and took over the financial decision making of the city did so after elected officials in Flint ignored the deterioration of their water delivery system’s infrastructure for years. Flint's drinking water was contaminated after they switched their water source from Lake Huron to the Flint River as a temporary measure to rebuild corroded pipes, finally addressing this infrastructure problem. But a lack of in-depth knowledge about the force of the switch of their water source resulted in an immediate deterioration of this pipeline that was so strong, wide-spread lead contamination resulted. Governments in places like Michigan that experience extreme cold weather cyclically should know that their infrastructure systems- especially the ones that interact with natural resources regularly like water pipelines- get old and unsafe faster and therefore need to be maintenanced at an accelerated rate as a result. A failure to address infrastructure systems as they respond to erosion from nature and time, results in serious public health problems as shown in Flint, Michigan in this case. This similar story-line can be found throughout history and throughout the American states. This lack of environmental understanding held by government officials- and the citizens that elect them- result in barriers for Sustaining Life in the long run.

What happened to Michigan, could absolutely happen here in Rhode Island… or something similar. Have you ever noticed the ”No Dumping” stickers on storm drains? Well those are there because people dump excess chemicals, unwanted car fluids or other liquid trash down those storm drains because they don’t know where else to dispose of it and it ends up in the Narragansett Bay. These chemicals pollute the water, disrupting ecosystems for generations, and have unknown health effects on the fish and other marine life that are arguably the economic heart of New England. The Providence River, for example, used to be highly swim-able and fish-able, and was a recreation and economic resource for the people of Providence. But after years and years of using it as a place to dispose of waste, it certainly is not a recreation resource for Providence residents anymore and its capacity to be an economic resource has been limited as well. Thanks to groups like Save The Bay, the state of the Providence River has improved but still has a long way to go to be able to serve its community as much as it could.

If Flint, Michigan had clean water and Providence, Rhode Island had access to a nontoxic Providence River, residents of both cities would face less barriers to Sustaining Life. Putting environmental issues on the back burner of the social justice movement does a disservice to marginalized communities. In the case of Michigan, being sick from lead poisoning and having to drink only bottled water is a giant barrier to just living your life normally nevertheless trying to make strides up the economic ladder. The hurdle of unsafe drinking water undoubtedly sets an already struggling community back. In the case of Rhode Island, the Providence River belongs to the people of Providence and they deserve to use it in all of the ways it could possibly serve them, while also conserving resources for future generations. If the water was cleaner, there would be more marine life in that river, more people would be able to utilize it as a location for fishing and clamming (as well as for recreational purposes) and then they’d be able to put food on their table at a much lower cost or even sell their catch.

I implore you to investigate the environmental attitudes and opinions of the candidates that peak your interest this coming election season. While being able to attend beach cleanups on the weekends may be something most people don't have the luxury to do, it is in everyone’s best interest to vote for representatives that have an understanding of the variety and urgency of environmental challenges that their constituents face. Especially here in Rhode Island, the ocean state, where our physical environment is a integral part of our state's identity and therefore the challenges we face. Failure to do so may very well present unforeseen health and/or infrastructure problems that act as barriers to Sustaining Life, especially for already suffering communities.

The way I see it, the Conservation-Efficiency movement does have something to lend us for our fight for a beloved, healthy community that can sustain its own life. This historical environmental movement was all about doing the greatest good for the greatest amount of people- and today being a champion of the environment means being a champion of a cause that benefits you and your neighbors equally.

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