Redefining the concept of environment

I could not stop myself from feeling frustrated while reading Giovanna Di Chiro as her writings make reference to what I find faulty about mainstream environmental movements. I personally find the health of human populations to be an essential part of the current environmental crisis since it is largely affected by environmental destruction and pollution. Therefore, I wonder why environmental movements chose not to defend communities whose water, air and land are being contaminated by industrial waste. Why do these groups who so passionately protect endangered animals forget about the endangered members of their own species? Di Chiro provided me with an insight on how mainstream environmentalists define nature and how their definitions of nature are tied to what they seek to protect. Throughout her writings I became aware that the concept of environment should be redefined in order for environmental movements to become more socially just.

It is interesting how some views of environmental movements fail to recognize all of the victims of environmental destruction. These movements seek to conserve “wild and natural” areas and define them “as places where humans are not and should not be in large numbers.” Therefore, they define the environment as a separate entity from human societies and believe that humans are the “perpetrators of environmental problems.” They believe that human health does not fit under what they seek to protect – that is the environment. In this way, mainstream environmentalists ignore that many human beings are in fact constantly exposed to environmental destruction and pollution. Thus, how they define nature – as separated from humans – blinds them to the fact that humans are also victims of environmental damage. An example is the low-income people of color who live in urban areas and are targets of toxic waste contaminations. Environmentalists explicitly choose to ignore these communities, because they do not consider their problems to fall under the category of “environmental problems.” But, how can they not see that humans and nature are interconnected? How can they ignore such obvious consequences of environmental destruction? How can they be so oblivious and conceit when members of their own species are exposed to such atrocious living conditions? Is human health not worthy of this same protection?

On the same token, mainstream environmentalists tend to focus on the protection of a single species. However, in their attempts to protect these species, they fail to acknowledge other endangered species, including their own. For example, conservationist Richard Leakey sought to protect the endangered elephants of Kenya by fighting elephant poaching. As Leakey believed that humans had to be kept out of the park areas to conserve the elephants, several local communities were forced to leave their homes. Similarly, environmentalists who seek to protect fish populations swimming in contaminated water fail to recognize that human communities may also be drinking the water and facing severe health consequences. Therefore, the single species approach is socially unjust as it fails to protect all endangered species.

After understanding how mainstream environmental movements’ views actually ignore so many victims of environmental damage, I agree with Di Chiro in that the concept of environment should be redefined. It should include “social justice, local economic sustainability, health and community governance.” Only by understanding that communities and environments are interconnected and that both deserve equal respect, environmental movements will increase environmental awareness and all species will be protected from ecological destruction.  Redefining the concept of environment, however, is not a simple task. It asks for human humility and I wonder whether we are ready to become humble when living in such an individualistic and exploitative society.

Written on October 14th, 2013 , Uncategorized

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