Environmental Protection and Social Justice: We Can’t Have One Without the Other
June 1, 2020
The calls, comments, and emails all basically say the same thing: What does this have to do with the environment? “This” is inevitably an ecoRI News story that deals with racism, inequality, or social injustice.
Our latest “this” story was published last week. It dealt with the fact that Rhode Island’s communities of color — like those nationwide — are being disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, both healthwise and economically. The story — like our four-part series published in 2016 about homelessness — apparently made some readers uncomfortable. Good. Stories about racism and inequality should nauseate you.
When ecoRI News was launched more than a decade ago, reporting on social-justice issues was an important part of our mission. It still is. But, as editor and co-founder, I’ll be the first to admit we need to do a better job. It’s not easy to build trust with communities that have for so long been lied to, marginalized, and abused by those in power and by an inattentive media.
Even when our small news organization attempts to give these disenfranchised communities a voice, there are always readers — some of whom I know and respect — who basically tell us to stay in our lane. Our coverage can’t be that one dimensional.
As for the “What does this have to do with the environment?” question, the answer comes down to one word: Everything.
Environmental issues and social-justice issues are interconnected on multiple levels. Society can’t solve the problems of one without addressing the problems of the other. Their lanes cross, merge, and run parallel. They both typically slam into dead ends. We aren’t close to solving any of the problems intertwined among these two broad issues. The powers that be won’t allow it. We don’t have the stomach for it. Our constitution is weak.
We’ve been plundering people and the environment since this country was born. Sadly, it’s the bedrock upon which the United States of America was built. We’ll never stop damaging the environment if we don’t stop inflicting pain on those we purposefully discriminate against, scapegoat, terrorize, and kill. We’ll never stop the human suffering if we don’t respect the water we drink, the air we breathe, the land we sow, and the other creatures living among us. Our demise will come because we continue to put power and profit over all else.
If we are unable to treat everyone — no matter their skin color, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, or where they live or came from — with respect and dignity, there’s little chance we’ll properly safeguard that on which we depend: the natural world.
History and current events show how little progress we have made.
So, next time we publish a story that deals with racism, inequality, or social injustice, please remember these issues dovetail with environmental protection.
Frank Carini is the ecoRI News editor.