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Isabella Anderson

Posted on June 19, 2022 at 6:29 pm

Isabella Anderson

“I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. I want you to act as if the house is on fire. Because it is.” I have this quote on my quark board across from my bed. I see it every morning as I wake up. It is a quote from environmental activist, Greta Thunberg’s speech to the UN. Like Greta, I am a teenager watching as my planet, my country, my state gets stolen from me by the greed of others. Environmental justice is a social movement meant to combat the damage these people do to the environment and the impoverished communities it affects. Our forefathers dropped the torch. They allowed for the damage to be done. My generation will pick up the torch. We will forge ahead, the movement blazing behind us, because if no one will save our home for us, then we will do it ourselves. While this sentiment can be held on a broader scale, I and my fellow Delaware teens can not save the world. We can not all be Thunberg, testifying to the world our generation’s mission. We can testify our mission to protect our state, to save our beautiful peninsula from those who would wish to take it from us. It is not enough to acknowledge our issues as a state. We must fight sea-level rise, must build a sustainable agriculture industry, and fight corporations who think our health is some kind of budget cut. We have to fight these things tooth and claw. We need justice, or there will be no Delaware left to fight for.

We know the oceans are rising. Many people all across our great nation know this fact, vaguely and distantly. What is sea-level rise to someone in Kansas? But we Delawareans know better. We know sea-level rise intimately as we watch the water swallow our coast. We do not have the luxury of in-land states. We can not put off sea-level rise. We can not label it someone else’s problem. We need to fight it, us, the people of Delaware. We can not single-handedly stop the oceans from rising, but we must do our part to save our coast. The sea has risen a foot in the past century, and it is only rising faster now. The project rates of increase show our beaches swallowed. I live 10 miles inland, about 15 feet above sea level. I am not distantly concerned about sea-level rise. I want to fight for a world where my home is not under threat of sinking. Delaware was the first state to join the United States of America. Let us not be the first state to join the sea. Our highest point sits a mere 448 feet above sea level. Will that be all that is left for my great-grandchildren to see of my childhood home? We must find it in ourselves to do whatever we can to save our state from its watery grave. And what of the people, the people who will find their homes swallowed by the sea? Are they not worth protecting? Do they not deserve justice as well? After all, what is our state without our people?They make us Delaware.

Delaware has a long history of agriculture. Even now in Kent and Sussex county, you can not go for more than 10 minutes without seeing some aspect of agriculture upon our land. We were, after all, the birthplace of large-scale chicken farming. Our fields of wheat, of sorghum, of corn have been a defining part of the Delaware landscape since its conception. But agriculture has not always been the best for Delaware’s environment. Monocropping does extensive damage to soil quality. Farm runoff pollutes our streams, ponds, and lakes. Our environment does not deserve to suffer for the sake of the farm. We should not be trading the wildlife’s food for our own. Yet, farmers are just people. How do we protect our environment without damaging our agricultural industry? How do we save the planet and the farmers? That’s why we need environmental justice to be at the forefront of our activism. The people and the planet are not two separate entities. They are intertwined at every possible point. Environmental justice seeks to protect the planet and to avenge the people the damage has affected. We can not avenge the planet at the cost of some of our most vulnerable and integral people in our Delaware communities.

You can not throw a stone in New Castle County and not hit something tied to the DuPont legacy. For many decades, they controlled Delaware politically, economically, and environmentally. They put food on the table for thousands of employees in Northern Delaware. They built hospitals and schools and parks. The DuPont companies were instrumental in the building of Delaware. Yet, their damage to the lives of the people of Delaware may outlive their legacy. Perhaps the thousands of chemicals dumped into Delaware streams will be their new legacy. Since the 1940s, the DuPont companies, among others, have been putting PFAS in the water. These PFAS do not break down in
the environment. These “forever chemicals,” as they are known, will live in our streams and bloodstreams forever. They have permanently poisoned our planet and ourselves. One PFAS in particular, C8, is estimated by the US government to be 99.7% of people’s bloodstream. PFAS exposure has been known to cause liver damage, thyroid disease, decreased fertility, high cholesterol, obesity, hormone suppression, and cancer. It will not be enough to advocate for our rivers and our streams. We must fight for all of the people poisoned by our rivers and our streams,
poisoned by PFAS. Environmental justice must be employed. We can not effectively save a dying world if we too are dying.

Unlike sea-level rise, monocropping, and poisoned rivers, some aspects of environmental damage are not so easily observed by the naked eye. Delaware is the second-highest-toxin-releasing state in America, according to research done in 2020. How could that be? Surely, Alaska or California, New York, or some other state with far more oil or industry, would give off significantly more toxins than our little old state. It is crucial, of course, to note, that we do not produce the most toxins. We are second in releasing toxins. Yet, 20.5% of Delawareans live near toxic release sites. Of these people, it is often our most impoverished communities, who can not afford to live elsewhere in the state. While only 17.3% of the state’s white population lives near these sites, 64.8% of the state’s Native Pacific Islanders and 23.3% of the state’s Indigenous population lives near toxic release sites. The vast majority of these toxins come from none other than Delaware City Refinery, which releases 6.5 million pounds of toxins, mostly into water. It is because of companies like them and the DuPonts that Delaware has the highest percentage of rivers polluted in America. Our water is being stolen by corporate greed. Our breath is being stolen by toxic air. Our lives are being stolen by poor regulation.

We will get justice. We need to get justice. Environmental justice is necessary not just to protect our state but our people as well. Wars can rarely be won with words alone. We must not fight only for our state, our planet, our futures, and our children’s futures. Words will not stop the sea from swallowing us. Words will not go back and un-poison our bloodstream. We must have action. We must have justice, and until we do, the young people will not stop marching. We will not stop fighting. We will not stop screaming for the world to listen to us. I will make a world that is still here for my children and my grandchildren and their children and so forth. As long as there are toxins in
the air and in my blood, the quote will stay pinned on my board, and my voice will be raised. Until the last problem is solved, we will not have justice. Until we have justice, we will not stop fighting.

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