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Srijay Chenna

Posted on June 19, 2022 at 6:36 pm

Srijay Chenna

A cynic offers that the human being is inherently selfish. A thorough optimist proposes that we simply make the occasional mistakes. I, however, theorize that we are willfully ignorant. We ignore problems that do not disturb us – that is until they eclipse our view of anything else, when it is too late. That is when everyone will notice it. Essentially, we procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate. Both the cynic and the optimist will agree on that. It is easier for us to think, “Eh, this one wrapper blown away by the wind is not going to kill the world.” It is easy for us to forget the nearly 8 billion other people in the world who think the same. 8 billion other wrappers were blown away by the wind. Where do they end up? We do not care. In caring, perhaps we would develop a conscience and where would humanity be with such a hindrance? Willful ignorance is the story of a dying planet, plagued by environmental injustice.

As a kid I loved nature. Even as the uncomprehending child I was, the raw beauty was apparent. Too soon, pollution accumulated until that was apparent too. Ignorance, for me, was and is not an option; nature was my world and its increasingly desolate state eclipsed everything else in life. Without ignorance I had no choice but to care. My friends attest that I can be very annoying to go on a drive or a walk with. My constant badgering and pleading to not throw something out the window or to hold something while searching for a trash can is, after all, badgering and pleading: an annoyance. My logical mindset – they pollute the sanctuary I find in nature so I stop them from polluting. Their logical mindset – it is easiest for me to release this trash into the most convenient spot which is right here and this guy is causing me an inconvenience to find somewhere else to put it. This is where the fundamental principles of environmental justice come from. I cannot afford to procrastinate because I am already affected. They aren’t affected yet so procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate. This is my environmental injustice.

It is a fortune for me to be born into a stable middle class family. I have had access to the purest remnants of nature. My asthmatic lungs, which shy from the slightest impurities, have enjoyed fresh air on long hikes and my eyes have feasted upon the beauty of forests in the never-ending trails Hockessin and Newark have to offer. While everyone in my middle class community enjoys similar privilege, they do not share my wholehearted (and perceivably unhealthy) obsession with nature. This has given me either a gift or a curse (my inability to procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate). My injustice is unique; I enjoy a healthy environment yet I cannot stand the thought of an unhealthy one. For many Delawarean citizens their mindset is different; I suffer in pollution, I do not like it but it will not change. Many of those who live in areas like Wilmington with large low-income populations choke on toxic air, fumed with the exhaust of booming industry. Those who profit from those booming industries the most live in areas like Greenville where they enjoy a clean environment. Such a characteristic divide is the environmental injustice of wealth.

I am a first-generation brown immigrant from India. My parents had a good education at university in India. They provide well for my family. We thankfully aren’t crippled the societal structure caused by the past but others are simply because of their circumstance. Environmental injustice, in this sense, is very largely intertwined with the notions of equity – especially racial equality. While the United States has attempted to move forward from the past, it is still apparent that our history has a tight hold on what we do today. For example, historical redlining still has an impact on where individuals of color in our country live today, which can affect their opportunities. Where they live also correlates to their environment. Referring back to the example in the previous paragraph, Wilmington with its polluted environment is predominantly African American (nearly 60% of the population). Greenville, with lush grass and clean air, is overwhelmingly white (over 80% of the population). Such a characteristic divide is the environmental injustice of race.

Once again, it is easy to not care. Perhaps we would develop a conscience and where would humanity be with such a hindrance? Yet it is important to care – not only because it is a moral obligation but because equality in climate activism traces back to equal opportunity. By increasing equal opportunity, an influx

of new perspectives and ideas in society help strengthen the societal structure of today and the way our democracy functions on the basis of all Americans. In a more direct manner, equal opportunity has been proven to increase economic proficiency, tax revenues, and reduce poverty, leading to a more prosperous Delaware. If the cynic is right, such benefits should inspire even a selfish person to campaign for climate activism. When we make the mistake of apathy, we can learn from it and progress. If the optimist is right, such lessons from mistakes should prevent them from happening ever again. This is the beginning of environmental justice.

Say now the cynic, the optimist, and the people like me have all begun to care. What can be done? The beauty of the Delawarean community is that everyone can play a key role in climate activism by spurring change in their own neighborhoods. Being a small state, we have been taught to care about everyone, know everyone, and love everyone. Let us embody this spirit in creating environmental equality. We can organize clean-ups. We can improve our habits. We educated ourselves and others. We have the power to choose who has the power for change. We can elect leaders who will inspire and install change. We can hold those leaders accountable if they do not. We can utilize our power as Delawareans and Americans. This is the journey to environmental justice.

As we set off on this road to environmental justice, it is long and treacherous but treacherous only because it is long. The dangers begin to form as the journey progresses: our doubts, our laziness, and our unwillingness to act. These are dangers we can overcome. We will overcome them. We must overcome them before it is too late. We cannot procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate. Willful ignorance, we will find, is no longer an option when it fuels inequality. Instead, we have power for change. Let our determination be the story of a flourishing planet and unified community, healed by environmental justice.

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