WATCH: Place Matters (30 min)
In the last module, we focused on worst case scenario chemical disasters and how they produce environmental injustice. In this module, we’ll focus on less dramatic, slow disaster caused by routine air, water and soil pollution. In many ways, slow pollution disasters are more difficult to deal with because people don’t pay attention to them or even think they are normal – especially in communities of color. Often, communities have to organize and fight to get their concerns heard and addressed by government officials. Often, particular people play important leadership roles. Sometimes, these people are residents impacted by a polluting facility. Sometimes, leading figures in fights for environmental justice are professionals – physicians who work in the community or engineers who work inside the polluting facilities. In this module, we want you to consider the kinds of leadership roles you might play at some point in issues like these. We want this course to help prepare you for this work!
In this course, there are (at least) three ways that we are building your capacity to understand and help address environmental injustice: You are learning about many different cases of environmental injustice so that you begin to recognize patterns in what causes them and undermines solutions. You are learning to think to think about the social and cultural dimensions of environmental problems – and how to ask the questions and do the research to build social science case studies. And you are thinking through your own perspectives on possible solutions (through law, community organizing, education, etc). In this module, we’ll again do all three of these things.
Your reading and watching will focus on two cases of slow pollution disaster: in Flint, Michigan and in Richmond California. In both, we want you to pay special attention to the “social determinants of health (Links to an external site.)”. A film that you’ll watch about Richmond – Polluted Places – draws out social determinants of health particularly well.
In learning about Richmond, note this pattern: many communities with worse case scenarios for chemical plant or refinery disaster are also threatened by routine pollution from these facilities -- including pollution from the trucks that bring things in and out of these facilities. Such communities are subject to double trouble and environmental injustice.
The report on Green Zones begins to lay out solutions. I’ve only assigned a few pages but your can read more for ideas for your case studies. I especially appreciate the community data collection strategy that took place in South Central LA, for example. In the “500 Feet Project,” people walked around their community to document pollution sources that don’t show up on government data. They called their approach “ground truthing.”
Again, watch the films you are assigned for this week through many different lenses: as a film critic (thinking about what you think about the film itself), as an anthropologist (thinking about how people in the film think and why), and as an activist (identifying problems that need to be fixed).
There are three items listed as recommended (not required) for this week, two of them feature films that are really good: Erin Brockovich (Links to an external site.) and A Civil Action (Links to an external site.).