by Dr. Ellen K. Halter
On this Earth Day, as we hail our once pristine planet, it’s important to note that damage to its environment—to its waterways, air, and land—takes its worse toll on the poorest people. As Niranjan Dev Bharadwaj writes, “ Soil erosion, land degradation and deforestation lead to a decline in food production along with a shortage of wood for fuel contribute to inflation. In short, the worst consequences of environmental deterioration, whether they be economical, social, or related to mental or physical wellbeing, are experienced by poor people.”
Equally so, argues Bharadwaj, poverty itself contributes to environmental degradation. Large families, improper waste disposal, deforestation and overexploitation of natural resources, and pressure on fragile lands all accelerate air and water pollution and damage to our planet. And according to the recent report of The Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health, while pollution adversely affects people in every country, “pollution disproportionately affect the health of the poor and marginalized in every country worldwide.”
The relationship of the poor to unsustainable environmental practices is acute and cyclical. As noted on the World Wildlife Fund website, “ We can’t lift people out of poverty if we don’t conserve the environment and natural resources they rely on. And we can’t protect the environment if we don’t address the needs of people in poverty.”
Sadly, in the United States, it’s also been demonstrated that the effects of pollution are accelerated for people of color. Julian Marshall, one of the authors of a key University of Minnesota study, calls this “environmental injustice.” His study documents the unequal exposure of minorities of color to one key pollutant — nitrogen dioxide — and its link to higher risks of asthma and heart attack. His study has demonstrated this inequality all over our country, in both the most rural states and the cleanest cities.
Thus, in protesting environmental damage on Earth Day, we must recommit ourselves to a more equitable nation and world.
Although International Earth Day was Monday, April 22, the Ann Arbor Earth Day Festival will be held this Sunday. Details below:
Sunday, April 28. Ann Arbor Earth Day Festival
This free, family-friendly event will feature displays from over 30 local environmental, nonprofit and governmental organizations; live animal demonstrations; learning presentations around sustainable living, energy, and agriculture; hands-on activities; live entertainment; crafts; green building and commuting solutions; water awareness displays; proper recycling clinics; and more. A complete schedule can be found here . Leslie Science & Nature Center, 1831 Traver Rd, Ann Arbor . Noon–4 pm