Blog

Justice

I’ve been thinking quite a bit on the topic of discrimination, justice, and race throughout the course of this semester. When I think of justice, the concept of environmental justice and discrimination comes to mind nearly every time. This is likely due to the fact that environmental issues are often at the forefront of my mind. I’ve been struggling; however, to visualize what this sort of justice looks like. What does it mean to have a just society in the era of climate change when the injustices of refugees and marginalized populations alike are built upon the same foundations as the very issues that are further causing or even perpetuating the climate crisis and their lives within it. Last week, I attended an “environmental justice dinner and discussion”. As soon as I stepped foot in the Barrister club, a space used for business-style dinners and events, I knew that I would be met with disappointment for the duration of the evening. The keynote speaker, Stacy Kranitz, an Appalachian photographer, showed images of people, towns, villages, and homes tattered with difficulty stemming from toxic waste dumps, industry, etc. This is one way in which we can see the holes environmental justice belongs. I couldn’t seem to imagine what that would look like other than communities fighting large corporations, politicians, the media. Mostly, I could not fathom the intention of hosting a predominantly white, “business casual” dinner that simply exemplified the comforts that work to overshadow and deviate our attention as well as our resources from the very populations we were discussing.

I thought this week on Citizen by Claudia Rankine— a book I’ve read for several classes during my undergraduate career. As I replay this scene in my mind, I hear the words of Rankine transform into a significantly more symbolic nature: “because white men can’t police their imagination black men are dying.” I think of the Westernized, modernized lifestyles led by predominantly white men, the technology industry that is dominated by whites in blue suits, and the waste these livelihoods produce. Then I think back to one of my favorite books, Slow Violence by Rob Nixon, and I visualize Claudia Rankine’s words to signify not only police brutality but the fetishization of control and domination over other beings as a small fragment of this entire planet that is imaginably conquerable. I imagine this domination slowly, as Nixon explains, causes the violence of marginalized populations susceptible to the effects of environmental discrimination.

We must shift our tone. We cannot be comfortable in these discussions. We cannot simply utilize the same formats to convey messages and facilitate discussion with a wider audience. Simply because we have the privilege of ignoring the conversation for a brief moment to discuss our day or our weekend plans over a piece of tiramisu does not mean we should.

Art & Science (& Rhetoric)

This week, eco-artist Brandon Ballengée visited The Ohio State University. He discussed the modes of conveying environmental issues, particularly pollution and extinction. During his artist talk at the Wex, he mentioned the various influences writers and activists have had on his work. Some of these included Bill McKibben, Jared Diamond. This reminded me, and hopefully others in the audience, the importance of interdisciplinary work mentioned in my last post. In order to confront complex, interwoven, even wicked issues linked to climate change, it is necessary for people in a vast number of fields to consider these issues from their perspectives with their own specializations.

It is difficult to grapple with extinction, as Brandon mentions and demonstrated through his work; therefore, it is even more difficult to incorporate citizens from across the nation—and even worldwide—in projects that can appear as polarizing politically or ideologically. As a biologist and artist, he works to combine science with education, activism, and art. This is something we must attempt to achieve on a slightly different scale when working with an environmental nonprofit such as FLOW.

These images demonstrate a few of the stained and dyed species that belong to his portable museum. It’s extremely enthralling to look into these jars and sees the artwork almost as a living (though not literally) piece that’s interactive and informative. He mentioned bringing his portable museum across the country, encouraging students, children, adults, whoever is around to investigate the boxes. Without pushing audiences away with polarizing images or activist rhetoric, he manages to engage an even broader group of surveyors. FLOW manages to engage locals in a similar manner; however, we have yet to achieve a wider, more consist audience. It’s possible that a more diverse variety of outreach events and projects could engage the community on a new level.

The Rhetoric of Studying Rhetoric

As a preliminary assignment, each stakeholder invented a backstory for themself. During the discussion, the student filling the spot of the head of National Government explained his backstory, telling us that his paper was full of exaggeration and was “total rhetoric.” I stopped. I thought, this is my chance to defend myself, to defend my degree from being portrayed yet again as an unnecessary, untrustworthy form of exaggeration and lie. I thought back to the first reading for this rhetoric course: Patricia Roberts-Miller’s essay on rhetoric and empty speech. Well, I didn’t.

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I thought back to the first day of my Local People International Conservation Course. My professor asked each student to introduce themselves to the class, and part of the introduction was stating your major. When I said that I studied English, Dr. Brooks looked at me with some confusion and nearly laughed as he asked why on Earth I was taking his course. I have to wonder whether or not researchers and professionals in the hard sciences (as well as those in the arts and humanities) genuinely believe in an interdisciplinary form of education. Hyper-specialization results in a reductionist form of academic research. How do we combat fears of uncomfortable, undesirable interdisciplinary work from undergraduates to Ph.D. holders?

Counter Narratives of Environmentalism?

Dominant narratives pervade our everyday lives, often going unnoticed and unquestioned. Every space we inhabit possesses and often perpetuates these dominant narratives. For instance, Ohio State displays a dominant narrative of strength, tradition, success, intelligence, and athleticism, and those who dare to question that narrative and discourse or simply oppose it by nature are viewed as the oppositions—as Delgado explains—they are oppositionists.

Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed does not identify itself as an activist group whatsoever, nor does it identify itself as an advocacy group. This appears to me as an explicit move away from a not-so-dominant narrative. It is difficult to split environmental protection and conservation into two narratives—one having a wider spread, more salient message.  Rather, there are generally two ideologically opposed narratives that signify some sort of group affiliation.

In order to digest this concept, I’ll pose two narratives. Look at FLOW in the context of the Ohio State University community. It is full of students, staff, and faculty—thousands upon thousands of them. Is conveying a story of preservation, nurturing, and care for the environment oppositional to the dominant masculine narrative of “conquer and defeat” that’s often displayed by an athletics-obsessed university?

For instance, on football Saturdays, I have often volunteered with the Zero Waste initiative, sorting compostables and recyclables from garbage in order to divert waste from the landfill. Throughout this process, there is an educational component with fans, and most are unopposed to the process, but many are surprised or apathetic toward the zero waste program. In this context, those focused on environmentalism are the counter-narrative, opposing the pervasive attitude of consumption and enjoyment without concern on game day. It is much more difficult to identify this dichotomy in a more general setting, however.