Saturday, May 21, 2011

Trying to buy back what we've lost

I had trouble deciding on what the title of this post should be. I will try to articulate why.

There is a model of environmental thought (of course, Western) which basically says that in the "development" of countries or communities, ecological harm necessarily grows, up to a point at which they have "developed enough" that they are somehow "satisfied" and can now start "caring" for the environment. What this explicitly means is that no matter where in the world you may be, ecological harm is necessary for you to be "prosperous," and for the citizens of that place to have a "high standard of living."

As I mentioned in my last post, there is a prevailing ethic that something is valuable only if it is assigned a dollar value. Something can be cared for only if we can quantify to ourselves what it is worth. Of course, such quantification is impossible and reckless in nature. Such quantification leaves in its wake uncountable losses to the wholesomeness of nature and the spirits of the people living there. What we do is the following - we convert the most important thing, our environment, into something expendable and movable (money), through degradation, and then use that expendable thing we've created to buy back the most important thing. Or at least we expect to. Speaking of entropy, there are losses here. There is something so profound about this second law of thermodynamics. In most every physical act, we can never fully realise a full potential, but rather a potential less than full. What this consequently means is that there is no way to fully recover the original conditions of a state by investing the same amount of effort we used in disturbing it. We have to invest more, and more, and more, and more.

Now, the people of Delray have been struggling with this very issue for a very long time - they have been surrounded by industry which has propelled the US as a leading superpower. This means that they have been surrounded by the effects of that industry - pollution and a degraded environment. As counter-intuitive as the second paragraph actually is, you might think that the people of Delray were then pretty well off...industry = money = clean environment. You would be sorely wrong for thinking so. The people of Delray have no other choice but to bear the consequences of such careless thought, and to be exploited by heretofore not being provided any sort of remediation, reparation or compensation, money, or anything else.

Now, I wondered about what the title of this post should be. Should it have been 'Trying to buy back what we've given away,' or 'Trying to buy back what has been taken from us'? Of course, it is a matter of perspective and of introspection. Maybe we haven't done enough to protect nature, and maybe we've faltered and disagreed, and we've just given it away, or in some sense allowed that. Or, on the other hand, maybe we've been oppressed into being subservient, into having absolutely no power in opposing the powerful forces of capitalism and economy from taking pristine nature away from under our feet, around our skin, and in our lungs. I would speculate that people from the past allowed it to happen, and that the people of today, say of Delray, feel that it was taken from them a long time ago, that this is a legacy that cannot be moved away from, that it is a legacy that will influence all decisions now and into the future. They might feel that there is no other choice but to live in a degraded environment.

There is a "community benefits agreement" (CBA) that is being proposed to compensate the people of Delray for the massive new bridge that is likely going to be built there. (...a joke, to me. "Benefits" is a cozy term to hide all of the costs of such violent behaviour.) They are contracts between citizens and those proposing to change their environment to ensure that some of the "positive" outcomes of change be passed along to the citizens. CBAs have only been a recent phenomenon, as Caleb told me last night. Yet in no way does the list of benefits, which I went over over the last week, fully address the dire state of affairs in Delray.

It is a matter of perspective. We can focus our attentions on the "state" or "country" as a whole and see that it is doing "well," or we can zoom in and focus our attention on the little parcels of the country and see that some of them are fine, while some of them are being exploited at the benefit of the "country." What we forget is that people, yes people, live in these small parcels, and they are the ones breathing in the noxious air, living on toxic soil, and cutting their limbs off for the "benefit" of the "state" and "country."

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