Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Vestige of Hope

On Wednesday morning, we were introduced to yet another new form of social justice: environmental justice. We started out with Fenceline, a film about the environmental situation in Norco, Louisiana, a town named after the New Orleans Refining Company. Norco is divided into very distinct and separate white and black communities. While the blacks live closer to the major Shell refinery nearby and suffer the health consequences of pollution without reaping the benefits of jobs from the company, the white community seems to experience far fewer incidents of the detrimental health effects while many family members are employed by Shell. The black community unites, led by Margie Richard, to protest the pollution occurring at the plant, as it has repercussions for for the local residents, many of whom have asthma, including her own grandson, who had a near-fatal encounter with asthma. After analyzing the air, they found the air in Norco contained many various toxic chemicals, which could potentially compound and pose a severe health risk, even if each was within safe levels individually. However, their independent findings did not match Shell's findings for the testing of air quality, as Shell's results displayed significantly lower concentrations of the toxins, and thus, Shell did not change its policies. When Shell tries to buy out two of the four streets of the neighborhood, the black communities protests vehemently as well, as it could mean splitting from family members and would be yet another instance of blacks being forcibly removed and displaced. Eventually, Margie is invited to the Climate Justice Summit in The Hague, Holland, where she presents the evidence of pollution from an air sample in front of the summit before talking to the Shell representative personally to try to bring a resolution to the situation. However, while he wasn't able to take immediate action, he agreed to try to help her.

After the film, we were given an hour and a half to work on our capstone projects and get help from the staff if needed. I took advantage of the opportunity to keep writing my essay and to gather more information from the scholarly articles in hopes of being able to complete a draft of my essay by 5:30 PM that afternoon, the deadline to get feedback from our section leader. However, Yun told my section that he would accept drafts of our essays any time before 9:00 PM, which was a relief to most of us, myself included. Once the writing session ended, we were dismissed for lunch and told to regroup with our sections in our respective rooms at 1:00 PM.
One of the staircases in College Hall
Once our section convened at 311-F, our room in College Hall, we discussed some of the recent topics we had been introduced to. The first of these topics was eugenics, or the belief in selecting for better genes by encouraging reproduction among those with good genes and sterilizing those with bad genes. Yun then posed the question of whether each of us would alter our child's genes to prevent a disability in a hypothetical situation in which that was possible. While most of us concurred that we would, we acknowledged that it could lead to a society similar to that in the movie Gattaca, in which the genetically modified people are given good jobs due to their superior genes, leaving the natural-born with the poor jobs and allowing little to no social mobility. From there, we transitioned the conversation to accommodating the disabled to promote equity. Rather than adding facilities to certain institutions, such as schools, which would simply alienate the disabled from the others, I suggested that environments be created specifically for the disabled, which should help them feel more comfortable and accepted. Our final topic of discussion was environmental justice, as we talked about the film we had watched earlier that day. Most of us considered it unjust that the black community was suffering the effects of air pollution unwillingly without the benefit of employment from Shell. Meanwhile, the whites, who seemed to be perfectly fine with the presence of the refinery, had the black community as a buffer and the privilege of finding employment with Shell.
Room 311-F
Shortly thereafter, our discussion came to a close as we had to end and walk back to the McNeil building to listen to a presentation from Patricia Kim, who is part of the environmental humanities program at Penn. The environmental humanities is a relatively new field that draws from various disciplines. Despite her major being in ancient history, she was able to participate in the environmental humanities. She talked about the anthropocene, which is the current age we live in, in which humans are creating environmental change globally. I find it rather shocking and somewhat disappointing that we have caused enough change to the world to warrant our own time period. One of the more depressing occurrences she talked about was the effect of the landfill in Eastwick on the residents there. The landfill was quite toxic and caused a host of health problems, as well as being unsightly. In addition, it is an injustice because landfills are more prevalent in poor areas.

After returning to my dorm once class had ended, I continued to work on my essay and finally managed to submit it to Yun just around 9. In hopes of catching some acts in the talent show hosted by the Summer Discovery program, I hurried over and fortunately, there were still two acts that had yet to perform. The first was a singer that performed her rendition of Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" while the other was a dance group that concluded the show with an energetic performance. Once the judges decided on the top three, they announced the results and we were given an encore of the top performance, which consisted of a beatboxer and a singer, who delivered a unique performance together.
Talent Show 
I was glad to see a film and presentation on environmental justice because it brings awareness to the issue of environmental change by showing the detrimental effect humans are having on the environment and the repercussions it is having on us, as well as how some people are feeling the consequences more than others. It also happens to be closely related to my topic for my capstone project, which examines the correlation between air pollution and both race and socioeconomic status (SES) as well as the health effects air pollution has on humans. Although the situation seems to be deteriorating with little effort to correct it, I'm still trying to maintain a vestige of hope that more people will realize the consequences of our actions and put more effort into fixing this global problem.

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