May 2022: Environmental Racism Worldwide

Hello, Potatoes! We hope that the spring has sprung where you are and that you are enjoying it! 🌸🌼

This month, we are continuing with our theme of environmental racism and moving on to a worldwide perspective.

Similarly to within the US, lower-income countries (mostly POC) contribute less to climate change than wealthier countries but are more likely to be hit harder by it than richer countries. (And often, these countries are less wealthy because of colonization and having their resources stolen.) They produce less waste and smaller amounts of emissions. At the same time, they don’t have as many resources to deal with the effects of climate change. These countries are often held to the same environmental standards as wealthy countries, which isn’t always reasonable: they are not causing as much of the problem, and they may not have the resources to implement the proposed solutions (for example, renewable energy is an important one, but solar panels can be expensive to produce and install). Also, there is the issue of some countries not yet having as much access to technology, vehicles, etc., so there’s a question of how to reduce production of those things without disadvantaging the countries that don’t have or are slowly gaining access to them. 

Indigenous land rights are very much related to environmentalism worldwide as well as in the US, and again, we recommend reading the writing of Indigenous people.

Despite being 5–6% of the global population, Indigenous peoples protect about 80% of Earth’s biodiversity. In general, Indigenous cultures respect Earth and its creatures and are environmentally sustainable — which is a potatoooo!!! However, Indigenous peoples’ land rights have been violated and are still being violated, often so colonizers can exploit the land for profit. There are many examples in the US, from the pipelines we discussed last month to gold and silver mines. (We’ve included more about Indigenous land rights in the US at the bottom of the email.)

Worldwide, there are similar unpotatoishnesses occurring. Though they’re not always acknowledged, there are Indigenous peoples on all continents except Antarctica, and they often face discrimination as they do in the US. And worldwide, Indigenous people are disproportionately affected by pollution. For some examples: Indigenous Indonesians lost their homes, forests, livelihoods, and way of life when their forests were bulldozed to create palm-oil plants. The colonization of Australia caused (and still causes) a myriad of diseases, abuses, violent conflict, death, and land seizure from the aboriginal people. In Mexico, the Yaqui people are at higher risk from health problems from toxic pesticides, which they have long opposed using. Due to systemic racism and the seizure of their land, Indigenous people also don’t have as much money to deal with the effects of the resulting health problems and natural disasters. Despite being 5–6% of the global population, they make up 19% of the extreme poor.

This article provides a helpful overview of discrimination against Indigenous people worldwide, and here’s an article about why protecting indigenous communities is so vital in saving the environment! We encourage you to learn more about Indigenous peoples and the struggles they face but also the positive aspects of their lives and cultures. We’ve talked about a lot of terrible things, but there’s a lot to celebrate about Indigenous cultures! (Please consult our ongoing list of resources and send more our way!) Progress is also being made: More and more, awareness is increasing, the doctrine of discovery is being rejected, governments are recognizing the rights of Indigenous peoples. There’s still a long way to go, but it SHALL improve!!!

Back to the topic of wealth inequalities and the environment, richer countries often deal with their pollution issues by paying less wealthy countries to deal with them. Portions of the US’s trash are shipped around the world to be dumped in other countries, creating crises for those places. The US produces more plastic waste than any other country, and according to Forbes, we were sending 429 large shipping containers of plastic to other countries every day in 2018. So we’re not only producing more, we’re also not even dealing with what we make ourselves!!! Let’s not dump our trash in other countries!!!! (As for what you can do, we have several tips on how to produce less waste. 😁) Here’s some more info and a petition for the US to stop exporting waste. On top of that, countries like the US also look for the cheapest options for producing and recycling stuff, often in less wealthy countries — which are often harmful to workers and the environment.

Check (and add to!) our list of eco-friendly businesses, which we’ll be updating over time and augmenting with ethical considerations about the businesses we list. We do recognize that a lot of these products are more expensive and potentially harder to find, so don’t worry about it if you have to get some things from mainstream sources. And after all, the best option is repurposing or doing without! 😃

This brings us to the issue of “eco-friendly” products being less affordable, within the larger issue of minorities being underrepresented within the climate movement (we’ll try to get to this next month!) — especially with the large financial inequities of POC within the US. Cheaper food is generally packaged in plastic, and accessing ethically grown/sourced/produced things can be trickier and more expensive. So can buying from local businesses, since they can’t be as efficient as huge companies. An exception is thrifting — secondhand items are way cheaper and don’t use up more resources! However, some people argue that thrifting is becoming gentrified due to overpricing of secondhand items as they become popular among higher-income people, so be aware of that as well. Even if something is marketed as eco-friendly, just using what you have (or repurposing something you own, or buying secondhand) is still the more sustainable option, since nothing new needs to be produced.

Phew! This was a long email, and if you read all that, thank you! 😅 Here are this month’s checklist and resources. Though we don’t have as many action items this month, learning and sharing the message are so important!!! There are a lot of problems in the world, but we believe that, if we work together, they can be solved. We shall not let the world be destroyed by unpotatoishness and malice!!!!!!! Go out annndddd BEEEEE a potato of a pOTatO!!!!!

We also want to return to the topic of Indigenous land rights in the US:

Since white people hold disproportionate political power in the US, they are able to enforce what they want without holding up their side of the treaties (which were usually not made under fair circumstances anyway — if it’s a choice between making treaties that give land to the US or being invaded, the first is usually the better option). In addition to how they’re enforced, laws can also be biased (anti-protest laws, for example). The US sometimes avoids recognizing Indigenous peoples’ rights to land or monetary compensation they are owed when tribes are not federally recognized or when people are not considered Indigenous due to blood quantum, despite the fact that these definitions are externally imposed. And some laws that are still used in court decisions are based on the doctrine of discovery, which is the idea that Europeans have the right to claim land from Indigenous peoples since they “discovered” it. This goes along with the idea that if land is not being exploited for human use, it’s undeveloped, empty, or going to waste. In fact, Indigenous peoples lived sustainably off the land and inhabited or otherwise used huge portions of what is now the US. Not to mention that natural places aren’t empty!!! They are glorious places full of life, they are what sustain us, they are the very w o r l d. 🌱

To continue last month’s discussion of pipelines through Indigenous land, a famous one is the Dakota Access Pipeline (or DAPL), although there are MANY MANY other examples. A lot of these pipelines run through Indigenous land in Canada as well. In June 2016, the Energy Transfer Partners started construction of the DAPL through the Lakota tribe’s Standing Rock reservation and through sacred landscapes and burial grounds (you may have heard the Lakota referred to as Sioux — the colonist-given name for the Oceti Sakowin — which is a nation composed of several tribes, but it’s important to acknowledge the individual tribes and the names they have for themselves). It also broke a treaty that guarantees the Sioux Nation “undisturbed use and occupation” of their land. Protests of the pipeline ensued, drawing people from all over the country in support, the majority of whom were Indigenous, and at least 200 tribes were represented!!! These unarmed and generally peaceful protestors kept protesting in below freezing temperatures while law enforcement (the police and national guard were both involved) sprayed water, tear gassed, shot rubber bullets, and arrested them, as well as hit them with shields and used automatic rifles, sound cannons, and concussion grenades, and all around excessive force. This combat-zone-like environment took away free speech and protest rights of protestors. Many people ended up with injuries, including concussions, and were arrested and fined. The pipeline started being used in April 2017. It is under review for environmental concerns, but is continuing to pump oil in the meantime. Please sign this petition to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline!

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