PHS100A Environmental Studies
Warner Pacific College
February 2, 2012
A broad essay topic can be very helpful for a student who struggles for an idea to fill a page, however a broad topic can also lead to some difficulty about how to associate it with something specific. The topic for this paper is very broad. I work within a micro-culture where any events that occur on a global scale are irrelevant to their concerns at the local level. Thus, articulating how classroom instruction relates to my everyday life and my professional career choice will be challenging.
As has been touched upon in our coursework, local communities cannot isolate themselves from the issues of global environmentalism. Blissful ignorance is no defense against large-scale environmental degradation. Eventually, and to an ever-larger degree, local communities must adapt to global environmental change – even as they are faced with their own environmental challenges.
In an effort to narrow the focus on how environmental issues affect me personally, I will speak of the sadness and anger that I feel toward the mindless profit-driven callousness with which global corporations treat the environment. As an example, rain forests destruction related to the raising of cattle in the forested areas of South America to produce hamburger meat for worldwide consumption. This ongoing tragedy continues to this day – even as the involved corporate entities state that they no longer buy hamburger meat from the most recently deforested areas (Cummins, 1999). The issue of palm oil as an ingredient in processed foods, cosmetics, and medicines (generally for first-world consumption) is quickly destroying the habitat of orangutans in Malaysia – in particular the island of Borneo (Block, 2009). These environmental issues – of which few people are aware – are examples of habitat destruction that should be of great concern down to the level of the individual consumer.
In a Google search to collect information on these topics, the first three pages were sites for the meat and palm oil industries defending their practices. Additionally, the current system of commercial advertising in media allows moneyed interests to withhold advertising dollars if any negative reporting about their products should air. Therefore, the questions posed about environmental control, clean up, and monitoring in many instances becomes moot as powerful corporations choose bottom-line economics over responsible stewardship over their environmental holdings and the lands over which they have great influence. This points out how interests with much to gain from the products in question stand in the way of society’s ability to confront irresponsible product development and environmental behavior.
These global issues can be – by definition – overwhelming to individuals. There already exist a number of important environmental concerns to occupy local jurisdictions. Not only do we have to worry ourselves over which products are responsible choices to purchase, but also how we should dispose of the accursed leftover hamburger or potato chip after its procurement. Here in Portland, where environmental awareness is higher than in most municipalities, we have done well to keep ourselves somewhat abreast of environmental issues. Almost every Portlander knows where their water comes from, when sewage spills into the Willamette occur, or where their local farmer’s market is. We take civic pride in our knowledge of these issues, and defend our resources with vigor. However, the collapse of the economy is forcing Portlanders to make choices that they wish they did not have to make.
The middle class, where I feel the greatest awareness of these issues exist, has been so pinched by the poor economy that we have been forced to choose between using limited financial resources to maintain our personal standard of living, or to make socially and environmentally responsible purchases for the protection of our shared civic resources. Sadly, my family made the choice to take a fallback position that would stabilize our finances and keep our family afloat, rather than stand firm with our choice to limit our purchases to within the community. Many other families like ours have made this frustrating choice.
Now, a curmudgeon such as I might see (as I have) that the current economical state of affairs is in part a cynical ploy by moneyed interests to keep the populace off-balance. Within a state of fear and chaos there will be less resistance against their unstated goal to place financial priorities over the fate of the environment. Global awareness of the unsustainable natural resource extraction methods that large corporations use – has interfered greatly with their ability to profit from their mismanagement. My cynicism is reinforced by the seemingly intentional lack of interest many large corporations have for the economic and environmental concerns of society as a whole. The “one percenters” who would be most able to have a positive influence upon this dysfunctional situation seem unconcerned with how deeply their profit motives have hurt the very societies that they use to acquire greater wealth.
So yes, I am affected by a general lack of interest in global environmental affairs. The connection between these issues for me is not only physical (higher food, fuel, and fewer available funds for the commons) but also emotional. My beautiful children will inherit this ever-expanding war between greedy self-interest and the necessarily expensive good stewardship of the planet. Nevertheless, how does this affect my of choice of career and my ability to fulfill the obligations to my profession? As a student of human-development and as a substance-abuse counselor in training, the connections between my career choice and environmental stewardship are quite indirect. However, as I have mentioned several times in this missive, the poor attention to the common interests of human survival directly affects me – and my clients.
Substance abuse is a condition that can easily plague anyone – and without prejudice. However, substance abuse disproportionately affects the poor and homeless, and this is where the connection can be made between my studies and resource use. Without any doubt, the major concerns of the homeless are food and shelter however, there are the critical peripheral issues of mental health and substance abuse, which are more often than not – co-occurring disorders. Even those with the intellectual wherewithal to gain access to food and shelter have difficulty securing placements, and thus, you have developments such as Dignity Village in Northeast Portland, and the Occupy Portland inspired, Right 2 Survive and Right 2 Dream Too encampments downtown. Society, in general, still believes that if one is homeless, there are shelters in which to stay – and that there is no need to sleep on the streets. However, according to a recent homeless count, there are 1700 people who must sleep outside in Portland area. A Salvation Army winter warming center that had been scheduled to open, has been unable to do so. City Team Ministries, charges $5 for a bed, and the Portland Rescue Mission uses a lottery system to distribute beds. Clearly, these facilities are too few, regularly full, and as a result, people must be routinely turned away (Right 2 Survive, 2011).
Some solutions that homeless organizations are no doubt attempting to implement, but are rarely ever heard about, is the use of idle open spaces to grow food for neighborhoods, later allowing gleaners to harvest the excess to share with the homeless. Efforts to this end have been made by volunteer organizations such as TeamWorks that coordinate like-minded groups such as farmers markets, fruit growers, local farms, and supermarkets (Hands On, 2009).
Attempts have been made to acquire unoccupied or foreclosed upon homes to refurbish into low-income housing – in most cases by including the re-use of discarded building materials. These efforts are not only being accomplished by vanguard organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, but also other groups – local and national. Central City Concern in Portland continues to work hard at renovating downtown properties for use as transitional housing (CCC, 2006). Various local planning commissions are attempting to share success stories for use in other communities and governmental organizations (Cohen, & Wardrip, 2011). On the national level, H.R. 4868, The Housing Preservation, and Tenant Protection Act was debated in Congress to help “create a voluntary program to encourage the transfer of assisted rental properties to preservation-oriented owners” (Halliday, 2010).
Nevertheless, once again, it comes down to money. Housing that becomes available is usually from the result of foreclosure, so for every home that is repossessed, there is another homeless family. Burdens upon states and local governments to fund “vital” programs leave little money for any homeless and hunger projects alluded to here. Therefore, these issues remain very emotional issues for me; for there is little else that I can do other than assist the struggling multitudes – individual-by-individual.
Perhaps society will at long last recognize that the appropriation and amassment of wealth is nothing more than self-serving greed and not at all a human quality to be admired. Hoarding excess material and financial resources that might be used to care for our fellow citizens that are in need is a spiritual tragedy. Hoarding our emotional resources is an illness of the spirit that leaves our souls empty. We can say that environmental destruction is merely a symptom of a collective society that places a greater value upon their own wants than they do their fellow human beings. Even in the face of any potential global environmental tragedy, we can still take meaningful action to create change locally, by praying with all of our might, speaking out against injustice wherever we see it, and putting the question to those who claim to be looking out for our best interests.
Block, Ben. (2009). Global Palm Oil Demand Fueling Deforestation. Worldwatch Institute. Retrieved from: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6059
Central City Concern (CCC), (2006). Case Study: Comprehensive Planning and Neighborhood Revitalization. Enterprise Community Partners, Inc. Retrieved from: https://docs.google.com/viewer? a=v&q=cache:Th8xz1S24tgJ:www.practitionerresources.org/cache/documents/56293.doc…
Cohen, R., and Wardrip, K. (2011). The Economic & Fiscal Benefits of Affordable Housing. Planning Commissioners Journal. August 01, 2011. Retrieved from: http://pcj.typepad.com/planning_commissioners_jo/2011/08/501b.html
Cummins, R. (1999). Fast Food Chains, Beef Overconsumption, and Deforestation: The Case of Guatemala and Costa Rica. Retrieved from: http://www.mcspotlight.org/people/witnesses/environment/cummins_ronald.html
Halliday, Toby. (2010). Testimony for H.R. 4868, the Housing Preservation, and Tenant Protection Act.
Subcommittee on Housing and Community Opportunity, House Committee on Financial Services. March 24, 2010. Retrieved from: https://docs.google.com/viewer? a=v&q=cache:qx9_QmWX2XsJ:www.house.gov/apps/list/hearing/financialsvcs_dem/testimony/…
Hands On Greater Portland. (2009). TeamWorks: Linking Local Food & Food Security. Hands-on Connect – For Volunteers. Retrieved from: http://demo.handsonconnect.org/HOC__Volunteer_Opportunity_Details_Page?id=a0CA00000053JewMAE
Right 2 Survive PDX. (2011). Support of Occupy Portland. Right 2 Survive & Right 2 Dream Too. Retrieved from: http://right2survive.wordpress.com/