The Scoop On Sustainability: “What will you fight for?”
Published: Friday, October 25, 2013
Updated: Friday, October 25, 2013 01:10
On Tuesday, Dr. Riki Ott spoke at UNH on a subject that is discussed not even remotely often enough. Ott is a leader in the field of marine toxicology and an expert on oil spills. However, on Tuesday she spoke not of her academic and professional achievements, but of her work in social and environmental justice activism and its relevance to everyone on this planet. She may be best known as the oil spill expert who spoke out against fatally toxic dispersants used on the BP Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but Ott’s passion for actively advocating for the environment and marginalized communities takes hold on the frontlines of a variety of issues, from the Exxon Valdez incident to Occupy Wall Street. She echoed the thoughts and voices of many activists today, who realize that environmental and social injustices must be solved together, they must be acted upon now, and change must be demanded by the people.
Despite all that humans have proven ourselves capable of in regards to cultural complexity or scientific inquiry, the realities of widespread inequality and global unbalance is staggering; a majority of people still endure a life without even the most basic necessities, while a tiny minority perpetrates and profits from their suffering. Current class inequality is no less blatantly obvious than it was in 1789, with a handful of individuals spending inordinate amounts of money on extravagant lifestyles, and as we’ve seen, populations around the world have grown frustrated and fearful, but a brave few are willing to take the risk of action for the possibility of a more promising future.
In the United States, the brief ‘waking up’ of our usually apathetic population which came in the form of Occupy Wall Street was not heralded for its courage as it should have been. Thanks to the biased and dismissive portrayal by the mainstream media, OWS and countless other social/environmental justice campaigns are presented to the public as simply a fleeting attempt at rebellion by radical college drop-outs, instead of Americans across all demographics seeking equality, and justice served to those who have destroyed the economy, and coolly murdered thousands without punishment. Five years ago, the scope of deregulation and lack of oversight, coupled with extreme risk-taking, no consideration of or concern for consequences, and exorbitant spending by those at the top of the banks and mortgage companies were all crimes so extensive and deeply rooted in the private sector that they swiftly brought down banks across the globe, and took the people with them. But justice was not served. Perpetrators received no punishment even remotely appropriate to the severity of their crimes – instead, they were given millions in severance pay and a nod of approval to vie for high level government positions or prominent professorships at Ivy League universities.
Perhaps most frightening is that the relatively few people who have understood the gravity of major structural economic and societal flaws are consequently more likely to be jailed and silenced by our own government for trying to change the system which has allowed such extreme inequality and injustice. Despite being founded on the principles of freedom, liberty, equality and justice, the U.S. has become almost unrecognizably removed from the radically democratic governing structure that was once so revolutionary it sparked popular uprisings around the world and provided a model for a government of the people, by the people, for the people. And yet, only two years since Occupy Wall Street started a social revolution with the potential to set a level of public engagement which could finally achieve real political change, a familiar attitude of complacent indolence appears to have returned. Content with our ignorance, the majority of Americans deliberately choose to be inactive citizens, engaged in politics only when it’s not too controversial and can fit in 140 characters or less.
The fact that our government shut down for two weeks and people weren’t rioting in the streets should be a painfully obvious indicator that there is something seriously amiss in the U.S. As it’s certainly not the case that Americans are simply unable to comprehend complex issues, the epidemic of apathy suggests that citizens no longer believe that the power of the people is strong enough to prevent and fix problems caused by a rich and powerful few. This defeatist attitude of the masses is equally, if not more dangerous than influential and corrupt ‘one percenters.’ Far too many people prefer to ignore reality and instead live in the fantasy world that the corporate-run mass media has built for the average American. We are instructed to be more upset about Kim Kardashian’s latest shenanigan than the fact that a handful of right-wing extremists had the power to shut down the government of the most powerful country in the world, without the support of the people, or the majority of those elected to represent the people, or the president.
Citizens need to have the courage to spit in the face of Goliath and force the individuals we elect to represent us to consider the very real consequences of a system which has rotted to its core. We need to work towards a global understanding that if we don’t stand up now to corporate greed and influence over governments, we will never be able to fix the failings of our public education system, the inadequacies of our social services, and the ever-increasing wealth gap. We need to believe that the structure can be better, and that the citizenry does have the power to change it, but if people want to see large-scale change, the change has to start with the people, especially the youth.