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OPINION: Top 10 percent are main problem for environmental pollution

Social justice efforts are multi-faceted and complex, but all boil down to the same underlying problem: discrimination.

As Earth Day approaches, people should keep in mind that environmental conservation is no different. Can drives, utilizing reusable water bottles, recycling and planting trees are all important steps in helping the planet — but the solution to sustainable, long-lasting change must go deeper.

It has to start with large corporations and factories having stricter policies on fossil fuel emissions. The richest 10 percent of people produce half of Earth’s climate-harming fossil-fuel emissions, while the poorest half contribute a mere 10 percent, according to a British charity Oxfam report released in December.

People polluting the most never see even close to the full extent of the repercussions of their actions, while people who are not contributing to the problem suffer the consequences.

Poor people tend to live in more polluted areas, even though those who pollute the most live in the least polluted areas.

That's where discrimination and unequal allocation of resources comes into play. 

People who earn higher wages tend to live in areas away from highways, factories and other undesirable sources of pollutants. Even when there is an exception and people making a higher income live in polluted areas, they still have the money and access to get the health care they need to deal with medical problems like asthma, cardiovascular problems and cancer that stem from living in a polluted environment.

This is not a new piece of the pollution problem. In 1977 Sidney Howe, Director of the Human Environment Center, argued that the poor were exposed to more pollution than others, and that those creating the most pollution live in the least polluted places. Howe's argument remains strong more than thirty years later.

I don't know if environmental classism will ever get better in my lifetime, but the only way change will occur is if grassroots movements push for policy changes that monitor the top 10 percent that is the main contributor to the problem.

There are opportunities to do this on Central Michigan's campus. Join the Student Environmental Alliance, or support the programs and events they put on. Write letters to lawmakers, expressing the change in environmental policy you would like to see. Participate in a Take Back the Tap protest, or sport their sticker on your reusable water bottle around campus.

Chances are, if you're a student like me, you fall somewhere in the middle, or toward the bottom of contributing to polluting the planet. Activism for environmental conservation is still possible to achieve. 

Environmental activism is more than just saving the planet, it's about improving the quality of life to people who are born into unhealthy environments every day.


About Kate Carlson

Editor-in-Chief Kate Carlson is a senior from Lapeer who is majoring in journalism with a minor in ...

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