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What is NEJRC?

noun. [KNEE-jerk]

The Northeastern Environmental Justice Research Collaborative is a multidisciplinary research collaborative made up of scholars engaged in political ecology and environmental justice initiatives. Based at Northeastern University in Boston, the collaborative works on a wide range of local, regional, national, and international topics and issues. Professor Daniel Faber, a long-time researcher and advocate around environmental justice, serves as the Director.

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Earth Day 2020 Goes Digital
Charlotte Collins


April 22nd marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, an important milestone for the environmental movement. This year, among worldwide stay at home orders, Earth Day events are moving online. 

These circumstances are not ideal, especially at a time when the environmental crisis requires drastic action. Community participation is an essential component of climate activism, and there is no doubt that getting that is much harder without group events. 

But hope is not lost. Environmental groups are working to harness the potential they still have, holding online events like webinar panels to educate on climate change. The big challenge now is to make sure that these panels get seen, and the important message of climate activism gets out. 

That's where you come in. Sign up for the (FREE) climate change panels many organizations are hosting. Educate your social media followers on climate change, and provide steps for what they can do to help. Now, the internet is arguably more influential than ever — use it to make change. 

Earth Day is about both activism and appreciation. Get outside and take a (socially distant) walk. Smell the blooming flowers (Spring is here!!!!). We'd like to wish you all a happy Earth Day from NEJRC!

Resources: 

  • Earthday.org has created a master map of online Earth Day events, and the Husky Environmental Action Team has made an awesome Earth Day website with links to online resources!

  • We Don't Have Time is hosting a FREE climate conference from April 20th-25th. Sign up here. (I am personally very excited for this one!)

  • Northeastern's School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs is hosting "Celebrating Our Planet and Advancing a Just, Sustainable, and Resilient Future," a panel of NU Professors in the field on April 20th from 1-2pm. Register here. 

 
David J. Phillip/Associated Press. Source. 

The Pandemic Pause on Environmental Protection
Marie Senescall


Much of life is on hold in the United States as millions of residents stay home to avoid the novel coronavirus, but humanity’s detrimental impacts on the environment are not taking any time off. As meeting and organizing become a threat to public health and COVID-19 is the primary concern, environmental advocacy is slowing down. With this pause in protection, the planet is more exposed to those who want to prioritize economic gain over a safe, healthy environment.

Near the end of last month, the Environmental Protection Agency let up on its regulations for polluters in response to COVID-19. Facilities like plants and factories will not be penalized for failing to meet clean air and water standards if they claim coronavirus impacts their ability to do so. Proponents of the EPA’s move cite layoffs, budget cuts, and other issues businesses must undergo amidst coronavirus conditions. The opposition to this memo is strong, however, and Gina McCarthry, President of Natural Resources Defense Council, describes it as “an open license to pollute.” Despite prominent public health officials and scientists focusing solely on the pandemic, the EPA refused to extend the period for people to comment on the memo.

In another hit to environmentalism, the Keystone Pipeline is set to move forward with construction after ten years of protest. The oil pipeline, running from Canada to Texas, will employ workers who will subsequently move into rural areas, risking disease spread where healthcare resources are already scarce. Keystone XL can make progress now that the environmental advocates who have consistently organized against it can no longer fight amid coronavirus conditions, as non-essential travel  is not currently advised.

Both the Keystone XL’s progress and the EPA’s loosening regulations show the gateway that COVID-19 provides for pushback against environmental efforts. The Trump administration has also taken this opportunity to aggressively continue with the rollback of environmental policies. The administration aims to roll back 95 specific environmental rules, many of which would benefit the fossil fuel industry, taking advantage of a distracted public. David Hayes, director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at New York University School of Law, states that people are currently “disabled from fully engaging against this ideological push.” Again, the administration will not extend public comment deadlines on these issues amidst the pandemic.

Environmental objectives in the U.S. face setbacks in current conditions, and the issue also persists outside the country. Due to the contagious virus, Brazil’s environmental agency, Ibama, will not send as many field operatives to prevent climate crimes like illegal logging. An estimated one third of these environmental regulation enforcers are at-risk in terms of age and pre-existing medical conditions, making exposure to coronavirus all the more dangerous. Ibama’s change in policy, though done out of concern for its workers’ health, could increase the risk of deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest.

COVID-19 places environmental protection on hold, leaving the planet at risk while, in many cases, the drive for profit persists. Though not everyone can focus on tackling climate change at the moment, it is important for those who can to pay attention to these shifts and find ways to continue prioritizing Earth’s health and safety.

Credit: HECTOR MATA/AFP via Getty Images

Farmworkers Left Vulnerable to COVID-19
Kira Mok


In a time where everything seems to be closing due to precautions surrounding the global pandemic, grocery stores are still open. These businesses are essential for good reason - they provide the food that Americans rely on even more during this time of quarantine, when many restaurants are closed. When we enter, stores are stocked with produce. But, who is at the start of that chain? 

Farmworkers. 

In this time of crisis, farmworkers are putting their lives at risk to provide the produce that stocks America’s grocery stores. Already a vulnerable population, two-thirds of California’s farmworkers are undocumented and cannot receive benefits from the nation’s coronavirus relief bill. In addition, workers on H-2As (temporary agricultural visas) are housed by their employers, often meaning crowded living and commuting conditions that increase risk of spreading the virus. 

These workers show up, no matter what, because they cannot afford not to. National Geographic highlighted a farmworker from Parlier, California, Eugenia Gonzales, who said that due to price spikes she cannot afford to eat right now, and the masks she usually uses to protect herself from the dust are gone from stores.

Even if they feel ill, farmworkers are reluctant to take time off since they have no sick leave. Many workers fear losing their job if they need to be quarantined. In addition, California’s population of farmworkers is aging. The average age of California farmworkers is 45, making the population more vulnerable to the pandemic. COVID-19 has proved to be more prevalent and fatal among older people. 

Despite their vulnerable position, farmworkers report that they have received little to no information about how to combat the spread of the disease. Many workers are indigenous and speak languages other than Spanish, so even if they did receive information, it would likely not be in their language. 

In this perilous time more than ever, we rely on grocery stores for the essential food and supplies we need to keep us safe and healthy. And in this time more than ever, it is important to think about the people who come in to work to help bring food into stores. These “behind the scenes” workers are putting themselves at risk to ensure that food stays on the shelves, often without choice. 

It is important to recognize the privilege that those of us quarantining inside are entitled to. We get the chance to protect ourselves and our loved ones from rampant disease, some of us get the benefit of continuing work remotely, and many of us have a seemingly endless supply of newfound free time. People like the California farmworkers are not so lucky. 

So the next time you go to a grocery store, take a second to think about the farmworkers who picked the tomato or cucumber you are buying for your salad, and the ways that you and those you know could try to help. 

People hold signs at an Amazon building in Staten Island, New York, on 30 March. Photograph: Jeenah Moon/Reuters. 

Amazon Workers Fear COVID-19
Julia Carlin


On April 14, Amazon fired two tech employees after they publicly denounced the warehouse conditions for lack of sufficient protection during the coronavirus pandemic. Emily Cunningham and Maren Costa were both user experience designers for the e-commerce website and active members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, an employee advocacy group whose goal is to force the company to address their role in the climate crisis. 

On Tuesday, April 7, Amazon fired Bashir Mohamed, a warehouse worker from Minnesota, who was advocating for sanitation to protect workers from contracting and spreading the virus. This follows the firing of Chris Smalls last month, who was fired after speaking out and regarding unsafe working conditions in Staten Island and the company ignoring cases of COVID-19 within the warehouse.  

Last Friday, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice sent out a petition to warehouse workers prompting them to join a discussion regarding how the advocacy group could help them during the pandemic. Within an hour, 1,000 employees accepted the invite to the virtual meeting, which would also be attended by environmental activist and author, Naomi Klein. Later that day, the employees reported that Amazon had deleted the email, so they moved their coordination to an external email platform. 

Many Americans, unable to leave their homes, are resorting to services of Amazon and Whole Foods, a supermarket chain owned by Amazon. The company’s stock hit a record high on April 14th. CEO, Jeff Bezos, the wealthiest man in the world, is raking in profits while his hourly employees are putting themselves on the frontlines of a global pandemic and earning insufficient wages.  

The hands filling your Whole Foods order are trembling — terrified by unsafe working conditions and the prospect of losing their source of income if they dare speak up or miss work. Despite Amazon’s pledge to not fire workers for missing work if they were feeling sick during April and March, Amazonians United of NY announced in a tweet that truck drivers had been both pressured to resign and flat out fired for missing shifts during the pandemic. They also report that Amazon is illegally denying them paid sick leave

Jeff Bezos also spends billions on funding climate science denial propaganda, despite trying to show an eco-friendly public image.. Earlier this year, he publicly donated 10 billion dollars, just a small fraction of his $124.7 billion net worth, to the Earth Fund a month. Bezos has also helped fund projects by British Petroleum and Shell and still funds Competitive Enterprise Institute, a massive climate denying think tank. 

Amazon perpetuates a culture of wasteful consumerism and has introduced an unprecedented need for instant consumer gratification. Prime has a massive carbon footprint and encourages  one click purchases of cheap and disposable products, most of which will end up in a landfill the same year they’re made. Amazon’s selling points of convenient shopping and an eco-friendly Whole Foods are propaganda that veils the bigger picture of unsafe working conditions, wasteful consumer habits, and silenced employees. 


Amazon workers are asking for your solidarity. Sign the open letter to Jeff Bezos to condemn his abuse of laborers. 

Amazon Employees For Climate Justice: https://twitter.com/AMZNforClimate/status/1245374588424294401?s=20 

In Scramble for Coronavirus Supplies, Rich Countries Push Poor Aside
Jane Bradley, The New York Times.
Read more here
HIV Prison Activists Are Leading a Freedom Movement in the Face of COVID-19
Emily Hobson & Laura McTighe, Truthout. 

Read more here
 
Dumped Milk, Smashed Eggs, Plowed Vegetables: Food Waste of the Pandemic
David Yaffe-Bellany and Michael Corkery,
The New York Times.
Read more here.
California offering $500 in coronavirus relief to undocumented immigrants
Rebecca Klar, The Hill. 

Read more here. 

Environmental Ethics Professor Jacob Stump Considers Our Moral Obligations to Future Generations
Claire Spector


Jacob Stump is an Assistant Teaching Professor of Philosophy at Northeastern. He teaches Ancient Philosophy and Political Thought as well as some ethics courses, such as Environmental Ethics. In addition to teaching, Stump also runs a working group on philosophy as a way of life. Through his work, he considers different ethical dilemmas and attempts to determine the strength of possible conclusions by analyzing their supporting arguments.
 

Claire Spector: Why are you teaching Environmental Ethics and what do you hope to accomplish through that?

Professor Jacob Stump: To change the world! This might sound a bit grandiose, but I think philosophy, at its best, transforms the way you perceive the world, and especially what you perceive to be valuable. We happen to live in a society that, for the most part, thinks it’s totally cool to eat animals, to prioritize luxury developments even at the cost of destroying flourishing ecosystems, and not to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. We rethink all of that behavior in Environmental Ethics. And I think if you take the material seriously—I mean, for me, the first time I taught the course, it changed my life in a radical way, and I think it has that effect for some students, too.


CS: Let’s discuss a topic that you have included in your Environmental Ethics course: the Non-Identity Problem. Could you please explain what that is?

JS: Totally. One reason you might think we should curtail emissions is that, if we don’t, we’ll make people in the future worse off. That seems obvious. If we don’t curtail emissions, people in the future will be made worse off due to experiencing lots of bad things—increased flooding, increased natural disasters, increased forced migration, a world with way fewer species, way less healthy ecosystems. The Non-Identity Problem shows that, actually, this line of reasoning fails. No matter what we do, basically, we won’t make people in the future worse off. 


CS: Okay, so what’s the reasoning behind that argument?

JS: Imagine we were to adopt a policy of increasing emissions, and imagine also the people who will live 200 years from now. Will our policy have made them worse off? Well, the thought is, if we didn’t adopt that policy—if, instead, we curtailed emissions—then those people in the future wouldn’t exist. Of course, some future people would exist, but not those people. The reason is that major policy decisions affect who is born. They affect when people have sex and which people have sex. So, if we had curtailed emissions, the first group of people 200 years from now would never exist, since, if we had curtailed emissions, different people would have had reproductive sex at different times. Okay, now we can ask whether we make that first group any worse off by increasing emissions. It was because of that policy that they came to exist, and, let’s suppose, their lives are worth living. The alternative is that they wouldn’t exist at all. All we have to do now is observe that a life worth living is better than no life at all, and we are faced with the conclusion that increasing emissions will not make anyone in the future worse off, so long as people continue to have lives worth living. 


Want to read more? 
Click here.
 

Preface
Lily Cunningham



“Preface” is an analysis of the interplay between culture and environment written for my Principles of Microeconomics class. In this paper, I emphasize how environmental exploitation is the foundation of our cultural framework, yet our society relentlessly continues trends that deplete planetary integrity. I conclude by questioning the morality of our cultural ideals, and ultimately, claim that society is ethically obligated to part from pursuing economic benefits at environmental expense.


Environment creates culture as culture creates environment. Our economic interest in plants “steered the course of history” that created our culture (Leopold, 1949, p. 98). If the profitability of bluegrasses in Kentucky was never discovered, would there have been a Civil War? Would there have been slavery in the United States if it wasn’t for our economic self-interest in crop yield? Would there be racial discrimination in American culture today without this incentive for slavery? American culture revolves around turning a profit because the environment gave our ancestors the opportunity to grow and generate income from produce. The dominant culture in the United States prefers an economic system that favors the maximization of production, from the environment or other resources, within a given resource constraint because this economic ideology gave the most utility and satisfaction to our past ancestors, who then passed the ideology to their successors. In other words, the environment affects economic output which determines cultural values for generations.

Our culture depicts us as conquerors of land that derive satisfaction from the maximization of production because this yields the most income. We are taught that our value is based on income, so it is economically optimal to fully utilize resources and operate production at its capacity along the production possibility frontier. In doing so, we fail to realize that this method is unsustainable and destructive to the integrity, beauty, and stability of our environment. We eliminate perceived non-economically important elements, such as nature, even though these noncommercial elements are still essential to a healthy, functioning land community. We base our economic strategies on what yields individuals the most "immediate" and "visible" economic gain, even if the tradeoff of that choice is oftentimes harmful to the ecological community (Leopold, 1949, p. 99). Thus, our cultural focus on generating income from our lands has negatively affected the environment.

Even if this cultural norm of exploiting our environment for our own economic self-interest was “efficient” for our ancestors, it is still practiced even after it has become “inefficient” (Guiso, Sapienza, & Zingales, 2006, p. 25). We continue to follow a cultural trend without questioning its relevance as the possibility of human extinction confronts us in the contemporary world. What value does income really have if it destroys the environment that keeps us all alive? Culture determines the extent of how our human instincts cause us to compete for a place in the community, while our ethics prompt us to cooperate, as well as be sustainable and respectful members of it, so that there is still a place to compete for future generations.

Due to the recent outbreak of COVID-19, large scale climate events have been postponed until the foreseeable future. 

Here are a few ways you can still get involved, in the safety and comfort of your own home and at least 6 feet away from anyone else! Staying inside and social distancing are crucial to prevent the spread of the virus. 
  • Stay up to date on environmental justice news! While we know NEJRC Reactions is a great source of EJ News, here's a recommendation of a few other sources you can go to for news in between our issues. 
  • Keep up with COVID-19.
  • Consider donating to an environmental justice organization! One of the best ways to make a difference is to make a donation to an organization that is doing work for social good. Here are some recommendations. 
    • Coming Clean is a collaborative of environmental health and justice experts, including NEJRC's very own Daniel Faber, working to reform the chemical and energy industries so they are no longer a source of harm. 
    • Alternatives for Community and Environment (ACE) builds the power of communities of color and low-income communities in Massachusetts to eradicate environmental racism and classism, create healthy, sustainable communities, and achieve environmental justice.
    • If you have extra masks or other PPE, check if your local medical facilities are looking for donations. 
    • Charity Navigator is a great resource for finding organizations to donate to. Organizations are ranked on a star system based on their Financial Health and their Accountability and Transparency. 
    • Global Giving is another great source for finding COVID-19 relief projects. 
  • Support small businesses! If you have the means, order takeout from a local restaurant or buy an online gift card to use later. 
Copyright © 2020. Northeastern University: NEJRC, All Rights Reserved. 

Edited by Charlotte Collins COS'23, Kira Mok CSSH'23, and Julia Carlin CAMD'22
Designed by Charlotte Collins COS'23
Logo Designed by Anna Driscoll CAMD'18

Contact Information:
https://web.northeastern.edu/nejrc/ 
nejrcreactions@gmail.com

 
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