Camille and I had been Facebook friends for quite some time. I presume we connected through our mutual interest in local and state Democratic politics. Several people had recommended I take Camille to a blog lunch for part of my 52-week challenge, and after a couple of reschedulings, she and I were finally able to meet and share a meal. Her son joined us.
When I arrived at The Mule, Camille sat at a cozy window table. A wealth of expertise on a number of subjects, the self described “full time hellraiser” jumped right in. We were there to discuss, among other things, environmental justice. It’s an issue about which Camille is passionate and persistent. She opened saying she spends a lot of time thinking about the issues and environment.
“The issues are so huge,” Camille lamented, “The fix is not in the hands of people.”
Camille said that small changes can’t really fix global problems. And further, the human brain is not wired to deal with long term change. The fixes we need will require wholesale lifestyle changes. They will have to be societal.
She was a wealth of knowledge on any number of topics and placed so much emphasis on the things we take for granted. Time and again she reiterated wants versus needs. And we hadn’t even ordered yet.
When our server came round, I ordered the BLT. Camille got something called the “Fancy Pants,” a sandwich on nine grain wheat with roasted chicken, brie, gruyere, caramelized onion, pear, and basil pesto.
The topic turned back to understanding excess as opposed to essentials. Camille illustrated her point — that humans are harming the environment by making needlessly selfish choices — by framing it around our choice of housing. Particularly, the preferences of those in the US.
“We don’t build homes that are efficient. We build homes that we like.” We build the homes we want. Not the homes we need. If we had a culture of doing just enough to satisfy our needs, we might not be in the environmental spiral we’re in.
She spoke about how President Carter was ridiculed for caring about the environment. Then Reagan removed the solar panels from the White House to assert some kind of point. The point, in reality, was that the deep pockets of the filthy rich who profit off of minerals and resources in the ground are more important than the health and safety of the poor and middle class. Climate change is real. It’s affecting us all. But it will have a disproportionately negative effect on those least equipped to deal with it.
“Shit rolls down hill,” said Camille, “The people at the bottom catch the most.”
She insisted environmental justice is socio-economic. As the scale is tipped toward the wealthy few, there is little incentive to encourage change. “Environmental injustice is harming others to convenience a certain class,” Camille said.
We share the world with a host of background characters. We share the costs of environmental injustice with all of them.
“We share it all.”
We share it all.
Camille used to work in Devon’s Environmental Department. She notes that anyone who worked there and who also lived in extraction areas drank exclusively bottled water. The issue, Camille notes, is long chain carbon molecules. Many areas in Oklahoma have terrible water quality, she says, due to fracking pollution that places these elements in the groundwater.
Camille continued to walk me through a whole host of issues. Depleted uranium and the birth defects it is causing. The continuing ramifications of the use of Agent Orange in the Vietnam War – organ failures, cancers, and disabilities. Foster care and its ties to environmental issues like water quality and sustainable food supplies.
“We’re killing ourselves universally,” Camille sighed, “We like bandaids – they’re a lot better than mitigation.”
With the cuts coming through the Oklahoma Department of Health, tons of people are losing their jobs. Camille told me that, in the lobby of Northcare, people cried over the cuts — because they knew exactly what it would mean. There are even support groups for those losing their jobs and in the mental health field.
“The long-term effects of it are not unique to Oklahoma.”
“We have other ways of eating our neighbors,” Camille continued. She said the Rust Belt is drying up its own lakes by wasting large amounts of potable water on green lawns. They’re disrupting the ecosystem by eliminating pests like mosquitos. We must all understand that we have an impact on the environment. But this impact is shared. Camille notes that, even in Yellowstone, animal activity changed the flow of one of the great rivers. The foot and hoof traffic led to changes that stopped the natural progression of land evolution.
But there is hope. An example of humans reversing such damaging climatological trends can be found in Texas, which Camille says is not necessarily a “bastion of liberalism.” Texas once fought an invasive species problem — red cedars. They countered and corrected dropping river levels by eradicating the species.
“Ecology is human ecology. Small solutions can be big change” – and affect the balance of the biosphere. We are a worldwide, interdependent web, after all. But for wholesale change to occur, we will have to start accepting the costs of our decades of poor decision-making.
“The costs of change are false constructs,” Camille warned.
Throughout our meal, she wove for me a tangled but intricate tapestry of the problems facing our global ecosystem. Everything can be connected at some degree. And without our acceptance of our liability and responsibility, humanity may not survive the environmental impacts of its actions. Public policies and zoning laws must change. Our relationship to the earth must change.
The Great Depression altered our self-sufficient timeline. It spawned factory farms. Before the Depression, we grew our own food. But the economic tragedy compounded by the Dust Bowl led us down a path of foodstuffs packed with preservatives, a glut of mechanized farming, and the industrialization of food.
Camille noted that the average household has, on average, three days of food on hand. Essentially, we are vulnerable to any disruption of the food distribution system. Climate issues are perhaps the most profound threat and the easiest for us to succumb to.
“What happens when you can’t get your staples?” Camille asked. Outside of doomsday preppers, who has really considered that question? One major storm. One natural disaster. And no food after just three short days.
These are issues of life. These are issues that are persistent. Circular. Cyclical. One broken spoke in the wheel can destroy it all.
I left that lunch feeling informed and cautioned. And anxious about the world to come.