Friday, July 14, 2017

Rights and wrongs

Way back, when I was a kid who had barely gotten on to the bicycling phase, I complained to my father that our home was far away from where my friends lived.  He said that the industrial township was intentionally designed that way--with lots of open space and trees--in order to make sure that the health impacts from the open-pit (strip) mining would be minimal.

Fast forward a few decades.  We had a thirtieth high school reunion.  After the excitement died down, we middle-aged classmates even talked about our health issues, and our parents' health.  One classmate was convinced that his father's neurological disease was from the daily exposure to toxic chemicals at the fertilizer factory.  His father's health conditions were nightmarish, of an active brain trapped in an immobile body.

My slightly asthmatic hassles were what I brought to the discussion.  I added that my parents and siblings too had--and have--allergy issues that then complicate the nose, throat, lungs functioning.  A friend quickly jumped in at that point, with a forceful comment that most of us who lived there have those very issues and that, yes, the industrial air was the cause.

Of course, establishing the cause-and-effect is not easy, especially when it comes to geographic clusters of ill-health.  But, think about it: Extensive mining, where the topsoil and the layers underneath are stripped generating whatever into the atmosphere.  Then there are the byproducts of the factories.  There is enough and more to hypothesize, right?  I suppose I should be happy that the township was at least well spread out.

It is a strange "development" model that we have put into place over the past two hundred years.  We destroy the natural environment in order to do everything from making smartphones and tshirts and whatever.

The right to pursue happiness is one thing, but don't we have a more fundamental right to clean air, clean water, a clean environment?
The idea of environmental human rights is receiving growing attention worldwide, driven by our global ecological crisis.
I worry that this is coming a tad too late.  A couple of years ago, I went to India's IT capital to meet with a few friends, including this guy.  I was shocked at how warm and dry and brown it was, in contrast to my trip there when I was wrapping up high school.  My father routinely updates me that wells in my grandmother's village have gone dry.  Every visit, I am shocked by how polluted the city is.

I wish we talked more and often about environmental human rights:
The idea of environmental human rights dates back to the environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It follows other, more established conceptions of human rights, such as civil and political rights and economic, social and cultural rights, and often is classified as part of a so-called third generation of “newer” human rights.
Few international agreements explicitly refer to environmental human rights. At the national level, however, more than 100 countries around the world have constitutions that enshrine environmental rights to some degree, including Brazil and Kenya.
Only a handful of U.S. states, including Pennsylvania and Hawaii, have constitutions that explicitly incorporate environmental rights. What is more, these provisions were largely established decades ago and have had uneven success in their enforcement.
With this president and his secretaries for the natural environments (EPA and Interior) we are well on our way to making things even worse.


Ramesh said...

Interesting concept - environmental human rights.

The problem is that we have been completely unable to make anywhere near the right balance between economic development and environmental protection.

The problem in India is much more easy to at least mitigate. A large proportion of the problem can be solved by better urban management and behaviour by the people. Pathetic management of public services and endemic corruption is half the problem . Wilful and criminal action by everybody is the other half of the problem (ranging from something as basic as peeing in the open to directly letting sewage out into the nearby lake).

Sriram Khé said...

"we have been completely unable to make anywhere near the right balance between economic development and environmental protection"

That raises so many complicated questions, such as:
Who is the "we"?
Why have we been completely unable?
What is "development" and what is "economic development"?
Is there a "right" balance between economic development and environmental protection?

After years of thinking about those kinds of questions, which was also the reason for my ditching the electrical engineering background, I am convinced that it requires for people to think about those questions (and more) ... and to think sincerely about those. But, that ain't gonna happen. Which means, we will see sewage being out into the nearby lake; mercury dumped in the hills; forests being cleared; chemicals released into the air; ... "we the people" :(

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