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Sharing the Struggle: Three Ways Environmental and Economic Activism Overlap

(Image: Tree chart via Shutterstock)

When it comes to activism, many people feel the need to compartmentalize themselves. Protesters who support economic justice don’t necessarily involve themselves in environmental actions, or vice-versa.

In reality, however, these struggles overlap much more than they may appear to on first glance. The pursuit of economic justice IS the pursuit of environmental justice. Each movement could stand to benefit from uniting their causes due to these three profound links:

1. The Same Individuals Are Oppressed by Both Injustices

A study uncovered that African Americans are disproportionately affected by climate change. Though the African American population pollutes 20 percent less per capita than the white population, black Americans are still more likely to live near power plants and factories and feel the brunt of pollution more harshly. In the same way that African Americans are not given a fair shake in the U.S. economy (i.e. lower wages, less opportunity), they are also victimized by environmental consequences.

Now, let’s take this phenomenon and look at it on a global scale. Not all countries pollute equally, yet the effects of climate change will impact the entire planet. How is it fair that the richest nations get to alter the lives, temperatures and even sea levels of other countries that are barely contributing to global warming? As climate change brings on more extreme weather and lethal storms, how can the poorer nations adequately protect themselves or subsequently pull together the resources to recover from these devastating elements?

Cruelly, it is the people who have caused the most damage who will have the better access to protect themselves as the consequences of climate change manifest. The less fortunate will be victims of both capitalism and global warming if significant change does not occur.

2. Debt Is Draining Our Resources

Speaking to The Nation, author and activist David Graeber details how economic and environmental problems are intertwined. The international debt crisis perpetuates financial inequality and leaves most people constantly owing others, a cycle that even hard work and saving can rarely overcome.

What does debt have to do with the environment? Everything, actually. Graeber calls debt “the promise of future productivity,” adding that, “human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now.” In order to do that, however, they need to deplete the earth’s resources more quickly, something the planet certainly cannot sustain.

As Graeber sees it, the solution is to call off all debt on a universal level, particularly since it’s a manufactured concept idea. By maintaining the idea that people owe others and must produce more in order to pay off their debts, we’ve put ourselves on a path to destruction. Eliminating this notion would slow down the need for production and also free people from insurmountable financial constraints.

3. A Common Enemy

At the end of the day, both causes share the same common enemy: corporations/the 1%.

From an economic perspective, corporations are the chief perpetrators of wealth inequality. They pay the working class poverty wages while rewarding their bigwigs with multi-million dollar bonuses. They buy and fund politicians so that they can control the government and keep their corruption institutionalized and above the law. They use their influence to squash efforts to promote income equality, thereby making wealth disparity even greater — creating a world so unjust that the richest 85 people have as much wealth as the 3.5 billion poorest people have combined.

From an environmental perspective, corporations are just as evil. Oil consumption on an individual level is minuscule compared to private business use, with most carbon emissions coming from the world’s largest corporations. The very reason that environmental regulations are so minimal to this day is that corporations stand to make major profits off polluting; in a world where money now is more important than an inhabitable planet later, this unscrupulous practice continues. In fact, these corporations are so influential that they successfully block attempts at moving toward renewable energy sources – even though they are both inevitable and necessary – because there are still profits to be made from finite resources.

A successful takedown of the 1% and corporatocracy would remove the key obstacles that have prevented the essential change for which both groups are searching.

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