Haw River, Connection Points

This is a picture of the Haw River I took while out on a hike with my family. In addition to “invisible” pollution like PFAS. we still need to take care of visible pollution like this.

I am the proud owner of over 40 filled notebooks. I started writing consistently in diaries, journals and notebooks in sixth grade, and since then not a day goes by without at least one entry simply entitled “grateful” with a list of things that made me smile (and some days, there are rant pages. Life is all about balance!). One of the things I most enjoyed about ENS 111 this semester were all of the opportunities we had to reflect on our learning. For me, reflection is what grounds me, what enables me to be a better person and what allows me to learn about the world around me in a deep and meaningful way.

One of my favorite activities to date was when we connected the PFAS crisis in the Haw River with our own lives. Often times in classes, what you are learning about feels far away. Whether its because you are learning about a war that happened fifty years ago or a place you’ve never heard of, it can be difficult to connect. However in Unit 2, we focused on connection in many ways, and the experience was so fruitful.

Read ahead for my own reflections.

  1. How do the Pittsboro situation and water-related environmental justice readings relate to our unit on carbon, energy, & climate change (trends, weather patterns, cognitive bias)?

I think the situation in Pittsboro and the water related environmental readings relate to cognitive bias most. If you have never had an experience with a lack of clean water, you may never think about the injustice and inequity that exists with water. You may never understand that clean water is directly tied to race and class. It’s similar to many other environmental justice topics, too. For example, when I was growing up, my parents prioritized fruits and vegetables. Instead of having gaming systems or the latest technology, my parents bought organic food and took us on road trips to see nature. Both things instilled in me and my siblings from an early age the importance of the food you put in your body and where that food comes from. But this also meant that I had no idea fruit was a luxury because my parents ensured it was always available to us. I didn’t find out fruit and vegetables were expensive until I started buying my own food in high school, and I found myself leaning toward pre packaged or canned items because they were cheaper. The quality of your food is an environmental justice issue, much like sustainability or recycling is. Many environmentalist issues are privileged actions not everyone can afford to take.

  1. How do they relate to things you’re studying or learning about in other classes this semester, or in past semesters? 

The privilege in being environmentally friendly is something we talked about in Contemporary Global Politics class, which I found very interesting. There are many different forms of privilege with being sustainable, for example. While it is good that thrifting is trendy because it stops a lot of people from over buying and companies from over producing, it also impacts lower income communities because people who can purchase items from name brands are now shopping at thrift stores, where they do not have to shop but can. However the reverse is not true for people who are lower income. Shopping at a thrift store is not trendy or sustainable, it’s a necessity. You can look at the privilege present in sustainability in many different ways — buying food with less packaging means buying from socially conscious brands, which are usually more expensive. Buying products that are sustainable are often more expensive and/or not present in low income communities. Marketing strategies for sustainability do not target ethnic or racial minorities, but rather those who can afford to be sustainable. 

  1. How do they relate to things you’ve heard about in the news or from friends and family? To things you’ve experienced in your life?

I think the idea of privilege in sustainability most clearly relates to my family’s own practices. When I was growing up, we took vacations once a year, and while I was incredibly fortunate to be financially able to do so, I didn’t know that as a kid. As I grew older and we became unable to take trips due to paying for college and other expenses, what I noticed was that while things like vacations and superfluous spending was cut back or diminished, my parents never took away healthy food options, or eco-friendly household supplies, or composting. My mom found inexpensive ways to be chemical free, invested in beeswax paper for food storage and continues to shop locally. We have the privilege to do so, but not everyone does. And even then, our privilege is different from other people who are socioeconomically different than we are. Those with higher incomes may be able to support themselves and companies participating in social change.

  1. How do they relate to your own values and goals?

One of my goals in life is to always have healthy options. I know, it sounds kind of weird to have a life goal to always have healthy food, but since I was in high school I had heard the ramen narrative. My friends would talk about how we were going to be so broke in college all we could eat was ramen. I hated hearing that. I thought to myself “no matter what, I’m going to make sure I fuel my body well. Even if that means wearing old clothes or not having as many things, I want fruits and vegetables.” It stuck with me. Even now, on my 300 block meal plan, I always snag extra fruits and vegetables from the dining hall to stock up for the week. I probably look a little strange, but it’s important to me. I recognize the privilege I have however to even think like this, and the cognitive biases that come with it.