How do you respond to the news that another oil spill happened? That yet another oil company has been given permission to drill in yet another “protected area?” That plants in your neighborhood have decided to burn recyclables instead of recycling them domestically? How do you keep going after blow after blow?
Ecological grief is a profoundly helpless feeling. You can rage, but you’re only one person pitted against an entity with the (questionable) backing of lawyers and law enforcement. You can point out how bad an idea this all is, but it won’t matter to those who refuse to listen.
Individuals don’t have the police force’s arsenal, or the legal budget of Nestlé. We’re discouraged from organizing at every turn, as protesters are shot with water cannons and workers are forced to sit through propaganda to keep us from marshaling our numbers and the power of our labor. It keeps us willing to accept less and less — less money, less security, poorer health, dirtier air and water, fewer rights, less workplace safety — while we’re also bombarded with encouragement to seek relief through coping mechanisms like retail therapy. In other words, the things that grind us down also keep us supporting the entities behind the grinding.
As communities, our options for responding to environmental trauma expand beyond what we’re able to do as individuals. A single-person boycott, or protest, or letter writing campaign, or even a single thrown fist doesn’t amount to much. Together, we’re stronger, and strong communities can persist in the face of environmental trauma. Identifying the strengths of each member, organizing ways to distribute resources outside of the systems that profit off of environmental destruction, and creating strategies for protecting the local environment may not seem like much in the face of a global problem, but they are. Every community is different, every local environment is different, and it’s on a neighborhood scale that we’ll be able to look out for each other.
I am, perhaps, fortunate to live in a place that’s a nexus for policy and corporate lobbying. My community has options that others often don’t. On a daily basis, our neighborhoods and local businesses see the people who make the decisions that lead to environmental trauma. We know their names. We recognize them. And we can make them know they are unwelcome.
The faces behind the decisions that harm people and the environment are not gods, and they all have names and pictures.