The concept of effective action comes with a number of different ideas backing it up. In the most general way, effective action is seen as individuals or groups taking action in the most efficient and meaningful manner that makes it so the outcome is the most beneficial to the greatest number of people. Essentially, we have an obligation to help one another and we should be doing this in the most effective and efficient way possible. For an Environmental Engagement course, we read an article titled the “Introduction to Effective Altruism,” which insists that this field “is a research field which uses high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to help others as much as possible.”
“It is a research field which uses high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to help others as much as possible.”(Effective Altruism, 2016)
While effective action seems like a straightforward concept, there are actually quite a number of issues that arise when attempting to better understand it at a deeper level. Because effective action pushes that we should be helping the greatest number of people in the most beneficial way possible, issues arise that have to do with the smaller steps that people are taking to help others. By pushing the idea that only the biggest of actions should be taken, it can potentially hinder the rise of solutions to other problems we face. Donating money to different charities is seen as a reliable source of effective action. However, it’s insisted upon that when donating money, the charities that work on providing solutions to the most important of the world’s problems are the ones that deserve to be donated to the most. If the charity already has the solution to a problem that is deemed extremely important, then those charities take even higher priority because they hold the key to helping people already.
This may seem reasonable in that the charities that can do the greatest amount of good be given the highest priority, but it also unintentionally suggests that solution to smaller problems that the world faces be put on the back burner. Under this effective action model, individuals may be influenced to just ignore these smaller issues altogether. While there isn’t as dire of a need to create solutions to these smaller problems, we can’t just ignore them altogether. Eventually, the combination of these smaller dilemmas will add up and we will be faced with a large number of people suffering due to the combination of many smaller issues we face. This also poses the question, who decides which issues take a higher priority? Are there core values we can turn to in order to answer this question? In reality, they likely vary from person to person which makes it all the more difficult to answer who gets to make these monumental decisions in what problems we should be prioritizing. Hence, effective action creates problems when determining what issues need to be the primary focus. It forces little issues to the side that may be left unsolved and untreated which will likely come back to harm us in bigger ways than we might expect considering the little attention we are giving them in this scenario.
Portland Harbor Community Coalition
The Portland Harbor Community Coalition (PHCC) is a group of individuals that is comprised of many different members and activists from the surrounding communities. These people are among some of those most-impacted groups from the Portland Harbor Superfund site along the Willamette River. PHCC strives to represent the well-being of those negatively impacted by pollution from the Portland Harbor Superfund site, specifically those that have been displaced and/or are at a socio-economic disadvantage, as well as get their voices heard. PHCC takes action to advocate for the clean-up and remediation of the Superfund site in a fair and just fashion. They are working to make sure these marginalized groups don’t have to be negatively effected by this waste site for any longer than is absolutely necessary, and that all remediation processes include the consideration of these individuals. When it comes to effective action, they try to prioritize based on fairness and justice, finding which actions are to be taken first, and potentially even which groups within the already marginalized groups are under the most distress, or facing the biggest threat. They then have to decide if they need to look for solutions for only certain members of the larger marginalized group first, or focus on the good of the whole. Many of the individuals and groups that the PHCC looks out for and works with are being marginalized in some way, so it again bodes the question, how does one decide who to help first? What is the most pressing matter? The PHCC strives to leave no group or individual out of the equation, but accomplishing that can often prove more tasking that it sounds. It also requires a diverse amount of engagement, calling for efforts to be open and communicative, not to mention accessible, as they try to properly represent the rights and recovery of all groups. This can also be controversial and complicated, as many other groups and individuals aren’t necessarily also seeing this bigger picture of all involved parties. Deciding the values of where energy and resources can be best spent, and in what ways to help people and groups of various risk levels, is a constant upheaval. Ultimately, they are seeking solutions and safety for all marginalized groups, in the way that speaks most fairly in the ways of equitable environmental justice.
In partnering and working with PHCC, we will attempt to gain a better understanding of how they work to determine the steps that need to be taken to pursue ways to contribute to the betterment of the lives of the marginalized people who are being negatively impacted by the Portland Harbor Superfund site. Being a non-governmental organization, working toward change in areas such as the clean-up of the Willamette Cove, a project currently being overseen mainly by governmental agencies, involves engagement of various methods (outreach, activism, etc). While the EPA has a strong hand in assessment, monitoring, and enforcement of the Superfund Site, the DEQ has jurisdiction in overseeing source control with many contaminated areas, and overall upland oversight. Understanding the relationship that PHCC has, or does not have, with the EPA, DEQ, City of Portland, and other involved government entities will shed on light how they better formulate effective action. There is also a lack of information currently on the amount of collaboration the PHCC does or does not do with PRP’s (Potentially Responsible Parties), something that further understanding of, would help in the bigger picture.
Grassroots activism through campaigns and outreach is PHCC’s biggest priority, and while we are trying to grasp a better understanding of this large environmental and socio-economic problem, working with this organization in order to better appreciate the impacts and challenges facing local communities throughout the extended political process of CERCLA, will seemingly prove beneficial. Additionally, understanding how they compare with, or perhaps are even influenced by, movements such as the Environmental Justice Movement, a movement that focuses on “an approach for meeting the needs of underserved communities through policies and programs that reduce disparities while fostering places that are healthy and vibrant” is helpful in understanding their motivations and goals,
Equitable development in Environmental Justice is an approach for meeting the needs of underserved communities through policies and programs that reduce disparities while fostering places that are healthy and vibrant.(EPA, 2019)
In getting a greater understanding of the Portland Superfund Harbor Site and all involved/interested parties, we aim to use a frame of effective action to better understand how different cultural and socio-economic communities experience environmental problems differently, based on the uneven distribution of wealth and opportunity throughout history, via the work of Portland Harbor Community Coalition and its partners.
For More Information
“Equitable Development and Environmental Justice,” United States Environmental Protection Agency, March 28, 2019. Accessed February 26, 2020. https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/equitable-development-and-environmental-justice.
“Introduction to Effective Altruism,” Effective Altruism, June 22, 2016. Accessed February 26, 2020. https://www.effectivealtruism.org/articles/introduction-to-effective-altruism/.
“Our River,” n.d. Portland Harbor Community Coalition. Accessed February 20, 2020. http://ourfutureriver.org.
Profita, Cassandra. “Portland’s Toxic Harbor Cleanup Enters The Who-Pays-For-What Phase,” OPB, April 30, 2018. Accessed February 26, 2020. https://www.opb.org/news/article/portland-harbor-superfund-cleanup-oregon-epa-tar-globes/.