Post-Truths in Current Climates
Environmental engagement is a process that involves three things: the what (an issue), the who (stakeholders), and the how (the way engagement/connections are being made). This week in ENVS 295, we focused on the “what” of environmental engagement. Many environmental issues are controversial and in the current political climate, it can be difficult to know what facts are actually objective. This era has been deemed a post-truth world, but differences seem to go beyond disagreement over the facts. Thomas E. Edsall in the article “Trump is Waiting and He is Ready,” writes about the “polarization of reality.” We are at a point where polarization isn’t just about politics; it is now affecting how we interpret our realities. In addition to this extreme polarization, “A large segment of the American electorate has come to tolerate, and in many cases to willingly accept, politicians who lie” (Edsall 2020). This does not bode well for engagement. Environmental engagement is based on communication and commitment, often times across difference, but if people aren’t even seeing the same reality, it can be a lot more difficult to engage.
“Social media is but the crudest reflection of the societies and types of citizens we have nurtured. If sometimes we do not like what we see, polishing the mirror may not be enough.”(Chinchilla 2019)
Polarization of reality and a toleration for lies has been increased with the advancement of technology. In “Post-Truth Politics Afflicts the Global South, Too,” Laura Chinchilla writes about the history of ever prevalent fake news and hate speech. Chinchilla explains the shift in current patterns and the development of modern technology that allows for these subject matters to spread at unprecedented rates. “Social media is but the crudest reflection of the societies and types of citizens we have nurtured. If sometimes we do not like what we see, polishing the mirror may not be enough” (Chinchilla 2019). Chinchilla points to the idea that we should be working with each other to address these issues, not just blaming fake news.
Engagement is needed more than ever in this post-truth world. An organization that has been working on environmental engagement in this atmosphere is the Portland Harbor Community Coalition (PHCC). The PHCC is a coalition of organizations that are working together to elevate the voices of frontline communities that are being impacted by The Portland Harbor Superfund Site. This is an organization that has been working with many different organizations, communities, and governmental agencies to achieve their mission (For more information ).
The Portland Harbor Community Coalition holds numerous events and gets involved in many different projects and advocacy groups involving the Portland Harbor Superfund site. A number of citizen activists have taken on the role of watching over the EPA with an eagle eye to ensure they are doing their part to clean up this superfund site. An article in The Portland Observer was posted within the past two years that brought to light some of the actions that the EPA has been taking and how that can negatively affect the community surrounding the Portland Harbor Superfund site. The article “River Keepers” discusses new changes that the EPA has been making to cleanup and action taken on the superfund site (Peterson 2018). Many community members took this as an opportunity to cry out in opposition to the EPA’s lack of urgency to take beneficial cleanup steps. Their outcries are about the toxicity of the Willamette River. They urge that it has high levels of contaminants from pollution that are at an unsafe level for certain groups of people to be in or potentially consume. However, the EPA countered this notion by later releasing a new report that stated a chemical is less toxic and harmful than previously thought, so they are taking different steps to detoxify the river and the surrounding superfund site.
The “River Keepers” article also makes it sound as if the EPA as well as the city of Portland are not taking proper action and taking this superfund site as seriously as they need to be. However, there are numerous articles that counter this and point to the fact that plans are in action to sufficiently clean up this site in an efficient way. One article released by the EPA entitled “Portland Harbor Superfund agreement aims to drive new cleanup plans throughout the Lower Willamette River,” states just what the article suggests. The city of Portland and Oregon as a state is going to provide twenty four million dollars in incentive funding to get the parties responsible for this polluted site to become part of the cleanup planning ( US EPA 2019). This is an important step in the progression of cleaning up this site and helping marginalized groups not suffer anymore. These articles exemplify the idea of a post-truth world because groups don’t care if an organization or person is lying, they just want them to back what they believe. This is a good example of that because there actually are major steps being taken to clean up the superfund site that other groups don’t seem to understand.
Chinchilla, Laura. 2019. “Opinion | Post-Truth Politics Afflicts the Global South, Too.” The New York Times, October 15, 2019, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/10/15/opinion/politics-global-south.html.
Edsall, Thomas B. 2020. “Opinion | Trump Is Waiting and He Is Ready.” The New York Times, February 12, 2020, sec. Opinion. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/12/opinion/trumpcampaign-2020.html.
“Our River.” n.d. Portland Harbor Community Coalition. Accessed February 29, 2020. http://ourfutureriver.org/.
Peterson, Danny. 2018. “River Keepers.” The Portland Observer, January 17, 2018. Accessed March 5, 2020. http://portlandobserver.com/news/2018/jan/17/river-keepers/.
“Portland Harbor Superfund Site” n.d United States Environmental Protection Agency. Accessed February 29, 2020. https://cumulis.epa.gov/supercpad/SiteProfiles/index.cfm?fuseaction=second.cleanup&id=1002155#Done.
US EPA, OA. 2019. “Portland Harbor Superfund Agreement Aims to Drive New Cleanup Plans throughout the Lower Willamette River.” Speeches, Testimony and Transcripts. US EPA. May 10, 2019. https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/portland-harbor-superfund-agreement-aims-drive-new-cleanup-plans-throughout-lower.