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 Interviews with People Who Make a Difference: Telling the Environments Story 
 
Interview with Simran Sethi
   as interviewed by Daniel Redwood DC

Is concern about the Midwest turning into a Dust Bowl again a useful angle?

I still consider myself a bit of a transplant. I don't know what the historical memory is around that. I mentioned it in class but I don't really think that a lot of my students got it; they don't seem to have any recollection of what that meant.

Aside from food, what did they identify with most?

For the whole course we used food as a lens, so the conversation was about food. But I would say water, jobs, the economy. We have to tie it into what people assert they do care about. That, to me, is just the clearest way to do this. If Pew tells you that the top three concerns for people are jobs, the economy and terrorism, well, I can figure out ways to talk about the environment in ways that address those concerns, rather than talking about them in ways that fall to the bottom of their list of concerns.

So if we say the conversation is about climate change and sea level rise, well, that just dropped to 20 in the list of 20 concerns. But if I can tie these to all the workers that have been laid off from Boeing in Wichita, and that the skill sets they have translate really well into creating wind turbines, and that Kansas has the third highest wind capacity in the country but we're tenth in production, there's really a tremendous business opportunity here. That's going to get some people listening. That's going to bring dollars into our state. I mean, those are the kinds of connections we need to make.

If we are concerned about terrorism and this whole idea of energy independence, what are the sources of energy we can use that would be good for us? Okay, we have a lot of coal here. What can we do to clean it up, because at this point clean coal is really a fallacy. What can we do to make that real if we're not going to get rid of it? What other sources can we move toward? How can we educate our consumers? How can we get the government on board? We have a real opportunity right now because for so many years under George Bush, it was really hard to have these conversations.

So that space has opened up now?

Absolutely, from the inside out. We are no longer fighting to get these conversations held and policy changed. These things are happening in real time, since January. We have an extraordinary opportunity. There's momentum. So where else can we direct our efforts? In my opinion, and I'm working on a book about this very thing, we need to address the people who have felt maligned or unaddressed by this movement. I would that say that's a lot of folks who politically have identified as Republicans and who culturally have engaged in some of the same activities that the most ardent environmentalists do, but who would absolutely refuse that label because it doesn't feel like a good fit for them. We're trying to find out what would make it a good fit.

I read that your forthcoming book focuses on eco-elitism, which seems to be what you were just talking about. I was going to ask you to speak about how reasonably well-off people can recognize and avoid it. But I realize that eco-elitism may not be so much about whether one is well-off, but perhaps more about a kind of cultural elitism.

It's more of an attitude that separates us. I received an email from a woman and I was describing the book, talking about how the contemporary American environmental movement was founded by hunters and anglers and so I'm interested in talking to them. She said she was vegan and that she wouldn't have anything to do with this book. Now, absolutely the most environmentally friendly individual change you can make around food is become vegan. There's no question. But, if we're only going to get vegans on board with this movement, then we're not going to get a lot of traction.

I'm curious to understand a community that values natural resources and has been instrumental in preserving large tracts of land. And as someone who eats meat, the people who hunt and then clean those animals and put those animals in their freezers and eat them all year round, they're far more noble than I am when I go to the grocery store and look for some free-range chicken. I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who do that. I'm not a big fan of hunting as a sport but I think that there's something we completely miss when we say that we don't want to engage in dialogue with them. That's philosophically where I come from.

So we need to find the places where the circles intersect?

Absolutely. And there are a number of them when it comes to natural resources that we share and depend on for our sustenance. I think there are a lot more ways that we are connected and we need to be a lot more creative about figuring them out. That's what I mean by eco-elitism.

Is there any other area or issue that you feel passionately about that we haven't touched upon?

Environmental justice. I really feel that people have been left out of this conversation for a number of reasons - because they're disenfranchised, because they're poor, because they have no political clout, maybe because they're people of color, or because they're Republicans.

There are just a host of reasons that we determine that someone is not like us. What I am trying to do is to help to make it clear that we are the same, that we have shared concerns and we need to figure out shared solutions. When it comes to environmental justice, Robert Bullard, the sociologist, did a study 23 years ago, looking at where toxic industries are sited. They're sited in low-income communities of color, disempowered communities. That hasn't changed in 23 years, despite EPA having an environmental justice arm, despite many of the big environmental organizations having an environmental justice arm. We have not reached those constituents.

I created a series for The Sundance Channel, for their website, called "The Good Fight," that looks at how these issues - water usage, access to food, housing - how these effect disparate communities and what we can do. I think the first step is becoming informed. In order to do that, we need to seek out really good journalists, we need to encourage them and we need to become our own storytellers. And to recognize that this is the one movement that we cannot say belongs to someone else. It belongs to all of us.


Daniel Redwood, DC, the interviewer, is an Associate Professor at Cleveland Chiropractic College - Kansas City and Editor-in-Chief of Health Insights Today (www.healthinsightstoday.com). He can be reached at dan.redwood@cleveland.edu.
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 About The Author
Daniel Redwood, DC, is a Professor at Cleveland Chiropractic College - Kansas City. He is editor-in-chief of Health Insights Today (www.healthinsightstoday.com) and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the......moreDaniel Redwood DC
 
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