Monday, June 2, 2014

The Power of Place

The Climate Crusader is reflecting on the intersection of geography and environmentalism.

I am taking some classes at my local university at the moment, upgrading my credentials with the hope of becoming a teacher. My first degree was in engineering, and now I need to broaden my horizons with English and history and art classes. This summer I'm taking a geography class that's giving me an overview of Canada. As someone who's spent countless hours poring over old editions of National Geographic, it's probably no surprise that I'm enjoying this quite a lot.

During the first lecture my professor pointed out the importance of place and the impact it has on the course of our lives. The fact that I was born in the greater Vancouver area in Canada instead of in Toronto or the Arctic or rural Oklahoma or Australia or Nigeria or China has implications for my health, my life expectancy, my worldview and the kind of career I pursue. Because of where I live I speak English, I had a particular kind of education and I am raising my children in a particular sort of way.

One of the things that impacts the geography of a place is its physical environment. Living in the developed world it's really easy to overlook the physical geography of the place you live. Of course I know that I live near the mountains and the ocean, and I know that it rains a lot here. However, a good portion of my life is lived indoors. I work indoors, I cook indoors, I sleep indoors, I watch TV indoors. I'm even in a sort of moving shelter when I drive, which is more like being indoors than outdoors. All the same, the environment of the place that you live impacts your health and well-being in big ways.

Depending on where you live, your exposure to air and water pollution changes. Your access to healthy food and organic food changes. The temperature changes, which can cause you to spend more time indoors if it's really hot or really cold. If you have kids, their exposure to environmental pollutants and toxins also changes. There are very real impacts to your well-being based on the environment of the place that you live.

What's my point? My point is that we often think of taking steps to protect the environment in abstract terms. We recycle because we know it's a good thing to do. We forget that the steps we take, and the steps other people in our community take, can have a very real impact in our own lives. If charity starts at home, so too does environmentalism. Of course there are global impacts to our actions, but there are also local impacts, and those local impacts literally hit closer to home.

Since I started the geography class I've been thinking about how I can make my own community a little bit better. It's important to me that my children have clean air and clean water, that they spend lots of time outside and that they have access to fresh, local food. I can help make those things happen by telling my local government what matters to me, by growing a garden and supporting my local farmers' market, by driving less myself, and so on. If we want to save the planet, maybe the best way to do it is one community at a time.


Green Bean said...

Very thoughtful, Amber. I think we have seen that many movements which started locally have been less polarizing and more effective. Thinking of fracking bans that pass in cities and counties but not state-wide. Similarly, efforts to protect open space locally. Even people who would never call themselves environmentalists or who do not believe in global warming will work their tales off to save a local forest from being bull-dozed.

Christy said...

This post totally speaks to me, exactly how I feel. I know that growing up near the Fraser River has had an impact on my health, my way of life, and my overall well being. It is a part of me. I think the First Peoples have it right because they are acutely aware of the power of place and acknowledge it in their belief system.


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