Environmental Action Vs. Political and Personal Will – by Laura Stein

3 Mar

On March 22nd, 1976 Morris Udall declared to the Chamber of Commerce in Harlem, “If you have been smashed in the face or hit over the head, had your purse snatched by hoodlums or your home ransacked by junkies, been knifed in the chest or shot in the back, you do not care what the studies and reports say; you want the law to work.” Though it may seem difficult to equate the personal loss from dealing with crime to environmental problems and their impacts, the frustration of dealing with these issues is equivalent, as is the thought process that must go behind solving them. Anyone who has been choked by the black exhaust of a truck as it screeches down the street, or has tripped over garbage-littered sidewalks and green spaces, knows that neglect of environmental issues, is in itself, criminal and they too are not being properly addressed.

The problem is the cavernous gap between what is said and what is actually being done –both with regard to the environment and crime. When Udall mentions tactics like anti-crime slogans that look and sound great but do nothing to get drugs out of poor neighborhoods, I think of the city’s investment in recycling- a publicity campaign that asks residents to do more, but does not provide recycling bins or the infrastructure for proper pickup. When he speaks of the politicians who promise safer streets, but do not enact gun laws, all the while distracting us from the real issues, I think of political propaganda like the “Clear Skies Act” which weakens the power of previous environmental control laws, and campaigns for “clean coal,” which is a highly polluting and environmentally degrading way of generating energy.

In order to actually make changes, Udall said that “we must forge a link between crime and punishment” and make “more efficient procedures” so that laws can have their intended impact. This seems simple, at least with traditional forms of criminal activity, like burglary, manslaughter, and assault because it is not difficult to identify the offense and a corresponding punishment and for the most part, people recognize when they are doing something wrong. Environmental crimes, on the other hand, are often performed daily by ordinary citizens who just do not realize how their actions are contributing to environmental degradation. People must be educated on the environmental impact of their deeds. In essence, for laws on emissions and water conservation to have their intended impact, people must grasp concepts like renewable and nonrenewable resources and make a conscious shift towards more sustainable lifestyles.

Taking this a step further, Udall made a connection between traditional crime and injustices against the environment. In a speech entitled Environment vs. Economy: Exploding a Phony Issue, he commented “As environmentalists, we have answers to urban problems” because we understand that “many problems of cities are at heart environmental problems.” In order for these environmental crimes to be recognized and for positive changes actually to occur, there must be a widespread understanding of how respect for the environment translates to safer, cleaner neighborhoods. To get this point across he proclaimed at Valley Forge, there is “a direct tie between energy, environment and economy” and that it “must be spelled out to the policy makers and the public with a massive new re-education effort which advances abroad and humanitarian themes.” In order to close the disparity between promises and deliveries, people need to be educated on the causes and effects of their actions and only then will environmental and traditional crimes both be reduced.

The key is educating not just those who already have some type of interest in the environment, but all the groups of people who are impacted by it (which is pretty much everyone). In his many years as a leader on environmental issues, Udall constantly stressed for the environmental movement to “make friends and forge alliances” with groups like “blue collar America, enlightened industry, and the minorities who inhabit our rundown cities”. With access to billions of people, resorts, and conferences all over the world, the tourism and hospitality industry is in the unique position of being able to do exactly that. Unlike other forms of education which may only target those who already have some sort of interest in the environment, or people of specific demographics, the tourism and hospitality industry can reach rich, poor, young and old, workers and guests at hotels. Because the greening of the tourism and hospitality industry can occur in a very visual way, people can experience the economic and environmental benefits of sustainability first hand. When it becomes fashionable at the most elite hotels to turn out lights and reuse the same towel to conserve water, “green” will become chic and the trend will trickle down throughout society. The more that people are exposed to the idea of thinking and acting sustainably the more societal pressure will grow until people begin adopting green procedures into their own lives.

When struggling with the issue of how to curb crime, both environmental and traditional in today’s world, the first step is to change the environmental consciousness of the mainstream. Instead of just standing on a soapbox and shouting about Global Warming to those who are interested, I choose to direct my energy towards the tourism and hospitality industry because it holds the power to make protecting the planet popular. Before regulations and laws can work, the grounds upon which they were passed must not just be understood, but also respected. When people are shown simple and sustainable alternatives for their current way of life, and pop culture says that doing those “green” things is cool, it is inevitable for change to occur.

(Laura Stein is a Junior at Temple University who is pursuing a degree in Tourism and Hospitality. She is also a leader in efforts to improve environmental awareness and has served in executive positions for Students for Environmental Action, Temple University Sustainability Task Force, Temple Student Government, and other organizations.)


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