Two weeks ago, my 5 year old son, Ian, proudly arrived from preschool with a project he had been working on. His project was a colorful and beautiful picture of the earth attached with a promise he was making. I noticed that in his hand writing he had filled in “clean up trash” as a promise to our planet. After being so proud of what he had accomplished and filling him with praise, I sat down staring at what he had written. My pride slowly started turning into guilt and a bit of sadness. It made me feel depressed to know that my son was born into our world with the expectation that he has to clean up trash as a promise to our mother Earth. I felt guilty for seeing my innocent young child feeling compelled to clean up after waste that largely belongs to past generations. I felt angry that his promise could not be “I will continue to take care of you” or “love you as other have”. By the time my thoughts continue to stir in my mind, I am feeling angry and upset at what his generation is facing in caring for our Mother Earth. In fact, I felt utterly powerless when I thought about his future and the natural environment he would grow up in, including the injustices he will possibly experience only because of his race and ethnicity.
Low-income communities and minority ethnic groups often bear the most severe consequences of environmental degradation and pollution (1) . In 2013 the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Office of Health Equity reported that more than 79 percent of people living within 500 feet of Interstate 70 are Hispanic/Latino (2) . Due to higher levels of air pollution, living within 500 feet of a freeway is associated with an increased risk of many health risks including:
- low cognitive function
- Alzheimer disease
- and lower IQ in children with prenatal exposure (3).
Western Colorado is not the exception to possible environmental injustice. A higher percentage of low income and Hispanic/Latino individuals tend to live in Western Garfield County due to affordability. Due to the oil and gas industry from recent years the environmental air quality of the area has deteriorated. According to a 2010 study prepared by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment indicated that
“inhalation of ambient air in the monitored areas of Garfield County is associated with a low increased risk of developing cancer. The reason for this is that the estimated cumulative theoretical cancer risks from 6 carcinogenic COPCs in the urban and rural oil and gas development areas are slightly below the high-end of EPA’s acceptable risk range” (4)
No other recent studies have been released on the environmental health of Western Garfield County but the current buzz is regarding attracting more oil and gas economic industry to West Garfield County. According to a recent newspaper article, Oil and Gas Industry supporters are seeking to receive positive news from United States Federal Energy Regulatory Commission regarding Jordan Cove Energy Project Liquid Natural Gas terminal that would provide natural gas from places like Western Garfield County in Colorado through a Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline a 232 mile, 36-inch diameter pipeline designed to transport up to 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. The previously rejected project, is waiting for a re-hearing date from FERC. If approved, the project would bring economic opportunity to the area but at the cost of additional environmental hazard exposure to its vulnerable populations.
As social workers and community members in Western Colorado, we can play an important role in educating ourselves beyond the issues in our media and look further into detail in how we can make educated and informed decisions today for the well being of our future generations. A promise, grounded on values of service and justice, to our environment and to our local communities is needed.
“Dear son, I am so proud that at your tender age of 5 you are committed to keeping a promise to our Madre Tierra. In all honesty, my heart fills with sadness that you feel compelled to promise to clean up our planet from waste that you may never be responsible for. My promise to you is that I will learn from your genuine and innate wisdom to care for our Earth and that I will continue to fight relentlessly for justice.”
(3) Morgan, T. E. (2011). Glutamateric Neurons in Rodent Models Respond to Nanoscale Particulate Urban Air Pollutants in Vivo and in Vitro. Environ- mental Health Perspectives , 119 (7), 1003.
International Geological Congress: http://www.35igc.org/Themes/53/Resourcing-Future-Generations