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Tristan Alston

Time is of the essence: A call for intergenerational innovation and justice

By Wednesday, Aug 7, 2019 Environment 12

The Berkshire Center for Justice has a community/social initiative to eliminate use of Styrofoam, and clamshell food containers and plastic film wrap at all grocers in Great Barrington, and throughout Berkshire County. This article, written by Tristan Alston, expresses his concern about our environment through the eyes of a young biracial adult. BCJ is the sponsor of this column promoting intergenerational cooperation, learning, and problem solving.

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I fear for my future—for the utter destruction of our physical world, and the violence, suffering and injustice that will inevitably follow. As a young person, a member of the youth so frequently charged with leading the many fights of today, I am fearful. I am fearful that the inaction of those who came before me and the seeming indifference of those around me will soon be too great a fissure to overcome. I am fearful that both my parents and I will have to face the full force of the Earth’s rebellion, and that my children of the future will never even have the chance.

The current trends of environmental degradation and disruption are intergenerational, both in origin and ensuing effect. Thus, the united force fighting to protect our planet, our health and our future must be intergenerational as well.

The author, Tristan Alston.

Every year, 4.2 million people die, prematurely, as a result of ambient air pollution.[1]A number that is surely to grow. Living in the beautifully-green hills of the Berkshires, we seem to believe that we are sheltered from the effects of climate change. We ignore the decreasing snow cover, the contaminated waterways and the danger of increasing heat waves on our vulnerable community members. We forget that we, too, depend on air: a substance that accepts no boundaries, that flows from poor to wealthy and brown to white, and that flows from one generation to the next, even to those still unborn, carrying the decisions of generations past. And we ignore the ways in which our decisions, our own inaction, places our wealthy, our poor, our old and our young in danger.

We ignore the fact that living amongst trees and liberal viewpoints does not protect us from the toxic compounds in our plastics and styrofoam, nor does it free us of our obligation to think about others—those who suffer the immediate consequences of our actions simply because of where they were born. Like Flint, Mich., whose children will never escape the detrimental grips of lead poisoning; like Chester, Pa., where the nation’s largest trash incinerator showers the community with toxins you and I could never face in our worst nightmares, and where 38.5 percent of children suffer from asthma,[2]five times the national average.

We don’t think about where our trash goes or how insufficient recycling is. Nor do we think about the way in which the environment has become as social and political an issue as any, which follows the trends of disproportionately affecting low-income and minority communities. But simply ignoring these things does not reduce the reality of their dangers and implications, and failing to mitigate the causes continues to place all people in harm’s way.

Our action must begin somewhere. It will require us to reimagine our local grocers and food systems, to look to sustainable alternatives for both our energy and consumables, and to unite around a commitment to ourselves, each other, and the future of our town and its community members.

Like 13-year-old Jaden Anthony, who conceives of a world in which four children unite around a common goal to save the world’s natural resources, a world which he has shared through his “Kid Brooklyn” comics.[3]His own voice and experience educates, informs and inspires those around him to care about the plethora of environmental and social issues we face today.  

Or Columbian architect Oscar Mendez, who has been, for nearly the past nine years, constructing low-cost homes using blocks formed from recycled plastics.[4]In using his expertise and ingenuity, Mendez has found a way to remedy both excessive waste-production and homelessness, providing affordable shelters for those displaced by violence and disasters. 

Or twenty-one-year-old Ann Makosinski, whose thermoelectric flashlight has reimagined sustainability in day-to-day life.[5] 

Or Malawian innovator William Kamkwamba, who, at the age of 14, constructed a windmill using bicycle parts, blue gum trees and scrapyard materials, and transformed the lives of those around him, and who has since gone on to build a solar-powered water pump to supply water to his village.[6] 

What makes these individuals exceptional is not some innate moral power or profound capacity to effect change, but rather an inability to accept things the way they are, or remain passive in the face of social and environmental injustices. They all used their inventive and insightful arsenal of tools and opportunities—their voices—to make a difference. So how will we, as a community of creative, thoughtful and diversely capable individuals, respond to the circumstances at hand? How will we invest in a greener, healthier, more equitable future? How will we invest in ourselves, our children, and every generation yet to come? I fear that soon, our answers to these questions will be too late. Time is of the essence.

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[1]“Air Pollution.” World Health Organization. June 19, 2019. Accessed July 31, 2019. https://www.who.int/airpollution/en/.

[2]“Too Much Pollution for One Place,” PBS, , accessed July 28, 2019, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/too-much-pollution/.

[3]KID BROOKLYN COMICS. Accessed July 28, 2019. https://www.kidbrooklyncomics.com/about.

[4]Winkless, Laurie. “These Houses Are Built With Blocks Made From Waste Plastic.” Forbes. July 21, 2016. Accessed July 28, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/lauriewinkless/2016/07/21/these-houses-are-built-with-blocks-made-from-waste-plastic/#1d0eadb87894.

[5]“B.C. Teenager Makes Forbes 30 under 30 List for Her Innovations in Energy | CBC News.” CBCnews. January 05, 2017. Accessed July 28, 2019. https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/ann-makosinski-forbes-list-1.3922424.

[6]Sheerin, Jude. “Malawi Windmill Boy with Big Fans.” BBC News. October 01, 2009. Accessed July 28, 2019.


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