Local Facets of the Environmental Problem

Categories: Conservation, Environmental Rights and Justice

Smoke and Gas for Burning Automobile Batteries in 1972

Over at The Atlantic, you can find a sample of 46 photos taken in the 1970s, under the auspices of the then-newly created EPA.  These photos, taken between 1971 and 1974 show domestic manifestations of the global environmental crisis: mountains of damaged oil drums; a virtual blanket of parked automobiles; a fish, twisted and deformed from mercury poisoning; oil wells dotting Galveston Bay in Texas, site of a terrible oil spill in 1990 (bonus: there is a picture here of a couple swimming in the Bay, indicating its history as a site of recreation and nature enjoyment).

See, too, evidence of the racial and class injustice prevalent in environmental problems.  Industrial smog squatting, visibly, on a black neighborhood in Alabama.  A miner’s child, outhouses visible in the background, whose father was participating in a strike against unsafe working conditions, labor exploitation, and exposure to pollution caused by the practices of Eastover Coal Company.

A visual understanding of what environmental harm means, I think, is necessary to understand what the political debate on regulation is about.  It’s not just about jobs, profit margins, and esoteric wonkery.  It is, fundamentally, about life.

About Kemi Fuentes-George

I am a professor in environmental studies and political science at Middlebury College.