Michigan Governor, Rick Snyder, has now apologized for his gross mis-handling of the water contamination crisis in Flint, one of the poorest cities in the United States.
There is absolutely no justification for this lack of care when it comes to something as important and inarguably necessary as clean water, and Snyder’s reasoning of saving a few bucks is no exception. Flint, like nearby Detroit, have been economic disaster zones for multiple decades now ever since the domestic auto industry, which has proud roots in the Motor City, completely tanked and left the well very dry for the now thirsty town. Snyder had hopes of remedying this drought by cutting back on the city’s quality of water, which in turn, cut back on the quality of life, which in turn, cut back on life all together.
The crisis in Flint boiled over quickly and quite abruptly but the systemic issues that put dollar signs over vital signs have been in place for a long, long time. And not only in Flint, Michigan but all around the globe.
China’s pollution problem has been making headlines for the past few years. I’ve had the eye-opening, and lung-closing, experience of being in China recently and I’ve seen this pollution first hand.
I have literally seen the pollution.
My uncle has been living in Beijing for most of his adult life and this was the first time I’ve been able to visit him in China. He took me to Tiananmen Square like any good host would do with a guest in Beijing. I very much appreciated the sentiment and the time he took out from his busy schedule to show me his new home, but the history and utter importance of this landmark was veiled by a dense smog that I could not look past. Researchers have calculated that air pollution in China is responsible for up to 1.6 million premature deaths per year. That’s about 4,400 people dead every single day.
While “going green” was becoming popular in Western culture, getting green became priority in Eastern culture. That hangtag that reads “Made in China” that came with many of the products that surround you right now, also comes with a price tag. The air contamination in China can be sourced back to coal-fired power plants, factories, and vehicles that blanket the country that makes most of the things that this world uses. It took a few decades but taking on all of that grunt work of manufacturing eventually paid off handsomely in the 21st century for China and the country finally became the economic powerhouse it worked hard to be. But at what cost?
Chinese economists and ecologists alike had to know the price China would pay for wanting nice things. However, they were willing to sacrifice labor, exploiting the poor, to make the rich richer. And this would eventually and inevitably poison the ecosystem of the people who can not evade it, again, exploiting the poor.
China is a mostly homogenous society, so race plays less of a factor here than Flint, but classism still divides the Asian country.
Poor people are worth less than rich people. That is the message being sent and received by the world as a whole, and this is the problem.
The flaw in the system is that money equates power and when those are the only two cards that matter and they’re being held by the same people, they will only look out for themselves. The solution comes when we realize that money does not have to equate power. There is strength in numbers and if the people can realize, organize, and mobilize, then, and only then, will the grip around the necks of the poor (a grip that mimics the air in Beijing) weaken.
Money and power have not been mutually exclusive. This is the issue that is causing problems for poor communities such as Flint. The rich continue to get rich and the poor continue being poor so money might actually be harder to switch hands than the power. But money is nothing without power, and once we act on the fact that we can take the power by realizing our strength in numbers, we can clear the air about who matters.