The Farmworker Association of Florida is part of the Climate Justice Alliance, a group of organizations dedicated to fighting climate change and advocating for a Just Transition away from the extractive fuel industry. What is Just Transition you ask? I am glad you do. Just Transition is moving away from the extractive industry economic system in which we currently live and into a more sustainable energy model in a way that leaves no one behind, especially workers and communities of color who are doubly impacted by this economic system.
For one, they often bear the brunt of pollution caused by industrial chemical plants, which are usually built next to these communities. Second, they are also employed at these places, suffering the negative effects of exposure to chemicals and residues impacting their health for years and sometimes generations. When the political tempo changes and some of these companies are faced with the decision to shut down and move somewhere else (and they usually move to places with less strict environmental laws and regulations), workers and their families are left to pick up the pieces living in badly polluted communities suddenly also economically depressed. A Just Transition thus works to make sure that we move away from the extractive polluting economy, but also that the communities that were for so long the backbone workforce filling the coffers of corporations, are included in conversations of those systemic changes needed so that they are not once again left behind.
The Effects of an Extractive Community
|Richmond, Cal., dump site.|
The negative effects of chemicals are not isolated to plants, but extend to social and environmental consequences as well. Small growers are left at a disadvantage against the large corporate agricultural businesses, against whom they cannot compete in global markets. Often they end up losing their farms or have to depend on giants like Bayer-Monsanto for access to seeds. This process at once concentrates wealth and control over what foods we have access to in a few corporate hands, dictating the kind of life we are able to pursue. If you have no control over what you eat and if you have to work twice as hard as you used to to be able to eat healthy, how free are you to the pursuit of happiness we hear we are entitled to by the US Constitution?
Farmworkers are even more vulnerable than small growers. They are the invisible workforce. They receive little credit for their work, have few protections, and because it is a mostly immigrant workforce, they have little recourse with which to seek redress for labor and safety violations. Even though the law protects them, even the knowledge of those rights to workplace safety and protection are often kept from them. In an effort to extract the most profit from the soil, they are often exposed to pesticides. In a much publicized case two years ago, 17 farmworkers from Watsonville, California were exposed to pesticide and had to be hospitalized. The event resulted in a total single fine of $5000. In addition to pesticide exposure, they also suffer the consequences of heat exposure. They work in hot and humid conditions at substandard wages that do not afford them health insurance, much less leave a safety net for emergencies. Over time, those conditions may lead to high-blood pressure, urinary tract infections, and even long-term kidney damage and dialysis. Other reported effects of pesticides include reduced fertility rates, neurological damage, birth defects, and cancer.
|Toxic tour of Lake Apopka by FWAF staff.|
Building a Just Transition
These cases sound grim, and they are. Ending the extractive economy will be easy feat, nor will it take place overnight. On a recent interview on NPR's On the Media, author Benjamin Kunkel proposed the current geological age be named the Capitalocene instead of the more trendy Anthropocene. His argument was that the changes humans are effecting on the environment are intrinsic to humanity, but rather to the current economic system of the last 500 years. After that time span, it will be difficult to erase the grievances resulting from the sustained violence perpetuated on other humans and the earth from which we all get our food for the sake of profit. However, rather than fall into grievances, we should focus on finding solutions, and these solutions must come from the frontline communities most affected by the extractive economic system, and not from tycoons looking to turn solutions into another buck-making scheme.
|FWAF's Encuentro Campesino a Campesino 2018.|
|North Richmond Farm, Richmond, Cal.|