Tea Time with Tagwa: Caring about the environment is a privilege not many have

Illustration by Karly Andersen

Tagwa Shammet, Opinions Editor

Tea timers, our planet is dying. This isn’t a new discovery. It isn’t something that comes as a surprise. Throughout the last few decades, the topic of saving our environment has made its way to the forefront of discussion. From politics to classrooms, living rooms to debate floors; we’ve pleaded with one another to care about our Earth.

But, as we proceed to have this conversation, it becomes more and more clear who is leading the charge: white people. 

While the sentiment is appreciated, the blatant majority of white people discussing the environment opens up the concern of whether all interests are being heard. Furthermore, it enhances the idea that environmental concerns and issues are merely one dimensional and look the same to everyone.

In reality, our negotiation with the human race to save the planet is more than just going vegan or biking to work. It is a privilege. And before you jump down my throat to let me know that this planet is my responsibility just as much as it is yours, give me the chance to explain.

I’ll ask you a simple question: How can you go vegan if you can barely afford a bag of chips?

Many of us don’t understand the gravity of poverty. To wander around in the night, not knowing where you’ll be putting your head to rest or where your next meal will be coming from. There are people that live in this shared world that lack basic human necessities such as food, shelter and water. To expect them to prioritize this Earth over themselves screams privilege. 

Such an expectation also holds underlying tints of white privilege. According to the 2018 U.S. Census data, 73.9% of those living in poverty in the United States are people of color. It’s not a coincidence most environmentalists today are white.

Take Greta Thunberg. A young teenage environmental activist most known for challenging world leaders to work urgently to alleviate climate change, Thunberg became a social media sensation. In 2019, she was Time Magazine’s Person of the Year

Thunberg is a young white girl from Sweden. Her activism is an inspiration. But, it’s also the perfect presentation of privilege in climate change mitigation. She has become the face of the movement. In turn, perpetuating the concept that environmental activism is only open to white people.

One frequent topic discussed during climate change conversation is the way we eat. From vegetarianism to veganism, many environmental activists encourage the removal of meat and other animal products from our diets. They encourage us to eat organic food rather than processed grocery items, which is easier said than done.

Organic grocers such as Whole Foods seem accessible in theory, but they are far too expensive for a single mother of four who can barely keep the lights on in the house. They are too expensive for the man who will sleep on a bench by the bus stop tonight. They are too expensive for the teenage boy who is taking care of his younger sister with no parents. On an even lower scale, they are too expensive for college students who can’t even afford their textbooks.

I wanted to test my theory, so I decided to do a price check between some of my weekly grocery purchases. As expected, Whole Foods was far out of my budget.

A pound of Honeycrisp apples at Lidl would cost $1.29. At Whole Foods, it would be $3.99

A pound of chicken breasts would cost $2.89 at Lidl. At Whole Foods, it would cost $8.99

A carton of eggs at Lidl would cost $0.69. At Whole Foods, it would cost $5.69.

For a handful of everyday items at Lidl, I’d spend $4.87. For those very same items at Whole Foods, I’d spend $18.67.

This is just a simple example of the intersectionality that exists within environmental activism. Not everyone’s life is as easy as yours. Not everyone has the capability to spend $18.67 on three organic items.

You see, those in poverty are not a threat to our environment; they are victims of our society. They don’t have the privilege to care about eating organic foods when they can barely find a consistent form of shelter. Being poor is not a choice. These people are not choosing to not care about the environment. They just aren’t fortunate enough to prioritize it.

I’ve heard an argument made by many environmentalists that claims the Earth is defenseless so we must fight for it. Those in poverty are also defenseless and we must fight for them.

This Earth does not belong to white people. It does not belong to Black people. It does not belong to any one group of people. It belongs to all of us. Yet, those who claim to care about it most continue to disregard the human life that suffers on Earth. And that’s the tea.

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