Fundamental rights to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and eat safe food

Appalachia’s environmental challenges – the fundamental right to clean air, water and food.


The ConversationDo we have a fundamental right to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and eat safe food? The idea of environmental human rights is receiving growing attention worldwide, driven by our global ecological crisis. But the United States has lagged behind in codifying these rights into laws and in successfully furthering them.

While this may seem like an issue for legal scholars, it has very real importance for regions like Appalachia, where I work. Coal mining has caused widespread ecological and health damage here for more than a century, alongside other industries such as chemical manufacturing and, recently, natural gas production.

Many Americans elsewhere view Appalachia’s environmental health conditions with ambivalence or outright classist indifference, and some have written us off as a “national sacrifice zone.” But our environmental struggles echo conflicts over the Dakota Access pipeline, the Niger River…

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2 thoughts on “Fundamental rights to breathe clean air, drink clean water, and eat safe food

  1. Appalachia is mainly viewed as an area that is infested with backwoods, toothless, inbred hillbillies who are turning a profit through moonshining. Those people are seen as ‘no accounts’ and so their wellbeing or lack thereof is of no consequence to government officials. They are seen as isolated and so therefore, what ails them is their problem and theirs alone. It is even suggested that they love to live in squalor and run around unkempt and without any morals. They have been left to rot, basically. Is this right? No. But if you take a look around. What is?


  2. I agree, Shelby. The guy who wrote this article talks about class oppression indirectly, but I wish he could have made it a major focus because in my mind that’s where the problem lies. For decades US workers have been conditioned to deny that they’re working class. It’s like all Americans were automatically promoted to middle class regardless of their income level or social status. Now with all the job and wage cuts there is very little middle class left, and this hatred of the working class (“white trash” is what they’re called if they’re European) has turned in on itself. I reckon this explains the significant increase in suicide an addiction. I really like the way Nancy Isenberg explains it in White Trash: the 400-Year Untold History of Class in America. Thanks for commenting.


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