Welcome to Issue 45.2 of Digestable, your daily mouthful of real things happening in the world, minus alarmist pandemic news.
Today’s news, fermented:
I was raised to have reverence for the New York City water system. With good reason—it’s the largest unfiltered public water system in the country, and delivers drinkable water to about 9 million people every day.
As an adult, I taught young people about the water system, and how beautifully it utilizes gravity to bring water from 100 miles outside of the city to our taps. I went on kayak trips to the reservoirs. I missed drinking the water when I was away from home.
Then, I moved up to the Catskills, the region that had hydrated me and my city for my whole life, and many decades before. I started to notice anti-Department of Environmental Protection signs, and references to the region around the reservoirs as a place where farmers’ dreams go to die.
Why the resentment? Well, DEP had made a habit of buying up farmland in areas whose runoff would end up in the constellation of reservoirs that feed the NYC system, in an effort to keep the water as clean as possible, free from fertilizers and animal waste.
But when a big city buyer snaps up farmland in a rural area, dairies close, without sufficient milk producers to keep them open, and the population drops. The remaining farmers had to jump through hoops to fertilize crops and manage septic waste, often costing more than was affordable. DEP’s motives were, and are, at odds with Catskills farmers.
On the other hand—farmers often come down to the city to sell their products, and the market NYC provides to the more rural parts of the state is undeniable. So while it seems like there should be a way to codify this inherently reciprocal relationship with regional policies that support growers, drinkers, and eaters, instead, there is a lot of animosity.
This dynamic popped into my head when I saw two articles: Biden’s Climate Plan Relies on Farmers Who Are Often Climate Skeptics, and Once united in support of Biden, environmentalists and unions clash over pipelines. Both of these articles lay out tensions between two interest groups that are not categorically the same.
The first is ‘people who care about the environment,’ which variably is people who care about the well-being of the planet because it’s important, and people who are directly impacted by the damage we’re doing to the planet’s systems of self-regulation. The second is people who work, whether to feed people or hold a union job building fossil fuel infrastructure.
What I’m getting at here is: these are two groups of people, like Catskills farmers and NYC water-drinkers, whose interests are not inherently misaligned, and whose membership is not mutually exclusive. Rather, the structures in which they have both been forced to operate are specifically designed to harm one of them and call it the other’s fault—or, harm them both.
Both of those articles are worth a read, and lay out the nuances of how Biden’s policies interact with union workers who’ve built pipelines, farmers, and so-called ‘environmentalists.’ All of these people want to feel safe and able to keep the people around them safe, whether that is via a living wage or a livable planet. The bland call for ‘unity’ is not a silver bullet here—but the work of reconciling our collective interest amid extractive industries and systems that pit us against each other might be.
Here’s some happy pandas (thanks to Stanley).