The Economic Injustice of Plastic: Van Jones (Full Transcript)

But what we don’t understand is — here we are in Los Angeles. We worked very hard to get the smog reduction happening here in Los Angeles. But guess what?

Because they’re doing so much dirty production in Asia now, because the environmental laws don’t protect the people in Asia now, almost all of the clean air gains and the toxic air gains that we’ve achieved here in California have been wiped out by dirty air coming over from Asia.

So we all are being hit. We all are being impacted. It’s just that the poor people get it first and worst. But the dirty production, the burning of toxins, the lack of environmental standards in Asia, is actually creating so much dirty air pollution, it’s coming across the ocean, and has erased our gains here in California.

We’re back where we were in the 1970s. And so we’re on one planet, and we have to be able to get to the root of these problems. The root of this problem, in my view, is the idea of disposability itself.

You see, if you understand the link between what we’re doing to poison and pollute the planet and what we’re doing to poor people, you arrive at a very troubling but also very helpful insight: In order to trash the planet, you have to trash people.

But if you create a world where you don’t trash people, you can’t trash the planet. So now we are at a moment where the coming together of social justice as an idea and ecology as an idea, we finally can now see that they are really, at the end of the day, one idea.

And it’s the idea that we don’t have disposable anything. We don’t have disposable resources. We don’t have disposable species. And we don’t have disposable people, either. We don’t have a throwaway planet, and we don’t have throwaway children — it’s all precious.

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And as we all begin to come back to that basic understanding, new opportunities for action begin to emerge. Biomimicry, which is an emerging science, winds up being a very important social justice idea. People who are just learning about this stuff: biomimicry means respecting the wisdom of all species.

Democracy, by the way, means respecting the wisdom of all people — we’ll get to that. But biomimicry means respecting the wisdom of all species. It turns out we’re a pretty clever species. We have this big cortex, we’re pretty proud of ourselves.

But if we want to make something hard, we say, “I know! I’m going to make a hard substance. I know! I’m going to get vacuums and furnaces and drag stuff out of the ground and get things hot and poison and pollute…But I got this hard thing! I’m so clever!”

And you look behind you, and there’s destruction all around you. But guess what? You’re so clever, but you’re not as clever as a clam. A clamshell is hard. There’s no vacuums. There’s no big furnaces. There’s no poison. There’s no pollution.

It turns out that other species figured out a long time ago how to create many of the things we need using biological processes that nature knows how to use well. That insight of biomimicry, of our scientists finally realizing that we have as much to learn from other species — I don’t mean taking a mouse and sticking it with stuff.

I don’t mean looking at it from that way, abusing the little species. I mean actually respecting them, respecting what they’ve achieved. That’s called biomimicry, and that opens the door to zero waste production; zero pollution production; that we could actually enjoy a high quality of life, a high standard of living, without trashing the planet.

Well, that idea of biomimicry, respecting the wisdom of all species, combined with the idea of democracy and social justice, respecting the wisdom and the worth of all people, would give us a different society.

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We would have a different economy. We would have a green society that Dr. King would be proud of. That should be the goal.

And the way that we get there is to first of all recognize that the idea of disposability not only hurts the species we’ve talked about, but it even corrupts our own society. We’re so proud to live here in California. We just had this vote, and everybody’s like, “Well — not in our state! I don’t know what those other states were doing, but …”

Just so proud. And, yeah, I’m proud, too.

But California, though we lead the world in some of the green stuff, we also, unfortunately, lead the world in some of the gulag stuff. California has one of the highest incarceration rates of all the 50 states. We have a moral challenge in this movement. We are passionate about rescuing some dead materials from the landfill, but sometimes not as passionate about rescuing living beings, living people.

And I would say that we live in a country – 5% of the world’s population, 25% of the greenhouse gases, but also 25% of the world’s prisoners. One of every four people locked up anywhere in the world is locked up right here in the United States.

So that is consistent with this idea that disposability is something we believe in. And yet, as a movement that has to broaden its constituency, that has to grow, that has to reach out beyond our natural comfort zone, one of the challenges to the success of this movement, of getting rid of things like plastic and helping the economy shift, is people look at our movement with some suspicion.

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