Prove your humanity

NOTE: This story originally aired September 8, 2017

Our nation is watching and hoping for the best for the people of Texas and Louisiana who are underwater, and trying to deal with the devastation Harvey has caused. It will take many months, and billions in federal dollars to get back to some semblance of order. But many in these red states traditionally have been skeptical of the federal government, particularly when it comes to environmental regulations — even in places where they’re most needed to protect the people who live there.

It was in that spirit that she said pollution is a sacrifice we make for capitalism.

In this episode of Trump on Earth, we pick the brain of Arlie Russell Hochschild, a sociologist at UC Berkeley.  She went to Louisiana to study the modern conservative movement, in particular how members of the Tea Party view environmental issues, for her book, “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.”  

Hochschild found people there who had become sick from industrial pollution or lost their homes due to an industrial catastrophe yet were resentful of the federal government. She describes their view of the government as “the powerful north that was always wagging its moral finger at the South” and as inept bureaucrats and carpetbaggers. Hochschild also found that they blamed the federal government and President Obama for what she describes as the “line cutters” — minorities, women, immigrants and refugees unfairly “given access to jobs formerly reserved for whites and for men.”

But Hochschild says there was something else going on in the minds of people who were against environmental regulations, even when personally harmed by pollution.

“There were some who opposed regulating polluters saying ‘my party is the Republican Party the Republican Party opposes regulation, so I oppose regulation including of polluters’…Others took the position really of a cowboy, more personally. You know, ‘I’m tough. You’re tough. Mother Nature is tough,’ and had a tendency to deny the destruction of the environment, in that way, ‘we can take it.’”

Hochschild also spoke with some who had a more ‘sacrificial’ rationale for opposing environmental protections.

“There was a woman who you know was basically very religious and valued really one’s capacity to renounce wishes. ‘Sometimes you have to give things up. We couldn’t always have what we want.’ And it was in that spirit that she said pollution is a sacrifice we make for capitalism. She loved a clean environment. She was a great lover of nature so it wasn’t a callous disregard or a hardening of heart toward the damage of polluters. But a more a sacrificial orientation. ‘Well I really love the environment and I would like it to be clean. It matters. I understand this hurts and…this is terrible but it’s the sacrifice we make.'”

Want more? Listen to our podcast Trump on Earth to hear the full interview with Arlie Hochschild


Trump on Earth is produced by The Allegheny Front and Point Park University’s Environmental Journalism program.