Over the past decade or so, the talk surrounding environmental issues has mainly been about being green. Sometimes referred to as the green agenda, its focus is on sustainability, reducing waste and recycling. While all this is good, the green agenda’s growth – mainly in industrialized, wealthier countries – has, in my view, been at the expense of the brown agenda, which mainly plagues low and middle-income countries.
To put it simply, the brown agenda is about pollution. It is about toxic waste contaminating the environment and poisoning people. It is about rapid, loosely regulated industrialization and the legacy of toxic waste left behind, even from factories, mines and other facilities that have been shut down because of excessive pollution.
While the green agenda talks about choice – use less, recycle more – the brown agenda, for those directly affected, is about a lack of options. Poor communities poisoned by toxic pollution have no where to go, no one to turn to. They cannot afford to move. They cannot afford to clean up the pollution. They cannot afford to get treatment.
This sense of helplessness is all too common in many of the world’s worst polluted places, where families live with a life-sentence, just waiting for the clock to run out.
So my point? Don’t forget the brown agenda while you pursue the green. The brown agenda is not as pleasant to talk about, not as TV-friendly, and might not affect you directly…now. But its effects are far-reaching.
This Tuesday, Sept. 13, 2011, I will be talking about “The Brown Agenda: Toxic Waste and the Environment” at an event organized by the American Australian Association. If you are in New York City, register to join us.