EARTHWORKS

This is why I’m here

Jhon Arbelaez's avatar
By Jhon Arbelaez

April 30, 2014

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This is the final installment in a special series looking at the personal side of organizers in the field.

Many people have asked me: “Jhon, why did you choose the career you are in? Why do you do what you do?”

I have often wondered the same thing. Environmentalists are not famous. We don’t make a lot of money. And we often find ourselves on the losing end of long battles against powerful companies with endless amounts of resources. It is not rare to get a phone call or email informing us of some terrible accident that has just spilled millions of gallons of oil into a pristine ecosystem, or to hear that an indigenous community is being pushed out of their ancestral home because a mining consortium wants to extract minerals under their feet.

All over the world, people are out there each and every day, fighting to protect our environment, and our planet. Too many have little or no education, earn no income from it, or (or even worse, “and”) live in fear of violence from hired thugs – just because they want to protect their community and the environment in which they live. These are passionate people; people who are personally affected by environmental degradation, and corporate greed; people who risk everything to protect the future.

Yet here I am. I get paid to do this, and I am not personally affected. The question remains. Why?

The answer is: Does it matter? We don’t need to live next to a refinery, or drink polluted water every day, in order to fight for what is right. Knowing the difference between right and wrong is something that was taught to me when I was infant, and I know, deep in my heart, that what is happening to our world is wrong. I see people who fight to protect their homes, and I am inspired by their struggles. We should all be. We are fortunate that we can afford water filters or air purifiers if needed. Most people don’t have that luxury.

Am I rich? No. But I am fortunate enough to have been born in a rich country. I am fortunate enough that I have the resources to help others. I am fortunate enough that I wake up every morning, happy to do what I can do protect the environment, and help people.

Will I ever get rich or famous? No. Will I alone save the world? Probably not. Do I go to sleep every night with a smile on my face knowing that I have done what I can to preserve our planet for future generations? Yes.

So there it is. I do this because it makes me happy to see that a family will not have to suffer from health issues because they live next to oil drilling site. I do this because a clean environment is a fundamental right that should not be denied to anyone. I do this because there’s more to life than profits. That one phone call every few months informing me that we succeeded in protecting a family or a community makes it all worth it.

Tagged with: wyoming, public health, fracking, community

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