In my work as an anthropologist studying consumer issues, I have found it useful to think of the environment as more than air, land, and natural resources. Thinking about the consumer environment, from my perspective, requires also thinking about access to important resources: transportation, education, food, shelter, and increasingly, technology. The consumer environment also includes accessibility of businesses and services, whether social, medical, artistic, or electronic. This approach does not utterly ignore more traditionally defined environmental issues, but my aim is to contextualize choices and options in ways that can account for poverty as well as abundance–and to explore how those two extremes are connected.
I’ve thought about Elizabeth Chin’s essay from time to time since I first read it back in 2006, but her thoughts couldn’t be more relevant now in light of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy. While this Hurricane didn’t leave us with nasty images of people trapped on rooftops screaming for help, it has claimed lives, destroyed homes, re-routed bodies, and stolen power. Certainly, having access to the kinds of resources that Chin identifies would have had a significant impact on how people experienced this Hurricane.
I read an article in The New York Times this weekend about people stranded in public housing without power and water. Their friends and family members were frequently in the same position so endurance was their greatest option. I know someone with a daughter in Connecticut. She was so worried about her daughter that she could hardly speak of anything else, but when I reminded her that her daughter had resources, she settled. Resources directly figure into how you can weather a storm.
I don’t have any great insight into how to make this happen but I do know that it is very important to improve your supply of resources; wherever you are, you need to make this one of your goals.