On an episode of TED Radio Hour, host Manoush Zomorodi explores our relationship with water in an age where climate change affects every part of our lives. Zomorodi invites several professionals from different fields to chat about water and its significance to humans, not just biologically, but culturally and spiritually.
The first interviewee is Kelsey Leonard, a legal scholar who specializes in water policy. She emphasizes that water is an identity and an Indigenous perspective from Shinnecock Nation that she identifies with. She spoke about the loss of our connection to water as people take it for granted and forget — or refuse — to recognize that it is finite.
To Leonard, water should have legal personhood, meaning the rights to flourish with respect and justifiable relation to nature. Rather than placing people above all beings, we must align ourselves with nature and ensure the wellbeing of all its forms. She draws upon examples like New Zealand, which grants legal personhood to the Whanganui River, of which the Maori tribes have fought to protect. Similarly, in California, the Yurok tribe granted the Klamath River legal personhood under their tribal law to protect the river. The conservational efforts by the indigenous communities reflect our need to maintain both the communities that’ve lived there for hundreds to thousands of years and the environment itself.
LaToya Ruby Frazier, a visual artist, discusses the Flint water crisis, where contamination still devastates many of its residents. From brushing teeth to cooking food, people can’t live a normal lifestyle given the poor water quality, overlooked by the government and worsening industrial pollution. The Flint River is filled with fecal matter, toxic chemicals, and waste dumps that overflow with contaminants. And these problems aren’t isolated to Flint.
Environmental racism, healthcare inequity, and industrial contamination are among many issues ailing the United States. Deep-rooted problems related to late-stage capitalism plague areas where water is only seen as a resource for capitalistic gain. It’s where rivers become sewers and the ecological conservation efforts of BIPOC are being ignored.
The last interviewee is Colette Pichon Battle, a climate activist born and raised in Southern Louisiana. She talks about her climate activism alongside BIPOC conservationists, which focuses on the rising sea levels and increasingly severe thunderstorms that ravage the neighbourhoods in Southern Louisiana. Battle cites that Hurricane Katrina emerged from due oil gas drilling and rising sea levels, leading to the loss of barrier islands.
Massive land and community loss is an increasing reality for many neighbourhoods across the state. Battle also notes that the government’s negligence and a crumbling democracy are pushing vulnerable communities into remote places with little-to-no support, marginalizing the lower classes as they face climate migration.
She advocates for a shift from our current socioeconomic system to one that values nature and collective humanity over selfish individualism and disposable dumps. Despite these damaging trends, many Black and Native communities still come together to raise awareness, reconnecting people that were long oppressed by colonialism and restoring their relationships to water.