Red states, blue states – when it comes to our environment, are we really two different Americas?
New Yorker writer Eliza Griswold and UC Berkeley professor Arlie Hochschild both traveled outside of their comfort zones, immersing themselves in communities that many liberals dismiss as ‘Trump country.’ But it’s time to get beyond the stereotypes, says Griswold.
“I think ‘Trump country’ is a dangerous stupid moniker we shouldn't use anymore,” she tells the Climate One audience. “It just allows us to write off wide swaths of America.”
Griswold spent time in southwestern Pennsylvania to tell the story of a family living on the front lines of the fracking boom. Hochschild traveled to rural Louisiana to escape what she calls the “bubble” of coastal thinking.
“Let me get into a bubble that is as far right as Berkeley, California is on the left -- and take my alarm system off,” Hochschild laughs.
Both writers emerged with books that paint an honest portrait of a misunderstood America.
In Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America, Griswold tells the story of Stacey Haney. When the fracking industry came to her Pennsylvania community, Haney readily signed over the rights to use her family farm – to her, it felt patriotic.
“Her father was a Vietnam combat vet,” Griswold explains, “and she really wanted to keep American troops out of harm's way, out of foreign entanglements over oil. And so she thought she was really doing her duty by signing this lease.”
What happened as a result turned her world upside-down. After her son came down with a debilitating illness, Stacey discovered that a nearby industrial waste pond was off-gassing lethal chemicals, poisoning the air, water and farmland. She and her family were forced to abandon their farm.
“She loses her house, she loses her way of life, she's living in a trailer with her kids,” Griswold says. “They really are a different kind of climate refugee.
“As much as the story is about fracking, it’s really much more a story of the failure of the common good and what it is that binds us together.”
Hochschild spent five years reporting on the lives of Tea Party conservatives fighting for environmental justice in Bayou Corne, Louisiana. The residents lost much of their community to a sinkhole caused by industrial well drilling. But as much as they blame the salt mining company that caused the disaster, she says, they also fault the government for letting them down.
“Environmental employees are not protecting you,” Hochschild says. “So it's easy to explain why they think, ‘state government, what are these people doing? They’re not doing their job.”
Hochschild’s book, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, tells the story of a community that’s been betrayed by the promise of prosperity – and by a government that they believe has failed them. It’s what she calls “The Great Paradox.”
“At the heart of it is this question of why it would be that the states that are the most polluted are also the states with the most voters who don't believe in regulating polluters,” she says.
Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America
The Bayou Corne Sinkhole, Louisiana
Greening the Tea Party (The New Yorker)