Philanthropists discuss eco-justice with EMU students

 Jose Carlos Aguiar, PhD, and pastor Monica Villarreal, two philanthropists from opposite sides of the globe, came together to facilitate a conversation on environmental disasters and delivering eco-justice. 

Both came to EMU to present at Pray-Harrold room 216 from 6:30-8 p.m. The College of Arts and Sciences brought Aguiar as their McAndless Scholar. This position is awarded to a nationally prominent figure that comes to EMU to deliver a series of talks relating to arts or humanities throughout the semester.

Aguiar, a Catholic priest from Brazil, traveled to EMU to inform students on an environmental disaster that occurred in 2016. According to Aguir, the mining disaster in Mariana that turned one of Brazil’s main waterways into a river of mud was the worst environmental disaster Brazil has ever seen. 

Villarreal, a pastor with the Lutheran church, came to talk about an issue a little closer to home: the Flint water crisis. She explained how the erosion of pipes polluted the water of Flint and her work with the more impoverished area of the city since the crisis began in 2015. 

“This conversation is to bridge the gap between the global north and the global south,” Villarreal explained. 

Aguiar and Villarreal described how their vastly different ecological disasters had many similar consequences. 

According to Aguiar, “Mariana was not an accident, it was a crime.”

He informed students and community members that the mining companies that had been involved in the disaster were aware of the issues that caused the disaster and did not act on them. Villarreal supported the same thing happened in Flint when General Motors refused to use city water because it was rusting their cars. No one acted on existing issues that could have saved both cities from catastrophe. 

Another parallel they drew was that people profited off of their disasters. Aguiar explained that when the disaster occurred, the town abandoned due to the destruction made a great place for the company to dump their mining debris for much a lower cost. Similarly, Villarreal explained the massive profit that bottled water companies made off of the people of Flint. 

“Somebody somewhere profited off of the city of Flint needing and depending on bottled water,” she said. 

Both of the speakers pushed the need for public policy and laws to protect people and the environment. According to Villarreal, the government pushes for “profit over people and over nature.”

Members of the community in attendance asked about their role in the issues and how they can get involved. According to both Aguiar and Villarreal, attending talks like this one is a good first step to spreading awareness. 

“I thought it was really cool that there was a dialogue between Pastor Monica and Dr. Aguiar, that they were talking about these two perspectives of what happened in Flint and what happened in Brazil because like Monica mentioned, there’s a disconnect,” Júlia Miyahara, who is both an EMU student and Brazil native, said. 

Miyahara has traveled to Brazil and talked to people who experienced this tragedy firsthand, so making this connection between the global north and south carried a lot of meaning.

Villarreal also explained that because Flint is so local, there are direct steps that community members can take to help. She recommended volunteering with the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan, since they have been directly involved with supplying the people of Flint with water. 

Aguiar will be giving one more talk on the subject, the last in his series of three, on Feb. 27 in Pray-Harrold at 4:30 p.m.

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