At least you have your health?

By Samuel Charles

Last week, it was announced that Mayor Rahm Emanuel had brokered a deal to close Chicago’s two coal-fired power plants in the Pilsen and Little Village communities. The company that owns the plants, Midwest Generation, has been under mounting scrutiny in recent years after several studies have shown that people who live in the immediate vicinity have dramatically higher rates of respiratory problems, such as emphysema and asthma.

I first learned of the news when the Chicago Sun-Times posted a link to the story on its Facebook page. But what surprised me more than the story itself were the comments left by readers.

The small number of people who felt compelled to voice their opinion on the story weren’t so much happy about the plants closing, as they were concerned about jobs being lost from yet another case of a place of business shutting down.

In essence, these people were saying that they’d rather be employed and dying than unemployed and healthy.

Now, at first this seems absurd. Why can’t they just think of the greater good and bite the bullet in the name of the city’s health?

Well, it’s hard to perfectly understand a perspective unless one is immersed in that culture, so it’s easy for me to say, “Who cares whether or not the plants stay open when I live eight miles north?” Out of sight, out of mind, right?

But the people who are more concerned about jobs being lost are likely not anti-environmental. Instead, odds are they care more about the welfare and condition of their immediate families, not their neighbors.

While that might sound cold and heartless at first, it’s hard to criticize people for wanting to take care of their own.

That being said, these plants needed to be closed. They were symbols of an archaic, outdated and unsafe form of energy that was damaging to the environment on several levels. At the very least, their demise can be a symbol that the city is moving closer to environmental sensibility.

Environmentally efficient energy sources are what society needs, and most sane people would agree with that. And even though it’s admirable to put one’s family before one’s community, the greater good should still prevail.

These smokestacks have been gushing poison into Chicago’s atmosphere for decades, and when they’re finally closed, people immediately condemn the measure because of how it may affect employment in the city.

I guess sometimes you just can’t win.