Environmentalism and social justice are constantly interacting. Issues of sustainability as well as the ethical and responsible treatment of vulnerable individuals, of animals, and even of entire communities and ecosystems are constantly called into question. The effects of environmentally damaging policies and activities force unhealthy living standards upon others and present dire, even life-threatening circumstances for marginalized peoples in the U.S. and worldwide.
With a complicated problem of such epic proportions, it can seem as if there is nothing any one person can do to alleviate the burden faced by those on the receiving end of these injustices, let alone an opportunity to make a meaningful impact amid the social, political and economic systems perpetuating these injustices. However, when it comes to saving the world, one brave and animated leader and his team of Planeteers can offer us sage words of advice: “By your powers combined, I am Captain Planet.” So, in honor of Earth Day and the planet we all share, here are some ethical and everyday ways you can stay woke and keep up the good fight as the environmental justice warrior you were always meant to be.
Climate Change: the environmental crisis formerly known as global warming.
Scientists, civilians and politicians left and right have raised their concerns about climate change and environmentalist efforts to curb it. While some like President Donald Trump might consider this all to be “a money-making industry… a hoax,” decades of research suggest otherwise.
Recognized internationally at the 2016 Paris Agreement as among the greatest present threats to humanity, our unsustainable practices, particularly in highly industrialized countries, have stomped an indelible carbon footprint on everything from the air we breathe to the water we drink to the food we consume. That does irreparable damage to the environment and the delicate and complex ecosystems of flora and fauna within it. What’s more, it also threatens the lives and livelihoods of entire communities of people, particularly those who, ironically, contribute the least to the problem and who are economically and politically less poised to protect themselves from these negative consequences or even change the agenda of the main culprits.
Regardless of how well-versed you are or what stance you take, it can do less harm and more good to get informed about the issue and our role in perpetuating — and hopefully, improving — the conditions of our present for a better and more livable future.
Environmental Activism: exploitation of both resources and people.
As a still pressing and highly controversial issue, doing your research and being critical and careful in what news you consume is especially important when evaluating the facts and points of contention regarding the installment of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The taking and abuse of indigenous lands and rights is not unique to the U.S., as seen in similarly volatile and unjust situations in post-colonial continents such as South America and Africa where major companies and government forces within and outside of the country destabilize the immediate resources of the communities and/or dry up their non-renewable resources.
This also extends to agricultural issues with farming and produce production. Pesticides in our food, unsustainable farming practices, abused animals and exploited laborers are all aspects of the farming industry that have increased with the advancement of technologies and greater demands.
The interference of big business and lack of action taken by officials in government both federal and local to protect the rights of migrant workers creates intensely difficult situations for those individual and their families.
It also leads to inhumane conditions for the animals being raised as produce, which poor regulations and corporations exacerbate.
In this sense, sustainability is not just for the Earth, but for those who are marginalized in society and across the globe. This includes those whose right to their own land and resources has restricted those whose vulnerable circumstances are exploited to continue meeting the demands for produce and the meat industry. It also includes those who are forced — unwittingly or not — to consume unhealthy products and live in an unhealthy and even life-threatening environment.
The insistence on using fossil fuels and nonrenewable sources of energy have devastated many, and activism and systematic changes must be implemented to truly stop, if not altogether reverse, the damage that’s been done. However, that doesn’t mean those who are not (yet!) full throttle environmentalists are powerless to participate.
Fast Fashion: looking good for a hidden high cost.
Perhaps among the most recent of environmental issues to hit mainstream media’s attention, the deeply problematic nature of the fashion industry has been under a very critical lens the past few years. This is especially so as fast fashion accelerates seasons and pushes trends to generate more clothing that is considered in style and thereby, more likely to be purchased by thrifty shoppers. As one Newsweek article titled “Fast fashion is creating an environmental crisis,” explained, “Many secondhand stores will reject items from fast-fashion chains like Forever 21, HM, Zara and Topshop. The inexpensive clothing is poor quality, with low resale value, and there’s just too much of it … According to the Council for Textile Recycling, charities overall sell only 20 percent of the clothing donated to them at their retail outlets.”
So what’s deemed waste end up in landfills, and unlike compost, the chemical processes such as bleaching and dying that create the constantly revolving styles our consumerist society craves only contribute to the toxic greenhouse gases the trashed clothes emit into the atmosphere. Synthetically made clothes such as polyester, nylon and acrylic, according to the same article, act essentially as plastic, taking thousands of years to decompose. The exploitation that it enables hurts economically desperate and vulnerable individuals, an ugly truth staining the cheap clothing so many of us demand.
Remember, there are many issues beneath the massive umbrella of environmentalism. Still, we can’t be disillusioned by the enormity of the situation when every contribution — large and small — can bring us closer to a better tomorrow. In the words of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, “The power is yours!”
To see what our own city of Los Angeles has been doing to combat environmental injustices, visit http://plan.lamayor.org/. To find more organizations dedicated to sustainability and environmental justice, look through: http://www.globalstewards.org/organizations.htm.
To learn more and do more:
Add these films to your finals week procrastination watch-list: “Blue Moon,” “Surviving Progress,” “Chasing Ice,” “The 11th Hour,” “How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change,” “Saving my Tomorrow,” “The True Cost,” “Cowspiracy” and “Gasland”
Download these apps to be green on-the-go: Skeptical Science, Oroec, #Climate, Ecoviate, Avoid (also a web browser plug-in), Closet Swap
Attend the March for Science this Thursday, April 20.
Check out GreenLMU for more info about how to lessen your carbon footprint and act in alignment with the goals of sustainability and environmentalism.
Contact your representatives and politicians and join activist organization and events to help spread awareness and combat unjust laws and policies.
Visit the Center for Service and Action (Pro Tip: ask about any possible environmental AB trips!)
Check out these websites: California Enviornmental Justice Alliance, Food is Powe, Center for Native Peoples and the Environment and Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change, Project Just, World Wildlife Fund (WWF)
Stop by the Center for Urban Resilience (CURes) which helps urban and underserved communities with “a suite of research, education, restorative justice and urban planning programs … to empower communities to build resilient, vibrant, and just cities through meaningful interactions with their diverse ecosystems,” as stated on their website.
Do less clothes shopping and repair or repurpose old and worn items. When in doubt, however, shop at Goodwill and other accredited thirft stores (and donate, too). Also, try swapping clothes with friends which accomplishes the same goal.
Buy the many eco-friendly and ethical options for your products from reliably fair-trade online and in store sources.