- Chelsea Wong
Fighting for Environmental Justice on Earth Day
© Image by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Protecting our Planet through Advocacy
In celebration of Earth Day, a day intended to demonstrate support for environmental justice, INJECTION has talked to two environmental justice advocates. With so many environmental justice issues like inadequate access to healthy food, water pollution and climate change, it is time to invest in our planet and commit acts of green. Anyone is able to show love for our earth, from students to governments where together, taking action can support environmental movement for the better to create substantial change.
To showcase the need for environmental change, INJECTION interviewed two environmental justice advocates. Joycelyn and John. Joycelyn is currently a PhD worker and student as well as a science and climate communicator. She likes being outdoors, camping, hiking, swimming in the sea and has a great passion for learning such as through documentaries or reading. John is also a student as well as an agriculture researcher and activist. He has hobbies in photography, sports and passion in writing.
Firstly, what made you realise how bad the environmental conditions were in the world?
Joycelyn: I feel its accumulation of one story, one documentary, one interview, one disaster. As I was growing up, it's like, wow, this really is such a huge issue and it's really important. It's like a worldwide phenomenon and I think that's the part as well. It's not just something that's specific to certain landform or certain location, but climate change itself is a high project because we can't see it all at once, yet it affects everywhere. So, I think it was that realisation of not being able to see the end of it. That really made me realise it is such an important topic to be working on in life because it affects and touches every part of life.
John: Since childhood, I have been reading about environmental issues across the globe. Soon I realised the kind of development by the system I see in my region is a major driver of environmental destruction. When I moved to cities to study, it was difficult for me as a person who lived amidst the dense natural landscape in Kerala. I saw how development has transformed nature into urban spaces. My rural, regional and agricultural interactions helped me to see things differently. Combined with this information, it was a road to reality.
What do you think is the worst thing humans have done to ruin the state of our planet?
Joycelyn: I think the worst things humans have done to the state of our planet is to become disconnected with the rest of nature. I think none of the tangible actions, whether it's logging, mining or pollution. None of those things would happen if we weren't so disconnected from the rest of the environment around us.
We're all so disconnected from where our food comes from, where all our resources come from and further disconnected from the environments that produce and provide for us. But, the ability to neglect and to exploit becomes ever easier and the further away we get from the rest of nature, the less those indications. We don't know what the conditions of farms are. We don't know the conditions of the people. We don't know if they're being paid well in general. We don't know those places and we don't know those people and I think that othering of nature and othering of other humans allows for exploitation to the greatest degree.
John: Colonialism is the beginner in the push for ruining the planet. By destroying cultural diversity, indigenous knowledge which is highly valuable in modern times to fight climate change was lost. Also, the natural world was completely altered by deforestation and the introduction of dozens of species elsewhere as non-native and invasive species. Additionally, capitalism and colonial minds continue to be saturated in the system that itself is claiming to bring us out of the climate crisis. Humans consider themselves superior and privileged sections are not ready to accept human and bio diversities.
How do you propose we can help environmental issues and protect our planet?
Joycelyn: I propose everyone actually starts doing something, whether that’s talking about it, protesting, painting, singing, advocating, standing in courts of law against it. Everyone must do something. There is not one way to fix the climate crisis, and we all have different skills and different interests, different passions, so we should use that. So, for me, I'm using my passion to do two things. One, I have a passion for the outdoors, for forests and ancient academia and time so I’m putting that altogether in my PhD to tackle one small part of the crisis. In another frame, I'm using education, my ability to communicate and design to inform other people, inspire other people to take action, but also inspire them to think deeply about their impact on the world and their impact of the climate crisis on marginalised communities and so there are already loads of interest. But on the surface, don't have anything to do with climate in terms of academia or communications or marketing or design.
Anyone is able to apply their skills. So if your skills are in medicine, you can become first aider at protests and marches. You can use your position within a hospital to advocate for the use of less plastic and the provision of more are vegetarian meals. I think we need to move beyond just these like singular actions with recycle, don't drive a car and don't fly as much. We all know those things are incredibly important, but they should be like our bread and butter. Like without a doubt, we always try to access those individual actions we can do. But what I'm talking about is more an innate, rooting in action. I think each and every person finding what is they enjoy, what they are passionate about should apply themselves to climate justice and climate action.
John: People should know about the reality which comes from a combination of interactions within the society, traditional knowledge and accurate global information. This information is essential to realising right and wrong. This recognition helps to rethink our development drive by fossil fuels and ecological destruction. Such realisation should transcend into awareness, activism & movements to ensure there are leaderships to address these crises, ecopreneurship and innovations to provide alternatives to conventionally destructive development.
What made you start your advocacy for environmental justice?
Joycelyn: Before I started running my Instagram account (@climateincolour), I ran a different platform, @blackonblack, a platform and studio for the amplification of creatives of colour. It highlighted artists with visual artists, poets, writers, photographers of colour in the UK and around the world. We communicated issues of gender, race quality through art. This was the first intersection I made with advocacy and creativity.
The real motivation for me was my PhD, where I worked in the environmental justice space and tried to bridge the gap between science, conservation and environmental justice. And so, it was kind of an initial idea to find a way to communicate what I was learning, especially because I was going to be going to such a privileged university and I thought the most important things are breaking down barriers of gatekeeping. Not everybody needs to go to university, but we can all find ways to communicate. It was a natural next step as it’s kind of my history to do advocacy work online, such as having experience as head of marketing at a tech company doing social media advocacy things.
This work makes you feel really purposeful, really excited and fulfilled. But it does also make me feel quite stress and pressured. It's very now now. Now as in it's very aggressive, as in, standing up to get what you want now. I've learned through advocating for environmental justice we really need to be careful with the rhetoric and the narrative that we push out. As activists, and as people advocating for environmental justice, we do a lot of talking on behalf of the global cell from the global north within the environmental justice sector, and sometimes we speak on behalf of we romanticise. We romanticise community, an indigeneity and tradition, especially when we don't know those traditions ourselves. Be a sponge rather than a microphone or a loudspeaker and try and just understand as much as possible.
© Joycelyn Longdon
John: The knowledge of environmental issues across the globe was haunting enough to think about doing something. But, witnessing and experiencing the environmental and climatic issues at my own home shook me. It was difficult because I feared losing the environment, culture, livelihood and beautiful nature I'm part of and through which I grew up. I believe in individual actions to ensure lifestyle changes, activism for systemic changes and collaborations to bring collective benefits. With social media platforms like Instagram, I wanted to share the beauty of nature around us, privileges and the goodness of such a life. Those continue to be a major part to say that nature or biodiversity exists everywhere, not just in national parks or sanctuaries. So, we should be careful in every change we make in nature, even if it's in a city. With activism, I began to share information about global environmental and climatic issues and expose fake solutions like greenwashing. These should have been the work of the media to highlight those but they fail and are not ready to make a dent in their political and economic interests. So, social media platforms are a space with a large audience, especially youth and also a quick way to disseminate reality. Engaging in this space is a short relief that at least I'm doing something, but at the same time it's stressful that none of these is leading anywhere and there is a long way to go. Every day more facts come in and add to the stress as many of us don't have the privilege to address this crisis on a full scale. Also, we have to face discrimination based on age, identity, livelihood and location.
What are some examples you have said/done that has helped raise awareness for environmental justice?
Joycelyn: I’ve done courses on climate change online. I’ve used my Instagram platform (@climateincolour) to spread awareness on the environmental justice as well as my PhD work which is in the same field. Anything I’ve written, designed or worked, anything talks or panels over the last two and a half years have been about environmental justice.
John: I travel to different places occasionally to fill the gap associated with activism, climate actions and awareness building. It also includes the dissemination of information from vulnerable regions with real experiences and also sharing our own experiences and lessons in leading a sustainable life. I also contribute to policies and research wherever I could to bring diverse perspectives.
© John Paul Jose
What do you wish people would understand about the importance of environmental justice?
Joycelyn: Everyone should advocate for environmental justice, not just people of colour. It's actually most important for people in positions of power and privilege to advocate for environmental justice to take the burden off of people of colour. Advocating for environmental justice doesn't just benefit marginalised communities but it benefits everyone because when marginalised communities are empowered and have the space to be creative and to thrive, we will all have the space to thrive. So it's everybody's issue.
John: People should know that environmental and climatic issues are a matter of justice because people who are vulnerable as poor, exploited, old, discriminated, migrants, refugees, disabled, youth, women, girls, children, etc comprise more than half of the planet are the worst hit by climate change. And the issues driving injustices like current developments like urbanisation, industrialisation, fossil fuel industries, deforestation, etc displaces more people and pushes them to livelihood and environmental insecurity. So, it is important to understand the nexus of social and environmental issues. If you are fighting for social justice you should also fight for environmental and climate justice. Justice itself in contemporary times means an amalgamation of well-being associated with addressing such inequalities and biases.