environmental justice

Latinx Heritage Month

Author’s note: During Latinx Heritage Month celebrations, we acknowledge that many non-white Latinxs do not identify with the notion of Latinidad, defined as the collection of attributes and experiences shared by members of the Latin American identity. Many Black and Indigenous members of the community reject a unified notion of Latinidad because it ignores the violent, racist history of Latin American colonization and erases the different histories experiences of peoples in Latin America. For these reasons, this Latinx Heritage Month, we honor the contributions of Black and Indigenous Latinxs to the conservation/sustainability field.

Feliz días de la independencia a mi gente Latinx! Con orgullo nicaragüense, les presento cinco pionerxs que están desafiando la definición de quién es ambientalista.

Happy (belated) Latinx Heritage Month! Between September and October, we celebrate the achievements, contributions, and influence of the Latinx* culture in the United States. Celebrations begin on September 15, when Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua gained their independence from Spain in 1821. Mexico celebrates the day after, and Chile recognizes their independence on September 18. Join us in celebrating Latinx Heritage Month by recognizing activists who call attention to environmental conservation while paying homage to their roots. 

 

Xiye Bastida is an eighteen-year old Xiye BastidaMexican-Chilean activist and member of the Otomi-Toltec Nation. She is from San Pedro Tultepec, Mexico, where she was raised with Otomi indigenous beliefs that emphasized the reciprocity of taking care of the Earth. Her community experienced a severe two-year drought followed by extreme flooding events, which prompted her to examine how the extreme weather events are exacerbated by the climate and how this disproportionately impacts BIPOC** communities. Upon moving to New York City with her family, where she witnessed the lingering damage caused by Superstorm Sandy, Bastida focused her energy on indigenous and immigrant visibility in climate activism. She is one of the principal organizers for Fridays for Future NYC, has mobilized people of all ages to participate in the Global Climate Strike, and is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.

 

Xiuhtezcatl MartínezXiuhtezcatl Martínez is a nineteen-year old activist who wrote a book entitled We Rise: The Earth Guardians Guide to Building a Movement That Restores the Planet. His book examines the failures of world leaders to solve the climate crisis and suggests tangible steps that youth can take to mobilize their communities. Martínez is a youth director for Earth Guardians, and has advocated for large governments to address climate change at the Rio+20 United Nations Summit and the UN General Assembly. Martínez cites his Mexica (Aztec) heritage as the motivation for his activism, and believes that all humans have a responsibility to protect the environment. Martínez shares his indigenous beliefs, stories, and experiences growing up as an activist in the spotlight through his hip hop music. 

 

Katherine Lorenzo is an Afro-Latina climate activist who began her career Katherine Lorenzoby volunteering during Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign. She studied political science at the University of Nevada Las Vegas, and has worked with advocacy groups such as Mi Familia Vota. Lorenzo frequently mentions that conservation is an inherent part of Latinx culture. While families are motivated to save money, there is an added benefit of reusing and wasting less. Lorenzo worked on environmental justice programs through CHISPA Nevada, and focused on the Clean Busses for Healthy Niños campaign to switch districts to clean, electric school buses. She currently works at a nonprofit, Energy Foundation, which promotes policy solutions to advance renewable energy and teach the public about the benefits of a clean energy economy.

 

Solimar FiskeSolimar Fiske is an activist who uses her Instagram feed #TakingUpSpaceOutdoors to amplify voices of color in outdoor spaces. Fiske speaks on the isolating experience of walking into outdoor clothing retail stores and not seeing anyone who looked like her, or clothing geared towards her frame. She says that engaging with her online platform has led her to find a community of activists (such as @melaninbasecamp and @unlikelyhikers) who are working towards the same goals she is, and that she is continuously learning about land acknowledgment, conservation, and environmental awareness. Fiske acknowledges that many people of color only see a narrow advertisement of what the outdoors is actually like, and face barriers of time, travel, and funds. She aims to educate others by emphasizing that experiences in nature are not out of reach, being a role model for other people of color who want to get involved outside, and taking up space as a woman of color, immigrant, person with mixed indigenous heritage, working class person, and person with a large body.

 

Melissa Cristina Márquez Melissa Cristina Márquezis a Puerto Rican and Mexican marine biologist and the founder of Fins United. The Fins United Initiative teaches people of all ages about Chondrichthyes (shark and ray) conservation, education, and co-existence. Márquez travels around the world speaking about the importance of diversity and inclusion in science. She has been dubbed the “Mother of Sharks” and has been featured on various nature programs, including Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. As a proud #LatinainSTEM, Márquez emphasizes the need for open communication between the scientific community and the general public, law and policy makers, and diverse stakeholders. 

 

*Latinx: gender-neutral term for someone of Latin American origin/descent

**BIPOC: Black, Indigenous, and People of Color

Sustainable Beauty

Editor’s Note: During these times of uncertainty, finding ways to proactively care for ourselves and our surroundings can have a grounding effect. However, we must recognize that having this opportunity is a sign of our privilege. I encourage you to take a moment to appreciate the labor of essential workers.

16 Top Ethical and Sustainable Beauty Brands You Should Know [Space Nation Orbit Blog]

Eco-conscious consumerism may seem like an unlikely investment of time during a global pandemic, but quarantine has allowed many of us to slow down and listen to our bodies. Practicing self-care can take many forms and adopting a skincare routine is one. When we discuss personal care products, however, we should also consider the life cycle and environmental impacts of their packaging.

According to a report compiled by Statista, the 2020 United States skincare market has generated $18.1 million and the average consumer has spent $55 on skincare. The bottles, tubes, and containers used annually by the cosmetic industry adds up to 120 billion units of plastics packaging. But how does this hurt our planet?

Of the 120 billion units of plastic packaging used each year, 70% ends up in landfills. Bioplastics do not degrade naturally or within the average human lifespan. They can be composted, but require such an intense degree of heat to break down that they must be returned to an industrial compost site.

Through the dumping of waste in developing nations and irresponsible waste collection practices, plastic ends up in our oceans and breaks down into microplastics. When ingested, plastics and microplastics jeopardize the health of marine life and move in such a way mimic the movements of prey consumed by fish and seabirds. Plastic pollution, which PEW Research Center estimates currently totals up to 8 million pieces of plastic in the ocean, can also become entangled with aquatic life. This has resulted in the strangulation of sea turtles and marine mammals’ necks, and the asphyxiation of aquatic life.

Alternative forms of packaging have been used by companies in response to rapid deforestation and plastic pollution. An increasingly popular material is bioplastic, which is made from the sugars in corn starch, cassava, and sugar cane. Bioplastics are defined by being composed of 20% or more renewable resources, and are free of the hormone-disrupting chemical BPA (bisphenol A). This alternative seems appealing compared to the use of petroleum-based packaging, but the conservation community warns that there are many contingencies to the success of bioplastics. It is often cited that they emit less carbon dioxide than petroleum-based plastic, due in part to the fact that they are not unearthing trapped liquid carbon dioxide. However, a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that extensive land use, as well as fertilizer and pesticide application, lead to more pollutant emissions than traditional plastic. Not only are these agricultural practices harmful to the environment, but they also threaten our hormonal and skin health.

The use of “natural” ingredients in products and packaging disproportionately impact people of color. On the agricultural side, migrant farmworkers in the United States experience routine exposure to pesticides and other environmental hazards associated with industrial farming (such as California’s continued wildfires), heat stress, and contaminated drinking water. These laborers are essential to the $200 billion agricultural industry, yet farmworkers make about 40 cents per bucket of produce picked. On the consumer side, there has also been an uptick in lawsuits based on exposure to toxic ingredients in household brand health and beauty products. A notable example is litigation based on mercury contamination in skin-lightening products. The American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology issued an opinion that women of color are disproportionately exposed to unsafe ingredients in beauty products due to the societal pressures they face to conform to Western beauty standards. For these reasons, looking at sustainability through the lens of human rights and racial/social justice is key to the growth of the sustainable skincare/beauty industry.

So where does our beauty waste go?

Our demand for resource-intensive products contributes to the loss of 18 million acres of forest each year. This is because skincare products contain ingredients like soy, palm oil, and sugar cane, which are grown on large-scale farms that consume extensive stretches of land. Not only are the effects of our consumption felt on land, but also seen in the oceans. Alarm has been raised surrounding the ethical implications of agricultural sourcing. By diverting land and energy away from food production, companies are exacerbating food insecurity in many developing countries. Ecovia (formerly Organic Monitor), a market research firm that examines the organic beauty industry, compares the debate over “beauty crops” to that of biofuel. While both are striving to improve sustainability in their markets, advancing technology while failing to address food security ignores the basic human right to food. Developments in the industry, such as the commitment to sustainable palm oil-sourcing (see Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil), have been created to address these concerns. Similar roundtables exist for soybeans and cocoa, all with the intent to responsibly and ethically grow consumer crops.

How can you find sustainable skincare products?

Greenwashing has frequently become more apparent as brands jump onto the eco-conscious trend. This term refers to the marketing strategy which deceives consumers into believing that the product is better for the environment (i.e. by having a lighter carbon footprint or donating to an environmental organization). Usually, greenwashed products use earth tone colors, have pictures of natural landscapes and/or leaves, and include key words such as “eco-,” “natural,” and “sustainable.” Greenwashing misleads consumers to think they are making decisions that positively impact or vaguely-reference the environment, when in reality, these companies continue to package in plastic and encourage wasteful consumption patterns. Many argue that bioplastics are an example of greenwashing due to inadequate composting infrastructure or consumer understanding of the waste process.

Along with greenwashing, be wary of the word “organic.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a certified organic label indicating that the crops “are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing… soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible” (USDA 2012). According to the New York Times, an amendment to the certification allowed 38 synthetic ingredients into organic products. With this in mind, conducting research on specific company policies in regards to ethical and sustainable sourcing is key. Look for Fair Trade Certified and Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil Certified products when possible, and explore package-free products/options! Becoming more environmentally conscious doesn’t happen overnight – and it isn’t always financially sustainable for many people. Mindfulness about our practices and consumerism doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right, but that we’re conscious and working towards change.

Thank you. Gracias.

Indigenous Peoples’ Week at UConn

Since the late 1980s, activists have been attempting to change Columbus Day — a federally recognized holiday — to Indigenous Peoples Day. Advocates argue that the historical account of Columbus obscures his record of colonization, which led to slavery, genocide, illnesses, and near extinction, of the Taino people by the mid-1500s. The Taino were the most numerous indigenous people of the Caribbean islands encountered by Columbus after his trans-Atlantic voyage in 1492.

Dozens of cities and states across the United States have recognized this holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day since advocacy began in the late 1980s. UConn has joined in recognizing this holiday in recent years. This year, the Office of the Provost emailed the UConn community about this recognition and the history behind it. The Native American Cultural Program hosts a week-long event series each year in celebration, dubbed Indigenous Peoples’ Week.

Indigenous people, in the United States and across the world, are on the frontlines of the fight for environmental and climate justice. In the United States, indigenous people are often associated with closeness to nature and a low-impact way of life. While this image is sometimes a caricature, in many cases, it holds true. Struggles for land rights and protection against pollution or displacement, whether caused by the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and extended droughts, or by big businesses and expanding agricultural interests, are issues of survival for many of the world’s 370 million indigenous people.

22-year old Makasa Lookinghorse of the Six Nations of the Grand River

Indigenous Ecuadorians have long-pursued legal action against Texaco and Chevron, large oil conglomerates, for pollution of their homeland from large oil spills. While these lawsuits have dragged on for years, and even decades, they serve as reminders of the determination of indigenous people.

In 2016, indigenous people of the Standing Rock reservation came together to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was slated to run through ancient burial grounds and dangerously close to the tribe’s fresh water supply. Thousands of protesters brought international attention to the issue of indigenous land rights and environmental justice.  However, in 2017, protesters were eventually dispersed and removed by state and federal authorities and the final phase of the pipeline project was swiftly approved by the Army

Helena Gualinga of Ecuador

Corps of Engineers (ACOE). Although the project was completed and oil is flowing through the pipeline, a federal judge ordered the ACOE to reconsider certain environmental impacts. The reservation is currently litigating the adequacy of that second review, which was done in 2018 – their fight is yet another example of the challenges and environmental risks faced by indigenous people.

The most recent global climate strikes are most commonly associated with Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish activist who started the Fridays for Future student movement. But indigenous youth have been heavily involved on the frontlines of this movement as well. Other prominent activists include the 22-year old Makasa Lookinghorse of the Six Nations of the Grand River, who is

Xiye Bastida of Mexico

fighting for Native American water rights in opposition to a permit granted by Ontario, Canada, which allows the Nestle Corporation to pump millions of gallons of water per day from a local aquifer. We must recognize Helena Gualinga, who has fought for climate justice in her homeland of Ecuador, and Xiye Bastida, who has fought against extraction culture and for environmental justice in Mexico.

Indigenous activists have been leading on environmental justice issues long before it has gained the attention of the public eye. This Indigenous Peoples’ Week, we recognize and support them in their continued struggle for environmental and climate justice.

 

 

Herbst Endorses Guiding Principles for Equitable Climate Solutions

This past week, UConn President Susan Herbst was part of a coalition of university presidents who took an important step toward achieving an equitable, environmentally conscious future by signing UConn on to the Second Nature’s Call to Action and Guiding Principles for Accelerating Equitable and Just Climate Solutions. Below is the statement she released explaining the role of UConn in creating a future that is healthy and safe for everyone.

 

Susan Herbst:

As a Land Grant and Sea Grant institution, the University of Connecticut has always felt a special responsibility to set high standards and uphold strong principles on the ways in which we understand and protect our environment both locally and globally.

For these and many other reasons, we wholeheartedly endorse the imperatives articulated in Second Nature’s Call to Action and Guiding Principles for Accelerating Equitable and Just Climate Solutions, which were announced recently at the 2019 Higher Education Climate Leadership Summit in Tempe, Arizona.

These principles remind us that universities have not only the power to motivate change and the expertise to offer innovative solutions, but also the responsibility to ensure that those solutions are equitable and developed in collaboration with the people most impacted.

That responsibility is especially challenging when it comes to climate change because of the distance between our actions here and now, and their consequences, which are often far removed in time and space.

It’s our duty as global citizens to adjust behaviors today for carbon mitigation and resilience preparation that will primarily benefit future generations, or vulnerable populations located somewhere else around the world. To this point, Second Nature’s Guiding Principles advise us to think globally; we must continuously review and refine our campus climate action plans to ensure that our goals and strategies reflect the best available science about the effects of climate change.

As a state flagship, public research university, UConn‘s mission has always included public service. We frequently partner with state and local governments and strive to be engaged leaders in our community. Second Nature’s Guiding Principles urge us to extend this engagement to the global community. In the context of climate change, we can do this by accounting for how the long-term costs of our institutional activities might “negatively impact people and the planet, and strive to measure, internalize, and avoid these costs to the greatest extent possible.”

The first step is raising awareness about the underlying science of global warming and collectively accepting our share of responsibility for its harmful effects, which are already occurring in places far removed from our nation’s campuses.  This includes subsistence farms in North Africa wiped out in recent years by historic droughts, entire coastal communities in Pacific island nations displaced by sea level rise and flooding, and essential drinking water supplies threatened by receding glaciers in the Himalayas.

Informed by this knowledge and driven by basic human decency, the next step of higher education institutions should be recognizing the urgent needs of the world’s most vulnerable populations by accelerating our climate strategies.

UConn has historically been a leader on this front, and we continue to reaffirm our efforts to this end. We recently adopted an environmental literacy general education requirement that will ensure our students graduate from UConn with a grasp of important, intersectional environmental issues including climate change.

UConn is also an active agent in local climate adaptation projects, notably through the University’s Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation (CIRCA), which works with economically disadvantaged communities to improve their climate resiliency.

In 2017, we joined a multi-sector coalition of American businesses, state and local governments, NPOs, and colleges and universities by signing the “We Are Still In” pledge, reaffirming our commitment to the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Last fall, we joined 17 other major research universities in the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3), sharing our expertise in order to accelerate solutions to global warming. And, for the past four years, our UConn@COP program has brought a delegation of students to the U.N.’s annual international climate summit for an immersive, hands-on learning experience, with the goal of developing future leaders in climate science and policy.

This year, UConn’s Sustainability Office will meet with departments and stakeholders across campus, including at a student summit scheduled for next month, in order to update our strategic goals and metrics for climate leadership through 2025.  This is the next five-year milestone in our long-term Climate Action Plan.  It’s also the perfect opportunity to utilize Second Nature’s Guiding Principles as a more global and equitable lens for reviewing our progress and envisioning more impactful strategies toward a carbon-neutral campus.

Hispanic Environmentalists Advancing the Environmental Movement

By Natalie Roach

The midterm elections that took place this November have ushered in a new vanguard of representatives ready to fight for the needs of the people. These newly elected representatives have harnessed public enthusiasm for change to beat out incumbents, and are entering Congress full of ideas and energy. One of the most well-known of these newly elected representatives is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. A 29-year-old Latina from the Bronx, Cortez is the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. Along with a number of her colleagues, she has announced a plan called “The Green New Deal” that pushes for climate change to be prioritized in Congress. Ocasio-Cortez is just one example of the many Hispanic activists across the country and world that are fighting to protect us from environmental degradation.

In our country, Latinx people are more concerned about the environment and more willing to take action to protect it than the general population. This makes sense, since a history of environmental racism means they are one of the populations most affected by environmental hazards like particulate pollution and poor water. Despite often being excluded from the mainstream environmental movement, Latinx people have always been heavily involved in environmental activism.

In Latin America, environmentalists are fighting for their lives, literally. As the area continues to develop and those in power exploit the land and its resources, indigenous and poor people are displaced. Their way of life, their land, and their livelihoods are stolen from them, and governments do very little to protect them, if not encourage the exploitation. When people decide to organize and fight back, they are threatened or killed. A 2016 report from GlobalWitness found that two-thirds of the 185 environmentalists murdered in 2015 resided in Latin America.

UConn recognizes the importance of this reality. The USG Sustainability Subcommittee is one organization on campus that is dedicated to working towards a just and sustainable planet for all people. They are organizing a series of events this semester that make clear the importance of including Hispanic people and other diverse groups in the environmental movement. Keep an eye out for their events this semester!

We cannot possibly cover all of the passionate Hispanic activists that have dedicated their lives to environmentalism. However, we have highlighted some activists here which showcase the breadth of Hispanic people’s influence on the environmental movement.

 

Elizabeth Yeampierre

Elizabeth Yeampierre is an internationally recognized pioneer in the environmental movement, intent on creating a platform for oppressed communities in the fight against climate change. A Puerto Rican attorney with indigenous and African roots, she was born and raised in New York City, and has fought on behalf of her community for her whole life. She has pioneered a model of intergenerational, multi-cultural, and community-led organizing that is award-winning and effective.

Yeampierre is a leader in numerous organizations across the country, including the Climate Justice Alliance, a national coalition of community-based organizations focused on environmental justice, and Building Equity & Alignment for Impact, which aims to strengthen relationships between philanthropists, large environmental nonprofits, and grassroots organizations. She was one of the driving forces behind the historical People’s Climate March in 2014. She is also a leader in New York City policy. She currently serves on mayor DeBlasio’s Sustainability Advisory board, and has been instrumental in historic legislation such as the passing of New York’s first Brownfield legislation and the adoption of NYC’s Solid Waste Management Plan. On the federal level, she was the first Latina chair appointed to the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and was also a member of the National Environmental Health Sciences Advisory Council. In addition to delivering inspirational speeches around the world, Yeampierre works as the Executive Director of UPROSE, a grassroots organization that focuses on sustainability and resiliency in Brooklyn, NY. 

 

Berta Caceres

Berta Caceres was a fearless environmental leader in her country of Honduras, one of the most dangerous places to be an environmentalist in the world. While still in college, she co-founded the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), and continued to lead the group for the rest of her life. The COPINH led a variety of important grassroots campaigns including protesting illegal logging, plantation owners, and US military presence on indigenous land. Caceres supported a wide range of social and indigenous issues including feminism and LGBT rights. As indigenous rights and human rights are inextricably linked with the environment, she became known as a prominent environmentalist. In 2015 she won the Goldman Environmental Prize for a campaign that was successful in pressuring the world’s largest dam builder to end a project on the Gualcarque River that would have “jeopardized the water resources and livelihood” of the surrounding land and people. However, her work to protect the people of Honduras eventually led to her death. In 2016, she was assassinated in her home by armed intruders. Fellow activists say one of Berta’s favorite expressions was “they are afraid of us because we are not afraid of them.”

 

Jamie Margolin

Youth activist Jamie Margolin is one of the 21 youth who have filed a lawsuit against the federal government alleging that the action it has taken that has led to climate change is depriving the next generation of life, liberty, and property, and has failed to protect essential public trust resources. The case made it to the US District Court this fall.

Margolin, however, is not waiting around for a decision to be reached. While this case is proceeding, she has created a national climate movement. She is the founder of Zero Hour, a diverse youth-led movement dedicated to concrete action to end climate change. In July of 2018, Zero Hour held a three day event in DC consisting of a day to lobby legislators, an arts festival, and the Youth Climate March itself. Sister marches happened in tandem across the nation and world. Margolin’s movement is focused on concrete action, not just rhetoric – they have a science-backed platform stemming from the lawsuit, and their march included a specific set of action items. They are also successfully intersectional; their platform fully recognizes that solving social issues is vital to fighting climate change, and having women of color at the helm brings a diversity to this movement that has led to its success.

 

Vanessa Hauc

Vanessa Hauc is an Emmy award-winning trilingual reporter who has used her platform to educate Spanish-speakers and the larger world about environmental issues. She started her career in Bogota, Colombia in 1993, and in 1999 moved to LA. She graduated from the University of Nevada with majors in Communication and Journalism, while working at nearby TV stations. In 2002 Hauc joined the Telemundo network as reporter and co-presenter of “Al Rojo Vivo con Maria Celeste,” and has risen up the ranks to her current position as a correspondent for Noticiero Telemundo. Telemundo is one of the largest providers of Spanish-language content in the country and has a global reach, providing programming in more than 100 countries.

Hauc has taken advantage of this global audience to spread awareness of environmental issues by creating her own segment “Alerta Verde” (Green Alert), to educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment. After much success, Telemundo made Alerta Verde its own company, and is now at the forefront of environmental news coverage.

Hauc has also been on the frontlines of environmental crises throughout her career, reporting on the ground from disasters. She covered Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes across the world, including Chile, Japan, and Haiti, and the Chilean miners’ rescue. She has also dedicated her time to travelling the United States challenging legislators on anti-immigration policies, has received a Master’s degree in Economy and International Politics from the University of Miami, and studied French Culture and Languages at the University of Aix in Provence, France.

 

Christiana Figueres

One of the world’s greatest accomplishments in the last decade was the Paris Climate Agreement, signed by 195 countries in 2015. This historical agreement was largely due to our next environmentalist, Christina Figueres. Figueres has a master’s degree in social anthropology and is a diplomat for Costa Rica. She became the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2010 and assumed responsibility for the annual international climate change negotiations. She was determined to bring the world to a consensus and implement a regulatory framework for carbon emissions that everyone could commit to. She successfully directed a series of annual negotiations across the world that culminated in the Paris 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP21), at which the Paris Climate Agreement was signed.

Christina is not satisfied with just the Paris Climate Agreement. She continues to push the world towards increasing climate protection. She is currently organizing Mission 2020, a global initiative to have world carbon emissions begin decreasing by 2020.

What is Environmental Justice?

By Natalie Roach

On the weekend of September 8th, New Haven was brimming with energy. There were events happening throughout the city to foster progress for people and the environment.

The first was a summit presented by the Yale Art Gallery and Artspace, a contemporary art non-profit. This summit, called “Homage: Soil and Site” was seven hours long and drew in some of the national leaders in the environmental movement today—household names like Eddie Bautista and Elizabeth Yeampierre. Oh, you haven’t heard of them? There’s a reason for that. They are self-proclaimed environmental justice advocates, a group that has had little space or power in the environmental movement until recently.

Leticia Colon de Mejias advocated for energy efficiency and justice for Puerto Rico at the rally

Environmental justice, put simply, is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to environmental conditions, regulation, and change. Those on the frontlines of climate change and other forms of environmental degradation are often the most economically and politically repressed. Impoverished island nations facing increased hurricane activity, poor urban communities facing the worst of air pollution, minority communities having little influence over the siting of a landfill in their backyard, and indigenous people facing potential contamination of their rivers by powerful oil companies should be given a seat at the table in discussions of policy and change. After all, they’re the ones who have experience dealing with the problems that we’re trying to solve.

After decades of effort on the part of environmental justice advocates, we are finally reaching a point where all voices are being heard. This was evident at event number two of the September 8th weekend, a rally for “Climate, Jobs, and Justice.” This event was unique in the groups that came together in order to make it happen. There were the typical organizations that are an important presence at environmental rallies in the state, notably the Sierra Club and 350CT, in addition to other groups such as the CT Puerto Rican Alliance. This meant that there was a larger variety of speakers and performances than the typical rally. There was a presentation of an electric car, and there was also a performance by local rappers about police brutality. There was a call to action for protecting CT’s Green Bank, and there was a young Latinx girl who sung about coming together as one. One stop of the rally was to admire a fuel cell, while another was for a local group to speak on issues related to prison reform. Rallies like this give hope for continued collaboration as we strive to create a safe and healthy environment for all people.

The OEP is working on incorporating environmental justice as a focus as well. We recognize the importance of indigenous people to our country and to the environmental movement. Worldwide, they are protectors of 80% of the world’s biodiversity, despite only living on 20% of the world’s land. They hold Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) that is vital to the stewardship of land, and utilized by many, including the US National Park Service. To honor this, we have partnered with Global House to hold a film screening and discussion of Sacred Water: Standing Rock Part 2 on October 3rd about the Standing Rock protests. It’s the kickoff for Indigenous People’s Week, a series of events at UConn that aim to replace Columbus Day with a celebration of indigenous people in our country. Please join us in the Global House Lounge at 5:30pm to learn more about this incredible population of people!