One of the many things the pandemic has shown us is just how interconnected we are with people, not only in this region, but around the globe. A virus can easily spread from one hemisphere to another in a matter of hours. The consequences, as we know, can be tragic.
What’s less publicized is just how interconnected we are when it comes to the environment. Slowly, people are waking up to the reality of climate change, the loss of ecosystems and biodiversity, and the extinction of many species. But for the most part, it’s still more of a footnote in the news rather than the main headline.
Imagine if that were the case with COVID-19?
Picture this: a deadly pandemic is at our doorsteps but instead of warning the public and giving us the knowledge and tools we need to protect ourselves and others, governments and media pretend it isn’t really happening. There are no daily COVID briefings from our chief medical officers and premiers. No vaccine supplies or roll-out plans. We just go about our daily lives as though it’s not really happening.
In many ways, that describes how it is with the climate and ecological crises we’re facing.
We’re rapidly closing in on 1.5 degrees of global warming with no end in sight; summer Arctic sea ice will almost certainly be gone in our children’s lifetime; massive wildfires are becoming the yearly norm in places like Australia, California, and western Canada; thousands upon thousands have been forced to flee their homes in Central America and parts of Africa because drought has made it impossible to grow enough food.
In our region, we’re seeing more flooding, shorter winters, drier and hotter summers, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and much more.
Still, it can be hard to fully take in the magnitude of the problem when there are no daily briefings on biodiversity loss or announcements about what species just became extinct. Instead of news updates telling us that GHG emissions increased again today, we’re told whether stock prices went up or down. When we hit another record high temperature, a smiling meteorologist tells us it’s a good day for the beach.
None of this reflects the fact that our only home, planet earth, is in peril.
So what’s the solution?
Sierra Club Canada Foundation is a grassroots environmental organization that believes in “thinking globally and acting locally.” At the local level, people better are able to see and influence what’s happening around them.
Local doesn’t mean only focusing on concerns in our own backyards. It also involves connecting with our neighbours in nearby communities, learning about their concerns, and offering support when we can.
In the coming weeks and months ahead, the Atlantic Chapter of Sierra Club Canada Foundation will be helping you get to know your neighbours and highlighting the environmental concerns and environmental justice issues they’re grappling with. With your help, we’ll be sharing your concerns—and successes—as well.
What do we mean by “environmental justice”?
Before we go any further, let’s talk a little about what we mean by “environment” and “environmental justice.” Tina Johnson, the director of the National Black Environmental Justice Network in the US, explains that “environment” includes where we work, live, play, and worship. Within this frame, the fight for environmental justice includes not only saving forests and ecosystems, but also addressing systemic racism, the lack of affordable housing, and the need for a universal basic income. It means standing up for the rights of LGBTQI2S+, honouring Indigenous rights and treaties—and more.
Not everyone is convinced that in order to save the planet, we also need to care for each other. But the truth is, it’s the only way.
Hop Hopkins, the director of organizational change for the Sierra Club US, explains it like this: “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can't have disposable people without racism.” Racism kills people and the planet. “White supremacy,” adds Hopkins, “robs each of us of our humanity.”
Tackling climate change and ecological destruction = fighting for environmental justice = justice for everybody.
So whether you’re fighting systemic racism, an oil and gas company, a mega-hydrodam project, funding for warships, a sexist employer, or clearcutting — you/we are fighting for environmental justice.
This doesn’t mean we can give our all to every issue, but we can have each other’s backs. We can show government and industry that we want justice for all, that we won’t accept sacrifice zones or disposable people for the sake of corporate profit. We can demonstrate that despite our differences, we stand together for the common good.
That’s how we bring about change.
The Way Forward
Despite what some might have us believe, we can’t buy ourselves out of this mess. And no, we can’t all fit on a shuttle to Mars. Dreams of carbon capture technology won’t save us either.
We know what many of the tried-and-true solutions are: healthy oceans and water, clean air, old-growth forests, sustainable agriculture, protecting ecosystems and biodiversity. We also know how this can be achieved. What’s lacking is the will to compromise on profit and excess for the sake of nature and the wellbeing of all those who depend on it.
We can’t keep going about business as usual, measuring our success by GDP and stock markets. Rather than focusing on growing our economy, we need to create a caring economy, one that prioritizes healthy and safe sustainable communities and stops treating nature as a commodity to be used.
Sound a little overwhelming? Or maybe unrealistic?
It’s true that we won’t succeed in saving every species, forest, or river at this point, but we can do much better than we are now.
We can start locally by getting to know each other, building trust, and working together on the issues around us (many of you are already doing this). We may not always agree on the problems or the solutions, and we will make mistakes (show me someone who hasn’t and I’ll show you my unicorn). It’ll get awkward at times, too, as we try to bridge cultural boundaries and knowledge.
But if we’re willing to try, we just might surprise ourselves—and others.
What do you think? Shall we get this conversation going?
We look forward to getting to know you better. Email your stories, concerns, photos, and videos to the Atlantic Activist editor, Tynette Deveaux, at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you know someone who would benefit from the Atlantic Activist newsletter? Invite them to sign up to receive it by sending an email to Atlantic@sierraclub.ca