Stories | November 26, 2020

Why you need to know about environmental and climate justice

In this guest blog post by Impact Ambassador Njoki Mbũrũ, she breaks down the key terms to understanding how actions can impact environmental movements for all. Find out how you can support key charities working towards climate action. 

“Definitions anchor us in principles … If we don’t do the basic work of defining the kind of people we want to be in language that is stable and consistent, we can’t work towards stable, consistent goals.” – Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to be an Antiracist”

Environmental justice (EJ): Embraces the principle that all people and communities have a right to equal protection and equal enforcement of environmental laws and regulations. This definition is a direct quotation from Dr. Robert J. Bullard’s webpage. Dr. Bullard is often cited as “the father of environmental justice.”

Climate justice (CJ): Insists on a shift from a discourse on greenhouse gases and melting ice caps into a civil rights movement with the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts at its heart. This definition is a direct quotation from Mary Robinson. Robinson served as the 7th President of Ireland and is the founder of Mary Robinson Foundation: Climate Justice

Allyship: The active, consistent, and arduous practice of unlearning and re-evaluating, in which a person in a position of privilege and power seeks to operate in solidarity with a marginalized group. This definition is a direct quotation from PeerNetBc. PeerNetBC is a non-profit and charitable organization that supports peer-led initiatives operating across British Columbia through offering training and resources. 

Factors in climate action

What do the terms environmental justice and climate justice mean and how do these factor into climate action? Understanding these important topics allows donors to better choose their impact. They can then direct efforts in an informed and meaningful way.

I have been passionate about environmental sustainability from my childhood. I spent my formative years living with my grandparents on their subsistence farm, which was nestled among other small farms. During my years on the farm, I learned the value of clean water, healthy land, sustainable agriculture, and community care by observing the dynamics in our farming community and by listening to stories my grandparents exchanged with other farmers.  

Many aspects of global climate action seek to call attention to the disproportionate impacts of climate change. These effects can be more impactful and harmful to economically-disadvantaged, marginalized, and racialized communities worldwide. 

The global is local 

The United Nations Security Council has pointed out that climate change has a “multiplier effect.” This means human-induced environmental changes will exacerbate the inequalities and injustices within our borders and across nations. 

While climate change is a global issue, it has very local repercussions. Within our own borders here in Canada, people living in poor neighbourhoods within major cities—such as Toronto, Halifax, and Montreal—are exposed to higher levels of environmental contaminants than those in wealthier areas.

One of Canada’s most well-known environmental injustice cases is “Chemical Valley,”; a 15-mile section in Sarnia, Ontario, hosting 60 chemical plants and oil refineries. The families living within the Aamjiwnaang First Nations Reserve, located in the “Chemical Valley,” continue to experience low air quality and health challenges.

There are other cases like the one in Chemical Valley. The common thread between the incidences of environmental injustice across Canada is the intersection between race, poverty, and environmental risk

Racial justice is linked to climate justice

These cases show us how racial justice is inextricably linked to climate justice. Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities in Canada have long been advocating for policy and climate action based on de-colonial and anti-racist frameworks. Another important term here to understand is intersectionality, which means the multiple ways that individuals can be affected by discrimination or disadvantage. 

Young Indigenous leader Ta’Kaiya Blaney from the Tla’amin Nation articulates the intersections of racial and climate justice, saying, “When you mobilize people around climate, [without acknowledging] intersections of racial justice, Indigenous sovereignty, and how climate change disproportionately and most profoundly impacts BIPOC communities […] you mobilize people who aren’t willing to question colonialism or any of those structures that are actually responsible for climate change.”

Make an informed impact

Having lived and learned across multiple continents over the past six years, I still root myself in the teachings of my birthplace. One of these teachings is: how we care for our land, food, and community shapes the quality of our life now and blesses our generations to come. As an Impact Ambassador with Charitable Impact, I am fortunate to embody this teaching by creating a Climate and Environmental Justice portfolio, highlighting five charities across Canada doing phenomenal work in EJ and CJ. 

To intentionally curate the portfolio, I collaborated with Linda Nowlan, Senior Director of the Sustainability Initiative at the University of British Columbia. This portfolio is one of many hosted by Charitable Impact through their Impact Ambassador program.

By donating to the Climate and Environmental Justice portfolio, you can advance the causes of the charities listed and magnify the impact in the communities that these organizations collaborate with. When you give to the portfolio, some of the organizations making the biggest impact on these issues are supported. 

For example, one of the charities listed in this portfolio is RAVEN. This organization raises funds to support Indigenous Nations across Canada to uphold their rights to clean, healthy land and waters and protect traditional territories. Jess Housty, a member of the Heiltsuk Nation, describes the work of accessing environmental and climate justice in this video. She highlights the importance of domestic and international allyship, demonstrated through marches, sharing on social media, and donations. 

Have you considered your own role in upholding climate and environmental justice? Jess shared some important words to reflect on: “I don’t know exactly where we are going, but I know we are going there together.”

 

We understand most of us don’t have the time or resources needed to make the most informed giving decisions. That’s why we have launched the #ChooseYourImpact campaign, connecting you to passionate changemakers and thought leaders—called Impact Ambassadors. Meet our Ambassadors and learn more about how you can support their causes.

About the author: Njoki Mbũrũ is a recent graduate of the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia (UBC). She specialized in BSc International Community Development, with a regional focus on Sub-Saharan Africa, and is currently working part-time as a Workshop Facilitator at UBC. 
Having spent her childhood with her grandparents at a subsistence farm in Nakuru, Kenya, she finds herself drawn towards working in policy to resist land grabs and advocate for tenure for small-holder farmers in rural areas across the continent. Alongside this personal mission, Njoki also finds great joy in storytelling through poetry, blog posts, public speaking, and theatre. She continues to be inspired and guided by her grandparents, by Prof. Wangari Maathai, and by Dr. Maya Angelou. At the moment, Njoki is also finding immense inspiration from the connections that she has established with other racialized-immigrant & Indigenous youth having been part of the Vancouver Foundation’s LEVEL Youth Policy Program.
Njoki gives thanks to the ancestors, elders, and young teachers that inform her sense of belonging and humanity and instil a connection to Earth and all beings.

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