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By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

Think big potato, act small fry

The conclusion of COP21 created much needed space for serious efforts to incite comprehensive, structural change for the planet and its inhabitants. By whatever means, we’ve got a critical mass that at least agrees that merely mitigating the most damaging effects of climate change isn’t enough.

The next challenge is to break from the attitudes, systems, and assumptions that got us into this mess. Huzzah! We are, at long last, looking at the scope of environmental questions through a lens of global, geo-political, inter- and intra-governmental equity, and with no time to spare.

As we shift from old methods to new practices, we rouse the bulwarks of fossil fuel energy—coal, oil and natural gas. We take on a future filled with more people and considerably less time, natural resources, or room for error. And we look with no shortage of hope for technological advancement to make ends meet.

GratisographyIt’s an awesome time to be alive! Each of us has in her own way accepted the vexation of big environmental questions because we are Ecowomen, actively creating kinship to face the challenge of our time: survival.

I propose that in contemplation of the big deal we draw our response to scale. Let’s take ownership of the future with our present day decisions.

As engaged Ecowomen, it behooves us to link grand efforts to ground level actions that support the nearest and most immediate form of power available to us: community.

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

Community is a combination of persons with shared aims, interests, or ends.

Functionally, community is a living thing, composed of living things, organized by choices. It performs as a series of relations characterized by the raising up and pulling down of interpersonal boundaries, replicated in reality. Consequently, community is a construct of our experience and our making.

Community as a creature of proximity

Last year, I heard Bryan Stevenson speak on the subject of pursuing justice. In his conclusion, he issued a challenge that struck me as an entirely elegant mode of approaching problems. He dared the audience to get into proximity with the things we find most uncomfortable. In discussing the tragic folly of mass incarceration, he implored us to “find our way to justice” by avoiding the temptation to sidestep problems that seem too big or scary to handle.

So, let’s start there. As Ecowomen, we unite in concern for the health of our planet. We nourish our bodies with foods on the low end of the food chain, choose glass over plastic, and conserve resources to diminish our ecological footprint. Collectively, we a force for sustainable economics, politics and bionetworks. We begin with people we know and increase capacity in our spheres of influence,plying our individual skills and abilities in the places we work, live, and play.

Neighborhood Gratisography135H

Make yourself at home

In the District we don’t need to look too far to find the makings of community. There are truly local environmental concerns of every stripe within the 68.25 square miles we call home.

  • There are trash transfer stations in the Fort Totten, Brentwood, and Langdon neighborhoods that cause residents to question the effects of commercial activities on their long term health.
  • In recent years, the Capitol Power Plant was at the heart of local debate on coal fired plant conversions and the changeover to natural gas.
  • Months ago, residents of Northeast’s Ivy City took up the fight against pollution clustering from a planned bus depot, and won.

Free stock photo dc metro

Community as a creature of necessity

The national news is flush with stories about communities of necessity. Groups who may be friends or neighbors who transcend those associations when faced with out-sized danger, from ecological events or man-made forces.

Communities of environmental concern stretch across borders and boundaries because they are forged by the power of empathy. Its members arrive as strangers drawn together to address a common plight. Whether the cause is contrived deprivation, or rising tides, those who are able go where needed to join with vulnerable peoples fighting corruption and the unfettered evil of scarcity or degraded resources.

There is strength in amalgamated capacity. It supports transformation or avoids catastrophe in the making. When the need arises, community comes together as quickly as is dissipates. And it has, in Virginia, Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, and North Carolina, among others.

As change agents, we should add our voices and leverage the strength of whatever agency we possess to tackle local, regional, and national environmental issues because we see ourselves in the plight, the fight, or the solution. And we don’t need permission to do it.

Multiracial earth photoThe larger environmental movement is an aggregate of the actions we take in community. Our level of engagement aides our sophistication; it colors who we see as victims or victors, what we see as wrongdoing, and our response to the call.

So, what are you waiting for? The issues are the invitation.

Tamara is an environmental advocate focused on civil society and justice issues. She holds degrees from The City College, City University of New York and two advanced degrees from Vermont Law School. Her hobbies include reading boring books about politics and neuroscience, writing diatribes about what she reads, traveling, and yoga.