Posts Tagged ‘environmental justice’

posted by | on , , , , , , | Comments Off on What Every EcoWoman Should Know About the Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan

By Sonia Abdulbaki

I recently wrote an article on the DC EcoWomen blog regarding the global concern of water shortage. I quote myself saying, “Luckily for us, water is a luxury available with a turn of a faucet.” Suffice to stay, I stand corrected, and have the account of the 100,000 Flint, Michigan residents to back up my claim.

You also might be wondering, where is Erin Brockovich when you need her? Well, she was right there, raising awareness on several cases of water contamination, including the recent water pollution crisis in Flint. She also brought it to the attention of President Obama, who then declared the issue a state of emergency.

According to MLive, on January 18, 2016 about 100 protesters in Ann Arbor called for the arrest of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder over the state's handling of the lead poisoning of Flint residents. Snyder lives in Ann Arbor.

According to MLive, on January 18, 2016 about 100 protesters in Ann Arbor called for the arrest of Michigan Governor Rick Snyder over the state’s handling of the lead poisoning of Flint residents. Snyder lives in Ann Arbor.

The gist of it

Before the President had a hand in the matter, Flint’s mayor, Karen Weaver, declared a state of emergency in December 2015. What started two years ago as a pursuit to supply water independent of Detroit to save money transpired into a water pollution crisis.

Lead from the old pipes seeped into the Flint River and citizens knew that if the water looked, smelled and tasted wrong, then something was wrong. Although the move to locally sourced water was planned as a temporary one, its expiration date came earlier than anticipated.

The event was accompanied by longer lasting effects, including the rising lead levels shown in children’s blood tests. Increased levels of lead can result in behavioral changes and negatively influence neurological development. Brockovich pleaded for action, with claims that the legionnaire’s disease was another outcome of the crisis.

Damage control

Once the news was out, the city turned back to Detroit’s water system to put things back on track. Regardless, officials responded slowly. Accountability, as well as the damage that remained, needed to be acknowledged.

Flint’s mayor set out to replace the pipes with a $55 million plan. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, turned to the National Guard for help in giving Flint citizens clean water. The time it will take to achieve this goal is unknown. President Obama aided with $5 million and authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to cover 75% of water related costs.

In the meantime, residents were taking action, obtaining water through filters and bottles and more seriously, filing a class-action lawsuit against political officials. The crisis was reported to have lasted for months, yet lawsuits are claiming that the state knew about the contamination for about one year.

Lawsuits may address accountability but major concerns remain, such as improving infrastructure and the accompanying cost, serious health risks and thorough investigation in order to stop it from happening in the future.

Erin Brockovich, an Eco-woman to be reckoned with

Erin BrockovichYou might remember her from the movie, starring Julia Roberts, as a single mother struggling to find a job, which led her to investigate a case involving the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. She discovered that land in the area was poisoning the residents, contaminated by a deadly toxic waste that the company was illegally dumping. She led her law firm into one of the largest class action lawsuits in the country’s history, one involving a multi-billion dollar corporation.

Yes, real woman, real story.

That was a couple of decades ago, and Brockovich is still on the move. She continues to fight for residents nationwide against toxic environments through her influence. Her voice resonates with the half a million followers on her social media, a platform that brought the Flint crisis to the media and government officials’ attention. Brockovich spoke out for Flint by calling out businesses, councils and the slow government response.

And yet, it is merely one of the hundreds of others in the nation whose water systems also are failing.

Sonia Abdulbaki is a freelance writer and the vice president at Daly Gray Public Relations, a firm specializing in hospitality. Sonia has extensive experience in the field of communications that includes her work at Green America. She is a contributing writer for Business Traveler magazine and MovieswithMae.com.

posted by | on , , , | Comments Off on Why Should You Care About Equity Over Equality in Environmental Work?

By Tamara Toles O’Laughlin

Among other things, the EcoWomen Community is a network of change agents and activists who take on the cause of healthy and balanced society. We convene to learn from one another, support individual development and sustain a growing community of professional women.

As a member of the DC chapter, I have firsthand knowledge of our collective skill in developing relationships for lasting growth, power and access for women across sectors.

This post compares two conceptual frameworks we apply to the distribution of wealth, opportunities and privileges that underlie our pursuit for a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. To reach these noble aims, we must scrutinize our individual perspective by looking more closely at the ignoble status quo.

We all think we want equality, right? To avoid zero-sum outcomes we must look at the currency and costs for everyone involved. And that requires us to opt for equity instead.

Advice photo

Equity and equality: do they mean what you think they mean?

Equality is the quality or state of being equal; the feature or status of having the same rights, social status, etc., whereas equity is demonstrating fair treatment of people within relative circumstances. Superficially, the ideas seem virtually identical– honorable, proper, even moral. However, in real life, the difference can contribute to detrimental outcomes for vulnerable people.

Let’s agree to think of equality as fairness, based on a presumption of sameness. It aims for equal treatment through equal access to a tool, medium or a resource. Whereas, equity is akin to justice, a more contextualized form of access; it considers the circumstances and background of everyone involved, exercising deference to each.

To think about it abstractly, equality is like the golden rule and equity is more like the platinum rule, if such a thing exists. Equity treats people how they would like with the understanding that resources, benefits, and burdens are meted out based on culturally derived and defined differences.

Metaphorically speaking, equality gives everyone a boat, whereas equity ensures that each boat, based on its location, is able to make it to shore in light of the conditions facing it.

Why should you care about equity over equality in environmental work?

Umm…to avoid silos. Environmental work does not occur in a closed universe, but in interrelated systems. As such, we work on improving the quality and impact of specific efforts to protect the whole environment and we do it as women of intersection, bringing our entire selves to the site of our resistance (air, conservation, oceans).

Women-Empowerment-Stock-PhotosIn order to make substantial impacts, we must see one another beyond silos in the context of our American life – in light of our intentional, persistent and inglorious history of unequal distribution.

In the rush to save the planet, we should avoid greenwashing the past, which is full of poor land use decisions, wasteful, destructive, polluting activity, and excessive burdens stacked on vulnerable and disenfranchised populations. We must look at it all, in policy and practice, in order to make it together into the future.

What does equity look like?

Acknowledgment, assessment and dismantling of privilege.

Equity as a practice involves habitual refocusing on those persons, communities, and groups at risk in a given action. It means taking steps to provide relative access to a right or a benefit that may be available to all, with the knowledge that all things are not equal.

Equity demands recognition of systematic privilege created for the benefit of some and a willingness to address the corresponding burdens for those that are not privileged. The disenfranchisement accumulates at the same rate as the advantage for those the system of privilege is designed to serve.

zen-garden-stone-stack-26870677

Further, equitable practice means engaging the past. It means re-balancing norms that perpetuate present and continuing harms. And a sober assessment of policies that protect privilege and create inequity followed by corrective actions that dismantle the systems that safeguard the inequity.

Equity in green spaces

So, what does equity look like in our work? Program and policy initiatives that seek to understand the lived experience of disenfranchised groups and communities. This includes analyzing the current array of economic and environmental health, programs, as well as land use and transportation decision-making strategies.

Equity forces us to question the present day make up of advocates for under-served groups, and it takes cues from affected people when targeting issues of concerns on their behalf. Resulting methods should incorporate community knowledge into the baseline factors that determine where to allocate our dollars, what problems to address and who is employed to respond to identified problems. And all of this must come with a conscious excising of bastions of privilege and redistribution of resources as a matter of economic policy aimed at offsetting wrongs.

Environmental equity looks like parity, in processes that determine who bares the impacts and burdens of an action, project or an undertaking. It takes shape in policy, in the development and enforcement of legal boundaries that actively protect against shifting pollution or hazards from one group onto another.

In effect, it is environmental justice.

Equality in green spaces

To be clear, equality isn’t malevolence, it’s just not enough. Access, even equal access, can be a well-meaning and sincere disservice.

Unless it is coupled with equivalent ways and means, we cannot realize the dream of unfettered, healthy contact with nature. Unless we create space for environmental work that reaches the under-served, as they exist, and not as we would make them we waste our efforts developing climate justice tools, education and policy.

green harony imagesOtherwise, the work has no effect in spaces beyond our present influence. We run the risk of deepening injustice, and miss the opportunity to affect positive change. And isn’t the point of social justice work: to reach a future where we achieve sustainable access for everyone?

For more information and resources on these topics check out the following resources on privilege, and equity.

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. 

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on DC EcoWomen’s EcoHour with Talia Buford

By Sonia Abdulbaki

DC EcoWomen is a group with a mission “to provide an educational forum for women that empowers women to become leaders in the environmental community and the world.”

Women. Environment. Community.

9RTw2657The monthly EcoHour event sets out to empower these words and apply the mission statement by inviting accomplished speakers to inspire other women with their stories. Talia Buford, a successful Black American environmental journalist, was invited to speak at the September EcoHour event to share her experience with us.

Buford received a degree in journalism from Hampton University and then went on to acquire a master’s degree in law from the Georgetown University Law Center. Currently, she is a reporter for the Center for Public Integrity and formerly an energy reporter for Politico, where she covered natural gas and the Department of Interior and authored the daily Afternoon Energy newsletter. Prior to that, she held a position as legal affairs and municipal reporter for The Providence (R.I.) Journal. The Rhode Island Press Association, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Foundation have all recognized her work.

Buford spoke fondly of her work at her hometown newspaper in Michigan because it reflected her community. It was while working there that she was exposed to the environmental justice reality created by a power plant near her neighborhood. The issue was reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and is still pending for 17 years to date. This issue hit close to home and motivated Buford to investigate on more of the same and to make sure the public and communities like her own were informed.

Her work as a reporter for The Providence Journal was described as tedious and prolonged, taking the immediacy out of journalism. She expressed that sitting in court, vigorously reporting on cases through serial narratives, was not her calling. Instead, she shifted her focus to reporting on environmental justice and labor issues; those topics have always appealed to her, especially because her loved ones were directly affected by these issues. Buford’s approach was informative, humble and relatable.

"It's important to see women as journalists. It's important to see people of color as journalists. It's because we tell different stories, and that's valuable." - Talia Buford at ??EcoHour?

“It’s important to see women as journalists. It’s important to see people of color as journalists. It’s because we tell different stories, and that’s valuable.”

Recently, Buford reported on the EPA Office of Civil Rights’ response to environmental justice issues. She unearthed various civil rights complaints that were made to the EPA since 1964 that had never been addressed or thoroughly investigated. EPA is reforming their approach, especially with the ability to submit complaints online.

Other issues she has covered include vital pesticide regulation in California, radioactive dumping in New Mexico and issues surrounding the EPA’s environmental racism.

She expressed the importance of journalism, to her community and to her own identity as a Black American woman. The advice she gave EcoWomen was to advocate for ourselves, something she wishes she’d known to do at the start of her career.

Buford was a lovely speaker who spoke with a natural conviction that will resonate with the community of environmental women.

Sonia Abdulbaki is a freelance writer and the vice president at Daly Gray Public Relations, a firm specializing in hospitality. Sonia has extensive experience in the field of communications that includes her work at Green America. She is a contributing writer for Business Traveler magazine and contributing editor for MovieswithMae.com.