Posts Tagged ‘blog’

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By Nicole Bateman, DC EcoWomen Board Member

Nearly two years ago, I arrived in D.C. from Seattle. Fresh out of graduate school, I was anxious to become active in a community of environmentally minded people in the District. DC EcoWomen was immediately recommended to me by a former graduate school colleague. During my first event, the Fall Meet and Greet, I spoke to one EcoWoman about recycling and composting and then another about in the ins and outs of proposed carbon pricing models in Washington state. I walked away knowing I had found a community of (nerdy?) women with a passion for these issues to match my own. Within a year of becoming involved with the organization, I was so completely sold on its mission that I applied and was fortunate enough to be selected to join the board.

As we celebrate the fifteenth anniversary of DC EcoWomen’s first EcoHour this month, it’s important to reflect upon all the organization and its members have accomplished. Since that first EcoHour, more than 150 EcoHour speakers have shared their professional insights and expertise with nearly 5,000 EcoWomen.

But the organization has also grown beyond its signature event. EcoWomen have learned how to write an eye-catching resume, negotiate salary with confidence, master public speaking, and communicate their professional brand at our many professional development workshops. Our mentor dinners have also given members an opportunity to meet with and learn from environmental women leaders in a more intimate environment.

Professional development is great, and central to our mission, but DC EcoWomen also knows that actually experiencing the environment we all care about reminds us why this work matters. We encourage our members to get outside with events like the Anacostia River tour and foraging in DC. And with events like clothing swaps, bike workshops, and sustainable food and drink events, EcoWomen have an opportunity to live our eco-values.

What else does DC EcoWomen do? Well, there are book clubs, holiday parties, fitness fundraisers, board meet-and-greets, and so much more. Nearly 100 DC EcoWomen members like me decided to get involved with the organization on a deeper level and have served as board members!

Although the organization has expanded to engage more women in more ways, we have not lost sight of the goal of DC EcoWomen’s founders, Leda Huta, Alicia Wittink, and Tracy Fisher, as they organized the first EcoHour – to create a space for women in environmental fields to build relationships. Those relationships are still the centerpiece of our work and we look forward to the next 15 years of building.

Nicole Bateman is on the research team at the Brookings Institution. She is passionate about protecting natural places and the people who enjoy them through equitable and science-based environmental policy. Nicole has a Master’s in Public Administration, with a specialization in Environmental Policy and Management, from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington.

posted by | on , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on “Pretty Smart, for a Girl:” How Climate Denial Targets Women

By Stephanie Gagnon, U.S. Country Manager for the Climate Scorecard Project

At the American Association of Geographers (AAG) annual meeting last April, I gave a presentation on how the U.S. could approach global climate negotiations using market-based solutions. My session also included two male presenters and one other female presenter, each of whom engaged with global climate issues and negotiations, and each presentation was followed by time for questions from the audience.

Although my presentation had focused less on the science of climate change and more on policy approaches to global environmental negotiations, I found myself confronted in the Q&A session by a member of the audience, who aggressively challenged me on the science of climate change and claimed that climate change was neither happening nor human-caused.

Once I had recovered from the shock of being aggressively challenged on the veracity of climate change science at a session specifically focused on climate change, I found it interesting that I was the only presenter this man had chosen to use to advance his climate change denial. Hadn’t he had the option to challenge the men who presented before me? Why use a presentation about policy rather than about science to make this point?

In speaking with other female presenters at the conference, I realized I wasn’t alone. Almost all of the other women I spoke to recounted similar experiences in which men publicly belittled their research and findings regarding climate change but didn’t challenge their male colleagues. This was particularly worse for women of color or who identified with other minority groups. Women across the field have reported gender-based harassment at steadily climbing rates.

The phenomenon of men ignoring or challenging women in the sciences is not by any means a new one. In 2015, the hashtag #distractinglysexy trended on Twitter in response to a male Nobel laureate’s comment about his female peers. Men have been using women’s genders to silence them on issues across the board for centuries. But in the area of climate change, a relatively new field of research and activism, the silencing of women takes on a different connotation. Rather than being isolated to a toxic-masculine gatekeeping of STEM fields, it feels more like an attempt to put women in their place, to remind us that once, not so long ago, we would never have been allowed into this space.

The demographic of this kind of harasser fits almost perfectly with the demographic of climate deniers in the U.S. Studies have shown that in general, white, politically conservative males from rural areas who are confident in their understanding of scientific concepts are the most likely demographic to reject mainstream scientific consensus on climate change. And this demographic is the same demographic that is running online harassment campaigns to silence female scientists.

In fact, I would argue that the same underlying factors are at play that both feed into climate denial and motivate the gendered harassment of women. Climate denial is built upon a solid rejection of the “mainstream,” which is seen as an elitist attempt by minorities to grab power from the majority. Climate deniers tend to see attempts to regulate carbon pollution as attempts to infringe on their freedom – this perpetuates the fear that, for example, the government will use climate change as an excuse to tell them which car to drive. This interpretation then feeds into the fear that women will use climate change as an excuse to force men into the domestic work often stereotypically reserved for women.

So how do we combat this insidious sexism that creates an unsafe environment for female climate change professionals?

Toxic masculinity is a major factor at play. Addressing this issue at its source by making men feel safe to express themselves in ways outside the traditional paradigm of masculinity could help men feel less personally threatened by female researchers’ success. Additionally, helping white men in rural areas who may feel left behind by the decline of American manufacturing could help them to feel more included in the climate change conversation. By changing messaging around climate change solutions so that it focuses on opportunities to create a better future rather than limits we should impose on our modern way of life, we can work to address fears that climate change policy necessarily means giving up the things we love. Additionally, working in programs for economic advancement, like training and job placement guarantees in the renewable energy sector, could help create opportunities in areas where current policy only accelerates plant closings.

It is not the responsibility of the scientists who are targets for harassment and silencing to address the issues that enable their harassers. Instead, it is our role as a society to work to create safer spaces for all people producing research and policy recommendations so that we can hear them and learn from them.

Stephanie Gagnon is the U.S. Country Manager for the Climate Scorecard Project. She is passionate about bridging the gap between research and action in both policy and technology to combat climate change. In particular, she focuses on climate change communication strategies to engage key actors around the issue of climate change mitigation.

Photos: Miki Jourdan CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; Tracy CC BY 2.0

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Climate Justice is About Protecting Mother Earth AND Mothers

 

By Martha Bohrt, environmental advocate

In my interest to find out how people understand being impacted by climate change, in all parts of their identity, I became aware that, for women, there is an added layer that makes the topic intergenerational. Current mothers worry about the future of their children, as do those considering having children.

It must be noted I am not suggesting that only women are concerned about the state of the world for future generations. I know that, regardless of gender and/or interest in parenthood, this is a concern for many. What I think is worth highlighting is the additional emotional load carried by women when evaluating reproductive choices.

In the race to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change, there are no winners, only losers. However, as the negative impacts of the current climate crisis become more evident, it is also clear that certain groups will carry the burden more heavily.

Initiatives like Zero Hour, for example, organize around the idea that young people should have a say in the development and implementation of environmental policies, since they are the ones who will have to live longer with the consequences of such policies. Women-centered environmental movements like WEDO and GenderCC have brought to the forefront the additional obstacles faced by women in dealing with climate change impacts due to existing gender inequalities.

Networks like Conceivable Future are organizing around the very idea that climate justice is reproductive justice. The mission of the organization focuses on two demands: “the right to make reproductive decisions free from massive, avoidable, government-supported harm; and the demand that the U.S. end fossil fuel subsidies as an act of commitment toward our generation and those that follow.” It promotes testimonies from women evaluating whether to have children considering the climate crisis. It also organizes events in which women can share their experiences in making these decisions.

Make no mistake, these networks aren’t encouraging population control and not having babies. They are merely drawing attention to the fact that, for our generation, the climate crisis is a big, negative factor when viewing the future. According to Conceivable Future, “there is a lot of sadness and anger around this issue for many of our generation. Whether we decide to have children or not, the future looks very uncertain, and we urgently need to meet, discuss, and organize for the well-being of ourselves and our families, however they are composed.”

Full disclosure: I am not considering having children. But learning about organizations working at the intersection of climate issues and women’s issues has really pushed me to think about how I am affected by the climate crisis in areas that I have not considered in the past. Many of my lifestyle choices are impacted by my desire to help decrease my carbon footprint. I use public transportation, I compost, I avoid plastics, etc. So, I wonder, if I were grappling with this decision, would I take this into consideration?

While I don’t have an answer, I would like to pose the same question to you. How does climate change impact your life choices, from choosing light bulbs and appliances, to the more intimate choices that define part of your humanity?

I truly believe solutions to this tough topic can only be found through an exchange of ideas and experiences. I look forward to reading yours!

Martha Bohrt is a professional working to promote the ideal of public service beyond the public sphere, into the private and nonprofit sectors. Martha has worked with local, state, and transnational agencies to advance environmental projects on air and water quality improvement, as well as environmental resilience.

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By Whitney Ricker, FEMA contractor and climate justice advocate

It’s common knowledge at this point; women (on average) are more likely than men to be affected by climate change. This fact usually conjures images of women in the Global South who will face extreme hardship due to severe famine, migration, and violence caused by the impacts of climate change and de-stabilization. Children who grow up in these situations will likely be at a large disadvantage due to poor economic conditions, and physical and mental health issues stemming from their struggles.

While these are important issues to think about on a global stage, it can be easy to overlook what is already happening in our own backyard. Read on for more information on the connection between women, children, poverty and climate change.

Poverty Among Women and Children in the District

Women in the District face homelessness at a higher rate than their male counterparts, and over a quarter of children live in poverty. While residents in Washington, D.C. become wealthier on average, the gap between the haves and have-nots also grows. For instance, the housing prices within the District have risen to $602,500, with no signs of going down. Gentrification continues to push families and individuals out of neighborhoods, which leaves a large number in poverty. The statistics below show the bigger picture – the populations that now live under the poverty line:

Extreme Weather and Climate Change in the District

Flooding is expected to be a major issue facing D.C. in the coming decades. As land in the District sinks and increasing sea levels raise the waters of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers, extreme flooding events will inundate further inland, including portions of Anacostia, the Tidal Basin, and the Southwest Waterfront. Inundation can lead to issues, including storm drain backups and potential sewage overflows, especially in sections of the city where old infrastructure has not been updated.

Climate change is increasing extreme weather events. As poverty grows within the District, extreme weather will cause intense, new challenges for those who face poverty. During the summer months, Washington, D.C. is subjected to the “Urban Heat Island Effect,” which is when urban centers experience higher temperatures than surrounding areas during extreme heat events. Numerous factors contribute to this event, such as dark pavements absorbing heat and less greenery to deflect heat and cool down surrounding areas.

During the hottest months of the year, increased temperatures can have severe health impacts, especially for expectant mothers, children, the elderly, and those who in poverty.

The health impacts include the following:

  • Severe dehydration
  • Dizziness/fainting
  • Respiratory illness
  • Cardiovascular illness
  • Heat stroke

Research has shown correlations between extreme weather events and an increase in overall violence. Extreme heat events are correlated with increased rates of violent crime, especially in socially disadvantaged neighborhoods. Women and children are more likely to experience sexual violence, abuse, and exploitation following all types of natural disasters. In 2018, violent crime had decreased overall in D.C. However, a natural disaster could quickly change the trend.

How to Help

On a large scale, it will take social reform, healthcare reform, and many other measures to ensure that women and children in poverty in Washington, D.C. are prepared for the impacts of climate change. Here are a few ways that you can help daily.

Volunteer – There are dozens of shelters and food banks across the D.C. region, along with other organizations dedicated to helping women who have suffered abuse and/or other trauma. If you have time, here is a list of shelters in the District. Along with volunteering at shelters, volunteering with children/teenagers who live in harsh circumstances can have a positive impact for years to come.

Help those you encounter – Instead of giving money to those you see on the street, consider giving them a nutritious snack, or carry around a cold bottle of water to give to someone on a hot day. A small act could be a lifesaver to someone living on the streets.

Donate – Shelters are always in need of supplies, food, and clothing to distribute. Consider cleaning out your closet or buying a few extra items at the store to donate to local shelters.

Advocate for children and education – Advocating for a good education, especially around the connection between poverty and climate change, can have big impacts on a large scale.

Whitney Ricker is a recent graduate of James Madison University, where she studied Geographic Science with an emphasis on Environmental Conservation, Sustainability, and Development. She is currently employed as a FEMA contractor, and when she isn’t advocating for climate justice, she can be found watching documentaries and British TV shows at home.

Photo Credits: allenran 917 CC BY 2.0, Daniel Lobo CC BY 2.0, Bruno Sanchez-Andrade Nuño CC BY 2.0, Ajari CC BY 2.0 and Elvert Barnes CC BY-SA 2.0

posted by | on , , , , , | Comments Off on Farming as a Woman: A Fresh Look at Entrepreneurship

By Kelsey Figone, local food system and sustainability advocate

I asked my sister to describe an entrepreneur for me. “A man, obviously…he’s in front of a whiteboard, pitching an idea.”

This is our stereotype of the entrepreneur, a man that we simultaneously glorify and mock for his contributions to the changing face of business. But the entrepreneurs I’ve met recently are quite different. They look like women wearing durable pants and driving tractors. They talk about risk and cash flow, but they also talk about gravity-fed irrigation systems and weed control. They slice open a sun jewel melon in the field and pass around tastes during a break in harvesting. They know numbers and long days at work and competition, but they also know what it’s like to “live a life in tune with natural cycles.” These entrepreneurs are women farmers.

I met Liz Whitehurst, farmer and owner of Owl’s Nest Farm in Upper Marlboro, MD, three years ago at the Petworth Farmer’s Market. I joined her community-supported agriculture (CSA) program and our friendship ignited my interest in food and local agriculture.

I’ve carried that interest in my move to Oregon this year, where I met Brenda Frketich via her farm blog. She is the third generation to farm her family’s 1,000 acres of grass seed, hazelnuts, and various other seed crops.

These two women may farm at different scales and with different growing practices, but they are similar in that they both own and operate their own business.

So, what does it mean to be a modern-day female entrepreneur in agriculture? Liz and Brenda shared their experiences with me, and these are their realities.

Agriculture as business

Make no mistake, these women aren’t homesteading or “going back to the land” – these farms are their businesses. Agriculture, in many ways, is the opposite of nature because it harnesses the land for human needs.

“It is easy to romanticize this off-the-grid thing, but I’m totally ‘on-the-grid,’” Liz said. “I’m running a business, number one, that has employees and pays taxes like everybody else. Still, it’s beautiful that it’s not just that.”

While Liz manages her business solo, Brenda’s operation is a family endeavor. Brenda and her husband took over her parents’ land. Right now, the office work is chiefly her responsibility and she does a lot of farming with her three children in tow. The day-to-day of her job often focuses on planning, forecasting, and other typical office and financial activities.

While she grew up on the farm, she hadn’t looked at the farm as a career until mid-way through college. “I knew a lot about harvest because that is when I worked on the farm the most,” Brenda said. “But I had no idea about all the work that went in, year-round, to growing a crop and running a business.”

Women in agriculture

It’s clear that owning a farm shares many aspects of other, more mainstream, entrepreneurial endeavors. Unfortunately, one of those aspects includes a historical resistance to women owners.

“When I first started, I had multiple women approach me, saying that their dads wouldn’t let them farm because of the physical labor side of things,” Brenda said.

She initially encountered some physical barriers, such as adapting equipment to quite literally “fit” her or accommodate her when she was working alone. Now, she feels a lot of that has changed because of “how far farming has come with the use of technology.” “Something as simple as a cell phone has allowed me to stay a lot more involved ‘on the farm’ even when I’m home with my kids,” Brenda said.

She feels part of a generation and a region that has mostly accepted women farmers and encourages women not to despair. “We go to meetings where we are the only woman,” Brenda said. “We joke about it, and we move on because we all know it doesn’t really matter, the soil doesn’t care, the tractor doesn’t care, the plants don’t care. And if a guy does care, then that’s on him.”

Liz admits that she occasionally encounters male farmers who mansplain and assume that she needs help, even some “cool, progressive men.” Still, she doesn’t let it discourage her. She capitalizes on those perceptions of herself as weak and lets them give her a hand, thinking, “whatever, if you’re going to help me out!”

Support for farmers

Neither Brenda nor Liz will deny the incredible help they’ve received from family, mentors, and the broader farming community. Their parents supported them in different ways, with direct farming experience and land, or financial support to purchase a farm.

Today, they go to meetings, workshops, and retreats, where they can learn about the latest technology and methods from peers. They connect with other farmers at farmer’s markets and make trades for massages or meat or a crop that wasn’t successful. They cooperatively buy seed or equipment with neighboring farmers to capitalize on economies of scale. They also respond to inquiries from other young women farmers looking to get started, in order to keep that community going.

Liz views her role as a mediator between the land and the people. This mediator role helps her CSA grow and keeps human interaction at the center of her work. For both Liz and Brenda, farming is more than the land and its plants. They cultivate communities.

Considerations for new farmers

It’s important to note, though, that farming is a challenging field to break into. Both Brenda and Liz are white women, and were steeped in agriculture before deciding to make the career switch themselves. Like Nichelle Harriott’s blog post in January and Leah Penniman’s recent article on Civil Eats point out, communities of color may associate agriculture with slavery and sharecropping.

Also, don’t discount the financial barriers to starting a farm, with its high up-front cost and land access challenges. Most U.S. farm households bring in significant income from off-farm sources, with either a spouse or another family member working an off-farm or off-season job.

“It’s good to look seriously at your relationship with money and things,” Liz said. “If you’re going to be a farmer, you’re not going to be rich, I don’t know any rich farmers.”

Despite the challenges, Brenda and Liz are proud of the work they do every day. They’re entrepreneurs in their own right. As fewer people choose to farm, the population grows, and society increasingly values urban-centered desk jobs, their role in our food system is important. They need our support and investment, just like any other entrepreneur. Consider that the next time you go grocery shopping!

Kelsey Figone designed and implemented international engagement programs with PYXERA Global in Washington, DC. While living in our nation’s capital, she was a passionate advocate for strengthening and diversifying local food systems. She recently moved back to the Pacific Northwest where she is excited to delve into local issues of food and sustainability.

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By Brenna Rivett, Dating in the District blog author

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it’s the perfect time to talk about dating. I thought I’d share tips for environmentally conscious dating in Washington, D.C. from someone who loves Dating in the District.

While many of us incorporate environmentally friendly practices into our daily routines – think recycling, using reusable shopping bags, and turning the water off while we brush our teeth, I’ve decided to take it a step further. When thinking about how I could reduce my carbon footprint in my social life, I realized that I spent a big part of it online dating! So, here are some suggestions – all tried by yours truly – for fun, environmentally conscious dates.

Skip the Lyft ride and take public transportation to the date. While it’s tempting to take those extra 15 minutes to get ready and call a Lyft, I’ve found that taking public transportation to my dates is a lot easier (and cheaper!) than taking a Lyft. In cases where I take the bus and arrive early, I’ve taken the opportunity to walk around the neighborhood a bit and check out the side streets. Last fall, while walking around Shaw before my date, I stumbled upon a stationary store that took my colored pen obsession to a whole new level. Totally worth giving up those extra 10 minutes of prep time to catch the 92!

Pick a location that actively promotes or supports environmental work or research.  True environmental science nerd that I am, I love wandering through the Natural History museum and I’ve found it’s a good date spot! If the conversation doesn’t flow naturally, there are plenty of conversation starters throughout the exhibits. Some of my other favorite locations are the National Arboretum, Teddy Roosevelt Island, the Botanical Gardens, and Up Top Acres.

Choose a local distillery or brewery. Did you know that 25 percent of a food’s carbon footprint comes from transporting it to its final destination? By choosing a brewery or distillery in D.C., you’re eliminating that part of the drink’s carbon, and supporting local businesses in the process! Some of my favorite spots with a good, casual vibe for a date include Right Proper Brewpub, Cotton and Reed rum distillery, and Atlas Brew Works.

Take advantage of D.C.’s farmer’s markets and stay in and cook. Whether you love to cook and want to master Julia Child’s Coq au Vin or just want to dabble and stick with pasta and homemade sauce, you can shop local, save money, and reduce your carbon footprint.

This shift to environmentally conscious dating may also bring some great conversations. I’ve found that by actively thinking about reducing my carbon footprint before my dates, I’m more likely to bring it up with my dates. It turns out that this is a great way to see if my date shares my environmental passion, or at least see if they are interested in learning more about why I care so much. Of course, this may lead to your date “mansplaining” climate change, like what happened to me, but hey, you can’t win them all!

Have fun on your next environmentally conscious date!

Brenna Rivett is the author of the blog Dating in the District: One Girl’s Search for Love, Rooftop Bars, and the Perfect Saison. Brenna enjoys finding the humor in these sometimes painfully awkward online dating situations and writing about them, in the hope that other people connect with and enjoy them too.

Photos by Brenna Rivett

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By Kyaira Ware, Community Conservation Manager at Potomac Conservancy

During Black History Month, we honor the vast and diverse spectrum of black experiences, perspectives, and cultures that exist throughout the world.

Environmentalists pay homage to greats such as Harriet Tubman, political activist and expert navigator of the forest, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., civil rights leader and early advocate of the environmental justice movement.

While Tubman and King have been justly revered as some of the greatest activists of our time, there are countless other lesser-known black leaders whose significant contributions to the environmental movement have been largely forgotten.

This Black History Month, take some time to learn about black individuals who’ve influenced and advanced the movement. Scroll down to read more.

Ota Benga

Ota Benga’s legacy serves as a painful, yet necessary, reminder of the long history of racism and injustice within the conservation movement.

Benga was only 21 years old when his wife, two children, and other tribe members were killed during a raid by a police force under King Leopold II of Belgium in 1904. Benga was eventually captured, sold into slavery, and later purchased by Samuel Phillips Verner, a missionary and explorer from South Carolina, for a “pound of salt and a bolt of cloth.”

After traveling the Congo and appearing as the premier exhibit at the Saint Louis World’s Fair, Verner temporarily housed Benga in the Bronx Zoo as the newest addition to the zoo’s primate house. Each afternoon, spectators awaited to watch Benga share a cage with an orangutan, chimpanzees, and a parrot. The exhibition became the zoo’s most popular and controversial attraction. In September 1906, nearly after its opening, the exhibit was closed due to extreme backlash from the public.

Following the exhibition’s closing, Benga was invited to Lynchburg, Virginia to attend seminary school. After failing to assimilate into his new life and “becoming increasingly hopeless about his future,” Benga committed suicide on March 20, 1916.

While Benga suffered immensely throughout his entire life, learning about Benga’s story affords us the opportunity to remember our past, so we may do better for our future.

Matthew Henson

Matthew Henson’s legacy serves as a source of empowerment for people of color who do not always see themselves represented in the environmental movement.

Born on August 8, 1866, Henson became an orphan at a young age. He spent his early childhood working as a cabin boy on a ship, traveling the world to trading hotspots such as Africa, China, and Russia. Through the instruction of the ship’s captain, he also learned to read and write.

Upon moving to Washington, D.C., Henson became a store clerk before meeting Robert Peary, an American Navy officer and explorer. Peary initially hired Henson as a valet. However, Henson’s experience and navigation expertise soon proved to be far too valuable. He eventually became Peary’s most trusted accomplice on epic voyages across the world. Among many expeditions, the dynamic duo traveled to Greenland. It was also reported, although never confirmed, that they were the first people to reach the North Pole in 1909.

Perry largely overshadowed Henson’s accomplishments. But in 2000, the National Geographic Society posthumously awarded Henson the Hubbard Medal. His experience as an expert explorer continues to inspire people of color to become environmentalists.

Buffalo Soldiers

The “buffalo soldiers” remind us of the early role that African American men played in protecting America’s greatest treasures.

After the Civil War in 1866, Congress passed the Army Organization Act, which created six African-American army regiments. From there, the “buffalo soldiers” were born. While these soldiers are mainly known for their time spent scouting and patrolling the vast terrain of western states and territories, many people don’t understand the extent of their contributions to national parks. As some of the earliest park rangers, they handled everything “from evicting poachers and timber thieves to extinguishing forest fires” throughout great national parks such as Yosemite.

While their accomplishments as top-performing Calvary regiments and expert forest men were not always appreciated during their lifetimes, today we appreciate their service, sacrifice and position in the history of environmentalism.

Kyaira Ware is the current Community Conservation Manager at Potomac Conservancy. She is passionate about connecting urban communities to environmental sustainability and looks forward to the day when we can all agree that climate change is real.

Photo Credits: carmichaellibrary CC BY 2.0; public domain

posted by | on , , , , | Comments Off on SW Community Stands Up to Companies in Classic Environmental Justice Case

By Claire Jordan, NeRAC volunteer and DC EcoWomen board member

When people in Washington, DC think of Southwest DC, they probably think of Nationals Park, the new DC United Stadium, Superior Concrete Materials, and the construction of the new Frederick Douglas Bridge. Most people, however, don’t think of the Buzzard Point community in DC or the organizing group Near Buzzard Point Resilient Action Committee (NeRAC).

NeRAC officially began in 2017 but has been in the works for much longer. Founded and run by three DC women (Rhonda Hamilton, Kari Fulton, and Alisha Camacho), NeRAC is organizing Buzzard Point community members around the atrocious environmental injustices occurring because of the rampant and unchecked development.

NeRAC’s mission is to “build a resilient community by addressing and solving issues affecting near Buzzard Point residents in Washington, DC.” Its goal is to “empower residents, improve air quality, and improve and secure housing.” It is a think tank of residents, community partners, and experts working together to address pressing issues near Buzzard Point, Washington DC, and tackles air pollution, public health, and housing problems.

Some may see the new development in Buzzard Point as a positive contribution to this community, but with new development and construction comes compromised air quality and very sick residents who weren’t consulted on these development projects. The construction and increased traffic have created dust storms and dangerous levels of particulate matter in the air. Buzzard Point residents are having trouble breathing, asthma flare-ups, and burning sensations in their eyes. So, while people all over the city come to the Buzzard Point Community to experience the new development, residents are left to deal with the very serious health ramifications.

Rhonda Hamilton, an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner (ANC) representative for Buzzard Point and longtime resident, started working with filmmaker Alisha Camacho and Empower DC organizer Kari Fulton to take stock of the damage in the Buzzard Point Community and organize community members around these issues. Together, they created NeRAC. Today, NeRAC holds regular meetings, testifies in front of the DC City Council and the DC Department of Energy and the Environment, hosts a neighborhood spring cleanup to engage residents on the environmental issues their community faces, and more.

While perhaps unknown to many, the imperative work being done by NeRAC and by the three women founders should not go underestimated. When communities come under attack, we often see women at the forefront leading the charge to defend themselves and their loved ones, and it’s no different this time around.

If you’d like to stay involved and up to date on the fight happening to restore clean air in the Buzzard Point Community, you can follow NeRAC on Facebook and Twitter and attend the monthly meetings. Meeting details are below*.

*NeRAC meets the third Wednesday of every month from 6:30-8:30pm at 1501 Half Street SW, 2nd floor.

Claire Jordan serves on the Professional Development Committee of the DC EcoWomen Board and just recently finished her tenure as advocacy and outreach manager for Trash Free Maryland. Claire lives in Petworth and can be found hanging out at the library, buying tea at Teaism, or riding her bike through Rock Creek Park.

Photo 1:  NeRAC members hand out educational fliers on the issues impacting Buzzard Point to DC United fans as they make their way into the new stadium. Photo taken from NeRAC Twitter Page.
Photo 2: NeRAC Founder Rhonda Hamilton walks with a reporter from the Washington Post around Buzzard Point to showcase the air quality concerns. Photo taken from NeRAC Twitter Page.

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By Nichelle Harriott, policy specialist and DC EcoWomen member

I remember a time, growing up in a small rural community in the Caribbean, where my grandfather would disappear into the backyard on Sunday for about an hour and return with a chicken– dead and defeathered– for my grandmother to prepare for lunch. Back then your eggs, peas, and even orange juice came from the backyard. And, if for some reason you didn’t have enough, you called your neighbor over the fence.

These were my first impressions of food and how we eat. Food was not about driving to the grocery store, examining labels, or wondering whether you should pay the extra $2 for the organic version. I may be showing my age here, but while my childhood experience may be from another generation, our food system has changed. Drastically.

Food deserts abound in poorer communities, especially communities of color who, now removed from living in close cooperation with the land — like my grandparents did, fight the challenges of distance and decreasing paychecks to put fresh, healthy foods on their tables. These communities face very real food insecurity challenges that tend to go ignored.

Our diets have also changed. Indigenous varieties of corn, once in shades of black, red or blue have been replaced by yellow– the color corporate agriculture has decided we should prefer. Not only that, but this corn is genetically engineered to resist the pesticides we spray on fields, killing beneficial insects, and poisoning our waterways. Instead of chickens running in open backyards, like those at my grandparent’s house, thousands are crammed into tiny holding cages, often unable to walk and fed antibiotic and hormone-laced grain until they become so large and deformed that they cannot stand.

Let’s face it. The way we grow food and feed our families has changed. And while we are told large monoculture fields, factory farms, intensive chemical application, and corporate takeover of our seed banks is the way we will feed a growing global population, we are beginning to see the ravages industrial agriculture places on our environment and farmworker health.

However, there are sustainable ways we can grow our food system, put healthy foods on our tables, eliminate food deserts, and take pride in the stewardship of the land. Taking the lead are often small beginning farmers, many of whom are farmers of color returning to the ways our grandparents farmed with a few tweaks of their own. These farmers, along with farmer-led organizations that support them, are building collaborative networks in their communities integrating sustainable food production that enhances the environment and social health of people, while improving safe handling, distribution, and consumption of the food they produce.

African-American, Latinx, Native-American, Hmong farmers and others are finding ways to reintroduce indigenous varieties of fresh and healthy food back into their communities. These farmers are building their skills, training other farmers, focusing on building healthy soil, conserving water, and providing habitat for wildlife. They are in rural and urban communities, in food hubs, farmer’s markets, community gardens. They are involved with groups like the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners (BUGS), bringing together farmers of color, educators, chefs and food justice advocates around conversations like, “Where does our food come from and who provides it?” and “Why don’t we see more Black farmers at the farmer’s markets?”

Unfortunately, at the national level, these farmers are often overlooked for federal funding to expand and retain their operations. For many years, federal policies did not grant the levels of support to farmers of color as they did to their white counterparts. This inequity has historically led farmers of color — often cash-strapped and unable to access credit or pay back loans — to lose their farms, pushing them out of business.

But things are changing and many organizations like the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Rural Coalition, and others, are working on policy to increase farmers of color’s access to agriculture research and funding to sustain their farms. In December 2018, Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, the piece of legislation that oversees much of U.S. agriculture. There are some significant improvements to programs that support agriculture research for organic and sustainable systems, which will help beginning, underserved/farmers of color, and veteran farmers. These improvements include more funding for training and support. With new funds, these farmers will be able to get the support they need and help feed their communities.

The diversity of what we eat should be reflected by diversity in our food system and the farmers and workers who put food on our tables. A movement of farmers of color are primed to do just that while challenging our relationship with food. Will you join us?

Learn more about these farmers and organizations. Support sustainable food systems that also fight for food justice for all. Recommended Resources: Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners (BUGS) https://www.blackurbangrowers.org/; National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition http://sustainableagriculture.net/; Rural Coalition https://www.ruralco.org/

Nichelle Harriott has spent 10+ years working to educate consumers about the food they eat and advance environmental health and agriculture policy. She is currently a policy specialist at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and lives in Maryland where she plans her next travels.

Photo credits: Pixabay, USDA

posted by | on , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on How Online Campaigns Can Spark Action on Environmental Issues

By Lauren Meling, digital strategist and DC EcoWomen member

2019: it’s the start of a new year and anything is possible! Let this fresh start motivate you to push for more climate action this year. It’s no time to give up, since your voice is needed more than ever. But where to begin?

Look no further: the device you’re using right now can be the starting point for fresh activism in the new year. Online actions can be a crucial part of sparking action on environmental issues. Sometimes they get a bad rap — hence the “clicktivism” pejorative — but the truth is, digital and social media can reach more people at a faster rate than traditional media, educating them and inspiring further action. Don’t believe me? Here are 7 ways digital campaigns helped spur on real change.

1. LEGO: Everything is NOT Awesome

Everything is awesome? Not when you’re a kids’ company partnering with Big Oil. Greenpeace’s emotional video took Lego to task for its $116 million partnership with Shell, a company drilling in the Arctic — devastating the climate for the kids who play with its toys. After just three months and a million people showing their support, Lego ended the partnership. Meanwhile, Shell has halted its Arctic drilling exploration.

2. Clean Power Plan

Did you know the EPA received 1.6 million public comments about the Clean Power Plan — a landmark regulation that placed limits on the amount of carbon pollution emitted by power plants? As part of the federal rulemaking process, the public can submit comments to communicate their support for or reasons against a proposed regulation. Democracy! And in this modern age, you can do it online through regulations.gov.

Nonprofits and organizations across the country banded together to encourage as many Americans as possible to share their support for cleaner power and reducing carbon pollution from power plants.Today, the fate of the Clean Power Plan is in limbo, and the current administration is working on new rulemaking to replace it. If and when that happens, you’ll likely have a chance to get active online and demand stronger carbon pollution regulations. Follow the experts at Union of Concerned Scientists or Environmental Defense Fund to stay updated.

3. Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement — a worldwide commitment signed by 193 countries who promised to decrease carbon emissions in order to prevent climate catastrophe — is the biggest step the world has taken to address climate change. And while the US president says he wants to exit, the fact is he can’t — at least not until November 4, 2020.

So how did this global milestone happen? In short, the pressure had been building for years, with time running short on addressing climate change to keep global temperatures under 1.5* Celcius. By 2015, even the Pope got on board with his Laudato si encyclical. Environmental organizations worldwide combined forces to campaign for a strong agreement using online and social media. Together they delivered 6.2 million petition signatures at the United Nations for the start of COP21.

4. Standing Rock

When did you first hear about Standing Rock? Chances are, you first read about it through social media. Do you remember when everyone was ‘checking in’ on Facebook at Standing Rock and changing their status to “I stand with Standing Rock”? In 2016, a million people checked in to show their opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline (#NoDAPL) in response to a viral post claiming that police were using Facebook to surveill and target protesters on site. Whether that was the case or not, one thing is sure – it certainly called an exponential amount of attention and support to the issue. This battle may have been lost, but the war wages on.

5. Flint, MI

When the mainstream media outlets weren’t taking notice, social media was lighting up with posts about the #FlintWaterCrisis. The problem in Flint still isn’t solved, but thanks to the spotlight shone on the problem first in social media, more organizations, nonprofits, and even celebrities stepped up to help, mobilizing funds and providing immediate assistance for those in need, likely saving lives in the process.

6. #StopSucking

More recently, one single item has earned the ire of social media gadflies everywhere: the plastic straw, making it the ‘biggest trend of 2018.’ Today, cities, states, and corporations are enacting or considering limits to plastic straws. But where did this momentum come from? In short, it can be traced back to one unfortunate sea turtle. After the video went viral, the Surfrider picked up the #StopSucking banner this year to campaign against straws. Soon after, celebrities and influencers showed their support on social media.

Reducing the unnecessary use of plastic straws is one relatively easy step in the right direction. But it’s only a starting point. Now if only people would also curtail their use of single use plastic cups and bottles too!

What can you do?

If you’d like to join in, there are several ways for you to get involved in 2019. First of all, make sure you’re following organizations working on the issues you’re passionate about on whatever social media you use most. That way, you’ll be in the loop when they have actions for you to make a difference. For instance, you can find DC EcoWomen on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and more ways to get involved here.

Another tip: Tag a few of your friends or followers to make sure they get notified when you share an action online. You can also do the same thing by joining a Facebook group focused on your favorite topics, or starting a group chat with a few of your friends who care about the same issue – for example, water issues or reducing single-use plastic. (Just make sure you’re not sending out every message to every one of your friends — no one like a spammer!)

Lauren Meling has dedicated her career to finding what exactly it takes to make people take action online to serve a cause. She uses her digital strategy experience and skillset combining email marketing, social media, search engine marketing, website optimization, and content creation to engage online communities in meaningful action to confront some of the most challenging crises humanity faces today. She may not be a superhero, but she plays one on the internet.