Urban Environmentalism

If I asked you what you thought was the most pertinent issue in the world, what would you say? COVID relief? Social justice? Reproductive justice? Animal rights? Child hunger? The unemployment crisis? Each issue is important, that’s irrefutable. However, the ways in which different parts of the world are impacted by such issues cannot be measured unilaterally—as social norms, economic vitality and political involvement vary across the world and thus, determine the priority or, rate of relevance. Sagely put, the most cardinal global issue in my opinion are those that pertain to the environment. Without embellishment, in my opinion, environmental activism has to be at the forefront of any discussions on social progress; we cannot have pandemic relief, justice, home, and food security, or a thriving economy if there’s nothing left to our planet. Environmentalism in many ways can be intimidating to the average person. The terminology may feel inaccessible and in some ways, can feel like a color and gendered issue (For more about environmental racism, check out these articles. For more about environmental feminism and green sexism, you can also check out these articles). As of recently, I’ve become particularly interested in a concept known as ‘urban environmentalism’ (which I partially talked about here for my thesis project). In this article, I’ll explain what the term means, why I believe it’s important, and offer some suggestions for how we can move forth as a collective in order to be more ecologically conscious of the choices we make and the impact those choices will have on the environment. 

yellow and pink flower in close up Photo by Jason Leung from Unsplash As I mentioned previously, this is a subject I’ve talked about before on my published thesis website but for those who would like a recap and/or further explanation: Urban environmentalism refers to the ecological concerns specific to urban communities and their populations, usually densely populated by minority groups. You may be asking yourself, ‘well what differentiates environmentalism from urban environmentalism?’.

Environmentalism approaches the study and analysis of the environment holistically; more specifically, you can understand environmentalism as “the theory that environment, as opposed to heredity, has the primary influence on the development of a person or group” (Lexico by Oxford). Environmentalism is a social science, ideology, and form of activism that ultimately evaluates humanity’s relationship with nature and considers ways that we can preserve natural resources, protect natural habitats and restore ecological balance. Urban environmentalism on the other hand investigates the quality of urban communities (i.e sustainable development) and the challenges facing the urban environment. In both disciplines/activisms, issues like climate change, air pollution and land pollution, water contamination and biohazardous waste, etc are addressed (more on that can be found here). So why does urban environmentalism matter?

white smoke photo Photo by Thijs Stoop from Unsplash Urban environmentalism matters to me as a minority who grew up in a community of other lower and middle-class minorities that provided limited access to eco-awareness education. In communities like mine, every neighborhood is riddled with liquor stores with billboards advertising tobacco products and alcohol, fast food restaurants at every block, and new towering buildings emerging nearly every other day; needless to say, awareness about ecological issues and carbon footprints were not a priority. Moreover, I aspire to be an interior designer and licensed real estate agent. In both professions in some form or another, I’ll be responsible for the environment’s interior or exterior. It’ll be my job to source materials, conduct space planning, research the area and get to know the clients and/or locals in order to cultivate a space to its fullest potential.

pink flowers in tilt shift lens Photo by Inderpreet Sekhon from Unsplash Ecological issues like the ones I previously mentioned, disproportionately plague womxn and groups of color in specific and insidious ways. For example, the Mother’s Milk Project was created by Indigenous Mohawk and Akwesasne mothers in order to understand and characterize how toxic contaminants have moved through the local food chain, into a mother’s milk as well as to get womxn to incorporate science into their everyday lives. In other words, as a result of pollution from a nearby General Motors factory, the local Native womxn involved in this case were concerned that they were ingesting toxic chemicals which were then passed on to their children through their breast milk. To many experts’ surprise, minority groups have shown to possess a broader understanding of environmental issues that factors in an intersectional analysis of gender, class, and race—an understanding or perspective, much broader than that of their white counterparts. Because these systems of stratification and oppression exist, there’s virtually no facet of social life that doesn’t overlap (even in spaces where most people wouldn’t think racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and/or homophobia/transphobia occurs). Thankfully there are organizations and resources available for anyone interested in getting involved with the movement such as Green America and the Urban Environmentalists. I believe we have a great responsibility to ourselves and others to take better care of Mother Earth. For resources on how to be an environmentally ethical consumer, you can check out these links. Let’s do better, together.