June 2022: Other Environmental Intersections

Hello, potatoeeeeees!!!!!! Welcome to another month and happy summer! 🌞🌳✨🩴🍓 

These three months we’ve been talking about environmental intersections, with the first two emails having a specific focus on environmental racism. This month, we are expanding to talk about some of the many, many other categories that fit under our topic. As you can imagine, there is so much to cover, so we will be doing an overview of whatever we can fit in! Feel free to reply with thoughts and anything we miss, and let us know if there are any topics you’d like us to expand on in future!

Firstly, one of the main reasons we chose this topic is because everything in the world is interconnected and it’s virtually impossible to focus on any environmental topic without linking it to other facets of life. ✨🌱ALL THINGS ARE INTRINSICALLY LINKED.🌱✨ And so, with the historical and current discrimination against marginalized groups (women, POC, disabled people, kids, LGBTQ+ people, lower- and middle-class people, etc.), their voices are often suppressed, disregarded, ignored, and interrupted when talking about the environment — thus creating a world where underrepresented people’s opinions are ignored even when most people hold that opinion.

Of course, none of these movements are separate from each other either, and the more marginalized identities one holds, the more compounding hardships they are likely to have. (For instance, in our society, it’s harder to be a poor trans woman of color than a poor white cis woman.) Marginalization is intersectional, just like all of these things are with environmentalism! That’s why we can’t advocate for one cause in complete isolation, why we need to be conscious of how we’re advocating and what for, and why intersectional initiatives can be helpful in multiple ways at once. We don’t need to pick just one cause — by helping the environment, we could also be helping marginalized people, and vice versa.

There’s also the fact that while individuals do make a difference (and working together, we CAN save the world!!!), large companies and governments do need to be held responsible much more than individuals (for creating or REFUSING UGH to create environmental policy). Their actions can cause wayyyyy more of a mess (or way more of a potato if their actions are good!) than whatever one person does. So while we encourage you to do what you can, remember that climate change is not your personal fault and that usually those in power who could make real change choose not to, since it doesn’t directly benefit them (and often DOES benefit them to lobby for oil companies and such). Larger-scale change needs to happen. This is especially important to remember because people in marginalized groups are more vulnerable to climate change and may have a harder time making personal sustainable choices.

Income/Wealth/Affordability: As we discussed last month, wealth inequalities (which often go along with other inequalities) lead to people being unequally affected by climate change. Lower-income people have fewer resources to deal with climate change, as well as being more likely to have polluting facilities built near them. For example, it’s harder to afford houses that are safer from climate-change disasters. Poorer/less wealthy people also contribute less to climate change by consuming less, wasting less, and buying secondhand (and by generally not creating large-scale gas and oil spills, CO2 emissions, pollution, and waste). This is true country- and community-wide as well as for individuals. 

There is sometimes a societal expectation to buy popular “eco-friendly” products, which are often expensive. (Beware greenwashing!) And more reasonably, there’s an expectation to buy from more eco-friendly, ethical brands rather than mainstream ones — which are good, but they are often more expensive or difficult to access. This adds to the issue of minorities being underrepresented in the climate movement. And people in marginalized groups are more likely to have a lower income, which makes them more vulnerable to climate change for the reasons we’ve discussed.

Workers’ rights: Wealth inequalities also lead to inequalities in working conditions. Less wealthy people are often relegated to dangerous jobs, and huge companies often hire cheaper labor from countries with fewer regulations or (in the US) hire undocumented immigrants, who aren’t protected by US labor laws. And things like coal mining and factory farming, as well as being bad for the environment, have some of the worst working conditions. Big companies have more power in the market and in political campaigns, which gives them more ability to keep unpotatoish things going as they are. And it can be difficult (especially for low-income people) to support alternative companies (by buying from and working for them) since large companies’ products are much more widely distributed. Similarly, it can be harder to or to unionize if people don’t have alternative jobs, since some companies make it hard to unionize. Something you can do is buy fair trade–certified products, if they’re available and reasonably priced, and support companies you know treat workers well.

Health: Climate change has negative health impacts (on us as well as nonhuman species), whether from natural disasters or changing environments. And pollution causes health problems like lung diseases (asthma, bronchitis, and lung development), cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and memory disorders (dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s). Additionally, prisons in the US (which disproportionately hold marginalized people and are a WHOLE OTHER UNPOTATO) are often built near or on toxic waste, which is also harmful to health. And although a lot of emphasis is placed on physical health consequences, climate change can also affect mental health, often causing stress from natural disasters or anxiety about the climate crisis. It’s important to have and maintain natural areas we can go to for our mental and physical health as well as the health of the planet (which of course directly affects us too!). 

And we recognize that we personally may have to make less sustainable choices for the sake of our health (for example, needing to use disposables for hygiene or eat less sustainable food). Don’t blame yourself for your needs — again, corporations in power are the most accountable! And anyway, taking care of your health will give you more energy to work toward climate justice (and live your life!!). 

Eco-ableism: Disabled people are at a higher risk from climate disasters, and they may have a harder time evacuating when there is a disaster (due to physical ability, specific transportation needs, not having equipment or meds secured when they leave especially if they’re in a hurry, etc.). The environmental movement often doesn’t account for the challenges disabled people face in meeting certain expectations for sustainability (or why disabled people can’t always meet those expectations). For example, banning plastic straws can negatively impact people who need to use them (and doesn’t address the major sources of plastic pollution anyway). Also, pollution and the effects of climate change can exacerbate negative effects of disabilities by increasing symptoms of pre-existing conditions, putting people at higher risk for new/other health problems and illness, and increasing their severity.

Gender discrimination: Women make up the majority of the environmental movement (and men may be further resistant to eco-friendly products, habits, etc. because such things are marketed or perceived as feminine) and yet, women are not given as much decision-making power or as many places on environmental panels. Women are also more vulnerable to the effects of climate change than men. So, having more women involved in climate policy will not only make those policies more effective (on average, countries with women leaders have much better environmental policy!) but also better account for ways climate change specifically affects women. 

LGBTQ+ people, and particularly trans and nonbinary people, are similarly underrepressented and vulnerable to climate change while similarly being more involved in the climate movement than cishet people.

Nonhuman rights: When talking about the environment, it’s often from a human perspective, but it’s not just us being affected by climate change. We share this planet with billions of other species who have just as much right to live here. As well as not being responsible for climate change, they usually can’t evacuate or otherwise protect themselves from the effects of climate change. So one of the biggest things we can do for nonhuman rights is prevent climate change! 

The exploitation and commodification of nonhuman beings is linked to causes of climate change (see our January post). For example, deforestation and factory farming are huge causes of emissions while being devastating to individuals (human and nonhuman), communities, and ecosystems. And like with all other things, creatures and the planet are all linked. Having healthy ecosystems and natural areas is necessary for us and the planet to be healthy. 

Also, nonhuman rights aren’t separate from human social justice. For one thing, dehumanization can lead to further marginalization of certain groups, but we could just not use humanity as a standard of moral worth and instead respect each other!! Violence against nonhuman animals is correlated with violence against humans, and there are damaging psychological effects of jobs that force people to harm nonhuman animals. But it doesn’t have to be the way it is!! When we care for Earth, our ecosystems, and other species, we all benefit.

Youth voices: Youth are and will be the most affected by climate change. And yet, people tell us all the time that we aren’t old enough to understand or don’t take our concerns seriously. We’re also told, “we’re so sorry for the mess we’ve left for you, but you’re smart and will fix it!” But A. WHY ARE THEY LEAVING US TO CLEAN UP THEIR MESS WHEN THEY STILL CAN??? B. For the most part, older generations don’t listen or implement our ideas anyway. (Thank you, adult potatoes, for being here and listening to us!!!! And to young potatoes for making your voices heard. 📣) 

Voting is a great way to make change by getting better representatives elected and having policies changed. But youth don’t get a vote, at least not until we’re 18 (here in the US), so that’s one way we’re left out. Another is that we aren’t and can’t be the people in power. We don’t run and manage big companies, or have elected positions, or lots of money to donate and campaign, or (in most cases) big platforms to speak out on a large scale, generally speaking. But, of course, we are speaking out! We plan rallies, protests, and strikes, we talk about how we’re scared, sometimes we have radical ideas or inventions, and sometimes we are just mad that the proposed solutions aren’t being used. 

Have a conversation with any of us about the future! I’m sure you’ll find we have lots to share. And here are 10 young environmental activists to learn from and know about!

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Now that we’ve talked about all the terrible things in the world, let’s move on to what we can do! We have made progress in lots of different ways, and we will continue to do so! People are already more aware than they used to be — which is awesome. Awareness is the first step to fixing things, and as we acknowledge a problem, we’re more likely to act on it and it can’t go on being ignored. We also encourage you to consider how your level and types of privilege affect your role in the climate movement.

We’ve compiled a few great things happening, but there are many more and we encourage you to learn about them!

• The Poor People’s Campaign was inspired by MLK and the need for intersectional movements. Their slogan is “A national call for moral revival” and their goal is coming together to shift narratives and create lasting power for poor and impacted people.

• Young people are taking initiative and speaking up! Younger generations are more likely to care about the environment and take action . There are annual global climate strikes; huge marches and protests, often with youth speakers, held by youth activists; and smaller regional protests happening all the time! In 2019, an estimated 6 million people marched at a global climate strike. Listening to and raising up youth voices is one of the best ways to spread awareness, support, and understanding! At the same time, people of all ages are becoming more aware and more willing to take action.

Public transport is more accessible for many people, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly! There are projects in some places to make public transportation more widespread, and by taking your local public transport, you help reduce emissions and give it support and demand, which makes it more accessible for more people!

• Renewable energy: Since renewable energy is more expensive in the short term, low-income people and countries can’t easily pay for clean energy (especially when they’re first getting energy access), but also can’t reasonably be expected to use less. So it’s helpful for wealthier governments to support the creation and use of renewable energy in those countries and communities (which also leads to less pollution in those places!!). Build Back Fossil Free is an organization advocating to stop the production and use of fossil fuels for the sake of the environment, health, and justice. So it is great that more renewable energy is becoming more available!! Build Back Fossil Free is an organization advocating to stop the production and use of fossil fuels for the sake of the environment, health, and justice.

• Sustainability initiatives where you live are a potato to learn about and get involved with! Here are Washtenaw’s plan and The Ann Arbor Climate Partnership, and we’ve included more in our list of resources.

• Being a potatooooooo: As you move forward in your potatoey life, we encourage you to consider how these and other things relate to the environment, and take action that will make the world as a whole better.

The problems in the world are interconnected, and so are the solutions. We don’t have to choose between causes — we think that if we act consciously, we can simultaneously work to make the world better in so many ways. We are all interconnected, and we can’t solve things without each other. And thus, we are Potato Squad!!! 

Together, we are the core

Of the change we’ve been waiting for.

Here are this month’s checklist and resources! Be a potato!!! 😃🌱

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