Tag Archives: environmental justice

Exploring the Intersection of Environmental Justice and Engineering

8 Mar
EIgwe

Eleanor Igwe (’17) jots down potential project ideas during a rapid brainstorming session.

Over the past 5 months, CEEDS intern Brittany Bennett ’16 worked together with Athena Sofides ’19 to plan and carry out the Northeast Regional Conference of the Engineers for a Sustainable World at Smith College. Building upon Smith’s reputation as a place to explore all kinds of issues related to feminism and social justice, the two decided to organize the conference around the theme “Environmental Justice and Engineering”.

Pitches

Students give their 30 second pitches for their project ideas.

Over 45 students were excited to attend the Saturday, February 20th conference. In addition to Smith, the student attendees represented chapters from the University of Rhode Island, Union College, the Stevens Institute of Technology, and UMass Lowell. Participants had the chance to sharpen their spatial analysis skills through a hands on workshop in GQIS, gain insight into the world of sustainable transportation, get an introduction to radical, intersectional climate justice, and explore the many ways engineers can apply solutions to issues in the developing world.

Carbon

Laura Lilienkamp (’18) and alum Maya Kutz (’15) act out an activity demonstrating carbon emissions from industrialization.

-Brittany Bennett ’16 is a senior engineering major at Smith. In addition to her academic studies in the Picker Engineering Program, she is also the Senior Adviser to the Smith chapter of the Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW), and the Deputy Director of the national ESW organization.

Earth Week: The Planet and the People On It: Opening up Conversation on Campus

7 May

Like every Earth Week, we didn’t have the biggest turn out. Rain and wind forced the array of student justice and environmental organizations inside the campus center; many passersby avoided catching our eye so they could hurry on without being stopped for a signature, promise, or pamphlet.

Those who did stop, though, gave an incredible energy to the week. People proudly penned promises on up-cycled cloths, accepted challenges and asked for more information on everything from intersectionality to permeable pavements.

The week was dotted with workshops, panels, and gatherings geared towards opening up the Smith community on a variety of topics. Environmentally friendly menstrual products, labor conditions of undocumented farmworkers, indigenous land rights, and the Gaza water crisis: the College was flooded with waves of discussion on a myriad of global environmental justice issues.

Lily-earthweek

It can be hard not to feel a bit jaded when it comes to doing outreach on a campus so full of soapboxes: occasionally, it seems to me that Smithies have an attitude of “I don’t have time to listen to you talk, I’m busy saving the world”. However, unlike previous Earth Weeks, the focus this year on intersectionality really brought more of the campus together than ever before. Instead of a lecture on why we’re not doing enough to celebrate and take good care of the Planet and the People on It, it felt more like a conversation on how together, we can do more than enough.

We can’t talk about land subsidence in marginalized neighborhoods without talking about race; we can’t talk about waste crises without talking about class, and we certainly can’t talk about climate change without talking about global political power asymmetries.

I think that this past week was an important step in creating a more equitable space for discussion on campus. If we all took one step off our own soapboxes, it would lead us onto someone else’s; out of a lecture, and into a conversation.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread. #veganchef

A Week with ACE: Lessons from an Environmental Justice Organization

29 Apr

This spring break I left the books at home and hung out with an environmental justice organization in Roxbury, MA. Known locally as ACE, the acronym stands for Alternatives for Community and Environment. Through a series of workshops, adventures, meetings and hands-on work, I had my eyes opened to what environmental justice can—and ought to—look like from the ground on up.

One of my first surprises upon entering the organization was how friendly and easy-going the staff were. I was there with a UMASS grassroots organizing class and the ACE staff had us dive right in—right from hour one. I quickly discovered that about 80% of the staff were between the ages of 17 and 24. They were young, furious, and working hard to improve their neighborhood and to fight for their community. Specifically, their environmental justice campaigns focused on better air quality for Roxbury, improved public transit, anti-gentrification and food justice.

One room of the office space was devoted entirely to the REEP program (Roxbury Environmental Empowerment Project and part of ACE). REEP is a youth empowerment program that works with and recruits local high school students—and thus the office was always alive with spunk and energy. It was difficult to not join in the fun!

As a group, my class attended workshops led by the youth organizers. They taught us about environmental justice issues specific to Roxbury, gentrification 101, and the power of story-telling to effect social change. Each of us had to informally present on life experiences that influenced us to pursue environmental justice. Being from a rural town in Northern California, my daily concerns differed vastly from the youth of Roxbury. While I drew the following (and beautifully artistic) rendition of my hometown, the youth organizers from Roxbury were distributing flyers relating to transit justice within their own community (see flyer below). Roxbury is a 95% black neighborhood and has been historically—and notoriously— ignored and marginalized by transit development and air quality control.

My beautiful rendition of environmental hazards in my hometown, Northern California.

My beautiful rendition of environmental hazards in my hometown in Northern California.

The flyers that we distributed throughout Roxbury.

The flyers we distributed throughout Roxbury.

In fact, in 1997, REEP was founded by a high school led campaign to hold the MBTA accountable to the Massachusetts anti-idling law. Roxbury has a higher rate of residents with asthma than any other neighborhood in Boston and it was apparent that the MBTA’s bus parking garage was a major contributor to the problem. Buses were left idling on a daily basis, generating excessive exhaust that permeated the neighborhood. On a “Toxic Tour” of Dudley Square led by one of the youth, we were exposed to the air quality monitoring station that was installed as a result of their anti-idling initiative.

A view from the local high school in Roxbury of dirty stormwater.

A view of dirty storm water from the Roxbury high school.

My biggest take-away from the week was learning the difference between environmentalism and environmental justice. In a 1987 study titled “Toxic Wastes and Race” by the United Church of Christ, it was determined that race is the most significant factor in predicting the distribution of environmentally hazardous facilities. A repeat study, conducted twenty years later, showed that people of color are now found to be even more concentrated around hazardous waste facilities than previously shown. Thus environmental justice is focused on equality of healthy resources and environments for ALL people. To this end, ACE’s mission is to “build the power of communities of color and low-income communities in Massachusetts to eradicate environmental racism and classism, create healthy, sustainable communities, and achieve environmental justice.” Their Vision of Change is as follows:

“Systemic change means moving beyond solving problems one by one to eliminating the root causes of environmental injustice. ACE is anchoring a movement of people who have been excluded from decision-making to confront power directly and demand fundamental changes in the rules of the game, so together we can achieve our right to a healthy environment.”

After this experience I encourage all of us to move beyond popular narratives of environmentalism. Instead, we need to reevaluate our commitments to the Earth AND to its people.

To learn more about ACE, or to donate, visit: www.ace-ej.org.

-Odessa Aguirre is a senior at Smith College from Sonora, California. She studies Anthropology with a focus on immigration and Spanish. When she is not at Smith College, she is somewhere sunny and warm. Her future plans include backpacking in every feasible mountain range–and for the non-feasible mountain ranges, she has plans to train as a mountaineer.

Green Team’s Third Annual Climate Justice Open Mic

27 Feb

The stark white bar was laden heavily with cheese, cookies, crackers and tea cups. Heavy ochre curtains were tugged across the entrance way to the dim room, crowded with plastic chairs circled around a small, brightly lit stage.

Last night, I attended Green Team’s annual Climate Justice open mic. The atmosphere was warm despite the excited jitters that pulsed through the crowd like electricity. Green Team’s president, Siiri Bigalke, opened up the night with a moving story about coming to understand environmental injustices during her time abroad.

Another student read a chilling anecdote about her first time visiting receding glaciers. One sophomore, who had dropped by spur of the moment, recalled the various forms of pollution she saw affecting the environment and local residents during her 6 month stay in China. I read a poem about the constricting, overwhelming nature of the climate injustice conversation, or lack thereof.

As attendees became more comfortable, the pieces and stories being shared began to foster stimulating conversations. Students were discovering injustices within the injustices being spoken about; they were learning, listening, and opening their minds as peers braved the bright stage lights.

Perhaps we can look to this event and others like it in searching for ways to open up conversations about environmental (in)justices.

Calling

Footsteps reverberating, exponentially.

Around this hallowed space

curving walls

and dripping ceilings, concrete

pressing and stretching

and acres of black and white tiles.

Drowning in uniformity

echoes of disparate voices

I, too, call out.

 

Deeper down, down we slide

grit, grime wearing as we accelerate; a

perverse progression

and yet there’s a way to

devour, hopelessly

and it cranes our necks to look back at all.

Scraping at the only dust that remains

that would give our floundering feet traction

the void calls out.

 

Along the way, bulbs in dusty prisms

gleam dull and cruel; like

hoarded luxury

and insatiably hungry eyes, all framing an

unfathomable maw

and blinding us against the unknown.

The glow is warming inside these walls

the night never comes, but however stifled

we call out.

 

Billions of eyes focusing

forward through the chaos, reflecting

speckled trees

and cacophonous Springs

righteous respiration

and rusting, silent chains.

Voices presently choked, almost muted

a technological compromise and no one need leave

but they call out.

 

Beaten bodies building

soils sown with poisons

seas roiling; a pot over flame

and yet we march

walls contracting

and we grow restless.

These tunnels were not built to burst

but the breath of the Earth beyond is rallying

the climate is calling.

DSCF5035

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread. #veganchef

Environmental Justice Radio

15 Dec

I created this podcast, Environmental Justice Radio, as an extra credit project for Environmental Integration I: Environmental Perspectives.


Context:

As I study environmental issues, ranging from the disruption of biogeochemical cycles to the economic and social costs of climate change, I find myself continuously returning to the interconnectedness of environmental and societal health. This concept reveals the disproportionate impacts of climate change on groups of people, often coinciding with racism, classism, sexism, and many other forms of oppression.

Since coming to Smith, the themes of my academic work have inspired me to independently research environmental justice in the United States. Attending the People’s Climate March in New York and joining the Divest Smith College network have been influential in my thinking about the intersectionality of social and environmental issues.

I have come to realize that all of the issues I previously felt passionate about are strung together by a not-so-thin thread.

This podcast is a small example of how climate change is not a problem affecting only distant “Others.” The impacts fall on people in our own country, and we need to raise their voices up. To me, one of the most important steps to sparking change is reworking the ways in which we communicate environmental issues.

– Callie Sieh, ’18J transferred to Smith this fall. She studies Environmental Science and Policy, and in her free time hosts a radio show on WOZQ, is an active member of Divest Smith College and explores coffee shops in the Pioneer Valley.

Luck, Love, Money and Mercury

19 Apr

I went to a lecture in Ford Hall about Mercury as an Indoor Air Pollutant as part of the Mercury, The Environment, and Public health lecture series. The speaker was Donna Riley, Associate Professor of Engineering. It was really interesting to learn about how mercury is used in different ways. I wasn’t expecting the lecture to have so much basis in anthropological research. Mercury is an important element for many different cultures who use it in various ways. For me, mercury is an interesting substance because it is encased in many household products that I come in contact with on a daily basis although I never see the silver liquid. In this lecture Professor Riley talked about people who practice a religion called Santeria. They use mercury as part of their religious practices.

Mercury has a long history of being used as a medicine by ancient Egyptians and Chinese. In Europe, medieval alchemists tried turning it into gold. It was even used to treat Syphilis before penicillin was discovered.

In Santeria mercury can be used spiritually in icons and amulets. It is thought to spiritually clean and purify and ward off evil. It has the power to bring luck, love and money and is therefore used in people’s homes.

Too bad mercury doesn’t just bring luck, love and good fortune – it’s also toxic.  Mercury can volatilize and contaminate the air. That’s why if you ever break a thermometer or CFC light bulb you shouldn’t vacuum or try to sweep it up. Americans spend 90% of their time indoors and buildings can concentrate air pollutants so mercury poisoning can be a real concern. As with many pollutants, it becomes a matter of environmental justice because certain groups of people are being exposed to mercury more than others.

Professor Riley researched the effects of religious practices using mercury and indoor air quality. She said that most of the practitioners of Santeria use mercury in closed containers along with other items but there is popular literature saying that people sprinkle mercury in their homes. She would like to find out what the risk of these practices is. There may need to be more education for all consumers who come into contact with mercury whether in light bulbs or religious ceremonies.

What to Do if a Mercury Thermometer Breaks (from the EPA website)

  • Have everyone else leave the area; don’t let anyone walk through the mercury on their way out. Make sure all pets are removed from the area. Open all windows and doors to the outside; shut all doors to other parts of the house.
  • DO NOT allow children to help you clean up the spill.
  • Mercury can be cleaned up easily from the following surfaces: wood, linoleum, tile and any similarly smooth surfaces.
  • If a spill occurs on carpet, curtains, upholstery or other absorbent surfaces, these contaminated items should be thrown away in accordance with the disposal means outlined below. Only cut and remove the affected portion of the contaminated carpet for disposal.
Items needed to clean up a small mercury spill

1. 4-5 ziplock-type bags
2. trash bags (2 to 6 mils thick)
3. rubber, nitrile or latex gloves
4. paper towels
5. cardboard or squeegee
6. eyedropper
7. duct tape, or shaving cream and small paint brush
8. flashlight

Cleanup Instructions

  1. Put on rubber, nitrile or latex gloves.
  2. If there are any broken pieces of glass or sharp objects, pick them up with care. Place all broken objects on a paper towel. Fold the paper towel and place in a zip lock bag. Secure the bag and label it as directed by your local health or fire department.
  3. Locate visible mercury beads. Use a squeegee or cardboard to gather mercury beads. Use slow sweeping motions to keep mercury from becoming uncontrollable. Take a flashlight, hold it at a low angle close to the floor in a darkened room and look for additional glistening beads of mercury that may be sticking to the surface or in small cracked areas of the surface. Note: Mercury can move surprising distances on hard-flat surfaces, so be sure to inspect the entire room when “searching.”
  4. Use the eyedropper to collect or draw up the mercury beads. Slowly and carefully squeeze mercury onto a damp paper towel. Place the paper towel in a zip lock bag and secure. Make sure to label the bag as directed by your local health or fire department.
  5. After you remove larger beads, put shaving cream on top of small paint brush and gently “dot” the affected area to pick up smaller hard-to-see beads. Alternatively, use duct tape to collect smaller hard-to-see beads. Place the paint brush or duct tape in a zip lock bag and secure. Make sure to label the bag as directed by your local health or fire department.
  6. You may want to request the services of a contractor who has monitoring equipment to screen for mercury vapors. Consult your local environmental or health agency to inquire about contractors in your area. Place all materials used with the cleanup, including gloves, in a trash bag. Place all mercury beads and objects into the trash bag. Secure trash bag and label it as directed by your local health or fire department.

The next lecture about mercury in this series is coming up,

Every Cloud Has a Quicksilver Lining
April 20, 2012
Part of the Mercury, The Environment, and Public health lecture series. The Transport, Bioavailability and Effects of Mercury in the Environment Charles T. Driscoll Jr., Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Syracuse University preceded by light refreshments and followed by dinner for attendees. This lecture series is funded by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.
Ford hall 240
4:30 pm

Hester Garskovas ’12, Environmental Science and Policy Program Intern