Photo Credit: NRDC

American Voices for Climate: Sasha Forbes

Interviewed by Andrea Becerra

We’re excited to kick off our first American Voices for Climate (AVC) post with a Q&A with Sasha Forbes, Project Manager at Urban Solutions at NRDC. Sasha focuses her work on equity, inclusion, and sustainable community-building strategies. Inspired by NBC’s #31DaysofFeminism, featuring Adrianna Quintero, Founder and Director of Voces Verdes, we’ve decided to publish our first posts by AVC on the women who are doing incredible work in the environmental movement to achieve healthy, vibrant communities for current and future generations.

1. What do you love most about the work you do?

It can be hard to truly see the impact of my work in communities across the country, but I love that I can bring intentionality to equity and equality issues in the context of decisions about community development and inclusive planning. I’m thankful for the support I receive to bring forth this intentionality in a way that has the potential to engage residents to create solutions to stabilize their own communities, build stronger coalitions, promote healthier and greener neighborhoods and create greater opportunities for people.

2. Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? If not why?

I’ve never really considered myself an environmentalist. I’ve always considered myself tied to the earth and the earth’s outcomes, and through that lens have chosen to work in the sphere of protecting our eco-system and lifting up humanity. (Lofty sphere, I know!) Protecting the earth is an extension of protecting and healing ourselves. Our ability to eat good food, drink clean water, breathe clean air, and enjoy the bounty of the mountains, oceans and rivers is ultimately tied to the category of environmentalist. That said, our daily challenges with accessing good jobs, equal and quality education opportunities, transportation, and healthy and affordable housing lead me to need a whole new category to describe all the issues I support!

3. Why do you think it’s important that we tackle climate change? Is there an issue affecting your community?

Tackling climate change is tied to tackling major issues that plague our communities. For climate specific issues, our challenge is both in understanding how climate change impacts our lives personally, while also understanding how to transition to a system that values the progression and evolution of environmentally-minded humans as much as the technological advances that can curb climate change. One immediate issue that affects a community in my region is the link between the effects of sea level rise, flooding and displacement, or what some call climate gentrification. In Liberty City and Little Haiti, both Miami neighborhoods less vulnerable to flooding due to its higher elevation than some other areas in Miami-Dade, some investors are beginning to purchase land. Unless specifically developed with current residents in mind, the cost of property in these areas are likely to increase, putting residents who might not be able to afford the higher prices at risk of displacement.The unfortunate reality of displacement of primarily low-income and people of color leaves much in the way of action to prevent residents from losing their community and then going to even more vulnerable areas in Miami. Local groups like The CLEO Institute are dedicated to creating opportunities for underserved residents in vulnerable communities to improve their climate science knowledge and voice their concerns about climate gentrification, emergency preparedness and climate awareness.

4. How do you think women can help us tackle this and other environmental challenges?

Well, fortunately or unfortunately I have a serious gender bias: Women are the most wonderful creations on earth! We can pretty much manage any solution with our ability to be some serious multi-taskers and we have a pretty good thing going with mother earth, since she is also of the female persuasion.

5. Are there any other women that you want to shine a light on? How are they setting an example for future leaders?

Yes! All respect of course to my wonderful maternal Powell clan. One of the most inspiring women for me was Wangari Maathai. Wangari Maathai was an environmentalist, human rights activist, and founder of the Green Belt Movement. She is responsible for the planting of millions of trees around the world, either through her own physical labor or through inspiring others to be stewards of the earth. She empowered women in rural Kenya to respond to deforestation and subsistence needs by growing seedlings to bind the soil, store rainwater, provide food and firewood, and create jobs for themselves. Her story inspired me to be a hummingbird — do the best you can even when faced with the most daunting challenges.