Rising Up: My Journey to Fight Environmental Injustice Through EJ Grassroots
By Aanya Dhruv
My name is Aanya Dhruv, and I am a 10th-grade student at the Nueva School in San Mateo. My goal is to support communities affected by environmental injustice through solidarity and allyship. How do I plan to achieve this? By conducting EJ workshops and making students aware of inequalities, one story at a time. My goal is to hold these workshops around the world, one school at a time.
During my life, I have been given many opportunities. I’ve lived in a safe neighborhood. I’ve never had to worry about my next meal. My world has been strongly shaped by the values exemplified by my parents. As a mixed-race family that is Indian and Zoroastrian (Zoroastians are an ancient, closely knit community with only 100,000 members left in the world), we have navigated turbulent interracial family differences that have profoundly influenced my family values of collaboration, kindness, and respect. My parents, both immigrants, have also guided me to think big, take risks, and be an upstander to make the world a better, more equitable place.
I have a passion for earth science and I hope to produce impactful scientific work using my knowledge in this field. But sometimes I feel as if there is already enough science in our world: we just need to channel the science the right way. Sustainability and equity need to be integrated even more. Realizing this importance, I knew that I had to take action.
Two experiences led me to my journey’s start: witnessing a lack of EJ awareness in schools and visiting a city near my parents’ home in India that faces the ill-effects of environmental injustice.
I took a climate change science class where environmental justice was mentioned, only in passing. I was surprised that schools do not spend much time focusing on how the impacts of climate change affect different people, in different places, in different ways. Later, I felt infuriated after I spent a week in a city called Dahanu, in the outskirts of Mumbai, India. What happened? Dahanu’s proximity to Mumbai (a major financial hub in India), rural economy, and cheap land made it suitable for building a power plant to supply electricity to Mumbai. Dahanu — once ecologically rich with wildlife, fresh water creeks, and fruit — has suffered injustice due to a thermal power plant that emits poisonous gasses, leading to poor air quality and water contamination for Dahahu’s residents. Needless to say, the wildlife has been destroyed.
Environmental injustice is a systemic issue that disproportionately affects marginalized communities, particularly those living in low-income areas or near industrial facilities. After doing research, I started to understand how omnipresent the problem of environmental injustice is — even if we don’t always take note of it. More than half the population near toxic waste sites are people of color. What is more astounding is that people of color have seen 95% of their claims against polluters denied by the EPA.
To tackle unawareness around the topic, I came up with my project: EJ Grassroots. The EJ Grassroots program involves me and other students conducting workshops at various schools and public venues to raise awareness about environmental injustice. These workshops are interactive and designed to provide an overview of the topic, discuss real-life case studies, and suggest ways for everyone to get involved. I have taught workshops this year at the Nueva School, and am currently reaching out to additional schools and programs. Workshop activities include system mapping (tracing the problem to its source via visual depiction of relationships), word clouds (a collection of the most prominent words to describe the problem), and learning from experts like frontline community leaders and educators.
To illustrate the impact of environmental injustice, we share personal stories such as that of Ruth Martinez, who lives in a low-income community plagued by poor water quality that led to birth defects. This story is part of a rich set of oral histories documented by the EJ curriculum project, “Voices from the Valley” (founded by Tracy Perkins and expanded through the collaboration of students, staff and faculty at UC Davis and UC Santa Cruz). This material is available to all EJ teachers and learners, with additional resources compiled here. We then discuss statistics showing how low-income and marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards.
Last but not least, we touch on the concepts of why and how. Why should we talk about it? Why does this problem happen? How should we help? How do we get involved? And really, these questions have lots of answers.
It’s tricky to not come across as either defensive or arrogant, especially as a young woman of color albeit from a comfortable background. My goal is to listen, be an ally, and emphasize the importance of solidarity in fighting environmental injustice. Solidarity, to me, means listening to the voices of those most impacted, advocating for equitable environmental policies, and supporting and uplifting each other. In other words, EJ involves working side-by-side to better understand what actions can meet the needs of frontline communities through self-representation — not just responding to what we think they need. Ultimately, this means work towards a more sustainable and equitable future for all.
Students have responded positively to the EJ Grassroots workshops and are eager to take action. My goal is for other students to identify these issues in their community and stand in solidarity with those who are not yet heard. Even if one more student is inspired to fight environmental injustice, it will be a win not just for me, but also for the entire environmental justice community. EJ Grassroots is my local stage for a detox against global environmental injustice toxins.
For more information about EJ Grassroots, please write to email@example.com
Thank you to Dr. Sibyl Diver, Dr. Isabel Zamanillo, Dr. Emily Polk and Mr. Christopher LeBoa (from Berkeley) for their generosity, support, wisdom, and tireless work on these issues.