Environment +: These Changemakers Share Their “Plus” When It Comes To Saving the Planet

by Made By Us and friends including the Climate Cardinals, Brown Girl Green and Earth Uprising

From fracking to food deserts, rising sea levels to falling biodiversity levels, today’s environmental justice movement is as diverse as the planet it seeks to save. But it is about more than the planet. These changemakers are working to preserve and protect the environment PLUS vulnerable and historically marginalized communities.

In 1981, protests against hazardous waste dumping in Warren County, North Carolina sparked national conversations about the inequity of environmental protections in communities of color. The protests prompted a government study of hazardous waste landfills. They found that three out of four of these toxic sites were located in communities that were majority Black and low income. Activists and advocates rallied across the U.S. to call for environmental justice.

This modern environmental justice movement works to bridge the gap between environmentalism and social justice. Understanding the past — where environmental protections failed to protect us all — is an important part of finding more sustainable solutions for the future. It is the past PLUS the present. It is the land PLUS the people. And by bringing together museums and historic sites across the country, Made By Us works to share more perspectives on the past and ensure that more voices are heard now.

In honor of Earth Month, we reached out to young changemakers and asked: where do you fit into the environmental justice ecosystem? What is your passion, your project, your PLUS? From helping make climate change information accessible to amplifying voices that have been historically silenced, these young Americans are part of a more sustainable and equitable future.

Submissions may have been edited for length.

I worked diligently with my mom to translate climate research to help them understand the severity of the climate crisis

Sophia Kianni of Climate Cardinals

I realized the need for climate translation while on a trip to Iran in middle school. I was shocked when I learned that due to climate change temperatures in the Middle East were rising more than twice the global average. When I brought up my concerns to my relatives, I was disheartened when they informed me that they knew nothing about climate change.

My shock compounded when I read a study that found only 5% of Iranian university students could properly explain the greenhouse gas effect. Determined to educate my Iranian family, I began to pore over climate research; however, I quickly realized that there was no information available in Farsi, their native language. I worked diligently with my mom to translate climate research to help them understand the severity of the climate crisis.

Inspired by my experience, I founded Climate Cardinals: an international youth-led nonprofit working to make climate education more accessible to non-English speakers. Over the past few years, Climate Cardinals has grown to 8,000 volunteers in 41 countries, and we have translated over 6,000 pages of climate information into 100 languages.

I am creating new pathways of advocacy to validate and encourage more environmental justice storytellers to come forward and inspire their communities

Kristy Drutman of Brown Girl Green

Being often the only Brown woman in environmental advocacy spaces, I realized how inaccessible climate education and activism are to the most marginalized communities. Thus, three years ago, I created Brown Girl Green: my brand, podcast, and media series uplifting the work of environmentalists of color ignored by mainstream media.

Brown Girl Green works at the forefront of climate solutions, discussing the importance of diversity, inclusion, and community empowerment. Through my blog posts, discussion forums, and livestream chats, this space connects environmental creatives and experts worldwide, searching to exchange their thoughts on climate action. Brown Girl Green also extends beyond online communities — I design and facilitate nationwide workshops on cultural identity, climate change, and effective digital storytelling. My passion and extensive experience in both environmental advocacy and digital media now has me looking for more tools to expand my work.

I fit into the environmental justice ecosystem as a bridge-builder and storyteller. I am focused on educating, entertaining, and engaging audiences around the world in real-time about environmental justice issues and organizations they may not typically hear about. As an independent media creator and entrepreneur, I am creating new pathways of advocacy to validate and encourage more environmental justice storytellers to come forward and inspire their communities.

It is my hope that I can continue to use my platform in allyship with environmental justice leaders and organizations who are driving this movement forward. My plus is using storytelling to challenge our biases and silos that prevent us from having meaningful conversations around climate action that re-center BIPOC voices. This is and will continue to be critical.

I believe that it’s important for youth to know that the natural disasters impacting our communities are symptoms of a larger problem

Supriya Patel of Earth Uprising

In 2018, wildfires ravaged my home state of California. The most deadly of these fires (which went on to become the deadliest wildfire in California history) occurred in the city of Paradise, which is only a two-hour drive away from my hometown. This meant that we received much of the smoke from the fire- so much of it that the sky nearly turned black. Masks were frantically handed out, and the air quality was often worse than that of New Delhi, India, and Beijing, China combined. For context, Beijing and New Delhi are two of the most polluted cities in the world.

Because I have asthma, I was greatly impacted by the pollution from the fire. I struggled to breathe even inside my own house, had an asthma attack at school, and had to carry around an inhaler. The Campfire made me realize that the climate crisis wasn’t something that I could ignore any longer.

I now fight against the climate crisis by organizing with a few different organizations, including Earth Uprising, a global youth-led climate education organization. I’m particularly passionate about climate education because I believe that it’s important for youth to know that the natural disasters impacting our communities are symptoms of a larger problem. I never received climate education in school. Maybe if I had, I would have known how to take action sooner. I believe that climate education is so vital because when we inform youth of the problem, they can begin to see solutions.

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To power a better tomorrow, it’s never been more important to harness lessons from the past. History has been unevenly written and unevenly shared, but it is our aim to do better, to make the tent bigger, to understand a more multifaceted perspective. We use our Made By Us Medium presence as a forum for exposing more of our process, our perspectives, and the people doing the day-to-day work behind our projects.

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To power a better tomorrow, it’s never been more important to harness lessons from the past. That’s where Made By Us comes in. We use our Medium presence as a forum for exposing more of our process, our perspectives, and the people doing the day-to-day work behind our projects.

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