It’s no secret that we are in a crisis. Our planet is in desperate need of our help to reverse the damage we have caused. Though our love affair with overconsumption and excess waste is much to blame it isn’t the only contributing factor to climate change and a dying ecosystem. This is when I’d usually point out pollution, toxic waste and yadda, yadda. Absolutely those too are important and while I believe many people are aware of why we’re here, we don’t do a very good job of framing the how. The conversation and hyper emphasis usually goes something like- people are the worst, we really messed up, use this metal straw and canvas bag and it’ll mostly be alright. However, it isn’t that simple. Not that you actually believe that rubbish but that is how it’s sold. Keyword being sold.
The Heart of the issue
I am old enough, or young enough to remember spending Saturday mornings watching Captain Planet and trying to relay the messages of conservation to my parents. As I think back, there were a lot of tv shows and campaigns around environmentalism. We even had that catchy jingle and commercial about recycling, reducing and reusing. I guess they thought we’d be the one’s to fix it or at least care, and we do. Even now being green has become more mainstream (ahem, hence this site). This messaging is becoming sexy. It seems like everywhere you go there is an underscoring of urgency to reduce waste. That’s all well and good but none of those new products or fads address structural racism or poverty. What does being eco friendly have to do with poverty and race, you ask? Well, for one thing it’s a hell of a lot easier to live green when you can eat green. Convenience foods which are often most affordable and accessible are packaged in plastics, foils and tins. Of course that is true of healthy food brands too but their consumers are often white, affluent and therefore can afford to avoid less harmful packaging as well as eat healthier. Those same consumers also drive newer more efficient vehicles because of the vast amount of opportunities and privilege. They are more likely to live in neighborhoods and housing that allow for recycling receptacles, whereas folks with lower income are often renting in subsidized housing or rent in apartments or townhouses that typically have a large shared trash bin where waste is not sorted until after it is in a landfill. In addition, white consumers have access to health food markets and stands that are more conscious than the average box store and closer in proximity to where they live and work. Those neighborhoods that are pricier are likely developments that host green spaces, parks and recreational facilities. Your see where I'm going, yes? Just as our land is in need of healing, so too, are we. I find the parallels of the deep racial injustice and the neglect of this integral part of the environmental discussion troubling. I view them as synonymous. Black and Brown folks have decried issues of clean water, lack of affordable housing, maltreatment in health and other "social determinants" that have until recently gained attention for decades. Racial justice is yet again at the heart of the issue in question.
Historical and multigenerational acts of violence are at fault. For instance, gentrification has directly impacted and purposely has kept people from the resources above. Intentionally leaving large groups out of geographical areas where the opportunity to live better is out of literal reach. The Food Access Research Atlas (Food Access Research Atlas) is an interactive map created from census track data that allows you to see where food deserts exist. Food deserts are usually home to very few and sometimes no choices for consumers to buy groceries. There are also less culturally appropriate foods in those areas.
Larger name brand food products sold at Dollar Tree, Wal-Mart and the like are for one, not the healthiest, but also far less concerned about their impact whether environmental or health related. The more affordable and most available foods and grocery entities profit off of low income individuals and thus those heavy waste products are more apt to make it to food pantries or purchased by customers with a limited income.
"My vision for Outside In includes those small but impactful steps and the knowledge we can acquire together to make better choices."
I bring this up because in my research, poverty and structural racism are not mentioned nearly enough when we speak about environmentalism. Almost certainly this means the root cause will continue to go unaddressed as systemic racism is categorically epidemic. With this platform I feel as though I have a social responsibility to name the structural barriers. I seek to educate/advocate for change, rather than to act as though people suck and should try harder. It isn’t helpful. That way of thinking in and of itself is part of the problem. It’s a sad lie we tell ourselves and have been falsely led to believe. We forget to hold those with the most power accountable but are quick to cast judgements and responsibility solely at the feet of others or ourselves. Though we each hold a stake, our codependency is no accident. Industrialization is both a blessing and a curse and capitalism has created a vacuum of wealth. As we think about how to save and heal our land, let’s remember to focus our discontent and frustration on the policies and systems that led us here. This side of the coin requires your time and energy just as much, if not more.
In the meantime, what I share here, I share with respect to the human condition. My vision for Outside In includes those small but impactful steps and the knowledge we can acquire together to make better choices. In fact, through this journey our family is doing just that. We are certainly not the picture of perfection when it comes to recycling but not for lack of trying. Recycling and reducing waste isn’t always fun, convenient or pretty. I know, scoff, I said recycling isn’t convenient or fun but that is where I've made it a point to challenge myself. Building on our consciousness and honestly having the capacity to reduce and reuse has helped us as a family make a concerted effort to do our small part. Not to mention in certain aspects it saves us money. Who couldn't use savings!? The fact is, there are some really amazing and creative ways to be more green. If you’re interested in learning about reducing your ecological footprint, I’ll be sharing some of those ways here. Bonus! They are actually fun. It doesn’t have to be a slog and you might just be surprised at what you can create. I am not here to toot my own horn. Instead, my goal is to be insightful, encouraging and truthful as it pertains. I myself am becoming more and more enlightened about how I can be part of the solution. I’m happier in this evolution and iteration of me because I have knowledge and with that, I have power. My wish is the same for you and yours.
Rooting for you!