This essay originally appeared in The BeZine’s September issue, for which I was Contributing Editor.
“Environmental Justice” is a rather fancy framework – two words with seven total syllables to convey a concept. Let me give you a simpler structure – one question to ask yourself as often as possible. How will I behave here? Five important words make up this question, and each one can continue to yield insight the more time you spend with it.
Let’s start with the subject – ‘I’. Bringing awareness to how you think of yourself is a huge step in understanding – not just for environmental justice, but for Life in general. Know thyself. What are you biologically? How do you fit in the ecosystem or the food chain? Do you have a beginning or an ending? What does it take for you to survive the middle? Who are you psychologically? What has influenced that and what makes that change?
The direct object in the sentence is ‘here’. What is the Here that you relate to ? I suggested in the writing prompt “Tell Me: What IS Environmental Justice?” that our contributing authors may look at the environment from a perspective of Nature, Place or Community. As you ask yourself this question on a daily or more frequent basis, Here will be increasingly specific.
Now the verb: ‘behave’. It’s the act of acting; perhaps it’s all verbs in one. What we do matters. In my work as a volunteer at a Nature Center, I learned a short maxim for Environmental Education. It was made up of 4 words beginning with ‘A’: Awareness, Appreciation, Attitude and Action. Action is the outcome of our character. A lot goes into making us who we are, but it’s who we are that will most influence what we do. There are those who hope to influence action from the top down and employ legislation, incentives and consequences. There are those who hope to influence action from the bottom up and employ education, compassion and liberty. Behavior is often the event that gets a conversation started, the outward and visible sign of internal forces. We see video clips in the news and wonder, “Why THAT behavior?” (the Oregon rock tippers, graffiti in National Parks, buffalo calf rescuers, photographers disturbing marine life, etc.)
The word ‘will’ in the question can be both a verb tense and a noun and makes a great pondering point. What is your Will? What do you desire, hope for, intend, long for, want, choose and champion? You get to bring all your personal energy into this question. You will behave in some way. You will act or refrain from acting one way or another, and this will make a difference.
Finally, we’re left with the very first word: HOW? This is where we’re invited to expand our imaginations and reach toward infinity. This is where creative people can lead and model and catapult the status quo toward a more distant target. It is also where we can entrench ourselves in habits, in conservative approaches that allow for little or incremental change, in comfortable measures of disturbance offset by self-congratulation. This HOW will be the expression of our will and our identity.
So, think and ask: How will I behave here? That is how you will engage in Environmental Justice.
And you will engage, whatever you do.
Text and photographs © Priscilla Galasso, 2016. (unless otherwise noted) All rights reserved.
This is what I’ve been working on. Besides editing, I wrote 3 pieces and Steve wrote one. Please click on the Be Zine link and enjoy all the contributions! I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about sharing. This is a hugely important arena, encompassing life, health, and EVERYTHING!
September 15, 2016
The Environment is a complex array of interconnections and interbeing (as Thich Nhat Hahn would say). Steve & I have various metaphors for this. He likes to refer to “his bowling pins”. He imagines setting up a toy set of pins on a lawn and bowling at them. When they scatter, you set them back up exactly where they landed and bowl again. This takes you all over the neighborhood in endless permutations. I think of “trophic cascades”, changes in an ecosystem that originate at an extinction or other dramatic altering of balance, similar perhaps to “the domino effect” but less linear. However you try to wrap your brain around it, the nature of Life on this planet is intricate and incomprehensible. We are wise to approach it with the utmost humility. Because we are intrinsically involved, however, we must not fear to engage. We are already…
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As a Contributing Editors of The Be Zine , we are currently accepting submissions for the September 15 issue (submission deadline Sept. 10) that will focus on Environmental Justice, which is also the theme of our 100 Thousand Poets (and friends) for Change virtual event on September 24. In order to propel the discussion into deeper focus from the outset, we invite and encourage contributing authors to ponder a few things about their perspective and their voice on this topic.
When we talk about Justice, it is sometimes assumed that people will agree on what is ‘the right thing to do’. However, as with anything else, our decision-making about Justice is influenced by our values, by the things that we deem ‘special’, ‘important’, or ‘sacred’. I propose that there are (at least) three categories of valued environments, or ‘Holy Ground’: Nature, Place and Community. Think about these three different arenas and how you see Justice being applied to them.
For example, if Community is your value, you may feel that Environmental Justice has to do with how people are impacted and how human activity creates change. If Place is your value, then questions about Justice probably will involve a particular area with borders of a physical or conceptual nature. It may be that feelings of injustice are felt in terms of ‘This, not That’ or ‘Us, not Them’ or in a desire to see a Place resist change. If Nature is your value, then you may see Justice in more fluid terms as the balance of resources between producers/consumers and prey/predator is in a state of constant flux with perhaps no ultimate goal.
So, as you sit down to write about Environment Justice in your unique voice, identify your values. Perhaps use the lenses of Nature, Place and Community to focus. What is important to you? Why? How does it affect your decision-making? What factors impact this ‘sacred’ ground? How do different cultural models or systems impact your cherished home? What feelings arise in you – what empathy for Living Things or Living Habitats? What fears?
Thank you for spending time with these concepts and these questions. Your presence, your life energy, your embodiment of love is a gift that we are privileged and honored to receive. Please, share your thoughts, your words and pictures with us!
— Priscilla Galasso and Steve Wiencek
I have a thing for paths and journeys.
I like walking along, single file mostly.
I’m not a 4-lane highway kind of person, by any means.
I like to meander…
…though I’m a bit more efficient and direct than my partner, Steve.
When he feels that I’m being too driven and not aware enough of my surroundings, he says that I’m “doing the train”.
Okay, I get it. So we tend to travel narrow, but not too straight. I like it that way.
Looking up is all about being aware of how wonderful the world is…as it is.
“Things are looking up”…
Go ahead. “Look on up from your life…” There’s so much more.
The environmentalist in me immediately thought of the graph of carbon emissions from “An Inconvenient Truth” with Al Gore up on a scaffolding trying to get across the frightening point of our increasing threat to our planet. But I don’t have a photo of that. I do have symbols of how man-made things are eclipsing the natural. I have playground curves with a very small moon…
and outdoor art thrown up against the sky…
and wheels, which have dominated the environment for about a thousand years now.
Finally, I have a symbol of Natural grace, curvy and sharp and wild. A yucca plant.
I think the most dangerous curves are the ones we humans impose.
Do numbers even exist in Nature? I don’t think so. They are human concepts, to which humans have attached meaning. In Nature, things simply are as they are. For example, there’s a tall flowering plant growing in the woodlands and by the freeways, blooming with pink to purple flowers in profusion right now. Is it Wild Phlox or is it Dame’s Rocket? The two look very much alike. Wild Phlox, however, has 5 petals on each flower. It is a native wildflower. Dame’s Rocket has 4 petals to a flower, and it is an invasive species. One is celebrated, the other ripped out at the roots in great handfuls and left to wither in the sun.
We make a lot of judgments based on numbers. What’s your SAT score? Your credit score? Your cholesterol level?
Does it matter? We live; we make choices; we die. I think numbers are immaterial. I think character is everything. A growing thing, no matter the number of its parts, is alive. It deserves respect.
“…Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of these, the least of my Brethren, ye have done it unto Me.” Here’s an opportunity for some deep questions: Who are “the least”? Who are “Brethren”? How do you treat them? And who is “Me”? There can be many answers to these questions, and they all help us to understand what is meant by kindness and mercy. At this stage in my life, I am trying to expand my concepts of Brethren and Me, to be more inclusive, more at One with all kinds of beings. Here are some of my new friends: