Post 1: What is Environmental Justice?

Since coming to Brandeis, the need for environmental justice has become increasingly apparent to me not only through my studies, but through conversations with friends, and in passing thoughts. Yet, the reality remains that I do not have a solid definition for what environmental justice means, nor do I know my role in how to best support those suffering most from environmental injustices.

When I embarked on my search for summer internships, I was confident that I wanted to find an organization where I could develop my understanding of what environmental injustices look like, and how to become an ally rather than a bystander. When I came across the Sierra Club’s mission statement, I was immediately drawn to the last line in particular: “to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment.”

A key aspect of the Sierra Club’s objective is to take a stance on both conservation and preservation, and on human rights. While Sierra Club continues to hold outdoor activities, emphasizing the physical and mental health benefits of getting outside, the organization is equally as eager to involve itself in campaigns regarding zero waste and green transportation.

My supervisor, Aileen Kelly, made clear that in recent years, the Sierra Club has received criticism for attending events such as the Women’s March and for participating in rallies for immigrant rights and abortion rights. “They tell us to pick a lane,” she recounts, and follows by announcing to the group that in order to be an ally for people facing environmental injustices, you have to recognize the plethora of other injustices these very same communities face. You have to educate yourself on who will be most impacted by the effects of climate change in the imminent future, and you have to create lasting relationships with people outside of your immediate circles to do so.

One thing that has struck me thus far about nonprofit work is that a lot of it is in constant flow. The Sierra Club’s Massachusetts chapter includes only five full time staff members, and therefore they rely on volunteers and interns to help out. In these past three weeks, I have been assigned an array of projects ranging from researching the amount of solar on rooftops in various communities, helping to launch a letter to the editor campaign on the topic of protected land, and event planning.

Moreover, the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club allows the interns to attend hearings at the statehouse and the staff has been extraordinarily kind in allowing each of us time to sit down and speak with people throughout the office who work on specific areas of individual interest.

I am grateful and excited to learn more about how to be an ally for those facing environmental injustices in my time to come at the Massachusetts chapter of the Sierra Club. And, just as importantly, I will now go forth in my pursuits knowing that no good can come from staying in your lane.

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