This featured essay comes from Elise Park, a UC Berkeley student who spent the past semester working with Global Lives.
April is Earth Month. In a year defined by crises in public health and movements for racial justice, I wanted to bring attention to topics that demonstrate how failures in policy— environmental, health, racial, and otherwise— are often interconnected. In order to be conscious observers of Earth Month, we should be keenly aware that environmental injustices run deeper than single-use plastics. Similarly, as the climate crisis continues, keeping the Global Lives Project’s message of global empathy in mind is key to understanding how environmental injustices affect people and communities. Environmental problems do not exist in a vacuum, and the Global Lives Project strives to give representation to overlooked communities across the globe – communities that are often impacted by the numerous consequences of environmental degradation.
Climate scientists predict that the rising sea levels and extreme weather events that have resulted from climate change will exacerbate population shifts; this will be especially notable in areas like South Asia, where the dense economies may accelerate displacement and environmental degradation. As members of the global community, we should be aware that environmental problems do not affect everyone equally, and recognize that local environmental consciousness is necessary to mitigate the displacement of global families and communities.
Another topic that illustrates the link between society and the environment is the idea of “sacrifice zones”. A term coined during the Cold War, “sacrifice zones” are typically known to be geographic areas in low-income and minority communities that have been permanently impaired by heavy environmental exploitation. Due to this, these communities are more susceptible to health and safety risks. Examples of “sacrifice zones” include the 1.2 million residents of Greater Los Angeles that live less than two miles away from hazardous waste facilities (91% of whom are minorities). It includes the rural Brazilian communities where people were hospitalized for toxic exposure after a plane sprayed pesticides over a school. Again, environmental exploitation has a tangible effect on communities— we must be conscious that the health of communities is being unfairly sacrificed, and keep the people in mind in our fight for environmental justice.
At the Global Lives Project, the individuals we film come from a diversity of backgrounds and experiences, but many rely on their surroundings— the natural world— for their livelihood. When thinking about environmental injustices, I would like to emphasize that many of our lives are interconnected; the actions we take have a non-negligible effect on the lives of others. Furthermore, when utilizing compassionate empathy to understand the lives of our OSPs, I urge you to consider the ‘micro’ as well as the ‘macro’. Environmental justice is important when considering the global framework, but also important to keep in mind when interacting with our neighbors, peers, and colleagues.
This April is Earth Month, and working on the Global Lives Project has helped teach me that being environmentally conscious is inherently tied to human lives and public health. Be sure to support organizations and individuals pushing for environmental equity, like Communities for a Better Environment, Indigenous Climate Action, and Brown Girl Green, and stay updated with the Global Lives Project to continue to learn about the diversity of lives across the globe.