I was introduced to environmentalism by my teacher in grade eight.
I learned about the destruction of the rainforest in Brazil, decaying refrigerators in China, parched rivers in the Grand Canyon and oil spills in magnificent far away places. I remember glitzy Earth Day TV specials, where the eco-celebs of the day told me to buy an acre of rainforest and write to politicians I’d never seen to fix huge problems that I didn’t understand. After a healthy stint of rebellion, I lost interest in this “environmentalism”. It didn’t have anything to do with my life.
My passion for the environment reignited when I was doing political organizing work with marginalized communities. In this arena, environmentalism was a central theme in peoples’ efforts to develop livable neighborhoods. Last Wednesday, I was reminded of this when I attended a public meeting on zoning bylaws in a small coastal community outside of Victoria. This environmentalism is very different from the one that I gave up on years ago.
At the meeting, people from across the Juan de Fuca area came out to protect their Forest Resource Lands from development. The area’s intrinsic value was mentioned, but the meeting focused on less traditional environmental issues; participants pointed out that a responsibly managed forest would sustain an economy that could feed their families for generations; someone else mentioned that the land rights of the T’Souke nation were at issue because paving over their territory would rob them of sacred places and traditional medicines; and another man spoke passionately about being able to give his sons healthy, productive land to live on. The meeting was full of loggers, farmers and business people all looking for ways to sustainably manage the environment they share.
This is the type of environmentalism that I want to pursue in my new role as the Dogwood Forest Campaigner. It’s about acknowledging the connections between the earth and the economy and our systems of inherited privilege. It’s an environmentalism that looks for sustainable solutions that spotted owls, tree fallers, mill workers and indigenous people will all benefit from.
The answers to BC’s environmental problems won’t come from ivory towers or offices in downtown Vancouver, they will come from people who live the changes and the consequences of what happens to their region. The more environmental campaigns can do to give a voice to these people, the closer British Columbians will be to building a sustainable way of living with our environment and each other.