She spoke of the Black Lives Matter Movement, and about our “disposable” treatment of one another.
Disposable? That was our word! Our environmental word. A word we used in building zero waste programs at schools.
Disposable? A word that arose naturally in producing our non-profit’s environmental film festival.
Disposable. A sadly, horrifyingly fitting word to describe how little value one human might place on another; to deem someone as having no use -- as expendable, perhaps replaceable. Like a single-use plastic bottle or a cheap pair of Walmart flip flops.
Think about disposability in the context of plastic water bottles and plastic bags and cheap clothing, and what that’s doing to our planet. Now think about disposability in the context of lives and people and what seeing one another as “disposable” – as having no value, no purpose – is doing to our humanity.
I began to see these types of degradation as parallel.
Every year, 2.4 million tons of plastic is discarded in the U.S. 26 percent to 41 percent is single-use plastic water bottles.
Over 2.3 million people are currently dispossessed in the American criminal justice system - more people, per capita, than in any other nation.
102.1 billion plastic bags are used by Americans each year.
21 million people are abused — trafficked in sex and labor around the world — in exchange for $32 billion in profits from the widespread crime of global human trafficking.
Almost 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in the world's oceans annually. There will be more plastic in the ocean than fish by 2050.
About 90,000 people are affected by this year’s travel ban. There will be more innocent people affected than there are terrorists or criminals detained.
Some time after Michelle Alexander bridged these for me (ecology to equity), I took the same bridge, but in reverse, from the side of civil rights back to the side of environment. And the journey shook me in much the same way.
In his award-winning book, “Between the World and Me,” author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates speaks repeatedly of “the body,” “his body,” “plundering the body of another.” It was hard to grasp at first.
But then, Coates likens our blatant disregard for “the body” of another . . . to our – the human race’s -- blatant disregard for our collective body, which is, in fact, the Earth itself.
I saw in these two instances something that now keeps showing up, wherever I look: that those of us working on a more balanced ecology and those of us working on equity (human rights) – on any front — we are doing the same work.
We ARE one body — working against the degradation of our Earth, and against deeply rooted injustices toward its people. We are working against disposability and toward resiliency.
These linkages are now clear as day to me. Some of us are reaching out to care for our planet. Some of us are reaching out to care for others. All of us are interconnected, interdependent, in our work to restore.
And knowing that we are linked makes us stronger – not part of separate movements, but part of a connected macro-movement. Even thinking about the language, the vocabulary, the ideas and best practices on the side of ecology and then on the side of equity can help build bonds for a macro-movement.
Let’s look at it from both sides.
Upcycling is an environmental term for reusing or repurposing something that may have been discarded — in order to create something useful, and in some cases with a higher value than the original.
This environmental framework has implications for juvenile justice: how do we upcycle our young people — even those who’ve “offended” — treating them in a way that helps them believe they are better; know they are capable of a higher standard; trust that we’re here to support them in getting there?
The idea of zero waste comes from nature, where there is no waste. In nature, all waste is food for something else. Dead leaves, for example, fall to the ground and compost, nurturing the tree in fall and winter to help it emerge revitalized in Spring.
What if we tried viewing each other with a kinder, more fair lens? A “zero waste” lens? Believing that no matter how disjointed or broken – or simply different – someone is, all our lives have value, and are worthy of being recycled (made new) or upcycled (made better).
Let’s look now at a social justice term. Restorative Justice. Seems like a pretty complex term. What does it mean? Restorative Justice is “a system of criminal justice that focuses on the rehabilitation of offenders through reconciliation with victims and the community at large.”
What lessons does restorative justice teach us about the work of healing our planet?
Restorative Justice could look like working with polluting industries to help them take responsibility for their actions, make reparations, and work toward generative practices such as the clean-up of a natural area, or sponsorship of large scale urban gardening or land restoration programs. The ecologists in us often view industry, with its large appetite for natural resources, as “offenders.” But can we reconcile, teach, guide, and forge partnerships fixed on rehabilitating our Earth?
Doing so could make a difference on a broad scale. Imagine the impact of even a small shift from a multinational company whose products and services touch the lives of many millions of people the world over. It could have major beneficial impacts across human and non-human ecosystems.
Ecology and equity can both teach us things about the interconnected web of work of that is restoring planet, and restoring people. What else do these intertwined movements have in common that can help us combine them for greater effect, for more strength in facing the challenges of both, head-on?
Relationship is critical to solving issues of ecology and equity.
Let’s look at the environmental side. Youth, for example, who do not have any exposure, who have no relationship, to the outdoors or nature will never feel connected to it, will never want to preserve it.
During One Earth Film Fest a few years back, we showed a film called “Project Wild Thing,” where children were shown enlarged images of objects in everyday nature – a dandelion, or a robin.
The children were stumped. None could name what they were seeing, though a few acknowledged having noticed these objects in the world around them at some point or other.
The images were then replaced by common logos: McDonald’s, Nike, Target– each identified swiftly and in turn by each child. My head fell to my hands. Are we forgetting to teach our children about the world that sustains them? My attention turned to myself: how developed was my own relationship with nature?
On the equity side. It’s probably pretty clear to most of us that NOT being in relationships with those who are different from us -- can block our understanding of and empathy for one another. Not mixing, not co-mingling is standing in the way of our ability to experience, create and expect equity from our world, our systems, our neighbors, ourselves.