Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Letter by members of Swarthmore Environmental Justice:
As members of Swarthmore Environmental Justice (EJ), we are writing to express our solidarity with and support for Mountain Justice’s campaign for divestment.
We take issue with the way the Board’s letter applauds the work of Ecosphere while dismissing the value and necessity of divestment. Each of the groups within Ecosphere addresses environmentalism from a different angle, and we do not support the premise that one method of environmental activism is inherently more valuable than another. While EJ focuses on more concrete ways we can work to build environmental justice – namely, by cultivating a community garden in collaboration with Chester residents to increase those residents’ access to local food – we recognize that more systemic change is also necessary. We feel that divestment (by challenging the persuasive political power of the fossil fuel industry) is an important piece of that structural change.
EJ was formed to directly address issues of environmental injustice as they play out in Chester. We define environmental injustice as “the disproportionate concentration of environmental hazards in communities of color and low-income communities.”
The EJ garden project in Chester grew out of conversations with residents over lack of access to fresh food. We see the project as one means of addressing this problem, but we also acknowledge the need for larger systemic change to address issues of institutionalized environmental injustice (e.g. the overwhelming proportion of incinerators placed in low-income communities of color, including Chester). We see divestment from fossil fuel industries (whose extractive practices are overwhelmingly harming low-income communities and communities of color, and whose effects are already being felt, especially in the Global South) as one valuable and necessary means of creating more systematic change.
Environmental justice asserts that every person, regardless of race, class, nation or other variables, has the right to a healthy and safe environment. Working towards environmental justice means working on a variety of fronts at once: demanding divestment from institutions we have access to, demanding changes in access to good food and good jobs, and demanding that no one have to deal with the destructive effects of the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. All of these methods are worthwhile, and all necessary.
We commit ourselves to joining Mountain Justice in their continued push for divestment, and we call on Swarthmore to commit themselves to environmental justice.
Thomas Boucher, Rachel Giovanniello, Laura Laderman, Chris Moyer, Isabel Newlin, and Laura Rigell