by Aiyana Kaylin Washington
In her 2019 TED Talk addressing the threat of climate change to coral reefs, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson tells a story not only of parrot fish and net entanglement, but also of herself. Once an intensely curious child fascinated by marine life, she was adamant that she’d dedicate her life to its exploration. Now, she is a marine biologist still “completely enamored with the ocean.”
Dr. Johnson is not only an expert in biology and ocean science--she is also a policy expert, writer, and activist. Her early passion for oceanic studies led her to obtain a B.A. in Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard University and a Ph.D. in marine biology from Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where she explored multidisciplinary approaches to sustainable coral reef resource management. Dr. Johnson’s innovative international research, advocacy for scientific leadership in policy-making, and work with organizations such as the NOAA and EPA have earned her a tide of academic appraisal and accolades. Her literary work and op-eds have been featured in The New York Times and Nature, among other publications.
Dr. Johnson is the founder and CEO of Ocean Collectiv as well as the founder of Urban Ocean Lab, both of which advance ocean sustainability solutions and climate policy through interdisciplinary initiatives at the intersection of social justice. She recently co-created the Blue New Deal, which aims to establish oceanic restoration and protection as crucial to anticipated climate policy and solutions.
Her work largely focuses on climate solutions and community-building. This mission is paramount to the All We Can Save Project--an initiative Dr. Johnson co-founded with Dr. Katherine Wilkinson as a catalyst for community-based climate leadership by women. This project, and its accompanying anthology All We Can Save, seeks to transform the current climate movement in uplifting unrepresented yet vital voices of female activists in this movement. Both the book and program work to combat a scarcity of women in political positions through financial support, community building, and educational initiatives.
As people have shifted to more solitary habits and enthusiasm increased for audio entertainment, Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s name may ring a bell for quarantined audiences, many of whom have turned to the Gimlet Media podcast “How to Save a Planet.” A co-host of the show with Alex Blumberg, which debuted in the summer of 2020, Dr. Johnson talks to an array of guests, each important to the climate movement, in order to address climate change issues and make attainable calls to action for listeners inspired to make change.
The Education Project Group of SSS is up and running for the 2020–2021 academic year! This year, we are excited to be welcoming a passionate group of new members into the education space and to be molding our outlook and goals to fit this year’s virtual format. So far, education has been working on a collaboration with the Palo Alto-based non-profit, Acterra. Acterra focuses on local solutions to climate change, and we are working to help them develop a curriculum regarding individual actions that promote sustainability to be taught to middle school students in the winter. In addition, we are assisting in transitioning this class into an online format, as it will be taught asynchronously and through Google Classroom.
Finally, we look forward to projects to come later in the year! We hope to support the Events Committee in preparation for the Schneider Lecture this year and potentially partner with a non-sustainability focused student organization to expand our work to the broader Stanford community.
This year, courses like Introduction to Environmental Justice; Shades of Green; Sustainable Cities; Race, Colonialism, and Climate Justice in the Caribbean; and Ecological Farm Systems, offered interdisciplinary environmental justice education and opportunities for community engagement.
Communities across campus led student activism and solidarity in local and global environmental justice efforts. Hui O Nā Moku organized support in protecting Mauna Kea, connecting Stanford and Palo Alto to the ongoing work to block the desecration of Native Hawaiians’ most sacred site. A student coalition supported the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band in protecting Juristac, the spiritual center of their territory, from the construction of a gravel mine. SCoPE 2035 opposed inequitable development in Stanford’s General Use Permit, and Fossil Free Stanford reignited calls for divestment; both organizations led efforts that garnered wide student support. Students organized an event on the Stanford Farm highlighting local work in agroecology and food sovereignty, and Earthtones celebrated Black and Indigenous histories and relationships with land through an arts and writing zine.
Without meaningful action, our university will continue to perpetuate environmental injustice and dismiss broader concerns of BIPOC students and allies. Environmental exploitation and human exploitation along gender, class, ethnic and racial lines are inextricable, and conceptions of sustainability are incomplete without an understanding of ongoing capitalist-colonialist structures as a root cause of environmental degradation.
Learn more about EJ at Stanford
CW: police brutality, anti-Blackness, death
Statement of Solidarity
To the Stanford community,
As Students for Environmental and Racial Justice (SERJ) and Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS), we affirm our solidarity with Black communities as we grieve and mourn the recent deaths of Nina Pop, Tony McDade, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and David McAtee. They are only some of the most recent and visible people who have lost their lives by vigilantes and by institutions specifically designed and created to wage violence against Black people, namely police and prisons, by systems of racism and white supremacy that predate modern institutions. We understand solidarity as an action; thus, we will continue to do our best to support and show up for Black communities how they call on us to, and are willing to be held accountable in doing so.
We would particularly like to acknowledge and honor the Black folx who hold intersecting marginalized identities, among them poor, disabled, trans, queer, and femme Black people. We affirm that we deeply value their knowledge, as the people most impacted by the realities of racism, white supremacy, capitalism, and colonialism. Thus, we are committed to the vision of transformative justice laid out by the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL), and to continuing to listen to and follow the leadership of Black communities.
In our spaces, we are actively working to educate ourselves, critically question our beliefs, and confront anti-Blackness, and to center environmental and racial justice in our work. We recognize that environmental justice has roots in Black resistance, such as Black protestors in Warren County utilizing their experience in non-violent action from the Civil Rights Movement, and the leadership of Robert Bullard and the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice in writing foundational reports on toxic wastes and race. We believe any visions for a sustainable future must necessarily entail environmental and racial justice; given how central Black Feminist thought has been in developing our collective understandings of justice and liberation, we would like to acknowledge them and their contributions, among them Kimberlé Crenshaw, Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, and Toni Morrison, just to name a few. We are incredibly grateful for both the historical and present knowledge and leadership that Black communities bring to the environmental justice movement and understand that it is inseparable from Black liberation, which is why we must speak up now.
We support the calls to defund police, and to instead reinvest that money into the “education, health, and safety of Black people.” More than that, we recognize that police and prisons were established with the specific purpose of oppressing Black people, and we join national calls to abolish both and to establish community safety alternatives.
We have appreciated reading statements of solidarity put out by students, staff, faculty, and admin, along with the resources and calls to action included. We also recognize that we are part of an institution that helps perpetuate anti-Blackness. Thus, we call on the Stanford community– specifically students, Stanford admin, and Stanford Earth– to do our parts in addressing Stanford’s own institutional racism, particularly in light of #ShutDownAcademia and #ShutDownSTEM. We must go beyond our words of support, and create detailed plans of action about how we will work to eradicate anti-Blackness.
Of Stanford administration, we echo campus Black Cultural Organizations in urging you to follow the lead of the University of Minnesota and cut ties with local police and sheriff departments, as well as to reconsider the SU Prison Divest movement demands.
We also support Fossil Free Stanford’s demands to divest from fossil fuels. The fossil fuel industry continues to wage violence against Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) globally, extracting resources and labor from poor BIPOC while siting toxic and polluting facilities in Black communities and standing by while vulnerable people around the world experience the worst impacts of climate change. This industry commodifies people and the land in order to exploit BIPOC, taking away means to self-determine and creating dependency structures contingent on its existence.
Of Stanford Earth, we have been incredibly concerned about the severe lack of diversity and systematic devaluing of environmental justice (EJ) in the School of Earth, Energy, and Environmental Sciences (SE3) curricula. Across all the major and graduate degree programs in SE3, there are zero requirements for EJ. When taken alongside the lack of stable or adequate funding for the only two courses in Stanford Earth focused on EJ, PWR 194EP: “Intro to Environmental Justice” and CSRE 125E: “Shades of Green”, it becomes clear how little SE3 cares about EJ.
This is despite students, staff, and faculty repeatedly asking for EJ to be integrated into SE3. Both of the EJ courses mentioned are the result of student action and advocacy; Shades of Green was started and taught by grad students, and a student-initiated survey on EJ interest and needs helped make Intro to EJ possible. Meanwhile, students have submitted course reviews and participated in town halls about how courses like Earthsys 112 and Sust 210 are problematic and de-center EJ, yet Stanford Earth willfully continues not to listen.
Especially with the announcement of a new school of sustainability that did not mention EJ at all, and mentioned equity exactly once in reference to the IDEAL initiative in the executive summary, we are highly worried that this school will reproduce and deepen present structural injustices. We acknowledge and appreciate the statements that SE3 and Earth Systems have put forth, and we would like to see commitment to concrete actions to match. Stanford is already failing to meet students’ educational needs by de-centering EJ; without making comprehensive structural changes, this institution will continue to fail us.
First, we would like to reiterate the demands we (SERJ) put forth last spring, which have been modified as needed:
Of our fellow students and student organizations, we ask you to join us in making solidarity an action, and to hold Stanford to its word to truly value and care for Black students. This means listening to Black students and student orgs, especially when they call us to action, but also not putting the labor solely upon them to advocate for their needs. Thus, we support the demands put forth by Stanford’s Black Cultural Organizations, and we encourage all of you to as well.
As mentioned above, climate injustice primarily harms poor BIPOC communities globally, we also encourage you to read Fossil Free Stanford’s op-ed and send an email to the Board of Trustees, telling them to divest from fossil fuels.
Students for Environmental and Racial Justice (SERJ)
Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS)
The SCoPE 2035 Rally for Affordable Housing: There is No Sustainable Stanford without Affordable Housing and Sustainable Transportation Efforts
By Spencer Robinson
Let’s get to the point directly – what does affordable housing have to do with sustainability? Indeed, when Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable (SCoPE) 2035 spearheaded their rally of 100+ of us Stanford students in front of City Hall to demand Stanford be held accountable to build the maximal amount of affordable housing – sustainability was not part of the rhetoric of the speakers (Stanford Daily) . Though the Conditions of Approval for the General Use Permit also included specifications for protections of the foothills, traffic mitigations and environmentally sustainable transportation options, singling out those as the sustainability issues instead of focusing on housing issues would reinforce the harmful binary that divides those who advocate for environmental issues and social justice issues. I’m writing to articulate my view that housing justice, particularly in the Bay Area, should be a focus of those also committed to environmental justice.
In the world of the UN, non-profits and international development, the definition of sustainability has repeatedly been cited from the Brundtland Report: “"Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without –“ wait a second (Our Common Future). Let’s stop there. Often it appears that mainstream environmentalists focus solely on future impacts of climate change, air pollution, ecosystem destruction without consideration of equity now. Let’s do a realty check now and focus on current inequities – needs of the present – that will only worsen with climate change and further urbanization.
Anyone will tell you that the Bay Area is the most expensive housing market in the country. With 5.4 new jobs added for every new unit of housing from 2011 to 2017 its easy to see how the dreamy economic growth of the Silicon Valley tech has translated into nightmarish problems of an affordable housing shortage. And with Stanford as a jobs producing research institution as well as a major place of recruiting for these tech companies we are right in the thick of this.
Though Stanford’s efforts to go 100% solar by 2021 and zero waste by 2030, show commitment to environmental sustainability, these metrics-oriented efforts which rely on huge investment in infrastructure and behavior change don’t absolve the university of responsibility for other aspects of its impact. If we consider the environment as where we “live, work, play and eat” (https://www.liebertpub.com/doi/10.1089/env.2009.0001# ) we need to consider how Stanford has chosen to think about its impact in terms of working, transportation and housing options for workers.
SCoPE 2035 has worked extensively with SEIU 2007 (the labor union for workers campus), who have many members that have to commute several hours from where they can afford to live to where they work at Stanford. They have done several teach-ins to engage the student population with current issues with Stanford’s unwillingness to mitigate its impact on the ways in which it is exacerbating the housing crisis. With affordability at such a crisis, Stanford’s plans of expansion, bringing in more scholars, graduate students, and workers of all pay grades, we will continue to drive up demand for housing in the area fueling gentrification sometimes even by graduate students who can’t afford to live anywhere but lower priced housing nearby. This means that graduate students by lack of choice and lack of on-campus housing end up renting lower cost housing and competing with workers on campus. Stanford has challenged affordable housing ordinances (https://www.stanforddaily.com/2018/12/20/stanford-sues-santa-clara-county-for-targeted-housing-ordinance/) and most recently withdrew from the general use permit which would’ve required Stanford to build more affordable housing with its plan to add 2.275 million more square feet of buildings.
Though some may separate housing justice and labor rights from environmental issues these issues are all inextricably linked. Thinking simply in terms of carbon emissions from employee travel. Long commutes for workers not only takes away from time they’re able to spend with their families but also contributes to the greenhouse gases Stanford is responsible for. Additionally, workers that are hired as contract laborers without full benefits on’t get access to Caltrain passes that subsidize lower carbon transportation. Additionally, if we think about Stanford and the Dish and surrounding areas as areas with great access to natural outdoor spaces, keeping Stanford housing expensive and exclusive to students, faculty and higher paid staff contributes to the inequities around access to outdoor space.
On a broader scale, from my personal perspective we have to think about weighing our priorities. How can we think about fighting the global problem of climate change for the “future of mankind” if we don’t even care about “present struggles of people in our own community”? How can we envision a sustainable world without envisioning a sustainable community in our own locality? Knowing that communities of color, low-income communities, women, the developing world, the elderly and people with disabilities will be most effected by climatic change, how can we pretend to decouple environmental sustainability from pervasive issues of income-inequality, racism, classism, etc.
All I’m trying to say, is that if the guiding principles in the Stanford vision are to “ promote public welfare by exercising influence on behalf of humanity” we need to think about our own backyard first.
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This is a forum for students to share their writing on intersectional environmental topics, curated by Students for a Sustainable Stanford. Writers of all backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives are welcome.