People of color in America are disproportionately affected by air quality issues. Low income, racially diverse, and minority neighborhoods are more likely to be situated in places with lower air quality standards, like heavily populated urban areas and near polluting industries like power plants, incinerators, and major highways. Studies show that schools with a high population of Black, Hispanic, and low income students were often situated on cheap and highly polluted land. This leads to dangerous health effects and a degradation in quality of life for many people of color. Black people are diagnosed with asthma at three times the rate of white people, and in some inner city areas, one third of black children have been diagnosed with the illness. The issues of air pollution, housing injustice, and healthcare inequality intersect, and environmental justice is crucial in understanding and solving these complex problems.
by Becca Nelson '20
On February 5th, we were honored to have Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, deliver the 7th Annual Schneider Memorial Lecture. The lecture series is named in memory of Stanford climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider. As a professor, Dr. Schneider inspired countless students and was a fierce advocate for action on climate change. Many thanks goes out to the other organizations that cosponsored this event: the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Haas Center for Public Service, and Hui O Nā Moku.
After the auditorium filled with people, we greeted Nainoa Thompson with a traditional Hawaiian welcoming chant led by members of Hui O Nā Moku:
“Auē ua hiti ē, Ua hiti ē ‘o Hōkūle’a ē
Auē ua hiti ē
Hele’e ka wa’a i ke kai e, Ho’okele wa’a lā ‘ino e ‘A’ohe e pulu wa’a nui ē
Auē ua hiti ē
E lauhoe mai ka wa’a i ke kā
I ka hoe
I ka hoe
I ke kā
E pae atu i ka `āina lā
E pae maila i ka `āina ē, Auē ua hiti ē!”
The words echoed through the auditorium, creating a feeling of solidarity. “I don’t have a lecture. I have a story,” Mr. Thompson began. Indeed, during the next two hours, Thompson shared with us an inspiring narrative that braided together his lived experiences as a Native Hawaiian navigator, Hawaiian history, the words of this teachers, and his intersectional perspectives on sustainability. This summary will do not justice to his rousing and eloquent delivery. I left the auditorium that night feeling moved and thankful to have had the opportunity to listen. I highly encourage you, to view our video recording of his lecture here.
“The investment in the power of the young is the best investment we can make,” Thompson said, reflecting on how the dialogue on social-environmental issues has changed over his lifetime. “Sustainability was not a word when I was in school,” he said. In Hawaii, however, sustainability has very deep cultural roots. Thompson shared with us the history of Hawaii, describing how the Polynesians developed innovations in navigation and went on long ocean voyages. According to Nainoa Thompson, Native Hawaiians created a sustainable society. He described it as “a system of balance and protection”.
Thompson discussed how colonialism led to losses of life and cultural knowledge about navigation. He recalled how his grandmother was discouraged from speaking Hawaiian in school. Thompson became one of the first Native Hawaiians to practice Polynesian navigating since the 14th century. He learned how to navigate the Hōkūle’a, a type of double-hulled canoe, without using any modern technology. He emphasized the importance of the Hōkūle’a in fostering Hawaiian culture. Describing his experiences as a Pwo navigator, he said, “[On the Hōkūle’a], we found a place we could be Hawaiian…To restore identity is to restore self-worth”, and asserted that the Hōkūle’a is the “light of our people”.
“When do we learn everything our instincts believe? When do we learn our values?” Thompson asked us. He was very humble in telling the story of how he became involved with the Hōkūle’a voyages: “This story is about miracles. I happened to be there at the right place and time.” He emphasized the critical role friends, family, and teachers played in shaping his values and commitment to navigation. From his father, he learned about the importance of having courage, helping others, and having a vision for making change. He expressed a deep gratitude toward Pwo navigator Mau Piailug who taught him essential navigation skills and to Eddie Aikau, a surfer and lifeguard, who was lost at sea in his attempt to rescue Thompson and the rest of the Hōkūle’a crew after the vessel capsized. “Navigation knowledge is power, is sacred”, Thompson said, “Hōkūle’a is not a canoe, it’s a school. The crew is not a crew, it’s a family.”
As a navigator, Thompson developed an appreciation of mālama or “care-taking”. A friendship with astronaut Lacy Veach inspired him to him to look at mālama from the perspective of taking care of the earth. Veach and Thompson found kinship in their love of voyaging. Veach saw earth as the goldilocks planet, unique in its capacity to harbor life under the right environmental conditions. When discussing sustainability, Veach told Thompson “You can’t protect what you don’t understand.” Thompson realized that the ocean sustained Hawaiian culture, evoking linkages between cultural and biological diversity. “If humanity is going to be well, then the earth has to be well. For the earth to be well, then the ocean has to be well,” he said. On his worldwide voyages, Thompson began spreading messages about the importance of healthy oceans, highlighting the environmental impact of plastics in the ocean and climate change. He emphasized the importance of making sustainable changes through bringing different communities together and building lasting relationships. “Where are you going and why?” Thompson asked us, “Navigate by you values, by your beliefs, by what you stand for.”
“Quick quick quick -- buy buy buy!”
The clock strikes midnight, and your fingers dash across the keyboard to pre-order the newest iPhone. From camping out at Apple stores to watching unboxing videos on YouTube, consumption has become its own form of entertainment. But in the rush to upgrade, we often forget to ask: What actually happens to old electronics?
The answer is complicated. In 2016, the world generated 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste, a number that is only increasing. E-waste generated by wealthy countries like the U.S., Australia, and Europe is almost always outsourced to the Global South for recycling, where discarded machines are dismantled for parts and rare earth metals to be resold. Furthermore, regulators have consistently failed to curb illegal, unsafe operations. For example, European exporters smuggled waste to Nigeria in used car shipments, while Australian computers were dumped in illicit recycling centers in Thailand.
These informal e-waste economies have devastating environmental and health impacts on their communities. Many of the “recyclers” are children who pick apart electronics with their bare hands. Locals end up breathing the toxic fumes from discarded waste set on fire. Lead poisoning is common. And because many recycling operations are located in rural agricultural regions, air and water pollution poison crops, spreading toxins far and wide.
Global flows of e-waste are shaped by a messy web of policies, trade norms, and international watchdogs. Still, the developing world’s illegal waste economy has thrived by exploiting regulatory loopholes and escaping the public eye under the guise of “recycling.” We must call for the Global North to take greater responsibility for their waste -- or else end up scrapping lives along with our electronics.
by Patrick DeMichele '20
Amazon has grown rapidly in the last few years, and has particularly expanded its presence in California. This expansion has resulted in millions of additional square feet of warehouse space in California. Warehouse distribution centers are sources of high levels of pollution, and their placement exacerbates existing inequality. The life expectancy in West Fresno is 20 years lower than it is on the east suburbs, partially due to pollution -- Amazon’s newest warehouse was opened in Fresno this past year. New warehouses have been further polluting vulnerable communities, such problems worsened by the gentrification epidemic caused by the California real estate boom. Warehouse openings have been met with protests by local residents. The California Environmental Justice Alliance has supported bill AB 2447 as a policy step against this trend -- this bill seeks to establish “Green Zones” in vulnerable communities, which means catalyzing community-led initiatives to combat environmental damage and emphasize sustainability. AB 2447 did not take a radical stand against the industry giant perpetrators of aforementioned environmental damage, but nonetheless would have been an important measure in encouraging grassroots sustainability in affected communities. Despite this, Gov. Brown vetoed the bill on September 30th, 2018, citing it as “too prescriptive”.
by Jayne Stevenson, '21
Stanford has created great initiatives to mitigate the campus’ carbon footprint, such as establishing Stanford Energy Systems Innovation (SESI), which helped reduce campus emissions by 68% from peak levels. And just last year, Stanford committed to reaching 80% net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. SSS and the Climate Action Project Group applaud this goal, but it neglects to include Scope 3 carbon emissions.
Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions consist of indirect emissions “from sources not owned or directly controlled by a company but related to the company’s activities” (Dyott, Ladiwala). This includes business air travel, commuter emissions, and purchased goods and services. There are a total of 15 categories of Scope 3 emissions, but Stanford currently only tracks two of these categories: business air travel and commuter emissions. The university does not presently have a plan to reduce or offset the 15 categories of Scope 3 emissions.
Business air travel and driving commuters accounted for 47,982 metric tons of Stanford’s carbon dioxide emissions in the fiscal year 2018. In 2017, these two sources alone measured 38% of total carbon emissions Stanford accounted for. But only the aforementioned two categories (business air travel and employee commuters) are tracked, meaning Stanford’s total Scope 3 emissions are even greater. Stanford does not presently address these emissions, preventing the university from taking a comprehensive approach to climate change mitigation. We urge Stanford to pledge to reach net-zero Scope 3 greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. This is a necessary step in becoming a leading university in fighting climate change.
In order to tackle this issue, Stanford must first conduct a more comprehensive analysis of all 15 sources of Scope 3 emissions, such as investments, purchased good and services, and waste generated in operations. Stanford also needs to measure student air travel for personal and athletic purposes.
There are many opportunities to reduce Scope 3 carbon emissions, such as implementing a department fee on all domestic and international business-related flights -- a program already in existence at the University of California, Los Angeles.
Other universities also plan to address Scope 3 emissions, and Stanford can follow in their footsteps. For example, Berkeley, aims to achieve Scope 3 emissions neutrality by 2050, and Yale formed a Carbon Offsets Task Force in spring 2017 to guide the use of carbon offsets. Barnard University also measures student air travel as part of its Scope 3 emissions and takes a more comprehensive view of its carbon footprint by measuring Scope 3 emissions sources beyond solely business air travel and commuter emissions. Stanford must be a leader in addressing climate change, but right now it’s falling behind.
SSS urges students and faculty to sign our petition in support of our pressures on the university to address Scope 3 emissions. Students have the ability to hold the university accountable for issues such as climate change. And by signing our petition, you will exercise your power as students and demonstrate your expectations from the university. Stanford cannot neglect opportunities to reduce a large source of the university’s carbon footprint and become a leader in fighting climate change.
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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.