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  • Apr 19, 2023

Invest In Our Planet

To reduce future harm to our Earth, we must "invest in our planet" in new ways.

Our economic systems must change to protect the health of the environment, and of all people -- especially communities impacted by poverty, racism, colonization, and other forms of oppression. How can we imagine a different, healthier future?

Environmental Justice can help. In 1991, the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit defined seventeen Principles of Environmental Justice. People excluded from political power and economic resources, including on the basis of race, shoulder the most environmental burdens. The principles describe how to correct these injustices and build a more equitable society – one that cares for all living things and for our Earth.

Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA) is supporting environmental justice through the 2022 CHA Regional Wellbeing Report: A Community Health Needs Assessment. CHA’s Community Health Improvement Department engaged those most impacted by health inequity in our communities and worked in partnership to create the report.

“Environmental Justice demands the right to participate as equal partners at every level of decision-making, including needs assessment, planning, implementation, enforcement and evaluation.” Principles of Environmental Justice

What were the results? Climate health and environmental justice emerged as a priority.

  • People want to protect their homes and neighborhoods from extreme weather events caused by climate change.
  • People, especially people of color and immigrants, are concerned about exposure to toxins in the air they breathe and the water they drink.
  • People want accessible and welcoming green spaces for all, sustainable and culturally relevant food systems, and reliable and safe green transportation.

As one community participant shared: “We have to look at adaptation to climate change, the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions, and building resilience in the community.”

Our communities are responding with visionary work grounded in equity and justice. Find out what’s going on in your community.

Malden River Works brings together leaders, especially people of color, environmental advocates, and government stakeholders, to create a climate resilient waterfront park along the Malden River. Restoring a healthy riverfront begins to address the harm caused by industrial development and discriminatory housing practices. The coalition also works to keep people currently living along the river in their homes so they can benefit from the project.

Everett Community Growers works to improve health and racial equity through urban agriculture, youth workforce development, and policy change. Their Heat, Health and Housing Project creates resident-led efforts to better protect low-income communities in Everett from environmental hazards, climate change, and negative impacts on health. Through partnership with the Mystic River Watershed Association and their Wicked Cool Mystic project, Everett Community Growers empowers residents to conduct citizen-led science and take action to help communities become climate change resilient.

“Climate change, housing stability, food security, and displacement are top issues of concern to residents. We are helping build power in the community, where residents are leading solutions and making sure the voice of the most impacted is heard and included in decision-making." Josée Genty, HHH Facilitator, Everett Community Growers and CHA Wellbeing Assessment Community Advisory Board Member

Groundwork Somerville grows a sustainable and equitable environment in Somerville by managing an urban farm and ten school gardens that grow culturally relevant, affordable, and fresh produce. Partnering with Project Soup and the Community Fridges, they donate food and work with the Somerville Mobile Farmers Market to sell produce at a discounted price in housing developments and schools. Their Green Team program pays youth to grow food for their community, work for environmental justice, and learn how to be leaders.

"When we empower those who are being impacted by environmental injustices, especially youth, it becomes about their sense of agency to advocate, and to be a part of changing the way things are. Grassroots approaches that focus on prioritizing people who are lower-income are crucial." Emily Reckard-Mota, GWS Food and Farms Director and CHA Wellbeing Assessment Community Researcher

GreenRoots works to improve health and quality of life in Chelsea. They invest in community-led projects and organize around air and water quality, tree planting, energy efficiency, community gardens, public transportation and holding industry accountable for pollution. In collaboration with Boston University researchers, C-HEAT builds community capacity to respond to extreme heat events and prevent heat-related illness.

Green Cambridge engages residents of all ages in the outdoors through art and science, and advocates for local environmental sustainability policies. Their Canopy Crew, a paid internship program for high school students, plants trees throughout Cambridge and teaches about urban forestry. Investing in the urban tree canopy slows negative impacts of climate change like increased flooding and heat, and helps address inequities in tree cover between neighborhoods.

So, how can you “Invest In Our Planet” in ways that embody the principles of Environmental Justice? Learn more about what’s happening in your community. Find out how you can share your own strengths and resources. We can all help to lift up solutions grounded in community knowledge and leadership, and work together to begin to change systems.

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