Spring 2021 Student Showcase
“Let us make no mistake: the climate crisis is also a crisis of culture, and thus of the imagination”.
– Amitav Ghosh, The Great Derangement (2016)
What does it mean to imagine environmental justice?
What does environmental justice look like in a world where the impacts of colonialism and climate change are unevenly distributed?
How can the arts and creative disciplines contribute to this urgent conversation?
Throughout Spring 2021, a group of Penn students and a postdoctoral scholar met to discuss these provocations. Instead of grounding our conversations in science and data, we explored how the arts and humanities offer new ways of thinking about the environmental and social challenges that we face as a global community. We were inspired by the creative and critical works of artists, activists and scholars from around the world, especially Black and Indigenous creators working to highlight the ways that environmental justice intersects with race, gender and sexuality. This showcase is a thoughtful and original response to these questions and histories.
Harnessing the imaginative potential of storytelling, students created their own narratives by drawing on forms including poetry and fiction, photography and film. The results are dynamic and wide-ranging. Some tackle local concerns from the Philadelphia region: the South Philly refinery explosion, community food insecurity, and student activism at Penn. Others cast their eyes further afield, considering the ethics of eating meat, the environmental and neocolonial implications of tourism, and the shared but uneven impacts of global warming.
What connects these distinct pieces is the way that each responds to an urgent environmental or social concern, using language, photography, or another creative medium to bring attention to issues that are too-rarely represented. Each piece seeks to connect with its reader by moving beyond facts and figures, instead finding the personal stories that are at the heart of the environmental crisis.
It is our hope that these works will resonate with you and give you the chance to think in new ways about environmental justice, whether in your hometown or on the other side of the world. Ultimately, we hope that these creative pieces will inspire you to participate in the work of imagining – after all, it is a collective project.
Imagining Environmental Justice was an upper-level undergraduate class led by Dr Rebecca Macklin in Spring 2021. It formed part of the Environmental Humanities Minor and the Native American and Indigenous Studies Minor.
Our class recognizes that the University of Pennsylvania is located on Lenapehoking, homelands of the Unami Lenape. We also recognize that the university system is implicated in histories and ongoing realities of displacement, anti-Black and anti-Indigenous violence, and colonial knowledge production. In this course, we foregrounded the perspectives and experiences of Black and Indigenous people of color and we continue to reflect on how environmental justice work must always attend to the intersecting harms of settler colonialism and white supremacy. This is ongoing work and we encourage you, our readers, to participate in these conversations.
A Selected Bibliography; or Suggestions for Further Reading
Anson, April, “No One is A Virus: On American Ecofascism”, Environmental History Now, 2020, URL: https://envhistnow.com/2020/10/21/no-one-is-the-virus-on-american-ecofascism/.
Ghosh, Amitav, The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, University of Chicago Press, 2016.
LaDuke, Winona, All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, Haymarket Books, 1999.
Maslin, Mark, and Simon Lewis, ‘Why the Anthropocene began with European colonisation, mass slavery and the ‘great dying’ of the 16th century’, The Conversation, 2020, URL: https://theconversation.com/why-the-anthropocene-began-with-european-colonisation-mass-slavery-and-the-great-dying-of-the-16th-century-140661.
Moore, Jason, ‘The Rise of Cheap Nature’, in Anthropocene or Capitalocene?, PM Press, 2016, URL: https://orb.binghamton.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1001&context=sociology_fac.
Nixon, Rob, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor, Harvard University Press, 2011.
Pellow, David N., ‘Toward A Critical Environmental Justice Studies: Black Lives Matter As An Environmental Justice Challenge’, Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 13(2), 221-236, 2016.
Todd, Zoe, and Heather Davis, ‘On the Importance of a Date, or, Decolonizing the Anthropocene’. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 16(4), 761-780, 2017.
Waldron, Ingrid, There’s Something In The Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous & Black Communities, Fernwood Publishing, 2018.
Whyte, Kyle Powys, ‘Indigenous Climate Change Studies’, English Language Notes, 55 1-2, Fall 2017, URL: https://kylewhyte.marcom.cal.msu.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/12/2018/07/IndigenousClimateChangeStudies.pdf.