Youth Share Vision for Just Environmental Movement

By RHODE ISLAND YOUTH SUMMIT on the ENVIRONMENT

We, the attendees of the Rhode Island Youth Summit on the Environment, present our vision for a more just and sustainable world. The Rhode Island Youth Summit on the Environment was organized to question the role of environmentalism in our society and how it pertains to different groups of people across the globe.

The goal of the recent summit was to provide an inclusive space for students from all backgrounds in Rhode Island to explore and develop their understanding of environmentalism. Toward this end, at this summit we posed the questions: “What is your environment and what do you want your environment to look like in the future?” and “How do movements for social justice fit into environmental movements and vice versa?”

As young people, we affirm the idea of intergenerational equity. We also recognize the need for equity across space. As college students in the United States, we recognize that we have the responsibility to take action, but that we need to listen actively and follow the leadership of others in order to enact transformation. We are part of a society that has been historically unsustainable, not only with regard to environmental resources, but also economically and socially. Environmental degradation, hazards and pollution have had a disproportionately negative impact on people of color and other already marginalized groups. We recognize that this history goes beyond the environment and that our present is shaped by political, social and economic legacies that we aim to address.

We present the following as our vision for moving forward and as a call to action:

We believe in the duty of society to guarantee the right to clean water and air.

We believe in the duty of society to guarantee self-determination in the form of food and community sovereignty.

We believe in the right of all individuals to participate in decision-making globally and locally.

We believe in society’s duty to provide physical and social access to education, healthcare and economic opportunities through urban mobility and open spaces.

We understand environmental problems as social problems.

We do not think of sustainability and environmental justice as mutually exclusive, but rather as dependent on one another.

We recognize that different people have different interpretations and experiences of the world they inhabit. We value diversity in age, race, gender, sexuality and creed because we see inclusivity of ideas as a mechanism for dialogue and progress within formal and informal educational institutions.

Advocacy for a more just and sustainable environment should work across individual experiences and involve much broader ideologies about the environment.

We claim to be part of a hopeful movement that shares and replicates successes.

As active participants in a shared environment, we must be aware of our impact within our own communities and around the world. Our ultimate goal is empowerment: to enable people to shape their own ideas and futures, as well as share these ideas. We must allow space for constructive self-criticism — pushing ourselves to achieve our goals while taking the time to reflect on our actions — to enable us to maintain hope without becoming stagnant.

Before the summit started, participants wrote down their reasons for attending. The dominant themes were love and justice, people and movement, learning and change. This piece comes from a place of love for others and love for the environmental movement, which we hope to make stronger. We are sharing our vision in the hope that you will add to it and that we can work together for a more diverse, inclusive and justice-oriented movement.

Members of the Rhode Island Youth Summit on the Environment are Camila Bustos, Marguerite Suozzo-Gole, Jeff Baum, Thomas Culver, Mara Freilich, Lovinia Reynolds, Klara Zimmerman, Nina Schield, Kevin Chen, Trevor Culhane, Anica Green, Alfred Bailey, Lance Gloss, Sohum Chokshi, Nikki Sepe, Edwin Jeng, Arielle Johnson, Elli Sawada, Helena Fierle, Axel Getz, Jacqueline Gallant, Natalia Ginsburg, Alison Kirsch, Catherine Willett, Kristine Mar, Maya Faulstich-Hon, Sofia Rudin, Kayly Pelagalli and Rachel Berson.