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Heal the Bay Blog

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Tracy Quinn CEO of Heal the Bay poses for the camera and touches a shark at Heal the Bay Aquarium

Photos by Nicola Buck

What does “Heal the Bay” mean to you?

To me, Heal the Bay is about protecting what you love. I find it inspiring that Dorothy Green chose the name Heal the Bay because it conveys hope. Fighting to change policies that don’t adequately protect people and wildlife is challenging—at times heartbreakingand I love that this group was founded on the optimistic idea that we can make things better and that this organization has made things better for the Santa Monica Bay over the last three decades. I’m grateful for Dorothy and Heal the Bay every time I feel that cold, crisp water of the Pacific Ocean on my toes, and I am honored to continue her legacy by leading Heal the Bay in its next chapter.

What about Heal the Bay excites you the most?

I grew up in Southern California (Anaheim to be exact) and the beach has always been a special place for me. I look forward to leading Heal the Bay because our mission, “to make our coastal waters and watersheds safe, healthy, and clean – using science, education, community action, and advocacy” inspires me and aligns with the experiences that first interested me in an environmental advocacy career. I have dedicated my professional life to ensuring safe, reliable, and affordable water for Californians. Education is also very important to me and I have volunteered with local groups in LA, tutoring math and science with Educating Young Minds and serving on the board of Wildwoods Foundation. And, in my free time you can often find me at the beach or paddling on the water. I am excited that our organization brings my passions together seamlessly. 

Tell us more about those early experiences that prompted you to get involved in an environmental advocacy career.

My decision to become an environmental advocate is actually pretty similar to Dorothy Green’s. In high school, I started to notice the beach closures after storms and saw my friends and teachers getting sick from surfing in polluted waters. I was horrified that we were allowing this beautiful place, and the marine animals that call our ocean home, to be harmed. I wanted to do something about it, so I went to college to study engineering and immediately moved back to Southern California to join the fight.

At the helm at Heal the Bay, what are some of your top priorities?

As CEO, I am going to continue the incredible legacies of Dorothy Green, Felicia Marcus, Mark Gold, Shelley Luce, and others who have led this organization. The area where I can be most effective is helping Heal the Bay build campaigns and partnerships to address emerging challenges and opportunities facing our region. Heal the Bay’s deep water-quality expertise makes us uniquely suited to drive local and state policy. Working closely with our dedicated Board, staff, and community partners, some of the key areas I’d like to focus on are:

  • Helping Southern California communities combat the impacts of climate change while improving water quality in our rivers and ocean. Given Heal the Bay’s incredible science expertise, we have the opportunity to dive into critical issues like ensuring impacts to surface and coastal water quality are considered when making investments in drinking water reliability, mitigating the impacts of sea level rise, and highlighting the multi-benefits of stormwater projects on climate-related stresses like drought, flood, and heat exposure. And using our advocacy, education, and communication chops to build campaigns and drive policy solutions. 
  • Bringing more attention to our incredible Heal the Bay Aquarium as a top destination in LA for learning and community connection, and shining a light on our amazing Aquarium team who care for the animals and develop educational programming that inspires the next generation of planet protectors.
  • Building on Heal the Bay’s core value of inclusion, our “JEDI” committee work (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion), and our policies to recruit and retain staff that reflect the diverse communities in Greater LA, we are committed to incorporating environmental justice, social justice, and accessibility into our work by collaborating more with local organizations leading on the issues, and implementing a process to evaluate the equity impacts of our programs, projects, and campaigns.

Before you joined Heal the Bay, what were you up to?

I started my career as a scientist and engineer here in Southern California over 20-years ago, working on a variety of projects like modeling the transport of pollutants in groundwater, designing water infrastructure, and working with industrial facilities to prevent pollution from entering our rivers and ocean.

Prior to joining Heal the Bay as CEO, I served as the Director of California Urban Water Policy for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and as the Interim Director of NRDC’s national Urban Water Program. My team at NRDC included lawyers and policy experts and our mission was to ensure safe, reliable, and affordable water for all across the country. In my 11-years at NRDC I led efforts to pass transformational climate adaptation legislation, assisted the state in setting the strictest standards in the country for water-using products, and helped the state develop emergency regulations as we navigated the worst drought in 1200 years. I also worked with NRDC’s incredible team of public health scientists to develop recommendations for the regulation of PFAS “forever chemicals”, which led to the successful adoption of drinking water standards in states across the country.

I also serve on the Board of the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (MWD), the largest water utility in the country. On the MWD Board, I’ve had the opportunity to focus more of my time on local water policy and collaborate with community groups, like Heal the Bay, doing exciting work here in the Greater Los Angeles area. Being able to build partnerships within your community and see the positive impact of your collective work on people and neighborhoods is one of the more exciting and fulfilling things I have experienced in my career.

I am overjoyed to bring everything I have learned as an engineer, advocate, utility Board Member, and water enthusiast to Heal the Bay, an organization that is focused on the things I’m most passionate about—protecting our beautiful ocean and rivers and inspiring and educating the next generation of environmental stewards.

When did you know that water was your happy place?

I’ve had a deep connection to water since I was a child. I never feel more at home than when I am on a paddle board or rafting down a river. I fell in love with the ocean the first time I felt the power of the waves off of Newport Beach, California. As a kid, my favorite thing to do at the beach was charge into the water and stand underneath the first breaking wave, and as it curled over me, I would jump, letting the water carry me into a backflip. It was magical and the beach has been my happy place ever since.

You’ve been Heal the Bay CEO for a couple weeks now, what’s a memorable moment so far?

Feeding the baby sharks at Heal the Bay Aquarium. I mean, come on! How fun and meaningful is that?! I’ve also loved getting to know our team–they are so unique, full of energy, and good at what they do. I can’t wait to see what we do together.

 



Leading Heal the Bay has been one of the most wonderful and toughest experiences of my life. I am so fortunate to have worked alongside this team for the last five years. We play a critical role in protecting precious water and open space, and it is an honor to be part of it.

Heal the Bay is powerful. It is an institution, a force for good, a generator of ideas, a creator of solutions, a welcoming space to teach and learn, a place to work hard, and a space to find courage and speak the truth.

From the Beach Report Card to Measure W, from trash cleanups and plastic litter bans to stormwater permit advocacy, Heal the Bay has brought the energy and know-how to make real and lasting change.

During my tenure, our volunteers stepped up for Coastal Cleanup Month even during the height of the pandemic. Our Board Members mentored, guided, and supported our efforts through the most uncertain of times. Our staff adapted and innovated, learning new technologies and ways of working. And, they demanded more of Heal the Bay, pushing for a deeper understanding of environmental injustices and how to become more inclusive and equitable.

I am very excited to welcome Tracy Quinn as the new CEO of Heal the Bay. She steps in at a time when Heal the Bay is building. A new advocacy tool: the River Report Card, to serve millions of Californians who swim, fish, and kayak in our rivers and streams. A new park: Inell Woods Park in South LA will clean and conserve stormwater while providing green space and a cool refuge designed by the local community. A new Aquarium: larger and updated to educate millions of students and visitors to our coast. This is a great time to join the team and Tracy is the ideal person to lead Heal the Bay in all of our exciting endeavors.

I am proud of Heal the Bay because it continues to evolve. We recognize our shortfalls and make ourselves vulnerable so we can learn and grow. We know the outcome that is needed and we take risks to get there. We survive setbacks. We pull together. We invite people in. We are constant. We are joyful. We are here for good.

Thank you to the entire Heal the Bay community!

 



Heal the Bay’s mission is to protect local coastal waters and watersheds through science, education, advocacy, and action. We are dedicated to making progress for clean water in LA.

Our top goals this year include exciting outcomes for our communities. In 2022 we are building our first-ever stormwater park in South LA, ramping up public outreach about smart water solutions throughout LA County, and supporting major plastic policies that reduce pollution locally and statewide. Heal the Bay Aquarium is growing ocean stewardship in LA by expanding our public hours and accommodating hybrid learning programs through field trips and public activities. And, that’s not all we’ll be doing.

Scroll down below to review Heal the Bay’s Goals, and some details about how we plan to accomplish them in the coming months.

Goal #1: Protect public health with increased access to science-based water quality information for ocean, river, and stream water users.

How we’re doing it: The River Report Card, Heal the Bay’s public map-based tool for water quality at LA County’s popular freshwater areas, is about to get a fresh upgrade. We’ve created the River Report Card Technical Advisory Committee, with experts representing Tribes, agencies, NGOs, and academia. We are going through a rigorous process to enhance our River Report Card by aligning the freshwater grading methodology with scientific standards as well as our well-known Beach Report Card’s “A through F” grading system. We’re also focusing on outreach, advocacy, and education at Heal the Bay Aquarium about the health and safety risks of poor water quality at local swimming holes.

Goal #2: Champion equitable, multi-benefit, and nature-based solutions to address water quality and supply issues for the communities most impacted by climate change.

How we’re doing it: For the first time ever, Heal the Bay is building a stormwater park in collaboration with LA City Councilman Curren Price Jr. and community members! The new community-designed, multi-benefit green space Inell Woods Park is coming to South LA this year. To keep raising awareness about nature-based solutions like this park, we’re hosting workshops for South LA communities where we’ll share climate-ready clean water projects that can be implemented. The success story of Inell Woods Park will be shared with Heal the Bay Aquarium visitors and volunteers across our programs, to foster a broader understanding about essential environmental and public health services that protect the most impacted communities from dangerous heat and flood effects caused by extreme weather. We can’t talk about the dangers of the climate crisis without talking about the dangers of fossil fuels the number one contributor to climate change. Our organization continues to advocate for an end to oil drilling in our ocean and neighborhoods locally and statewide through allyship and support of legislation and ordinances. 

Goal #3: Enhance ocean, river, and stream habitats by cultivating environmental stewardship and action for our local waters.

How we’re doing it: Will 2022 be a pivotal year in the fight against plastic pollution? Yes—and our work includes an advocacy campaign, targeted at Southern California voters, in support of the statewide 2022 ballot measure (California Plastic Pollution Reduction and Recycling Act), to reduce plastic pollution in communities and aquatic environments. While we are set on passing comprehensive policies at the state level, we’re not losing sight of the critical importance of local change. We’re pushing the City of LA and LA County to greenlight comprehensive ordinances that address single-use plastic waste. Plastic isn’t the only cause of harm to our environment, and Heal the Bay Aquarium is creating more community resources for habitat and wildlife restoration information while ramping up efforts in the rescue, rehab, and release of critically endangered species. 

We are proud of our goals. They are bold. They are big. You can trust Heal the Bay to get them done. Stay connected with us, so we can continue to take action together!



Our gift guide below features some goodies, that give back to Heal the Bay’s mission, which can be delivered instantly or picked up locally. All proceeds support our work to keep the coastal waters and watersheds of Greater Los Angeles safe, healthy, and clean.

Heal the Bay Gift Card

Need a last-minute gift for the person in your life that is, let’s say, particular? Our Heal the Bay Shop gift cards are delivered digitally, and can be used on tee-shirts, hats, reusable bags, sustainable utensil kits, and more.

Heal the Bay Science Camp

Live animals, fun games, and science experiments at Heal the Bay’s award-winning Aquarium in January to kick off the new year?! Yes, please.

Heal the Bay Gear

For someone who loves to volunteer with Heal the Bay, a special hoodie or hat with our iconic logo on it is a super thoughtful gift that keeps giving.


Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year from all of us at Heal the Bay!

P.S. — We encourage you to make your gift wrapping sustainable (use an old tee-shirt, reusable bag, or newspaper), to shop locally and support small businesses, and to be mindful that the best gift you can give is your presence.



HEAL THE BAY WE ARE HERE FOR GOOD BLOG

A Note from our CEO

As the year comes to a close, we feel energized for what’s ahead. 2021 will not be business as usual. There is too much at stake. Now is our chance to take bold action for present and future generations.

Climate change must be slowed or much will be lost. Heal the Bay pushes government leaders to protect water and biodiversity from the San Gabriel Mountains to the Santa Monica Bay.

Clean water and safe, accessible open space are fundamental for public health. Heal the Bay fights for strong permits that require green solutions to our local pollution problems.

The toxic legacy of plastic production and waste impacts our everyday life. Heal the Bay supports a ban on disposables that harm our neighborhoods and wildlife habitats.

A better world is possible when we empower our youth. Heal the Bay gives students the tools to advocate for their future by testifying at hearings and writing letters to elected officials.

We must recover environmental policy rollbacks. Heal the Bay has the expertise to regain ocean, river, and wetland protections, and solve today’s problems by upholding the Clean Water Act.

We are living in a critical decade for our planet. The hard work in front of us won’t happen by itself. Your donation to Heal the Bay supports our mission of making the coastal waters and watersheds in Southern California safe, healthy, and clean through science, education, community action, and advocacy.

Amidst all the challenges, you can trust that Heal the Bay is here for good. We will not stop until we succeed.

Donate

Thank you for doing your part.

Dr. Shelley Luce, Heal the Bay President and CEO

Shelley Luce

Interested in learning more about Heal the Bay’s impact in 2020? View Shelley’s reflection on the year behind us.

 



A Note from our CEO

This has been a year of hardship and heartbreak. Many people are lamenting its losses and eager to get out of 2020 and into the new year. I have felt the deep pain of the pandemic, the wildfires, and the unpredictable politics of this unprecedented year. But I am seeing something else too: I see progress. I see change. I see a new future ahead of us.

During these stressful times Heal the Bay worked differently, and harder than ever, to fight for clean water in LA.

This year, people joyfully returned to the beaches and rivers they treasure. Heal the Bay was there. Our most recent River Report Card and Beach Report Card ensured the latest water quality grades were publicly available. But we still have so much more work to do to make our outdoor spaces safe and accessible for all. Heal the Bay is prioritizing water quality monitoring during a health crisis that has caused many public places and services to shut down.

This year, the momentum shifted on plastic trash. More and more people want to rid our environment of this toxic scourge. As a result, we secured more than 800,000 signatures to put a major plastics reduction initiative on the 2022 California Ballot. A robust statewide policy is the logical next step after a patchwork of bans on plastic bags, straws, and Styrofoam have already been implemented. Heal the Bay is pushing for the most comprehensive approach that replaces single-use disposable plastics with sustainable options.

This year, activists put the spotlight on environmental justice. Oil drilling in neighborhoods, polluted water, lack of open space, and many other systemic injustices are being called out for their racist underpinnings. A powerful movement is underway. Heal the Bay is investing more resources to ensure our organization’s impact is equitable for underserved communities.

This year, I saw your commitment. Heal the Bay’s Coastal Cleanup Month mobilized thousands of volunteers to pick up 40,000 pieces of trash from their favorite outdoor places. Our team conducted the first large-scale effort to track PPE litter in the environment. We connected and empowered 4,000 youth and two million individuals and families through science, education, community action, and advocacy. Heal the Bay is amplifying the anti-pollution message far and wide.

The pandemic can’t stop—and won’t stop—the power of water to inspire change!

Thank you for supporting Heal the Bay this year. Every note we get from you, every Zoom we do with you, every phone call we have with you, every gift we receive from you… your commitment motivates us time and time again.

Shelley Luce
Heal the Bay CEO and President



A note from Heal the Bay President & CEO, Dr. Shelley Luce

SoCalGas has supported Heal the Bay’s programs since 1991. For nearly 30 years they have helped to fund our student curriculum, beach cleanup efforts, and bring students to our aquarium.

It’s never been a problem before. We rely on the philanthropy of companies and individuals to uphold our mission: protect California’s coasts and watersheds, and make them safe, healthy, and clean. We have never allowed any corporate contributor to influence our advocacy, and we never will.

However, after great consideration and consultation with my team, I have made the difficult decision to stop accepting contributions from SoCalGas from this point forward.

Turning down funding is never an easy decision, but it is a particularly difficult time for me to make this announcement. As President of an organization that employs close to 40 people in a year when many of us are forced to tighten our belts, it was not easy, but I know that it is the right thing to do.

In order to mitigate climate change, we must transition to renewable energy systems across the board – including the electricity, transportation, residential and industrial sectors, and we must do so swiftly. Sea level rise, ocean acidification, extreme heat, wildfires, and drought will all be more severe unless we drastically reduce our production and consumption of natural gas and, at the same time, prioritize and invest in nature-based projects that sequester carbon and cool our cities. Such projects include living streets, wetland restoration, and the creation of parks that capture and treat stormwater. The intentional obstruction of these goals will have severe consequences, which will be most devastating to frontline communities locally and around the world. We demand a just and equitable transition away from fossil fuels now.

Several recent investigations by the Los Angeles Times have brought to light that SoCalGas is not a good-faith partner in our critical effort to enact sensible climate systems in California. They have sued the state of California to obstruct climate policy and used ratepayer money to evade safety protocols and lobby for the expansion of gas consumption.

This behavior has made it clear that SoCalGas will not take the actions necessary to phase down the consumption and distribution of gas unless they are compelled to do so. It is up to us as an environmental advocacy group to hold them and our public officials accountable so that we continue our progress towards meeting our climate goals. That is why we joined the Los Angeles City Council meeting this morning, to give public comment in support of Councilmembers Bonin, Lee and Koretz in their call for a feasibility study to explore options for the closure of the Playa Del Rey Gas Storage Facility.

We support the feasibility study for three reasons:

  1. Its long-term existence stands counter to the urgent need to address the Climate Crisis.
  2. The Gas Storage Facility is located in a densely-populated area of our city, making it a health and safety risk to the communities of Playa Del Rey, Westchester, Marina Del Rey, Playa Vista and beyond.
  3. It abuts the Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve, affecting native species and endangered wildlife.

The Playa Del Rey facility stores gas that is used by the Chevron refinery and coastal power plants that deliver electricity to homes across the LA area. It is up to all of us to reflect on our personal consumption habits and do everything in our power to reduce our impact. It is up to our political leaders to regulate the fossil fuel industry and guide us to a renewable-powered, climate-stabilized future.

We would like to thank SoCalGas for their decades of support and ask that they change course to meet the urgent demands of the climate crisis.

Shelley Luce

 

 

 



Beach Programs Manager, Emely Garcia, highlights how Heal the Bay is relaunching our Adopt-A-Beach cleanup program to be a safe, fun, and refreshing summer challenge.

For more than 20 years, Heal the Bay’s Adopt-A-Beach cleanup volunteers have worked together to keep LA County’s natural and coastal resources heathy and safe. Our Adopt-A-Beach program gives passionate volunteers the tools to lead independent cleanups, collect critical marine debris data, and actively participate in protecting what we love. Since mid-March, Heal the Bay has postponed all public cleanup programming to protect public health in response to COVID-19, and we look forward to hosting public cleanups once it is safer to gather.

With the start of summer, we’re excited to relaunch our official Adopt-A-Beach Program for individuals, families, and households that are eager to be a part of the solution to ocean pollution. Ocean pollution starts at our front doors, and local trash on our streets travels through the storm drain systems, creeks, and rivers to become beach and ocean pollution. Everyone can take part and help prevent ocean-bound trash by participating in local neighborhood cleanups. Heal the Bay volunteers have removed more than 2.5 million pounds of trash from L.A County beaches, rivers and neighborhoods. Our newly reimagined Adopt-A-Beach program is adapted to support you and your household to lead a safe and fun cleanup.

 

About the Official Adopt-A-Beach Program 

Our Adopt-A-Beach program originally began as an effort to protect our coastal resource, but Adopt-A-Beach volunteers are encouraged to participate at any location that needs TLC in LA County, such as a park, street, creek, or beach.  To participate in the Adopt-A-Beach program, a group needs to commit to cleaning up a favorite outdoor location three times in a year. The program is extremely flexible and allows participants to choose the day, time, and location of their cleanups. Plus, it’s a fun and active way to get involved community science research. (See our guidelines for more details*) 

What’s the incentive? 

  • Heal the Bay Educational resources and safety talk from Heal the Bay’s Speakers Bureau. 
  • Be a part of a community science effort to collect Marine Debris Data.
  • An official Heal the Bay Adoption Certificate upon completion of all three cleanups. 
  • Opportunity to be featured on Heal the Bay’s Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.
  • TONS of kudos for leaving a special place outdoors better than you found it.

 So what are you waiting for? Take part in the official Adopt-A-Beach Summer Challenge today!  

View the Adopt-A-Beach Guide

Sign Up

 




In their previous blog post, Heal the Bay Outreach Coordinator Danielle Furuichi discusses their journey to the environmental justice movement, sharing key concepts and context about environmental justice issues. They also share the role each one of us can play through transformative action. Here, they dive into a visual illustration of what equality, equity and justice can look like within the environmental movement. 

 

Systemic and structural racism, harmful stereotypes, and a lack of access to education, economic status, and health resources often leave people of color out of the conversations that impact them, specifically about land use, natural resources, and environmental policy decision-making. As the environmental movement tackles climate change, water and air quality, public health, and plastic pollution issues, we all must consider the social inequities, inequalities, and injustices that are inherently intertwined with these issues. Although these words are sometimes used interchangeably, it is important to understand their differences. I will use coastal access and the graphic below to illustrate the concepts of equality, equity, and justice.


The illustration above was inspired by an illustration in “Seo, Jeong-Wook & Chung, Hosik & Seo, Tae-Sul & Jung, Youngim & Hwang, Eun & Yun, Cheol-Heui & Kim, Hyungsun. (2017). Equality, equity, and reality of open access on scholarly information.” and was created for Heal the Bay’s use by Alex Choy and Danielle Furuichi

What is equality?  

Equality is the condition under which all individuals receive uniform treatment, resources, and opportunities (Georgia Institute of Technology). The faulty assumption that underlies equality is that everyone has identical needs and would benefit equally from an even distribution of resources.

One example of a policy that emphasizes equality is the California Coastal Act of 1976. This policy outlawed private beaches in California so that by law, everyone has equal access to CA beaches. However, despite this legal action, physical and systemic barriers like geographical distance, lack of transportation, and historic segregation of coastal areas continue to prevent equal and full access for all to California beaches.

In the first segment of the illustration above, three individuals are treated equally and given the same resources – a uniform box – to access the beach view. Although one box is enough for the first two individuals, it is not sufficient to support the third individual, who remains without access to the beach view. A “one-size-fits-all” approach ignores specific needs, structural barriers, and systemic issues that impact some communities and individuals at disproportionate levels.

What is equity? 

Equity is the proportionate distribution of and access to resources. Unlike equality, equity accounts for individuality and acknowledges the historical underrepresentation of certain communities, yet it fails to actively deconstruct the underlying systemic barriers that create and contribute to current inequities (UC Berkeley Initiative for Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity). 

Let’s return to the previous example of the California Coastal Act of 1976, which provides equal access to California’s beaches. Equal, not equitable, is the key word here because equitable access requires extra steps. We can create equitable coastal access by providing educational programs and grant funding that brings people to the beach who wouldn’t have the resources to otherwise. This solution acknowledges that beaches are not uniformly accessible to everyone, and that an additional, targeted allocation of resources is required to make coastal access more equitable.

In the second segment of the illustration, the individuals are given a different number of boxes based on their needs, resulting in beach views for all three individuals. However, this solution fails to address the reason the beach view is inaccessible in the first place – the fence. 

What is justice? 

Unlike equality and equity, justice combats historic inequality and inequity while dismantling the systemic and structural barriers that are responsible for those inequities.

What would a just approach to ensuring full and equitable access to the California coast look like? To answer this question, we have to look at the fundamental reasons why there is unequal beach access in the first place. Who has access to the coast and why? 

If we look at coastal access in Los Angeles, we find that racist policies and gentrification are the root cause of inequitable access. This legacy of racism and discrimination began with the abuse, enslavement, and displacement of Indigenous people, including the Chumash and Tongva peoples who were the first to live in the Malibu and Los Angeles Basin areas.

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, the legacy of slavery pervaded as Black people were harassed and kicked off of beaches surrounding Santa Monica. Practices like redlining – the division and ranking of neighborhoods based on race and socioeconomic status – prevented people in low-income communities and communities of color from buying homes, properties, or establishing businesses along the coast. On top of that, these communities were subject to additional discriminatory and unjust rent practices. 

The impact of these racist and discriminatory policies is clear today, as the demographic of those who live on and near the coast is primarily wealthy and white. Now, gentrification continues to cause the displacement of low-income communities and communities of color that live near the coast, parks, greenspace, and the LA River – and Black people still face harassment while trying to enjoy nature.

A just solution to coastal access requires the dismantling of systemic racism, prejudice, and inequitable policies. Removing “the fence” takes time and intention. Board by board, piece by piece, link by link. The process requires education and action to make the necessary changes to break down systemic and structural barriers that form injustices. 

In the third segment of the illustration, the primary barrier and need for additional resources has been removed. Without the fence, the beach view is completely accessible for everyone. 

Why did we create this image?

We created this illustration to educate our community and to encourage everyone to think more critically about the environmental movement. When we think of the environmental movement, what comes to mind? When we protect our natural resources, who are we protecting them for? Or from? Who benefits from their protection?

It is easy to see environmental issues and their solutions through a lens shaped by our own privileges and experiences. But like many other social, political, and economic issues, environmental issues are complex. Solutions to environmental problems must take into account social, political, historical, and economic factors, and to be truly transformative they must also be equitable and just. 



Danielle Furuichi, Heal the Bay’s Outreach Coordinator, shares their personal journey in the environmental justice movement, and how each and every one of us must have a unique role in transformative action. Read part two of this blog post.

 

When I first started my journey in the environmental field, my idea of environmentalism was purely ecological. I viewed nature as a place where I would escape to, rather than something I was a part of. My definition of the environment did not include my home or my community. But I now understand how this view is incomplete; where we live, where we work, and where we recreate are all parts of our environment, and ecological and human health are equally important and inextricably linked. 

The way I view environmental issues now is much more holistic, but to get there, I had to zoom out and take a broader look at my identity and my view of the world. I realized how my privilege shaped my perspectives, and the only way to see past it was to acknowledge it. I grew up in a middle class family, in a house, with two, supportive, cisgender, heterosexual parents. We had a car and I frequently went to the beach and traveled to national parks around the state. I saw myself as separate from nature and the environment because my immediate environment was not in danger nor was my access to it threatened. Environmental injustices did not impact my family or my community. But my experience is vastly different from that of others.

I share this with the hope that you will also reflect on your view of environmental issues and the role your identity and experiences have played in shaping your perspective. Here is some of what I have learned in reshaping my own:

Our Environment

At the most basic level our environment is what surrounds us. Access to clean water, sanitation, clean air, and safe and stable housing are all essential for us to have a healthy environment. When one or more of these are impaired, both human and ecological health are endangered. All too often ecological and human health are pitted against each other: increasing green space in a community drives up the cost of living there, displaces residents, and leads to gentrification. A beautiful, clean, thriving environment does not and should not have to come at the expense of any community. 

Environmental justice encompasses the idea that human and ecological health are interconnected and that all people should be a part of the decision-making process when it concerns their environment. The 17 Principles of Environmental Justice, established at the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in 1991, is the “defining document” of what environmental justice looks like for the Earth and all of its inhabitants. It concludes, if the environmental movement excludes human health and social justice, the movement is incomplete. There is intrinsic value in protecting the environment – an environment that includes people who are healthy and cared for. I encourage you to read through the 17 Principles and use them to expand your view of the environmental movement. We also have to take a look at history to further understand the relationship between human health, social justice, and the environment.

Historical Context

As we have seen recently with COVID-19 and for decades prior, socioeconomic status and race frequently determine which communities will experience the biggest negative impacts of health and environmental crises. We have witnessed over and over again that environmental issues do not affect all communities equally. Often, it is low-income communities of color that disproportionately bear the burden of poor air quality, poor water quality, and the impacts of climate change – a burden amplified by limited access to parks, recreation, and open space. This relationship is not a coincidence; a history of racially discriminatory land acquisition, voting, and environmental policies has created a legacy of injustice in the U.S. that continues today. Previously redlined neighborhoods now have high levels of poverty, pollution burden, and a lack of access to green space.

My Role

Now that I have this new perspective, what do I do with it? And how do I incorporate what I’ve learned into my work? I am continually learning about myself, environmental justice, and my place in the environmental movement. I’ve learned recently about the value of transformative over transactional practices and where true impact lies. Transformative practices take time and produce long-lasting change, while transactional practices are merely an exchange, and their impacts are short-term and insignificant. 


Danielle giving a beach talk at a Suits on the Sand cleanup. Photo by Victor Fernandes.

I have taken a critical look at the programs I manage at Heal the Bay – Suits on the Sand, Speakers Bureau, and Club Heal the Bay – to see how I can make these truly transformative. I started by educating myself and building meaningful connections and relationships with program participants. I continue to share what I’ve learned and hold myself accountable for transformative programming and an inclusive and holistic approach to environmental issues. I held an Environmental Justice Youth Summit for local middle and high school students, created an Environmental Justice-focused Suits on the Sand, and helped create more inclusive volunteer trainings. But I am still only at the beginning of my journey. Social and environmental issues stem from institutional and systemic racism, so I must check my privilege and be actively anti-racist and intentional in weaving equity and justice into my work.

In the next blog post, I will break down the concepts of equality, equity, and justice, as I look at transformative action in the environmental movement.


Additional Resources

I have found the following timelines helpful in connecting public health, civil rights, and the environmental movement in the United States: