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Healing: Environmental Justice is Human Justice

Image drawn by Emily Xu (2020).

There are two dimensions to everything in our complex world, especially in nature and with the choices humans make. Right now, the environmental crisis has left us to decide whether we continue to take advantage of resources or start to protect our environment for future generations. I aimed to illustrate this concept in my painting by creating two opposite scenes, separated by the birch tree. A birch tree is unique because it naturally sheds its bark when it grows, pushing the older bark out from the core of the tree. This process illustrates how nature finds ways to recuperate and maintain balance. However, as humans overlook nature’s natural processes, challenges like climate change and pollution begin to arise.

The left side of my artwork depicts a negative situation. As the hand deliberately peels the bark off the birch tree, it represents the human actions that are damaging nature, exacerbating the environmental crisis and instigating events like forest fires. On the right side, the hand is drawn to show it pushing a piece of shedding bark back towards the tree. This motion is representing the ability and need of humans to help restore the environment and its natural processes, right now.

We have two choices to decide how we want to treat the environment; especially in a climate crisis, where these decisions seem ever more important. But, becoming sustainable is much more than restoring nature physically, it is acknowledging the intersections between communities, people, and the environment all over the world. The resources in a habitat influence the community culture and the type of lifestyle people have. Due to climate change, many marginalized communities are facing unfair consequences of human actions, such as pollution, hazardous land use, and unsustainable consumption practices. Unfair exposure to health and safety concerns due to climate change and the evolving environment not only emphasizes social inequalities, but disproportionately impacts certain communities depending on location, wealth, and accessible resources. With marginalized communities becoming a target of the climate crisis, they also lose their right to live in communities where they have ensured a healthy environment and can thrive. This goes against human justice.

Environmental justice is human justice because a healthy ecosystem and environment influence the quality of life for all people. As governments and individuals work toward a more sustainable society, the focus is not only on nature but on the human right to live in a safe environment. This is why an old, longing face is drawn in the middle and on the birch tree. I specifically drew an elderly face to represent how tackling the environmental crisis is a lifelong journey. The deep wrinkles work to convey a sense of hardship and adversity. With the face slightly turned towards the right, it further reflects the desire and pursuit to restore the environment. With yearning eyes, the old face depicts the sorrowful yet hopeful emotions older generations might have about the future of the environment. This also exhibits the direction I hope all people can turn towards: to help restore the environment, not only for its beauty but for the ability to continue to support all living things on Earth.

The need for society to view environmental justice with the same attitude as human justice is becoming more crucial. It is up to us to acknowledge this and take action now!


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