Don’t want to be boxed in? Pursue a career in environmentalism and play every role.
In the dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451, the character Granger is a rebel living outside of the literature-burning, screen-obsessed society America has become. Granger, in relaying how much he misses his deceased grandfather’s creative acts, shares a valuable life-lesson: “It doesn't matter what you do...so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that's like you after you take your hands away.”
Put another way: it doesn’t really matter what you create but be sure to create something.
The Creative Possibilities of Environmental Work
If you are a middle or high schooler trying to figure out what your future will look like, you may feel the pressure to discover your perfect path. We’re here to tell you there really is no such thing – because you as a human being have boundless interests and passions that can create anything. The career path you choose is just a channel to guide your interests toward action.
This sounds freeing – but it’s also a little bit overwhelming, right? Just like the anxiety many of us feel when someone says, “You can be ANYTHING!” Many of us crave a bit of direction but at the same time, don’t want to be boxed in by our choice.
When you pursue work in environmentalism, you have the possibility to be a policymaker, a social worker, a scientist, a designer, and a gardener all at once. At NJIN, we believe that environmental work is an amazing option for young people questioning their future direction. Firstly, because it is multi-dimensional. There are so many varied options for types of work within environmentalism which gives a certain freedom from the “perfect path” anxiety. And secondly, an earth-centric focus is uniquely important at this specific point in our history to ensure our planet’s future.
But, maybe most importantly, if you choose to pursue an interest in environmental work, you have the freedom to not only effect environmental change, but also social, racial, economic, and political transformation.
Environmentalism Addressing Racial Segregation and Poverty in Texas
Last week’s activities in San Antonio are a perfect real-world example to highlight how intersectional environmental work can be.
The Natural Capital Project, a Stanford-based STEM organization, presented a very important urban agriculture report this past week to the San Antonio City Council subcommittee. The report explored the possibilities for turning city-held vacant locations in San Antonio into either food forests or urban farms. (A food forest is a system of perennial crops, typically fruit and nut trees, that are available to the public for shade and foraging; an urban farm is an annual crop system that is private).
The researchers who spearheaded the report discovered that, by turning these unused lots into food-generating spaces, the city will be able to create as much as 926 million pounds of food worth $1.17 billion and feed 1.27 million families! This is a significant boon for the city as food insecurity has intensified post-pandemic. Not only will the green spaces provide much-needed food supplies, but the food forests will also provide access to green space and cooling for the public while both food forests and the urban farms will assist in carbon storage.
OK, that’s amazing enough, right? But there’s so much more this environmental work will do in San Antonio! The report truly is a beautiful microcosmic example of how environmental work has the potential to create a powerful rippling effect in many different arenas. Let’s look at how!
A. Environmental Impact
This report will have dramatic effects on an environmental level. Utilizing previously unused lands creates more healthy food, improves soil health, provides water retention options to diminish flooding in Texas, and creates carbon sinks. It also catches people’s attention, showing the public how to use urban spaces more creatively.
B. Social Impact
NatCap’s report is also an important social justice movement as its proposition aims to heal a common social justice issue in urban settings – food deserts.
A food desert occurs in cities when people do not have easy access to nutritious foods. This may be due to a lack of grocery stores, limited access to transportation, or other systemic issues. Such food insecurity is specifically considered a form of racial segregation as food deserts often occur in BIPOC and impoverished communities. It’s estimated that food insecurity within low-income communities set in food deserts are 2.5x higher than the national average.
Not only do these food forests and urban farms have the possibility to provide more food, they also will shed light on the food disparity in our nation and provide critical access to healthy foods for impoverished communities.
C. Political Impact
The report is also an important statement on policy. It challenges cities’ underutilization of the land they own and demands more accountability and creativity at the state-level. NatCap is working with funding from NASA’s Environmental Equity and Justice Program to design a program for urban planners without technical expertise to use. This will help them understand how development and design will affect the food forests and farms’ beneficial yield for certain demographics. Such a program provides a green-centric support system for urban planners.
Local farmer, Mitch Hagney, who has been involved with creating San Antonio’s first food forest, commented that this report will be influential in changing policies.
“Our hope is the results from this report are able to galvanize action to expand urban agriculture in San Antonio; helping policymakers do things like increase tool access for would-be farmers or food foresters, use vacant lots as potential long leases for urban farms, and include food forests in land management practices for our parks department and public works department.”
Hagney hopes San Antonio’s city farming work will create more visibility and change policies in cities around America.
As you can see from this one example, when you work in an environmentally focused job, you can’t help but be involved in changing policies, improving social justice issues, and creating landscape designs that have the possibility to serve as symbols for a nation!
It makes sense that working with environment affects everything – because all of us exist within and depend upon this environment!
So, if you don’t know what future path to choose, don’t stress. Explore your personal environmental interest with NJIN this summer and become a changemaker in every way!
At NJIN, we are passionate about helping young people discover their earth-purpose. Our programs are designed to offer structured curriculum and real-world experiences within a space that encourages students to roam freely in nature, growing their innovation, self-exploration, and experimentation. Join us!