Environmental Justice Issue Out Now

June 8th, 2015     by Sheila Sampath     Issue 29: Issue 29: The Environmental Justice Issue     Comments

Illustration: Erin McPhee

When I was in high school, I was the president of a student club called “S.A.V.E.”—Students Against Violations against the Environment (I know, I know—that spells “S.A.V.A.E.”—but I didn’t make the rules!). We met over lunch hour once every week or two, and planned events and initiatives to make our school a “greener” place. Every now and then, we would have a community clean-up—we’d walk by the hydro field near the school or go down to the ravine, armed with garbage bags and rubber gloves, to pick up litter. Sometimes, we’d promote recycling by making posters reminding people to separate their paper from their plastic, and use the blue (actually, they were grey) bins in the hallways and in the cafeteria. I remember chiding other students, and sometimes even my teachers, if I saw them throwing a pop can in the garbage.

For a long time, my understanding of environmentalism was rooted in these experiences and small activisms. Being green meant being clean—putting waste where it was supposed to go. It was small acts of conservation—turning off the water when I brush my teeth, turning off the lights when I leave a room, or printing on both sides of a piece of paper. In my craftier days, it was all about up-cycling and re-purposing, decorating old jars to make lanterns, cutting up old t-shirts to make mini-skirts or underpants, or sewing old towels into re-usable menstrual products.

I still do these things (well, I wear fewer mini-skirts these days) and they were a useful starting point for me, but, as I got more involved in de-colonizing work, in class- and gender-based activism, in work that challenged both corporate and colonial institutions, I started to learn that the green that I was seeing was actually made up of a complexity of hues—the blue water many fight for access to, the yellow toxins that plague Indigenous communities, the black bitumen that is stripped from the land, and the white supremacy that underlies so much of it.

This complicated the seemingly simple act of organizing a community clean-up. Picking up a discarded lighter in a hydro field raises so many new questions. I have questions about where it came from (what toxins did its factory release in the community? What were the reproductive repercussions for the workers?) and about where it will end up after the trash bag hits the dumpster (where is the landfill? Where will be be 100 years from now?).

For me, this is where environmentalism shifts to environmental justice. While environmentalism can be a powerful choice—the choice to clean up a field or carry a re-usable bottle—environmental justice digs deeper. It starts to ask critical questions about the systems behind the choices we make, and, more significantly, the systems behind the choices that we are not allowed to make. It incorporates other -isms—feminism, anti-racism, anti-classism, to name a few. It asks difficult questions about land, sovereignty and capital. It complicates everything.

This issue of Shameless attempts to do two things at the same time: on one end, we want to embrace this complication, to frame environmental justice as a process that needs constant re-framing, to challenge the black-and-white of consumer-based choice narratives and introduce (at least) fifty new shades of green. We explore the relationship between environment and self-care (p13), reproductive justice (p16) and large-scale sporting events (p17). We talk about water sovereignty (p19), eco-classism (p24) and corporate colonialism (p28). We unpack the the ways art (p36), food (p38) and technology (p41) can both harm and heal our environments.

On the other end, we want to simplify the whole mess—to put it back in your hands, to move forward in ways that make a difference to you, to your communities—and we’ve found some amazing people to inspire you to do just that. We feature young people speaking out against GMOs (p6), organizing against environmental racism (p9) and protecting their waters (p32). We are proud to feature them, and we are proud of this issue, but more than that, we are excited for the ways it will complicate, empower, and colour your world.

Yours Shamelessly, Sheila (

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