With most of us not living in proximity to our environmental degradation, local environmental issues are often out of sight and out of mind. The Human Impacts Institute (HII) crew thus took the Grand Street Business Improvement District Block Party as an opportunity to further its goals of connecting local issues to community development, knowledge-building and social engagement.
The Grand Street Business Improvement District conducts annual “Weekend Walk” block parties, which provides an avenue for the public to congregate and enjoy their public space. Acting as a building block of HII’s North Brooklyn Estuary Exploration Series, this particular HII workshop was themed “Environmental Justice, Water, and Advocacy”.
In the lead up to the event, much of the brainstorming segment of the preparation process circled around ways to engage the public, particularly youth, to critically assess the present evidence on climate change. To translate secondary research conducted on New York City’s water and plastic bag pollution into engaging reporting, we utilized experimental tools of communication for creative messaging.
HII’s legendary ‘Climate Wheel’ captivated all parents, children, adolescents, and the elderly alike, allowing their minds to be challenged with climate and water related questions while giving them a chance to whip a fun spin around the wheel. The public is generally perceived to acknowledge information that only aligns with their own worldviews, but it was not the case for our audience. Community participants of our workshop embraced the opportunity to investigate local environmental issues through creative outlets, albeit an absence of climate change perception. The most appalling realization the Northern Brooklyn community participants had through the workshop was the perils of climate-change-induced sea level rise to New York City. Bearing the brunt of sea level rise, which has reportedly accelerated “three to four times the global average” according to U.S. Geological Survey scientists reported by National Geographic, the Northeast coast is more vulnerable than anywhere else around the globe. This piece of information generated quite the effect on our audience, and community members began to verbalize how to connect the dots even before they left our educational table.
Maximizing opportunities for an amalgamation of coalition building, creative messaging, and education, HII utilized this workshop as an avenue to start and shape community conversations on the plastic bag ban. Participants were given disquieting facts and figures about the environmental dangers of plastic bags, and were then asked why they would want to ban plastic bags. Capturing candid responses from a diverse audience, HII is spearheading a creative photo petition as part of a wider initiative and campaign towards banning plastic bags in New York City. Incorporating plastic bag education into our outreach efforts, we are providing people with tangible actions they can take, while garnering public support that can eventually and potentially be hooked into legislation. As pointed out by one of our participants who doubled as a vociferous advocate for the plastic bag ban, a handful of countries and cities, including American ones, have banned plastic bags, including Bangladesh, Mexico City, several towns in Australia, San Francisco and San Jose. Life continues in these places.
With environmental education in the forefront of our minds for this event, HII sought to boost the community’s capacity in preparing for our earth’s environmental challenges by building public dialogue and movement towards a cleaner and safer future, and ideally, plastic-bag-free. HII is open to collaboration in building a coalition, through expanding the coordinated photo campaign and other related initiatives. For upcoming opportunities to participate in HII events, refer to our events calendar!
By Beatrice Yeung, Environmental Leadership Intern