• Ariel Green

Climate Change in The Bahamas and Why Intersectionality is Important with Lauren Ritchie

Updated: Oct 18, 2020



Intersectionality is a word that we've probably heard a lot more over the past few months. Although the term is new to me, the idea behind it is why I created Sustainable Brown Girl. I think many other women of color within the sustainability space also understand the importance of intersectionality, and today's guest is no different. 


Lauren Ritchie, is a 19 year old Bahamas native, a Columbia University student, a climate activist, and the founder of The Eco Gal blog. We'll be talking to Lauren about her sustainability journey, the reception of climate change in the Bahamas, and why recognizing intersectionality within climate activism is so important.


Follow The Eco Gal on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/itsecogal/


Follow Lauren's personal Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/laurenaritchie/


Check out The Eco Gal Blog: https://theecogal.com/



LISTEN HERE: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | Google Play

Transcription


Ariel:

Hello, and welcome back to The Sustainable Brown Girl Podcast. This show exists to connect black, brown and indigenous women who are interested in sustainability. Our goal is to inspire, encourage and educate each other. From gardening to thrifting, to minimalism, to veganism and everywhere in between. We're all on a journey to taking care of our bodies and our planet. I'm your host, Ariel Green.


Intersectionality is a word that we've probably heard a lot more over the past few months. To be honest, I'd never heard of the term before June. Intersectionality was coined in 1989 by Kimberly Crenshaw, a lawyer, civil rights advocate and professor, to describe how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics intersect with one another and overlap. According to Ms Crenshaw intersectionality is about understanding the ways that multiple forms of inequality or disadvantage sometimes compound themselves and create obstacles that were not often understood within conventional ways of thinking about social justice and in our case environmentalism. Although the term is new to me, the idea behind it is why I created Sustainable Brown Girl. I think many other women of colour within the sustainability space also understand the importance of intersectionality and today's guest is no different. Lauren Richie is a 19-year-old Bahamas native, a Columbia university student, a climate activist and the founder of The Eco Gal blog. 


We'll be talking to Lauren about her sustainability journey, the reception of climate change in The Bahamas and why recognizing intersectionality within climate activism is so important. Thanks so much for joining us today, Lauren. 


Lauren:

Thanks for having me. 


Ariel:

Let's just jump right into it. Can you tell us about your sustainability journey and what led you to start The Eco Gal blog?


Lauren:

Sure! I think my journey started probably in high school, I want to say, maybe even middle school. Growing up in The Bahamas, I was always really interested in doing beach clean-ups or anything that I could do to protect my environment, because when you grow up on a small Island, you are in your environment a lot, if that makes sense. I think I was always really interested in loving my environment and also wanting to protect it. So that really led to take more of an interest in sustainability, climate change. It reflected in the classes that I would take or that I enjoyed like, geography or world studies or those types of things just to learn more about the world around me and how that would impact my life on a small Island. I think that's where I really got started with that. And I think when it came to starting The Eco Gal, it was supposed to be...I guess it started out as a way for me to bring more sustainability to The Bahamas and especially Bahamian youth, just because I could see that it wasn't really something that was very talked about here. When I came home from university for COVID, I was like, "Okay, I want to build a platform for Bahamian young people, Caribbean young people to just learn more about zero waste tips or learn more about sustainable fashion and kind of like an educational platform about environmentalism and sustainability, just to make it more engaging or relatable, so that people could be more involved. So, I think that was my main purpose when I first got started. 


Ariel:

Has your vision for The Eco Gal shifted any since you've started? Because I know you blew up a lot with Black Lives Matter, Amplify Black Voices and stuff. So, has it changed at all? 


Lauren:

Definitely. I don't want to say that it's changed in terms of the vision to want to impact Bahamian youth and Caribbean youth in terms of sustainability is still there and I think it will always be there. But, I think it's expanded more so into being a larger educational platform in general, but also in terms of the mission to expand just from what you typically think about with sustainability, which is eco-friendly, zero waste, sustainable fashion, all of those things, but also expanding more into the social justice side of it, that isn't really talked about within sustainability, but is equally, if not more important, just because social justice does reflect so much into how climate change does impact people and things that. I think creating a platform that not only educates on sustainability issues, but it's also a platform that engages with people of colour and lets them know that this movement is also for them by talking about black issues, indigenous issues, all of those things and how those can like wrap into social and environmental sustainability. That's what the platform has become now and I'm really grateful for it, honestly, just because I feel like those platforms aren't as common, I would say, even when I was first getting started with The Eco Gal, there were barely any pages that I could find that were talking about what sustainability looks like for people of color. I'm grateful that this gives representation to the sustainability movement, which I think very much needed. 


Ariel:

Definitely. Yeah, for sure. You mentioned that one of the things that made you get interested in sustainability was doing beach clean-ups and stuff. You live in The Bahamas and we hear a lot about plastic in the ocean. How much has that really affected The Bahamas? 


Lauren:

In terms of climate change, I think what people normally think of, when they think of how climate change impacts small islands, is typically plastic in the oceans killing wildlife or rising sea levels, and I think, although those are issues that we face, obviously we do face a lot of pollution and that does impact our marine ecosystems. I think one of the main impacts of climate change that especially, on my island, Grand Bahama, we face, is natural disasters. And I think even though, per se, climate change doesn't necessarily cause a natural disaster, it definitely makes them a lot stronger and it makes them a lot more frequent. My island Grand Bahama, has had two category five hurricanes in the past three years. One in 2016 and one last year in 2019. Thinking about climate change and how that impacts small islands, definitely thinking about natural disasters is a big deal and a big thing. I think that's all the more reason why small islands need to be given a voice to speak upon it. Because, even though we don't really contribute very much in terms of greenhouse gas emissions or overall actions that are impacting the climate, we definitely get hit the hardest. Even in terms of the resources and infrastructure that we have to mitigate or adapt to climate changes. I think all the more reason why growing up in The Bahamas you're really like, "Okay, time to get cracking and help to fix the planet because my island needs to be protected." 


Ariel:

Yeah, definitely. I know hurricane Dorian was awful last year. You mentioned that you wanted it to start The Eco Gal to help get people more interested in The Bahamas and climate change. What is the general consensus on climate change and hurricanes and stuff from people living in The Bahamas? Do they think that it's real or that it's a real problem? How do most people feel about it? 


Lauren:

I think it's one of those things. I wouldn't say we're climate skeptics in the sense that we're like, "Oh, climate change doesn't exist, it's not real or it's not a thing." But it's more so, just that it's not really a priority in terms of all the other things that we have to worry about. Climate change really isn't up top on the list, whether that is how it should be or not, it's more so of a thing where...I don't know. I think there's a lot of other issues that people will place above climate change. And even before Dorian, I don't think people saw the connection between climate change and natural disasters. Because I mean, you grow up on an island, you have hurricane every hurricane season, but I think people didn't put two and two together to be like, "Wait, this is way more category five hurricanes than we're usually having." 


I think now is more of a thing where I'm seeing definitely the government community is being a lot more like, "Okay, let's talk about climate change, let's work to fix it." At the beginning of 2020, the government created a plastic ban, which was great, amazing, love to see it. But definitely, there's more to be done, but I think we're moving onto the right track of seeing it more. I think we definitely do need to do more in terms of community engagement and involvement, education as well, just because I personally went to an international school, so I did the IB program, so I was very much exposed to climate on a global scale and being able to reflect that into my community. My brother, on the other hand, goes to a Bahamian school that doesn't really cover that curriculum as much, so I think making that type of climate education a lot more widespread would be very beneficial. That's my, my overall view of that. 


Ariel:

Yeah, definitely. I like it. We talked a little bit earlier about intersectionality within climate activism, but can you tell us why recognizing intersectionality within climate activism is important? 


Lauren:

Yeah, definitely. I think it's literally the most important thing when it comes to climate activism. Just because, like I said earlier, thinking about how certain aspects of your identity or certain aspects of your circumstance impact not only your access to sustainability resources or how you view the climate crisis but, also how it affects you and how climate change disproportionately impacts communities of color or thinking about environmental racism and how race can be one of the number one determining factors in the US of whether or not you live next to toxic waste. And there are so many other statistics like that, that just shows that social issues shaped your view of the climate crisis or how you experience it. But I think, definitely in terms of intersectionality, there's also so much more to it than just race, which I think is something you want to highlight. There's also thinking about socioeconomic or even disabilities in terms of the way that we speak about the climate crisis. I think sometimes it can be very narrow in our view of who the climate crisis or who sustainability as a movement or the green movement is actually for, just because I've seen so many... Even in my time with The Eco Gal towards the beginning, a lot of shaming of people for not being able to afford anything other than fast fashion or still using plastic straws because they're the only thing available. And I think with intersectionality, it's important to recognize that sustainability looks different depending on your community and what you have access to or what's available or possible for you. 


With intersectionality, it breaks down some of that stigma and judgmental attitude that there's one way to be sustainable and that's usually the glamorous aesthetic, cookie-cutter type of sustainability that is usually geared towards rich white women. But at the end of the day, I feel like sustainability, at least to me, what I think is important about sustainability is, making the choices to help the planet or to help a community and its citizens whenever you have the chance to make that choice or whenever you have the ability to or in any way that you can. I think with what's happening now with the movement towards making climate activism more intersectional, it's really good in terms of representation I think as well, just because I feel like if the climate green movement is only focusing on one certain group of people and really neglecting everyone else, that's really harmful in terms of progressing the movement forward. But also, the communities that are impacted the most need to be given a voice, they need to know that the movement is also for them. So, I think all of that wraps up into why it's so important to make social justice and climate justice and put them together and think about all the different ways that they intersect because there are so many ways that climate change intersects with social justice. So, [inaudible 14:11]. 


Ariel:

Yeah, absolutely. That's part of the reason why I started Sustainable Brown Girl too, it's because, like you said, the movement seems to be geared towards rich white people, white women to be specific. And so to show other people who are doing things and also like you said, to do what you can. You don't have to do every single thing. You don't have to be zero waste, but if you do what you can and everyone's interested in different things. So it's super important for that representation and intersectionality. So, you're a student at Columbia University studying sustainable development and political science. Why did you choose that major? 


Lauren:

First of all, Columbia is one of the few schools that actually offers that major so that's part of why I chose Columbia in general over other schools, but I think sustainable development... I think I always knew that what I wanted to do was more than just environmental science and that it was more than just a major that would be focused on the climate crisis or saving the planet in terms of just the environment. And the thing that I love about sustainable development is that it's so broad in the sense that, that intersectional environmentalism that we were talking about is covered within the major. 


Ariel:

Oh wow!


Lauren:

The thing about sustainable development is that it's not just about environmental sustainability, but it's also social sustainability and economic sustainability and political sustainability and all those different pillars that you find within different types of action to help the planet. So, I've been able to take classes like fundamentals of global health or sociology courses or there's like a principles of economics class as well. I won't be taking that one because I'm really bad at math, but it's offered within the major. I took an international politics class. All of those courses offered within this major to just make you...I feel like such a well-rounded citizen. I mean, it's my major, so I'm going to have to hype it up, but I feel like it's a great major just because I feel like I've learned so much in so many different areas, I think. And like I said, having the social background helps me when I'm thinking about a different area. So like the sociology course and now thinking about sustainability in terms of the environment and I'm like, well, these different aspects of our society are affecting these people and then that's how that translates into how they're affected by the climate crisis. I think it helps me to have a very well rounded view of the world that I think is so important in terms of the political science aspect. I was considering doing a minor in environmental science, but then I was like, "Hmm, probably not." But, I decided to do the minor in political science instead, just because I think again, I've always known that what I wanted to do was be more on the international policy side of the movement. I think the whole on the ground, climate research probably wasn't for me in terms of a very hard science approach to the climate crisis, but more so doing [inaudible 17:37] United Nations in high school or debate clubs and world studies things. I wanted to be on the more...Yeah. I guess making the decisions to help these areas or enacting policy that will do those things. Whether or not that's with something like the UN or if it's an NGO or a nonprofit, I don't really know the specifics yet, but definitely, that kind of environmental law, environmental justice law, especially or different things like that, I think is where I personally see myself fitting into the movement. Even in terms of really liking public speaking and being able to engage that way. It came really down to knowing myself and knowing what I would be happy with when it came to picking which kind of major I wanted to focus on. 


Ariel:

Well, that sounds awesome. I think you would probably be great working for the UN or NGO or whatever. 


Lauren:

Thank you. Fingers crossed. Hire me.


Ariel:

It sounds like you're on the right track for that. That's awesome. What's next for The Eco Gal? 


Lauren:

What is next for The Eco Gal? I think definitely I want to keep expanding in terms of the aspect of amplifying marginalized communities and social justice issues and showing people how those issues are related to sustainability in the climate crisis. I think, right now that's one of the most important aspects for me. In terms of where I see Eco Gal growing, I think I would like to do a lot more writing, I think right now Eco Gal... I've kind of taken a back seat on the blog and the articles more so and it's been more carousel posts and other content. But in the near future, I definitely want to expand the website a little bit more and do more articles, maybe expand the team as well, because right now it's just me running it by myself, which can be a little bit exhausting sometimes. If it does continue to grow into a bigger platform, maybe having writers, maybe having people who help me with content creation, I think that would be up next, but I think overall, I just want for it to keep being a platform that educates people, that inspires people to get started on their journey anyway they know how. I want it to continue to be a platform that's really inclusive, whether that's with any identity whatsoever. I want people to be able to see themselves in the movement. I think that is really something that I want to keep forward in the future with Eco Gal. 


Ariel:

Awesome. What was one of the first things that you did when you were really thinking about sustainability and because you know for me, one of the first things I did was get a water filter and stop using a water bottle. What was one of the first things that you did that you feel made it a big difference? 


Lauren:

I think the first big step I made was going vegetarian. I don't think I did it for the right reasons just because it didn't really start as like, "I'm doing this for the planet." Honestly, it was silly because it was a bet of who can go the longest without eating meat and I just never ate meat again. 


Ariel:

That's awesome.


Lauren:

I think that was my first major shift. It was the first month of my college journey. I was just like, you know what, we're studying sustainable development here, let's just be vegetarian too, so I just kept it going. I think that was the first big...honestly I want to call it a sacrifice, but that was the big lifestyle shift that I made towards my really beginning of sustainability. Other than that, I got the water filter too, I got the metal straw. There weren't any big purchase like a straw or a water filter, but I'd definitely say I became a lot more conscious of my waste, I think was a big thing. I didn't really recycle much back home just because we didn't really have the facilities for it but definitely making a conscious effort to always recycle when I can or making a conscious effort to only get as much food as I would eat and to limit my food waste or making like a lot of conscious decisions like that. And seeing a shift in my mentality almost, I think was maybe the biggest shift overall was just me being a lot more conscious as a consumer also as someone who eats food, I guess so. I think that was definitely the start of my journey. 


Ariel:

Yeah. Going vegetarian is awesome. What is one thing that you think anyone can do to be more sustainable? 


Lauren:

I think it's honestly just what I was just talking about in terms of making those decisions whenever you can. I think a lot of the misconception around sustainability is that you have to be vegetarian, you have to buy ethical fashion and you have to do all of those things, you need a metal straw. But, it can literally be as simple as deciding to walk somewhere instead of taking an Uber, if it's really close or it can be not buying the newest clothes when they come out if you don't really need to. I think the big thing about sustainability that I think anybody can do, possibly regardless of their circumstances is just be that little bit more conscious of it. Whether that's taking a shorter shower or something like that. I think even the fact that you're thinking about it and you're aware of it, is in and of itself helpful to the sustainability movement. 


I think little things like that is what I would always recommend, especially to people who are just getting started out. I know when I first started Eco Gal, I made a post where someone was talking about wanting to go vegetarian but saying that they weren't ready to cut out like X, Y and Z foods or whatever. But, you can cut out everything else and just keep X, Y and Z foods that you weren't ready to cut out yet. You know what I mean?


Ariel:

Yeah


Lauren:

 I think there's a misconception that it has to be, "Go big or go home", "All or nothing". But sustainability is more about helping the planet over like being perfect. You don't have to be perfect zero waste. You don't have to be a perfect vegetarian.  Sometimes I still eat seafood. I'm home in The Bahamas, I have to. 


Ariel:

Right


Lauren:

I think expecting perfection is one of the things that deters people away from sustainability. But even if you decide, once a week, you won't eat a meal that has meat in it, or any little choice I think is just really helpful overall. I think that would be my advice to anyone who wants to get started in sustainability. Don't put so much pressure on yourself, because you still did it. You know what I mean? 


Ariel:

Exactly. Yeah. Little by little, see what changes you can make. It's not a race, it's a journey.


Lauren:

Exactly


Ariel:

 Things are always going to change. All right. Lauren, last question. Where can everyone find you on the internet? 


Lauren:

Sure. My personal account is @laurenaritchie on Instagram, you can find The Eco Gal @itsecogal. You can also find me at https://theecogal.com/, which is my blog where I have a couple of articles up. And that's what [inaudible 25:43] three. That's all I got, mostly Instagram. I don't really use my Twitter as much, but you can probably still find those somewhere on the internet. 


Ariel:

Awesome. Thanks so much, Lauren, please go follow her. She has the best content. 


Lauren:

Thank you.


Ariel:

Thanks again for joining us today. 


Lauren:

Of course. Thank you for having me. 


Ariel:

Thank you so much for listening to the Sustainable Brown Girl Podcast. Be sure to subscribe and share it if you loved it and leave a review. You can find us on Instagram @sustainablebrowngirl and check out our Facebook community, we would love to have you there. Until next time, let's continue to make healthy choices for the health of our planet and the health of our bodies. Thanks for listening.


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