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Become Your Own (Eco) Hero

Cartoon characters with environmental protest signs stand in front of a picture of the Duluth lift bridge
December 2, 2020

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's an eco-hero saving the day!

Black Panther, Katniss Everdeen, or Harry Potter might come to mind when we think of heroes. Heroes don’t just exist in fictional worlds though; they’re all around us. A new type of hero has emerged in recent years to battle one of our biggest villains, the climate crisis. Eco-heroes advocate and fight for the protection and preservation of our environment and the species that depend on it. Anyone can be an eco-hero; the only powers needed are passion and dedication to advocating for the advancement of social and environmental justice.

Perhaps one of the most recognizable eco-heroes is Greta Thunberg. The seventeen-year-old started School Strikes for Climate, which has spread around the world. Another well-known name is Mari Copeny, also known as Little Miss Flint. Mari Copeny has campaigned for clean water for her community of Flint, Michigan for years. Closer to home, Nina Berglund campaigns against Pipeline 3 from her home in the Twin Cities. The Indigenous activist also formed the Youth Climate Intervenors, which paused the construction of the Line 3 Pipeline project. The Indigenous Women’s Water Sisterhood is another group of eco-heroes. They work with communities in northern to “identify environmental issues and work collaboratively to develop potential solutions.” The team includes Roxanne Gould, an associate professor at UMD’s Department of Education, Wendy Smythe, an assistant professor for UMD’s Department of American Indian Studies, as well as Mindy Granley, Renee Gurneau, Rachel King, and Arianna Northbird. 

This past semester, we’ve tackled some of the intersections between social justice and sustainability. We’ve refreshed our memories on the SDGs and other important sustainable initiatives. We’ve also recognized the privilege that surrounds the sustainability movement. We’ve discussed environmental racism and learned about how the Environmental Justice Movement has fought against it for years. We’ve distinguished the differences between Environmentalism and the Environmental Justice Movement, and acknowledged the discrimination that persists in the environmentalism movement. We’ve learned about key figures fighting for environmental justice around the world, including Samela Sateré-Mawé, Leah Thomas, and Robert Bullard. Finally, we’ve brought our discussion to the global stage and learned about how climate injustice disproportionately harms communities around the world. After reading about the different forms of social and environmental injustice and their intersections, you’re ready to bring action to your own community. 

To be an eco-hero, all you need to start with is passion and drive for a certain movement or issue. There are many resources on campus to help you on your journey. For example, you could join a student group, or create your own. Eco Reps brings sustainable initiatives to the UMD Residence Halls and Apartments. MPIRG is a student-funded and student-led advocacy organization that focuses on improving the surrounding community while also advocating for state, national, and global solutions. The SUN Delegation is another sustainability-focused student group. The SUN Delegation works to bring more solar energy to campus, as well as educate the surrounding community about the importance of clean energy. Cartoon Margaret Mead holds protest sign that reads: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughful, committed citizens can change the word; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

Besides joining a student group on campus, you can also create your own sustainability project and implement it on campus. Find some project ideas on the Office of Sustainability’s website.

Finally, keep learning! Use the resources available and share your knowledge and experiences with the people around you. Unlike our beloved fictional heroes, you won’t save the universe from Thanos’s snap, topple your oppressive government, or defeat your greatest enemy before calling it a day. Understanding the intersections between sustainability and social justice is a lifelong journey, and our office continues to learn alongside you. Stay with us as we continue to learn and work on these issues - this is just the beginning.