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Friday, February 2, 2018

Q&A: Sadie Beaton on the Shades of Green environmental podcast

The series discusses the meaning of environmental justice from unceded Mi’kmaq territory.

Posted By on Fri, Feb 2, 2018 at 1:52 PM

Alton Gas protesters outside Province House during 2016’s budget announcement. - CHRISTIAN LAFORCE
  • Christian Laforce
  • Alton Gas protesters outside Province House during 2016’s budget announcement.
Sadie Beaton is exploring the meaning of environmental justice—but she didn’t want to do it through an academic paper. Beaton, who has been part of The Ecology Action Centre team for 14 years, started a broadcast interview series under the title Shades of Green in 2016. Shades of Green launched its second season on February 1, which Beaton says “is pretty different” from the first. This five-part season dives into the roots of the mainstream environmental movement, environmental racism, the treaty-based resistance to the Alton Gas Project as well as other related topics.

The Coast: Where did you get the idea to start Shades of Green?

Sadie Beaton: Shades of Green is a podcast series, but it's part of this larger piece of work that I've been a part of that’s exploring the concept of environmental justice and what it might look like here in Nova Scotia and part of unceded Mi'kma'ki. So, it’s part of a case study that I've been compiling as part of my work at Ecology Action Centre. 

Basically what happened was I came back from maternity leave like three years ago, and while I'd been away EAC had more formally embarked on this  journey to better engage around power and privilege in their environmental work, and then around this cross-cutting theme that they had called environmental justice. So I just came back and I was curious about what environmental justice meant—I sort of only had a vague clue. And then [I was] extra curious about what EAC would mean as an organization, what would it mean to really dig into environmental justice. I was lucky enough to be funded for a project through Community Conservation Research Network to ask questions around how communities interact with the environment, so I was able to turn that question into a case study.

How does the second series differ from the first?
In the summer of 2016 they were just sort of a raw interview format and it was basically just asking people over and over again “What is environmental justice? What does it mean to you?” and getting really different answers. 

This new podcast series still doesn't really answer the question of what environmental justice means here in unceded Mi'kma'ki, but it's kind of an attempt to put together a little bit about what I've been learning from people so far and to invite further exploration of some of the themes and questions that have emerged through all these conversations, and hopefully make folks curious to learn more.

When you say “the mainstream environmental movement,” could you tell me a little bit more about what you mean by that?
I guess I just mean like environmental organizations, basically—so, ENGOs [environmental non-governmental organizations]. Some of the roots of environmentalism here were very colonial and coming from white folks wanting to protect wild spaces for their own use, whether it's recreational or spiritual and it being connected to the sort of ideology of the purity of nature. And so that's us from the past but we can—and we talk about this in the podcast—kind of connect that legacy. How it shapes what is considered an environmental issue today, what sort of spaces are protected, whose voices ideas are represented. Environmental organizations have moved and changed a lot, but they’re still often shaped by those ideas in ways that need to be acknowledged. And related to that, it's no secret that the the mainstream environmental movement is still largely shaped by white people and white people of  some pretty similar backgrounds. That shapes what is seen as an environmental issue how those issues are approached all that kind of stuff. 

Did you get some ideas from others folks as to how we can change those things?
Yeah. Different people have different ideas about that and that's part of what the arc of the series hopes to spur more questions about, but there's kind of a theme around acknowledging that folks in the more mainstream environmental movement are folks who aren't currently fighting for justice on the front lines. Acknowledging and learning about that fight, seeing where they're complicit, being curious to learn more and really listening. I feel like listening is a theme that comes up over and over again. 

One thing I’ve thought about, just being part of the environmental movement for a long time…I've been feeling really lucky to have this chance to really sit with the question. In the environmental movement, we’re often running around putting out fires, chasing deliverables, racing against time to save the whales or whatever. Things can feel really urgent and outward-facing, and so sometimes there’s not a lot of reflection in these movements. I also think sometimes we avoid that reflection. It can be hard to slow down and reflect on the painful realization of being complicit. We all want to be wearing green capes and stopping the bad guys, so it’s hard to sit with that feeling. There’s something in that, that I hope this series brings across around the importance of really just sitting with that discomfort and listening, and then asking questions about how our movements can grow and change to address these issues more meaningfully.

I’m just talking about the reflection part. The changing part is harder—I have less to say about that, you know? A lot of that, I think, has to emerge out of those initial steps of acknowledgement and listening, then being able to build genuine relationships, and the change comes somewhere in there.

Note: Beaton's answers have been lightly edited for length, style and clarity.

Listen to the first episode of Shades of Green’s second season below.

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