by Isatis Cintrón
I am island born. Growing up with wind styling my hair, the sun kissing my salty skin and sand between my toes, I was told it could all be taken away. I fail to pin-point a specific moment in time where my climate action story began.
Maybe it was the fear of trading the relaxing sound of the sea with gushing waves against people’s walls. Maybe it was courage instilled in the mountains of Caimito where people resisted, fiercely, against urban expansion and environmental disruption in San Juan. Maybe it was my access to privileged education to help me understand the disconnection between rules and practice. It allowed me to grasp and describe the endless loop of global interconnections. Regardless of the blurred lines of time, when I think about my story I don’t think about it as being isolated.
I think about the story of us.
For a long time, I thought about climate change as a scientific problem, but enlightenment doesn’t provoke behavior change, action does. Positive social facilitation is crucial to internalize climate action as a norm, as an expected conduct. Frustrated for the lack of action, I started tracing stories, testimonies from afar and words from home. Soon I realized that just because affirmative action is not boxed into climate change doesn’t mean it is not building sustainability. The fight for social justice is as environmental as the fight for fossil fuel divestment. Poverty reduction is pivotal to reduce climate risk.
I often found myself on the verge of fighting for social and environmental justice or supporting progress and innovation. As if they were polar opposites of the same equation. I couldn’t raise my voice without doubting myself—having internalized the dominant discourse, that somehow environmentalists are inherently against progress.
But what does progress mean? And who defined it? Just because things work a certain way, doesn’t mean they should be. This confrontation with past definitions of progress puts the environmental aim of progress toward a better way in conflict with itself.
I listened, I read and I saw people harvesting water from air, using the Warka Tower to solve the challenge facing thirsty families. I learned that the collectives in Puerto Rico for gender equality were increasing community resilience. It is no secret that women already experience disproportionate hardships, which will only be deepened by climate change. This puts them at the top of climate vulnerability, even as they are the key for climate solutions. Women serve as the bedrock both for families and for better governance. Their empowerment will be the seed towards sustainable practices and environment-friendly education, starting at home.
Some people denounce long-view solutions (some of them false solutions) to climate change, because we do not have time to waste. We do not need technological fixes that will set us up for another type of climate change. We do not need fuels that only bridge to a different kind of poisoning of our communities . We do not need reforestation mechanisms that ignore its underlying causes in the first place. We do need, however, ample engagement of all the individual stakeholders. Indigenous people claim their seat at the table arguing because they are “global players in climate change mitigation and reliable guardians” of the carbon sinks they inhabit: the forests.
There are students and visionaries awake across the world, drinking a cup of coffee before entering the lab again at midnight, developing solar roads, electric vehicles, bladeless turbines, photovoltaic windows and atomizing showers. There are powerful nations, such as Germany, powering their grid mainly with renewables. Yet, we cling to the idea of wiping clean lands, building sturdy walls and the use of fossil fuels to move our obsolete machinery.
Who is really halting innovation—the environmentalist or the private interest that sustains the status quo?
There is no victim and no savior, just opportunities to learn from each other.
How can we unify our knowledge? Or better yet, diversify our understanding? In examining traditions of resistance, I always found persistence as a common denominator. Stories of men and women willing to fight for change come hurricane or high water, drought or wildfire. We are not faceless; in fact we are a many-faced collective identity. As such, I aim to build global solidarity to rise together against climate change. This is my fight; this is our fight. We are the pollution spread through our lands, the fury rushing through our veins, the color of our landscapes, the pain in the variety of the living, the spark of a revolution.
Our identity and desire to live cannot be washed away, and people like us cannot be contained.