By Hannah Wilson
I’ve spent time in forests across many landscapes across the West. I grew up aware of the impacts of climate change, driving me to study environmental justice issues at the University of Washington and make it my life’s work to address many of the intersections of climate justice. My experiences have taken me from fieldwork on the Olympic Peninsula studying the Indigenous practices of burning prairies, to the Cascades looking at how fires and climate change will shape forest ecosystems in the years to come. I currently work in urban forest restoration and urban farming in the city of Seattle, doing the work that makes me feel whole.
These days, I step outside my apartment, hands sanitized and work boots tied tight. I walk down my street for 30 minutes, smiling at the familiar faces in the neighborhood and listening to my new favorite bops in my headphones. Thinking about friends who lost all their sources of income, paranoia of how to keep my phone and hands clean, thinking of what I’ll be able to do at the farm today, thinking of the Black community I am part of and the powerful ways we organize as a means of survival, and finally, of course, the looming climate crisis. I take my headphones off as I arrive, grateful for the rare Seattle sun and the old school pickup truck driving up to me, signaling the beginning of my workday.
Our number one priority at the farm is growing food for and by the Black, Indigenous, and communities of color we aim to serve. Even on an urban farm, the health of the forests is reflected daily in the work we do. When I pick the greens, I put them in a bucket, shower them with some water, and leave them in the shade to keep them cool. I dream of the day we get to plant trees all along the side of the farm as a means of blocking some of the highway noise and pollution. I admire the blossoms on the trees in the ever-growing perennial orchard we have. I think about the meaning of having a food forest in comparison to a food desert. The gaps in the food system are intentional. Certain areas of access to food is preserved, just like a forest is logged or preserved at the discretion of those exploiting the resource. I think of how Indigenous communities used the gaps in their forests to cultivate foods. I look to them when I decide what to grow, how to grow it, and how we share it.
Amid the public health crisis of COVID-19, we are witnessing failure after failure of our governments and the ways we distribute our resources. I am grieving over the loss of life and what I understood as my own normal life. I am reminded that this is exactly what the climate crisis will normalize, something that many have been warning us of for decades. The impacts of climate change will undoubtedly hit marginalized communities the hardest and quickest, much like what has happened with the Coronavirus pandemic.
The fight against climate change doesn’t begin with the number of trees we have on this planet or the preservation of ecosystems across the globe. It begins with our relationship to our environment and how we value it, especially in terms of the forests. The reciprocal relationship we have with trees sustains the balance we need to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis. The carbon they sequester is just the beginning of why we need forests. We are experiencing a great imbalance when it comes to resource exploitation as a result of capitalism and colonialism.
Washington Wild is building broad coalitions of stakeholders to protect our last remaining old-growth forests, like those in the Cascades and Olympic Peninsula where I studied, working with Indigenous communities, faith leaders, local businesses, and more to address the impacts of climate change on our wild lands and waters.
When we learn to take care of our vulnerable communities in our society, we will have to take care of the vulnerable forests and ecosystems that keep us in balance and face the climate crisis head on.
Hannah Wilson is an Outreach Specialist for Earth Corps and a 2020 Sheroes award winner. She is passionate about environmental restoration and the need to reconsider the ways environmental organizations partner and engage with communities, especially when engaging with communities of color in a way that is equitable and just in the face of increasing climate change, gentrification, and resource exploitation.