Virginia Environmental Justice Map

Land health drives people health. The Renewal of Life Trust, is pleased to partner with the Virginia Environmental Justice Collaborative and Mapping for Environmental Justice to elevate the Virginia Environmental Justice Map. The map was created to inform about the cumulative impacts of environmental injustice in Virginia and strengthen networks of advocacy for the prioritization of resources to affected communities. Data is essential to identify pollution, but the human chronicle of environmental injustice affords great opportunity towards remedy. As Lakeisha Wright points out “Community should inform data and not the other way around.” Connect with us to tell your story.

Click on the map to begin exploration of demographic and environmental layers.

“Environmental justice is Civil Rights in the 21st century” – Quentin Pair

Step into Tomorrow

Conversations about wealth in America center around land, labor and accessibility to these resources. Land is the foundation of health and wealth and the foundation of democracy. The rejuvenation of social order will largely rest on clean air and water, land access for food and housing, in that order. Statistics about farmers, particularly African Americans and other landowners cheated out of their livelihood by zoning and land use ordinances are commonplace. Real estate and industrial conglomerates devour land parcels in unprecedented ways using outright theft at times. Sometimes heirs compromise homestead stability because money is valued over legacy. Reports highlight a nearly 98% decline in property ownership of African Americans into the 21st century. The ownership decline and other real challenges to wealth accumulation underpin poor health, poverty and racism. Global summits and local meetings reveal that humanitarian interests are too often not prioritized in corporate affairs. After hearing much talk and seeing little action, changemakers are considering strategies to counter these menacing and often surprising maneuvers for land.

Into the 21st century, African American and First Nation communities in America organized independent communities to prioritize interests and address land access challenges. Hopefully the number of landowners has grown exponentially in recent years with the growing interest to enhance the ledger of land possession and generational retention. Below are three important areas of focus steward land’s abundant offerings.

  1. Plan Ahead

Climate change and the threat of displacement requires urgent action. Climate change is not a new phenomenon; marked in stretches of the earth that were once lush but now desert such as the Sahara region in Africa. As climate experts predict, flooding, tornados, sea level rise and other historic disasters show the wrath of nature. Economic and health challenges ensue from these, including the scourges of disaster capitalism contributing to land loss when families are ultimately unable to protect property interests. A divided family with real estate holdings can create challenges to ensuring protection of property and legacy, especially when disasters hit. Heirs’ property is particularly noted as problematic when disasters hit because of divided holdings in real estate. Mediation services may help families come to amicable terms. Insurance helps, but more essential are harmonious family relations where property priorities are understood; and estate documents are in order and secure. If family land is used for agricultural purpose, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Heirs’ Property Relending Program helps with capital to resolve land ownership and succession issues. Family unity and emergency preparation are the best ways to weather any storm.

2. Monitor Local Development Plans

The overzealous extraction of natural resources, industrial contamination or ecology destruction by mining, power plants, pipelines, petro/chemical production and land-fills cause soil degradation and threaten waterways. Sacrifice Zones was a term used during the Cold War to describe highly contaminated uranium mining sites assigned to nuclear purposes. Today, the term denotes industrial sprawl that contaminates neighborhoods and communities, significantly impacting land value and health. More industry means less agriculture and opportunities for family land possession. Property values may even rise as result of eco-gentrification projects, some purported to enhance greenhouse gas efficiency and reduce emissions, though cancer, asthma, coronavirus, kidney disease, and other ailments are increasingly attributed to nearby pollution. Land deals often occur in municipal settings with lighting speed; often before communities are able to fully come to terms with or do in-depth research and discovery. Land protection strategies are greatly enhanced with timely civic engagement. Civic engagement also strengthens connections to networks of like-minded people.

3. Grow Family Wealth

The coronavirus has proven to be more than just a health challenge with its massive dent to the economy and family livelihoods. Clean air, clean water and the ability to care for land is traditionally the parent of hope. Health is after all the truest wealth. Community resiliency is tied to our physical state, and the physical world (land and all spheres associated with it) is also a key driver of economics. Beyond helping us feel better, there are plentiful opportunities to generate financial wealth with access to land and managing resources, including farming, forestry, managing rental properties, solar farms, commercial leasing, agritourism or managing a recreational site for example. Sustainability is the consideration and practice of balance between the generational extraction of resources and retaining a healthy bio-sphere. It is a lifestyle that we should all consider as earthly residents.

Climate change, industrial infringement and self-preservation requires our immediate and conscious attention as human sprawl and industries remain untamed. Perhaps the greatest challenge to national and community health and wealth is the lens of scarcity that are standardized in theories of economy. The lie of scarcity drives the hoarding of natural resources, monetary and material possessions, and widens gaps between” disenfranchised” communities and the “dominant” players of capitalism. Society has moved from an agrarian or land focused society to a consumer society; significantly bearing on overall social wellness. An abundance framework brings the realization that land is the highest call for justice. Therefore, we should acknowledge, make space for and protect nature’s and therefore our rights and abundance.    

Thank you for continued support of the Renewal of Life Land Trust. We are appreciative of the positive energy and support of friends and members in land stewardship, and look forward to expanding education, mediation and land retention in the new year.  Please consider a contribution or investment to our mission.

Beyond Trauma

It sometimes feels like health and wealth are being threatened by forces out of our control. Repeat news cycles of eviction, poverty, climate crisis and wayward militia can dominate the mind, evident as we endure the George Floyd trial. Links between disease and the environment become more obvious as our collective immune system is attacked just by observation of the viciousness that is sometimes represented as normalcy.

Fortunately, there is a force (not necessarily the police force) that we do have control of. It is the life force; an energy that avails anybody aware it. The energy that fuels hope and opportunities for self-sufficiency. It is often referred to as ancient wisdom and we can draw on it to usher change. Change is not always found delivering fiery podium messages or seeking a ballot box vote. Change may not come in the form of media stories that hype trends. Change is the direction that singularly and then collectively each one of us walks and talks. Each of us, in the form of individual choices, strengthen or weaken collective goals and direction. “People over Profit” is a direction that simplifies the vision of environmental stewardship, and this can be viewed as optional for life, but with dire consequence.

Our visions for a just world can and must expand beyond a trauma response and what is perceived as doable. Social and political boundaries can be redefined for the protection and preservation of important assets, and for self interest. A poverty mindset lacks control of their environment. Time moves on, and this season of water and winds ushers another chance for our enhanced health and wealth. We are granted permissions to take and give as Mother Earth opens to us each year. One of the most important renewal energy sources to humanity is humanity and obedience to natural law.


The Growth of Environmentalism

Environmentalism as a social movement facilitates concern and action typically centering on the protection of biodiversity, climate change and/or the reduction of carbon emissions. Unfortunately, environmentalism has sometimes proven to be detrimental to people who have had longstanding relationship with the earth and are documented caretakers. According to National Geographic, the world’s 370 million indigenous peoples only manage or hold tenure of over 25 percent of the world’s land surface and support about 80 percent of the global biodiversity. Not only are resources scarcely afforded to the indigenous, the indigenous are often made more vulnerable by environmentalist ideology. Global examples in the resource rich region of Africa point to the Maasai in Tanzania being evicted from traditional territories in the name of ecotourism; the Sengwr and Ogiek peoples in Kenya displaced for conservation purposes; the Gibe III dam in Ethiopia’s Omo River forced the people from their ancestral lands. America’s green movement has made significant strides but also presents communities made more vulnerable by environmental idealism, as funds and energy are allocated to green spaces or even as industrial pollution is not mitigated.  In one case, rather than clean up a brownfield of high lead content, an entire community was relocated, destroying the important social fabric that existed. Thus, rural and urban communities may experience anxiety and even displacement by environmentalist “commitment” to public welfare.

Conservation, once a term reserved for the preservation and efficient use of natural resources, applies now to affordable housing and built environment schemes in urban areas. Eco-gentrification (greening neighborhoods) changes the socio-economic character of community; often attracting wealthier residents to neighborhoods previously challenged by underdevelopment or pollution and increasing land value, sometimes forcing former residents to leave. In conversations about climate change, burdens associated with greenhouse emissions, carbon reduction and climate refuges are situated in the context of historically disenfranchised or vulnerable communities, but with limited resources to confront the industries that most pollute.

Environmentalism has expanded beyond the singular concern of protecting the environment, and approaches are multifaceted. Clearly, it is understood that large scale industrial presence(s) situated most often within vulnerable communities contribute to a variety of pollutants, climate change and the need for environmental preservation. Therefore, initiatives and funding for clean energy should not only engage vulnerable communities but prioritize environmental justice and energy efficiency within vulnerable communities. As protocols exist, funding for energy efficiency is largely directed to industry, leaving traditionally disenfranchised communities to continue to engage in protracted battles for economic viability and growth.

A strategy forward is to broaden the vision for green equity in underserved communities by strengthening community administration of environmental education. “People don’t fight for the rights they don’t know they have” says Luisa Neubauer. This approach helps to expand environmental advocacy and prioritizes the areas that cause environmental imbalance within communities. The growth of environmentalism in the short and long term should focus not only on building a more sustainable and resilient natural environment, but also social and economic resiliency that are essential for life.

The Renewal of Life Trust continues in advocacy and education approaches to encourage and broaden the application of indigenous approaches to land stewardship.

It’s In Our Hands

2020 will be memorable as a year of uncertainty and of course the pandemic. Plans laid for the year were largely abandoned and the world changed it seemed overnight. Even Sunday church services were cancelled, but there was an anointing of time… an experience of renewed awareness and vision. The instinct to grow food was apparent as seeds and gardening supplies sold out. Concerns about food security and the value of land were heightened, as well as health as a priority consideration.

While governments warned of sickness and disease, communities focused on wellness and vitality. Health is often described as determined by social, economic and environmental conditions, subscribing it to something or someone from the outside. Conversations now turned to health as something created within. In addition to families getting back to the land and gardening, old home remedies and family solutions were prioritized for well-being. Acknowledgements for cultural and spiritual inheritance were elevated, especially caring for the land as a way to protect the natural gifts that make us, our families, and society better. This is empowerment.

After 33 years, our mission for land stewardship remains as relevant as ever. We are awakening to a new social reality, but land was and continues to be the way toward liberation, the way toward rebirth. Land stewardship is taking on the front or backyard patch of land, nearby park space or the industrial polluter that butts the neighborhood or district. Land stewardship is preserving farms, sacred spaces and abandoned places to ensure healthy biodiversity today and for future generations. Land stewardship is a hand for land access and agency to conserve spaces for health and vitality. It’s for the Renewal of Life. It’s in our hands.