In the context of the pandemic, people spent relatively little time speaking about these topics (see graph, above). Did we ask the questions well? REJOICE facilitators, liaisons, and interpreters (where needed), met before holding each community conversation, to try to create a shared understanding of terms, and to frame questions in simple, accessible, and relevant language. We began each focus group conversation with a question about participants’ concerns about their environment, and how those had changed with during the pandemic. Yet many groups spent relatively little time discussing the outdoor environment.
For elders and the chronically ill, especially, indoor lived environments, and the safety and impact of people’s surroundings on their bodies–including on children’s bodies– mattered more (see also housing and economy and education). What Environmental Justice means in Vermont, the language we use to speak about it, and the changes we prioritize to achieve greater equity in the distribution of benefits and burdens, must center the lived realities of the most vulnerable Vermonters most impacted.
A few elements of story from the graph shown above:
- Spanish-speaking farmworkers and New Americans were concerned about kids losing access to outdoor recreation and parks, and about adequate sanitation and bathroom facilities in housing.
- Mobile home residents worried about standing water, failing park sewer systems, and drainage.
- Elders–both from the Rutland area and New Americans in Chittenden County reported concerns about air quality, from neighbors’ smoking and woodstove use.
- Those with chronic illness and traumatic brain injuries shared elders’ concerns, and reported being additionally impacted by odors and dust from construction. Closing windows against those airborne contaminants worsened the impacts of heat, growing under climate change. Climate change, they noted, also increased vector-borne illnesses, like Lyme disease.
- NEK residents REJOICE spoke with during the pandemic, and previously, in 2019, with were concerned by the impacts of leachate from the state’s only landfill, in Coventry, on water quality, among other concerns.
Summary compiled by: Dr. Susannah McCandless, Center for Whole Communities REJOICE 2021