A new year is always a great time to spur new action. When that year is following the hellscape that has been 2020 and 2021, we’re all desperate for a positive change. To me, that must entail action and policy for more life and good health. This resolution is a set of 10 salutogenic (health-promoting) ideas that are simple in nature, albeit complex in practice, intended to advance environmental justice.

Katharine Morris

More robust tree canopies in urban areas throughout the state! In addition to producing oxygen and recycling CO2 emissions, planting ecologically compatible trees can improve human health by helping to reduce stress, depression, and risk of respiratory disease and heatstroke, and produce free food if the trees bear fruit or nuts. Yes, tree planting and post-planting care is a time commitment, but when done strategically, it is always a win-win!

More accessible farmers markets, community food hubs (e.g Fridgehaven, Fridgeport, Grow Harford, and CLiCK), and grocery stores to resist food apartheid! More accessible means food and nutrition security is essential for physical and mental health, protects against toxins like lead, and supports cultural exchange when cultivated with intention. I recommend the Soul Fire Farm’s Northeast Farmers of Color network (NEFOC) and Ron Finely’s Guerilla Gardening for inspiration.

More equitable public transportation that reduces the demand for personal vehicles! Achieving this will require legislation and city planning that mitigates the disproportionate exposure to vehicle emissions in environmental justice communities. Planning must also make our city streets and sidewalks more bikeable and pedestrian friendly.

More pollinator gardens and wildflowers! They beautify local spaces and promote biodiversity, thus ecological health and resilience. Let’s save the bees and make it look pretty.

More renovation of abandoned buildings into green energy efficient housing and community recreation spaces! Abandoned buildings signify abandoned communities. We need accessible, affordable housing for the homeless, the refugees, the climate migrants, the young adults, the people. We need places to play, celebrate, convene, make art, and organize. Similarly, empty parking lots could be repurposed into raised-bed community gardens for public use and consumption.

More remediation of brownfields via phytoremediation or mycoremediation! This is using deep rooted plants and mushrooms to clean hazardous waste, including heavy metals, effectively remediating toxic soil and groundwater, and cleaning the air. Connecticut is home to 13 federal superfund sites like Raymark Industries in Stratford which requires EPA Remedial Investigations at the Housatonic Boat Club, along Shore Road, wetlands along the Housatonic, Short Beach Park, and the Stratford and Bridgeport Landfills. Like tree-planting, natural remediation is necessary for the sake of human, animal, and environmental health.

More green energy to permanently replace all incinerators! Exposure to the toxins released by these facilities is devastating to environmental and human health producing health disparities in the low-income communities of color they disproportionately impact. No one wants coal in their stocking, or literally anywhere else except buried underground. That goes for all fossil fuels. MIRA is supposedly shut down, Putnam wants out, and Bridgeport would be better off without the toxic contributions of Wheelabrator and PSEG. Transitioning to green energy is essential and will definitely create jobs.

More education on climate change, environmental justice, ecology, and health! Sharing an ecosystem means these issues are inextricably linked. Teaching this, framed by indigenous knowledge on land stewardship, and One Health (which recognizes the link between human, animal, and environmental health) in public schools is necessary to innovate solutions to the present and future problems of the climate crisis. Policy initiatives seldom recognize the connections linking social and environmental issues thus limiting our capacity to plan accordingly.

More climate resilient infrastructure to mitigate disproportionate vulnerability! When extreme weather events take place, some areas suffer more due to weak infrastructure and systems devaluation. As a nation, we witnessed Hurricanes Katrina and Ida devastate parts of Louisiana and Mississippi. Thousands of Puerto Rican families sought refuge in Connecticut after Hurricane Maria left them homeless; signifying the climate refugee crisis. Locally, we’ve become accustomed to disparities in preparative and responsive services across CT cities for storms like Hurricanes Irene and  Sandy and Superstorms Henri and Isaias. Expecting EJ communities to go without power, food, and support while others areas are fine cannot remain the status quo.

More power to the people!  Greater collective efficacy, or successful community organizing, is positively associated with better health outcomes. Meaning collective action addressing structural inequities and systemic racism is good for your health! The oppressive system of racial capitalism and imperialism are antithetical to life and sustainable growth. System “reform” is not the type of recycling we need. Saving the world means changing the world. There’s no time to waste.

New Year Resolutions are like ritualistic recommitment to our health and wellness goals. Let’s expand the range of impact to our communities and ecosystem at large. This resolutions list is certainly not exhaustive nor will it solve all environmental injustices, the climate crisis, or reverse generations of systemic racism, however, they do make for a good starting point. A starting point that must begin sooner than later…. like yesterday tbh. Implementing community-driven solutions will take imagination, pure will, and relentless collective action. This year, I hope folks recognize their power as individuals and their unique, incomparable contribution to the collective. I hope all like-minded people continually find inspiration that will sustain their commitment to transforming our world for the better.

Happy New Year!

Katharine Morris lives in New Haven.