Beyond the Ballot: Environmental Justice

Tuesday, Nov 17, 2020
by Oyin Sangoyomi '23, Student Correspondent

Beyond the Ballot highlights actions that the Princeton University community is taking to address issues they care about, as well as ways people are becoming more informed on these issues. We recently spoke with Mayu Takeuchi, a sophomore intending to concentrate in either economics or the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA). Takeuchi was a John C. Bogle ’51 Fellow in Civic Service with The New Jersey Environmental Justice Alliance (NJEJA) this summer and is also involved in a number of student organizations focused on climate policies.

To Mayu Takeuchi, not only does environmental justice mean that everybody deserves the equal right to a clean and healthy environment, but it also means that everyone deserves a spot at the table when it comes to environmental policymaking. It is this belief that led to her involvement in climate initiatives at a legislative level. “Climate change is already starting to impact a lot of people’s lives,” she said. “People are feeling it now and it’s only going to get worse from here. So I think that now is the time to act, especially as a young person.”

She emphasizes that as young people, the impacts of climate change are what we will face in the coming decades, and as students and future leaders, we can determine the future that we’re on track for. That is why this summer, her Bogle Fellowship with NJEJA focused on creating an educational compilation of resources that can be used to teach people about environmental justice. She believes that one of the biggest issues in environmental justice is the assumptions that people make about policymaking, which can in turn cause them to not listen to smaller communities, especially lower income ones or those of color. After all, she points out, it is these communities that suffer disproportionately from natural disasters and the effects of climate change.

Takeuchi admits that the unique circumstances of 2020 complicated her work in that it made it more difficult for her to connect with the people of these essential communities. However, the insurgence of talk around racial and socioeconomic injustices this year helped make people open to these kinds of conversations. The 2020 presidential election also prompted politicians to create and share environmental plans.

And though the election is coming to an end, her work is far from over. When asked if electing politicians that have good environmental policies means that environmental issues are solved, with a chuckle she answered, “It’s not just enough to have the people on the ballot, the people elected, wanting to push for environmental justice. We really do need local action from the ground up driven by communities.”

She continues her work through various student groups on campus as well as her position with the Office of Sustainability, where she is involved in the organizing of a Wintersession event titled “Environmental Justice: What Can I Do?” that will be an educational opportunity to examine what environmental justice looks like on the ground for students as future policy makers. To do so, they will speak with organizers from local environmental justice communities.

Because ultimately, change starts at the community-level, and that is where we need to listen. “What I’ve learned through my work is that it’s important to keep questioning whose voices you're listening to,” Takeuchi concludes. “Realize that there are a lot of voices that are not heard and represented in the government and policymaking spaces. It’s important to make sure that future generations know what’s happening on both sides and have all the information that people are doing in the communities, even if they’re not being heard.”