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Holocene  •  19 May 2021  •  Non-Fiction

Too Poor, Too Ethnic, Not Green Enough

By Vanessa Lim
Too Poor, Too Ethnic, Not Green Enough

My first encounter with an ‘eco-friendly’ item was the green Woolies bag. “Put those green bags away, they’re expensive,” said Mum. I remember thinking how much of a luxury those bags were to me. I remember thinking about how cool those bags were. Why we couldn’t switch to reusable bags. We were and are still poor. While I thought my family wasn’t actively thinking about the environment ر they were actually thinking about what was the most affordable option and were still resourceful with the ‘single use’ items we collected. 

Plastic bags were used to store things together instead of buying new boxes. Some plastic cutlery was washed and then used again for when we went out and needed cutlery again. Cling wrap was reused to wrap other food. Plastic bottles were kept to store other drinks. 

What my parents were teaching us to do back then wasn’t the typical idea of being eco-friendly. They were unintentional eco- friendly practices, done out of necessity. While a couple of my primary school friends had reusable aluminium or tough plastic bottles, I had been reusing a $1 plastic water bottle that had lasted about a year.

I remember my parents taking us to a second-hand car auction to purchase a vehicle after our other used car had broken down. I remember my dad coming home from work with his skin peeling from the 45-degree heat. Splinters and tiny bits of metal had managed to get into his skin. He didn’t have a ‘green’ job or use public transport to get to work, but the working class doesn’t have easy access to that. Western Sydney heat islands that have been exacerbated by climate change especially affect working-class people like my dad. Working in an air-conditioned workplace was a luxury he couldn’t access. Yet, it was my parent’s migrant dream for their children to study hard and then be able to work in an office and become middle-class Australians so money wasn’t a concern anymore. 

Reflecting back on some of these memories, and seeing how far the green movement has come since then, I now realise that these actions my parents took were still relatively environmentally friendly. It just wasn’t a green-washed idea of what being eco-friendly meant. Climate change affects everyone in a different way. While some may rely on the cool ocean breeze to relieve their 30-degree summer day, others must work on a 50-degree summer day to make ends meet. While you might see some green space in the city disappear due to increasing gentrifi-cation, there is mass deforestation occurring on the outskirts of Sydney. While you might be avoiding your beach due to heavy rain, others are experiencing mass flooding in their area.

Thinking about some of these issues can be quite over-whelming at first but I believe the first step to creating a more inclusive green movement is acknowledging the existing system we’re working under to enact change. It is also important to acknowledge that it’s not necessarily the faults of people living in their current environment, but it is important to be aware of other existing environmental issues outside of their own context. By acknowledging this disparity, it allows us to be consciously more inclusive of other aspects that currently aren’t included in the mainstream green movement. Taking these small steps as individuals together is what makes long term impactful changes. The green movement needs everyone to mobilise, not just a privileged few in the world.

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