Op-Ed: Let’s Burn Together (or Save The Planet)

Words by Abigail Vela

The things I remember from my childhood are the times spent frolicking in the mud with my cousins out on the parcela (aka rancho) in Mexico. I remember watching frogs appear out of the mud to hop away from us. I remember when my apa would drive us near the banks of El Rio Grande; my brothers, cousins, and I would sit on the back of his pickup truck, feeling the wind soaring through our hair, laughing as we watched nature pass us by so quickly. 

 

I remember walking with my abuela on a hot summer day: It was so hot, and there wasn’t much wind. I complained about the heat, and she smiled and told me to say “Barba de Oro,” translating to “Beard of Gold.” She told me if I said it loud enough and often enough, the wind would soon appear— and appear it did.

 

I recall these memories to plead the case that nature is vital in everything we do, whether it be social justice work, advocating for human rights, enjoying an afternoon stroll in the park with a friend, or breathing and drinking water. Yet, at times, we ignore the many issues plaguing our communities within the Rio Grande Valley. Although Earth Day/Month has come and gone, these issues remain. So as we tread along into May and begrudgingly feel the heat of what feels like an early Summer in the Valley, let’s not forget to keep fighting.

Intersectional Environmentalism in the 956

Everything we do fundamentally depends on each other, including our planet Earth. As of 2020, the term intersectional environmentalism was coined by environmental author and advocate Leah Thomas, and ultimately “focuses on achieving climate justice, amplifying historically excluded voices + approaching environmental education, policy, and activism with equity, inclusion and restorative justice in mind.” Over 1 million people have since signed IE’s pledge.

 

Intersectional Environmentalist (IE) has since become a nonprofit organization, platform, and movement that “aims to advocate for environmental justice, provide educational resources surrounding intersectional environmentalism, and promote inclusivity and accessibility within environmental education and movements.” Communities that IE advocates for are BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and people with disabilities. 

Illustration of bright green recycling sign with the words ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Illustration by Sandro Galicia, aka Face 2 Face Art.

So what’s the point of introducing intersectional environmentalism to the 956?

 

Simple— because IE’s movement is our movement, too.

 

Look at the Biden administration’s recent approval of the Willow Project as of March this year. The Willow Project is expected to be a decadeslong oil drilling project in Alaska that will produce 9.2 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon pollution annually. This is only one of the most recent national environmental crises that national headlines have covered. 

 

Let us acknowledge that we, too, have crucial environmental issues that we need to pay attention to here at home. It matters; it’s all connected. So let us apply IE’s mission to everything we do para nuestro hogar.

Illustration of three doves with the tops of their heads burning from environmental issues, with photo background of a fishing dock at South Padre Island.
Illustration by Sandro Galicia, aka Face 2 Face Art.

Environmental Issues Affecting the RGV

 

Many people have expressed to me, “It’s always been this way,” or “This has been going on forever; we’ll be okay,” or bleakly said, “It’s too late to do anything.” To them, I respond, Why should we accept the way things are when we have the power to change our future?

 

Yes, the global climate crisis and national environmental issues will affect us here at home. However, the more pressing problems that are affecting us today in the RGV include the following:

Since their arrival, Space X has affected the Brownsville community and ecosystems of Boca Chica Beach. Their latest rocket launch on April 20th prompted over 27 local organizations to sign on to a letter expressing community concern, writing that Space X has been “destroying more than 60 acres of wildlife habitat for threatened and endangered species, and threatening public safety with rocket shrapnel blown into fishing spots and the community.” The letter has shown a unified front amongst local indigenous, environmental, reproductive justice, civil rights, LGBTQ+, creative groups, and more against Space X’s injustices, lack of transparency, blatant disregard for the community, and utter disrespect for our environment.

The RGV is located near the Gulf of Mexico, making it susceptible to flooding from rain, thunderstorms, and hurricanes. According to Texas Public Radio, “Hidalgo County is expanding quickly, and drainage improvements and developments can’t keep up… Colonias bear the brunt of this issue (flooding) because they exist in rural areas that aren’t built for such rapid growth and that have the worst infrastructures in the Valley — if they have any at all.”

According to an article from Rice University Kinder Institute for Urban Research (written by three urban planning researchers who grew up in the RGV), “The population in the RGV is projected to nearly double by the year 2045 (from 1.3 million to 2.4 million on the U.S. side), driven by significant employment growth.” This rapid growth can be attributed to the arrival of Space X, especially near the Brownsville area. Gentrification and rising housing costs may soon attribute to a lack of affordable housing and resources for residents in the Valley.

On Thursday, April 20th, The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave LNG companies NextDecade and Glenfare the green light. According to the local environmental organization Save RGV, “The Brownsville Navigation District has leased sites for LNG terminals to 5 companies for a total of 2834 acres along the Brownsville Ship Channel.” Ultimately, these projects will pose critical hazards for nearby communities and wildlife habitats. Save RGV offers a plethora of information on why the approved LNG export terminals are detrimental to the valley’s wetlands.

The peace of being surrounded by the natural world should be an experience accessible to all. Recognizing that the recreational system historically was built on oppression means there is a need to dismantle the effects of racism that have affected communities of color. The continuous presence of border patrol along the natural parks surrounding the border affects how Latinx and POC individuals in the Rio Grande Valley interact with the outdoors in 2023.

Illustration of bits of trash scattered across a photo background of a sandy and sunny beach.
Illustration by Sandro Galicia, aka Face 2 Face Art.

The RGV Community Speaks Out

 

I had the privilege to ask a few community members their thoughts on the issues affecting us in the RGV. Here’s what they had to say:

It’s Not Too Late To Get Involved

 

I write this article not to be alarmist but to bring awareness to the issues that people may tend to avoid addressing in our community because they might not feel as pressing as the very act of surviving— working each day to pay rent, have food on our table, and a roof over our heads. However, we mustn’t forget that the turbulencies our ecosystems undergo shape our future; any negative and positive impacts are intertangled with our day-to-day lives.

 

In conclusion, environmental activism and sustainability cause significant changes in all facets of life, and it’s not too late to take action in your community. You can begin by educating yourself on simple sustainable things you can do at home, joining local workshops on sustainability, thrifting clothes, riding a bike, picking up trash at the beach, supporting your local businesses, and so much more.

Illustration of bits of trash being picked up by frog people across a photo background of a sandy and sunny beach.
Illustration by Sandro Galicia, aka Face 2 Face Art.

Check Out These Resources!

 

Here are a few local environmental organizations, groups, businesses, and community members to get involved with and be inspired by:

 

Sierra Club – Lower Rio Grande Valley Group: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Another Gulf Is Possible: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

UTRGV Environmental Awareness Club: Facebook | Instagram

South Texas Environmental Justice Network

South Texas Border Chapter Texas Master Naturalist

Divest/Invest RGV

Save RGV

Hermana Luna

South Texas Manudeo

RGV Refillery: Facebook | Instagram

Bin less: Facebook | Instagram

Preloved Reloved RGV: Facebook | Instagram 

Critical Mass McAllen: Facebook | Instagram

 

Keep in touch with Trucha’s Roots Break Walls Campaign

Part 1: The Radical Root | Part 2: Rooting Abundance | Part 3 To Be Announced

 

Check out the Nuestra Delta Magica exhibition in Brownsville, Texas, on display until June 1st, 2023.

 

Watch my short documentary on rediscovering sustainability with the help of my community here in McAllen, created through Entre’s Documentary Intensive Workshop last summer: 

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