Month: June 2021

My Environmental Story: It’s Quite Unconventional and Still Evolving.

Author: Khadija Shaikh

If you had told me two years ago that I was to be an environmentalist* and fight for the planet, I would have laughed. I would have said “There are much more important things to advocate for. People around the world are being discriminated against because of the color of their skin, their religious beliefs, who they love, their gender, and much more. Sure it’s important to protect the Earth but why would I waste my time fighting for national parks, when I could advocate for marginalized communities?” I would have said this because before, I never thought of how the two topics intersected with one another: climate change and social justice. 


My environmental education before college consisted of the three R’s (reduce, reuse, recycle), the water cycle in three steps (condensation, precipitation, and evaporation), and an AP Environmental Science which focused on pollution and food chains. I never once pondered how my science classes connected to my passion for social justice, and I simply put the two in separate boxes. Outside of class, I spent my time organizing food drives, protests, collaborations amongst different peoples, but not once did I think climate change could be connected to it all. My parents never spoke of the importance of conservation or the environment, except when it came to dinner time and I didn’t want to finish my food. The typical saying “don’t waste your food, people around the world are starving” would be the only time my parents subtly mentioned food injustice, but again there was no mention of how climate justice was related. 


My entire childhood I lived in a typical southern suburban neighborhood where the closest shopping complex was a five-minute drive away. I rarely spent time in a forest, on a trail, in the ocean, in places that would be defined as nature as those places were at least a two-hour drive away. I wasn’t exposed nor encouraged to enjoy the outdoors because my life revolved around the question “will this put me in harm’s way?” See, I am an Indian Muslim Woman who wears Hijab. Too many times I have been merely outside on a walk, or in a classroom, or scrolling through social media, and I have been threatened, shouted at, or grabbed at. No wonder, my parents did not want me to spend much time away from them and outside. 


I did not truly connect the two, social justice and climate change until I attended a Fridays for Future protest during my senior year in high school. It was there, I learned of the term “climate justice”* and how it was so very connected to social justice. It was there, I saw a BIPOC* woman talk about climate change and how it was her job to speak up and work towards systemic change. Previously, I had not once seen a BIPOC individual whose ideals aligned with those of an environmentalist. At this moment, I was interested in the idea of becoming an environmentalist. For me, the reason was due to the belief that environmentalism is intersectional*, all-encompassing of social justice movements. It was due to the belief that a radical* approach to environmentalism meant grasping the issues at their roots and finding solutions. It was due to the belief that to be an environmentalist you didn’t need the pre-requisites of being white, or a male, or a vegan, it meant that you could be an Indian Muslim Woman who wears Hijab. 


However, still now, two years later, if you were to tell me that I am an environmentalist, I would be proud but still conflicted. I still have doubts and questions because this climate movement still has much work to do to become inclusive of all stories, backgrounds, and experiences. This movement is not normalized as being intersectional or radical or one with a climate justice priority. To this day, I still question “who exactly is an environmentalist?” because to this day can I only think of one other Desi* Muslim Woman who wears Hijab and claims to be an environmentalist. My Environmental Story is still evolving as I continue to learn how I fit in the environmental movement, or more like how I can make it normal for Desi Muslim Women who wear Hijab to be apparent in the environmental movement. 



Environmentalist = is traditionally defined as an individual who advocates for the protection of the environment. How do you define this term? How can we make this definition more inclusive?

Climate Justice = a term used to approach climate change and environmentalism as an ethical and political issue instead of one that is only physical. This means the inclusion of human rights, equality, and historical injustice. 

BIPOC = Black, Indigenous, and other Peoples Of Color. This acronym is used to highlight the historic oppression of marginalized communities. 

Intersectional = a framework conceptualized and coined by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw that allows for the relationship between different aspects of a person’s different identities to create different modes of discrimination and privilege. 

Radical = is traditionally thought of as extreme, however, means originating from the root. 

Desi = a people and their culture originating from India, Pakistan, or Bangladesh


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My Environmental Story: A Blog Series

As part of this blog, we will be including a blog series, My Environmental Story, which will be a place where the discussion of one’s journey as an environmentalist will change and transform as one learns more about the world around them. This series will highlight individuals and their honest reflections and introspections. The goal of this blog is to emphasize how every individual has a unique environmental story reflective of their different backgrounds and experiences. We are thrilled to be able to include this series of blogs and we hope you enjoy reading them!

Also, please keep in mind that any opinions expressed in these blog posts are those of the author and not the opinion of Connecticut Trails or the University of Connecticut. If you at any time have questions, concerns, or just want to have a conversation regarding what we share please contact us at