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Feb 2023 wangari Maathai 1940 - 2011

When thinking about large-scale environmentalism, I don't think it's all that unreasonable to imagine Teddy Roosevelt or John Muir's efforts to shape up national parks. Unfortunately, like with so many historical figures, these two men probably wouldn't have been all that noble in 2023. Roosevelt's environmental conservation efforts were super racist and he likely would have excluded about 55% of the population of Federal Way from Mount Rainier National Park. If Muir himself wasn't in the same court, he sure as heck kept company with people who were. Nevertheless, these beautiful national parks are a special treat to visit and open to pretty much everyone and I'm thankful for that. With Black History Month upon us, maybe it's time to look at environmentalism from a different perspective.

Credit: Kingkongphoto,

I wanted to take a moment to talk about a Kenyan woman named Dr. Wangari Maathai. According to, she started a movement that encouraged women to regain their political, economic and environmental circumstances by planting trees. Dr. Maathai was the first African and the first environmentalist to win a Nobel Peace Prize, which happened in 2004. There is a ton of encroachment of businesses and shady ways land is yielded over to wealthy people who don't care about proper environmental stewardship, and this isn't a unique problem to Kenya. Dr. Maathai's Green Belt Movement paid women to slow environmental decay by growing seedlings to bind the soil, as well as collect rainwater to combat water crises. Her deeper realization was that these people had trusted their leaders to turned around and sold land out from under them. What started out as an empowering organization for locals to take back environmental control became a political movement that also promotes democracy and community empowerment. The Green Belt Movement Organization awards prizes per year to groups in five categories: those that protect and restore nature, those that clean air, those that revive oceans, those that fix our climate, and finally, those that build a waste-free world. Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

While Dr. Maathai passed away in 2011, she highlighted how every individual can address their environmental and political concerns through everyday acts. For SKTL members, borrowing that tool means putting less of your money in the hands of corporations who are all too happy to sell us all out in the name of record revenues. Taking clothes and games home from our free swaps equates to fewer tons of carbon pumped into the air from manufacturing new goods. Volunteering with us is the action you can take to further affiliate yourself with an organization that believes in the power of shared environmental stewardship, much like Dr. Wangari Maathi.


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