Listen to an audio version of the interview here.
(This interview has been lightly edited for clarity)
Interviewer: Annie Wang
Jana Jandal Alrifai: My name is Jana Jandal Alrifai. My pronouns are she/her. And I am currently on the lands of the Three Fires Confederacy of first nations which includes the Ojibwe, Odawa, and Potawatomi (Bodéwadmi), also known as Windsor, Ontario, Canada. I am a climate justice organizer and the new 2023 Earth Hacks Environmental Justice in Tech Fellow — one of them, at least!
Earth Hacks: So the first question I would love to hear your thoughts on is, how would you personally define “environmental justice in tech”?
JJA: I think, coming from a GIS background, the way I would define environmental justice in tech is using technology sustainably, and I’m really interested in seeing how technology can be developed sustainably, made sustainably, and also implemented sustainably. And how tech could be one of the solutions — or the adaptations — that we make to live with the climate crisis.
EH: And environmental justice work, you’ve been involved already for a few years. And as we know it’s not something that gets solved very quickly, it’s a long game, a marathon not a sprint. So what motivates, energizes, and/or recharges you while you do environmental justice work.
JJA: Connecting with people and of course community. One of the things that most energizes me about climate and any community work in general is that kind of connection. Cause If we’re not making these connections, what are we doing here on earth? I think we’re stewards for our communities, for the nature that we live and for the lands that we live on. And I really enjoy meeting people with the same goal as me, but maybe with different perspectives.
EH: Yeah! And in past interviews you’ve also highlighted the importance of community and civic engagement over emphasis on individual action, especially in the environmental space. So for you, how do you cultivate mutually supportive communities in your advocacy work and research, either in-person or online or other ways?
JJA: I don’t think I’ve ever been like, I’m seeking people out, it’s always that these people flock to the same places and same spaces. People who appreciate the environment also appreciate transport, which is something that I also appreciate, and those connections happen for the shared goal of a hopeful and better future. The best way to do it I think is to send out good energy, and be honest, and try your hardest. A lot of times you see people in these spaces and it’s very clear the intention is not to build a better future, it’s to build a current picture of themselves. So it’s always leading with intention and working and those people that are good that are also wanting what you want, and are also working very hard, in many different aspects. it’ll just happen cause that’s what community is I guess. You don’t really design community, you are designed by them.
EH: So you brought up transport as something that you’re very into. So you’ve been an organizer for several years now with various groups including Climate Strike Canada, Windsor Essex Youth Climate Council, and now you’re working with the Windsor Law Centre for Cities. In your work, or if it’s not been incorporated in your work yet — would still love to hear about it, what are some specific environmental policy initiatives that you find the most compelling?
JJA: I mean I love transport, I love city-building, I love community-building — so things that work on doing that. The Windsor Essex Youth Council actually worked on getting separated bike lanes in Windsor. They don’t actually exist anymore — or ever — because they didn’t get implemented, but theoretically, they were there. So things that are what the community wants, and that help the community, not just in things you can see. Windsor has had a lot of problems with, where does our energy come from. Like we’re building a new gas plant, why are we doing that? Why are we not building something more sustainable? So these kinds of policies that are impactful. I really enjoy looking at sustainability in how it impacts communities and how it can be incorporated into every day. I’m working with the office of sustainability at my university right now seeing how we can make a sustainable campus, and implement that. Policies specifically on a municipal level, is what really interests me, because I think it’s often overlooked. And the clearer impact of policy is best seen by citizens on a municipal level and it is the one that people don’t often care. So if you have any thoughts, go to your municipal council!
EH: Cool, good tip. As you’ve done your work, you’ve said you kind of build your community just by running into people with good vibes who care about the same thing. So as you’ve done that, are there any people or organizations that are doing work around environmental justice or environmental justice in tech that you would like to give a shout-out?
JJA: Yes! For environmental justice, check out Banking on a Better Future especially if you live in Canada, they are working on getting campuses to be fossil free and divest out of fossil fuels. I’m also really intrigued by the work happening in like the different centers in UCLA, in particular the Center for Critical Internet Inquiry and data, I think that’s very intriguing.
EH: Lastly, now that you’re one of our Earth Hacks Environmental Justice in Tech fellows for this summer, what project are you excited to work on here?
JJA: I’m very excited for the zine. I can’t wait to see all the different ways people look at environmental justice in tech, and all the different ways it impacts them, and all the different ways it can be represented. I’m very excited to learn more about that, and make that!