Ecology for all?

This article was written by volunteers involved in the Agissons radio project, run by the Maison Régionale de l’Environnement et des Solidarités (MRES). This initiative enables them to produce between 3 and 6 broadcasts a year and write press articles on the theme of the ecological transition, while receiving training in journalistic and radio techniques. Further information:


It’s no secret that the poorest neighbourhoods are the most exposed to all kinds of pollution: noise, visual and atmospheric. Both the UN and the Observatoire des Inégalités in France note that the air in poor neighbourhoods is more polluted and causes a significant increase in premature deaths from heart disease, strokes and acute lower respiratory tract infections. The WHO also notes that air pollution caused 7 million deaths worldwide in 2016 (1). What’s more, it has been observed that environmental inequalities have a territorial dimension and mainly affect those who are overexposed to them because of where they live or work: the poorest people. A striking example is Hurricane Katrina, which devastated part of the United States (and New Orleans in particular) in 2005. During this natural disaster, the poorest people found themselves with the most rudimentary means of evacuation (as they did not have cars to quickly evacuate high-risk areas), in more exposed areas, in houses made of less resistant materials than those of the more well-off, and had more difficulty resettling in a new home (lacking financial resources) (2).

But while the poorest people are the most exposed, they also have the lifestyles with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions. In particular, because they own less energy-consuming equipment (such as tumble dryers, washing machines, dishwashers, cars, etc.), but also because they go on fewer holidays and travel closer to home (reducing their use of polluting transport, such as air travel). They are also developing ascetic behaviours linked to their financial situation and the family tradition of reasonable behaviour (3). One observation emerges from all this: those who emit the least CO2 are the most exposed to the environmental damage and risks caused by the consumerist model that favours the most affluent.

This article is driven by a paradox: it shows that the most affluent have a monopoly on a struggle that affects the most precarious sections of the population. This domination of the ecological issue by the upper classes stems in part from the fact that the capitalist state has taken up ecological criticism, disseminated it and turned it into an issue of individual responsibility. This integration of the ecological struggle into the state has led to the dissemination of an eco-normative discourse by institutions that appear to be further removed from the most disadvantaged sections of society. This is the case, for example, in schools, where the message conveyed by teachers makes pupils aware of their ecological responsibilities. However, the families furthest from the school culture are also the ones who will keep their distance from a struggle that nevertheless concerns them greatly. It therefore seems necessary that the ecological issue be disseminated and put into practice in such a way as to really reach a wider range of people, in order to defend the interests of all, and especially those who are most exposed to it.


Some inspiring initiatives…

 So we understand the importance of thinking about ecology for everyone.This may mean adapting our message to different audiences.At least that’s what Féris Barkat, co-founder of the French association Banlieues Climat, thinks.His association provides training on climate issues for young people from working-class neighbourhoods.Féris Barkat runs these courses himself and explains the importance of making these issues concrete. He notes that one of the problems with environmental movements is their detachment from the realities of working-class neighbourhoods. He told Mouv’ radio (4): “They talk a lot about consumption, but we don’t consume. It’s very caricatural. There’s a whole area of food, resilience and health in the neighbourhoods that needs to be addressed”. Another way of making the training practical is to give those who receive it the opportunity to become trainers in their own right, so as to create a network of trainers from working-class neighbourhoods. This is a way of broadening the ecologist front and making it more representative of the diversity of the population.

In the same vein, in Bagnolet, near Paris, France’s first popular ecology centre has opened its doors in 2021. Two associations are behind the project: Le Front des Mères and Alternatiba. The former is “a parents’ union with an ecologist, feminist and anti-racist agenda” (5), while the latter is a movement fighting to preserve the environment.The idea behind the project is to have a place in Bagnolet where people living in working-class neighbourhoods can organise themselves and come together around the issues that affect them. So we’re talking about ecology, but not just that: we’re also tackling issues such as anti-racism and feminism, while linking these issues together.The aim of the centre is to enable local residents to take part in the struggles that affect them and to mobilise to improve their quality of life.Approaching ecology in this way means supporting the fact that better living means living in an area where the air is breathable, having access to quality food and not being subjected to racism and all other forms of discrimination.

As the two associations mentioned above emphasise, food is an important ecological issue, as well as a health and social lever. Yet organic and locally produced products are still too expensive for some sections of the population. That’s why the VRAC network (Vers un Réseau d’Achat en Commun) was set up. It is a nationwide network in France, with branches in many regions.The aim of the association is to give everyone access to quality food.Each branch organises buying groups in working-class neighbourhoods.At these temporary grocery shops, members collect the products they have ordered. The grocery shops are run by volunteers who may or may not be members. The products are organic and/or local, unprocessed, sold in bulk and at cost price, i.e. producers’ prices. Anyone can join the network and contribute according to their situation.

The presentation of these three initiatives is not intended to be an exhaustive overview of all the initiatives that promote a grassroots ecology, but it does highlight some of them and provide inspiration. It also shows that these associations are not confined to their ecological role, but also aim to create social links, self-organisation and the fight against discrimination, among other things.


Illustration: photo taken at the VRAC network grocery shop in Lille Fives during the production of the report for the latest episode of Agissons – credits: ©LuCie

To find out more:

  • You can listen to the third episode of season 5 of the radio programme Agissons (6). This episode focuses on “ecology for all”, and includes a report on one of the grocery shops in the VRAC network (Hauts de France).Agissons is a radio programme on environmental issues produced entirely by a team of young volunteers.It is a project run by the Maison Régionale de l’Environnement et des Solidarités (MRES) in partnership with the community radio station RPL Radio. 
  • Visit VRAC network website:


Camille Schönig and Marine Moine

(members of the Agissons team)


Sources :  

(1) La pollution de l’air touche davantage les plus pauvres. (s. d.). UNEP. 

(2) Katrina : la cause de nombreuses inégalités. (s. d.). Cata’monde.’ouragan%20Katrina,%2080%%20de%20la%20population%20a,vie%20sont%20affectées%20et%20ceux-ci%20sont%20majoritairement%20pauvres. 

(3) Comby, Jean-Baptiste, et Hadrien Malier. « Les classes populaires et l’enjeu écologique. Un rapport réaliste travaillé par des dynamiques statutaires diverses », Sociétés contemporaines, vol. 124, no. 4, 2021, pp. 37-66.

(4) Banlieue climat, l’asso qui réconcilie la jeunesse des quartiers populaires avec l’écologie. (s. d.). Mouv’.

(5) Esnault, M. (2021, 14 juin). Verdragon, la première Maison de l’écologie populaire, s’est ouverte. Reporterre, le média de l’écologie.


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