Jacqueline Patterson, Founder and Executive Director of The Chisholm Legacy Project, and Kyle Whyte, Professor of Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan, discuss environmental and climate justice. September, 2021.
Shobita Parthasarathy: Good afternoon, everyone. My name is Shobita Parthasarathy. I am Professor of Public Policy and Director of the Science Technology and Public Policy Program, known as STPP, here at the Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. STPP is an interdisciplinary university-wide program dedicated to training students, conducting cutting-edge research and informing the public and policy makers on issues at the intersection of technology, science, equity, and public policy.
SP: One of the few pandemic silver linings is that we have a large audience joining us today because we can hold these kinds of events virtually. So, for those of you who are interested in learning more about our STPP program, you can do that at our website, which is sttp.fordschool.umich.edu. Before I introduce today's event, I wanna make a couple of quick announcements. First, for those of you interested in our Graduate Certificate Program, we will be holding an information session on October 13th on Zoom.
SP: You can access registration details on our website, and we'll put a link to that as well in the chat. Second, the next event in our STPP Lecture Series this year will feature Fatima Hassan, who is a human rights lawyer, social justice activist, and the founder of the Health Justice Initiative in South Africa. She'll be in conversation with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, Policymaker in Residence at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. That event will be Monday, December 6th, from 11 AM to 12 PM, and you can also register for that on our website. And now for today's event, today we're hosting an important conversation about the interdisciplinary and urgent matter of environmental and climate justice. Our featured guest today, who I'm very excited to learn from, is activist Jacqueline Patterson, who is the founder and executive director of the Chisholm Legacy Project, which is a resource hub for Black frontline climate justice leadership.
SP: Previously, she was a Senior Director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, and she's also a member of the Board of Directors for Greenpeace, the People's Solar Energy Fund, and the Hive for Gender and Climate Justice Fund. Ms. Patterson has broad experience in researching and implementing programs focused on women's rights, food security, public health, racial and environmental justice and policy, and has worked with stakeholders all over the world to advance causes of environmentalism, equality, and human rights. In conversation with Jacque will be Dr. Kyle Whyte. Dr. Whyte is the George Willis Pack Professor of Environment and Sustainability at the School for Environment and Sustainability here at University of Michigan, and is also an STPP affiliate faculty. Kyle studies environmental justice through a moral and political lens, especially in the context of Indigenous Peoples Rights and Anthropogenic sovereignty.
SP: He's a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and has served as author for the US Global Change Research Program and inter-governmental panel on climate change. Before we begin, I'd like to thank our co-sponsors at Close Up, the Program in the Environment, the Environmental Justice Program, and the Center for Racial Justice for making this event possible. I also wanna thank our STPP staff, Mariam Nagarin, Isan Octar, and Molly Kleinman. So, Kyle and Jacque will talk for about 30 minutes, and there will be time after that for audience questions and engagement. If you have any questions, please submit them through the Q&A function on Zoom. Kyle, Jacque, I'm really looking forward to your conversation today, and I will turn it over to you now.
Kyle Whyte: Thank you very much for the nice introduction. And I'll go ahead and transition into a first name basis, and so Shobita, thank you for all your work organizing this event, and also thanks to the STPP community for working on topics and questions and ideas that it would be fantastic for Jacque to share their understanding and knowledge and experiences about, and so I really look forward to this engagement. And as a Potawatomi person, Jacque, I just wanted to welcome you virtually to the Anishinaabe territory, this is a place in the Anishinaabe homelands, often the Three Fires, Ojibwe, and Odawa and Potawatomi people, and it's a significant place for many of our communities culturally, and spiritually, and politically, and the University of Michigan significantly, as part of its founding, received endowment from Potawatomi people in 1817.
KW: I'm looking forward, Jacque, to learning more from you about all of the work and experience that you have in these areas of environmental and climate justice. And I just want to start out by asking you about the Chisholm Legacy Project, I'd love to learn more about what it's doing, what you plan to do with the organization and the project and maybe a little bit of background on the meaning and significance of the name.
Jacqueline Patterson: Yes, thank you so much. It's a pleasure to be here with you, Kyle, and I'm looking forward to having this conversation. Yeah, so the Chisholm Legacy Project officially launched on July 1st of this year, and it's the name, it's named after Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African-American woman in Congress and the first African-American person and first woman to run for the presidency of the United States.
JP: And so, she really was the legacy that we would like to follow because of the fact that she, throughout her leadership time, she equally uplifted gender justice and racial justice. So, we saw during that time a lot of folks who were champions for racial justice, and there was almost unspoken... Unspoken in public, but a very much directive from the movement to say like, "Look, we just need to focus on this racial justice thing." [chuckle] And so, she really rose above that and said, "No, I need to be focusing both on gender justice and racial justice." So, I appreciated her determination and her tenacity in the face of people encouraging her to do differently. I also appreciated her tenacity as it relates to... Even when she ran for President, there were... She wasn't necessarily invited to the debates like other people, when she would hold a press conference, the media refused to ask her questions because they just disregarded her candidacy all together. So, there're just so many ways that she just rose above and not only with just kind of sheer grit and determination, she didn't allow it to steal her spirit.
JP: Certainly, I'm sure there were times when it dampened her spirits, but when you see her in pictures, she is just as much in a picture smiling as she is otherwise, and it's not that kind of smile that you see on some people where it's just kind of almost a gritted teeth smile, it's a genuine smile that she still was able to find the joy and the humor in spite of the opposition that she faced, so I appreciated that. And then I found out, as I had already admired her, but as I've read her story more, I found out that, like me, she has Caribbean roots with her parents being from Guyana and Barbados. And then, I also found out that, like me, she started off as an elementary school teacher. So, those were kind of some bonuses after I had already decided that I really admired her, so good to find that we had followed similar paths. So, that's kind of the origins of the name. And then, the project itself... Yeah, [chuckle] I want to answer that question.
JP: It has four main foci, and I can get into much more detail. But one is community building, so supporting front line communities in self-determination and leadership on environmental and climate justice. Two is movement building, so really supporting the movement so that it is a more accommodating space for black leadership, and then also supporting the movement we're large because when we all come together, we all win. So, we do everything from training and certification programs to organizing affinity groups within the movement, like our global Afro-descendant Leadership Initiative, so connecting with people from the motherland, people from the Caribbean, people from Afro descendant groups in other nations, in Europe and so forth, in Canada.
JP: So, that's one thing. Two is... Then the third bucket is bending the arc of mainstream environmentalism towards equity and justice, so whether it's the Sierra Club or the National Wildlife Federation or in our National Resources Defense Counsel or others, really working on as we build the leadership of communities, and as we work to strengthen and support the movement, we also want to make sure that folks are equipped to be able to help some of these other mainstream groups to talk about environmentalism, to understand the intersections with environmental justice and climate justice, and so there's that.
JP: And then, fourth is really supporting black women's leadership. So, again, the legacy of Shirley Chisholm, providing to black women and climate change where Shirley Chisholm didn't have in terms of support, real support. She had great... I've met... Since we put out this intention, I've met a number of people who were on her campaign and people who were from her community and remember her, and so forth, so she certainly had support, but really providing some of the supports that weren't even talked about back then, like executive coaching, respites, retreats, and healing justice, and those kind of things that are pretty critical and kind of trauma-informed organizing that is critical in black community. So, that's kind of the work in a nutshell.
KW: That's an amazing and powerful vision and set of practices you're bringing with the Chisholm Legacy Project. And it really hits me at a personal level too just recognizing that for many indigenous communities, many black and Latinx communities, many of our ancestors are contemporaries, not only were they environmentalists, but they were connecting environmentalism, like you said, with other leading issues that were affecting them, and they weren't necessarily trying to categorize or separate things out, they were looking holistically in complex ways, and I'm really inspired by what you shared about this next phase in your important work with the Chisholm Legacy Project, and just by the example of Shirley Chisholm. In terms of how many of our communities have been excluded from environmentalism, do you see that the tide is beginning to change, or are we still in a position that resembles other periods when our voices weren't heard?
JP: Yeah, let's say a little bit of both. There's still ways to go, but at the same time, there is progress. We're seeing everything from the leadership and the administration around issues of environmental justice as well as roles like so whether it's Michael Regan at the EPA or John Baker at the Department of Energy, or Cecilia Martinez at the Council of Environmental Quality, and Dave Holland at the Department of Inkaterra. So, all of this gives us hope that there's some movement at those levels, and then also communities that are really starting to advance changes and begin to be the change that we wanna see in the world, so whether it is the Earth Sea Permaculture Farm in Oakland, or the Black Mesa Water Coalition in Arizona, or it is the... Or it's groups like the Soul Fire Farm in Upstate New York, or the Gwich'in Steering Committee in Alaska, where I happen to be right now while I'm speaking to you. So, there's so many folks who are really just taking the lead and being the torch, the torch light, so yes, we're seeing some advancements from what we saw before.
KW: Jacque, that's great to hear about some of these voices and these projects, and just all the hard work that is out there, and just the diversity of knowledge you have about what important people are doing and how they're seeking to make change. And given just the tremendous memory and kind of history you have available to you and then all of your experience working toward environmental justice, how do you understand at least for the sake of our conversation what we mean or what we should mean by concepts of environmental injustice or climate injustice?
JP: Thank you. Yes. So, what we should mean, what we should mean when we talk about justice and what we do mean when we talk about injustice, so we know that we often have to put all of this, as you say, with the intersectionality under this just transition framework, which really talks about the society as it is, which is rooted in extraction, exploitation, domination, and it is that extraction and exploitation and domination that's at the root of climate injustice and environmental injustice, just like so much else.
JP: So, extraction, the reckless extraction through mining that is not only harming lands and displacing people, but actually 76,000 coal miners have died of black lung disease since 1968 on the National Mining Association, which consists of their very employers who have fought against the regulations that would have protected their own workers from coal mine dust, not to mention the fact that we shouldn't have been doing the mining in the first place. But even that, and so whether we're talking about that or we're talking about... I was out in Caliente, Arizona, and I was struck when I was driving down the street by seeing a sign for it, and I wish I had taken a picture of that sign, but it was for a health clinic for Uranium mine workers.
JP: And the fact that there's a health clinic, it's so institutionalized, that it's just unbelievably appalling to me that... Anyway, but just... I'm glad I can still be appalled on this, and not just accepting it as the unfortunate norm, but... So, we've seen how environmental injustice happens with the extraction and the exploitation of the communities that are host to these extractive processes in terms of seeing really those communities as being disposable, the people in the communities being disposable while folks take advantage of the communities.
JP: And so, this is all on the injustice side of the continuum, but then climate justice and environmental justice is on the other side, that as we stop the bad and then shift towards building the new of a living economy, which really centers caring for the sacred in terms of what the Earth, our relationship with the Earth and our relationship with each other, that it really goes on principles of cooperation and regeneration, which are really in resonance with biomimicry, like bio, cooperation is how nature exists in its divine wonder, whether it's like the zebra dazzles or the ant colonies, they all cooperate, that's the actual core of how it all kind of works. [chuckle] So, really, mirroring our society after our ecosystems.
JP: And so, the living economy also includes not only co-operation, but also just deep democracy. And so, that's the justice side, and that's what we as a climate environmental justice movement define as what justice would look like and what we're all fighting for.
KW: Yeah, absolutely. And yeah, some of the contradictions that you mentioned like in your example of the health sign, that just really sums up so many things. [laughter] You could have talked for several hours about all the details and the history of that particular case, but when you're confronted with those, I don't know what you would call it with that [laughter] image, that it tells us all what needs to be known.
KW: Yeah, and just feel for a lot of the situations that you describe that the communities, the families that are having to experience these disproportionate burdens of so many different pollutants and environmental stressors and risks. And the response that you had just shared with us, Jacque, you mentioned extraction and different extractive activities, including mining and others, do you think that extractivism also extends in some cases to some of the solutions to climate change? Or are most solutions to climate change ones that are kind of using a completely different logic?
JP: Yeah, so this is a... There's a quote from Martin Luther King I use in various presentations where it says, "All progress is precarious, and the solution to one problem can lead us to another". So, this notion of solutions and who's defining solutions is where we find extractivism in some of the solutions that some, false solutions that people are putting forward. So, whether it is carbon, this notion of carbon pricing and the way it's being implemented, it's one thing to talk about the cost of carbon and who's paying the cost as it stands with... But also using that as a way to really engage in a shell game when it comes to carbon emissions and the people who are paying the price are the communities where you continue to extract. So, if it costs less to burn, to burn fossil fuels in a certain community, then that's the community that people all want to go to, and so it extracts from the community in terms of its healthy air, its healthy water, its healthy community, and then it sacrifices, they call these communities sacrifice zones.
JP: So, it sacrifices those communities towards what they're considering to be emissions reductions in the aggregate. And so, whilst I'm having a conversation about the Clean Power Plan and well-meaning environmentalists on that call, mainstream environmentalists, say, "Well, I think we can all agree that emission, that we all want emissions reductions in the aggregate," and I said, "I can understand why you would say that, but no."
JP: And so, yeah, it's sad because for her, it wasn't like she was mean-spiritedly thinking like I'm gonna pollute these poor communities or anything like that, she just had no idea, she just innocently said that as if it was just a given like, "Well, of course, we can all agree to this." And so, this is where the defining of solutions and the perpetuation of extractivism kind of come into play. And I could give multiple examples, but I'll stop with that one, yeah. [chuckle]
KW: No, yeah, I appreciate what you described, but also feel for [laughter] those particular types of conversations 'cause I feel like I'm in that same type of room all the time. And it's really made me wonder, Jacque, whether, what type of crisis are we really in with respect to climate change? And what I mean is we hear people coming back to these positions where it's okay to sacrifice many of our communities for the sake of protecting some sort of industrial order, that just sounds like the thinking that people used when they were trying to solve other types of issues in the 19th century, and were perfectly willing to sacrifice black communities and native communities and Asian-American communities and others.
KW: Do you think, Jacque, that... Do you think that it's important for us to discuss or to highlight that the climate crisis is a different or a new type of crisis, or perhaps is it better to think about the climate change crisis in a different way that focuses on some of the similarities between how privileged people and racist people have sought to exclude and to sacrifice many communities for the sake of their own ideas and solutions?
JP: Yeah. I mean, it's interesting because... Well, so when COVID-19, when the pandemic was first kind of... People were first starting to recognize that this was happening, on March, yeah, I think it was March the 9th, I was actually on a little vacation in Mexico actually, and I started to read and kinda see what was happening, and I took 19 hours straight on March 9th, and wrote this document called, "The Equity Implications of the COVID-19 Pandemic."
JP: And so, that was back when it was only in that Kirkland Nursing Home and it hadn't really moved at all, but that document turned out to be... All the stuff came to pass. And it wasn't like this prophetic thing, but it was because of just what you said. We've seen these patterns of inequities that are consistent no matter what the crisis is, whether it's the economic crisis, the racial awakening, the COVID-19, the climate crisis, it's the same pattern of systemic inequities that lead to the same pattern of disproportionate impact and systems collapse. And so, at the same time, while we... So, we all in the movement...
JP: Anybody who was in the movement could have written that because we've all seen this playbook time and time again. And so, on one hand, you kind of want to say to folks like, "I told you so. This is what we've been saying all along as it relates to each and every one of these things," but "I told you so" is never a particularly compelling way to get folks to take action. [chuckle]
KW: So, that's what's been going wrong, right? That's why nobody ever calls me back. [laughter]
JP: Yes, that was very funny. Yeah, so I think to answer your question in terms of just like narrative and framing, it is, there's people who that's their kind of trade and then there's those of us who are just rolling our eyes and, like you said, wanting to say, "As I said last week." But anyway. So, I guess that's all I wanted to say, that in some ways it is important to... There has been, I think, a deepening of understanding and people beginning to come to see the light in terms of these patterns and how it's starting to... How the tread is well worn on the tires along this path.
JP: And so, I think that there's kind of people who are close enough to understand, and that you can kind of lead them along down that path to say like, "Yes, aren't you starting to see this?" And then, there's other folks who I think a different message is necessary or a different kind of way of like, "Oh, this is a new, brand new thing happening here." So, whatever it takes to get people to take action, I'm kind of all for it at this point because we just need everybody to do something, because... Yeah.
KW: Yeah. And Jacque, one of the main forms of action that a lot of people talk about, especially from the standpoint of communities of color, is grassroots action, action from the grassroots, actions led by frontline communities, in your career and recently, have you noticed any changes in what grassroots action means or any particular innovations? I know obviously you mentioned at the beginning some of the great work that you're doing with the Chisholm Legacy Project, but I was just curious what your take is, 'cause I feel like I never get a chance to really connect in a more reflective way about what do we mean by grassroots and grassroots action? Is it as it's always been or is it going in some new directions? Are there trends that you're tracking?
JP: Yeah, thank you. So, a couple of things with that, I think that, A, similar to the previous question, that there is a bit more of a dawning reality that grassroots action is the way... And the grassroots leadership is what we need to follow, and that is exactly why the Chisholm Legacy Project is doing the work in the way that it has, it's helping to build the capacity of the grassroots to really be at that helm of leadership. And so, a community that might have a vision that they wanna have clean air and clean water, our role is to work with them to help them to be able to figure out what their strategy is and what that grassroots, the most effective grassroots action is to move that. And so, now we're seeing an increase, like whether... Right here where I am in Anchorage, they had a couple of years ago for the first time ever a community advisory board that then put together the climate action plan here in Anchorage, and so that's an advancement, and so then... And in Oakland similarly, they had a community participatory process to put together their climate action plan. And so, yes, there's a dawning realization that communities know what they need and that they need to have...
JP: Again, with the words of Shirley Chisholm where she says when there's no seat at the table, then bring a folding chair. That's one of my favorite quotes. And that's exactly what's starting to happen, and then we're starting to see the results. In Portland, Oregon, the Portland Clean Energy Fund was as a result of grassroots action, and the communities really wrote that bill that then... And then because they wrote that bill, they were all invested in seeing it passed, and so it became legislation, and one of the leaders then became a city council member. And so that's what democracy really looks like, it's grassroots action that turns into policy, that turns into leadership, that truly represents the people on the front lines. So, hopefully that kind of gets here, yeah, okay.
KW: Yeah, no, absolutely. Though I have to say while you were talking, I kept thinking, "We just need a class on the philosophy of Shirley Chisholm at the University of Michigan." [laughter] The philosophy and the practice and the leadership and just the model that they really set for people, I mean, I think students to learn from that, it would just be amazing.
JP: It's so true, you're right, I agree.
KW: I know I'd like to engage our colleagues here who have questions. I did, Jacque, wanna also just connect with you a bit more on the question of the role of industry, the role of companies and corporations. I know a lot of your career you've been holding private industry accountable, and private industry for, I guess, for a number of different reasons just holds a lot of power and energy and climate change, are there strategies that advocates or members of communities that are deeply affected by climate energy issues? Is there things they can do to change the power balance, the financial imbalance that is associated with private industry and many corporations?
JP: Thank you. Yes. So, one of the things... So, I'll maybe take us on a little bit of a short trip here, but... So, as you may have heard, we wrote this volume called Fossil Fueled Foolery. We had the first volume a couple of years ago and just did Fossil Fueled Foolery 2.0. It really chronicles the outsides impact that the fossil fuel industry has on our legislatures, our courts, even in our communities in the ways that they've used some pennies to kind of buy the support of communities and so forth. And then, we have the folks who have started to develop "clean energy" and other types of enterprises that have followed some of the same, one of the major solar companies but we used to... Used as a vendor someone who used prison labor. And so, we talked about extraction and exploitation, and the prison and industrial conflicts where we corner the market on that.
JP: So, when we challenged them about that, they said, "Oh well, if we support this, then the prisoners... Then they have a skill that they can use when they get out. And we were like, "Okay, that sounds semi-reasonable at least in terms of intent" until we learned that they have a policy against hiring formally incarcerated persons at their company. So, again, then we find ourselves not only having to push fossil fuel companies, but having to hold the folks who are supposed to be the friendlies to the carpet in terms of their practices. But then we have groups like Patagonia that goes out of its way to support front line climate justice leadership. We have groups like Ben and Jerry's that they go out of their way to support local production which is as critical as well as supporting causes with their advocacy voice and other and their foundation. So, there's that whole continuum. So, hopefully, that kinda answers your question which I'm not sure, yeah.
KW: Yeah, no, that makes a lot of sense to me. I'm just good to hear the way that you understand and discuss these issues with private industry based on your experience and your work. And yeah, it's just been or it's just been great to connect with you on some of these questions, I know they're ones that are important to the folks here in the STPP community, and certainly the audience is very engaged, and they have some questions of their own that I was gonna give a hand to give voice to it. So, our colleagues here in STPP have been working with the folks in the audience center, and have suggested some questions for me to uplift for you.
KW: And so, I'm just gonna roll with these questions. Does that work, Jacque? [chuckle]
JP: Absolutely. [chuckle]
KW: Okay. So, the first question is, and I'll read them slowly.
KW: Or it's slowly. I'll read these questions slowly. [chuckle] Is there a role for technologically innovative climate solutions in your vision for climate justice or are technological solutions inherently exploitative at least in practice?
JP: Yeah, that's an awesome question. So, it's another one of those things where it's a mixed situation. So, we do have these techno-fixes, which is everything from basically a giant vacuum to suck the carbon our of the air, to carbon capture and sequestration, which has this notion of burying carbon in the ground, to other geo-engineering, yeah. So, there's so much there. But then there's also positive uses of technology, like some of the sustainable building practices that allow buildings to be built, to be designed in a way that actually follows biomimicry, and so there's these awesome ways that they use ambient heating and the shades move according to the sun, and then there's gray water systems and all of this in our building design, which does take a degree of technology to work. So, it's really all about having some foundational principles in the design of whatever the technology is, and to follow do-no-harm principles, and to be attentive to ways that we extract and pollute and unintended consequences, so looking at the whole supply chain of any type of technology, supply and production and whatever the chain is that's associated with it. So, that's all I'm saying, it's like not a kind of technology or no technology, but it's technology how and what, yeah.
KW: Yeah. And it sounds like with a serious dose of humility and... [laughter] Yeah.
JP: Yeah, absolutely.
KW: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, thanks, Jacque. And we have another question. How might we support young people, especially folks from historically excluded communities, going into and persisting in environmental studies, work, and activism?
JP: Yes, thank you. A very good question. Yeah, I spoke at a Solar Energy Industry Association, I think SEIA meeting a few years ago, and I was... Anyway, after I finished speaking at their luncheon, providing a luncheon keynote, these two young Latina sisters, people... Anyway, they walked up to me, young people, they walked up to me and one of them was in tears and said, "I've never heard someone talk about these things." Like she was in the solar industry, but she had never heard anyone talk about what she does every day in a way that relates to the concerns and struggles and possibilities even in her community. And interestingly enough, and there was another solar event that I went to where this person came up to me in tears, she was in tears, significantly in tears, and she said that she had only gotten herself together, and I was like, "If you call that getting yourself together, like what was it like before?" [laughter] She was really... And that was after I had given a little talk and she also was just saying the same thing, like, "Our communities are hurting so much, and you have now helped to contextualize what I do in a way that's different than I ever thought of it."
JP: And I think that... I think that that's the important thing that we need to do when we think about other communities, is to help to contextualize. We wrote this thing called Environmental Intersectionality: Teaching Environmental Justice in the Classroom, to help kids who are in EJ communities, but who are in school and learning about environment. And it was basically saying, how does social studies include environmental studies, and how do environmental studies include social studies from a real justice perspective? And so, that's the way to get kids to start thinking about it from when they're in elementary school and seeing it in a very different light that actually resonates with their community. So, people think of like doctors or fire folks or whatever as helping professions, but if we re-contextualize environmental studies in a way that actually is rooted in what's happening in our communities, then we have a whole new kind of way that youths are thinking about it.
JP: So, that's what I would start with. And I would also say that we should make opportunities for youths where it's not just about, how do we use youth as interns or whatever... Or volunteers or whatever? But how do we design things so that we are... From the time the youths are engaging in whatever role, is we think of them as the treasures that they are and the present and future leaders that they are. And so, I think we need to start also re-designing on what opportunities that we have for youth to... As view points into this work.
KW: I really love, Jacque, just all the different ways you've talked about intersectionality. I think probably from the beginning of our conversation today, we were talking about so many different ways in which intersectionality informs meaningful action, and just all the different ways in which it can be meaningful. That's really powerful that intersectionality it means actually being able to talk about environmental issues that people of color can identify with, that the young people can identify with based on their own experience, and that can really bring out their knowledge, their wisdom, their sense of having future careers and leadership roles, I think that's an amazing way to understand intersectional approaches among the many great points you also made in your response. And we have a question from a current PhD student. [chuckle] And they were...
KW: They are sort of responding to or kind of building off of the parts of the conversation when you were talking about how mainstream environmental goals can sometimes be extractive, such as people that are focused on aggregate emissions reductions, and so they're responding to that thread, and they're asking that, from their standpoint as a PhD student, what do you think are some of the new roles that are needed in the next 5-10 years to develop and implement climate justice in the US? Will those roles be in government, or at the grassroots level, or both, or elsewhere?
JP: Thank you. Yes, that was an awesome question. So, one role that I've found to be critical is one where... Not necessarily, although certainly, we need more folks in government to be... So, recently I've been talking to FERC as they have developed this Office of Public Participation, and also talking to the Department of Interior and others as they've been... Because they've all been charged with these executive orders to have what they call... They have this Justice40 initiative that says that 40% of infrastructure programming needs to benefit "disadvantaged communities."
JP: And so, as we talk about how to make that happen, one of the things that we've talked about being needed is that the government agencies need to be somehow reformed, or I don't know, revised in some way, that's actually gonna have a better bridge to those communities than there exists now. So, whether it's the FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Office of Public Participation, what does that mean? Now they have this office, and how do they bridge that to make sure the communities are actually accessing it? We talk about the Justice40, how are we making sure that we're not just setting this disadvantaged community standard, but basically any community along a spectrum meets that criteria, and therefore the communities that are so disenfranchised that they haven't changed over the years, whether it's been Ford or Carter or Reagan or Clinton or Obama, or anyone who's ever been in office.
JP: Like, some of the Freedmen's settlements we work with, they were founded by emancipated enslaved persons. We worked with one community that has never had running water since emancipation, and it's 14 miles outside of Dallas, which is one of the richest communities in the country. So, that's all to say we need... In the federal government, one of the roles that we need is to have in each and every agency a whole suite of people that are bridging the gap between these federal agencies and what their goals are, and actual communities that need to access and influence. And then, another role of... I don't know, 'cause I don't wanna give too long of an answer to one question, but another role that we need is in terms of bridging, is bridging climate science with frontline communities. So, one of the things that... One of the people that we work with a lot is Climate Central, which does a lot around helping people to be able to forecast sea level rise in their communities, and they do a lot around meteorology and so forth.
JP: And so, we work with them to develop apps, tools, trainings and so forth to help communities to be able to be what they used to call Citizen Scientists in term... Instead of citizen became kind of a fraught term, but a community scientist. And so, to help the communities to be able to use the technology, use the science to be able to build smart climate action is another role that we absolutely need. And then, we also just... I'll just say finally, that we also need everyone to be a lot more... Whatever role people are in, whether it's a geologist who has a lot more of an understanding of kind of... Who has an orientation around looking at the intersection of fracking and earthquakes or whether you're...
JP: So, all the different professions out there, we need people to have more of an orientation towards looking at climate impacts and also looking at it from a social justice lens. I just gave a talk to the 450 authors who will be writing the next National Climate Assessment, and in that talk, it was a lot about helping them to see in each and every one of those chapters that they're writing what the environmental justice impacts were.
JP: And so, we need folks to be able to understand from whatever seat they're sitting in in order to get that intersectionality that we talked about earlier, because, yeah, we need our programming to be a lot more integrated and informed by intersectionality. So, hopefully that was a long answer to a short question.
KW: Hey, if I would have only heard what you just said when I was a student, [laughter] yeah, that would have been powerful to solve the different roles and possibilities for people to apply themselves and to take leadership. And, yeah, hopefully the person that asked the question or others, you had a few years when you decide what you're gonna do, shoot me a note, [laughter] I'm curious. That's a lot of great ideas and futures.
KW: And our next colleague who has a question, so it has to do with this sort of distinction, which I don't know if you use this distinction or if you like to speak about climate change in other ways, but it's a sort of distinction about adaptation and mitigation. And in the question, they're talking about how so much of climate change involves focusing on emissions, but the IPCC and other scientific bodies say that we're locked into some warming, there's gonna be risks, and obviously many communities, especially communities of color, are already experiencing many harms due to climate change. And so, they ask you, have you seen the conversations start to shift to adaptation in terms of climate justice? Whether you have or haven't, what should our conversation look like that addresses what I'll just call for now adaptation in relation to the need to mitigate?
JP: Yeah, thank you. It's a very good question. Yeah, so several years ago when I felt like hardly anybody was focused on adaptation, but yet I had one of the entry points for me into doing environmental and climate justice work was having volunteered for six weeks in the post-Katrina situation, and started to do more around volunteering after disasters. And so, with that, I really started to kind of see that climate change is already here and that we need to start getting it together in terms of preparing folks for it because it's the... Yeah, anyway, for the reason that the person stated.
JP: And so, I really started to push forward on adaptation back then, 12 years ago, when I first started working with NAACP. And then, even within the movement, there were people who were against talking about adaptation because it was... Because they felt like it was kind of passively accepting that our communities are going to... That people aren't going to try to stem the tide of climate change, so they want our communities to adapt instead of focusing on stopping it from happening in the first place, which I got, but I was also like, "It's already happening. And I don't see us building up the political will, as much as we would love to have a political will to turn on a dime and stop emitting, I don't see that in a trajectory, and we really have to start getting our folks ready to deal with this."
JP: So anyway, there's a bit of a challenge there. But fast forward to today when we realize that it's already here, we realize that we're not gonna be able to... There's a couple of... There're many, many things where they're both adaptive and mitigating, and then there's also... When we talk about our food systems, for example, having local food systems, turning the community to do local production of food is both mitigating because we know that whether it's commercial feeding operations or it is the shipping and trucking of food, so somebody has to have kiwi or whatever it is that people want, so all the shipping and trucking of foods and all the things that's involved in kind of mass production and movement of food, if we started having local food, it takes away from the emissions that are tied to food, but then it also helps us to be able to be more resilient to the shifts in agricultural yields that will whether we see it in the context of climate change, and so there's a lot of different ways that these are different ways that we need to adjust.
JP: And so, even with clean energy, for example, when there was the big polar vortex, I forgot, they called it snowpocalypse or whatever, a few years ago in the Northeast, I was working with someone... I was stranded at a hotel, the hotel didn't have electricity, and the person who was running the restaurant said that her home on her block was the only home that still had lights, and it was because she had solar-plus-storage, and people... Everyone kinda kept from the neighborhood came knocking on her door like, "How do you have lights?" And she's like, "I'm not on the grid. I've got solar-plus-storage."
JP: And so, there's all these different ways that mitigating is also adapting. And actually now that you asked that question, I should probably think about putting something out that talks about how a lot of the different practices combine mitigation and adaptation. But even the things that don't necessarily explicitly integrate mitigation, like the work that is happening around managed retreat and infrastructure building for folks who are going to be inundated by sea level rise, we're now having to push for funding to go towards this, recognizing that we failed to stop emitting, so now we have to take responsibility for people who are in harm's way as a result of it. And those are the tough conversations that need to happen as well. Hopefully, that kind of... I don't know. [chuckle]
KW: Yeah, no, well, it brought back a lot of memories from earlier in my career when I was starting out, and I was aware that there were many communities several decades ago that were already planning for resettlement, and if I brought up those adaptation issues, a lot of white environmentalists would scold me or others and say, "Don't even speak of that," and it was just like, yeah, we have to mitigate but you have to acknowledge the risk and the suffering that's already occurring. [chuckle]
KW: But you gave amazing voice to just how we need to look really holistically about these issues. Jacque, the next question and what might be our final exchange for our session today has to do with some of the institutions that matter to black communities, and the colleague asks, "What suggestions might you extend to groups in the black community, such as sororities, fraternities, churches, and mosques, to have an impact on climate justice in our communities?"
JP: Yeah, thank you. Well, yeah, that's a lot to answer in the few minutes remaining, but I'll say very briefly that, A, that's exactly what... Well, what we've been talking about is multi-solving because we know that our communities have so much that's going on that we really have to make sure that the intersectionality of our analysis has to be met with the intersectionality of our responses.
JP: And so, when we were visiting, for example, one of the communities, they were like, "Yeah, we know, we respect that you're doing that environmental stuff, but what we're trying to deal with is joblessness and criminal justice in our communities," and so then I said, "Oh well, great, we have been having a project where it's called "The Power of the Employment Project", where it's actually training formally incarcerated persons in energy efficiency retrofits and solarisation, and so they were like all over it because it was multi-solving.
JP: You know, it had met them where they were in terms of the things that they cared about, and they combined it with the climate mitigation and adaptation approach. And so, for each and every one of those groups, the mosques, the churches, we're always about meeting people where they are, and then figuring out what's going to meet all of these interests.
JP: So, like when we saw, I mentioned the Portland Clean Energy Fund, but the Future Energy Jobs Act and the clean energy legislation that just passed in Illinois was because they had a great table, a coalition table that where all the different interests were met, the returning citizens groups, the faith groups, and so forth, they all kind of said, "Here's what's gonna meet our needs or our concerns," and they put together these intersectional pieces of legislation that are multi-solving, that solves for all these problems in concert, and so that's been really critical to engaging folks in our community. It's something that's gonna address the myriad issues that we face on a day-to-day basis.
KW: Yeah, no, I appreciate it. And Jacque, we gotta go. [laughter] I want to thank you. I want to thank you just for your great sharing of all your knowledge and wisdom and just your philosophies and perspectives, once they know are gonna stick with so many of us for a long time. And so, obviously, I want to thank you, and in Anishinaabe language we say "miigwech". And I wanna just to invite my colleague Shobita back into the space to further thank you and close our time together for the session. Thanks again, Jacque.
JP: Thank you. Thank you.
SP: Thanks so much, Kyle. And thank you very much, Jacque. This is such a wonderful, fascinating, intellectually stimulating conversation. As you saw, we got lots of questions in the chat, and so our participants I think were as excited as we were to have you, so I'm so thrilled that you were able to join us today. And so, that concludes our first event in the STPP lecture series. As I said at the outset, stay tuned for our second event of the semester, which will be in a couple of months on December 6th, where we'll have Fatima Hassan in conversation with Dr. Abdul El-Sayed talking about health justice issues. Thanks again, and we will see you soon. Take care.