What does it mean to advance climate justice? How do we do it? There are many ways.
Speaking truth to power
Getting involved in decision making spaces
Investigating and documenting injustice
The list goes on…..What are you doing? What can you do?
Our members are doing great work locally, nationally, and internationally. The CJI team understands that highlighting the fantastic things NAACP members are already doing is the way to inspire others to do the same. Therefore, we have decided to profile our members’ activities, appointments, blogs, etc., in order to provide others with the information in hopes that some of these great actions can be replicated and to acknowledge the great environmental justice work that is happening across the nation.
Seizing the Reins in Disaster Management, On Behalf of Our People
National Board Member Adora Obi Nweze was appointed in June of this year to the FEMA National Advisory Council. The National Advisory Council (NAC) advises the Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on all aspects of emergency management and incorporates state, local and tribal government and private sector input in the development and revision of the national preparedness goal, the national preparedness system, the National Incident Management System, the National Response Plan and other related plans and strategies. As the Florida State conference President Ms. Adora will ensure that communities of color are protected in Florida but all over the nation and our voice is heard.
Tene's Humble Opinion
One of the reasons we developed a “member activities” page is to get messages to the public about what is going on around the nation regarding Climate Justice. The BP Oil Disaster affected so many of our members in the Gulf Region. Countless members expressed concern of being ignored and overlooked comparing these feelings to similar sentiments around Katrina. Tene Franklin, a researcher by profession, provided the CJI team with her firsthand account of the aftermath of the BP Oil Disaster.
What is your background?
I am a Genetic Counselor at Meharry Medical College where I provide genetic counseling to individuals about hemoglobinopathies (Sickle cell disease) and prenatal diagnosis. Before joining Meharry, I was with the University of Pennsylvania Center for Bioethics where I served as a Project Director and Researcher for a NIH funded grant entitled Understanding Difference: Genetics and Social Identity.
Do you feel that the entire nation understands the depth of this disaster?
Unfortunately no. Most people relate to the images they see on television and on the internet. These images of biological destruction are only a fraction of the affects that the oil spill has had on the Gulf. What the images don’t show are the personal struggles of the housekeeper, waiter, or store clerk that have lost their job because of the lack of tourists coming to the area. Pictures cannot capture the long-term physical and mental health issues that clean-up workers and others will live with. Most importantly, the pictures cannot tell the story of municipalities that depend on tourism for their tax base. The tourism tax base helps fund schools, hospitals, and infrastructure. The oil spill is not only about the physical effects of the biological environment. It is about sustaining those communities most affected. Without education, healthcare, and economic opportunity, our communities will suffer.
What do you feel the next steps are in the recovery process?
Listen from zero. So many times the experts rush in after a disaster with all of the solutions. The next steps of the recovery process are to listen to the people. Because of our organization’s grass-roots structure and experience, The NAACP is an example of an organization that can assist in the Gulf Coast recovery process. In concert with voter empowerment and advocacy efforts that we have in place, we can serve as a formal repository of personal stories of those that are living through the disaster. From there we can work with the local Gulf Coast communities to ensure that we help identify solutions that are specific to their needs.
How can people help? What can they do stay informed on the issues?
Connect with those that are one the front lines of the gulf disaster. A good place to start is with grassroots organizations like the NAACP. I also find that reading local newspapers provided well-rounded analyses of the recovery effort. The most reliable sources of information that I receive are from my first-hand conversations of people that are local to the area. These individuals offer the best comparison of life on the Gulf before and after the oil disaster. In addition, the personal stories of the domino effects of the Oil disaster help us begin to understand the oil spill from Biological, Economical, Health, and Spiritual perspectives.
Jacqui Patterson, Director of Climate Change Initiative, gave me the honor of interviewing this young solider for Climate Justice, Matthew Miller. Matthew is a junior at Stanford University in Palo, Alto California who recently completed an internship with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This might sound cliché but Matt is going places and I am positive that this will not be his only highlight in the CJ world.
Tell me a little about your internship.
I was an Intern in the Communities and Ecosystems Division for the Region 9 Environmental Justice Team. Overall, this included attending government town hall sessions about water quality in low-SES(Socio-Economic Status) neighborhoods and going on "toxic tours" of the entire LA area, but also academic research on environmental chemicals for a report. I did outreach for redevelopment agencies in LA and San Diego for Brownfields Grants workshops. I assisted with the President's American Great Outdoors Initiative conference alongside the Department of Interior, Army Corps of Engineers, and other federal agencies.
How did you get such a great opportunity?
I landed this opportunity through reaching out to EPA, interviewing for the student intern position, and arranging it with my Urban Studies department to receive academic credit for it.
What is your background around Climate and Environmental Justice? What work have you done in the community?
For the past year and a half at Stanford, I have been a voice and a mind for environmental justice (EJ). As a college freshman, I helped put together a panel of local EJ advocates and eco-super star Majora Carter. In my sophomore year, I was the Environmental Justice Coordinator for the Stanford College Chapter of the NAACP and I taught a service-learning course called “The Color of Ecoliteracy” for the Race Forward Initiative on Race & Environment. It was the first course in over a decade at Stanford to explore domestic EJ. That same winter, I organized a first-time conference entitled “Answer the Call” which brought university and community stakeholders together to discuss EJ and youth. This past spring, our NAACP chapter funded the appearance of revered green jobs leader Van Jones to keynote a sustainability festival. By the end of this past school year, I penned a NAACP “Resolution on Youth & College Division Environmental Justice Engagement” which unanimously passed at both state and national conferences. This piece of legislation will expand the sociopolitical objectives in the Youth & College Division to include EJ and create an EJ Standing Committee. This past summer, I earned a Haas Center Public Service Fellowship to intern with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Through that experience, I will be the primary author on a report detailing racial disparities in high-end chemical exposure based on the CDC's Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals. My EPA research mentor and I are aiming for publication in 2011. All in all, my work has mostly revolved around engaged scholarship, college community organizing, and political advocacy.
What are the top three Climate Justice issues affecting our community?
Multiple ethnic minority groups in America face similarly unacceptable climate quality issues though each community does have unique challenges. When looking at African-American communities both in urban and rural areas, the issues are very institutional, long-standing and challenging to eradicate. The top three climate issues would be, first, air pollution from harmful respiratory particulate matter in the atmosphere surrounding urban housing near freeways and factories. Studies prove that African-Americans are the most likely population to live near high greenhouse gas-emitting facilities in the country. The second issue is drastic temperature change, which has spurred the sea level rise that threatens communities of color near waterfronts. It also leads to unpredictable weather patterns that disrupt food-based economies. Additionally, it intensifies health issues for vulnerable youth and elderly Black citizens unable to cope in under-weatherized homes and facilities. The third but certainly not the final issue is problems with the built environment such as lack of outdoor green space and food deserts which further diminish outdoor activity and deny our right to healthy foods.
You are currently in college. How does Climate Justice affect young people?
Climate justice affects the health and livelihood of young people, perhaps even more than adults. When it comes to air pollution, adolescents are especially prone to develop respiratory conditions that last them a lifetime. The climate gap has the potential to further widen the socioeconomic and achievement gaps that already disadvantage our youth by displacing families, destroying jobs, and worsening learning environments. However, this is not to say that young people cannot affect some level of change. College students are especially poised to affect the academic atmosphere around climate justice. Whether it is taking service-learning courses that center on this issue or leading a nonprofit venture to raise awareness, young adults and even high school students have the ability to organize and energize a movement.
How can people help? What can they do stay informed on the issues?
First, assess whether the neighborhood you belong to is bearing these climate burdens. If so, then locate the nearest nonprofit that specializes in environmental/ climate justice to get background which they usually can provide. Talk to your neighbors and community members about the particular environmental problem that is concerning you and see if you can foster some consensus. Honest communication about a frustration is usually how the best movements begin. Finally, bring these to the active nonprofit (hopefully NAACP!) for next steps. For people interested in environmental justice generally, I’d recommend Robert Bullard’s The Quest for Environmental Justice: Human Rights and the Politics of Pollution as a foundational reading. I peruse blogs like www.ChecktheWeather.net and news services like Grist, Loop21, and The Root. But for ease, follow me on Twitter@MattJMillz for links and commentary on them all!