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Climate justice advocates fight for environmental, social solutions

Updated: Apr 22, 2022

For disadvantaged communities, climate change is more than just an environmental issue.

There is no one answer to climate disparities, said panelist Sweeti Patel, a junior student activist and the marketing director of Belmont’s Environment and Conservation Organization.

“It’s a series of solutions,” Patel said at Belmont University’s first Teach-In for Climate Justice, an international initiative started by Bard College’s graduate programs in sustainability.

Three panels of Belmont faculty, student activists and community nonprofit leaders met across Wednesday and Thursday to discuss how they participate in climate justice, the idea that not everyone feels the effects of climate change equally, and how students can get involved in making change.

Unlike other environmental movements, climate justice focuses specifically on helping those who are disproportionately affected by climate change.

Planting more trees in more vulnerable communities, advocacy and education were posed as solutions to climate injustice.

“This is an opportunity to create a more caring world,” said panelist Dan Joranko, who works for Tennessee Interfaith Power and Light.

While climate injustice is a complex problem, the reason those climate disparities exist is clear to panelist Meg Morgan, a community nonprofit leader who works at the Cumberland River Compact.

“This is really all tied back to systemic racism,” Morgan said.

The percentage of Black people that are “more likely to currently live in areas with the highest projected increases in extreme temperature-related deaths,” is 40%, according to a 2021 report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

These are the same people hit hardest by floods and urban heat islands — areas that have higher temperatures because urban development replaced green space — Morgan said. She attributes this back to redlining houses in neighborhoods with higher concentrations of people of color and also the lack of tree canopy where they live.

Seeing these disparities motivated junior Elma Jashim, the president of ECO Club, to organize the teach-in, she said.

“I was really just moved by all of the environmental injustices that I was seeing, not only with the Black community here in Nashville, but also the indigenous communities all around America,” Jashim said.

To fix such a widespread problem, everyone must have a voice, said panelist Elizabeth Langgle-Martin, the engagement manager at the Nashville Food Project.

“Look to poor communities for leadership,” she said, pointing out how environmentalism can often be pushed to the point of elitism.

A lot of environmental justice work was rooted in leaders of color, and they deserve to still have a seat at the table, Langgle-Martin said.

Solutions proposed by panelists got to the heart of the problem and the heart of Fiona Prine, an attendee of the student activist panel. Returning to Belmont after 10 years to finish her degree, the event was Prine’s last WELL Core credit, and she left it with positivity.

“I feel like I need to apologize to all of you for what we did to the planet,” she said, issuing the apology on behalf of older generations during the panel.

But after hearing from student panelists and student attendees, she realized that the younger generation is doing what they can to fix the damage that has been done.

“I’m leaving here with a lot more hope than I came in with. Because truly, if this is representative of the young student population here at Belmont, then you guys can do really big things,” Prine said.

PHOTO: From left to right, Elizabeth Langgle-Martin, Meg Morgan and Dan Joranko, nonprofit leaders who spoke at a tech-in panel. Maddie Buchman / Belmont Vision

This article was written by Maddie Buchman.

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