Students and faculty from HBCUs press for urgent climate action

At the HBCU Climate Conference in New Orleans this week, both joy and frustration are evident as climate and environmental advocates and researchers from all over the United States call for urgent climate action.

18 April 2022 Monday 08:45
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Students and faculty from HBCUs press for urgent climate action

This conference will run through Saturday and featured high-ranking officials and key advisors from the Biden administration, climate justice and environmental advocates from across the southeastern United States, as well as faculty and students representing historically Black colleges and universities.

This was the eighth conference and the first since 2019, owing to the coronavirus pandemic.

People concerned about climate and environmental justice have risen to power in the Biden administration. They created the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, and made strong promises to take climate action in disadvantaged areas. The Bezos Earth Fund, and other new philanthropy, channel money to climate and environmental justice groups.

Beverly Wright and Robert Bullard are long-standing leaders and were also conference cofounders. They are also members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

Wright, who is also the director of Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, said that "the movement has changed." She said that the organization has been able to compensate grassroots organizations for community-based research for the first times in decades.

They and others present expressed dismay at the lack of progress in actual pollution cleanup and stated that climate change is causing new damage in disadvantaged areas, not to mention the need to prevent it from ever happening.

"We are now fighting old fights that we thought (we thought) were won. We're now fighting them again. We need you, young people. Wright stated, "This is your fight moving ahead."

This was amplified by the conference's reflection on the past 50 years, which included the 1972 passage of Clean Water Act and the creation two years earlier of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Many of the participants have been cleaning up their communities' water and air for at least two or three generations. Although there has been greater awareness and attention to water, air and renewable energy issues, the Pioneers claimed that they have not seen much action on the ground.

Wright stated at Wednesday's community forum that there were 132 petrochemical plants along the 85-mile route from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, which was known as Cancer Alley. There are now two dozen.

She said, "We live in an environment that has for years abdicated its obligations to protect the environment" regarding chemical manufacturing.

The HBCU Climate Conference is a traditional venue for young researchers and local organizations to share data. This year's major themes were: monitoring air pollution in St. James, St. John parishes, Louisiana; building flood protection in New Orleans port cities Gulfport, Mississippi, and New Orleans; and measuring the cumulative effect of pollution on environmental health within communities of color throughout the United States.

Reggie Sylvestine from the Alabama-Coushatta tribe, Texas, who works in fire prevention, management and mitigation, was there for the first time. He said that what he saw was eye-opening.

Sylestine stated, "I'm finding that all of these impacts are mainly on [other] minority communities." "We're not getting the help we need to solve these problems," Sylestine said.

Karis Thomas, a Howard University psychology student, was another first-time participant. She said that she has been inspired by the experience of watching the other students and the research they are doing.

She said that she has learned a lot from the conference about student activism, and how they are able to see what's coming in terms if taking responsibility. This is something that doesn't depend on corporate or government support. We've learned that this work can take decades and years. And we don't have the time.

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