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Friday, December 09, 2022

HBCU students, faculty stress urgent need for climate action

NEW ORLEANS ( Associated Press) — Both joy and despair are in the air at this week’s HBCU climate change conference in New Orleans as environmental and climate advocates and researchers across the United States press for urgent climate action and pollution cleanup in poor communities and communities. . of colour.

The conference saw top officials and key advisors in the Biden administration, environmental and climate justice advocates from the southeastern United States, and faculty and students from the nation’s historically black colleges and universities share their research.

It was the eighth of the conference and the first since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Those concerned with climate and environmental justice have since risen to positions of power in the Biden administration, which first created the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and made strong pledges to clean up pollution and take climate action in disadvantaged communities. The Bezos Earth Fund and other new philanthropies are giving money to environmental and climate justice groups.

Longtime leaders Beverly Wright and Robert Bullard, who are also co-founders of the convention and members of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, expressed enthusiasm over the changes.

“The movement has changed,” said Wright, who is also director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice. “This is the first time it has been revived from a level higher than it had ever been revived before.” He said that for the first time in decades organizations like him have been able to compensate grassroots organizations for community-based research.

But he and others present also expressed dismay at the lack of progress on actual pollution cleanup, saying that climate change now adds new damage to disadvantaged communities, to say nothing of the need to put that damage in the first place. For.

“We find ourselves fighting old fights, battles (we thought) we won. And now we are fighting them all again. And that’s why we need you young people. This is your fight going forward,” Wright said.

The look back was extended since one of the key themes of this year’s conference was the passage of the Clean Water Act in 1972 and reflections on the 50 years since the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency two years earlier.

Some attendees have been working for two or three generations to clean the water and air in their communities. Pioneers said there has been more awareness and attention for their communities on issues such as water, air, renewable energy, food access and flood protection, but they have done little on the ground on those issues.

Wright said Wednesday night at a community forum to kick off the convention that when he began working on environmental justice in 1990, there were 132 petrochemical facilities along the 85-mile corridor from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, which some people call Known as Cancer Alley. Now there are two dozen more.

“We live in a state that has abandoned its environmental protection obligations for years with regard to the chemical manufacturing industry”, she said.

The HBCU Climate Change Conference has also traditionally been a place for local organizations to share their data and for young researchers to present their studies. Key topics in that research this year were tracking air pollution in St. James and St. John’s Parish in Louisiana, as well as Houston; Building flood protection in the port cities of Gulfport, Mississippi and New Orleans, and measuring the cumulative impact of pollution on environmental health in communities of color across the United States.

Reggie Sylvestine, a member of the Alabama-Kushatta tribe in Texas who works in fire prevention and management, was at the conference for the first time and said what he learned was eye-opening.

“I’m learning that all the effects are primarily on (other) minority communities,” Celestine said. “And that’s preventing us from getting the help we need to mitigate these problems.”

Another first-time attendee, Karis Thomas, a psychology student at Howard University, said she was inspired to take a leadership role by seeing other students at the conference and seeing the research they are doing.

“What I really gained from this conference is student activism and what’s new in terms of taking responsibility” in a way that doesn’t rely on government or corporate backing, she said. “Because we’ve seen this work takes decades, it takes years, and we don’t have years.”

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Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley,

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The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. Associated Press is solely responsible for all content.

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