The Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan invited Jacqueline Patterson, senior director of the NAACP Environmental Climate Justice program, to discuss climate and environmental justice in the aftermath of the climate crisis. Kyle Whyte, Professor of Environment and Sustainability, moderated the virtual discussion.
Patterson began by discussing the Chisholm Legacy Project, an organization that provides resources to black environmental and climate advocates named Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman in Congress. Patterson is the Founder and Executive Director of CLP and said she built the project on four beliefs: community building, movement building, education and supporting black women in positions of power. advocacy.
Patterson went on to speak about Chisholm, saying she admired him for his determination and advocacy in the face of discrimination.
âI’m sure there were times where (the discrimination) dampened her morale, but when you see her in the photos she is (still) smiling,â Patterson said. âIt’s not the kind of smile you see on some people, where it’s just almost a grin with gritted teeth. It’s a genuine smile, but she was still able to find joy and humor despite the opposition she faced.
Patterson also said the CLP aims to bring efforts to tackle climate injustice and racial injustice closer together, raising awareness of each movement to the other and enabling them to fight together. Patterson said the way society views our planet is tied to how we treat each other.
âWe have seen how environmental injustice occurs with the extraction and exploitation of the communities that host these extraction processes,â Patterson said.
Patterson then spoke about the costs of climate change and asked participants to consider which communities contribute the most in terms of carbon emissions. Patterson said that while some companies create solutions to tackle climate change, some of those solutions still exclude vulnerable communities.
For example, Patterson said she knew of a leading solar company that switched to using reusable energy, but used prison labor to do so. Worse yet, Patterson said, the company will not hire former incarcerated individuals, although Patterson did not specify which company she was talking about.
Something similar happened in 2015 with Georgia-based solar company Suniva Inc., which used prison labor to create inexpensive solar panels. The Daily could not confirm whether Patterson was specifically referring to Suniva Inc ..
â(When you talk about) mining and exploitation, the prison industrial complex has cornered the market in that (value),â Patterson said. âWhen we challenged (the company), they said if we supported this the prisoners would have a skill that they can use when they come out. We were like ‘okay, that seems half reasonable, du less in terms of intent, “until we learn that they have a policy against hiring formerly incarcerated people in their companies.”
While there have been environmental benefits to the program, the incarcerated community is the one paying the cost, Patterson said.
In his analysis of environmental racism, Patterson compared the problems observed in environmental and racial injustice to the systematic inequalities exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
âThe climate is the same pattern of systemic inequities that has led to the same pattern of disproportionate impact and system collapse,â Patterson said.
Asked how students pursuing environmental and social justice fields should approach the industry, Patterson said schools should reframe the way these issues are taught.
âIf we recontextualize environmental studies in a way that is really rooted in what’s going on in our communities, (then) we have a whole new way young people think about it,â Patterson said.
Whyte, the moderator, ended the discussion by saying that Patterson’s speech is an inspiration to students interested in studying environmental and racial justice.
âIf I had only heard what you just said when I was a student, I would have been powerful in solving the different roles and possibilities for people to apply and take leadership,â Whyte said.
Journalist for the daily Shannon Stocking can be contacted at [email protected]