Series brings climate justice into focus

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Local organizations have banded together to create an educational series on climate justice. The series, which began on April 1 and runs until Thursday, Earth Day, has attracted more than 375 registrants and 50 organizations. It aims to bring awareness on the deep connections between injustice and climate change. 

The Climate of Change series is an educational journey on intersectional climate injustice. Modeled after the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge, participants this month have attended live sessions every Thursday where they listen to keynote speakers and local guest panelists.

The series is organized by the Climate Solutions Accelerator, Urban League of Rochester, Connected Communities, Ibero-American Action League, City Roots Community Land Trust, M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence, Rochester Area Community Foundation, and St. Mark’s and St. John’s Episcopal Church.

“In addition to the weekly live sessions, every day participants are given a plethora of information including podcasts, articles, videos and actions that can be taken. We take people on this learning journey, starting week one with the history of environmental racism in our community and beyond,” says Abigail McHugh-Grifa, a founding member of the Climate Solutions Accelerator, an organization dedicated to inspiring and mobilizing the implementation of taking action on climate change in the nine-county Genesee-Finger Lakes Region. “Then, we take them into ‘What does that mean for current local issues’ and then ‘What do we do about it?”

Farmers, housing, transportation, health and racism are pieces of intersectional climate injustice, which operates on the principle that the wellbeing of people and the planet are interconnected. As an example, McHugh-Grifa points to the COVID-19 pandemic and the once-empty shelves that lined grocery stores. 

“Even though we have all of this beautiful farmland just 20 minutes away, our shelves were empty,” she says. “Something is wrong. How do we get support for farmers who are stewarding the land and make it so that they can have a livelihood and not go out of business, while getting that food to the people in the city and elsewhere who need it?” 

At first, McHugh-Grifa didn’t fully grasp the deep connections between climate change and the criminal justice system. Emphasizing this connection is Native Americans and the violence they have faced while fighting for their land, she says. Where people live, the pollutants they are exposed to, their living conditions and how they are policed are all part of climate injustice. 

“The people who have contributed least to causing that problem are the people who are going to be impacted first and worst—people of color and low-income communities, locally and globally,” McHugh-Grifa says. “And that’s inherently unfair. Addressing that inequity is the starting point.”

Climate change demands more action than simply recycling—the go-to for most people. While it’s good and helps in its way, there are systems-level changes that need to be implemented. 

The series breaks down the different aspects into “bite-sized pieces, simplifying issues for those interested in becoming part of the change.” McHugh-Grifa says. “We will get to the point where there is enough shared knowledge that we can really partner together in a meaningful way going forward and find those intersecting solutions.”

The series’ first day opened with Daphany Rose Sanchez, a New York native and climate justice expert, who spoke about her experience with Hurricane Sandy and how it ignited her passion for energy equity. Sanchez strives to get community members who are being affected the most at the same table as the decision makers so that they can work together to do what is truly best for the community. 

The series highlights the erasure of Indigenous Peoples and the ongoing fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline. It also takes a deep look into the history of colonialism and how it has impacted environmental injustice and includes calls to action finding solidarity with indigenous people.

Rochester continues to be one of the most racially segregated regions in the country. As a result of zoning laws, many neighborhoods today still suffer the consequences of redlining. While several factors are taken into consideration when determining the quality of a neighborhood, it is the heavy population of Black people and immigrants that once lived in the area that cause a lower-quality rating, McHugh-Grifa says. Because of this, she says billions of dollars in monetary resources have been redirected to more highly rated areas, leaving redlined neighborhoods to deteriorate. (Redlining has been defined as the systematic denial of various services or goods by governments or the private sector either directly or through the selective raising of prices.)

To build off of the series, the groups involved have recently launched a climate-focused collective impact initiative. Partners across the nine-county region are coming together to create concrete recommendations to steer the vision of change. From personal households to organizations, all can find their place in how they can contribute to the movement, McHugh-Grifa says.

Interested people can get involved by visiting Climate Solutions Accelerator’s website and signing up. 

“There’s a place for everyone,” McHugh-Grifa says.

Amanda Moulton-Proctor is a Rochester-area freelance writer.

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