On November 2, 2017, FHI Practitioner-in-Residence Catherine Flowers spoke with FHI Digital Humanities Specialist Dr. Amanda Starling Gould’s “Designing Nature’s Futures” course.

Ms. Flowers, a researcher, activist, and storyteller, engaged the class with details and anecdotes from her environmental justice work in Lowndes county Alabama. The students wrote blog posts after the event and we invited them to share their reflections. Here are a few highlights:

“The talk by Ms. Catherine Flowers was very interesting and insightful. I really learned a lot about environmental justice (EJ) and I realized that I would like to be involved in environmental justice issues more than I thought I would. Before her talk, I was thinking that advocacy wouldn’t be my strength because one would ideally be outgoing, charismatic, and very passionate about their work..I figured that I wouldn’t be interested in EJ work for this reason, but Ms. Catherine changed my mind about it because I feel that it is work that is very important and can really be rewarding.“ Adrienne

“It was an invigorating experience to meet Catherine! As someone who’s involved in policy, her actions take broad strokes in moving our local communities and our country forward towards resilience and climate change mitigation. She is part of a movement of community members, politicians, students, and public intellectuals – her actions are contributing to shifts in people’s conceptions of the issues as well as the motives of actual organizations and policy on-the-ground.” Summer

“Of all the fascinating ideas from Catherine Flowers’ visit on Thursday, the two things which have stuck in my mind the firmest are her use of anecdotes and her response to Joe’s question about how she addresses people who do not believe in climate change. I was extremely impressed by her ability to find common ground with people despite vast differences in personal values and perspectives. It was in her descriptions of her conversations with climate change deniers that she demonstrated her ability to use anecdotes, rather than statistics or science, to show how climate change was affecting everyday life in Lowndes County.” Matthew

“As an environmental justice advocate, Catherine Flowers uses the sewage situation in Lowndes County to emphasize the intersection between climate change, social injustices, and health problems. In addition, throughout her talk, she numerously stressed the fact that we’re not prepared for climate change. As “natural” disasters become more frequent and more intense, we need to find innovative ways to effectively evacuate people and repair broken infrastructure. As Ms. Flowers mentioned, designing nature’s future will have to take these factors into account, whether it’s through new mass transit systems or flood-proof infrastructure. More importantly, however, future designs will have to focus on providing enough housing, education, and other services for an influx of climate refugees who are permanently displaced from their current communities.” Jana

“I loved our visit with Catherine Flowers. Among her talk what was really powerful was the way she addressed spreading awareness about climate change and the issues surrounding its impact. If people can’t see the facts through experience, Catherine Flowers suggested finding a situation or experience in which you can relate to the individual in which is being spoken to. Finding common ground changes the way in which we shall design natures future.” Joe

“Seeing someone who had experienced such injustices firsthand made me aware of how central a piece environmental justice is when formulating and issuing laws and regulations for the environment. With the idea of designing nature’s future in mind, I think that having a legislative body that includes all voices affected by a certain legislation on the local level is fundamental. If the Catherine Flowers of every state, region, town were constantly involved in and part of the discussion of environmental laws and regulations, then we would have a much more proactive and conscious approach to fight back against environmental injustices.” Francesca

To read more about Catherine Flowers and her collaboration with the Duke Human Rights Center at FHI, see here: http://fhi.duke.edu/programs/practitioner-residence.

To read the student blogs in full, see here: https://sites.duke.edu/lit290s_01_f2017/?s=catherine+flowers.

Photo credit: Eric Barstow for FHI.