By Elizabeth Allen (Trinity Arts & Sciences, ’20), Brandon Hunter (PhD Candidate, Environmental Engineering, and Laura Landes (MA Student, Nicholas School of the Environment)

On January 11, over a hundred Duke students interested in environmental and social justice issues gathered at the Nicholas School of the Environment for a Climate Justice Training hosted by The Climate Reality Project in collaboration with Alabama Center for Rural Enterprise (ACRE), the Duke Human Rights Center, and other local partner organizations. This intersectional training focused on making the links between environmental and social injustices clear as well as giving students the tools to work on these issues locally.

The Climate Justice Training set the framework for a broad discussion about climate justice. Ms. Flowers, board member of the Climate Reality Project and founder of ACRE, explained how climate change disproportionately harms poor people and people of color. She provided various direct examples such as how climate change increases storms like Hurricane Florence, which caused coal ash pits and hog waste lagoons sited in marginalized communities to overflow and contaminate waterways. She also explained ways that climate change indirectly causes social justice issues such as climate gentrification in California and Florida, where poor people and people of color are pushed out of their communities because these locations are more desirable with increasing wildfires and sea level rise. Anita Simha, an organizer from the New Poor People’s Campaign, also emphasized the need to think about these issues together. Even though the political media may view issues like systematic racism, poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy, and the nation’s distorted morality as being separate, the New Poor People’s Campaign works on all of these issues together in an effort to work for holistic change. Other presentations continued to show the connections between climate change and justice. One session focused on how climate change is a threat multiplier; another explained how to improve access to food sources in a sustainable and equitable way.

The Climate Justice Training also provided tools that students can use to work on these intersectional issues. Students from Duke University and North Carolina State University discussed how students can begin their activism at a young age to increase awareness of these issues, transparency from universities, and interest in equitable sustainable development efforts. These undergraduate activists stressed the importance of young people using their voices and not being afraid to speak up and ask questions. Additionally, a session on storytelling explained how to elevate diverse voices and experiences in order to emphasize the social justice implications of climate change and change the traditional narrative about climate change.

The 2019 Climate Justice Training proved to be an energizing, collaborative space which elevated and empowered the voices of those leading the fight for climate justice. The speakers collectively called for students to understand the links between these issues so that the world can deal with climate change in a way that ensures society’s most vulnerable are not left behind.