Conference aims to bring together climate change, environmental justice communities

 By Frank Brown, assistant director, publications

 A three-day April conference, Environmental (Dis)Locations, organized in part by Yale Divinity School faculty, is aimed at forging new ways for the climate change and environmental justice communities to cooperate.

BullardDrawing on the expertise of participants—expected to include scientists, theologians, activists and journalists—organizers say they hope the April 8 -10 event will provide a venue for improving understanding and bettering practical strategies.  As of Feb. 26, there were 59 registrants for the conference.

“We hope that the sometimes adversarial relationship between folks from each of these perspectives is lessened so that we are able to build effective strategies of human flourishing and the environment,” says Andrew W. Mellon Professor of African American Religion and Theology Emilie Townes, who conceived the idea of the conference a year ago.

Some scholars have pointed out that, while many people of color and low-income communities regard climate change and the environment as priorities, the climate change movement remains highly homogenous—male, white, affluent —in its leadership.

 The conference, to be held at the Divinity School, the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, and the St. Thomas More Center, is free and open to the public. Among its key elements will be four 90-minute think tank sessions for which attendees are invited to prepare in advance using online resources.

Tucker“We are attempting to have folks in the climate change movement and the environmental justice movement talk with each other and strategize together through the use of think tanks about ways local communities can address issues of climate change and environmental justice,” says Townes.

The event is set to begin the evening of April 8 with an opening plenary session featuring speaker Robert Bullard, a professor of sociology at Clark Atlanta University, where he founded the Environmental Justice Resource Center. Bullard is the author of 15 books, at least one of which, Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality, is a standard text in the field of environmental justice.

Another of the major presenters at the conference will be Van Jones, who made national headlines last September when he resigned his position as an environmental advisor to the Obama administration after Republicans called for Jones’s ouster based on his prior activist associations.  Jones, a Yale Law School graduate, is a human rights advocate and author of the best-selling book The Green-Collar Economy.

Van JonesOther conference speakers include Carl Anthony, the founder of the Urban Habitat Program, one of the oldest environmental justice organizations in the United States; David Orr, a professor of environmental studies and politics at Oberlin College; and, Dianne Dumanoski, an author and environmental journalist whose work has appeared in the Boston Globe and on public television station WGBH. Mary Evelyn Tucker is the final plenary speaker. She is the co-founder of the Forum on Religion and Ecology, which focuses on research, education and outreach. Speaking of the upcoming conference, Tucker noted the degree to which it is innovative.

“This is one of the first conferences to integrate environmental justice into the discussions regarding climate change,” says Tucker, who holds academic appointments, as a scholar and lecturer, at Yale’s schools of Divinity, Forestry and Graduate Studies.

“It is new because it is interdisciplinary and points toward transformation of policies and of human behavior,” Tucker notes.  “ These are distinctive contributions that go beyond arguing about certain aspects of the science of climate change.  We are responding now to the urgent reality that climate change will adversely affect those most vulnerable.”

The Environmental (Dis)Locations conference is free and open to the public. To register online, click here. The deadline is March 17.