Environmental Justice Conference
Brings Emerging Scholars to F&ES

The day-long Global Environmental Justice Conference brought emerging scholars from around the world and from across disciplines to discuss how scholarship, social justice, and environmental management can be effectively integrated.
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Judy Sirota Rosenthal
As a professor of environmental studies at Swarthmore, Giovanna Di Chiro takes issue with the idea of “impact.” Part of the higher education and nonprofit vernacular, the term conjures up images of explosions, craters, or Newton’s cradle desk toys. It is a word that, when used to describe environmental activism or an initiative, leaves out the concept of environmental justice entirely, she says.
 
“Activists and scholars in the environmental justice movement are committed to building relationships of collaborative engagement, grounded in reciprocity,” says Di Chiro. “We ask ourselves: For whom are our impacts positive?”
 
Di Chiro was the keynote speaker at the Global Environmental Justice Conference, hosted by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) on November 15. The day-long event, part of the Environmental Justice and Health Initiative at F&ES, brought emerging scholars from around the world and from across disciplines to discuss how scholarship, social justice, and environmental management can be effectively integrated.
 
The conference featured panel discussions on a range of topics, including extractive industries and human rights, environmental governance, climate change adaptation, and engaging with multiple knowledge systems. Each panel discussed the human elements associated with these environmental challenges. They also discussed how marginalized groups, often most vulnerable to these challenges, are often left out of the decision-making processes.
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Judy Sirota Rosenthal
From left: F&ES Dean Indy Burke, Graciela Chichilnisky, Yale President Peter Salovey
The event featured panelists from five countries and 14 different U.S. states, and included scholars from 36 different academic institutions.
 
“It’s exciting to see the depth and interesting level of scholarship happening everywhere and even more exciting to feature the wide range of perspectives on how to solve problems,” said Amity Doolittle, a senior lecturer at F&ES and co-chair of the conference. The other co-chair was Michelle Bell, Mary E. Pinchot Professor of Environmental Health at F&ES.

In one discussion, a panel of scholars and practitioners examined the complex interactions between policymakers or program managers and local communities — from the Peruvian Andes to the gentrifying neighborhoods of New York — when it comes to “green development.”
 
Jamie Haverkamp, a research fellow and lecturer at the University of Maine, described her research in the Peruvian highlands, where state officials have imposed solutions to increased glacial melt that ignore local traditions and ways of knowing. She called for another kind of adaptation that respects these differences and promotes solutions that are designed from “below.”
 
It’s important to be open to “dangerous conversations” when circumstances bring together groups or individuals steeped in different ways of being, said Mohamad Chakaki ’06 M.E.M., a senior fellow at the Center for Whole Communities, a Vermont-based organization that works with institutions, communities, and leaders to bridge differences and solve problems. Achieving meaningful solutions, he said, requires sincerity, respect, and awareness.
 
“Our leadership practices and frameworks build capacity at the individual, organizational, and community level to deepen awareness, embrace differences, and value relationships that make change possible,” he said.
 
During a panel on “Risk, Resilience and Climate Change,” Kate Burrows, a doctoral student at F&ES, explained how landslides in Indonesia have displaced residents and negatively affected their mental health. Low- and middle-income countries such as Indonesia often face the worst effects of our changing environment, yet they have very limited capacity to recover and move forward, she said.
 
As researchers look for solutions, Burrows stressed the need to include those most affected in the process. “The data doesn’t belong to us,” she said. “Researchers need to realize that just because we do the work doesn’t mean we have a say in how it’s used.”
 
In addition to the four panels, the conference also featured a poster session. Emerging scholars presented research in the areas of urban environments, land and sea dispossession, human health and the environment, and environmental justice in practice.
 
The conference was held in honor of Natasha Chichilnisky-Heal, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Yale University who died in 2014. Natasha focused her doctoral research on environmental justice issues related to natural resource extraction in the developing world. Natasha’s mother, Graciela Chichilnisky, established The Graciela Chichilnisky Environmental Fund with a generous gift to F&ES, which funded the conference and will fund future environmental justice conferences at Yale.
Our leadership practices and frameworks build capacity at the individual, organizational, and community level to deepen awareness, embrace differences, and value relationships that make change possible.
— Mohamad Chakaki, senior fellow, Center for Whole Communities
 
PUBLISHED: November 25, 2019
 
Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles posted prior to July 1, 2020, refer to the School's name at that time.

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