2017 Emory University’s Environmental Sustainability Conference

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The Center for Ethics and CREATE (Culture, Religion, Ethics, and the Environment) Program at Emory University brought together experts in business and faith communities for the Create Conference. We discussed shared concerns about environmental sustainability–maintaining the quality of the planet.

Rev. Gerald Durley, Rev. Kate McGregor, and Rev. Dr. Dianne Glave were part of a lively fireside chat. Our chat focused on two divergent groups.

The first group addresses environmental justice, often local and national in scope generally lead by and for people of color. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as the “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” (https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice) From the perspective of grass-roots environmental justice advocates, choosing to direct resources to reverse environmentally triggered asthma that disproportionally impacts impoverished African American is the logical choice. Responding to asthma is more immediate than saving the melting ice in the Arctic so very far away.

The second group addresses for climate change with a global emphasis whose proponents are predominantly white. Most scientists argue the planet is getting warmer because of increased levels of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere. The irony is this: in saving the planet the pollutants that triggered asthma can be diminished.

And still there is a divide.

In many faith communities, both groups care for life, people, creation, and the planet. How we get there or respond depends on a more narrow emphasis on saving people versus more broadly protecting the planet.

In order for the two groups to work together to save people AND the planet, Dr. Glave urged the audience at the conference to actively improve inter-cultural communication with people of color to better understand their perspectives on environmental justice in response to environmental racism. Rather than impose one model of climate change often led by whites, a compromise could ally both groups to develop plans that speak to both environmental justice and reversing climate change.

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