True Climate Justice Requires Us to Listen to Those Most Affected by Climate Change

Rule #1 in the social lives of second graders: recess activities are everything.

You have the cool kids on the swing set, working to get enough air to land the most epic jump for their audience below. The jocks are usually playing a game of pickup soccer while the gymnasts are either claiming the monkey bars or practicing their cartwheels nearby. 

I, on the other hand, spent my time in the dirt. Filling my lunchtime water bottles with clovers and sticks I found around the playground, I created hundreds of miniature ladybug habitats that I would proudly carry home—much to my mother’s dismay. Today, my childhood urge to protect the elements of nature that I found to be fragile has transformed into my passion for climate justice, working to instill resiliency measures in the communities that need it most.

Throughout my undergraduate studies, I have quickly become aware of the inequities present within the sustainability space. Today, the outstanding narrative of the environmental movement has become developing clean technologies rapidly to keep up with both current and anticipated changes to our climate. What’s missing are the voices of individuals.

Whether it be financial costs limiting access to cleaner technologies, the carbon footprint of creating energy efficiency within the built environment, or even the burden placed on consumers to lead environmentally friendly lifestyles, sustainability does not feel accessible to the majority. These are issues that I have aimed to combat through previous work with outreach-based environmental non-profits, my university’s Office of Sustainability, and now with Second Nature.

Every community will be affected differently by climate change. Getting input from real people regarding their specific concerns and needs for the future should be the most important discussion being held in sustainability spaces. Moreover, we must ensure extra effort is taken to combat the systemic racism and classism which permeates environmental inequities by prioritizing diverse voices. This is imperative in developing effective solutions for the future.

Collegiate communities have a particularly unique ability to initiate these conversations. College campuses are teeming with passionate and forward-thinking students eager to make a positive impact on the world. The issue seems to be knowing where to start. Working at Second Nature, I have been involved in some of the most exciting projects I’ve seen with higher education sustainability. Through our commitments and frameworks, we provide a jumping off point for schools to begin their journey of climate action in ways which are unique to them. However, if schools want to ensure values of equity are instilled in these efforts, they must make an active effort to use of the voices of students, faculty, staff, and surrounding community members in informing their actions.

 Being a college student passionate about climate action, I am often met with pessimistic views of the future. And while creating systemic change is incredibly difficult, it is crucial at this point. Now it is up to us—the people dedicated to climate justice—to listen to the most vulnerable individuals and inspire change for the better.