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Recap: Climate Justice Science Talk

For the winter/spring season, Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation put on a total of 9 free Science Talks at Rosewood Nature Study Area. The topics ranged from local geology and fire cycles, to the conservation of Walker Lake and more! To finish off this series of talks, TMPF’s Lead Naturalist Educator, Deanna Miller, gave a talk on Climate Justice. As somebody who is about to start graduate school for social work and is quite social justice oriented, I enjoy exploring how global problems affect different communities across the globe. Keep reading on for more information on what I learned!

It’s Not All Bad News

Renewable energy such as solar and wind power are skyrocketing throughout the world, and CO2 emissions per capita in the U.S. are lower than they were in 1918. So there is hope! Oftentimes, talks of our climate crisis can feel overwhelming and hopeless, leading to feelings of climate grief and eco-anxiety worldwide. But, to quote climate scientist, Dr. Kate Marvel: “As a climate scientist, I’d like you to know: I don’t have hope. I have something better: certainty. We know exactly what’s causing climate change. We can absolutely 1) avoid the worst and 2) build a better world in the process.”

However, the Climate Crisis is Just That… A Crisis

Climate change, deforestation, pollution, and rising sea levels are just some of the issues contributing to the overarching problem: human impact on the environment. Some environmental communicators intentionally use the term “climate crisis” because it conveys the urgency of these issues.

As someone who doesn’t have a STEM background, I really appreciate visual resources to make data more accessible. This video that Deanna showed in her talk, shows global temperature changes since 1850. From the 1990’s onward, you can see increased patterns of extreme weather events, visualized by the red and orange spreading rapidly across the globe, indicating high temperature anomalies. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has confirmed through a near unanimous agreement among the international scientific community that human emissions are the main cause of the global changes in climate that we see today. 

And it’s not all humans– less than 8% of the earth’s surface area has generated 90% of historical greenhouse gas emissions. While emissions are concentrated, however, more than 51% of the earth’s surface is projected to warm by at least 3°C before the end of the 21st century (source). This means that the emissions from a small portion of our planet are going to affect more than half of it. 

Tuvalu's foreign minister giving a speech in knee-high water to highlight the impacts of climate change on his nation.

The Effects of the Climate Crisis Are Not Equally Distributed

Every community is experiencing the effects of the climate crisis in different ways, and they are not equally distributed. This is climate injustice. Many communities already are experiencing the effects of sea level rise, drought, heat waves, wildfires, and tropical storms. Here in the United States, the areas at most risk of these impacts are rural, agricultural, and indigenous communities because they do not have the same economic resources that highly urbanized areas do. Worldwide, the strongest increases in past and projected future temperature extremes occur in tropical regions, where many developing countries have been mostly affected by climate change and are probably the least able to afford the consequences of future increases in temperature extremes. For example, Tuvalu, a small island country in the South Pacific, “is expected to be one of the first countries in the world to be completely lost to climate change.” For this reason, they have become the first country to move online– “recreating its land, archiving its culture, and digitizing its government” so that their nation will live on after their land is digested by rising sea levels.

As we can see, due to their state of development or geographic location, some communities are more resilient than others. Places that are already developed have the ability to spend their money on more than just basic infrastructure, so they can afford to go above and beyond to protect themselves from environmental harm with mitigation strategies. This is climate injustice due to social disparity of environmental harm– small communities like the Tuvalu nation who cause minimal harm end up with the bulk of the consequences, like having to move their nation online due to the threat of losing their land.

Furthermore, along with the social and geographic disparities, the climate crisis presents generational disparities as well. To demonstrate this, Stephen Gardiner wrote a paper called “A Perfect Moral Storm” in which he compares the intergenerational problem of the climate crisis with the Prisoner’s Dilemma. To quote him:

“It is collectively rational for most generations to cooperate: (almost) every generation prefers the outcome produced by everyone restricting pollution over the outcome produced by everyone overpolluting.

It is individually rational for all generations not to cooperate: when each generation has the power to decide whether or not it will overpollute, each generation (rationally) prefers to overpollute, whatever the others do.”

This essentially demonstrates how it's easier for current generations to act in their self interest rather than address the climate crisis; pushing the problem to future generations, even though it is in everyone’s best interest to act now, as we’d all prefer the outcome of immediate action– a healthier planet for us all to enjoy!

So… What Now?

In her talk, Deanna presented three strategies for promoting generational resilience and accomplishing climate justice: education, empowerment, and engagement.

Outdoor education is incredibly important to facilitate a sense of environmental stewardship among our younger generations. Especially in this digital era of screens and tablets that we live in, taking kids outside and instilling a sense of appreciation for our natural world is more necessary than ever, so that our future generations will stay inspired to protect our planet.

Here at the Parks Foundation, outdoor education is our jam. We host monthly Junior Naturalist Programs, where we pick a different park and scientific theme every month, and host fun games and activities so that kids across the community can learn the value of science and the outdoors. We also put on STEAM-education based school break camps, and do hands-on community science programs in the classroom and on exploratory field trips to local outdoor spaces! Better yet, we try to make these accessible as possible by offering needs-based scholarships for camp families, and free programming for classes in schools with over a 50% free or reduced lunch population.

As for empowerment, environmental philosophers have theorized that women play a crucial role in community stewardship. Researchers interested in the connection between gender equality and climate change have found that the two are connected and influence each other. Two studies of communities in rural areas in Iran and across countries in Africa have shown that the “socio economic empowerment of women is likely to have enormous effects on environmental sustainability due to the key role played by women in shaping social systems”. 

The studies showed that because women tend to act more sustainably, areas that do not have extensive environmental curriculum benefit from supporting the basic needs of women so that they are free and able to express stewardship in their communities by not having to focus on their needs for equal rights. In both of these studies, conservation was determined to be a direct result of empowerment (sources 4 and 5). This is an excellent example of intersectional environmentalism; we must protect both our physical planet, and the people residing in it.

Finally, we come to community engagement. Scientists have found that the general population doesn’t respond well to solely facts and figures, so it's important for people to develop a sense of place and community in the outdoors to foster sustainable behaviors. One way this can be done is through volunteering. Find volunteer opportunities that align with your interests; for example, if you’re into planting, the Parks Foundation is hosting a volunteer planting event at Rosewood Nature Study Area in a few weeks to reintroduce native plants to the area and aid in the process of restoring the space back to its native wetland habitat. If you enjoy hiking, trail running, or biking and want to give back to those spaces, Truckee Meadows Trails has planned six volunteer trail maintenance days in the upcoming months, or you can always organize one of your own if you have a larger group or organization that is interested. These are just a few local offerings; there are many ways to get involved with your community!

If you’ve made it this far, thank you so much for reading! I hope this blog leaves you feeling inspired to protect our environment. If you have any comments or suggestions regarding climate justice, feel free to post them in the comments below.


About the Authors

Deanna: Born and raised in Prescott, Arizona, Deanna joins us as our Lead Naturalist Educator. After graduating from Northern Arizona University with a BA in Environmental and Sustainability Studies and a minor in Biology, she made the move to Reno to share her passion for environmental education and community service. She is excited to work in her field of study and most of all, help spread her passion for our environment to our next generations of leaders and community members.

Dayna: Born and raised in the Truckee Meadows, Dayna studied International Business Marketing at the University of Nevada, Reno. After graduating in 2021, she spent 2 months in India pursuing her passion by studying yoga and becoming a certified instructor. Now, Dayna is excited to join the Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation promoting one of her favorite things, the outdoors! In her free time, Dayna can be found practicing yoga, exploring the world around her, or cozying up in her hammock with a good book.

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01 may
Obtuvo 5 de 5 estrellas.

fire blog ladies

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29 abr
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Very well-written post. Thank you, TMPF!

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29 abr
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Great info for everyone! Easy to digest.

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