October 6, 2022

Harlem Week event discusses environmental justice and a more just future

Harlem Week event discusses environmental justice and a more just future

Known for such notables as Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington, and Malcolm X, Harlem has been a center of the African-American experience since the early 20th century. But Harlem, like other historically disadvantaged neighborhoods, has suffered from public policies that have hindered its development, marginalized its residents, and polluted its neighborhoods. The legacy of these policies can be seen everywhere today High rate of childhood asthma Due to urban heat island effect

On August 10, Columbia Weather School, Greater Harlem Chamber of CommerceAnd City College of New York Hosted “Climate Change and Environmental Justice in Harlem,” an event that brought together experts, practitioners, community leaders, and residents to discuss a more just future for Harlem while remembering its past.

Participants from left to right: Daniel Zarelli, Emily Maxwell, Peggy Shepherd, Milton A.  Tingling, Adriana Espinosa and Lloyd Williams.  Full titles appear below.  Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

Participants from left to right: Daniel Zarelli, Emily Maxwell, Peggy Shepherd, Milton A. Tingling, Adriana Espinosa and Lloyd Williams. Full titles appear below. Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

Why do we call it environmental racism? Asked We act for environmental justice Co-Founder and CEO Peggy Shepherd. “Because communities of color like Harlem have been targeted by business, industry, and even government for disproportionate exposure to polluting facilities and toxic sites. This really stems from the Byzantine legacy of residential segregation, land use and zoning discrimination, And the lack of environmental law enforcement.”

Panelists highlighted some of the many challenges that discriminatory policies have left in communities like Harlem, such as a lack of tree canopy and green space, polluting industries, and disparities in heat exposure and mortality. New York State Senator Cordell Clair noted that understanding the importance and interconnectedness of environmental issues is key to charting a new path in marginal areas.

New York State Senator Cordell Claire

New York State Senator Cordell Claire. Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

“Not everyone thinks of clean air to breathe, clean water for refreshment, and a climate-safe environment as immediate needs,” says Claire. “However, there is a single thread that underlies all of these issues: they are fundamentally related to justice, equality, and reversing centuries of racist, discriminatory influences, and selfish thinking.”

While much research remains to better understand the continuing effects of environmental racism, the panelists also discussed how Harlem’s past can provide pathways to a brighter future. A century ago, the Harlem Renaissance changed the world of art and culture. Could Harlem someday become a leader in the transition to a green economy?

“My vision is really to offset the legacy of pollution by targeting frontline communities to become green zones where we can share solar energy, electrification, energy efficiency, green jobs, good jobs and cooperatives,” Shepherd said. “To encourage and gather labor in the community. They have targeted communities that have not been invested in for a long time.”

Climate change and environmental justice in Harlem" panel.  Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

Several projects are currently seeking to turn vision into real change in Harlem and beyond. We act Solar high city now The project will help bring affordable solar power and green jobs to Harlem neighborhoods. Nature Protection Organization Urban forest agenda It plans to increase the citywide tree canopy to 30 percent by 2035 — the amount specified by the New York Department of Health to achieve cooling thresholds and protect vulnerable neighborhoods. And both organizations are working to support this milestone.Act linking clean air, clean water and green jobswhich provides funding for conservation and green initiatives throughout New York State.

“We’re also working hard with many of you in this room, including WE ACT, to advance gang legislation,” said Emily Maxwell, program director for New York City. Nature protection. “This bond law will be voted on on November 8th. It’s a $4.2 billion deal for clean air, clean water and green jobs. There are over 200 organizations across the state pushing this. If passed, it would generate $8.7 billion in capital projects and, more importantly, 35 to 40 percent of that—much like Climate law – It is necessary to invest in the term of deprived communities.

In closing, Peggy Shepherd noted the challenge ahead, but also found reasons for optimism in shared values ​​and community.

Peggy Shepherd.  Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

Peggy Shepherd. Photo: Chris Dobens / WE ACT

Given the bias and ambivalence of many state and local governments across this country, we must ensure that investments and benefits reach the communities they are intended for. We know that if done effectively, this can be transformative and can stop the cycle of exploitation and destruction. Because we know that every society has the right to have a clean environment. You don’t need to be an environmental or climate justice leader to embrace that as a value. We can create a legacy of environmental quality and climate resilience for everyone in Harlem and the Harlems of the world. We can do this together because place matters. Location is important.”

“Climate Change and Environmental Justice in Harlem” was part of the annual Harlem week The party participants were:

  • Cordell ClairNew York State Senator, 30th Senate District
  • Peggy ShepherdFounder and Executive Director, WE ACT for Environmental Justice
  • Daniel ZarilliSpecial Advisor, Climate and Sustainability, Columbia University
  • Courtney CoughburnAssociate Professor of Columbia University School of Social Work
  • Adriana SpinozaDeputy Commissioner, Justice and Equity, New York State Department of Environmental Protection
  • Emily Maxwelldirector of the New York City Division of the Nature Conservancy
  • respected Milton E. tinglingChairman, Board of Directors, West Harlem Development Corporation
  • Lloyd Williamspresident of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce
  • Arthur ChianAnchor/Reporter, FOX 5 New York

Video: “Climate Change and Environmental Justice in Harlem”


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