UC Santa Cruz named one of its colleges after groundbreaking conservationist and environmental activist, Rachel Carson. The university also hosts 15 clubs and organizations dedicated to environmental studies and sustainability. There are 575 students affiliated with its environmental studies department, putting it among the top 10 subscribed-to majors on campus. Amid the redwood trees, the event “Climate Change: The Role of Environmental Justice” will contribute to that growing community. 

Hosted by the Institute for Social Transformation at UCSC, environmental activist and climate policy expert Rhiana Gunn-Wright and moderator Sikina Jinnah, an associate professor in the Environmental Studies department, will speak about the role of climate justice in conversations about climate change. The event will take place virtually on Feb. 10.

The term ‘climate justice’ is used to bring attention to the ethical and sociopolitical implications of climate change. Climate justice activists shift the narrative of climate change from solely environmental issues, like carbon emissions, to issues like racial inequalities and healthcare disparities.

One of the goals of the event is to clear up misconceptions surrounding the largest contributors to climate change. 

“The event is important for a lot of reasons,” Jinnah said. ”Mostly because climate justice is really critical in reframing how we think and talk about climate change from something that is only about emission reduction to a much more holistic approach.” 

Rather than focusing on technical aspects like emission reduction, the conversation will center around racial and wealth inequities and healthcare disparities, which worsen the impacts of climate change and disproportionately burden disadvantaged communities. In California, 81 percent of people living within two miles of a large commercial hazardous waste facility are people of color, and poverty rates in these fenceline communities are 1.5 times higher than in other neighborhoods.

The event will also cover the importance of environmental justice in economic recovery after the COVID-19 pandemic and potential opportunities available to the Biden administration to tackle climate issues.

Gunn-Wright is known for her work on drafting the Green New Deal alongside Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018. She is also the Climate Policy Director at the Roosevelt Institute, a progressive think tank in New York. 

With UCSC’s long history of environmental activism, Jinnah hopes this conversation with Gunn-Wright will inspire students to continue the conversation on climate justice. 

“I just really hope that we can engage in a conversation that sort of exposes some of the amazing work that she has done under the hood in the policy world,” Jinnah said.” I hope that we can have a conversation that inspires students to follow in [Gunn-Wright’s] footsteps.” 

People can attend this virtual event by registering here.