‘The Civil Rights Movement meets the Environmental Movement: How We Can Advocate for Environmental Justice’

Green Bay, Wis.—University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Associate Prof. Elizabeth Wheat will discuss environmental justice and its relationship to civil rights in a presentation, Thursday, Oct. 22 at 4 p.m. It is free and open to the public and can be accessed at https://cahsseffect.org/events/.

According to the event description, Wheat will be diving into the environmental justice movement in the United States that began in 1982 when residents of Warren County, North Carolina, used non-violent tactics to oppose the siting of a toxic PCB landfill in their mainly African American community. Decades later, Sheila Holt described her family’s health struggles after the government of Dickson, Tennessee, protected white families from polluted drinking water but told her and other Black families that the water was safe. She inspired countless of other people to think of environmental issues as human rights issues that must be addressed through confronting systemic racism.

“As I see protests in 2020 bringing many of the environmental justice crises into a bigger public discussion, I hope we can think beyond traditional environmental and sustainability challenges and really start addressing the core issues of racism that magnify existing environmental problems,” Wheat says.

Wheat is the second in a speaker series brought to both campus and community as part of the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences 2020-21 theme, “Beyond Sustainability.” Professor David J. Voelker (Humanities, History), co-chair and program director said this theme is especially timely…

“The Covid-19 pandemic and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, which have cast intense light on the challenges that we face as a society, provide especially poignant contexts to address the theme of ‘Beyond Sustainability: Imagining an Ecological Future,’” Voelker says. “We need a more robust framework than “environmental sustainability” to address the interrelated environmental and social crises that we now face. The word ‘environment’ draws a line of separation between humans and the rest of the community of life. We have been talking about sustainability for decades, but we’ve made little progress on addressing unsustainability,” Voelker said. “I hope that the conference theme helps us as a community to imagine something beyond ‘environmental sustainability’—an ecologically sound and just society.”

The College of Arts, Humanities and Social Science will also host a virtual week around the theme, Nov. 30, 2020 through December 4, 2020.

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