It's Time to Change the Climate Conversation

When we change the narrators, we shift the narrative.

Activist Jerome Foster II with activist Greta Thunberg at September 2019 climate strike before the United States White House building. Photo courtesy Jerome Foster II via Creative Commons.

Black excellence and achievement should be celebrated all year long, but as we close out Black History Month, we want to take this opportunity to highlight the incredible work of Black leaders in the climate movement. In this month’s newsletter, you’ll find a blog post written by our guest contributor Dillon Bernard, a member of the C-Solutions Advisory Board and a true leader in using the power of storytelling to push the climate movement forward. Dillon discusses his work with youth-focused organizations such as Future Coalition and Content By Us, reflecting on the need to put Black youth at the center of the climate conversation – so that they not only advise our work, but are elevated to be leaders in this space.

And before we share our center’s latest news and research, we want to tell you about a handful of BIPOC-led organizations that are doing important work and deserve everyone’s support. We are certainly excited to incorporate lessons learned from these vanguards in climate as we pursue our goals of collective resilience and climate justice.  

  • Generation Green: Billing itself as “a youth led intergenerational community of Black environmentalists addressing the intersectionality of Black social justice issues through an environmental liberation lens,” this organization focuses on engaging youth through educational curricula, using digital media and art to change the climate narrative, among many other innovative programs. The emphasis is on mobilizing and amplifying Black voices and solutions to climate change.

  • Youth Vs. Apocalypse (YVA): Based in the Bay Area, this network of young climate justice activists works together to mobilize youth, especially youth of color, to fight for climate justice. Passionate and vocal about fighting for “a livable climate and an equitable, sustainable, and just world” (YVA youth went viral in 2019 when they went to Senator Feinstein’s office to pressure her to support the Green New Deal), this group supports climate actions across California, has taken leadership on local and statewide campaigns, and is helping to shape the national conversation on climate.

  • West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP): Led by Margaret Gordon (Miss Margaret to Oakland natives), this organization is focused on residents who are disproportionately impacted by local industrialization in West Oakland, California, stemming from decades of redlining and discriminatory policy. WOEIP advocates for cleaner outdoor and indoor air, holding polluting business accountable, and an improved quality of life for all residents.

  • Greenlining Institute: This organization focuses on major policy issues, such as the economy, environmental policy, and health care, with an emphasis on achieving racial and economic justice.


It’s Time to Change the Climate Conversation

Dillon Bernard, a content producer, digital strategist, and member of the C-Solutions Advisory Board, talks about his experiences in the climate movement and the urgent need to change how we tell the story of climate — and who tells it. “As a young Black student,” writes Dillon, “I was taught about the climate crisis only in the framework of rising temperatures and the impact on ecosystems, not the ongoing and unimaginable direct human impact.” Dillon emphasizes supporting young Black, indigenous, and people of color to lead the climate discussion. Read more >>


New study published in Environmental Research Letters

Dr. Lara Cushing, C-Solutions Faculty Associate, along with colleagues at the University of Southern California, published new research that quantifies the amount of flaring from oil and gas development in the U.S. and estimates how many people may be exposed to harmful pollutants because of flaring. Flaring, which refers to the intentional burning of waste gases during the drilling and oil production process, has been on the rise in the U.S. over the past decade. Flaring contributes to global warming and can release toxic air contaminants, noise and light pollution. Prior work by Dr. Cushing and her colleagues has linked living within 5km of flaring during pregnancy to higher preterm birth rates among Latina women in Texas's Eagle Ford Shale. In this new study, the authors estimate that over half a million people live within 5 km of flaring — and that Black, indigenous, and people of color are disproportionately exposed, raising community health and environmental justice concerns.

Judaism and Climate Change Conference

C-Solutions Deputy Director for Community Partnerships David Eisenman will be chairing a panel titled “Climate Change and Environmental Health,” which is part of the day-long conference, Judaism and Climate Change: Science, Theology, and Ethics. The conference will be held on Sunday, February 28 from 9 AM - 4:30 PM Pacific. You can register here for free.

Restoring Trust in Science: The Impact on Public Health

This month, our Co-Director Jonathan Fielding moderated a stimulating discussion on the prevalence of false information and conspiracy theories and how we can replace them with accurate scientific information to increase health literacy, inspire confidence, and save lives. While the focus of the conversation was on COVID-19, there are lessons to be learned about the importance of effective communication in making policies that affect public health, which we can apply to our work in climate. Featuring speakers Helene Gayle (President and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust) and Scott Ratzan (Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Health Communication: International Perspectives), the recorded conversation can be viewed here.

Upcoming UCLA Event: “Truth and Trust in Public Health”

On March 3, Dr. Harvey Fineberg will present the annual Lester Breslow Distinguished Lecture for the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Dr. Fineberg previously served as president of the U.S. Institute of Medicine (now National Academy of Medicine), provost of Harvard University, and as dean of the Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Click here to register.

WHAT WE’RE READING (and watching!)

The origins of environmental justice—and why it’s finally getting the attention it deserves (National Geographic, February 24, 2021)

The history and roots of the environmental justice movement are critical to understanding why and how Black leadership is so crucial as we adapt to climate change. This article provides a glimpse into the formation of the environmental justice movement, and uses data and stories to emphasize the urgency for action. 

Community-powered solutions to the climate crisis (, October 2020)

Once you have your dose of environmental justice history, this TED talk will provide a hopeful look into the future of community-based solutions. Rahwa Ghirmatzion and Zelalem Adefris teach us about the impacts of climate change on communities and the ways in which they are coming together and adapting.

The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together (by Heather McGhee, released February 21, 2021)

We’ve been waiting and waiting for this book to come out, and it’s finally here! Heather McGhee weaves her personal journey into the story of how our country has become so divided and self-destructing. As the publisher describes it, “This is the story of how public goods in this country—from parks and pools to functioning schools—have become private luxuries; of how unions collapsed, wages stagnated, and inequality increased; and of how this country, unique among the world’s advanced economies, has thwarted universal healthcare.”  But McGhee also gives proof that gains can come when people come together across race, to accomplish what we simply can’t do on our own. 


Lightning trivia for non-trivial times

What is the name of the sociologist and activist who is known as the “father of environmental justice” for his decades of work fighting environmental racism?

Click here to see the answer.

Acknowledgements: We want to thank Graham C. Drake for brainstorming with us and advising on the content of this month’s newsletter.