Town Crier

TEWKSBURY — On Wed­nesday, Nov. 17, the Tewks­bury Public Library hosted a virtual interactive presentation entitled “Climate Jus­tice: Finding Equitable So­lutions to the Climate Cri­sis.” The event featured Nia Keith, Vice President of Diversity, Equity, Inclu­sion, and Justice at the Massa­chusetts Audubon So­ciety.

Keith started the presentation by sharing her definition of climate change: “a rapid change in global climate patterns, which threaten the sustainability of human and natural systems, caused by an exploi­tative economy that releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. The ef­fects of climate change can be mitigated through large scale action and policies that support natural climate solutions, reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas­es and address social and economic disparities.”

Keith shared statistics on global warming and its impacts on Massachusetts. Since 1895, the average temperature has increased by 2.9 degrees. The growing season has extended eleven days since 1950. Sea levels have risen 11 inches since 1922. Storms have increas­ed by 55 percent since 1958 — increased heat leads to more energy, which means storms move faster and do more damage.

If nothing is done about the climate crisis, Keith said, the state will see an increase of 3 to 11 degrees in average temperature by 2100 and a growing season increased by five weeks by 2100. Sea levels are predicted to rise by an additional three to seven inches by 2100, and storms will be­come 47 percent stronger by 2100.

For context, during the last Ice Age, temperatures were nine degrees cooler than they are today; at the time, there was a mile-deep sheet of ice over Massa­chusetts.

Keith emphasized that while everyone is affected by climate change, impacts are not equal. Marginalized communities are more likely to experience the greatest damages due to systematic oppression through laws, policies, and social norms.

Keith explained that these disparities exist due to a global capitalist economy that relies on the extraction and exploitation of natural resources and people; those who perform the hard­est labor do not benefit from the wealth they create and become de­prived of the natural land around them in the pro­cess.

Those affected are largely people of color, including Black and Indigenous people. Keith explained that disparate impact is largely due to the impacts of colonization that are systemically perpetuated today: colonization of lands by Western cultures was de­fined by the commodification of nature for profit, and saw both the forced re­moval of Indigenous people from their ancestral lands and the institutionalization of race and racism.

Keith explained that race is a modern construct, only about five or six hundred years old. When laborers began to rise up against the wealthy, the elites sought to quell rebellion by separating people by skin color and pitting them against each other. This allowed wealthy classes to maintain control over the population and continue to exploit the land.

Keith also discussed the ongoing impacts of redlining, a federal government practice in which color-coded maps distinguished between “most desirable” and “least desirable” areas for investment where devel­opers and homeowners could obtain federally guaranteed mortgages.

The red “least desirable” areas were home to primarily Black communities, but a block could be as little as five percent Black and still be designated undesirable. Over the years, these neighborhoods have become disinvested, and infrastructure has gone unmaintain­ed.

These areas are far more likely to have high concentrations of poverty, a lack of public services, poor air quality, inadequate infrastructure, and limited ac­cess to nature. Keith said that today, the communities most impacted by environmental justice issues overlap almost perfectly with redlined areas.

Keith said that low-in­come communities in cities are also particularly vulnerable to the heat island effect, which introduces extreme heat to high concentrations of marginalized populations. Urban neighborhoods are far more susceptible to extreme heat than other communities — cities can be one to seven degrees hotter than surrounding areas due to low tree canopy and impermeable surfaces.

Keith explained that the best goal leaders can strive for is drawdown, a “future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the at­mosphere stop climbing and start to steadily de­cline.” Human activity re­leases carbon, but natural processes like photosynthesis trap carbon. Carbon sequestration is the natural process of trapping carbon, and carbon sinks like for­ests or wetland can store ex­cess carbon.

Climate mitigation needs to take a three-pronged systemic approach to re­duce greenhouse gas emissions, support natural carbon sinks, and create an equitable and just society.

Keith said that communities can focus on reducing emissions by supporting green energy technology, making buildings and systems more efficient, reducing waste, and using land wisely through high density zoning. Open space policies should focus on restoring natural areas, like wetlands, that can increase land protection and res­toration initiatives, and pro­viding more green space in urban centers.

Finally, Keith said that environmental justice de­mands that everyone has an equal seat at the table — therefore, it is important for leaders to protect the democratic decision-making process. In addition, communities need to work on improving access to education, healthcare, and em­ployment, and making sure that all communities can benefit from nature.

Keith ended her presentation on a positive note: “Hope is a form of resil­ience,” she said. “We haven’t lost the climate fight until we give up.”

“Climate Justice: Finding Equitable Solutions to the Climate Crisis” is available to watch on the library’s Facebook page, and more library programs are available at­buryTV.

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