Luna Li

Approximately 150 students, professors and activists gathered at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies on Friday to discuss environmental justice issues ranging from extractive industries and human rights to environmental governance and adaptation in response to climate change.

The meeting, which was called Global Environmental Justice Conference: Emerging Scholars, was organized by Environmental Justice and Health Strategic Initiative 2020 and sought to provide platforms to highlight and explore the relationship between scholarship and the practice of integrating social justice with environmental management. It brought different sectors and academic disciplines into conversation in an attempt to more effectively address the multifaceted problems of environmental justice. Participants at the conference found the presentations to be extremely awe-inspiring and said that the presentations drove them to further explore the topics discussed.

“We heard from topics as wide-ranging as the role of indigenous knowledge in international conservation policies to environmental justice issues around extractive industries in North America, South America, Africa and Asia,” said Kristin Barendregt-Ludwig, the program coordinator for the Yale F&ES Environmental Justice and Health Strategic Initiative 2020. “The presentations truly amplify our community of practice around environmental health and justice and present a rich opportunity for our learning community and professional connections.”

Conference organizers said they were careful to acknowledge an incredible diversity of disciplines and perspectives through the selection of sessions and presenters to build meaningful connections across academic disciplines. Presentations at the conference ranged in focus and included public health architecture, political sciences, anthropology, sociology, law, geography, design school and journalism.

The conference attracted an incredibly diverse audience from distinct backgrounds. According to Barendregt-Ludwig, presenters and participants on panels and poster sessions came from five distinct countries — the U.S., Canada, Bangladesh, Australia and Peru — 14 states, 36 academic institutions and 23 governmental and nonprofit organizations.

“Environmental justice is a multidisciplinary, ‘multisectorial’ and global issue,” Barendregt-Ludwig said. “It is necessary to give a tension to it around the globe. Because it is that complex, our strength in a community is to share ideas.”

Attendees said they appreciated the intersectionality of the presentations. Initiative member Deanna Johnson told the News that she liked doctoral candidate and researcher Sophia Ford’s presentation on infrastructure, sustainable energy consumption and their effect on indigenous people.

“For example, building a dam usually is confronted with discontent and harm to indigenous groups and local communities,” she said. “This seems like a common idea but is very difficult to deal with in real practice. We need actual consent and should allow everyone to make their own decisions.”

To produce a rich and stimulating dialogue and foster emerging scholarship, the conference broke many of the standard norms of academic conferences. It included a poster session where attendees were able to make personal connections and participate in one-on-one conversations with research practitioners from a variety of fields. Barendregt-Ludwig said that practitioners are rarely involved in conferences like this, explaining that her gathering talked a lot about the relationship between research and practice through face-to-face communication. She said that people were free to walk around and connect with whatever particular research project they felt interested in learning more about.

“We are pleasantly surprised to find that many people feel strongly about this cause as the tickets were sold out, and we actually had to close registration in advance,” Barendregt-Ludwig said. “By spreading the news about the conference on numerous publications around New Haven and the state, we strive at creating connections that can lead to shared work, as government, nonprofit, private sectors all have roles to play in addressing the issue. I’m so happy to find that this struck accordance among people. As the issue is quite interdisciplinary, it really connects with people in different areas. I sincerely hope that these interests would continue as the cause moves forward.”

The conference placed an emphasis on emerging scholars and provoking innovative approaches to the long-lasting issue of the environment — an approach evidenced by its title.

“The theme is in honor of the intellectual legacy and memory of Natasha Chichilnisky-Heal, a young and emerging scholar concerned with natural resource management and global environmental inequities,” said Amity Doolittle and Michelle Bell, co-chairs of the 2019 Global Environmental Justice Conference.

President Salovey delivered the conference’s closing remarks, highlighting other initiatives happening on Yale’s campus in terms of sustainability and environmental stewardship.

Luna Li |