A GenZ Recap of Yale University’s Fifth Annual Global Environmental Justice Conference

Dec 2, 2023 | BM4F Spotlights, Young, Gifted & Green Blog Series | 0 comments

Yale University’s Fifth Annual Global Environmental Justice Conference, with the theme “Environmental Joy,” was a transformative experience that I had the privilege of attending on a scholarship from their grassroots EJ organization fund—an opportunity for which I am immensely grateful. The weekend was an infusion of love, power, and, fittingly, joy. In a world where environmental challenges often loom large, the conference, hosted by YCEJ (Yale Center for Environmental Justice), provided a refreshing perspective by centering its focus on something powerful and uplifting: Environmental Joy. Taking place on October 27-28, this groundbreaking event brought together passionate speakers, engaged attendees, and interactive workshops to explore how environmental and climate justice work can generate joy within communities.

The first session I attended, “Climate, Culture, Place, and Joy in the Caribbean,” featured two distinguished speakers—Elizabeth Riley from the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency and David Farrell from the Caribbean Institute for Meteorology and Hydrology. In the vast expanse of the Caribbean, where climate, culture, and place intertwine, a profound exploration of joy in environmental and climate justice initiatives is underway. The recent insights shared by Liz Riley and David Farrell during their session highlighted the pivotal role of joy in shaping community-centric approaches, innovative problem-solving, and transformative policies.

Liz Riley’s enlightening presentation emphasized the intrinsic connection between climate, culture, place, and joy in the Caribbean. While the term “joy” may not be explicitly used, its essence permeates initiatives that prioritize people, define clear priorities, and leverage existing resources. Riley advocates for a mindset that learns from successes and experiences while maintaining social capital, relevance, and agility. By thinking big and transformative, Caribbean communities can make decisions that positively impact their future.

David Farrell’s perspective on Barbados and Jamaica revealed the intricate challenges posed by seaweed-covered beaches and water scarcity. He pointed out the need for innovative, solution-based science to navigate the complex environmental landscape of large ocean states. Farrell’s insights shed light on the necessity of adapting traditional approaches, especially in areas where climate change has disrupted longstanding practices. By acknowledging the disparity between water-rich countries and water-scarce urban areas, Farrell advocates for a solution hub that addresses the specific needs of communities.

Building upon the Caribbean discussions, the session explored the concept of environmental joy from a multi-disciplinary perspective. The link between joy and resilience became evident as the 2022 Burnout Report highlighted widespread burnout in environmental and climate justice work. The question emerged: Are we strong enough to win? The answer lies in the strength to stay together. An ethnographic approach to positionality emphasized the need to recognize when a break is necessary, emphasizing the importance of self-care in sustaining collective efforts.

The exploration of joy versus happiness and the role of gratitude added depth to the conversation. It became clear that joy goes beyond momentary happiness and is deeply intertwined with agency—the ability to effect change. The session pondered the Spanish word for the strength to continue, a question immortalized in a Bad Bunny song, highlighting the universality of the quest for resilience.

A powerful thread in the session wove through discussions on sovereignty, land tenure, carbon, and the sacred. The question of why non-Blacks assume dominion over the world and its resources prompted a deeper examination of environmental and climate justice. Sierra Leone, it was revealed, possesses some of the world’s most progressive environmental and climate justice laws, offering a beacon of inspiration for the integration of joy into policy-making.

Joy in policy-making, termed “grounded joy,” encapsulates the essence of sovereignty and the sacred connection to the land. Recognizing that joy can be found in the very fabric of progressive policies, this symposium calls for a shift in perspective—a recognition that true joy can emerge when communities are empowered, and policies reflect the interconnectedness of people and their environment.

At the conference, I had the pleasure of connecting with a remarkable collective of Black female youth representing Black Girl Environmentalist (BGE) and the co-founder of Black Eco Bloom. These amazing women swiftly evolved into valued friends, and we took the initiative to establish a group chat. This platform serves as a means to support one another in both our professional and personal endeavors, fostering a coalition of Black female youth leaders dedicated to protecting our environment. It was disheartening for all of us to observe the limited representation of Black and Brown speakers throughout the conference. This issue resonated deeply with us, as we recognize that Black, Brown, and low-income communities are often the first to bear the brunt of the climate crisis and environmental injustices.

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