Why Black Lives Matter for the Grantham Institute, climate change and the environment

Professor Martin Siegert stands in front of a sign saying 'The Grantham Institute'
Professor Martin Siegert

Professor Martin Siegert, Co-Director of the Grantham Institute, pledges support for the Black Lives Matter anti-racism movement.

On 2 June, the Grantham Institute endorsed a statement made by Imperial College London on Twitter, supporting the Black staff, students, alumni and others in our community. The statement was made during global protests at the death of a Black man, George Floyd, in police custody in Minneapolis in the United States. We stand, alongside Imperial, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and its aims to end racism and violence against Black people everywhere.

It is also essential for us to show solidarity with the Black members of our extended community because of the Grantham Institute‘s aim to build a cleaner, greener, fairer future for all. Climate change is undeniably linked to social inequality, with Black people and other communities of colour disproportionally hit by its impacts. Furthermore, Black voices are underrepresented in the climate movement, as well as in climate and environmental science, even though a recent study showed that Black and Latinx people in the US care more about environmental issues than white people do.

However, we recognise we are still largely white, middle-class and Eurocentric in our staff, student body and our academic and operational outlook. This is a serious failing for the Grantham Institute, which is why we started a process some months ago to establish an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion programme, to set objectives and make progress in our six activity areas: research, innovation, training, connecting, informing and leadership.

From today, I pledge that we will give a public update in not more than six months as to our plans and progress.

Environmental and climate impacts

In 2019 at the Grantham Institute Annual Lecture, the activist, artist, and Honorary President of the UK’s Black Environment Network, Judy Ling Wong OBE, reminded us that action against climate change must be positive for all communities in their diversity, including all those who are disadvantaged.

As researchers, when we promote the societal changes required to cut climate change-causing greenhouse gases we consistently consider how our recommendations relate to inequality. Clean energy, transport or housing policies, for example, should never saddle the most disadvantaged with higher costs, or deepen inequalities. Instead policies should be collaboratively designed to empower agency, and create opportunities for education, employment and fairly distributed benefits.

Similarly, as research foresees the increasing floods, heatwaves, droughts and public health emergencies, we make the case for adapting infrastructure and systems. Our aim is to help reduce the impact of these devastating events, which most often hit Black and other non-white people hardest, often because of structural inequalities.

In addition, we must acknowledge the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions historically and at present, and likely in future, comes from the most wealthy and fortunate. We therefore support the case for climate justice – using the wealth created through polluting and environmentally destructive activities to help mitigate and adapt to climate change – as being essential for healthy societal development.

Understanding our shortcomings

The long-standing issue of violent racism rearing again in the US and protests around the world remind us how important it is to listen and learn from people who are telling us there is a problem. And listening is not in itself enough – we must take decisions and make changes, even when doing so may make some uncomfortable in the short term. Like with climate action, the goal of anti-racism is to make the world a better place for everyone. That’s why those who have privileges based on their race or geography, have a duty to fully understand the changes needed to create a fairer world.

Judy Ling Wong compared the ‘beautiful’ diversity of nature with that of human beings, and urged people to connect with nature emotionally, saying, “We love what we enjoy, and we protect what we love.” This week, we followed the stories and photos of #BlackBirdingWeek, which aimed to give visibility to Black people who passionately support wildlife and enjoy being among nature. But both Judy and bird watcher Christian Cooper, whose recent experience of a racist attack in New York’s Central Park made global news, have also challenged us to think about how many Black people do not experience easy or free access to nature, and those who have not yet had the opportunity to express or even develop their love of the environment because of systemic racism.

Learning to celebrate and challenge

We must all see and celebrate the Black people whose contributions advance our understanding of climate and environmental issues and whose activism protects the natural environment. Our field is stronger thanks to a diversity of thought and experience, which enrich our knowledge and help to develop more impactful solutions to tackling climate change. We were pleased to recognise two members of our Imperial community among the best Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) voices in the UK environmental movement by Climate Reframe and Mothers of Invention, and there are many others like them in the world.

We must also recognise our responsibility to challenge our own community with its past and current failings. At the Grantham Institute we recognise that unconscious bias is present in all decisions that we take, from the critical to the mundane, that collectively can amount to institutional racism. We value diversity within the Institute in all forms and levels and strive to make it an open and welcoming place for everyone.

I echo the sentiments made by our colleagues and leaders at Imperial, that we have a long way to go, and we MUST do better.

For now, we want to suggest some practical actions, graciously borrowed from others, that we recommend for everyone in the climate and environment community:

  1. Seek support if you are affected by these issues. Resources for Imperial staff and students are highlighted in this article: Imperial shows solidarity with protesters against racial injustice.
  2. Diversify who you follow on social media e.g. this list by @TigerinSTEMM, this list of naturalists by @BlackAFinSTEM, or this list of energy professionals by @drrosechard.
  3. Read and cite more research by Black authors, and discuss it with your co-workers. For example, this Nature article celebrates Black leaders in conservation science, and this LitHub piece highlights the work of Black nature writers. 
  4. Create a Wikipedia page for a Black researcher, or host a Wikithon.
  5. Familiarise yourself with the challenges faced by Black and other under-represented people who are active in your field of study or interest area.
  6. Try to consider your work from a non-white and non-Western perspective, for example by reading interdisciplinary texts about your subject area from diverse voices and seeking new sources to help you understand the cultural and historic context from which your discipline has emerged.
  7. If you are white or easily pass as white, use your privileged position to protect, make space for, or actively promote a Black colleague or their views. E.g. pass over a speaking opportunity or refuse to appear on an all-white panel of speakers.
  8. Demand your organisation or association leaders make an anti-racism statement, code-of-conduct or action plan, and be proactive about tackling prejudice at all levels. e.g. If you are a geoscientist, sign this petition Call for a Robust Anti-Racism Plan for The Geosciences.
  9. Attend a course like the Active Bystander training offered at Imperial, then challenge a colleague, friend or family member about their racism.
  10. Look at the resources of book, films, poems, podcasts from Imperial As One, the College’s network for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) staff.
  11. Read the Imperial Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Centre (EDIC)’s guide on how to be a white ally, then be the ally.
  12. Take part in a visible protest, such as #ShutDownAcademia, #ShutDownSTEM, and #Strike4BlackLives on 10 June 2020.
  13. Read and follow the actions for academics in this list on Medium from @ProfJamsmine, which relates many experiences from Black academics and students. And this longer list from @corinne_shutack includes 75 things white people can be do for racial justice.

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One thought on “Why Black Lives Matter for the Grantham Institute, climate change and the environment

  1. I can’t breath!!! But, black folks should also be afraid to breath!!!

    I am concerned that not enough attention is focused on the environmental conditions in which many black folk live and their connection to greater COVID-19 illness and death!

    Using our patented CRBBP Process, my company plants and multi-tasks special, fast-growing, Bio-Crops and their resulting Biomass to less expensively do good things for the health of people, the planet and local economies.

    We can create safe, cooler, attractive and economically viable neighborhood spaces, by strategically placing our Bio-Crops in Neighborhood Vending Malls, Performance Centers, Outdoor Dining Areas, and even in contaminated Brownfields.

    And, to better combat COVID-19, our Bio-Crops also capture the air-borne particulate matter, which causes asthma and other respiratory diseases, that has lead to greater COVID-19 sickness and death, even as these Bio-Crops are also combating Climate Change, as they extract three times the atmospheric CO 2 as newly-planted trees.

    Research indicates that plants are able to filter airborne particulate matter out of the atmosphere. Note the following articles:

    Difference of Airborne Particulate Matter Concentration in Urban Space With Different Green Coverage Rates in Baoji, China – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih
    Assessing the Capacity of Plant Species to Accumulate Particulate Matter in Beijing, China – https://journals.plos.org/p
    Experimental Examination of Effectiveness of Vegetation as Bio-Filter of Particulate Matters in the Urban Environment – https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih
    The Effect of Vegetation Enhancement on Particulate Pollution Reduction: CFD Simulations in an Urban Park – https://www.mdpi.com/1999-4

    Shockingly, recent research is also suggesting that airborne particulate matter may, in fact, be a COVID-19 vector. Note the following papers:

    https://www.medrxiv.org/con
    https://pubs.acs.org/doi/fu
    https://genomebiology.biome
    https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4

    I hope the Grantham Institute and others will look into this deadly Environmental Justice & Health Problem.

    Regards,

    JJJ

    Joseph J. James, President
    Agri-Tech Producers, LLC (ATP)
    Cell: (803) 413-6801
    E-Mail: josephjjames@bellsouth.net
    Website: http://www.agri-techproducers.net

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