A University of Michigan-based group, Voices for Carbon Neutrality, hosted a webinar highlighting climate justice and the University’s climate impact on Thursday afternoon. Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, a U-M alum, headlined the panel and gave context on climate policy in the state.

VCN was created in 2018 to push the University toward carbon neutrality. After significant community activism, University President Mark Schlissel established the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality in 2019 and charged the body with providing recommendations to the administration on the University’s path to carbon neutrality. 

During the meeting, earth and environmental sciences professor Adam Simon, who spoke on behalf of VCN, presented a list of climate policy recommendations to the University. The list outlined accounting for the impact of all policies created by the University, including voices currently left out of the carbon neutrality planning process and recognizing the University’s role in catalyzing carbon neutrality.

Panelists, including Rackham student Ember McCoy, said climate action must center climate justice since marginalized communities are often disproportionately affected by climate change. 

“We already know that key groups are differently impacted by greenhouse gas emissions,” McCoy said. “Climate change can exacerbate already inequitable social conditions.”

McCoy said the groups that are most impacted by climate change are also historically underrepresented in the decision-making processes addressing climate problems. Whatever decision the University makes toward carbon neutrality, McCoy said it should meaningfully involve these groups in conversation.

Similarly, panelist and assistant professor of natural resources and environment Sam Stolper said all environmental policy should be made with marginalized communities in mind. 

“Justice, upon introspection, should be the most important consideration in any line of work,” Stolper said. “Climate, environmental and energy justice are inextricably linked with economic, health, transportation, education justice, among other things.” 

Gilchrist said justice is a multifaceted concept, especially when multiple dimensions such as climate injustice and economic injustice intersect. 

“I live next door (in Detroit) to the zip code that has the highest case rate of upper-respiratory infections and asthma in the state,” Gilchrist said. “That didn’t just happen. That happened because these are people who live in close proximity to a whole bunch of polluters.” 

Gilchrist said he and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer have attempted to make strides toward alleviating some of these injustices. He pointed to Whitmer signing an order declaring racism a public health crisis.

“One of the reasons that we (signed that order) was to try to unlock all of the tools of state government, to be able to deal with these questions and the impacts of these policy programs and practice choices,” Gilchrist said. “That, of course, shows up in the area of climate justice in a very real and practical way.”

PCCN has faced backlash from the campus community for including representatives from DTE and Consumers Energy. McCoy said these companies should not be a part of making suggestions for the University’s climate policy.

“We shouldn’t have these people, who have historically harmed communities, get a seat at the table,” McCoy said. “We should be able to imagine a future that truly centers justice in the best way possible. That includes communities being able to have full control and decision-making power over their energy.”

To conclude, Simon asked Gilchrist if he welcomed the University reaching out to work with the state in moving toward carbon neutrality.

“Absolutely, without question,” Gilchrist said.

Daily Staff Reporter Christian Juliano can be reached at julianoc@umich.edu. 

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