A changing climate

MPIRG brings environmental racism issues to the forefront.

Karl Bjornerud, Copy Editor

Minnesota Public Interest Research Group (MPIRG) hosted a panel about environmental racism Thursday, April 28. Panelists Filsan Said, David Ortega and Janiece Watts spoke from their research on and experiences with race issues and environmental injustice on local, national and international scales.

The meeting began with an introduction of each of the guests. Said and Ortega are both in their final year at the School of Environmental Studies in Apple Valley, and Watts is a University of Minnesota graduate, but spent her first year of college at Hamline. From there, the discussion began. Racial and environmental injustice, it was made clear, are strongly correlated and are both present in the Twin Cities.

Numerous examples were given, from food deserts to zoning discrimination. One case, however, gained prevalence. The Hennepin Energy Recovery Center (HERC), a facility where trash is incinerated to generate power, has led to a notable increase in asthma cases among children in North Minneapolis – a predominantly Black community. “HERC is powering the downtown area,” said Ortega, “not North Minneapolis”. This was an obvious instance of environmental racism, said the panel.

The remainder of the meeting was spent discussing methods to mitigate the problems raised. Non-panelists, including Prof. Valentine Cadieux, a faculty member in the Sustainability Office and the Department of Environmental Studies and MPIRG Campus Organizer Mahyar Sorour, had several things to say. Cadieux made reference to the history of colonialism in this and other regions, and the difficulties it presents for many people in addressing environmental racism in effective ways. Much emphasis was therefore placed on the importance of listening to diverse perspectives. Said Cadieux, “We never know the full picture from our table”. Elaborating on this, Sorour added, “Not listening, just talking, is the epitome of white privilege”.

The panelists concluded the meeting with their ideas for a more hopeful social and environmental future. Special importance was given to awareness and vocalization of topics like environmental racism: “We need to get people to start raising their voices about the things they believe in”, said Ortega. “You guys are the agents of change,” said Watts, “Let’s get educated about who has the power”. Said, “Know that you have a voice”.

Anyone who wishes to become involved in confronting social justice issues should attend MPIRG’s next meeting or send an inquiry to hampirg@gmail.com.