Equity as a Compass for Taking Action on Climate

Georgia is the first state to take a localized approach to Project Drawdown, the ambitious blueprint for reversing climate change by scaling market-ready climate solutions.

Drawdown Georgia is focused not just on scaling climate solutions, but doing so with equity as a key value. It’s an ambitious undertaking that endeavors to be inclusive and nonpartisan -- and successful -- even in the midst of our state’s politically charged environment.

Connecting Equity and Climate Solutions

 

Nathaniel Smith NaTaki Osborne Jelks John Lanier Reverend Gerald Durley

In a recent conversation at The Carter Center, Nathaniel Smith, co-chair of the Drawdown Georgia Leadership Council and chief equity officer of the Partnership for Southern Equity, and John Lanier, executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, unpacked how the initiative centers Beyond Carbon considerations like equity and public health at the heart of the movement, not as ideas that would simply be “nice to have.”

Rev. Dr. Gerald Durley, a lifelong advocate for civil rights and environmental justice, kicked off the conversation and put the work of advancing equitable climate solutions into context. Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks also joined the conversation to bring her expertise as an assistant professor of environmental and health sciences at Spelman College and co-founder of the community-based environmental justice organization the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance. Both Rev. Durley and Dr. Jelks are members of the Drawdown Georgia Leadership Council.

Drawdown Georgia understands the importance of ensuring there are seats at the table for all stakeholders and supporting conversations about climate issues as civil rights issues. That’s why the movement is building bridges for a “leader-ful” movement using Drawdown's framework as a mentor and guide.

Take a deep dive into this conversation by watching the video recording of this important conversation. We will also share the transcript of the event below.

HubSpot Video

 

 

Let’s Talk About Climate + Equity

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.


Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks

My name is Na'Taki Osborne Jelks, and I am here to welcome you to Drawdown Georgia: an Equitable Framework For Bringing Climate Solutions Home. Today we want to focus on the Drawdown Georgia framework of climate solutions and centering equity as a priority. And that's something that is very important to me.

NaTaki Osborne Jelks

I am an environmental health scientist. I work at Spelman College in the Environmental and Health Sciences Program. I also co-founded the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, which is a community-based organization that has been working for a number of years to advance issues around environmental justice. For us, that means that it's inclusive of climate justice. And so as we think about equity, we think about issues around public health, we think about communities that have been made to be most vulnerable to climate change.

Climate change is something that is impacting and will continue to impact all of us. From Georgia to the global stage. But even though we are in the same storm, we don't always find ourselves in the same boat, meaning that some communities are more vulnerable. When we think about the communities that are most impacted by exposure to environmental toxicants and hazards, including air pollution, we're talking about those communities who are most vulnerable.

Just recently there was a study published that covered a number of cities throughout the United States, and Atlanta was one of those cities. And it talked about the legacy of redlined communities and the fact that there is more air pollution in many of these redlined communities across the country. Atlanta was no different. There have also been a number of studies that have looked at the issue of extreme heat. And again, Atlanta is one of those cities that has been identified as a place where those communities who have been made to be most vulnerable because of policy decisions are more vulnerable to exposure to extreme heat.

So when we talk about solutions for climate change, we cannot just talk about those technical solutions. But we've got to talk about root causes. We've got to talk about issues around equity. And if we're going to talk about equity, we have to talk about the very real challenge of racism in this country.

Before we move into the conversation between Nathaniel and John, I am honored to introduce Reverend Dr. Gerald Durley.

Reverend Dr. Gerald Durley is pastor emeritus of the historic Providence Missionary Baptist Church here in Atlanta. He joined the civil rights movement in 1960 while attending Tennessee State University in Nashville, Tennessee.

He later enrolled at the University of Massachusetts, where he earned a doctorate degree in urban education and psychology. Rev. Durley also earned a master of divinity at Howard University School of Divinity, and upon graduation, he became assistant pastor of Mount Olive Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. After he then relocated to Atlanta, he became a pulpit associate at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church while serving as dean of Clark College. He was called to pastor historic Providence Missionary Baptist Church in 1987, where he served for 25 years.

Reverend Durley is a legendary leader of civil and human rights causes, and in recent years, he has become intensely active as an environmental warrior. He believes that we have a moral obligation and civic responsibility to speak up about climate change, global warming, and environmental justice. Reverend Durley combines the ethical teaching from the faith community with scientific research and his civil rights background to make a difference. He is currently national chair of the board for Interfaith Power and Light. Without further ado, let me welcome you, Reverend Dr. Gerald Durley.

Reverend Dr. Gerald Durley

You know, there are times in all of our lives when we feel excited about being something. Be glad that you're here. This is our moment. We are right now at the precipice of making a difference in saving our environment and the planet. And I get excited about that.

reverend gerald durley

I think that in all of our lives, there are moments that change our lives. There are moments when you go to a theater expecting to see one thing or a play to see something and something happens and it changes you. I never thought that I'd be standing here talking about climate change, treehuggers, carbon dioxide in the air, wildfires, tsunamis. Why? I'm concerned about civil and human rights. I'm concerned about what people are doing and the inequities and the inequalities of people's lives. But in all of our lives, there are certain moments where things just change. They just happen.

We were there in 1959 in Nashville, talking about civil rights and human rights and educational rights and access to health care. These were constitutional rights for all Americans. And we were willing to do two things that I think we're going to have to do in the climate movement. And that is we were willing to sacrifice and we were willing to risk at any cost because we believed in it so much. We were fighting for equality. We were fighting for parity.

We faced the same kind of challenges that the environmental movement faced. We did not have any political allies. We were underfunded. But we have one thing on our side, and I think we have the same thing on our side of those of you in this room today. We had justice on our side. We had right on our side. And we were willing to do two things: sacrifice and take risks. I tell people now, if you're not willing to sacrifice, go home.

What are we willing to stand up for? We've got to get down to the crux and understand the inequities that are being perpetrated.

This is not a Frankenstein movie. When you leave, don't be frightened and go out and say it's all over. This is not an end. This is a beginning. So I want to compliment this great group today to say that this is your time, this is your moment. Do not bend, do not back up, do not bow, but always stay on the cutting edge. Remember that this is the time now and none of us will survive unless we all survive. So I'm saying to you, John, and to you, Nathaniel, the future is uncertain. The beginning is now. Take us home, brothers.

John Lanier

This is not the first time that I have had to follow Reverend Durley. I will try to be just a shade of your brilliance, my friend.

john lanier nathaniel smith

It's an honor for us at the Ray C. Anderson Foundation to have the work that we are doing in our communities here in Georgia be something that is on the radar of those elsewhere and for others to know that what we are doing here in Georgia, of all places, to lead not just on climate, but on equity.

My job is to tell the story of how we got here with Drawdown Georgia: how it came to be, what it is. I'll also share a bit about what's coming next, the work that is ahead of us. But in between reflecting back and looking forward is where I want to share a bit about the learning I've been doing in the equity space, the intersectionality between my focus on climate and the very real challenges of equity that continue to exist in our world.

So first, what is Drawdown Georgia? In many respects, it started with a conversation that I had with my family. I am fortunate, as the executive director of the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, to be one of the five grandchildren of Ray Anderson, the late industrialist turned environmentalist who dedicated the last 17 years of his life to making Interface, his carpet tile manufacturing company, as environmentally sustainable as possible. He was a champion for the business case for sustainability.

When he passed away and he made the decision to leave his estate to this family foundation, it was an opportunity for our family to try to advance his legacy. There was a conversation that we had reflecting upon that responsibility, that opportunity, where we collectively felt that the issue of climate change is the one where we needed to give more attention.

So we looked for inspiration. What has inspired us most in the climate space? The answer was the work of Project Drawdown. At that time they were about to release a book that was going to list the 100 most substantive solutions to the climate crisis. What we had come to appreciate was that they were focused on solutions, not just explaining how dire of a challenge we're facing, but how much we can do today to address it and to solve it.

But there was one thing that Project Drawdown couldn't do with their list of solutions. They could not tell us, a family foundation in Atlanta, what the most impactful climate solutions for the state of Georgia would be.

We realized there was an opportunity to regionalize the work of Project Drawdown: analyze what climate solutions work best in our state, which ones can do the most to reduce Georgia's carbon footprint, and, critically, identify solutions against that one metric and many other critically important ones, like equity.

What climate solutions can do the most to solve the problems of inequity in our society? What climate solutions can do the most to advance human health? Which ones can do the most to provide meaningful economic opportunities and new jobs? And what are the opportunities to enrich our natural environment as well?

climate and equity audience

This was the charge of the Drawdown Georgia research team spanning Georgia Tech, the University of Georgia, Emory University, and Georgia State. After more than a year of work, they provided a list of 20 high-impact climate solutions for the state of Georgia, with a detailed understanding of these other considerations that often matter more to people than the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

I wanted to take this point in my remarks to speak to some of the learnings that I've had as a part of the philanthropic sector focused on climate solutions. While the research was ongoing, I came to realize just how much more I needed to learn about the racial injustice and the inequities that continue to plague our society. When George Floyd was murdered, it was a moment of awakening for me. As a white man of privilege, I remember desperately looking for guidance from people I trusted on how to make sense of that tragedy.

Nathaniel Smith was one of those people, and I was so grateful to have a teacher like him. To have teachers like Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks and Reverend Durley who can help me make sense of something that is fundamentally not a part of my lived experience. So I spent time reflecting on what we're trying to do at the Ray C. Anderson Foundation in this space, reflecting on how we can continue to do better and centering equity in our work.

There were three things that I realized in those reflections. The first is that I am incredibly proud of the diversity of the research team that generated this best-in-class climate research. But I have to acknowledge that just because it was great doesn't mean it could not have been better. There was an opportunity missed by our foundation at the very beginning of Drawdown Georgia to welcome other institutions into that work. And we did not take it. And for that, I am sorry and regretful because the historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in our state could have added even more to the work that was done. I'm so grateful that they are in this work now, and we need to find ways to continue to deepen it. What I realized is that diversity doesn't just exist at the level of the individual. It also exists at the level of the institutions that you have at the table.

My grandfather was fond of a phrase: the status quo is a powerful opiate. Now for him, he was talking about the business world and how slow it had been to embrace a new way of doing business that was mindful of the impact it was having on the environment, but I think that phrase exists and applies outside of the context of just business. Because when we talk about racial injustice, the status quo is a powerful opiate--and that is the second thing I realized in reflecting on our work.

What does that mean for me? Before the murder of George Floyd, I think I would have said, “Well, I'm not contributing to the injustices. Admittedly, I may not be proactively trying to solve our equity challenges, but at least I'm not a part of the problem.” And it turns out I don't think that's enough. It's not enough to say, "I'm not a bad guy." I have to proactively choose to be one of the good guys. To sit there on the sidelines and watch the work being done without finding your place on the field is no longer acceptable.

The third thing is that I've come to a deeper understanding of what urgency really means. Urgency in climate, for me, has long meant making sure we take the actions now so that we don't see climate change spiral terribly out of control.

We need to lift up the Nathaniel Smiths and the Partnership for Southern Equity, and the many other outstanding organizations that have been doing this work for a long time so that the right messengers are bringing the message of climate solutions to their audiences. That's the idea behind much of what we're trying to do. We're trying to breathe life into initiatives underneath this Drawdown Georgia umbrella that can make the solutions relevant to every stakeholder group.

Let me give you a few examples of what's happened to date. We're excited that Georgia Interfaith Power and Light has taken on the work of bringing Drawdown Georgia climate solutions to congregations. They are the best situated to speak to people of faith across the state about why this list of climate solutions should matter to them. So we want them to be the messengers.

Similarly, we have Drawdown Georgia for Higher Education, where the Georgia Climate Project is making the solutions relevant to colleges and universities. They are the best people to be the messengers in that space.

And most recently, I was thrilled by the announcement of the Drawdown Georgia Business Compact led by our friends at the Ray C. Anderson Center for Sustainable Business at Georgia Tech. They are taking these climate solutions and making them relevant to businesses in our state, from small businesses to Fortune 100 companies headquartered here. The Business Compact is building a community of practice around doing the work of scaling climate solutions. To me, it's an exciting example of bringing solutions home, localizing them so that the work is easier to do as part of a community.

Our hope is that by finding so many opportunities to show how climate solutions matter within our state and how coming together and collaborating is the most important way to move forward, we can make a difference not only on the issue of climate and the amount of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, but make a difference in the lives of the people who we risk leaving behind if we aren’t careful to center justice and equity at the heart of our climate work. There is no one I know who's better situated to speak about that intersectionality than Nathaniel Smith, the chief equity officer at the Partnership for Southern Equity. I turn it over to you, my friend.

Nathaniel Smith

My goodness, John. Thank you. You know, I always tell my friends that equity is both a journey and a destination. It is both. And if you take the time to smell the roses along the way, you will have an opportunity to be not only a better leader, but a better human being.

nathaniel smith

Also, I would be remiss if I did not take the time to honor Reverend Durley for his leadership for so many years when he was, in many ways, the voice crying in the wilderness on both sides of the discussion, the one trying to get the more established sustainability organizations to see Black folks as partners in realizing a more sustainable and resilient world.

And then, of course, my sister, Na'Taki Osborne Jelks, we've known each other since Morehouse and Spelman days trying to figure it out. She figured it out before I did, and I've been following behind her ever since that time, so I just want to take the time to honor you for just being such a great leader and friend and my sister in this work.

I do have some things to say today that may make you feel uncomfortable. I think that because of the urgency of where we are in the world, we have to get a little bit uncomfortable. And we also need to get uncomfortable because we're sitting in a place that in many ways has been ground zero for extreme extraction, the American South. It’s a place where, before we utilized fossil fuels to advance our extractive economy, we used the power of indentured servitude and slavery.

The ripple effect of that history of structural injustice and white oppression continues to not only affect our most vulnerable communities, but also our planet. Structural inequity and climate injustice are cousins. Both come from the same place: a place of extreme extraction. A place of injustice, a place of inhumanity.

We will never have a just and sustainable society without liberation. We must work to ensure that all people are not just living in a clean environment, but are free to experience the beauty of this world, to have an opportunity to reach their full potential, to go to uncommon places and learn and explore.

So when we talk about this work and this connection between our climate and equity - yes, it's about making sure that we are good stewards of this planet, but we also need to understand that we're all connected. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. used to talk about what he called the network of mutuality. We live in this network of mutuality and are bound by this single garment of destiny. What affects one directly affects us all indirectly.

You cannot focus on what is happening to our wildlife without also caring about what's happening to the people who have to choose every day between paying the light bill or buying groceries. You cannot worry about what happened at COP26 and whether we'll be able to lower our carbon emissions when every day, there are children living next to Interstate 285 who can't breathe.

We cannot talk about the beauty of parks and greenspace and their importance in climate remediation strategies, without also understanding that the people who live in Westside Park are afraid that their property values will increase and they may not be able to benefit from the beautiful park that they spent their public money to develop--in essence, positioning them to subsidize their own displacement. We will never realize the world that we need for ourselves if we're willing to turn away and believe that only a small percentage of our communities deserve to live in an environment that's healthy and sustainable. We will never realize a truly sustainable, resilient world if it is not a just world.

Without equity as the compass, you can't get to the proper destination. Why? Because equity is not equality. And the greatest difference between equity and equality is history. You can't talk about where you want to go if you're not willing to repair and heal the past.

At the Partnership for Southern Equity, we believe that the people that are closest to the problem are actually closest to the solution. It is our responsibility to not be missionaries. It is our responsibility to make sure that people have their own agency cultivated and supported in a way to ensure their vision for a better world will be realized, not yours. If you say that you are committed to equity, that is the only way. Equity is not about what you're willing to give. It's about what you're willing to give up. Are you willing to give up your privilege? Are you willing to give up your perceptions about certain communities?

nathaniel smith john lanier

We've got to bring new people to the table, but we've got to make sure that they understand the value proposition in their engagement in the world. That is why PSE is a multi-issue organization. You can't talk about climate and not talk about health. You can't talk about health without talking about economic inclusion. You can't talk about economic inclusion without talking about growth. That is the way that we must engage communities that have been marginalized to get them involved in the work we're doing. So we must find ways to connect the dots.

Is it time now for our environmental community to be courageous enough to care? Because it will take courage for us to move this work forward. Either you love justice or you don't. You can't love justice a little bit when it's convenient. You can't be for equity on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. You've got to be for it every day.

So we're at this moment where we have to understand that moving down the road of equality is not going to get us to a more resilient world. We have to begin to understand our past and begin to work towards ensuring that all people have what they need in order to realize their full potential. It's not just about transitioning towards a clean energy economy. It's about making sure that as we transition, we don't leave anybody behind or replace the one unjust economy with another. It's about making sure that when we talk about solar, we're not positioning it as a way to drive displacement and gentrification.

Are we working to ensure that folks are actually trained and positioned to benefit from the new technology? Are we working to ensure that when conversations are happening around energy policy, that we're not just inviting communities of color to just show their faces so you can make it seem as if your fight is diverse, but that you get those folks there when it's time to actually sit at the table and have real conversations. So there's a reckoning that we have to have as a community.

What do we need to clean up in our environmental family? What are the things that we have to do to make sure that we're moving forward together in a more just and inclusive way? How can we show that we're serious about this work around realizing a more sustainable and resilient world, and that we're not willing to leave anybody behind?

We don't just need new solar. We need new values.

Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks

Thank you so much for that really enlightening exchange. Now we are going to open the floor up for some questions and answers. I'll start with a question to Nathaniel. You laid out quite a bit for us to think about, but I want to ask you to be more specific. You talked about knowing that the communities that are facing the problems are often times those who are closest to the solutions. So what do you say to the philanthropic community? Can you give us some concrete things that we need that community to do to help us to advance equity specifically in this space around climate solutions?

Nathaniel Smith

You know, one of the first things that I said to you all is that we must remove the missionary mentality in how we engage front-line communities and historically disinvested communities of color. We've got to invest in leadership development, in cultivating the agency of the people on the ground. The other key thing that we're learning is that while we talk about clean energy, we have to make sure that we're ensuring a level of inclusive economic inclusion. You know, we talk about the demand side of this discussion, but Black folks and communities of color need to be on the supply side as well. They need to be the new entrepreneurs. They need to be trained and cultivated.

And then the other thing that I think is playing a role in jumpstarting the clean energy economy by way of retrofitting many of the communities that have been disinvested in, so we are moving from a culture of sustainability and resilience to a culture of repair and healing. I think if we lead with repair and healing within a context of sustainability, there are a lot of opportunities, like at our HBCUs. Many of them can be weatherized and retrofit, which can create a clean energy revolution in those communities. Many of the communities that have been disinvested in due to redlining can benefit from a more targeted approach around energy efficiency and retrofitting and also solarizing and using other forms of clean energy technology. So being laser-like and leveraging this moment as a way to encourage a clean energy transition while at the same time working with those communities in ways that will position them to lead rather than just follow.

Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks

Thank you so much for that. And I appreciate you talking about leading with repair and healing. This is another question for you, Nathaniel: what are the best ways to build equity into grant and project budgets to make it have a real impact?

Nathaniel Smith

I think that first and foremost, it's important for the philanthropist to actually look at the organization. What does the board of that organization look like? Is it representative of the communities that they say they're serving? I think that's a great thing for organizations to be led by people of color, but if they're not governed in a way that is consistent with that leader's values, then that's what they call window dressing, right? You're putting somebody of color in a leadership position, but the culture of that organization is not shifting.

john lanier nataki osborne jelks nathaniel smith-1

So are you ensuring that the organizations that you're funding are governed in a way that will realize equity? Are the senior leadership representative of that commitment? It's also important to commit to giving more from a general operating perspective versus a programmatic perspective. A lot of times people don't understand that the opportunity for organizations to be flexible and nimble creates an opportunity for them to be successful for the long haul.

You can't expect a front-line organization to undo structural racism in a grant cycle. So can we begin to give multi-year grants to organizations and trust those organizations that are led by people that look like me? There's a difference between white money and Black money in philanthropy. If you look at the funding that white-led organizations receive versus Black-led organizations or organizations led by other people of color, it's usually not the same amount of investment, and there's more scrutiny because for some reason there's an assumption that we don't know how to manage money.

I think that the last thing is about developing a real and authentic relationship with the grantee. You can't just be giving away money, but you have to really get in the foxhole with these organizations and develop real and authentic relationships. Change moves at the speed of trust. And so you've got to build that trust in a way that will create the change that you want to see.

Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks

Thank you so much for that. I have one last question for John: what are some other meaningful strategies that can be effective in helping us to get new voices to the table, to have a meaningful role in defining the vision for how we move forward with Drawdown Georgia?

John Lanier

One of the fundamental pieces of this strategy is for Drawdown Georgia to be the wind in the sails of the people and organizations who've already been doing great work together, but who haven't seen themselves as part of the climate movement. That's what's amazing about 20 solutions spanning five different sectors. There's something that connects to the work that you are doing or the issues that you care about. I don't care who you are, I can find that connection point. We hope that this overall movement is something that people feel that they can see themselves in and that they find an opportunity to be a leader.

I don't think of this work as a room with one door that I need to get people to walk through. It has 100 doors. It doesn't matter which door you're willing to walk through, as long as I get you to walk through one of them and then treat everybody who's in that room with dignity and respect. That's my hope, is that this leader-ful movement can come about because of this network that we're building within our state.

Audience Question:

Good afternoon. My name is Brendan Barclay and I represent the National Wildlife Federation. I work with emerging leaders from K to 12 and even college. What guidance should we give them? What would you say is a route for emerging leaders to make this work effective and sustainable?

Nathaniel Smith

We have been very committed to this as an organization. We just a year ago acquired a national organization called Youth Empower Solutions (YES) and have re-imagined it as a new initiative of our organization called YES for Equity. And one of the things that we're very serious about doing is focusing on giving young people the tools that they need in order to be effective and successful. That real systems transformation does not happen through a Tik Tok or through Clubhouse or Facebook, it takes organizing and real work. That is a true reflection of the values of the people who we need to hear from.

And so for us, we don't waste a lot of time in focusing on engaging those young people and getting them to move beyond understanding what real change looks like. We actually put them in positions of engagement, really getting them involved and engaged early. Exposing them to our elders is also important because I think that they come in with an assumption that they can do your job tomorrow and we have to get them to understand that this is a marathon and not a sprint.

There's one other key thing that we do: we cannot assume that as adults we're positioned to be the best allies for young people. It's also about doing your due diligence and positioning your adult staff to be partners and advocates for youth leadership.

Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks

What I have been impressed with about these younger generations is that once they understand what the issues and challenges are, they are a lot more uncompromising than some of us who are older. So when we talk about these issues around the environment, around climate, bringing in issues around racial justice and equity is a no-brainer for the younger generation. But we also have to ground them with the skills that they need. Being able to learn from our elders is critical. And I think the learning goes both ways, it sharpens everybody who's at the table.

Audience Question:

Somebody mentioned the chicken and the egg situation when it comes to workforce development. There's such a great opportunity in particular for equitable workforce development with green jobs, but at the same time, investing in training can be a risk if those jobs haven't quite scaled up to meet that demand. What can be done and what is already being done on the ground?

John Lanier

Things are changing so fast that I think there is value in making sure that people are being trained on how to be nimble and responsive. I was fortunate to study under Paul Hawkins at the Presidio Graduate School, and the enduring lesson that I took away from that class is that you have to think about sustainability challenges as a system. It is a systems thinking problem. They didn't try to teach us skills and strategies with any particular narrow focus because when you have a tricky chicken and egg sort of challenge, if you're able to zoom out and think about the system in which they operate and understand the linkage points and the leverage points to create change, you may be able to flip that problem and begin to see progress at the exact same time.

Nathaniel Smith

I also think that we can't turn away from the role of government in creating opportunities for large-scale engagement. When I look at workforce development, I look at it as a continuum. So, yes, there's the work around training, but then there is the work of the advocate around creating policies and advancing policies that will create that demand. I think that opportunities like Drawdown Georgia and others to work along that continuum of inclusion and economic opportunity provides a great chance for us to focus on training folks and find a way to diversify the pipeline.

I think this is a great segue way - I wanted to ask you to talk about the resilience hub we're partnering on at the Atlanta University Center, which to me creates a great opportunity for the demand as well as the supply to be realized. And I wanted to give you some space to talk about the work of the Resilience Hub.

Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks

While I'm not a leader of this initiative, I'm really excited about this resilience hub and just the collaboration that is coming together. We have a set of Energy Equity Fellows students who are really digging into this issue from a curricular standpoint, getting training, and are going to be engaged in some internship projects. We have new courses that are focused on sustainable energy. We're also looking at launching a microgrid.

And there has been a lot of work happening prior to now. Spelman was the first HBCU to open a green dorm. We've been working for years trying to green the operations of the institution. And we've been working with other organizations like Eco Action to really look at storm water issues across these campuses, how storm water is being generated, and how it's impacting communities on the west side.

Nathaniel Smith

We have HBCUs all around the state of Georgia that are untapped opportunities for not just workforce development, but also these resilience hubs and the work that is required around energy efficiency and retrofitting. So there's there is an economic opportunity if we're willing to see it and if we're willing to fight for it at the legislature.

Audience Question:

Hi. My name is Rachel Usher. We're sitting looking at a November that's going to be quite monumental for our state and shaping what an equitable future could look like here in Georgia. How can the climate community writ large contribute meaningfully in the very short term to this pressing conversation?

Nathaniel Smith

Well, I think the first thing is that the climate community is going to have to be willing to embrace the fact that they've been a part of the problem. And once they're able to do that, they need to go out into the community and ask for forgiveness from the communities that they have left behind. As relates to this climate conversation, that creates an opportunity for dialogue, for a real conversation about the strategies that can move us forward.

But first, we have to create a table that's broad enough for everyone. And one of the aspects of the table, which I think is really critical and important, is that the work has to be intersectional. We can't just focus on climate solutions and energy challenges without also focusing on issues associated with health. We have to meet the folks where they are. So it's about creating those conversations, how you engage in the affordable housing community, how we engage the health equity community, because they all have a part to play. Then you have to start with a conversation about repair and healing. And then that creates the opportunity for people to work together in a different way. But I think that we're finally getting to that point. I mean, I'm extremely optimistic about it.

John Lanier

We'll do two more questions. Na'Taki, from your perspective with the West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, what does progress look like? What does it look like when things are getting better?

Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks

From the beginning, we have been about working hand in hand with community residents and we do our work through a watershed lens. Progress means seeing strong and equitable environmental protections for our communities. It means having people making sure that these communities have a voice at decision-making tables. We got our start because there were some projects happening in southwest Atlanta communities in particular that didn't have community engagement.

So when I think about progress, it means that people have a more meaningful voice in decision making. It means that we are investing in leadership development. You know, one of the programs that I was working on with Equal Action is something called the Atlanta Watershed Learning Network that trains local residents to really seek out and try to advance solutions around things like green infrastructure.

It's also just making sure that as Atlanta is growing and developing, that communities are not forgotten, are not left behind. We've got to make sure that those who have fought for this progress get a chance to benefit from and are not displaced and moved away from it.

climate and equity audience 2

Audience Question:

My name is Reverend Jenny Phillips. I work with Global Ministries, which is the humanitarian development arm of the United Methodist Church. I'm so grateful for this conversation. I came in here this afternoon with women on my mind because of the headlines of the day. And I feel a heightened awareness of something that was briefly mentioned--that people of color experience the deepest burdens of the climate crisis, but in particular, women of color. And so I'd love to hear more about how Drawdown Georgia is specifically and intentionally drawing in the wisdom of women of color as it seeks solutions.

Dr. Na'Taki Osborne Jelks

I've been doing an unofficial sort of study for the last several years now, really looking at the work that women of color across this country are doing in the environmental space, particularly in terms of environmental justice. And increasingly, that means that women of color are lifting up this banner of climate justice, and they are in every community across this country. They are leading these efforts, not that the men aren't there, but women definitely have been the caretakers of home and family. When we talk about the health impacts, they are seeing it. They are experiencing it. They are caring for children, caring for the elderly. And the impacts are very clear.

Nathaniel Smith

As I said before, equity is the way and it's not just about supporting organizations that are led by women of color. It's also our responsibility to create spaces for them to be seen fully and completely as the leaders and change agents that they are. So, for example, 80% of my staff are Black women. That wasn't by happenstance. That was intentional. It goes back to this deep commitment to making sure that we create these spaces for all of us to show up for humanity in the way that we've been called to do, and creating spaces for women of color to thrive.

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