Guest speaks about environmental justice

Holly Gilvary, News Writer

UW Oshkosh’s Sustainability Institute for Regional Transformations hosted the 2018 Earth Charter Community Summit on Tuesday in the Alumni Welcome & Conference Center.

The featured speaker was Kimberly Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in Chicago neighborhood Little Village.

Wasserman spoke about the LVEJO and about environmental justice. The LVEJO, which was founded in 1994, works to create environmental justice in Little Village. Getting a bus line, building a public park and shutting down a dangerous power plant are a few of the achievements of the organization that Wasserman mentioned.

However, the LVEJO’s achievements didn’t happen overnight. Wasserman also talked about the struggles they have faced getting projects done; for instance, it took 20 years for Little Village to get a park in their neighborhood. The LVEJO also had to fight against a warehouse being built in Little Village, which would have worsened pollution in the neighborhood and exploited its community members, according to Wasserman.

Through Wasserman’s discussion of the struggles the LVEJO has faced in creating a more environmentally sustainable community, she emphasized the importance environmental justice has in sustainability.

Dr. Elizabeth Barron, associate director of SIRT and this year’s Earth Charter event
coordinator, also mentioned the importance of environmental justice in terms of sustainability. Environmental justice is where, what Barron called, the “three pillars of sustainability” intersect.

These “pillars,” Barron said, are environmental sustainability, including being environmentally friendly, social justice and living sustainable lives which includes material, occupational, social, communal and physical well-being.

“To me, the topic of environmental justice is so important for our campus because it addresses two of our foundational elements from our strategic plan, which are sustainability and inclusive excellence,” Barron said. “And it’s where those two things meet, is environmental justice.”

Jim Feldman, director of the environmental studies program, said he believes sustainability is often talked about but only as an environmental thing, as in nature, resources and fossil fuels. However, it’s more complicated.

“It involves also economic security and social justice, and environmental justice is sort of the point where all those three things kind of come together,” Feldman said.

Wasserman mentioned the importance of students being knowledgeable on environmental justice.
“It’s important for us to come into a space with future professionals to say – think about these things, as you go out and get educated and you go out into the world, to make sure that you aren’t replicating the same problems all over again,” Wasserman said.

Wasserman said he believes that students can get educated, come prepared and lend their support to contribute to environmental justice.

“I think that there is a way out of the conundrum of climate change that we’re in; it’s just the question of folks being able to empower themselves with the right tools to be able to engage in conversation and support communities,” Wasserman said.”