by Aimee Mepham, Program Coordinator, WFU Humanities Institute
On March 26th and 27th, Wake Forest University’s Humanities Institute, Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability, and Human Rights and Global Justice Research Group (an affiliate of the Humanities Institute) hosted The Human Face of Environmental Inequality: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Wake Forest University campus in the Benson University Center.
The symposium showcased the work of a number of leading international and local voices in human rights, religion, law, and environmental advocacy through round table discussions and keynote addresses throughout the two days. Mary Robinson, President of Mary Robinson — Climate Justice, gave the opening keynote address as part of the WFU President’s Office Voices of Our Time lecture series. The closing keynote was given by Andrew C. Revkin, author of the “Dot Earth” blog at the New York Times and Senior Fellow for Environmental Understanding at Pace University.
After a welcome from Mary Foskett, Wake Forest Kahle Professor of Religion and Director of the WFU Humanities Institute, Provost Rogan Kersh gave a few opening remarks and introduced John Knox, Henry C. Lauerman Professor of International Law at Wake Forest University Law School and Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment to the United Nations (ieenvironment.org), whose work was an inspiration for the symposium (Knox was previously the first UN appointed Independent Expert on human rights and the environment).
Knox’s recent scholarship has aimed to clarify human rights obligations relating to the environment and to identify and disseminate best practices in the use of such obligations. In his opening remarks, he said, “I would say that we have to have a healthy environment in order to fully enjoy our human rights, and we have to be able to exercise our human rights in order to enjoy that healthy environment.”
Following Knox’s comments, Simeon Ilesanmi, Washington M. Wingate Professor of Religion at WFU, moderated the first round table discussion, “Values, Morality, and Environmental Inequality.” This discussion featured comments from Sally Bingham, President and Founder, Interfaith Power & Light; Lucas Johnston, Assistant Professor of Religion and Ollen R. Nalley Faculty Fellow at WFU; and Larry Rasmussen, Reinhold Niebuhr Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics, Union Theological Seminary.
That evening, Mary Robinson, president of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice and the United Nations secretary-general’s special envoy on climate change, gave the opening keynote address as part of the University’s Voices of our Time guest speaker series. Throughout her address, Robinson stressed that climate justice and human rights are directly connected, and that the world must act in solidarity to protect its citizens from the effects of climate change. She said, “At the end of the day, climate justice is about moral values and thinking long term… It’s about thinking on what it means to be human, what it means to be connected humans and what we want to do together as a human race.”
Robinson illustrated a few of her points by quoting two important late writers: Maya Angelou and Seamus Heaney. She recalled a quotation from Angelou that she felt embodied the determination with which this generation must fight the effects of climate change: “The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind.”
The symposium continued on Friday with three round table discussions. The first, “Climate Change and Environmental Inequality,” was moderated by John Knox and featured Sumudu Atapattu, Associate Director of the Global Legal Studies Center and Senior Lecturer, University of Wisconsin Law School; Michael Gerrard, Andrew Sabin Professor of Professional Practice, Columbia University Law School; and Bron Taylor, Professor of Religion and Nature, University of Florida. The next, “Indigenous Peoples, Cultures, and the Impact of Resource Extraction,” featured Joni Adamson, Professor, English and Environmental Humanities; Senior Sustainability Scholar, Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Arizona State University; Luis E. Fernandez, Director of the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecosystem Project (CAMEP); Senior Research Associate in Anthropology, Stanford University; and Research Assistant Professor of Biology, Wake Forest University; and Jace Weaver, Director of the INAS; Franklin Professor of Native American Studies and Religion; and Adjunct Professor of Law, University of Georgia. It was moderated by WFU Professor of Religion and American Ethnic Studies, Ulrike Wiethaus. After a lunch break, Richard Schneider, Associate Dean for International Affairs and Professor of Law at the WFU School of Law moderated the panel on “Community Engagement in North Carolina.” This discussion featured Amy Adams, North Carolina Campaign Coordinator, Appalachian Voices; Molly Diggins, State Director, North Carolina Sierra Club; Frank Holleman, Senior Attorney, Southern Environmental Law Center; and Will Scott, Yadkin Riverkeeper.
Each round table discussion provided an opportunity to showcase the work and research of the participants and to engage in a conversation with the participants in the audience through Q&A sessions. Click here for complete speaker biographies.
The symposium concluded with a the Closing Keynote Address, “#IamChicoMendes – How the Global Communication Revolution Can Protect Resources and Rights,” given by Andrew C. Revkin. Revkin discussed the possibilities available through social media to contribute to the fight against climate change and human rights injustice. He closed his address by singing his original song, “Liberated Carbon.” A recording of Revkin’s closing address will soon be made available on the WFU Humanities Institute website.
For more media coverage of The Human Face of Environmental Inequality, visit the links below: