A roundup of some of UMN’s efforts around environmental justice

The topic explores the relationship between social justice and the environment.

From left, Kyungsoo Yoo, Len Kne, Darrell Gerber and Melinda Kernile explore the mapping of data regarding drinking water supply with ArcGIS in the Collaborative Research Studio in Wilson Library on Friday, Oct. 11.

Liam Armstrong

From left, Kyungsoo Yoo, Len Kne, Darrell Gerber and Melinda Kernile explore the mapping of data regarding drinking water supply with ArcGIS in the Collaborative Research Studio in Wilson Library on Friday, Oct. 11.

Natalie Rademacher

Environmental justice involves analyzing the environment through a social justice lens, and the term is gaining popularity at the University of Minnesota.

But what is environmental justice? There are numerous definitions. It is a social movement focusing on fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens. It also involves looking at how social inequality influences who is affected by pollution and other environmental issues. 

As the interdisciplinary concept continues to grow in popularity, here is a roundup of some of the things the University is doing surrounding environmental justice:

Spotlight Series: 

The annual series is made up of lectures, panel discussions and exhibits focusing on a certain topic, and this year the series is highlighting different perspectives of environmental justice. 

Northrop, the Institute for Advanced Study and the University Honors Program collaborated on the series and chose to focus on environmental justice this year because it is a topic students could latch on to, no matter what their interests are, said Brianna Menning, program and communications manager for IAS. 

The momentum around environmental justice on campus also influenced the topic for the series this year. It is a relevant topic with an interdisciplinary appeal, Menning said. 

Last week, the series held a panel discussion exploring art and environmental justice. The panel looked at how art facilitates cultural work, including the intersection of climate change with identity and economics. 

The series is bringing in experts throughout the school year to talk about environmental justice from a wide variety of perspectives, including art, philanthropy, politics and education. 

Mapping Environmental Justice: 

Around 70 people gathered in Wilson Library on Friday to listen to speakers and learn how to use spatial data to map environmental justice issues. 

Attendees, consisting of students, faculty and community members, gathered in working groups to build maps looking at questions related to environmental justice. 

One group created a map exploring drinking water wells in Minnesota that are highly vulnerable to contamination because of agriculture. 

Mapping is a way to tell these environmental justice stories in a way that people can quickly understand, said Abigail Brinkmeier, a community member who attended the event. 

Indigenous people need a say on the environment: 

A lecture hosted Oct. 22 by the University’s Human Rights Program will explore how social justice is affected by environmental issues. 

Chiefs of Ontario Director of the Environment Kathleen Padulo will speak about the water crisis in Canada that affects many First Nations communities access to safe, clean drinking water and the importance of Indigenous peoples’ rights in respect to climate change and environmental issues. 

Padulo is working at the forefront of the issue and will talk about the importance of Indigenous peoples’ participation on environmental policies and implementation. 

The lecture, taking place at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, is part of the program’s annual lecture series that highlights leaders who do champion work in human rights.