10 ways academics can promote climate justice today

Written by professors Allison Kelly and Sharon Kirkpatrick of the FAUW Climate Justice Working Group.

The pandemic has consumed much of our attention and energy over the last few months, making it understandably difficult to find the mental and emotional space to consider other societal challenges. However, as the pandemic persists, we may gradually be able to turn our attention to issues such as climate and racial injustice that pre-dated – and will certainly outlive – the pandemic. Alongside the devastation of the pandemic come opportunities to reflect on the status quo and to identify ways to create a more sustainable, just future for us all. As faculty members, we are in a unique position to take meaningful action toward climate justice.

Our actions can not only make a difference to the climate justice agenda but may also serve to reduce our own eco-anxiety while modeling actions other members of our community can take. Here are some things we can all consider doing:

  1. Add your voice. Sign petitions advocating for climate-just change at institutional and governmental levels, and share your actions with others to inspire them to do the same. One immediate action we can all take is to support the call for UW to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in a just, climate-safe future, just as our faculty colleagues have done at other top universities such as Harvard and UBC.
  2. Get involved. Join groups on campus dedicated to climate justice, including FAUW’s Climate Justice Working Group, Indigenization Working Group, and Equity Committee. These groups allow us to connect and work with like-minded colleagues and can turn feelings of isolation and eco-anxiety into collective inspiration and action.
  3. Hold the University accountable. Raise climate justice at the tables at which you sit and highlight the co-benefits of actions to advance climate justice for the University’s broader goals – including sustainability, mental health and wellness, equity, and Indigenization – as well as for its reputation as an innovator and risk taker.
  4. Be an advocate. Lobby your professional organizations to tackle climate justice, for example, by reducing conference-related air travel. Our adaptations to the pandemic have taught us that virtual conferences can be highly engaging; they can also be more accessible to those who typically cannot afford travel to in-person meetings, making them more equitable.
  5. Branch out in your research. Be innovative in imagining how you could integrate a focus on climate justice in your research. You may not see obvious links, but climate change will undoubtedly impact all our fields and we desperately need expertise and insights from all disciplines to tackle this issue! Form and join groups of researchers across disciplines that care about this issue.
  1. Empower students. Think innovatively about how you might integrate a focus on climate justice in your teaching and mentoring. Give students opportunities to reflect on how climate change will impact their chosen fields and inspire them to fight for climate justice. With help from the Centre for Teaching Excellence (CTE), restructure course syllabi to attend to structural racism and its connections to climate justice. You don’t have to be an expert to empower your students.
  2. Meet virtually. Even when campus activities resume, try to hold more virtual meetings and/or allow for virtual participation from those who prefer it. The saved emissions from all those who would have travelled add up. As we see from our adaptations to the pandemic, it is possible to have productive online meetings, with screen-sharing functions to organize discussions.
  3. Self-reflect. Check in with yourself about the actions you take that may be helping or hindering climate justice. For example, although we may now be travelling less, we may be ordering more things online, with costly environmental impacts. Challenge yourself to shop locally more often to yield co-benefits for our neighbourhoods and communities and to reduce our impacts on communities that bear the brunt of climate change.
  4. Connect with nature. Dedicate yourself to spending time outside every day. As we are now all working from home, we may have opportunities to find more moments in our day to be in nature. Notice what this does to your mood, your sense of connection, and your desire to take care of our planet and to help in the fight for climate justice.
  5. Walk the talk. In finding personal and professional ways to work toward climate justice, you will inspire others to do the same. For example, by deciding to reduce your air travel to conferences, you may plant a seed for others to do the same. Consider zero-carbon vehicle/mobility options, lower carbon diets, and reduced waste-to-landfill. The Ecological Footprint calculator can help you see your personal impact and where to focus.

It can sometimes feel as though one person’s actions are not enough to increase climate justice, but the ripple effects accumulate and can support systemic action. Please consider what you can do to help the cause today and moving forward!

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