Fostering community-driven research for social and environmental justice
Water Justice, Climate Change, and the California Drought
Iris Stewart-Frey, who leads our Water and Climate Justice program, drew on her research to discuss the importance of incorporating environmental justice into plans to address California’s drought and climate-induced changes to the state’s water supply. Iris' recent journal article with her students Jacqueline Rogers and Anne Graham, showed that during drought years between 2008 to 2018, affluent Bay Area users’ water supplies were not curtailed, while lower-income households and agricultural users in the Central Valley faced around 30 percent lower supplies, and water flow to the the San Joaquin River, which is crucial for supporting salmon, fell by 85 to 90 percent. As she recently told Inside Climate News, “to fix this, everybody needs to be doing their share,” by adopting less water-intensive agriculture, cutting water use by large urban consumers, and building wastewater recycling infrastructure. Iris also presented research on equity and water sharing in California and other regions during tUrn week at SCU.
Environmental and Social Justice in Emergency Food Assistance Programs
The Initiative’s Food and Climate Justice program embarked on a new partnership with the La Mesa Verde urban gardening program and the food pantry at Sacred Heart Community Services in San José. Dr. Chris Bacon is leading a research team with SCU students Emma McCurry and Ava Gleicher, and Dr. Chris McNeil, a postdoctoral fellow at SCU’s Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship. This team is working with four Sacred Heart staff members researching how to expand collaboration between La Mesa Verde and the food pantry, while addressing broader questions about developing a food and racial justice approach to emergency food assistance, and turning food waste into compost to improve the harvests and self sufficiency of La Mesa Verde’s community gardeners.
Developing a Community Vision for Tuolumne River Parks
Iris Stewart-Frey and her students partnered with the Tuolumne River Trust (TRT) on a project to increase park access in underserved communities in and around the city of Modesto (San Joaquin Valley). The partners are also collaborating to help create a community vision for the development of the Carpenter Road parcel, a former industrial and landfill site along the Tuolumne River that will become part of a string of parks along the riverfront (the Tuolumne River Regional Park). The parks will provide more opportunities for interaction with the river and natural spaces, building community and physical activity among residents. Stewart-Frey and her students contributed a spatial analysis on the lack of park access for unincorporated and underserved neighborhoods, and on bike access. The SCU team and TRT also co-developed a survey and focus groups on community ideas for the new park. The resulting findings were presented to several community meetings and to local government representatives. Based on this input, the design and development of this park are moving forward, meeting both human and ecological needs through native plantings, natural recreational opportunities, as well as additional spawning habitat for endangered salmon. The work was funded by a California Environmental Protection Agency (CalEPA) Environmental Justice grant.
Resilience in Nicaraguan Farming Communities
The Initiative’s Chris Bacon and SCU economist Bill Sundstrom recently received a National Science Foundation grant for $285,722 to study how small-scale farmers and communities in Nicaragua can develop environmental and economic resilience. Nicaraguan farmers face droughts, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events exacerbated by climate change, crop diseases, food and agricultural price changes, COVID-19, and ongoing poverty. The research draws from Bacon’s long-term collaborative work on farmer livelihoods in Nicaragua and Latin America. The project focuses on assessing crop diversification as a strategy to mitigate risk and build resilience by decreasing dependence upon a single commodity, increasing incomes and farm biodiversity, and improving harvests. This participatory action research project works with cooperatives and farmers to assess the impacts of approaches to diversification on disaster risk, livelihood capabilities, food security, diet diversity, gender equity, water security, and food sovereignty. Undergraduate research assistants and community partners, including the Nicaraguan social development organization CII-ASDENIC, will participate in data collection, analysis, and writing.
Building Climate Resilience in Central America
The Initiative’s Iris Stewart-Frey and Ed Maurer, together with a colleague from the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies and undergraduate research assistant Kenny Joseph ('21), published an article on the recent evidence for warmer and drier growing seasons in climate sensitive regions of Central America in the International Journal of Climatology. Smallholder livelihoods throughout Central America are built on rain-fed agriculture and depend on seasonal variations in temperature and precipitation. Recent climatic shifts in this region are not well understood due to sparse observational data. This study sought to further knowledge using new satellite data and a deepened understanding of critical times for precipitation from a collaboration with community partner CII-Asdenic in Nicaragua. The study found that some of the most vulnerable regions have experienced declines during critical times of the growing seasons, highlighting areas where climate adaptation measures may be most urgent. Stewart-Frey and Maurer are now collaborating with CII-Asdenic and SCU’s Frugal Innovation Hub to develop, test, and evaluate the impact of an app that communicates locally-relevant climate and weather information in real time. This work is funded by SCU’s Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship and SCU’s Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Environmental and Climate Justice Law and Advocacy
In a tUrn week presentation, the Initiative’s Zsea Bowmani and SCU School of Law student Shelby Coyne discussed climate law cases that are making a difference in combating global warming, highlighting environmental injustices, and decelerating ecological collapse.
Worker Health and Safety in Electronics Production
The Initiative’s Chad Raphael joined the Design Team of the Clean Electronics Production Network (CEPN), a multi-stakeholder innovation network with a mission of moving toward zero exposure of workers to toxic chemicals in electronics manufacturing. CEPN members include technology suppliers, brands, labor and environmental advocates, governments, and other experts who work together to understand, address, and eliminate workers’ exposure to toxic chemicals in electronics production. Raphael’s contributions are informed by his and his students’ prior research with occupational safety and health advocates in electronics. He recently advised CEPN on its communications plan for the launch of its Toward Zero Exposure program, which supports electronics companies to assess the use of process chemicals, strengthen the culture of worker safety and engagement, reduce worker exposure to identified priority process chemicals, and replace them with safer alternatives within their own manufacturing processes, as well as ultimately reaching deeper into their supply chain.
Fighting for Clean Air in Stockton, CA
Residents of Stockton, in California’s Central Valley, endure polluted air that contributes to one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in the state. Iris Stewart-Frey’s students – Moni Adeyi, Meghan Adams, Autumn Inman, and Brianna Platt – researched sources of air pollution in Stockton in collaboration with community organizations Little Manila Rising, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Stockton, and Fathers and Families San Joaquin. The students helped to analyze air permits, identify and map the biggest emitters and pollutants, research and map health impacts, and create resources for residents about how they can protect themselves. The SCU students presented their research to the California Air Resources Board, along with students from Stanford and University of California, Berkeley. The presentations showed large air pollution emitters are disproportionately located near neighborhoods of color and low income, and that many industrial facilities continue to operate despite expired emission permits. Photo: Ken Lund. (Read about more student researchers).
A Three-Sisters Approach to Sustainability at SCU
SCU recently co-hosted the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). The Initiative’s Iris Stewart-Frey joined Cara Uy-Segal (Center for Sustainability) and Kristin Kusanovich (tUrn project) on a panel about SCU’s "three sisters" approach to climate justice and sustainability. The sisters are SCU’s sustainability strategic plan to transform campus operations and the curriculum, the tUrn Climate Crisis Awareness & Action weeks of programming, and our Initiative’s focus on fostering community-engaged research for environmental justice.
Connecting Collective Actions for Food Justice
The Initiative’s Chris Bacon and Lauren Ornelas of San Jose's Food Empowerment Project (FEP) discussed how activists and academics engage with ethics, rights, sustainability, culture, and plant-based diets as food systems change during the climate crisis. Ornelas presented the FEP’s many community programs, from farmworker and food justice to grocery store campaigns with a special focus on vegan diets and chocolate. Bacon mentioned how SCU campus researchers have analyzed student food security and the food system’s contributions to global warming, and both speakers examined the ways that social and environmental justice intermingle. The discussion also addressed how to act and organize to access more culturally-relevant food offerings and environmental justice outcomes in schools, communities, and beyond.
The Water Project
The Initiative’s Iris Stewart-Frey and Ed Maurer contributed to The Water Project, which premiered in Mayer Theatre on October 1-3, 2021. Integrating dance, choral music, storytelling, scientific analysis, animation, the performance called on audiences to take personal and civic action on water issues. This performance culminated over three years of collaboration between SCU artist faculty: David Popalisky (Theatre & Dance), Scot Hanna-Weir (Music), Kathy Aoki (Art & Art History), Derek Duarte (Theatre & Dance), Jeff Bracco (Theatre & Dance), Barbara Murray (Theatre & Dance) and Jerry Enos (Theatre & Dance).
Stewart-Frey and Maurer served as scientific consultants and presented an accompanying talk, "Water Justice in the 21st Century - Near and Far.” Over 427 people saw the live performance and approximately 300 more have since watched the live stream.
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