Environmental Justice in Charlotte: A Webinar Series

Home to over 800,000 people, Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina and the 14th largest city in the United States, yet ranks last place out of the 50 largest U.S. cities in terms of economic mobility for its residents. Charlotte is a vibrant and diverse “New South” city, but with underlying, less-visible histories of economic and racial inequality forged at the intersections of segregation and policing, extractive industry, and environmental precarity. Sewage spills in Sugar Creek lower the quality of life for residents of the neighborhood and for the creatures that use the creek to sustain life. Air pollution among neighborhoods divided by redlining, freeway construction, and “urban redevelopment,” coal ash, and oil spills in suburbs of Charlotte such as Lake Norman, Huntersville, and Mooresville, have caused cancer clusters and health issues for the residents of these areas. The Huntersville Colonial Pipeline spill in 2020 is called the largest in the nation. These environmental hazards lower the quality of life for all residents, but there are especially harsh and disparate impacts on the poor and communities of color.

Despite these facts, if you were to mention Charlotte to someone they would likely only think of its towering uptown skyscrapers, craft beer and lively nightlife, and booming banking industry — not of ongoing environmental injustices. Even fewer would recognize Charlotte as a significant location in the creation of the environmental justice movement. The term “environmental racism” was first coined by a UNC Charlotte alumnus named Benjamin Chavis in 1982. In 1987, Chavis also published a groundbreaking report in partnership with the United Church of Christ’s Commission for Racial Justice, “Toxic Wastes and Race in the United States,” which found that three out of five Black and Hispanic Americans lived in a community that posed a significant risk to human health and life according to EPA standards. Another notable UNC Charlotte alumnus, Thomas James “T. J.” Reddy, used art to draw attention to the unjust gentrification of Charlotte’s historic Brooklyn neighborhood — a self-sustainable, predominantly Black community that thrived before falling victim to the city’s urban renewal plans in the 1970s.

Why, then, do so many people seem unaware of, or perhaps uninterested in, environmental justice in Charlotte? It could be many reasons. Maybe some simply don’t know. Maybe those who do know aren’t sure where to begin to take action. Maybe scholars like myself aren’t presenting our research in the most accessible, digestible way. All of these issues are what I intend to tackle in an upcoming project: “Environmental Justice in Charlotte: Study and Practice.” This webinar series will bring together students, scholars, and activists to discuss the history of environmental justice in Charlotte, strategies for organizing, and methods for ethically teaching about the topic. By the end of the series, I hope that both participants and viewers will have made connections, learned about their city, and become motivated to do the necessary work to combat injustice.

Defining Environmental Justice

Local activists discuss how they define the term “environmental justice” and what it looks like for Charlotte, North Carolina.

Love Canal versus Warren County

UNC Charlotte professor and environmental activist Dr. Tina Katsanos shares a story about racial inequality during environmental protests in Warren County, NC, and Love Canal, NY, in the 1980s.

Language & Community (Part 1)

Eboné Lockett, founder and CEO of Harvesting Humanity, discusses the importance of using language that is familiar to the community when discussing environmental justice.

Language & Community (Part 2)

Sunrise CLT co-coordinator, Hannah Stephens, discusses the newness of environmental justice as a topic in Charlotte and how so many people, even local government officials, are unfamiliar with the term. Dr. Tina Katsanos and Eboné Lockett comment on how to raise community awareness

“A Big City With A Small Town Feel”

Sunrise CLT co-coordinator Jessica Finkel discusses how Charlotte is great at sweeping certain people and issues under the rug until local officials are forced to reckon with it. She also touches on some of the work that Sunrise does to bring those issues to light.

How We Educate in the Classroom

UNC Charlotte professors, Dr. Tina Katsanos and Dr. Tina Shull, share strategies for how they teach about climate change and environmental justice, including emphasizing care and motivating students to take action.

How We Educate in the Community (Part 1)

Harvesting Humanity founder and CEO, Eboné Lockett, shares how her organization prioritizes educating the general public and merging academic knowledge with public knowledge to motivate action.

How We Educate in the Community (Part 2)

Sunrise CLT co-coordinator, Jessica Finkel, shares how her organization utilizes its diverse membership age to encourage voter registration and education.

Dealing with Climate Anxiety (Part 1)

Sunrise CLT co-coordinator, Hannah Stephens, discusses the importance of community in dealing with climate anxiety and shares how her Sunrise community has helped her.

Dealing with Climate Anxiety (Part 2)

Harvesting Humanity founder and CEO, Eboné Lockett, discusses how sometimes the best antidote for climate anxiety is taking action. She shares how her organization activates in Charlotte.

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