Climate Change in Boston: Social Determinants, Equity & Action

In April, as part of an alternative and virtual spring break initiative, the PKG Center hosted an event called “Climate Change in Boston: Social Determinants, Equity & Action.”

The event included a Climate Interactive Simulation that considers the social determinants of climate change, equity, and action options. Curt Newton, Director of MIT OpenCourseWare, facilitated this simulation using the En-ROADS tool. Following the simulation, we met with Zoe Davis, Climate Resilience Coordinator with the City of Boston Environment Department. Davis spoke about the Climate Ready Boston project, which considers who is most vulnerable to Climate Change in Boston, and shared about local organizations working toward equity and effective community preparation.

Susy Jones, Senior Project Manager at the MIT Office of Sustainability, spoke about internal initiatives within the university to mitigate climate change while also prioritizing equity. She also touched upon how MIT coordinates with the local communities in the cities of Boston and Cambridge to accomplish this goal.

Student and community advocacy was also a central topic to this discussion. Michael Harvey, MIT Lecturer for Energy and Climate Innovation with the MIT Sloan Sustainability Initiative and Principal Investigator of the Cities and Climate Change Program, talked about the power of environmental advocacy. Harvey emphasized that the first Earth Day was made possible in 1970 because college students organized across the country to make it happen. His message to the audience was to never underestimate the power of a group of people organizing for climate justice.

Lastly, two current students shared their experiences learning about climate change mitigation strategies through their coursework, as well as their work on climate justice outside the classroom. Asia Hypsher, an MIT senior studying Chemical Engineering with a minor in French and Francophone Studies, spoke about her involvement in sustainability efforts through research projects, coursework, and her role as a Student Fellow in the MIT Office of Sustainability. While she praised MIT’s strong focus on climate solutions, Hypsher also noted that much of the research lacks a focus on equity and challenged the MIT community to place greater priority on ethics and equity in climate-focused research.

Kiara Wahnschafft, MIT junior double-majoring in Economics and Mechanical Engineering, talked about her involvement in the Environmental Solutions Initiative’s Rapid Response Group, a task force under MIT’s Undergraduate Association that has made recommendations to the Institute based on student body feedback. Through this work, Wahnschafft has found that when it comes to internships or job opportunities after MIT, students feel as though they need to choose between roles that are socially impactful and roles that will be financially sustainable. Wahnschafft thus has recommended not only expanding the types of opportunities offered to MIT students to include more organizations focused on social impact, but also to encourage a culture in which students who opt for the more financially profitable options are committed to including climate equity in their role.

You can view the recording of the event here to dig deeper into this topic:

This event was part of a series with Journeys Toward Justice, a multi-college collaboration spotlighting changemakers across the country who are driving justice and equity forward. The goal is to connect students, partners, and communities with one another and help us all understand the local and historical contexts of universal social justice issues and the work communities are doing. This series of immersive events took place during March and April of 2021 and offered the chance to learn and engage around social issues near and far. You can click here to see the full schedule of events that were offered across schools.

Tags: Anti-Racism, Climate, Climate Change, Spring Break

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