by Rachel McIntosh-Kastrinsky
The fifth annual NC BREATHE Conference was held on April 11, 2019 at Cape Fear Community College in Wilmington, North Carolina. This year’s conference focused on environmental justice challenges in North Carolina, the birthplace of the environmental justice movement. Sponsored by Clean Air Carolina, Medical Advocates for Healthy Air, Fred and Alice Stanback, the Orton Foundation, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the conference brought together health professionals, researchers, community leaders, policymakers, students, and clean air advocates to discuss environmental justice challenges in the state and to develop community-oriented environmental justice solutions.
The conference opened with a series of keynotes that took an in-depth look at three key environmental justice challenges facing North Carolina: the health impacts of living near hog farms; the vulnerability of North Carolina to climate change; and the implications of GenX as an emerging contaminant. Afternoon breakout sessions examined the potential for citizen science, science communication, and data to address environmental injustice.
We recently released our post-conference report highlighting the underlying themes and recommendations that arose from the conference proceedings and participant discussions, including:
Working with communities: Environmental justice researchers must collaborate with and solicit input from impacted communities to ensure their work is solutions-oriented and designed with the best interests of the community in mind.
- Communicating science and data: Scientists must improve how they communicate their research to non-scientific audiences in order to inspire environmental justice solutions.
- Valuing quality-of-life: Everyday quality-of-life outcomes significantly impact community livelihoods and wellbeing and deserve to be taken seriously. Mortality cannot be the only indicator that an environmental justice problem requires action.
- Preparing for disparate climate change impacts: Climate change will exacerbate the health, social, and economic disparities in communities that already face poorer outcomes. When preparing for climate change impacts, policymakers must focus on safeguarding the most vulnerable populations through a lens of equity and environmental justice.
All of these recommendations relate to one another and are broadly applicable to environmental justice challenges faced in both North Carolina and around the country. Researchers, policymakers, and communities should develop strategies that holistically implement these recommendations in pursuit of environmental equity and community health. Building on these recommendations, the 2020 NC BREATHE Conference will focus on the theme of “Health, Equity and the Climate Crisis in North Carolina.”