Coming Together on Climate Solutions: NC BREATHE 2022

Last week CleanAIRE NC hosted the 2022 NC BREATHE Conference at Catawba College, Salisbury NC. The Conference brought together a diverse group of North Carolina stakeholders and national leaders to examine how the climate crisis impacts health and equity in our state, and how we can all work together to build solutions.

Conference attendees had the opportunity to network with other advocates, community leaders, health professionals, researchers, and policymakers, exchanging ideas and lessons learned from the fight against climate change.

Four interactive panel discussions allowed attendees to hear from and pose questions to community advocates and leading voices in the fields of health, science, policy, and environmental justice. The panel discussions explored climate impacts on frontline communities, cutting-edge tools that can help the public collect environmental health data, partnerships between communities and researchers that can develop climate resilience across the Carolinas, and the strategies and lessons learned of the next generation of climate leaders.

Our Keynote Speakers were Richard Moore and Sacoby Wilson, both nationally recognized environmental justice leaders who have spent decades advocating for policies that promote health equity.

“Systemic racism is the issue; environmental and economic justice is the goal,” began Richard Moore, setting the tone for both his speech and the Conference as a whole. As Co-Coordinator of Los Jardines Institute and the Co-Chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council, Mr. Moore is all too familiar with this struggle.

In his keynote address he repeatedly stressed the importance of people from all backgrounds coming together and collaborating on environmental justice. This is an on-going conversation, as Mr. Moore pointed out, that communities of color have helped define and must play a central role in: “You cannot discuss environmental justice without discussing economic justice and health. We cannot silo out climate change and global warming. We live in a real world.”

Dr. Sacoby Wilson is a Professor with at University of Maryland, College Park where he also directs the Center for Community Engagement, Environmental Justice and Health (CEEJH).

Dr. Wilson explored how technology (particularly mapping tools) can be used to help engage communities of concern in projects tackling the drivers of environmental and climate injustices. For example, with these tools we can locate major emission sources and see how air quality differs across different neighborhoods. We can then overlay public health data to understand where poor air quality may have the greatest impact, or to identify where air pollution may drive future health problems. By visualizing the geography of these problems we can help mitigate, prevent, and reduce impacts associated with environmental and climate injustices.

The Conference also featured research posters from students working in environmental justice, health disparities, climate change, and related public policy topics. During breaks, attendees had a chance to talk with the student authors one-on-one and ask them questions about their research. Three students were selected to give short lightning talk presentations about their projects. To view the student posters and abstracts that were presented at the Conference, click here.

At the end of the Conference, all Catawba College students in attendance were invited on stage to share their perspectives on the fight for our planet, and their future in it. Students described their experiences and frustrations, their fears and their hopes, and most of all their belief that the only solution to the climate crisis is all of us moving forward together.

In their wonderful remarks, these students hit upon perhaps the biggest takeaway theme from NC BREATHE 2022: the need for greater collaboration on solutions to climate change and racial inequity. NC State University student Issac Smith summed it up best: “This is why we’re here. This is a very large fight that no person, no organization, can solve by themselves.”

Thank you to everyone who made NC BREATHE 2022 such a huge success! We’re so grateful to all our wonderful speakers, panelists, organizers, sponsors, and everyone who joined us last week, both virtually and in Salisbury.

We’re proud to have you all as partners in the push for health equity and climate justice in NC.

A Special Thanks to Our Sponsors