Ethics Center hosts discussion on climate change, environmental issues

The downtown Fresno skyline with heavy haze in 2014. The Fresno State Ethics Center invited panelists to discuss questions regarding environmental issues in Fresno and throughout the Central Valley. (Craig Kohlruss/Fresno Bee/MCT)

The Dialogue on Climate Change panel, hosted by the Fresno State Ethics Center, discussed environmental problems faced by youth in the Central Valley and awareness efforts in a virtual webinar Tuesday, Oct. 26.

Feng Teter, a member of Fresno State’s student-led Sustainability Task Force and a master’s student in geology, said the panel focused on bringing a diverse group of youth voices to address the impacts of climate change in the valley.

“I served as a voice for Fresno State students. I think these conversations are extremely important because marginalized communities are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change,” Teter said.

As part of the Ethics Center’s Lecture Series for fall 2021, the center worked in collaboration with the Civic Education Center in Fresno to offer a youth perspective on the climate issues impacting their generation and communities.

In particular, panelists addressed issues for the disproportionately affected areas in Fresno, and the environmental impacts tied to the health of community members. 

Panelist Kamryn Kubose, an associate at the California Product Stewardship Council, said she is developing a new nonprofit, Central Valley Young Environmental Advocates, to educate and help youth environmental activists.

In her time as a part of AmeriCorps and working with the Fresno State Office of Community and Economic Development, Kubose said she wrote a report looking at the urban design of Fresno.

Kubose found that lower-income areas had fewer parks, in turn not offering green spaces in many areas in the city. Particularly in West Fresno, Kubose noted that prevalent dumpsites directly impacted the wellness of people living in those areas.

“They experience a lot of water pollution and illness,” Kubose said. “So again, kind of tying in environmental justice, not to mention the actual geography of the Central Valley. We trap in all of [the] bad air.”

Mona Cummings, CEO of Tree Fresno, an initiative working to bring more trees and green space to the Central Valley, said having tree cover in urban areas improves the health of communities and also works toward combating atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases.

Tree Fresno works to improve tree equity in the city of Fresno, which Cummings said has been impacted by redlining practices throughout the country.

“But a map of tree cover in America’s cities is too often also a map of income and race. This is due in part to redlining, which is a discriminatory practice commonplace from the 1930s to about 1968 where banks [and] insurance companies would refuse or limit loans, mortgages, insurance, et cetera with specific geographic areas, especially to inner-city neighborhoods,” Cummings said. “And this legacy exists today. So, in these communities, you see less trees, less investment.”

Destiny Rodriguez, regional community relations manager for the climate center and Fresno State alum, noted that environmental impacts can be seen at every level in Fresno, and that climate action needs to be made.

“And I’m sure most people here in the Central Valley are pretty aware that our weather has been changing,” Rodriguez said. “We have been experiencing a lot of microclimates, where one area of Fresno will have rain, another may not. One area could be inundated with, you know, high winds. Another, maybe a little bit, has higher temperatures, and a lot of it has to do with things that are going on on a global level, and this trickles down to a local level.” 

Particularly at Fresno State, Teter said that efforts such as the student-led Sustainability Task Force and the sustainability club help students take the first step and get involved in improving sustainability on campus.

After the task force’s establishment in fall 2019, it worked to obtain Fresno State’s first Strategic Energy Innovations (SEI) intern in 2020 and eight California Climate Action Corps interns in 2021. Teter said these interns worked on projects for departments across campus including the campus farm, career center and facilities management.

Other projects include implementing blue recycling bins at the university and the installation of water refill stations throughout campus.

Teter said conversations on environmental issues are important to be aware of as students, as they impact all areas of the community.

“These communities, historically low-income or communities of color, disproportionately

suffer from the unequal distribution of environmental burdens including air pollution, polluted

water, less greenery and various health risks,” Teter said. “This comes from numerous decades of discriminatory environmental and housing policies.”

For students who want to become involved in sustainability efforts at Fresno State, Teter said they can start off by joining a club such as the Sustainability Club.

“Always think about the people who are most vulnerable to sustainability problems. And most of

all, be patient and take care of yourself… Progress takes time so don’t let yourself feel overwhelmed by how slow things move at times,” Teter said.

Civic Education Center founder John Minkler, who helped provide the idea behind the panel’s topic, said students can start by looking at other youth organizations in the valley that also care about an issue they are interested in.

“And, you know, get involved, go to meetings, find out more about it, volunteer,” Minkler said. “And so that’s what we’re trying to do, is make sure that young people who do feel called to do something can find a place where they can get engaged.”

Minkler said the Civic Education Center will continue to update a resource page on their website where students can find information on all the organizations and resources mentioned in the panel.

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