Photo courtesy of David Pellow
Communications office student writer Marcela Rondon ’27 attended the Morris lecture and a reception with climate theorist David Pellow on April 4. Here are some observations she shares.

Recently, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by leading climate justice theorist David Pellow, a highly renowned figure in environmental studies and environmental justice. Pellow chairs the Environmental Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and directs the Global Environmental Justice Project. His work has an interdisciplinary scope, focused on climate justice, minority and environmental conflict, sustainability, and social change movements. 

Pellow’s passion project, the Global Environmental Justice Project, was founded in collaboration with students at UCSB to encourage efforts at the university level that promote environmental justice communication and education. That led him to publish various books discussing the theory of environmental justice and its intertwining with race, class, and gender. 

Pellow came to Hamilton as the Morris Fellow, where he spoke on environmental justice and the implementation of these actions. He also visited some classrooms, including Professor of Government Peter Cannavò’s environmental politics class, and attended a reception with students and faculty. Below are a few key takeaways I gained from his insightful lecture. 

Environmental justice is intersectional 

Throughout my academic career, I have often heard discussions about the need for environmental justice, yet there is a lack of discussion regarding how this is an inherently intersectional issue. During his talk, Pellow emphasized that there are “multiple categories of difference” entangled with environmental justice. 

Ultimately, Pellow’s message was that in order for there to be climate justice, there must be an understanding of differences among populations, particularly of those most vulnerable to the climate crisis. Thus, much of his work currently is aimed at working toward education on college campuses on the intersectional nature of the climate crisis and leading grassroots efforts to connect with environmental justice groups. 

Mutual aid is a tactic to address environmental justice 

Toward the end of the talk, Pellow shifted the conversation from the intersectionality of the environmental justice movement to focusing on how environmental injustice is an act of warfare. He defined this act of warfare as “direct assaults by the state on entire communities,” using examples such as prisoners in Lima, Peru, being denied COVID-19 exams at the height of the pandemic, as well as prisoners in Flint, Mich., being denied access to clean water. 

Thus, as Pellow argued, to combat environmental injustice, we must embrace mutual aid as an act of love and defiance. One of the central themes of Pellow’s talk was the need to form relationships and nurture support among communities to combat issues of environmental injustice. He explained that one of the best places to nurture this sense of community is on college campuses, including Hamilton’s. 

Hearing his statement on the emphasis of community building to combat environmental injustice left me feeling inspired and reminded me of a few efforts undertaken by the College to promote environmental justice, such as Alternative Spring Break service trips, among others. 

After the speech, I was left with a sense of hopefulness as to how to combat the delicate aspect of climate change that is environmental justice. While there is a popular “doom and gloom” rhetoric, Pellow’s lecture reminded the Hamilton community that together we can create change and provide environmental justice for all.

The Robert S. Morris Class of 1976 Visiting Fellowship provides support to bring a preeminent scholar in the field of math or science to Hamilton. The Morris Fellow affords emerging topic expertise intended to complement Hamilton's academic offerings. The fund was established in 2013 by Charter Trustee Robert Morris, Class of 1976 and father of Elizabeth ’16 and Robert ’17.

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