A changing climate in a changing world

ECCE speaker brings fresh perspective on climate issues

Dr. Kyle Powys Whyte, the Timnick Humanities Chair at Michigan State University’s department of philosophy, kicked off UIS Earth Week by giving a lecture on April 20 on the importance of recognizing the impact of climate change around the world.

Whyte, drawing upon his experience as an active member of the American Indian community, shared his unique viewpoint with the audience.

Whyte sought to demonstrate the importance of climate justice, as well as food justice, by equating the two. According to the Speaker Series website, “Globally, food justice movements are becoming increasingly connected to climate justice movements given how climate change will affect the food system.”

Dr. Megan Styles, an assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Studies, said, “I think that his talk did a lot to help us understand why food justice and climate justice advocacy area the same thing and I think he made some really thoughtful points about the central role that food plays in helping us understand what the impacts of climate change are really going to be.”

A major point behind this thinking is that the effects of climate change are inequitably distributed. As Whyte pointed out, populations that are already starving will feel the effects of climate change much more than those in affluent areas.

Whyte also connected his heritage and experience as a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. Whyte spoke about how the Trail of Tears was essentially forced, rapid climate change upon the moved parties.

This illustrated the importance of a consistent climate to tribal populations; information passed down through generations becomes useless when it is no longer applicable. Despite this, Whyte argues, the tribal populations have been able to adapt, and even become better at dealing with change.

Whyte said, “In terms of climate change and conservation, tribes take tremendous leadership. Indigenous people are major movers and shakers in the world of environmental advocacy.”

According to the United States Department of the Interior, “Tribal communities are especially vulnerable to climate change because they are place-based and depend on natural resources, such as salmon, shellfish, game, timber, and rangelands, to sustain their economies and traditional way of life.”

An example of this given was the move of the Potawatomi from the north down to Oklahoma in the 19th century. As Whyte stated, the Potawatomi people were forced to adapt to a completely new climate, including new wildlife and plants, both of which are vital to the native way of life.

As another Earth Week event, the UIS Committee on Sustainability hosted a drive to help people get rid of e-waste. The drive collected over 750 pounds of waste, including nine desktop computers and eight printers.

“We’re really excited about the e-waste recycling,” said Styles, who was excited for people to “bring all these toxic e-waste materials that we can keep out of the landfills.”

The Committee on Sustainability, which is a part of the Campus Senate, is said to “[Encompass] teaching, research, and practice in a variety of areas including but not limited to policy development, building design and construction, waste management and recycling, energy production and use, water use, and transportation.”

The committee is only one portion of a number of sustainability initiatives on campus.

Overall, Styles enjoyed the talk. “We were really pleased to have him here and I thought he made important points and took my understanding of climate change, and our discussion of climate change, in a different direction in terms of being able to think about concrete examples,” she said.