What Climate and Environmental Justice Looks Like

POCACITO’s 2023 Transatlantic Forum for Climate and Environmental Justice, held at Georgetown University.

More and more, justice is recognized as an essential pillar for meaningful, sustainable approaches to confronting the climate crisis and challenging the status quo of environmental inequities. Leading government agencies such as Germany’s Umweltbundesamt (UBA) and the US’s EPA are integrating precepts and practices central to environmental justice in their own processes of decision-making and administration, and references to the language of justice in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals parallel increasing research interest in the correlation between health and wellness outcomes and access to blue and green spaces. Such steps are a good start toward acknowledging both the historical roots and present-day realities of communities disproportionately affected by the consequences of decades of inadequate environmental and climate policies, offering a sense, or even the promise, of progress.

In truth, these promises, however formulated, are not just indicative of potential future advances toward shared goals; they are the result of generations of committed individuals and organizations in the environmental and climate justice movement working to create new ways of engaging with and being together in the world. Foregrounding that work and forging new opportunities for collaboration were the principal objectives of the 2023 Transatlantic Forum for Environmental and Climate Justice.

Held at Georgetown University October 27, the all-day, hybrid event brought together organizers, activists, academics, and policy experts based in Germany and the United States, including

  • Sharon Lavigne, Rise St. James
  • Jacqui Patterson, The Chisholm Legacy Project
  • Analyah Schlaeger dos Santos, youth EJ organizer, mentor, educator + international relations liaison
  • Diandra Esparza, intersectional environmentalist
  • Gülcan Nitsch, Yesil Cember, Turkish-German environment group
  • Jakob Blasel, Fridays for Future Germany
  • Joel Agnigbo, Climate Justice in West Africa Now!
  • Judith Neumann, German Embassy in Washington DC
  • Julia Teebken, Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich
  • Katrin Sieg, CGES, Georgetown University
  • Nicole Horseherder (Diné), Tó Nizhóní Ání (TNA)
  • Shaina Oliver, advocate for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights and filed organizer, Moms Clean Air Force
  • Tobias März, The Last Generation, Germany
  • Vernon Walker, Climate Justice Program Director, Clean Water Action MA
  • Zanagee Artis, This Is Zero Hour.

Across a series of conversations seeking to center justice in climate and environmental contexts – namely, the transition to renewable energy, organizing at the grassroots level, and navigating local-global antagonisms – participants drew on a wealth of experiences to reimagine what progress on environmental justice looks like and consider what work is needed to get there.

Videos of the forum conversations are available on POCACITO’s YouTube page and featured presentations can be accessed here. Below you will find biographical information about (most of) our speakers and a link to learn more about their work.

The 2023 Transatlantic Forum for Environmental and Climate Justice is an initiative of POCACITO in partnership with Georgetown University’s BMW Center for German and European Studies and supported by the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Washington. This was the second iteration of the forum hosted by POCACITO. The first event happened in 2021, exclusively online, during the height of a global health pandemic. A third conference is slated to take place in the fall of 2024. Contact us to sign up for our newsletter or join us on social media (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram) to find out about dates and programming.

We would like to thank all of the speakers, attendees, and partners who made this forum possible. We continue to be inspired by their work and look forward to hearing more from them, and you, soon.

Jacqui Patterson

Jacqueline Patterson, MSW, MPH, is the Founder and Executive Director of The Chisholm Legacy Project: A Resource Hub for Black Frontline Climate Justice Leadership. She has worked on gender justice, racial justice, economic justice, and environmental justice, with organizations including Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, IMA World Health, United for a Fair Economy, ActionAid, Health GAP, and the organization she co-founded, Women of Color United. Before founding the Chisholm Legacy Project, Patterson served for 11 years as the Senior Director of Environmental and Climate Justice at the NAACP. She serves on the Boards of Directors for the Institute of the Black World, the American Society of Adaptation Professionals, National Black Workers Center Project, Bill Anderson Fund and the Advisory Boards for the Center for Earth Ethics and the Hive Fund.

Shaina Oliver

Shaina Oliver, Indigenous Peoples Rights Advocate and Community Organizer. Tribal affiliate of the Navajo Nation working on environmental justice and climate action for all communities. Advocating for Tribal inclusion and community voices to be heard and represented.

Shaina Oliver, a tribal member of the Navajo Nation from Shiprock, New Mexico, is an advocate for Indigenous Peoples’ Rights. In 2015, after the EPA’s toxic mine spill affecting the Animas and San Juan Rivers, which supply water to the Navajo Nation, Shaina became more aware that the environmental disasters that happen in Colorado—where she now lives with her husband and four boys—also impact her tribe’s well-being and future. Shaina began to feel her responsibility to do her part as a mother, aunt, sister, descendant, and survivor of genocide.

Living in northeast Denver, Shaina is just south of the Suncor refinery. Sometimes she and her family can’t step outside for a breath of fresh air. On very cold days, her asthma flares, and she must be cautious and stay indoors. She worries about her youngest son, who has more allergies than his older brothers—allergies that may be asthma-related. Testifying with Moms Clean Air Force at EPA hearings and in support of environmental bills at the US Capitol is one important way Shaina lives up to her responsibility to protect all living beings and secure a future for all children. Shaina’s advocacy has been featured in ABC News, Colorado Public Radio, the Colorado Sun, Indian Country Times, and the Denver Post.

Jakob Blasel is 23 years old and a climate activist. In 2018, he organized protests under the slogan “Fridays for Future” in Kiel for the first time. At the height of the protests, more than 1.4 million people took to the streets in Germany alone. To this day, the climate movement regularly mobilizes hundreds of thousands.

Jakob is one of the best-known faces of Fridays for Future and has represented the movement in interviews and talk shows in the past. In 2020, he announced his candidacy for the Bundestag to give young people a voice in parliament. He narrowly missed entry via the state list of the Green Party. But his commitment to climate protection on the streets and in public continues. Jakob is studying law and sustainability at Leuphana University Lüneburg.

Gülcan Nitsch

Born in Berlin as a child of Turkish immigrants, she became interested in the wonderful details of the plant and animal world and participated in numerous nature excursions (including Australia). During her biology studies and professional life in science and civil society, she worked for many years as a volunteer in environmental protection (including Greenpeace, BUNDjugend). In doing so, she noticed that these organizations did not reach a large and important minority in Germany at all: Migrants. To change this, she founded Yeşil Çember, the first Turkish-speaking environmental group in Germany (2007-2012 as a working group in BUND Berlin and since 2012 a non-profit GmbH).

Analyah Schlaeger dos Santos is a young Afro Brazilian-American woman born and raised in North Minneapolis, Minnesota. After living in Atlanta, Georgia, she moved back to Minneapolis in 2015 to study Global Relations and Environmental Justice at the University of Minnesota and the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs. Analyah created and directs Youth N’Power (@youthnpower on Instagram), a year-round apprenticeship-modeled program that trains young people on Community Organizing through the lens of Environmental Justice, since 2019. She is extremely passionate about expanding access to all forms of education; healing and building relations both hyper-locally and globally; and re-defining power as we know it. For the next few years, she is excited to actualize building a global beloved community that centers Environmental wellness, and continuing to write JOY and LOVE into everything she does. She is currently the International Campaign lead at MN Interfaith Power & Light, and serves on the board of multiple local organizations.

Vernon Walker

Reverend Vernon K. Walker is the current Climate Justice Director at Clean Water Action. Prior to that he was the Program Director at the Communities Responding to Extreme Weather (CREW) program. He is a current master of public policy candidate at Tufts University.

Reverend Vernon K. Walker has over a decade of social justice organizing experience in the Boston area with a focus on the intersections of racial and climate justice. Originally born and raised in Philadelphia, Rev. Walker attended Penn State University for college where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in Organizational Leadership and a minor in Psychology. After graduating from Penn State University, Rev. Walker attended Boston University and earned a Master Degree in Theological Studies (M.T.S) with a focus on community engagement.

Rev. Walker is a Senior Fellow at the Environmental Leadership Program and Senior Fellow at Tufts University Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life through the Institute for Nonprofit Practice. Rev. Walker is a Senior Fellow at the University of Massachusetts, Boston campus Center for Collaborative Leadership.

Rev. Walker currently is a graduate student at Tufts University pursuing a Master’s in Public Policy degree with a focus on environmental justice. He is a 2022 Neighborhood Fellow.

Julia Teebken

Dr. Julia Teebken is a political scientist comparatively researching inequality in the context of climate change adaptation and how societies and governments (do not) adapt across different political systems (China, EU, Germany, United States). Aside from researching dominant nature-society relations and political-economic processes, some of which co-create. maintain, or deteriorate vulnerability risk, she is working on social scientific adaptation responses and critical policy analysis. She is a current Postdoc at the research and teaching unit human-environment relations, at the Department of Geography at Ludwig Maximilian University, Munich, Germany.

Katrin Sieg

Professor Sieg is Professor of German jointly affiliated with the BMW Center for German and European Studies and the German department. She holds a Ph.D. in Drama from the University of Washington, Seattle, and taught at UC San Diego and Indiana University, Bloomington, before joining Georgetown University in 2002. Her research focuses on German and European culture, postcolonial and critical race studies, and feminist studies. The author of three scholarly monographs on German and European theater, performance, and cinema, she has received several awards and grants, among them a Humboldt Fellowship, and two awards for her second book, Ethnic Drag: Performing Race, Nation, Sexuality in West Germany(2002). A fourth book, on representations of the colonial past in German museums, is currently under review. In addition, she has written about postmigrant theater and Afro German culture. From 2009-2012, she was a member of an international, interdisciplinary research group examining the Eurovision Song Contest as a site where the “New Europe” is imagined and performed, and becomes available for identification and refashioning. She has organized a number of symposia, film series, and conferences on topics relating to contemporary German and European culture, including “Queer European Cinema”; “Shadows and Sojourners: Images of Jews and Antifascism in East German Cinema,” “Performing Race in the Transatlantic World,” and Decolonizing the Museum: Transnational Comparisons” scheduled for November 2018. Professor Sieg teaches the MAGES core course on Theorizing Culture, and courses on GDR cinema, colonial/postcolonial German culture, and popular culture and media studies. For several years, she served as Field Chair of the Culture and Politics program.

Sharon Lavigne

President, Rise St. James; Retired Special Education Teacher; 2021 Goldman Prize Recipient; Forbes Magazine 50 Over 50 Inaugural Impact List.

The fight to stop Formosa Plastics from building a mega-polluting petrochemical plant in St. James Parish, Louisiana is moving to the White House. After a lot of hard work — through the leadership of RISE St. James, the power of the people, and robust legal opposition — construction has been delayed. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended the project’s federal permit and is now reevaluating it. Any meaningful analysis will make it clear that the permit should be revoked entirely. The plant would pollute a predominantly Black community, disturb unmarked burial sites of formerly enslaved people, degrade wetlands, and deepen the plastic pollution crisis. As the President of the United States and the Commander in Chief, President Biden can direct the Army Corps to revoke the federal permits. If President Biden is committed to his campaign promises of prioritizing environmental justice and fighting the climate crisis – stopping this project must be a top priority. Urge President Biden to stay true to his commitment to environmental justice and revoke Formosa Plastics’ permits today.

Please sign the petition: https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/president-biden-stop-formosa-plastics


Joel Agnigbo

Joel Agnigbo was born in Togo in West Africa. He grew up in several African countries before joining Paris and After Siegen to continue universities. He holds a master degree in International Cultural and Historical Studies. His interest in environmental issues started when he was a student at the Université de Lomé in Togo. He created with other fellows the movement called: Jeune Volontaire pour l’environement. After leaving university he has been working since 8 years in a governmental organization toward sustainability in Bonn, Germany. He created in 2018 the association Climate Justice in West Africa Now! In the framework of this association, he organizes with other members meetings with small-scale farmers in Togo, Ghana and Benin to hear their struggles related to climate change. The association wants to fight climate injustice and act on concrete solutions to help farmers to manage the consequences of climate change on their farms. The association also collaborates with international structures and platforms to make an effective alliance for better Climate Justice for all.

Diandra Esparza

Diandra Marizet Esparza (she/her) is an organizational development strategist, published writer, poet and speaker who co-founded and currently leads Intersectional Environmentalist – one of the fastest growing Environmental Justice Platforms that has become a leading resource for content and programs that explore environment, culture and identity. Diandra recognizes culture as an expression of our relationship to land, and her work advocates for the accessibility of diverse stories for rising generations. Diandra is a contributing writer in the academically adopted book ‘The Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet’ and has been honored as a 2021 Renaissance Awards Awardee, Green Carpet Fashion Award Honoree and is currently based in Los Angeles, CA.

Nicole Horseherder

Nicole Horseherder, Diné, is from the Black Mesa region of the Navajo Nation. Nicole is one of the original founding members of Tó Nizhóní Ání and has been an active member since its establishment. Nicole is a graduate of the University of Arizona with a Bachelors in Family and Consumer Resources. Nicole received her Master of Arts in Linguistics from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. Canada. Nicole began her work with Tó Nizhóní Ání as an outreach coordinator and interpreting hydrology and legal documents for Diné communities fighting coal-mine impacts. Today Nicole is leading efforts towards transition away from fossil fuel development in the Navajo Nation. Outside of Tó Nizhóní Ání, Nicole enjoys her time with family, horses, ceremonies, and traveling.

Tobias März

Tobias März is an international consultant for solar energy, speaker at the Last Generation and gives lectures on how to deal with the climate crisis. For more than 20 years, he has been campaigning for solutions to climate change and global poverty, traveling professionally to countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan. After 10 years as a consultant, he gave up his laid-back white-collar existence to more directly shape the world. As a climate activist (Last Generation), community founder and speaker. Tobias is founder of Wir und die Welt e.V. (projects in Bangladesh) and co-founder of the housing project Bergfritzenhof near Freiburg. www.tobiasmaerz.de

Judith Neumann

Dr. Judith Neumann has been serving as First Secretary at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Washington, DC, since November 2019. Her area of expertise is climate, environmental and urban affairs. Prior to her work at the Embassy, she was with the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, focusing on ocean affairs, in particular marine protection, with a special focus on marine litter. She was the national point person for marine litter in the German Government. She is an experienced international negotiator at the UN level and negotiated several UNEA (United Nations Environment Assembly) resolutions in, among other capacities, her role as the German EU lead expert on marine litter. Judith holds a PhD in marine biology/marine ecology from the University of Bremen. Her PhD project was hosted by the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology, Bremen, where she studied the effects of high CO2 exposure on deep-sea communities. Judith studied biology in Marburg, Erlangen/Nuremberg and Bremen and has specialized on marine ecology, zoology and environmental law. Following her graduation in 2008, she was awarded a PhD grant by the Bremen International Graduate School for Marine Science, GLOMAR, as part of the DFG Research Center/Cluster of Excellence “MARUM – the Ocean in the Earth.”