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Rebecca Bratspies on Environmental Justice

Today we’re focusing on the environmental challenges facing our world today with Rebecca Bratspies, founding director of the Center for Urban Environmental Reform.

She’s the author of an award-winning environmental justice comic book series, The Environmental Justice Chronicles. The three books, Mayah’s Lot, Bina’s Plant, and Troop’s Run, are designed to bring environmental literacy to a new generation of environmental leaders.

Justice Counts podcast host Mark Bello and I are delighted to welcome Rebecca Bratspies to the Lean to the Left and Justice Counts podcasts. Rebecca is an award-winning author, scholar, and speaker, and as I said, executive director of the Center for Urban Environmental Reform. That’s a social justice Initiative of the City University of New York School of Law, where Bratspies is a professor of law.

Her most recent book, Naming Gotham: The Villains, Rogues and Heroes Behind New York Place Names, uses the names New York gives its roads and bridges to tell bigger stories about racial and class politics, and to highlight who has the power to name things and who gets to define what counts as history.

Here are questions we discussed with Rebecca:

Bob: Please tell us about the Center for Urban Environmental Reform. You’re the founding director of the Center. Why was it established?

Mark: What’s its goal?

Bob: As a law professor, why are you making environmental justice comic books? Tell us about them.

Mark: How are you using the books to build a next generation of environmental leaders?

Bob: A Montana court recently ruled that the state’s constitution guarantees the right of all citizens to live in a clean, safe, and healthy environment. Efforts are underway to convince other states to enact such guarantees in their constitutions. What are your thoughts about this?

Mark: How would you characterize the state of our climate today and the importance of moving our energy sources from fossil fuels like coal to renewable sources like wind and solar?

Bob: Nearly 150 million Americans were under heat alerts just yesterday, after July marked the planet’s hottest month on record. Devastating downpours dumped two months of rain on Vermont in two days. Smoke from Canadian wildfires choked East Coast skies, causing the worst air quality on record for some locations. And Hawaii is reeling from the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century.Yet, a new Washington Post-University of Maryland poll, only 35 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents think climate change is a major factor, compared to 85 percent of Democrats.What will it take to convince the doubters that the extreme weather patterns that we are now experiencing are caused, at least in large measure, by man and our reliance on fossil fuels?

Mark: Why did you write a book about New York City history and what did it teach you about racial justice?

Bob: What are some of your favorite stories from the book?

Mark: How did writing Naming Gotham lead you to get involved with the Renewable Rikers project, which I understand is a restorative environmental justice plan to close the jail at Rikers and convert the island to renewable energy to remove the polluting infrastructure from overburdened communities?

Listen to the podcast:

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