In honor of Earth Day 2020, Alegria Barclay, Aron Walker, Patrick Berger, and Tanja Srebotnjak organized a very interesting Zoom roundtable on April 22 for the Nueva community: “The World Post Covid-19: Opportunities for Social Justice and Environmental Resilience.” They were assisted by Nueva students from the Social Policies Roundtable, and more than 73 people zoomed in to hear an interesting discussion about social justice and how it pertains to the environment.
“The pandemic shows us clearly—and often tragically—where and how our social systems and environmental protections are failing to deliver equity, health and environmental protections, and resilience for everyone,” Tanja, Nueva’s director of environmental citizenship, said. “I also believe the pandemic is showing us the environmental conditions that we could have, if we reimagine our economic system to be powered by clean, renewable energy, a circular material flow, and one that serves everyone justly and equitably.”
Tanja said the COVID-19 situation has led many of us to ponder how we can make better environmental choices in the future, and how we can help others to have better lives through social justice initiatives.
She explained, “As we start to look toward how we can and want to emerge from the pandemic, we should not aim to return to the old normal ‘business as usual,’ but ask the hard questions, such as ‘How can we ensure that people and communities have equal access to health and environmental protections?’ ‘What steps do we need to take to reduce the likelihood of future pandemics, address their underlying causes, including loss of wildlife habitat, and tackle climate change as one of the biggest threats to human health and well-being?’ and ‘How do we return to basing public policy on sound science and collective, stakeholder-driven governance?’”
The roundtable was part of Earth Day Week 2020—the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day celebration.
“My goal was simply to start a conversation about where we find ourselves as a society/nation and to consider where we want to go, bearing in mind the inequities that have become increasingly apparent throughout this crisis,” said Alegria, who directs the program on social justice and equity. “I always want to ensure that the complexity of our situation is brought to the surface and to encourage folks to consider the many overlapping and interconnected threads that shape how injustice and inequity occur in this country and abroad—in terms of environmentalism and social justice.”
Tanja noted that she and her colleagues are committed to increasing awareness about this important topic through classes and enrichment activities.
“Paul Hauser and I are planning to teach an Upper School elective course, Changing Global Health Dynamics, which looks at the intersection of global health and climate change and other environmental pressures,” she said. “Aron and Jeremy [Jacquot] are planning to teach an Upper School course combining Foundations of Science (FOS) with environmental earth science. In addition, our Summer Environmental Citizenship Curriculum Development Institute will provide dedicated time and community to develop environmental citizenship curriculum across divisions and disciplines. We also hope to grow our support of Middle and Lower School teachers and students whenever possible with curriculum, presentations, field trips and club activities.”
Alegria believes that the Nueva community has numerous opportunities to work together to help the environment.
“Committed groups of people can change the way in which we not only do things, but also how we conceive of what is possible and achievable,” she said. “As a community, we can work together with Tanja and Aron to implement some of the large-scale changes we’d like to see happen in our country within the microcosm of Nueva. This modeling and iterating of the solutions we want to see more broadly applied allow us to live our values and demonstrate to others how to enact, engage, and enforce the kinds of behavioral and institutional change necessary to combat climate change.”