“I’ve been in this storm for so long / I’ve been here in this storm for so long / Screaming Lord give me more time to pray / I’ve been here in this storm for so long.”
Marquetta L. Goodwine, alumnus of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, Queen Quet of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, sang these lines from the spiritual “I’ve Been in the Storm Too Long” at the beginning of her presentation during a panel on the environment on April 25 April and climate justice. The event, held online, was sponsored by Fordham’s MOSAIC Alumni Affinity Chapter and the Office of Alumni Relations. Alumni, faculty and other experts attended, discussing how environmental and climate issues are disproportionately affecting certain populations — and how we can work both globally and locally to reduce those impacts.
The lyrics Queen Quet sang also speak to the work she has done for more than two decades as chief of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, a sovereign people living along the Atlantic Seaboard from Pender County, North Carolina to St. John’s County lives. Florida. On the low-lying land inhabited by Gullah/Geechee, flooding is a long-standing problem, compounded by the increasing number and severity of storms due to climate change.
As one of two keynote speakers, Queen Quet emphasized the importance of communicating about climate change in a way that is easy for any community to understand.
“It can’t be spoken in terms of carbon emissions and CO2 and that kind of thing because that’s not everyday slang across America,” Queen Quet said.
She also spoke about some of the specific work the Gullah/Geechee Nation is doing to prepare for natural disasters caused by climate change, including building resiliency hubs to store supplies and charging stations for solar power that could also serve as airdrop points for food and more necessities. And although her country has already suffered major damage from flooding and beach erosion, Queen Quet said speaking at the 2019 UN Climate Change Conference was an opportunity to share optimistic ideas with other leaders from around the world.
“We’re all trying to show each other living examples of what we’re doing to make this world a better place, trying to heal it, trying to reverse some of the effects,” she said.
“We Must Be Ready to Serve”
The second keynote speaker, Dr. Daniel Chidubem Gbujie, a climate activist, writer and oral surgeon from Nigeria, supported Queen Quet’s call for effectively communicating the risks of climate change to every community.
“Context is important,” he said. “The way you deliver your message is very important.”
dr Gbujie pointed out that sub-Saharan Africa has already been devastated by climate change, from floods in his native Nigeria to droughts that have played a role in conflicts such as the Sudanese civil war, which the UN World Food Program in 2017 proclaimed “The first climate change -Conflict.”
As the founder of the Team 54 Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the impacts of climate change and the need for urgent global action, Dr. Gbujie that he was inspired by the mission of Jesuit education and the idea of Jesuit education cura personalis– caring for the whole person – when thinking about how best to address the climate crisis.
“For everything we experience here,” he said, “you have to have a certain level of empathy and sympathy. To solve the climate crisis we have right now, we must be willing to serve. …
We must be willing to look for new, innovative ideas, and we must be willing to ensure we have a moral compass to guide us in negotiations.”
Along with the keynote speakers, the panel was moderated by Marion Bell, FCLC ’92, one of the co-founders of MOSAIC, with assistance from Chapter co-founders Felicia Gomes-Gregory, FCLC ’88, GSAS ’98, and Marlene Taylor-Ponterotto, FCRH ‘ 79 – Presented presentations from several speakers who discussed the infrastructural keys to adapting to and mitigating climate change both in Fordham and beyond.
Using infrastructure and politics to prepare for the future
After opening the event with prayer, Bell, who is also the chair for environmental and climate justice for the NAACP’s Mid-Manhattan office, introduced Marco Valera, vice president of administration at Fordham. Valera, who assumed his current role in 2019 after serving as Vice President for Facilities Management, spoke about the infrastructural work already done and still to be done to reduce the university’s carbon emissions – further improving the building’s insulation, for example by moving the Go electric at the university’s fleet of vehicles and use the available space for green roofs and solar panels, like those at the Rose Hill regional parking garage.
The second speaker was Sameer Ranade, a climate justice advisor at the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), a nonprofit whose mission is to “drive clean energy innovation and investment to combat climate change, improve the health, resilience and prosperity of New Yorkers and provide benefits to all.” Ranade’s position with the agency was created under the state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act of 2019, signed into law at the Fordham School of Law, and he supports both the New York Climate Action Council and the Climate Justice Working Group.
Ranade presented some of the state’s energy and climate justice goals, including reducing nationwide greenhouse gas emissions to 60% of 1990 levels by 2030 and 15% of 1990 levels by 2050.
“Clean energy can actually reduce emissions in all sectors, but most notably in buildings, transportation and power generation,” Ranade said, noting that the clean energy transition will also create 10 jobs for every job displaced, according to a study by would the State Working Group on a Just Transition. He also encouraged listeners to attend one of the Climate Action Council’s remaining public hearings to share the scoping plan for New York’s climate goals.
Fordham Professor John Davenport, Ph.D., discussed another element of mitigating the effects of climate change that is particularly important for New York and other coastal communities: managing stormwater runoff. As the risk of severe storms and flooding continues to increase, Davenport said it’s imperative to use infrastructure like green roofs and street trees to absorb water and limit runoff, and to provide property and building owners with tax incentives to implement runoff methods to get the reduction .
“It’s going to be important to start using the language of savings,” Bell said in response to Davenport’s presentation, addressing the same need for good communication emphasized by the keynote speakers. “What it will save us, rather than how much it will cost us.”