In Focus: Environmental justice and Minnesota’s climate future

Minnesotans are fighting climate change. Whether it’s taking coal-fired power plants offline, trading in gas guzzlers for electric cars or installing solar panels, there are concrete steps to repair the damage.

But at the same time, we need to acknowledge that the impact pollution has on low-income neighborhoods, Indigenous peoples and communities of color is often really out of proportion. And we know that burden will grow even more heavy as climate change continues.  

The good news is many Minnesota groups are working to right these wrongs. What does environmental justice look like to them? What issues are they most concerned about? And how do advocates who’ve been working on environmental justice for decades think Minnesota is doing when it comes to fixing this inequity?  

MPR News host Twila Dang hosted this virtual discussion exploring some of the meaningful and culturally specific ways environmental justice is being addressed in our state. You can watch a recording of their discussion in the video at the top of the page.

Panelists:

  • Sharon M. Day is enrolled in the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe and is a second M’dewin. She has served as the executive director of the Indigenous Peoples Task Force since 1990. An environmental activist, she has led more than 20 Water Walks since 2011, walking over 10,000 miles to offer prayers for these rivers. These extended ceremonies have occurred along the banks of the Mississippi, the Ohio, the Missouri, the Cuyahoga and the Salt Rivers. Day is also a grandmother, artist, musician and writer.

  • Theresa “Tee” McClenty has witnessed the impact of the climate crisis first-hand. Her youngest son was born with asthma and continues to experience complications from it as a young adult. This story, she knows, is not unique. Many communities of color are hardest hit by the negative impacts of climate change. McClenty became the executive director of MN350 in 2022 in a continuation of her career as a servant for all communities. She has dedicated her life to ensuring that all communities have all the resources available provided to them. She has worked more than 18 years in emergency medicine, seeing first-hand the impact of climate on people’s health. She has also worked in labor, advocating with school workers and health care union sisters and brothers for improved working conditions. In her most recent role, McClenty connected the community to necessary resources in mental and behavioral health, dentistry, and human services.

  • Francisco Segovia has been building networks and coalitions with and across diverse communities in order to collectively change the conditions that limit people’s choices. After fourteen years of acting as the director of Waite House Center in South Minneapolis where he used his passion, vision and experience to facilitate grassroots leadership development, deliver asset-based services, foster self-sufficiency and advocate for system change at both the city and state level. Francisco left to build COPAL, a grassroots statewide organization whose mission is to unite Latinxs in Minnesota in active grassroots communal democracy that builds racial, gender, social and economic justice across community lines. Francisco currently serves on the board of TakeAction Minnesota and participates in The Minnesota Civic Studies Initiative.

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