Advancing environmental justice topic of humanities lecture

Contact: Mark Schwerin
Photo of Peggy Shepard.


KALAMAZOO—Environmental protection for all Americans will get a closer look this month when an environmental justice activist from New York visits the Western Michigan University campus.

Peggy Shepard, co-founder and executive director of West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc., or WE ACT for Environmental Justice in West Harlem, will speak at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, in 2452 Knauss Hall as part of the University Center for the Humanities 2013-14 Changing Climates Series. Her presentation, titled "Advancing Environmental Health and Justice: A Community Perspective," is free and open to the public.

About WE ACT

Shepard's organization has a 24-year history of engaging residents in community planning and campaigns to affect environmental protection and health policy. A recipient of the Calver Award, the Heinz Award for the Environment and the Jane Jacobs Medal for Lifetime Leadership from the Rockefeller Foundation, she is past chair of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The environmental justice movement has worked over the past 20 years to impact environmental policy to improve environmental health and protection in communities of color and low income. In her presentation, Shepard will define environmental justice and discuss its challenges and achievements through the years. She also will highlight WE ACT's work in northern Manhattan neighborhoods as well as the evolution, research and policy processes and outcomes of a community-based participatory research partnership that has had an impact on air quality and related environmental justice concerns.

WE ACT's advocacy and research contributed to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority retrofitting its entire diesel bus fleet. The organization also hosts the Environmental Justice Leadership Forum on Climate Change, a national coalition of 40 organizations representing 16 states that have convened to develop a unified voice and position on climate change policies, and coordinates the NYS Transportation Equity Alliance, a statewide coalition of 100 groups working to ensure equitable transportation policy locally and nationally.

WE ACT's first campaign achieved the retrofit of the North River sewage treatment plant and a lawsuit settlement of a $1.1 million environmental benefits fund. A 10-year campaign spurred by a community-based planning process has resulted in the construction of the Harlem Piers at 125th Street on the Hudson River, which opened in 2010.

Changing Climates Series

As part of the Changing Climates Series, the Center for the Humanities is bringing together scientists and humanists to consider how the world's temperature, environmental and social climates are changing and what the earth's inhabitants need to know and do about it. The series is exploring how scientific research is defining issues that concern everybody, including the warming of the globe, the toxicity of the environment and the fundamental changes mankind is making to the natural world. The intersection of these and other issues provides both an opportunity and a necessity to talk across the usual boundaries within academia and beyond.

For more information, contact the Center for the Humanities at or (269) 387-1811.