Published: July 11, 2022 By

Climate justice is all about dignity.

That’s according to Phaedra Pezzullo, an associate professor of communication at CU Boulder.

“Climate change is disproportionately impacting those who have created the least global greenhouse gases, and too often they are left out of conversations about what to do about it,” she said. “To address climate chaos, we have to uphold, improve and practice a more inclusive understanding of dignity.”

This spring, Pezzullo led the foundational graduate course for the Certificate in Environmental Justice, in which students uplifted voices from Colorado communities disproportionately impacted by climate change.

"It's a people problem... Humans are the major drivers of climate chaos, and we have to transform our own species to solve it."

“Being able to see themselves in stories is empowering and allows [communities] to act,” said Anthony Albidrez (MJour’23), who took the class while working toward his graduate certificate in environmental justice.

The course grew out of a project led by the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment to prioritize areas for environmental action. The state worked to quantify air particulates and water pollution while CU students created corresponding narratives — expected as of press time to launch in June 2022 — featuring impacted communities.

“Scientific language can be hard to dive into,” said Albidrez. “When people understand more, they can take the information they’ve learned, act on it, shift policy changes and hold the government accountable.”

Funded by grants from Mission Zero, Payden Teaching Excellence, the College of Media Communication and Information Dean’s Fund and the Department of Environmental Studies Colloquium Series, the course gave students a chance to help Colorado policy makers understand the local impacts of climate change — and engage community members for solutions.

“Even if a place is identified as one of the most polluted, it’s also a beloved place to people who live and work there,” said Pezzullo.

The course aligns with the work of the Center for Creative Climate Communication and Behavior Change (C3BC), which Pezzullo co-directs. In partnership with other campus groups like the Just Transition Collaborative and RISE: Resilient Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity, the C3BC’s multidisciplinary faculty and students connect with communities whose voices have been excluded from conversations about climate policy.

“To fix climate chaos, we have to engage people,” said Pezzullo. “It’s a people problem — not a wolf problem or a whale problem. Humans are the major drivers of climate chaos, and we have to transform our own species to solve it.”

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