Science-fiction writer William Gibson once mused, “The future is already here. It’s just not evenly distributed yet.” This holds true for climate change—both its disastrous effects and the technologies that could help mitigate them.
“What we’re continually seeing is that wealth is often an insulator from harm,” says Jaimes Valdez ’03, manager of the Portland Green Energy Fund. “The wealthier communities globally, and within the United States, have more resources to deal with the impacts of climate change.”
Valdez and Juliana Williams ’07 presented ideas for people who want to contribute to climate solutions in “Equity in Practice: Addressing Climate Anxiety Through Local Action” in early February 2022, part of this year’s academic theme, “Climate Reckonings, Climate Justice.”
The pair’s expertise took root in their experiences at Whitman.
While studying physics and environmental studies, Valdez served on Whitman’s environmental committee and helped organize the Northwest Renewable Energy Festival. This led to his career with local climate efforts, including the justice-focused, community-driven Portland project.
Williams was spurred to climate action by a Whitman class field trip to a wind farm. She campaigned to institute a student fee to purchase renewable energy—a small change, she said, but a step toward larger action.
Williams now works for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. She and her colleagues have been striving to implement energy justice into their work. This principle centers the voices of people who have been historically excluded from technological benefits, yet disproportionately burdened by pollution, energy costs and disasters.
Climate change can feel overwhelming, Williams said. But she returns to the theme of local action for encouragement.
“If you’re doing your part, and you trust that other people are doing their part—or help them do their part—that is our best option for being successful,” she told the audience.