We have included the transcript, graphic recording, audio, and video from “Diversifying Power: Why We Need Anti-racist, Feminist Leadership on Climate and Energy” presented by Jennie Stephens on October 5, 2022.
About the presenter
Jennie C. Stephens is the Dean’s Professor of Sustainability Science & Policy at Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. She is an internationally recognized expert on renewable energy transformation, energy justice, climate justice, energy democracy, and gender and race in energy and climate. Her most recent book, Diversifying Power: Why We Need Antiracist, Feminist Leadership (Island Press, 2020), inspires collective action by elevating the stories of innovative diverse leaders who are linking climate and energy with jobs and economic justice, health and food, transportation and housing. Before Northeastern, Professor Stephens was on the faculty at the University of Vermont (2014-2016) and Clark University (2005-2014). She earned her PhD at Caltech in environmental science & engineering and her BA at Harvard in environmental science & public policy.
About the series
Shareable is partnering with Tufts University on this special series hosted by professor Julian Agyeman (Co-chair of Shareable’s Board) and Cities@Tufts. Initially designed for Tufts students, faculty, and alumni, the colloquium has been opened up to the public with the support of Shareable, and The Kresge Foundation.
Cities@Tufts Lectures explores the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice.
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“Diversifying Power: Why We Need Antiracist, Feminist Leadership on Climate and Energy with Jennie Stephens” Transcript
Jennie Stephens: [00:00:06] An alternative lens that I think we can all kind of, I would advocate, embrace is to really focus on social and economic justice, not on the climate crisis in isolation. And what that does is allows us to prioritize broad investments in people and communities, basing those investments on human dignity and basic needs — kind of what some people call a people’s first approach. And focusing on investments that are distributing power — literally and figuratively — and leveraging the urgency of the climate crisis for this social and economic transformation that is needed.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:00:46] What is planetary gentrification and its tangible effects? Has institutionalized white supremacy led to isolationist attempts at addressing our climate crisis? And could reparative urban planning be the key to addressing distributive structural injustices? These are just a few of the questions we’re exploring this season on Cities@Tufts Lectures — a free live event and podcast series where we explore the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice. I’m your host, Tom Llewellyn.
[00:01:15] Today on the show, we’re featuring Jennie Stephens lecture “Diversifying Power: Why We Need Anti-Racist Feminist Leadership on Climate and Energy.” In addition to this audio version, you can watch the video, check out the graphic recording and read the full transcript on Shareable.net. And while you’re there, please take some time to get caught up on all of our past lectures and our ever-expanding library of stories, podcasts, how-to guides, and other resources. And now here’s Professor Julian Agyeman, who will welcome you to the Cities@Tufts Fall Colloquium and introduce today’s speaker.
Julian Agyeman: [00:02:01] Welcome to the first Cities@Tufts Colloquium of Fall 2022, along with our partners Shareable, the Kresge Foundation and the Barr Foundation. I’m Professor Julian Agyeman, and together with my research assistants, Caitlin MacLennan and Deandra Boyle, we organize Cities@Tufts as a cross-disciplinary academic initiative, which recognizes Tufts University as a leader in urban studies, urban planning and sustainability issues. We’d like to acknowledge that Tufts University’s Medford Campus is located on colonized Wampanoag and Massachusetts traditional territory.
[00:02:35] Today, we are beyond delighted to welcome my friend and colleague, Professor Jennie Stephens. Jennie is the Dean’s Professor of Sustainability, Science and Policy at Northeastern University School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs. Her research, teaching and community engagement focus on integrating social justice, feminist and anti-racist perspectives into climate and energy resilience, social and political aspects of the renewable energy transition, reducing reliance on fossil fuels, energy, democracy, gender in energy and climate, and climate and energy justice. Her unique transdisciplinary approach integrates innovations in social science and public policy with science and engineering to promote social justice, reduce inequalities, and redistribute power — that is, electrical power, economic power and political power.
[00:03:25] In her book, Diversifying Power: Why We Need Anti-Racist Feminist Leadership on Climate and Energy, published by Island Press in 2020, she argues that effectively addressing climate change requires diversifying leadership, redistributing wealth and power, and moving beyond mainstream, male-dominated technocratic solutions to climate change. Throughout her career, she’s explored institutional and cultural innovation in the energy sector, including gender diversity, energy, democracy and technological optimism, as well as the usability of climate science in climate resilience efforts. So Jennie’s talk today is, unsurprisingly, “Diversifying Power: Why We Need Anti-Racist Feminist Leadership on Climate and Energy.” Jennie, a Zoom-tastic welcome to the City@Tufts Colloquium.
Jennie Stephens: [00:04:22] Great. Well, thank you so much, Julian, for inviting me and for giving me this opportunity to be here with you all virtually. I’m Zooming in from Dublin, Ireland, where I’m spending some time during my sabbatical right now, and what I thought I’d do is — I guess I also want to just say I really look forward to the Q&A, the discussion that’s always rich with these conversations. So I will limit my remarks to half an hour or so — so we have plenty of time for discussion.
[00:04:58] So I wrote this book Diversifying Power, really after working on climate energy issues for my whole career — so like 25 years or so, really recognizing that the mainstream approaches that a lot of the climate and energy experts that I was trained by were inadequate, insufficient, really not getting at the transformative changes that are increasingly obvious that are necessary. So what I want to do today is just kind of share some of what’s in the book, but also some of my thinking beyond that and then open it up for a discussion.
[00:05:36] I thought I’d start actually by just giving you a brief introduction to who I am. I have a transdisciplinary career in climate and energy. I was born and first lived in Dublin, Ireland and my family moved to the Boston area when I was eight, I knew I wanted to study environment and science and policy interface, so I did that as an undergrad, then studied kind of water and soil chemistry as a graduate student, but knew I wanted to get back into policy, So, after that, after a quite technical graduate degree, then came back to the Boston area and did postdoctoral research on energy technology innovation and kind of got more involved in climate energy policy. I then taught at Clark University for nine years, the University of Vermont for two years, and then I’ve been at Northeastern for the past six years and now on sabbatical at Trinity College, Dublin, and here in Ireland, back again. So I just wanted to share that. So you have a sense of who I am and where I’ve been and how my kind of transdisciplinary career in environment, climate, energy has evolved.
[00:06:50] So I’d like to start by just pointing out that the climate and energy crises that we’re in are really economic injustice issues. We don’t always think of it that way, but the concentration of wealth and power and the extractive and exploitative economy that’s associated with fossil fuels in particular has really contributed to this widening income and wealth gap. The figure on the left is actually pre-pandemic just showing wealth and income, just continuing to get farther apart in terms of those who are profiting off of our systems and the rest of us who are struggling and having a harder, more precarious lifestyle.
[00:07:34] And then during the pandemic, our financial system is such that we recognize that the billionaires have actually doubled their wealth during the pandemic. Apparently, the top ten billionaires more than doubled their wealth. So our economic system that was designed to kind of help keep things stable during the pandemic — so much of that public money actually went directly to the billionaires and those that are already profiting from our system. So I just mention this because I think increasingly I’m getting interested in financial innovations and changes that we can make that are more transformative by actually looking at flows of money and the concentration of wealth and power.
[00:08:17] And obviously with energy and climate in particular, we know that there is this polluter elite that Dario Kenner has praised of individuals, very wealthy individuals and corporate interests that are profiting off of fossil fuels. So they’ve actually for decades been resisting transformation through very strategic investments — not just denying climate science and promoting fossil fuels, but also undermining public trust in government and the value of public investments for the public good, and also minimizing worker protections and worker rights to disempower people, to not have faith in our democracy and democratic processes and things like that. So I’ve gotten to the point where I think we were at a point where we really need transformation that includes some innovation in our financial systems. And that’s one of the things I’m exploring during my sabbatical, is looking at these systems that have to do with debt and all the time growing debt, both domestically but also internationally, and kind of disrupting these financial systems that are just concentrating wealth and power even more than ever.
Jennie Stephens: [00:09:29] So if you embrace that kind of societal transformational lens that we really, really need some big changes, we need to move also beyond the technological focus of so much of our climate and energy discussions. And one of the phrases that I’ve kind of coined is climate isolationism as a very narrow, technocratic way of talking about the climate crisis. It’s very much based on masculine colonial ideas of domination and control and very technologically optimistic, say, investing in technology as the solution or how to address the climate crisis. And it really perpetuates an exploitative economy. And because we’ve had this mainstream, narrow way of thinking about climate as something separate from other issues, we’ve really missed opportunities for investing in people and communities and in climate justice.
[00:10:24] So an alternative lens that I think we can all kind of I would advocate embrace is to really focus on social and economic justice, not on the climate crisis in isolation. And what that does is allows us to prioritize broad investments in people and communities, basing those investments on human dignity and basic needs — kind of what some people call a people’s first approach, and focusing on investments that are distributing power literally and figuratively and leveraging the urgency of the climate crisis for this social and economic transformation that is needed.
Jennie Stephens: [00:11:04] And when we think about how this is related to energy and the notion of kind of energy, democracy, energy justice, it’s also acknowledging that a renewable-based future — the reason renewables are so potentially transformative is because fossil fuels are extractive and exploitative and a finite amount, so we have to compete for them. Whereas renewables, the source of the energy, the sun, the wind, the water flowing is actually perpetual, abundant, super reliable and free in terms of — and noncompetitive and renewable and non-extractive. Obviously, there is some extraction that needs to be done to have the materials to leverage and harness the renewables. But because every community in the world has access to renewable energy sources, it is really revolutionary when you think about what’s possible in terms of a locally appropriate, regionally appropriate mix of harnessing renewable resources.
[00:12:09] So having said all that, I want to really hone in on this idea of transformation. And I know a lot of us are probably thinking with a transformative lens. What I have been really thinking about here is that we need to not only be promoting renewables and alternatives and that, but we also need to at the same time be resisting the mainstream status quo, fossil fuel reliance and all the associated pieces to that. So when we embrace a feminist, decolonial, anti-racist perspective and principles, what that really means is just acknowledging all of the power dynamics that are embedded in our systems and our policies and our practices, and questioning them constantly at lots of different scales. So, and then trying to disrupt those in the ways that we can perpetuating these problematic power dynamics. And it’s about honoring people and the planet and resisting the extractive power dynamics. And there’s so much potential for all of us to be embracing this transformative lens with these principles.
[00:13:23] So, I think we’re at a point where there’s kind of a clear insufficiency of incremental change — that isn’t to say small steps and niche experimentation isn’t super important. But we also need to make sure at this point that we’re really embracing a transformative lens, both socially, economically, because it’s clear that if we continue on the path we are without that, that a lot of the problems are going to be getting worse rather than better. So, and then I think we know technological innovation is inadequate. We really need to be focusing on all kinds of social innovations, cultural innovations, political and financial innovations. But I think as a society, we have not been prioritizing those kinds of innovations as much as we could and should.
[00:14:15] So chapter one of the book is called ‘Growing the Squad,’ and what this is really centering is the possibility and the potential of embracing decolonial, anti-racist, feminist principles in our politics and not just in the political sphere — in all spheres. But the squad, as many of you probably know, are these four junior congresswomen who came on the national stage in the United States a few years ago now, and they really changed the national conversation on climate and energy because they linked it directly with issues of economic justice, housing, justice, racial justice in new ways.
[00:14:58] And they base their politics and policy advocacy on an inclusive, participatory, collaborative approach and focus on distributing wealth and power rather than concentrating wealth and power, which is the opposite approach, and reducing inequities and disparities and leveraging transformation by linking problems together rather than continuing to isolate problems as if they’re not all connected and then even deny that problems even exist. And that’s what we’ve been seeing so much of in kind of colonial, white supremacist, patriarchal leadership where it’s just denied that there even is a climate crisis or a housing crisis or an economic crisis or that the pandemic is so bad. This kind of denial is part of just a way to perpetuate the concentration of wealth and power that’s happening with the status quo.
[00:15:56] So, basically, the book itself is showcasing all kinds of innovative, creative leaders and organizations that are doing inspiring work on climate energy and connecting that work beyond climate isolationism into different areas. And one whole set of examples that I talk about in the book are people who are resisting the polluter elite. And Jackie Patterson, formerly of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, is one of the leaders that she and her team put together this ‘Fossil Fueled Foolery’ illustrated primer on the top ten manipulation tactics of the fossil fuel industry, really illustrating how the fossil fuel industry has actually manipulated Black communities in particular to make up for or get permission for their engagement with those communities in terms of disproportionate siting of fossil fuel extraction facilities.
[00:16:58] Maura Healey is another leader who those of us in Massachusetts know she’s the attorney general’s running for governor, very likely to be Massachusetts’s next governor. She has actually been a leader using Massachusetts consumer protection laws to sue ExxonMobil for greenwashing and claiming that their fossil fuels are clean and green. And in this, I also just want to point out that there is a growing movement, and I think we all have opportunities to contribute to the resistance of fossil fuel interests. I was just at a conference in Oxford last week on fossil fuel supply. A lot of the fossil fuel work has very much been trying to get us as consumers to feel guilty that we’re using fossil fuels, like the whole carbon footprint was actually developed by the fossil fuel industry to put the responsibility on consumers and communities rather than on the fossil fuel supply side. But there’s this new initiative — or relatively new — Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, which more and more cities and organizations and individuals are signing, which is calling for a global coordinated effort to actually focus on how to phase down fossil fuels — extraction and burning and supply.
[00:18:19] And until we do that, all the promotion of renewables and clean alternatives and innovative things will just be kind of additional to the fossil fuels. And so that’s why a real focus on kind of resisting fossil fuel interests and resisting the polluter elite and focusing very strategically on how to phase down, phase out fossil fuel supply is actually a critical area that I think needs more attention from all of us.
[00:18:51] There’s a chapter in the book about leaders who are connecting climate energy with jobs and economic justice and obviously Varshini Prakash is one of the leaders that I talked to and kind of included as an inspiring example in the book, she’s one of the co-founders of Sunrise Movement and the Youth Climate Action Initiative in the United States, and really was instrumental in pushing for and advancing the Green New Deal discussions and actually connecting very explicitly with jobs and contributed to the recent federal legislation, IRA [Inflation Reduction Act[, that was passed, I would definitely say.
[00:19:30] And then there are other leaders who are also focusing explicitly on trying to connect and make sure that workforce training is also broadened in so that the jobs aren’t just are available for all kinds of people in communities who’ve been left out before. So there’s a whole set of inspiring work going on in this space, obviously. I will also mention with some of my students at Northeastern, we did some research on Green New Deal proposals that are popping up in different jurisdictions. It’s not just national level, a Green New Deal. We know here in Boston, the city of Bostin has its Green New Deal under Michelle Wu’s leadership. So there’s this whole idea of investing in an integrated approach is a new kind of climate policy, right? Because that really hasn’t been what was being discussed several years ago. But I also mentioned here the Justice40 Initiative and Shalanda Baker, who is heading that up at the Department of Energy. She’s a former colleague of ours at Northeastern who has done a lot of work on energy justice. And the approach with the Justice40 initiative is a commitment that 40% of the benefits of federal investments in all of these different areas must flow toward disadvantaged communities explicitly.
[00:20:54] So other leaders in the book that I highlight include many who’ve connected climate and energy with health, well-being and food. Robert Bullard, often considered the father of environmental justice, is among the first to document with research the disparate health impacts of fossil fuels and other industrialized processes on Black communities in particular. Mildred McClain is an environmental activist who’s among the many Black women in the United States who are saying they’re sick and tired of being sick and tired — making that connection with health. Gina McCarthy, who was just retired actually from the White House national climate advisor, she is among the leaders who’s really connected also with health and the public health impacts and really using the health lens to broaden the discussions about climate.
[00:21:49] Gillian Hinshaw is a lawyer who has connected climate with agriculture and food processing. Dorceta Taylor is among the researchers and very influential who pointed out how white the environmental community has been in the United States and how that has contributed to a lack of attention to the disparate health impacts of fossil fuels and other industrial processes. And I mentioned Jacinda Ardern here as a leader who has kind of demonstrated, particularly during the COVID pandemic, but in other ways as well, the potential for taking strict actions and policies that are impactful for not just the health of individuals and families, but for the community or the whole country, but then demonstrating with compassion and communicating with compassion and empathy why these strict policies are really beneficial for everyone because of the collective health benefits.
[00:22:50] So I also connect with transportation and leaders who are connecting climate and energy with transportation. And many of you may know these leaders, Representative Ayanna Pressley, who has really been on the forefront of thinking about transit justice and how transit investments either exacerbate or can disrupt injustices in our transit system and transit access. And obviously, Michelle Wu, who part of her Green New Deal proposal for Boston — or action in Boston, is trying to push on free transportation as a transit justice and all the potential that comes with that. I mentioned Greta Thunberg also as a youth leader who has demonstrated — when she came over from Europe to North America for some of the international climate conferences a few years ago, she didn’t fly and traveled both ways by sailboat.
[00:23:43] And finally, I just want to mention a few leaders that connect climate energy with housing. And Representative Ilhan Omar has been one of those leaders who’s really connected the housing insecurity that’s growing and the housing crisis and the need for massive public investments in public housing and how that can be connected to renewable and clean and updated building infrastructure and energy. Moms for Housing is an organization in Oakland that a group of women mothers and their children who were housing insecure were occupying an empty building that was being developed and they were evicted in a quite traumatic way in the middle of the night with guns and military equipment, and that they leveraged kind of that traumatic experience into an organization called Moms for Housing that is advocating for housing as a human right. The last example here is the tiny House warriors in Canada, a group of women who have — Indigenous women who are connecting their cultural association with the land as their home, with these building and living on these tiny houses with wheels. And they can they move them to block the fossil fuel pipeline building. So it’s a form of protest.
[00:25:01] So I want to just mention very briefly here at the end that in the book I don’t have a section on linking climate energy leadership with education, and that’s kind of one of another one of my sabbatical projects is actually thinking about how we as leaders in higher education and K-12 earlier education as well, but how education can really be promoting a transformative lens and transformation. And I’m collaborating with Jasmine Banks, who was the executive director of UnKoch My Campus, which is documenting how the fossil fuel interests have influenced our research and our educational systems. So there’s a lot of work and ideas that we can discuss in that space. I also, just with one of my PhD students at Northeastern, Elena Boyle, we wrote a recent Boston Globe op-ed about higher education and the potential for higher education to reorient toward a climate justice transformative lens and what that could look like. And so that was September 1st. If anyone wants to go look at that article.
[00:26:07] And then I’ll end here and just say there’s a lot of resources and networks and coalition building. These are some examples of academic action — organizations that are supporting each other and supporting people to think differently within education and science. And I’ll end also just by saying, as a scholar-activist, I think our collective power for transformation is big, and I think we all can be advocating for system change, resisting fossil fuel interests. We can engage and contribute with new, innovative social, cultural, economic initiatives. And I think we can also all get involved in supporting cooperatives and other new novel economic structures, because, as I said, I think economics and financial innovation is such an important part of how we have to address these interconnected crises.
[00:27:06] And I’ll and also — I’d like to honor Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for president in the United States in 1972. So that was 50 years ago. And in some ways, we’ve come a long way since then. But in other ways, we are not as far along in the social justice arc as many people might have thought we could have been by now. So I’ll end there and just acknowledge a lot of my colleagues and students and collaborators and I look forward to a discussion and questions. Thank you very much.
Julian Agyeman: [00:27:38] Well, thank you, Jennie. What a fantastic presentation. there’s so much more I know that you could have talked about, but this gave us a really good, I think, introduction to your book. And we are getting questions coming in now. Motthier, I think that’s how you pronounce your name, when we need all of us, whether small “c” conservative or liberal, left to come together in solidarity. Does starting from a political ideology to tackle climate breakdown (feminist, decolonial) build in the separation that prevents us from coming together? What if we started with an economic model instead, e.g. cooperative economics that has been built into the processes for coming to progressive politics without naming them?
Jennie Stephens: [00:28:19] Great question. And I think there’s lots of different approaches and different ways of getting at and promoting similar types of initiatives. And obviously the language we use and the framing we use to describe some of these ideas I think is really important, and I don’t think there’s one size fits all. So definitely there are ways, you know, there are reasons, important reasons, to call out racism, misogyny, colonialism. And as you point out, there’s obviously defensiveness that emerges when we use some of those words.
[00:29:04] But I guess one of the things that I have tried to put forward is actually an invitation with these words. We don’t want only women to be considered feminists. We don’t want only people of color to be anti-racist, right? We don’t want only those most severely oppressed by colonialism to have an anti-colonial perspective. I think what we need is for everybody to acknowledge how these structural — and this isn’t about individual people, right? This is the structural and systemic policies and actions and infrastructure and things that are continuing to perpetuate and exacerbate suffering and injustices of all kinds.
[00:29:56] So there is a value in calling it out and using some of these words and again, an invitation for folks to do that. And at the same time, as you point out in the question, there’s also a value in not talking about all that and just getting really concrete about specific initiatives, right? And cooperative economics and cooperative model of governance of all kinds of organizations, whether it be food or housing or energy, is such a powerful, also under-discussed and explored, particularly in the in the academy — I will say I remember hearing a few, probably a while ago now, but that most business schools and schools of management don’t even talk about or mention or even bring up the possibility of cooperative models of business and commerce. And I don’t know if that’s still the case. I hope not. But this is this is a clear space that is a very tangible thing to focus on. So, thank you for that.
Julian Agyeman: [00:31:05] Great. Robert, one of our colleagues from Shareable has a question. You mentioned decolonial anti-racist and feminist approaches to embracing a transformative lens. He’s also curious if you see a just green transition as being compatible with capitalism or broadly? Defined broadly as private ownership of means of production market solutions, public-private partnerships, global North, global South, Extractivism and hyper-exploitation, etc. or if we need to transform away from capitalism in order to achieve the outcomes you’re describing?
Jennie Stephens: [00:31:36] Yeah. So I think the word capitalism actually means lots of things to — and there’s lots of different kind of definition of what’s included and what — and also how we it’s not just one thing that you either have or you don’t have, right? So I think of our current economic system more of a continuum I guess, and that there are — so I don’t focus on necessarily in my work that we need to disrupt. I mean, I think we need disruptions for sure, but not necessarily — I think the definition of what is included in capitalism and what is is not how I have chosen to kind of focus my — I think what I’m talking about is big financial innovation in how we, potentially to ownership means of production market solutions. So I think I am definitely pointing out that a lot of the assumptions about our current system and the market-based solutions to these problems are inadequate, insufficient and actually making a lot of the problems worse. So I think we do need big disruptions and transformation in our economic systems. And, so, yes, I think that that is a big part of what I am I’m calling for.
Julian Agyeman: [00:33:25] So this morning in the Tufts Daily, there was a piece about the fact that Tony Monaco, the president of Tufts, is leaving in 2023. It was largely an applause for his tenure, but it did say that the — in the next president, and I am assuming it was a student that wrote this, we want somebody who’s going to move the needle on divestment. What President Monaco’s really put his money in was a big sustainability fund and talking about sustainability without really doing much about getting to the nitty gritty of divestment. We made a few gestures, if you like. I mean, so your research now is on higher education and a new purpose: climate justice. Where do you see the divestment argument in that? Because it seems to me divestment has to happen if we’re to be serious about climate justice and serious about higher education having a new purpose.
Jennie Stephens: [00:34:22] Yes. So I would agree. I think fossil fuel divestment is one tangible, somewhat symbolic act that higher education institutions can take. You know, the research, recent things I’ve read say that actually those universities that have divested are actually doing better than those that have not. So it’s — the financial risk I think is being reduced. But there is this tendency in investment apparently to reduce any constraints, right? You just want to be able to do whatever portfolio diversification. So there’s quite deep resistance to restricting any of the investments. But I do think it’s it’s really important piece of it. And I think I just heard it’s coming up in I think I heard was it Yale or Princeton just divested and it’s coming up at Arizona State. And so it’s an issue that continues to — it’s been years that a lot of campaigns on college campuses have been working on divestment to varying degrees of success.
[00:35:36] But I will say, I mean, I think there’s a lot of opportunity to go beyond divestment as well, because one of the things that — if you look at the Paris Agreement and what all the countries in the world have actually committed to trying to reduce emissions by a certain amount to get to the 1.5 or 2 degree — the only way to do that is actually to keep fossil fuels in the ground, which means we need to get to this fossil fuel phaseout strategy, which has really been almost like an intellectual no-fly zone, not just intellectual, but like cultural or corporate no-fly zone — people don’t want to talk about it. It’s hard, right? It’s hard, but it’s exactly what we need to be talking about.
[00:36:23] So I would say, I would encourage our universities to, yes, divest from fossil fuels and go beyond that, right? And put pressure on fossil fuel interests, resist funding from fossil fuel sources while simultaneously promoting alternatives. But I think that the resistance to the fossil fuel power and influence of the fossil fuel interests is just increasingly so important. And we’re in this space right now with carbon credits and net zero and all these, like increasingly complicated ways that organizations and leaders are talking with words that sound strong, but a lot of them are not actually transformative at all. They’re just kind of giving license to continue business as usual. They’re just calling it something different and kind of co-opting these words. And I will say that even the phrase climate justice has potential to be just used for climate action, but not actually be transformative or not actually have a focus on justice.
Julian Agyeman: [00:37:33] Great. Thanks, Jennie. Camille Menz, one of our students, asks, How, if at all, do you see this decolonial anti-racist and feminist framework for a just energy transition playing out in an international context, Considering the global fossil fuel dependency and global North, Global South geopolitics?
Jennie Stephens: [00:37:52] Yeah. So I think the power dynamics that are so problematic that come up particularly with Global North, Global South conversations and also the debt and the indebtedness and legacy of all kinds of colonial as well as other kind of extractive interactions in the global context, call for a reimagining of the financial institutions and the debt. We have so many countries that have to focus on the debt first and they can’t even invest in their people to increase climate resilience or reduce climate vulnerabilities, right? So these are all interconnected. And I think that’s where — and I’m not an expert in international finance in any way, shape or form, but I do think that we’re at a point where — and it’s becoming more and more obvious. I mean, if we think about what’s happening in Pakistan right now and Somalia is having an intensive drought and there’s so much disruption that needs a redistribution of investment in lots of different ways. And so I think that’s how I see some of these same principles and ideas being applied in the international context.
Julian Agyeman: [00:39:14] Thank you. Question from Bruce R.: Have you looked at The Dawn of Everything by David Graeber and David Wenigrow? They show humans used to experiment, play with lots of different social organizations and economic systems. We’ve gotten stuck with the domination-only system.
Jennie Stephens: [00:39:30] Yeah, well, thank you for the suggestion. And I think that absolutely the notion — this isn’t like, sometimes people think, oh, this is just the way human beings are, right? Like, we’re destined to be greedy and selfish. But I think that’s just supporting this very narrow narrative. And I think you’re right that we do have a history of experimentation and being creative and innovative, not just in our technologies and the tools we use, but also in our structures. And so I think it’s an excellent point. So thank you.
Julian Agyeman: [00:40:06] We have a question from Kate Chee from Boston University. Hi, Professor Stevens. Thank you for a great discussion today. You mentioned the Green New Deal and transformative climate policies. In your opinion, what are some of the tangible and effective measures to accelerate energy transition, considering that globally, the United States and a number of other international governments sell subsidized fossil fuels totaling about half a trillion dollars?
Jennie Stephens: [00:40:31] Yeah. So the subsidies with fossil fuels and the relationship and influence of fossil fuel interests in our policies and politics is a fundamental challenge. But I think things are getting so bad that it’s a challenge that we are going to have to be facing more directly. And with the energy crisis, particularly here in Europe right now, the price for everybody to heat their homes, to have electricity is just going up so fast. So there’s really a cost of living crisis. People are on fixed income and their income hasn’t changed, but everybody’s expenses has. So we’re recognizing that the way that we’ve been subsidizing fossil fuels and perpetuating fossil fuel reliance is actually a huge vulnerability. And so I think this disruption that’s happening is also causing us to reconsider all those investments and subsidies in fossil fuels.
[00:41:39] I guess I will also just say that what’s really needed, particularly if you think about how so many of our energy policies have subsidized renewables, but mostly for well-off folks, right? Like in Massachusetts, you get rooftop solar, a big subsidy, an incentive, but you have to have a single family home and have an extra ten or 15 K in the bank, right? And then you get this great benefit. So a lot of people were excluded from that. And what we really need, especially when you think about fossil fuel reliance among people who can’t afford to weatherize their home or install renewable energy, is we need financial innovation, including like zero or negative interest loans, right? So that you actually pay people to make the changes that are needed. Because if we just leave it up to the market, we’re just going to continue with the green and more advanced clean technologies and potential with rich folks.
[00:42:39] So I think all of this is becoming more obvious. That doesn’t mean politicians are necessarily able to act on this, but there are movements toward acknowledging how the public investments that are needed, particularly for those on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum and the investments that are needed, specifically targeted for those who’ve been underinvested in and disadvantaged for so long.
Julian Agyeman: [00:43:09] Great. Thanks. Thinking about the current energy crisis in, say, Europe and the detonation of pipelines off the Danish coast. Just thinking about, you know, a European winter, which you are about to experience, Jennie, in Dublin. Is there any way that we can use the Russia-Ukraine European fuel crisis to further the goals that you’re talking about? Because surely, you know, isn’t what we’re seeing an absolute condemnation of — in the way that you’ve mentioned it — of all of these sort of patriarchal, colonial systems. So surely this must be an opportunity for us?
Jennie Stephens: [00:43:48] Yeah. I mean, I think the connection, if you look at the international news or even national news, although so much is about energy and fossil fuels, right? The geopolitical tensions are really interconnected. And so I think making those connections for folks and trying to see how fossil fuels are actually a vulnerability. Like, dependence on fossil fuels is just a huge vulnerability. And the problem is that it takes there’s no quick fix, right? Because of the time frame of these kinds of investments that are needed. But we have to start to think differently.
[00:44:30] And I mean, I think, if you think about also all the devastation of the hurricanes and Puerto Rico and Florida, the cost and the expense of not investing in what people need and in basic housing, food, energy, infrastructure is also devastating. You know, like we’re getting to the point with climate disruptions where we’re realizing all of the vulnerabilities and all of the tragedy and suffering that is associated with that. And so, I mean, again, in terms of opportunities, there’s new kind of connecting the dots I think, that we can do to help folks see a bigger picture and how these things are connected, because it isn’t obvious to everyone why and how these things are connected in the ways that they are.
Julian Agyeman: [00:45:29] Great. Well, we’ve got time for one last question. And in the absence of a question in the chat, I’m going to have the last question, Jenny. What are you optimistic about?
Jennie Stephens: [00:45:40] Being involved and engaged with inspiring people and organizations who acknowledge all of these systemic challenges and are working to disrupt and restructure, reimagine a better world and future, always brings me hope and optimism. And I think it’s — I know we’re in a time, particularly, it feels like the last few weeks, months, years, you know, like it’s one crisis after another at all different scales and contexts. At the same time, transformation — big, big change, that’s one thing we learned during the pandemic, big change can actually happen quickly when it happens. So I think we can think of a lot of our efforts as kind of laying the groundwork and doing some of this innovative thinking and preparing.
[00:46:39] And then when things align, big change and bigger transformation can actually happen quite quickly. And so I think that also brings me optimism. But I will say just for everyone, many people are struggling right now in lots of different ways. And I think the best thing that we can do to keep ourselves optimistic and positive is to work on collective action and new coalitions and creative, innovative ways to engage with all of these issues. And there are lots of different ways for each of us individually or collectively, to choose to do that. And there’s no one way or one right answer either, right? We’re at a time where there’s a lot of opportunities as well as challenges. So thank you so much, Julian, for that question. It’s a good one.
Julian Agyeman: [00:47:34] Well, I’ve just ordered my incrementalism is for wimps t-shirts because you like me, you have a solid critique. We don’t — incrementalism ain’t going to work anymore. One good example of incrementalism is from the early 1960s, the city of Copenhagen has been adding a little bit more pedestrian space. At first, the Danes didn’t want it. They said, We’re not Italians. We want to drive in our cars. It’s cold up here. But incrementally over sixty years, the Danes have transformed their capital. I don’t think we have time for incrementalism anymore. So I’m going to get my incrementalism is for wimps t-shirt. Jennie, it’s always a pleasure.
Jennie Stephens: [00:48:21] Thank you so much.
Julian Agyeman: [00:48:23] Thanks, Jennie. And our next colloquium is October the 19th, when Professor Loretta Lees of Boston University will present on “Planetary Gentrification: Impacts and Futures.” Thanks for attending Cities@Tufts. Again, thank you, Jennie. And we’ll see you on October the 19th.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:48:44] We hope you enjoyed this week’s lecture. You can access the video, transcript, and graphic recordings of Jennie Stephens presentation on Shareable.net. There’s a direct link in the show notes, as Julian mentioned, our next live online event is Wednesday, October 19th, when we’ll feature Loretta Lees’s lecture: “Planetary Gentrification: Impacts and Futures.” Please click the link in the episode Notes to register for a free ticket. If you can’t be there next week, you could always find the recording right here on the podcast.
[00:49:13] Cities@Tufts Lectures is produced by Tufts University and Sharable with support from the Kresge, Barr and Shift Foundations. Lectures are moderated by Professor Julian Agyeman and organized in partnership with research assistants Caitlin McLennan and Deandra Boyle. “Light Without Dark” by Cultivate Beats is our theme song, Robert Raymond is our audio editor, Zanetta Jones manages communications, Alison Huff manages operations, Anke Dragnet illustrated the graphic recording, Caitlin MacLennan created the original portrait of Jennie Stephens, and the series is produced and hosted by me, Tom Llewellyn. Please hit subscribe, Leave a rating review wherever you get your podcasts and share it with others so this knowledge can reach people outside of our collective bubbles. That’s it for this week’s show. Here’s a final thought.
Jennie Stephens: [00:49:58] The climate and energy crises that we’re in are really economic injustice issues. We don’t always think of it that way, but the concentration of wealth and power and the extractive, exploitative economy that’s associated with fossil fuels in particular has really contributed to this widening income and wealth gap.