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Tired of health disparities, community leads frontline solutions to climate change

February 13, 2024
by Jane E. Dee

We're talking about climate change. It is disruptive, it is unpredictable, and it is happening now.

Elizabeth Yeampierre

Yale School of Public Health became one of only a handful of schools of public health in the world to have a center dedicated solely to climate change when the Yale Center on Climate Change and Health (YCCH) was established in 2020.

Since then, the center has catalyzed YSPH’s multidisciplinary expertise and global reach to train future leaders, while publishing innovative research studies that address climate change.

The center also strives to translate research into practice to improve the health of people in local and global communities. Recently, the center welcomed community and environmental leader Elizabeth Yeampierre, co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance, a national organization that works with community groups, and executive director of UPROSE, Brooklyn’s oldest Latino community-based organization. Yeampierre talked about how local community members are responding to climate change despite the health and economic disparities they've faced for generations. Her talk, "Climate Justice: Frontline Solutions in the Midst of Disruption," was the center’s first guest seminar of the spring 2024 semester.

Born and raised in New York City, Yeampierre is an internationally recognized Puerto Rican environmental/climate justice leader of Black and Indigenous ancestry. She spoke to YSPH students, faculty members and others about making a difference in the climate movement by working with frontline organizations rather than depending on what she called “the big greens” – large non-governmental environmental organizations that use their sizeable funds to offer “cookie-cutter solutions.”

She thanked Yale students for supporting the work of UPROSE and the Climate Justice Alliance so that these organizations can effect change by “building local alternatives that center traditional ecological and cultural knowledge and create a pathway for a regenerative future.”

“We influence, we come up with the ideas, we come up with the recommendations,” she emphasized. “You're the ones who are going to be able to provide us with the support we need so that we can manifest things.”

The priorities of UPROSE are to address four issues: renewable energy with community ownership at its center; drinkable water; food sovereignty; and wellness.

Yeampierre described how UPROSE has won significant victories against polluting and extractive industries in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, a community of 132,000 people located in the largest significant maritime industrial area in New York City.

“We have everything from the Gowanus Expressway that has 130,000 cars and 13,000 trucks going through there every day to solid waste management plants,” she said.

UPROSE has co-created coalitions to regulate “last mile” trucking facilities in the neighborhood, large warehouses for trucks and delivery vans that tend to be concentrated in communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, exposing residents, school children, and workers to harmful fossil fuel emissions, she said.

UPROSE also is preparing to launch Solar Sunset Park, having mapped 20 rooftops for community-owned solar panels. “It's a plan for the decarbonization of this industrial waterfront community,” Yeampierre said.

“There has never been a time,” she said, “that we in this community have not been exposed to not having the best food, the best health care, that we have not been surrounded by petrochemical industries, that we have not had to deal with the high stress that comes with trying to survive, put food on the table, and raise our children. That shows up as health disparities, and you have people with health disparities who are now faced with climate change.”

Elizabeth Yeampierre was the Director of Legal Education and Training at the Puerto Rican Legal Defense Fund. She is on the YCCH Advisory Board.

Submitted by Jane E. Dee on February 12, 2024