One of eight student-led events during Energy Week at Duke, Bringing the Transition Home: Energy Justice in NC, explored the origins of energy injustice in North Carolina and the importance of ensuring a clean energy future for all.
“Energy justice for me is not an outcome, it’s about the process,” said Ajulo Othow, founder and CEO of EnerWealth Solutions. “It’s more about how we do things and not what it is.”
Othow helps black landowners in North Carolina generate revenue by reinvesting their land into viable energy solution opportunities as a way of wealth redistribution. “There are unique features in the South, in particular to race. The connection between poverty, race and energy burden and where the electrical assets are located is too much to be a coincidence.” Othow said her focus on affirmative action through environmental justice is how she seeks to provide retribution for affected groups.
For years, energy burdened communities in North Carolina have faced adverse health effects from traditional fossil fuel energy production, said Ren Martin, ecojustice connection program coordinator at North Carolina Interfaith Power and Light. With the promise of sustainable power solutions on the horizon, it is important to ensure these communities are also a part of the clean energy transition in a way that benefits everyone, Martin said. These communities need to benefit from the shift to cheap, abundant sources of energy without being left behind with no consideration for past energy injustices and the hope for a more sustainable future.
There are “3.9 million households struggling with energy security,“ said Michelle Carter, clean energy campaigns director at the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters. “A lot of those households are right here in North Carolina.” Carter’s work includes lobbying for policies that do not disproportionately affect vulnerable communities, many of which in North Carolina are historically communities of color. Her focus includes improving vulnerable communities’ access to climate hazard repairs since many communities are unable to rebuild after a disaster because of zoning and building code restrictions.
“Energy justice is about centering the people first,” said Martin. “As things stand right now, there are sacrifice zones in this nation, and in North Carolina, when it comes to energy.”
Martin’s energy focus is through a lens of faith. They have a robust working group and youth leadership program and work with congregations on ways to reduce the impact of the climate crisis through a moral obligation to impacted people. “We think globally but act locally. The historical responsibility that the U.S. owes to impacted regions that have faced the consequences of the climate crisis is essential,” Martin said.
Duke undergraduate and panel moderator Felicia Wang’s work includes student-led opportunities for involvement in the energy justice movement. “As college students, we have the unique responsibility to do something about it,” said Wang who is the politics lead at Sunrise Durham.
Panelists concluded the event by offering ways students at Duke can get involved with future environmental and energy justice work.
“Vote!” Carter said. “Communities of color are having their voting rights stripped. Justice and systemic transformation will not happen unless you think of the cultural changes needed.”
Martin suggested attending future events and volunteering for local organizations within North Carolina or Durham. “You guys are already doing it,” said Othow. “You are here, you are interested, engaging with each other. Make a difference by staying here in North Carolina; (citizens) can benefit from having you and your expertise in the rural communities.”
The session was part of Energy Week and was sponsored by The Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment & Sustainability and the Center for Energy, Development, and the Global Environment (EDGE) at the Fuqua School of Business. Both organizations offer advice and support to student organizers.