Symposium speaker looks to connections to advance climate justice

Three girls following each other in a row

Solving the biggest challenges facing humanity isn’t something academia, science or industry can do alone, says Jalonne White-Newsome, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Empowering a Green Environment and Economy, LLC.

“The goal of research is for discovery,” says White-Newsome, the keynote speaker for the 2022 Global Health Symposium, “Making Connections: Climate, Health & Equity.” “But it’s also for helping move solutions to big, super difficult problems. How better to do that—if you’re not the one dealing with the problem—than to connect with someone who is.”

Jalonne White-Newsome

White-Newsome’s talk, “Your Health is My Health: Advancing Climate Justice in the U.S. and Beyond,” is part of an evening hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Madison Global Health Institute (GHI) and the Office of Global Health at the School of Medicine and Public Health. The event, which is also GHI’s 10th Anniversary Celebration, is from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 19. The program will also reflect on UW-Madison global health successes while looking to the future of the field, locally and globally. A poster session and reception round out the event that will be in-person and live-streamed. The details and registration link are available here.

For White-Newsome, connection is the key to climate equity, including policies and projects that will protect the health and well-being of people that are made more vulnerable due to climate change and other injustices.  Uplifting community brilliance as a necessary ingredient of the science is essential. Connecting science to the people and people, or what she calls community brilliance, to the science.

“Science matters. The good scientists and good mathematicians can make information accessible to everyone. It’s less about  showing people how smart you are.  The real indicator is how are people able to receive and understand the information and the connection to their lives.”—Jalonne White-Newsome

With Empowering a Green Environment and Economy, LLC., White-Newsome works across sectors—industry, government, academia and philanthropy—to help organizations advance equity and environmental justice, specifically as it relates to climate change and public health. From planning to capturing data to scoping a project, she advocates for community involvement to shape agendas and demand accountability.

“No single industry, actor, or community can solve the climate challenge independently, and the care of the people and communities most vulnerable to climate change impacts must likewise be a shared responsibility,” she wrote in “A Climate Equity Agenda Informed by Community Brilliance” in Issues in Science and Technology.

She looks for relationships across the power structure to address challenges including climate change that often cause the most harm to communities with few resources. These are relationships that give partners “a deep understanding of their similarities and differences,” take time to build and can determine the success of a project or policy.

One way forward is to train future scientists – and even existing ones – on the value of including more voices in their work, White-Newsome says. “You do better and perform better as an organization when you have different perspectives. If you want to do good research and good science, it would probably behoove you to have a diverse set of perspectives informing and shaping the project as well as those you get information from.”

Times are changing, and White-Newsome sees hope as corporations and some politicians are recognizing the heavy cost of not asking the right questions and talking to the right people throughout the process.

So, she returns to connection. Talk to people. Understand what they value. Make the connection real. Give them steps they can take.

“(The visible effect of climate change) makes it easier to have these conversations,” she says. “Regardless of why you believe climate change started or exists, if you are dealing with wildfires or it’s flooding or it’s hot, our shared desire is to figure out how to adapt our communities to this new reality but then also to discover what are the things we can do to mitigate the challenges.”

From an elementary school student collecting water samples from the polluted Rouge River in Detroit to the lone African American chemical engineer in her graduating class at Northwestern University to working with systems and institutions to curb and respond to climate injustice, White-Newsome’s work rests on a love for the environment and for people “What I’m doing is not just for folks on this planet now but for future generations,” she says. “And I really want things to be better. If the little pieces that I’m offering of that puzzle can help us create a better picture of a society that everybody deserves, that is what keeps me going every day.”

A native of Detroit, White-Newsome earned a Ph.D. in environmental health sciences from the University of Michigan School of Public Health, a master’s degree in environmental engineering from Southern Methodist University, a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Northwestern University, and her certificate in Diversity and Inclusion from Cornell University. She serves on multiple national and local academic, non-profit and for-profit Boards and is a writer and sought after speaker nationally and internationally. She has been recognized by Grist magazine, Michigan League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Protection Agency for her work in the environmental justice, advocacy and health fields. She is also an adjunct professor at The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health.


By Ann Grauvogl/March 24, 2022