Human Impacts Houston: Money and a Changing Climate

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The Human Impacts Institute has partnered with the Transatlantic Climate Bridge Program of Germany to implement a series of innovative salons in cities across the United States. From 2013-2014, we have implemented a total of 9 salons in cities such as Miami, the Bay Area, Chicago, and our native New York City to re-communicate climate change and make it personal to the people in these different communities. Our salons have brought together talented spoken word artists, dancers, activists, policy makers, educators, community leaders, and many unlikely participants to discuss various climate-related issues we are facing: money, energy, health, innovation, education. These salons are part of a creative collaboration with Germany to include the arts, humanities, and social sciences in part of our engaging climate change discussions.

Tara DePorte, Executive Director and Founder of HII, and I have spent the past few days in Houston, Texas outreaching and preparing for our Human Impacts Houston salon. We’ve gone to the Museum District, university student centers, local cafes, libraries, and community centers posting fliers and outreaching to people we’ve met along the way. We have used this time to learn more about the communities in Houston so that we could better understand some of the climate issues these communities face. Our Human Impacts Houston esteemed panelists included: Dr. Georg Maue, First Secretary of Climate and Energy, German Embassy to the U.S.; Dr. Robert Bullard, Dean of the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, Texas Southern University; Marita Mirzatuny, Project Manager, Clean Energy, Environmental Defense Fund; Dominic Boyer, Ph.D., Founding Director (CENHS) and Professor (Department of Anthropology,) Rice University’s Center of Energy and Environmental Research in the Human Sciences; and Deborah DEEP Mouton, Resident Writer, Writers in the Schools Deborah DEEP Mouton also doubled as our live spoken word performer for the evening. And for the first time ever, we had an impromptu live spoken word performance from Shen Ge, a member of our audience. HII’s very own Tara DePorte moderated our evening discussion.

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On December 9, 2014, we wrapped up 2014 with our ninth salon at The German Consulate in Houston. As a way to make this salon as creative and personal as the past eight, it’s been themed “Money and a Changing Climate.” Our speakers and participants discussed how Houston is shifting away from fossil fuels and some of the many challenges inhibiting its transformation into a green, more livable city. In one word, describe your relationship with climate change? Our panelists and participants were welcomed to the event with their first activity- to write their names on their nametags along with their one word description. Some in the variety included challenging, confused, catalytic, economic, and real. While we all networked and ate delicious food and desserts, many also took turns writing their Climate Hopes on a board in the room. These hopes for our climate future are meant to give us an optimistic outlook. As Dominic Boyer said, “we can’t let fear be our compass. We have to push joy” if we want to promote change. These little exercises kicked off our creative and collaborative conversation on tackling climate change. Our panelists discussed topics ranging from education and critical thinking, social media and collaboration, and environmental justice, to some of the economics profits and downsides of oil, fuel, and renewable energies. We broke down some of the stereotypes of who environmentalists are and what they look like (no we do not all wear birkenstocks and tie-dyed socks, but I personally have nothing against them!) We talked about getting mad, and using that energy into finding a proactive, rather than reactive, way to tackle climate related issues. To end our event, we read a quote by Dr. Albert Einstein, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” With that in mind, we succeeded our event with yet another opportunity for our Human Impacts Houston attendees to network and discuss any topics they were inspired to delve into further. About HII: At the Human Impacts Institute, we inspire action for strong communities and a healthy environment through hands-on, service education, coalition building, and using arts and culture for social good. For more info visit the Human Impacts Institute website.

Milcah Zewdie, 2014 Environmental Intern, December 10, 2014

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