VIC BARRETT is from low-lying land in New York, which is threatened by rising sea levels and more frequent storm surges, and has felt firsthand climate impacts in the form of Hurricane Sandy, when his home lost power and his school and local transport shut down. Vic has been learning about and fighting against the ways environmental racism and global climate justice manifest for 5 years now.
As a Fellow with the Alliance for Climate Education, Vic traveled to Paris to attend and speak at the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change, and joined as a plaintiff in the lawsuit brought by Our Children’s Trust against the United States government for failing to act to protect our climate for future generations. After marching in solidarity with more than 400,000 people at the Peoples Climate March in New York City, he organized his peers in local frontline climate campaigns. Through his activism, he has met with the Minister of Environment and Energy for the Maldives, and met with former U.S. astronaut, Kathryn D. Sullivan, who now serves as the Administrator for NOAA, and had the honor of representing young people as a speaker at the United Nations headquarters in New York City for the High-Level Thematic Debate on Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Vic is now an undergraduate student at UW-Madison. He currently sits on the diversity committee for the Nelson Institute to help advise and involve students of color in environmental activism, including action at the local level. Vic cares deeply about climate change, justice, and human rights, especially regarding the ways climate change affects young people like him.
What inspires you to combat climate change? I am inspired to combat climate change because of my understanding of its implications on already marginalized communities. Climate Change is a man made issue that is perpetuated by greed, white supremacy, misogyny, and other issues that far too many people have already fallen victim to. The climate crisis has so much to do with ignoring the black and brown people that hold so many of the answers on how to best coexist with nature and each other. I am deeply inspired at the thought of a world that elevates the resilience of black and brown people and am ecstatic to be a part of the climate justice movement, which actively fights for that.
What have you’ve learned from speaking with climate deniers? Something I’ve learned from speaking with climate deniers is that it is never smart to assume that people have the same access to the same information as you. I remember initially when interacting with climate deniers I’d become overcome with anger and shock at what I assumed was willful ignorance. “How can you ignore the facts that are right in front of you?”. After further examination of these interactions, I realized that instead of shaming people for their lack of resources, becoming a resource was far more effective.
In a world without climate denial, what challenges remain within the climate justice movement? In a world without climate denial the climate justice movement would still have to overcome denial of racism, overconsumption, and wealth inequality. All of these issues heavily influence the conversation around climate justice. If people believe the climate is changing but can’t accept that racism exists or that wealth is unequally distributed in this country then we cannot have climate justice.