Michael Garanzini SJ, AJCU President, spoke about the important role of community-based research as a university-level action in grounding global advocacy and collaboration on environmental justice.
Pedro Walpole SJ
It is Ecojesuit’s effort this year to stress the importance of being engaged in forming a social voice around the COP process, strengthening a North-South policy lobby, supporting youth climate action, ecclesial networking, and promoting agroecology that also responds to forest and water vulnerability.
A presentation during Day 2 of the 2023 Climate and Environmental Justice Conference at Santa Clara University (SCU) in Santa Clara, California, USA, was on Strengthening partnerships for restorative climate and environmental justice: Networking, capacity building, and collective action.
Michael Garanzini SJ, President of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU),gave the keynote address on Working with our Global Jesuit Partners. While serving as Secretary for Higher Education, Father Garanzini also led several initiatives that facilitated national and global collaboration among Jesuit institutions. According to Father Garanzini:
“…That community-based research that you (SCU) do with students and with neighborhood organizations is a real model. What your students, the hundreds of students who go through your (SCU education), get (is) an opportunity to experience that community-based work where listening and understanding is the first objective and the first part of your education. You’re really on to something here…It’s just beautiful the way you [at Santa Clara University and this conference] carry on this work and how you go back to those and can keep working with those organizations, so that as universities, as students, we’re not just flying in and flying out which is very difficult for community-based organizations to really handle. It’s not fair to the people that live in those communities.
“What are we doing as an international association of Jesuit universities?… One of those collaborations which we are just forming now is an international look at what we can do in the area of environmental justice. What could we do in terms of research? What could we do in terms of designing better education for undergraduates, especially in graduate students? And what can we do with faculty that would eventually lead to action, research, and then action advocacy?”
At the global level, there is the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat (SJES) in Rome coordinated by Xavier Jeyaraj SJ and that connects all the social action centers around the world. These are the place-based connections worth engaging with as these are often as insular as universities and high schools, with each institution focused on their mission but not always necessarily connecting with the global mission. SJES also coordinates four Global Ignatian Advocacy Networks or GIAN: GIAN Ecology or Ecojesuit, GIAN Migration, Justice in Mining, and Right to Education.
As Global Coordinator of Ecojesuit, I echoed an earlier presentation by Professor Chris Bacon on how universities are now working with the Sustainability Tracking Assessment & Rating System (STARS), a self-assessment for educational institutions to track their sustainability performance. There is greater energy in engaging with Laudato Si’ actions and the Universal Apostolic Preferences, all of which work for greater integration of the social apostolic work and research in the various Jesuit ministries in the service of communities discussed during the conference.
Nancy Tuchman, PhD, founding Dean of the School of Environmental Sustainability at Loyola University Chicago, discussed the importance of planetary boundaries in understanding our impact. In the social apostolate, these are mapped on the landscape. All this moves beyond awareness to research, and social organizing for greater advocacy and political action. “We need political and economic action if we are taking up our responsibilities as universities.”
As expressed in Laudato Si’, “…(p)ublic pressure has to be exerted in order to bring about decisive political action. Society, through non-governmental organizations and intermediate groups, must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures, and controls.” (Laudato Si’ 179)
It is still important to connect with the political realities of the time and these include the faltering UNFCCC COP process. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are way behind especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. According to an advance unedited report version by the UN Secretary General, Progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals: Towards a Rescue Plan for People and Planet, only 12% of the 140 targets are on track, with nearly 50% moderately or severely off track, and nearly 30% stagnated.
What is needed is political action, and the UN High-level Political Forum on the SDGs (SDG Summit 2023) in New York, USA on 19 to 20 September, and the UNFCCC COP28 in Dubai, UAE on 30 November to 12 December, are critical platforms for global engagement.
At the moment, a positive hope-based and faith-based response is needed.
Through the Ignatian Solidarity Network’s Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice 2023, youth voices are engaging legislators at Capitol Hill to seriously address the ecological crisis. Parallel to this are the European protests and the Future Generations’ Rights campaign led by the Jesuit European Social Centre (JESC). Jörg Alt SJ in Germany and his companions Cornelia Huth, Luca Thomas, Henning Jeschke, and Lina Eichler are animating this with the youth.
The 2023 Climate and Environmental Justice Conference, held on 27 to 29 April, was hosted by Santa Clara University and organized in affiliation with the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, and built bridges among a broad range of participants from higher education, community-based groups, secular organizations, and government agencies to scale up faith-based, community-based, and academic collaboration for action.