Environmental Justice, Climate Change and Community Engagement (2022-2023)


The most recent United Nations climate report forecasts a bleak future if greenhouse gas emissions are not drastically cut. North Carolina enacted a goal to reduce 70% of the carbon dioxide emissions in electric power production by 2030. There are multiple paths for North Carolina to reach those targets, but they are not created equal. Some pathways would deepen democracy and prioritize racial and social justice, but others would further entrench the state’s racist legacies of indigenous removal, Jim Crow, redlining and Black land loss.

Poor communities and communities of color (together, “environmental justice” communities) are the most likely to be harmed under new policies. For example, reducing carbon emissions using swine waste biogas to offset emissions from fossil fuels can raise energy bills for low-wealth communities while also creating or entrenching pollution hotspots in the same communities from the swine waste handling processes. Without significant reforms, North Carolina’s efforts to confront the threat of climate change will continue to exacerbate existing racial and economic inequality.

Project Description

This project team will focus on two primary goals: confronting systemic exploitation in decarbonization policy and creating an equitable, community-led alternative. 

The first goal involves documenting the impacts of the existing energy system on environmental justice (EJ) communities, documenting how affected communities are organizing around and responding to those challenges, and cataloging the systemic barriers which keep EJ community leaders marginalized in the policy process. 

The second goal involves developing proposals for decarbonization policy that will empower communities to control the processes of energy policy development and correct imbalances in current laws, rules, institutions and procedures.

Team members will conduct interviews among EJ community members in North Carolina, focusing on documenting their past struggles with projects related to the energy system. These interviews will help the team identify key points of concern. The team will then convene a climate justice symposium addressing hotspots and other climate change policy problems for EJ communities. The symposium seeks to highlight what has worked, what has not, and what made the difference between past success and failure.

Team members will document different approaches to correcting environmental injustice in policy development and implementation around the United States and in other countries. They will design proposed guidelines for novel policy, law, rule and institutional proposals to implement a better system in North Carolina. Finally, the team will convene a design charrette with North Carolina EJ community members and stakeholders to refine and develop proposals, and develop a short-form documentary on environmental justice and the energy system in North Carolina.

Anticipated Outputs

Symposium; short-form documentary; archive of interviews; community participatory policy model

Student Opportunities

Ideally, this team will be comprised of 6-8 graduate students and 4-5 undergraduate students. Preferred graduate disciplines include law, environment, public policy, divinity, history, business and engineering. Preferred undergraduate majors are those housed in the Nicholas School of the Environment. 

All students will have the opportunity to contribute to publications and documentary projects. Ph.D. students will attend an intensive field trip with team leaders, spending an immersive week in energy justice/frontline communities in North Carolina (August 2022). During the week, students will learn about working with communities as technical assistance providers, which will help guide and design the study efforts. 

In August 2022, all students will attend an intensive orientation for a full week. All students must be available to participate in the August orientation. 

Team members will form two subgroups and meet weekly. Weekly full-team meetings will be used for information exchange and collaboration between the subgroups. In Fall 2022, the team will meet on Wednesdays from 3:30-6:00 p.m.

All students will have the opportunity to travel to EJ communities in North Carolina.

A graduate student will be selected to serve as the team’s project manager. 


Summer 2022 – Spring 2023

  • Summer 2022: Select community advisory board; take part in orientation in August
  • Fall 2022: Prepare symposium; carry out research
  • Spring 2023: Host symposium; report out; create documentary


Academic credit available for fall and spring semesters; summer funding available


Image: Swine Facility Lagoons on Banks of Stream and Waste Transport Ditches to Stream – NC, by Waterkeeper Alliance Inc., licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Swine facility.

Team Leaders

  • Ryke Longest, Duke Law
  • Daniel (Lee) Miller, Duke Law