The Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center (SE CASC) is hosting a virtual panel discussion on Nov. 2 at 11 a.m. to celebrate the center’s 10-year anniversary. The panel, titled “Stories of Culture and Adaptation,” will focus on marginalized communities with distinctive cultures and how they are impacted by and responding to climate change.
Aranzazu Lascurain, assistant university director of SE CASC, explained what the center is and why it is important to the Southeast.
“We are a center that is housed here at NC State University and serves the entire Southeast region, so it roughly goes from the border to Louisiana, the border to Virginia, and then covers Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Lascurain said. “The grant that comes to NC State by the [U.S. Geological Survey] is really to focus on climate impacts to ecosystems, so fish, wildlife, water, natural resources, but also cultural resources. A big part of what we also do is we work with tribal nations and Indigenous peoples to try to get them the information, the resources, the tools that they will need to adapt to the climate.”
The panel was planned by members of the Global Change Fellows Program, an interdisciplinary graduate program that started around the same time as the SE CASC. Twelve Global Fellows are selected every year by the center, and their studies range from the College of Sciences to the College of Design.
“The idea is to train these students to really understand each other’s methodologies, each other’s disciplines and terminologies so that we can better work in teams because really, climate change demands that all the best and brightest minds and thinking and values need to come together to work on climate,” Lascurain said. “What we hope to do with the Global Change Fellows is make them climate savvy. … The hope behind making us more resilient because we know that without this information, there’s a lot of fear and misinformation, and fear can be paralyzing. We don’t want to paralyze people; we want people to be active and engaged in doing things that benefit society.”
One of the fellows, Stephanie Kelly, a dual master’s candidate studying landscape architecture and climate in society, expanded on the panel’s theme and why it was chosen.
“We really wanted to give the youth and underrepresented communities a voice,” Kelly said. “Oftentimes, underrepresented communities are the ones that are being most impacted by climate change, and underrepresented communities especially with distinctive cultures like the Gullah/Geechee Nation, like our tribal friends, who are really trying to preserve their culture at a time when climate change is impacting the lands that they live on. … How do they preserve their unique culture in the midst of that happening?”
The panel will feature EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan as the keynote speaker, as well as other climate experts and activists for environmental justice. One of the panelists is Queen Quet, chieftess of the Gullah/Geechee Nation and founder of the Gullah/Geechee Sea Island Coalition.
“The Gullah/Geechee nation exists from Jacksonville, North Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida and encompasses all of the Sea Islands and 30-35 miles inland to the St. Johns River,” Queen Quet said. “Our culture has been here and evolved here since the 1500s, so it is a culture of people of African descent and Indigenous descent, and so many of us who are native Gullah/Geechee have both African ancestry and Indigenous American ancestry.”
Queen Quet, who is from St. Helena Island in South Carolina, spoke about realizing more was at play in her community than just erosion. She described overbuilding into the coast around the Sea Islands, “tree graveyards” full of white trees on the ground, shorter harvests due to intense heat, seafood scarcity and intense hurricanes. In recognizing these abnormal events, she decided to take action.
“[Politicians] called us ‘emotional natives,’ [and] said this wasn’t really anything they thought was of importance,” Queen Quet said. “Now, everybody says, ‘Oh, the Gullah/Geechees might have been onto something, they weren’t just being emotional.’ I don’t see what’s wrong with having emotion about watching your literal home start to look like it’s disappearing around you. There’s no maritime forest, and there’s no oyster banks to cleanse our water. There’s no Sea Islands. If there’s no Sea Islands, there’s no Gullah/Geechee culture. My culture is inextricably tied to the land and the sea, we harvest from both.”
Queen Quet was pleased to participate in the SE CASC panel alongside Regan, who is a native of North Carolina.
“It’s going to be wonderful to have North Carolina and South Carolina represented together because, more often than not, people act like that boundary between us is a wall that we can’t cross,” Queen Quet said. “I’m so happy that we’ll be able to be on this panel together because we both have lived what it is like to be Black people in the Carolinas who are now afforded the opportunity to have national platforms and to have international platforms. … We’ve had to deal with not only natural disasters, but environmental injustices, and we still are thriving, we’re still surviving.”
Kelly also talked about Queen Quet’s role as a keynote panelist and how her experiences will line up with those of the other panelists.
“Queen Quet is kind of our mentor panelist for the work that she’s been doing, and part of this panel discussion is her kind of handing off the baton to these youth grassroots activists within their communities,” Kelly said.
Kelly said she hopes this panel will demonstrate the SE CASC as a vital resource for the community.
“Events like this that both the Fellows put on and then that their faculty and administrators put on themselves are really important to help get that information out,” Kelly said. “Getting our name out there is really rewarding and letting people know that we exist and we’re here as a community resource.”
Lascurain hopes the Global Change Fellows program will bring more diversity into the climate change field and sees the panel as a reflection of that.
“It’s an important topic that hasn’t really been talked about,” Lascurain said. “I think it stems a lot from the environmental justice movement. We can’t be sustainable until we have more equality and diversity and voices in that sphere. I think this panel is trying to get at that. I think this panel is trying to bring forth those voices that have been impacted most by climate and other environmental issues over the past century or more.”
Queen Quet spoke about her long history with NC State, such as working with groups of students before the pandemic as part of the Gullah/Geechee Coastal Cultures Conference. She hopes to continue this relationship with NC State, as well as inspire the SE CASC panel audience.
“I hope that the panel audience will take away inspiration so that they know that there is something that they can do, because it’s all about us adapting our lifestyles collectively across the globe in such a way that we actually harness the power of upliftment restoration and healing for Mother Earth,” Queen Quet said. “If everybody leaves saying they’re going to change something in their lifestyle that helps to make the world a better place, we definitely would have done our jobs, and my living and work would not be in vain.”