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‘Rising Tides and Temperatures:’ Talking Openly About Climate Change

By Kala Nance

University of Mississippi Climate Reporting Project

Editor’s Note: As part of a year-long reporting project, students from the University of Mississippi and Mississippi State University are exploring what we know and what we don’t know about the impact of climate change in our state. Today’s focus is climate activists.

A family of four taking family pictures in the Art Garden in Jackson, Mississippi on October 29th, 2023. The director of 2C Dominika Parry says the parks like this contribute to the community by allowing space for various events and activities. (University of Mississippi SOJNM/Kala Nance)

Dominika Parry is a social justice volunteer at 2C Mississippi, a Jackson-based organization with a unique climate-focused mission.

“(2C Mississippi) is a climate organization that works on social justice projects,” said Parry. “I’m making this distinction because these are delicate topics. …We work on social justice projects, and we bring in social justice money to low-income communities of color. The purpose of the organization (is) to work on climate change and openly talk about climate change in Mississippi.”

Talking openly about climate change is not always easy in a state where, according to the Yale Climate Opinion study, just 44% of people believe global warming will harm them personally.

Parry, who is the founding President of 2C Mississippi and an environmental economist, earned her Ph.D. in forestry and environmental studies from Yale University. There, she worked on the valuation of air pollution damages. She said she speaks out on climate issues because so many others won’t.

“What I encountered was this constant fear of saying climate change. There are very many denialists who believe that this is not happening, that it’s all a myth and a joke and a hoax. But those who wanted to talk about it were also afraid that they would be ostracized and that there were going to be consequences from their employers, and so I put myself … in a position that allows me to talk about all the scientific facts and call them the way that they are.”

The organization is managing a project funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to reduce Jackson’s exposure to extreme heat as a city. In doing so, they are developing green infrastructure to promote the cooling of Jackson. Green infrastructure refers to parks, tree lines, vertical gardens, rooftop gardens and other structures where the environmental impact of concrete can be reduced.

Dr. Dominika Parry, founding President of 2C Mississippi. 2C Mississippi helps fundraise for the climate crisis in Mississippi, specifically the Jackson Metro area. (Photo sent in by Dominika Parry)

Mississippi State University’s architecture program has partnered with the Jackson Community Design Center and 2C Mississippi to give fifth-year students the opportunity to help with the project. 

“We step in with student workers and do all of the … up-front analysis of needs to then create the vision for projects so that nonprofits (like 2C Mississippi) can approach … (larger) organizations with their vision and carry the project across the finish line. We fill a very particular need,” said Jassen Callender, a professor at Mississippi State and the director of the Jackson Community Design Center.

Students in the program are currently designing two new parks for Jackson. Alston Brown is one of those students. Brown, from Madison, Mississippi, said he became drawn to architecture after having a lifelong interest in design.

“Design has always been a part of my life as far as within my family because a lot of us like to draw,” said Brown. He found an opportunity for a career in architecture. “Now I’m here and I couldn’t see it any other way.”

Brown said the work he and other students are doing in Jackson is influenced heavily by what people living there want.

“To me, it doesn’t make any sense to design a building if the community won’t benefit from it and doesn’t have a say-so in how it’s structured,” Brown said. “Because the 5th year program is centered around the urbanism behind Jackson, we typically do projects that focus on bringing in the community.

Brown said locals are leading the way on this project. “For example, the Jackson Community Design Center is helping 2C Mississippi with their grant to begin building some more parks because they found out that’s what the city needs and the community wants. I think that is an important aspect to think about when understanding what we do here as both students and volunteers.”

MSU’s fifth-year students also get the chance to create a specialized project focused on infrastructure improvements that they would like to create within the community. These projects use architecture to improve the local climate, landscape and environment. Callender said the partnership is a win for everyone.

“Around the country, in cities like ours, nonprofits need help so that they can be more effective at what they already do. That’s where community design centers can make a difference,” he said.

Now, Parry is looking for more allies on the campuses of the state’s universities.

“What I’m seeing is a huge interest among academics in social justice issues…and education,” said Parry. “When you come to Jackson, you find issues that are much more complicated, and they don’t follow the rules as nicely as you would want [from] a textbook…You are in a state that actually faces climate justice issues. If [students] and universities are willing to work on educational programs and connect with an outreach in action, I think that’s potentially extremely impactful.”

At the University of Southern Mississippi, educators are hoping to have an impact on some of Mississippi’s biggest climate change challenges by creating new degree programs in its School of Coastal Resilience, located on the university’s Gulf Campus. Students who enroll can choose from two programs: Sustainability Studies or Sustainability Sciences. 

“Students pursuing these majors will learn from research scientists and scholars about the challenges that confront the ecologies, natural systems and communities of coastal zones and develop the understanding and skills necessary to address some of the most important socio-environmental problems confronting our region and indeed the world at large,” Associate Professor Westley Follett said.

Formed at USM in July 2021, the school first enrolled students in spring 2023.

“We want (students) to get a better understanding about how (communities, people, industries and economies) can be self-impacted by these natural processes and events,” Follett said. “They learn not just about the science side of it but how that plays out on the ground, so to speak.”

While nonprofit organizations, businesses and educational programs are contributing to the growing awareness of climate change in Mississippi, individuals also can have more impact than they may think, Parry said.

“As an individual person, it is always good to change your behavior around the topic but what’s even better is forming a group with similar initiatives,” said Parry. “The larger the organization, the larger the impact. Get involved with others and think about plans to help move forward sustainable initiatives. Minimize your commutes, carpool, walk, bike, take public transportation, eat more plant-based foods and avoid food waste. Anything you can do helps improve the state of climate crisis in Mississippi.”

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