October 21-22, 2021


The Center for EcoJustice at the Iliff School of Theology is pleased to announce its next conference – to be held virtually on October 21 and 22. The conference will focus on the intersection of environmental racism and immigration. What impact does shifting climate have on populations whose lands are being devastated? Forced to leave, what impact does shifting people have upon overstrained world resources?


“Missing from most conversations concerning the current environmental crises is the role racism plays on those most affected by the degradation of the land. Also, missing from most discussions on our current immigration crisis is the role failed crops and droughts are having in the global south due to changing climate. This year we are focused on the intersection of climate change and immigration.”   

Professor Miguel De La Torre


For more information about the conference, please contact:

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Please click here for the final conference schedule.

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Conference Presenters

Climate Refugee Stories: Building an Archive of Resilience

Tina Shull, Christine Wheatley, Monica Curca, Sienna Leis, Emma Crow-Willard, Saumaun Heiat, Tanaya Dutta Gupta, Thor Morales, et al

The presenters explore the intersections of struggles for climate and social justice, and how interdisciplinary collaboration can contribute to climate change education through a discussion of the Climate Refugee Stories digital humanities project. Climate Refugee Stories is a multimedia narrative, public education, and archiving project that documents stories of people around the world displaced by the impacts of climate change and a global hardening of borders, broadly defined. Supplemented by a #ClimateMigrationSyllabus, high school curriculum, and community discussion toolkit, the project is designed to engage students, non-governmental organizations, and affected communities in questions of who are “climate refugees,” the historical origins of climate change’s disparate impacts, and how communities are responding to a convergence of crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Project collaborators will discuss their experiences of gathering stories from the US-Mexico border, Central America, Bangladesh, India, Ghana, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas, as well as the challenges and opportunities we have encountered.

How the Eurochristian Invasion of Turtle Island Created the Environmental Crises: Focus on an Early “Immigration”

Tink Tinker
(wazhaze, Osage Nation)

Most analyze how environmental issues generated by the increasing globalization of capital has compelled the immigration of people from the South into the North as they escape the conditions created by exploitive northern “investments” and extractive projects. Tink Tinker focuses on the invasive immigration that begins with 1492 with its powerful new technologies of destruction that changed the landscape so radically and seemingly irrevocably. He presses for an analysis of that most destructive immigration and its continuing consequences yet today. Consequences for the Land itself; consequences for Water; consequences for the people who live here, including the Native Peoples who were so brutally shoved aside and murdered, and whose relationship with the Land was brutally transfigured by its utter objectification, the conversion of the Land to a new abstract category called property. Besides displacing any remnant of Native Peoples from their lands to generate private property for eurochristian invaders, the big threat became the extraction industry’s need to exploit Native natural resources on Native Lands. Fuels, like coal and oil and gas, were an early target. So were precious metals, like gold and silver. But today the extractive industry threat is around more sublime elements like zinc and lithium. The waste footprint on Native Lands will continue to be huge, as will the genocidal devastation to Native populations.

Blockade and Climate Change Vulnerability: The Environmental Realities of Gaza after 15 Years under Siege

Abeer Butmeh, Memona Hossain

For people in Gaza, there is a rich and significant relationship with the land. The Palestinian land is connected to their sense of identity of resilience. Even Palestinian refugees who live outside of Palestine have a spiritual connection with their homeland. From the lens of Ecopsychology, the interconnective and holistic relationship between humans and the Earth, the presenters will explore this issue of environmental injustice as it has impacted Palestinian people. The presenters offer personal narratives, explore the relation of Palestinian people to the land and the impact of both climate change and occupation. They argue that the climate change movement and environmental justice narrative needs to consider how to tackle climate change under conditions of military occupation and resource exploitation. The presenters also bring to light the issue of energy independence and sovereignty as an important consideration for climate justice advocacy.


The Ignored and Forgotten: Environmental Migrants in Legal and Theological Narratives

César “CJ” Baldelomar

Theological anthropology must reckon with the fact that, notwithstanding its lofty and hopeful rhetoric, in practice, certain human lives (i.e. the rich, white, non-migrants) are worth more than others, while some lives are worth something only in relation to other lives. Rather than offer some simplistic narrative of hope, this presentation proposes a realistic––and perhaps even a pessimistic––assessment of environmental migrants and their non-legal and non-protected status which reflect their diminished humanity. The international legal community has ignored their plight, their perilous present as entire families and communities cross often hostile borders in search of a more stable tomorrow. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis notes that “there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.” Ultimately, the presenter posits that legal recognition and protection, while essential, is only a start; what is needed are honest conversations around who matters, how much certain people matter, and whether contemporary theological and philosophical visions of the human person adequately address the most vulnerable among us, especially as environmental degradation threatens to widen the gulf between haves and have-nots who will experience shifting borderlands amid shifting terrains.


The Necropolitics of the Armed Life Boat: Fossil Fuels, Migrating Bodies, and the US Military

 George M. Schmidt

The US military is the largest institutional consumer of oil in the world. George M. Schmidt suggests that Achille Mbembe’s work on “necropolitics” can offer a useful foothold for understanding this level of consumption. Mbembe offered the term necropower as a way to encompass the “subjugation of life to the power of death.” Rather than the Foucauldian idea of the right to kill, the US military’s large-scale consumption of fossil fuels exposes massive populations to the possibility of death. Such massive CO2 discharge creates, what Mbembe would call, “death zones” on a planetary scale. Petro-politics is necro-politics. The presenter explores the ways in which the US military’s consumption of fossil fuels and migrating bodies comprises material assemblages of necrochemical infrastructures. In this way, the presenter offer an interpretive paradigm for understanding the woefully undertheorized nature of the US military’s involvement in climate injustice.

Multinational Oil Companies (MNOCs) and Environmental Racism in the Global South: Experience from the Niger Delta, Nigeria

Luke Amadi

Luke Amadi expands the model of ecological justice, resource transparency and equity including ecological resource accounting. The conceptual framework potentially allows better understanding of the nature of environmental racism as responsible for environmental degradation in the Niger Delta context. The main thesis is that there is need to bring ecologically just, resource transparency and equity aspects together, in oil resource exploration by MNOCs, by paying more attention to particular ecological needs of the local oil-bearing communities to reach a shared understanding of the main values and principles of resource justice and transparency. He critically examines the particular problems that environmental racism has caused   and suggests some solutions on how to move towards a more ecological just polity and eco-friendly policy discourse on the issues of natural resource exploitation among the poor societies. Therefore, this study explicitly reexamines environmental racism in which the social, ecological and economic contexts of resource extraction by MNOCs are less reviewed and draws global policy attention to resource transparency and value for the natural environment, in line with the core existential needs of the stakeholder groups, including the local oil-bearing communities.

Disentangling Green Colonialism: Greenwashing and Environmental Racism in the Renewables Revolution

Cara Judea Alhadeff

Cara Judea Alhadeff examines the insidious manifestations of greenwashing and environmental racism in the context of the context of humanitarian imperialism—the ways in which our taken-for-granted standard of living dictates and breeds relentless consumption in the name of “Democracy.” The litany of our collusion with corporate forms of domination is infinite within the Anthropocene Era (forced migration, plutocrat-driven corporatocracies embedded in bacteria-phobia, commercialized-childhood, extractive industries). This collusion includes privatization of every corporeal and planetary so-called “resource” (reducing the Commons to privately-owned commodities’), compulsory Eurocentric-model education, and the entrapments of convenience-culture. We must be attentive to the ways in which we unconsciously embody the very racist hegemonies we seek to dislodge. This includes our technocratic petro-pharma addictions that use technology to create “equality.” Big Pharma, Corporatized Education, and Agribusiness payoffs drive policy. Even if policy appears to be in alignment with environmental ethics, we are consistently finding that policy change simply replaces one hegemony with another.

Off the Grid: Climate Change, Immigration, and POWER in Texas

Rebecca M. David Hensley

Climate change alone is not the reason so many Texans suddenly found themselves without power this past February. Texas’s energy problems are grounded in decades of deregulation and privatization of public services, while providing the lowest energy costs to large commercial users. Texas governance has, quite literally, legislated itself “off the grid” – and millions of its residents are suffering for it. Meanwhile, just across the state’s southern border, migrant encampments filled with hundreds (previously, thousands) of asylum seekers waited out the frigid temperatures in a tent city – where they also waited out flooding and resulting swarms of mosquitos, spiders, and snakes from Hurricane Hanna in July 2020 – due to the Trump administration’s “Migrant Protection Protocols.” Many of these migrants are escaping environmental destruction in their homelands as lack of regulations in a global capitalist market wreaks havoc on their native lands. These political, climate, poverty, and gender violence refugees came to the U.S. border legally seeking asylum. But under MPP, they were stranded between two worlds – existing on the margins of la frontera – for over a year. Because the entire immigration system is so obfuscated, each year thousands of people choose to go another route, crossing the border as undocumented immigrants, thereby absorbed into a life of economic, social, and psychological insecurity, existing at the mercy of U.S. Customs and Border Patrol and a nationwide network of ICE agents.

It’s Closer Than You Think: Climate Gentrification as a Form of Climate Migrancy in the United States

Emily Askew

Emily Askew explores the intersections of migration/movement, racism and notions of degeneracy.   We will look at examples of the degrading rhetoric and its often-violent consequences when some groups are determined to be “out of place.” She suggests that white, Anglo-Europeans and their (my) culture have always had free movement, i.e., colonialism was the physical expression of the idea that white, Anglo-European culture should be everywhere—and was thus justified in its movement and takeover of any space it chose. The right of movement to survive, or even thrive has been afforded to some and forbidden to most. From this larger view of who has the right of movement, I will look at a few ways that climate gentrification is currently expressed in the US, in the wake of California wildfires, increasingly violent hurricanes and more frequent and destructive tornadoes.  These evermore disastrous conditions lay bare preexisting issues of racism, wealth disparity and access to safety and affordable housing that climate change, as a “threat multipler”, reveals.  It also lays bare the questions of belonging, home and community. Whose ‘home’ should be protected? Thus, because climate gentrification is reshaping many communities’ historic sense of community, I want to put real peoples’ faces to climate gentrification in my own city of Nashville, TN.

Environmental Destruction, Forced Migration, and Disaster Capitalism in Puerto Rico: Resisting A Colonialist "Puertopia"

Kristina I. Lizardy-Hajbi

Kristina I. Lizardy-Hajbi outlines broadly the impacts of climate change in Puerto Rico in the form of more frequent and devastating natural disasters and the subsequent forced emigration of brown and black bodies in ways that can only be described through the phenomenon known as disaster capitalism. Coined most famously by Naomi Klein, disaster capitalism is “the way private industries spring up to directly profit from large-scale crises…[and] to push through policies that systematically deepen inequality, enrich elites, and undercut everyone else.” Through recounting some of the events taking place in Puerto Rico in this regard and bringing to the fore the impacts on individuals and communities that have been dehumanized and discarded for economic gain, I will begin to outline a few of the responses to disaster capitalism by Puerto Ricans, drawing specifically upon liberationist theological and organizing frameworks of self and communal resistance and agency. Ultimately, as the frequency and intensity of natural disasters increases due to climate change, all peoples of the Caribbean—including Puerto Ricans—must draw upon their collective resilience and creativity in resisting colonialism in its myriad forms.

On the Move: Black People and the EnviroPolitics of Place

Jennifer Leath

Jennifer Leath explores the relationship between different types of migration in the lives of Afrodiasporic people in the United States, offering a comparative of analysis between (1) the forced immigration of people in the transatlantic slave trade and the contemporary immigration of people that climate change forces in Africa, (2) the (forced) migration of Afrodiasporic people from slaveholding states to the North during the Great Migration and (recommended) migration of Afrodiasporic people from the North back to those former slaveholding states now, and (3) the relationship between historic redlining and contemporary gentrification. While these (im)migrations are often read contemporaneously and retrospectively as political in motivation, there is evidence that these (im)migrations are also responding to environmental contexts. She argues that the forced (im)migrations Afrodiasporic people have historically endured as a result of commodification, racial bias, and sociopolitical profit are consistent with the present trends of a disproportionate impacts of climate change and other detrimental environmental factors on Afrodiasporic people in the United States. Consequently, she commends a multi-dimensional resistance strategy that builds on (1) the holistic spiritual insights of organizations like MOVE and (2) deliberate migrations that maximize the political power and climate change survival preparedness of people of African descent.

Vaha’a Ngatae: An Island Response to the Global Issue of Climate Change and the Rising of the Sea Level

Ikani Fakasiieiki

Ikani Fakasiieiki exposes the suffering that people of the Pacific islands have already experienced and explores the Tongan concept/epistemology of Vaha’a Ngatae as one of the island ways to encounter climate change. The concept of Vaha’a Ngatae means keeping, managing and navigating the in-between space between us in a more careful and responsible manner. It is also refers to one’s own responsibility. It is a significant Tongan paradigm that helps indigenous people of Tonga respond to climate change in a more helpful and effective way. I intend to promote indigenous knowledge as being crucial for the future of planet earth especially in the face of the global issue of climate change. It is time that we recognize and consider indigenous knowledge to address this environment issue that affects us all. We do not ask much of the developed countries. The environment crisis that we face now is as a result of our human failure to understand and stay true to our Vaha’a Ngatae. Therefore, in order for us to heal and to make right that mistake we have to return to/revisit our Vaha’a Ngatae, uphold it and continue to be good stewards of our Vaha’a Ngatae.

Talking God in a Divided House: Relocating the Pacific Household of Life

Faafetai Aiava

The emerging works on Eco-theology from the South Pacific (hereafter: Pacific) have shown great promise with respect to reinvigorating our people’s interconnectedness with and dependence on God’s creation. In these works, the greed of foreign extraction corporations, under the neo-liberal capitalist banner of development, has been identified as the main culprit of climate injustices and rightly so. What is seldom discussed, however, is the degree in which internalized racism or the systemic suppression of Pacific cultural perspectives has inevitably shaped the way Pacific theologians do God-talk. While this might have a lot to do with the region’s colonial and missionary heritage, the current reluctance of theological students to treat our Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) as a credible source of theology indicate a conscious or unconscious acceptance of racial hierarchy. What this means for theology is that aspiring scholars would likely draw exclusively from the bible or the doctrinal teachings of the church perhaps because it is the path of least resistance and bearing the most (literary) support. Likewise, in relation to ecology, the safer option would be to draw strictly from scientific studies conducted by the West. In either case, the preference for universal appeal over the particular worldviews of minority cultures leads to the further marginalization of the latter. When redeployed as ‘care’ for the environment, this vicious imposition of knowledge or cycle of learning succeeds only in exacerbating the miscarriage of justice seen today.

An Environmental Racism through Public Welfare Policy

Hanry Harlen Tapotubun, Ismetyati Natalia Tuhuteru, Kritsno Saptenno

The presenters aim to criticize the public policy by the government which results in the environmental racism. Their research will focus on looking at the paradigm that underlies the formation of these kind policies, which according to our assumptions, still tend to be exploitative and generally ignore the environmental aspects and its impact on the sustainability of communities in certain areas. This is important, because in the formation and implementation of that policy, there are two essential things that are generally insufficiently discussed, such as: 1) a proper and complete environmental analysis, and 2) the environmental impact on the people who inhabit and depend on that specific area. Then, this results in what is commonly referred as “environmental racism”, which is a systematic and structured racism against some groups of people which are more disadvantaged than others due to excessive environmental exploitation. In this case, the grassroots people are most negatively affected by the environmental exploitation than those who get more advantage in the economic and political aspects. Further, the presentation will focus in Ambon, Indonesia as the research area..

Subalterns as “Eco-Missionaries” and “Eco-Prophets” in the context of Climate Change

Vinod Wesley

Vinod Wesley aims to highlight how the Dalit communities subjugated by the caste system are today facing more poverty, alienation from the land, and forceful migration due to climate change. With climate change affecting the agricultural pattern and in many places where people are abandoning agriculture, the Dalits who worked in the agricultural field are forced to migrate. Likewise, cyclones, floods and excessive rainfall due to climate change have caused a huge loss to the livelihood of the Dalits. Several studies in India reveal how environmental racism (casteism) and climate injustice is very visible even in the distribution of relief materials to the victims of climate change. The Dalits are the last to receive the relief materials. He will highlight how the Dalit life-world, i.e. their struggles and resistance contributes to a grass-root or a subaltern perspective to climate theology and climate justice mission today. The subaltern gaze (Dalit gaze) provides a grass-root methodological shift to the ways of doing Christian theology and ethics

Ignoring the Protectors: Slipping Soil and Relations in Village Resettlement Projects in the West Sikkim Himalayas

Kalzang Dorjee Bhutia

All over Sikkim, multiple communities have mobilized against the extractive economic framing of their homes that have led to environmental degradation at the expense of local communities who have longstanding connections with the land. As well as these neoliberal interventions, local communities also have to negotiate the deleterious impacts of climate change, which has contributed to the recession of Kanchendzonga’s glaciers, water access issues, erratic rainfall patterns, crop blight, and soil erosion. Complicating matters is when state intervention is framed as beneficial. In the last two decades, the Government of Sikkim has been lauded for its green initiatives, including banning single-use plastics and promoting ecologically sustainable tourism. However, at the same time, the Government has supported environmentally damaging forms of development that have led to the displacement of communities, particularly in rural areas. The presenter considers the tension between state interests and conceptions of land as fit for human habitation, and Buddhist and Indigenous acknowledgement of the complexity of multispecies environments in the Himalayas. In a time of shifting climates, it appears more important than ever that such acknowledgement is considered in the creation of projects that can create justice and stability, instead of contributing further to slippery futures for vulnerable rural communities.

Climate Change and Legislation

Representative Iman M. Jodeh
House District 41

Sadly, many do not associate the link between climate change and immigration. The common theory with immigration is often linked to regional geo-political realities, or the desire for economic prosperity, not the deterioration of their natural environment. Exploring and understanding the root causes between climate change and immigatoin will further help us address and potentially prevent future crisis around climate change and the effects on immigration.

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