The Lumberjack

Humboldt takes on the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference

HSU Environmental Studies Club at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. Photo by Ty McCarthy.

Students and professors from HSU traveled to the University of Oregon to attend the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference focusing on environmental issues and global sustainability.

A group of Humboldt State students drove six hours through rain, hail and snow to the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference, or PIELC, at the University of Oregon this past weekend.

The four-day conference featured speakers, panelists, activists and organizers from all over the world. Two of them were Humboldt State professors. This diverse group of people came together in one space to discuss current environmental issues and the legal work fueling their fight to global sustainability.

Brooke Holdren, a senior at HSU majoring in biology, brought a scientific perspective to the event. She encourages bridging the gap between the sciences and humanities in terms of environmental activism.

“People from all different facets come here,” Holdren said. “So you have the people practicing law along with the anarchists and the homesteaders. And you see everyone working together in this really unconventional way.”

This year’s conference pushed the theory of intersectionality, their “buzzword” for the weekend. Intersectionality is a concept that came from the early 1900s feminist movement and is the idea that all aspects of humanity – race, class, sexuality and geographic location – are all interconnected and cannot exist separately.

Intersectionality is now being applied to environmentalism with the understanding that environmental problems and social injustice are interconnected.

James Bradas is an environmental studies major at HSU who found a sense of agency in going to the conference.

“I came cause I give a damn, and that’s half the battle,” Bradas said. “Our major is very activism-based, but you can’t escape the insular bubble, so being here is a real eye opener. To actually see the faces of the names we’ve read is a reminder that you don’t need a whole lot of money to do something and be active.”

Conference guests ranged from guerrilla tree climbers and food justice-based farmers to representatives from the Center for Biological Diversity and EarthJustice – people pushing for justice and equity for humans, as well as the natural world. The event offered students an opportunity to network with other environmentalists and get more involved in the world of activism.

Samantha Garcia, an environmental studies senior at HSU, thought the conference brought a welcome shift in the tone of environmental conversations.

“As an environmental studies major, it can get depressing, and you absorb the negative energy from what we’re learning,” Garcia said. “So, it’s refreshing to be around all of these like-minded people.”

The weekend provided a wide range of activities for conference attendees to participate in. However, not all came without criticism. Some were pushing a very aggressive version of activism. Holdren was able to take a step back and see the positives, even from this negativity.

“There were a lot of things within and without of PIELC that were really problematic,” Holdren said. “It’s good to bring a critical lens to something like this and take what you want from it, but also learn from it in the sense of how not to go about things.”