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WORKING TOGETHER: A Landscape Analysis to Inform Practical, Innovative, and Beneficial Use of NASA Earth Science Data to Advance Equity and Environmental Justice in the Gulf Coast Region

Team: Dr. Beverly Wright (Deep South Center for Environmental Justice), Dr. David Padgett (Tennessee State University), Dr. Nathan Morrow (Tulane University)

Executive Summary: Four Environmental Justice (EJ) networks convened to map priorities and discuss NASA Earth science data to advance underserved, primarily African American, EJ communities of the Gulf South: the National Black Environmental Justice Network, Historically Black College and University-Community Based Organization (HBCU-CBO) Gulf Coast Equity Consortium, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice (DSCEJ) Community Advisory Board, and the Environmental Justice Forum. The “Communiversity” model for co-created participatory action research guided the community-led academic-supported process. Grounded firmly in Environmental Justice Movement principles, the Communiversity approach safeguards equitable participation in research and honors the wealth of diverse knowledge held by EJ communities. With one flagship EJ network convening, a kick-off meeting, and three other opportunities to piggy-back sessions into already scheduled convenings, a number of case studies, and in-depth discussions provided insightful evidence base for the final deliverable: “WORKING TOGETHER; A Landscape Analysis to Inform Practical, Innovative, and Beneficial Use of NASA Earth Science Data to Advance Equity and Environmental Justice in the Gulf South Region”. The project team also conducted a literature review, supported capacity development to EJ networks on open source participatory mapping, and presented the work at conferences.

The Landscape Analysis was intended to inform longer-term NASA Earth Science Division equity and environmental justice (EEJ) efforts and Applied Sciences Program’s EEJ-oriented application activities. A context analysis summarizes relevant background and trends in EJ activism and scholarship, EJ policy development, hazards of the Gulf South in relation to climate change, open community-engaged science, NASA data, and NASA EEJ initiatives. Impact case studies of EJ networks’ Communiversity action research and results of participatory EJ network convenings are presented in synthetic findings of 1) EJ priorities and 2) strategic NASA Earth science engagement opportunities.

Environmental Justice priorities were complex and multidimensional, relating immediately to the experience of frontline communities. These included air quality, localized flooding, cultural legacy & heritage, climate crisis and cumulative effects. Novel areas of research came both from the EJ communities experience such as marsh fires and from consideration of NASA’s current projects such as heat mapping. Two foundational priorities were emphasized as foundational in every consultation: 1) Integrity in engagement with honest, open, transparent, and committed partnership sharing values to advance EEJ; 2) Fairness in data ownership as a foundation of equity in all aspects of partnering with EJ organizations and EJ communities.

Participants in the AGEJL-4-Equity convenings welcomed NASA EEJ program development and perceived the benefit of NASA data products to advance and strengthen EJ communities. Acting on these opportunities does not imply small or simple adjustments, but instead calls for sustained transformative commitment and investment that 1) focuses on wellbeing and prioritizes EJ community development, 2) develops capacity and strengthens community institutions, and 3) supports community-led engagement in all steps of scientifically valid research. There were eight recommendations: 1) Institutionalize Dr. Beverly Wright’s Communiversity model; 2) Promote Open Science for EJ community-engagement; 3) sustainably fund “backbone” functions of bridging EJ organizations; 4) focus on capability to monitor Justice40 infrastructure investments; 5) prioritize funding for diversification and development of EJ theory; 6) Adapt ARSET and DEVELOP approaches for needs of EJ communities; 7) Initiate youth engagement and workforce development for EJ Communities in community-engaged open Earth science; 8) Stand-up a Distributed Active Archive Center (DAAC) for EJ located in the Gulf South.