Environmental Racism and the Climate Emergency: An Interview with Ingrid Waldron

This is the fourth post in the series Historians Confront the Climate Emergency, hosted by ActiveHistory.ca, NiCHE (Network in Canadian History & Environment)Historical Climatology, and Climate History Network.

Ingrid Waldron is the HOPE Chair in Peace and Health in the Global Peace and Social Justice Program in the Faculty of Humanities at McMaster University and the author of There’s Something In The Water: Environmental Racism in Indigenous & Black Communities (Fernwood, 2018). Dr. Waldron spoke with series co-editor Edward Dunsworth over Zoom on 30 June 2021. Transcript edited for clarity and length.

Edward Dunsworth: Thank you, Dr. Waldron, for speaking with ActiveHistory.ca today. Your 2018 book, There’s Something in The Water, about environmental racism against Black and Indigenous communities in Nova Scotia, has done exceptionally well. Currently in its third reprint, it also was the inspiration for the documentary film of the same name, co-directed and -produced by movie star Elliot Page, that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2019 and is now streaming on Netflix. Could you tell us a bit about how the book came about?

Ingrid Waldon: I had planned on writing a book, but perhaps not so soon. Since starting the Environmental Noxiousness, Racial Inequities & Community Health Project (ENRICH) project in 2012, I’ve been keeping detailed notes. [Editor’s note: ENRICH is “a collaborative community-based research and engagement project on environmental racism in Mi’kmaq and African Nova Scotian communities.”] So I knew that I would use that at some point, but I was planning on a different type of book that would look at the challenges of doing community based research, in general. I was approached by the publisher of Fernwood about writing a book on environmental racism in Nova Scotia. And I thought about it and said yes.

The book talks about the ENRICH project, the challenges of community-based research, and the health impacts of environmental racism, all within the context of settler colonialism, heteropatriarchy, and neoliberalism.

An important goal of mine with the book was to give voice to the Black and Indigenous communities I engaged. I wanted their voices to be at the forefront. Many of the chapters include direct quotes from them that articulate their experiences and their thoughts on the issues.

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Doing There? A Cycling-Inspired Riff on Embodied History

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Josh Howe

This is the third in a series, “History En Vêlo,” about cycling and thinking historically, shared with NiCHE.


In the west hills outside of Portland, there is a climb popular with road cyclists called Old Germantown Road. It’s the sort of climb cyclists often describe as “punchy” — that is, it is not particularly long, but peppered with the whimsical steep pitches that characterize the back roads of regions that rarely see snow. I make it a regular feature of my Portland rides. It never feels good — in fact it usually feels like taking knives to the legs — but I like the aesthetic and the lack of traffic, and I am a sucker for difficult things.

Recently, toward the bottom of the most sustained section of the climb, someone has stenciled the name MAJOR TAYLOR in white paint on the gray pavement. It got me thinking. About cycling. About bodies. And about history.

Marshall “Major” Taylor, photographed by Jules Beau (Photographs Sportifs, 1906-07), Gallica Digital Library (Wikimedia)

Marshall “Major” Taylor was an African-American professional cyclist who raced in an otherwise all-white world cycling tour in the late 1890s and early 1900s. Over his career, he racked up a pile of world records and a world sprint championship. He also faced rampant racism and discrimination across three continents during his time on the bike, only to be all but “forgotten” for almost a century by sports historians focused on other, whiter things. His story is fascinating, and has rightly resurfaced in a variety of media after nearly a century of neglect.1 Continue reading

The Climate Crisis and the Canadian Classroom

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This is the third post in the series Historians Confront the Climate Emergency, hosted by ActiveHistory.ca, NiCHE (Network in Canadian History & Environment)Historical Climatology, and Climate History Network.

By Daniel Macfarlane

We’re in a climate emergency. This isn’t just rhetorical hyperbole, but a statement backed by more than 13,000 scientists. Even the venerable publication Scientific American agreed to adopt the term earlier this year. Canada is particularly culpable for this crisis because of its petro-state status and hyper-consumerism. 

My research deals with the transborder history and politics of Canada-U.S. water and energy issues, lately involving climate change. But it is in my teaching role that I spend the most time addressing the climate emergency since I’m in an environmental and sustainability studies department (which has a climate change minor). This includes an introductory course that features a major climate change component, as well as senior courses such as the seminar I’m teaching this fall that concentrates on my campus’s carbon emissions. 

True, I have the advantage of teaching in an environment-focused setting that looks as much at the present and the future as the past. But all historians, regardless of experience in environmental history or history of science, can bring the climate emergency into their classroom. What I would like to do in this post is to suggest some areas, based on my teaching experiences and reading of recent literature, where climate change could be injected into Canadian history survey courses.

During the pandemic, I’ve read a wide range of new popular books about the climate crisis – from the technocratic solutions of Bill Gates to the Green New Deal advocacy of Kate Aronoff. Within those public-facing books, I noticed four key debates – or spectrums since they don’t have to be either-or questions – about tackling climate. These are illustrated below, with the ‘X’ marking where I land within each:

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History Slam 192: Challenging Sex Discrimination in the Indian Act

By Sean Graham

In 1994, Lynn Gehl applied for registration as an ‘Indian’ with the federal government. Unable to provide evidence as to the identity of her paternal grandfather, meant that, under the terms of the Indian Act, she was not entitled to registration, despite her paternal grandmother having status. What followed was a long challenge to the Indian Act in which Gehl challenged the federal government’s decision, claiming that s. 6 of the Indian Act, which covers unstated parentage, is contrary to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Over 20 years later, Gehl’s case was finally resolved, but it serves as yet another reminder of Canada’s colonial structures and the harm they impose.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Lynn Gehl about her new book Gehl v. Canada: Challenging Sex Discrimination in the Indian Act, which follows her case through real-time articles she wrote over the past 30 years, as well as some contemporary reflection on the case. We discuss Lynn’s challenge of the Indian Act, the 30-year legal proceedings, and her role in challenging unknown and unstated paternity. We also chat about the colonial policies and their impact on Indigenous communities, contemporary questions surrounding Indigeneity, and the legacy of the ‘Famous 6’.

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Climate History, the History of Science, and the Climate Crisis

Global temperature anomalies over the last 2,019 years. Ed Hawkins using data from PAGES2k and HadCRUT4.6.

This is the second post in the series Historians Confront the Climate Emergency, hosted by ActiveHistory.ca, NiCHE (Network in Canadian History & Environment)Historical Climatology, and Climate History Network.

By Dagomar Degroot

Historians have always concerned themselves as much with the present as the past. Some do so explicitly, their work guided by a conscious desire to provide context for a matter of present concern. Others do so implicitly. They may study the past because it makes them curious, but that curiosity is inevitably shaped by their day-to-day lives. One way or another, history as a discipline is the outcome of the history historians must live through.  

Today no challenge seems more daunting than the climate crisis. Earth’s average temperature has warmed by over one degree Celsius since the nineteenth century, and it is likely – though not inevitable – that much more warming is on its way. Global temperature changes of this magnitude, with this speed, profoundly alter both the local likelihood and severity of extreme weather. Human-caused heating will reverberate through the Earth for millennia – by slowly melting ice sheets and raising sea levels, for example. 

Our lives and livelihoods will be – in many cases, are already – shaped by this crisis. No surprise, then, that ever more historians now think urgently and seriously about the implications of climate change for their scholarship. Forecasts of the warmer future are still dominated by economics and climate science, but few now deny that scholars of the past – including historians – can offer unique perspectives on how we entered this crisis, where it might be taking us, and how we can avoid its greatest dangers.   

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Cycling in Search of the Clyde Timber Ponds

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By Jim Clifford

This is the second in a series, “History En Vêlo,” about cycling and thinking historically, shared with NiCHE.

I am always looking for an excuse to ride a bike and work at the same time. During the extreme challenge of balancing work, parenting and exercise during COVID 19, I’ve done most of my “reading” while biking. Did you know Bathsheba Demuth’s exceptional Floating Coast: An Environmental History of the Bering Strait is available as an audiobook? Or Anne Lowenhaupt Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World? You can also listen to classics by William Cronon, Stephen Pyne, and James Scott or best sellers by Andrea Wulf and Charles C. Mann. I’ve managed to bike my way through a lot of audiobooks in the past 18 months (there might have been a little nordic skiing in the mix, along with too many hours riding my bike on a trainer in my basement). Without audiobooks, I don’t know if I would have read any history books during COVID or been able to keep exercising without feeling guilty about all the work I was behind on.

I’ve spent hours cycling on the gravel grid roads around Saskatoon, escaping to follow whales off the coast of Beringia, mushroom pickers in forests in Oregon and Japan, and Alexander von Humboldt as he summited mountains in the Andes. Continue reading

Historians Confront the Climate Emergency

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This is the introductory post to the series, Historians Confront the Climate Emergency, hosted by ActiveHistory.ca, NiCHE (Network in Canadian History & Environment), Historical Climatology and Climate History Network.

By Edward Dunsworth and Daniel Macfarlane

What a summer.

In late June, a “heat dome” stalked the Pacific regions of Canada and the United States, pushing thermometers close to the 50-degree mark and causing the sudden death of 570 people in British Columbia alone.

By July, hundreds of forest fires raged throughout the west coast and in the prairie regions of northern North America, their smoke billowing out across much of the rest of continent. Parts of Turkey, Macedonia, Italy, Greece, and Tunisia were also devastated by forest fires (with Argentina hit during the southern hemisphere’s summer months earlier in the year).

Smoke forecast for 11 p.m. EST, 31 July 2021. Firesmoke.ca via Wildfire Today.

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Historia Nostra: Was the Pays d’en Haut really a Middle Ground?

By Erin Isaac

I remember being intrigued and a bit confused after my first reading of Richard White’s classic work The Middle Ground, which had been assigned for a fourth-year history seminar on French colonial history. My peers, likewise, found the ideas proposed interesting but a bit idealistic. Coming back to this text as a PhD student, the questions that my peers raised on that first reading have stuck with me.

Like Heidi Bohaker’s work on Anishinaabeg doodem, we wondered how White’s assumption of a cohesive or collective identity among Algonquian-speaking peoples distorted his findings, and about how the book’s emphasis on French-Indigenous relations disproportionately emphasized French authority in a landscape where they occupied a relatively minor “space of power” (to use Elizabeth Mancke’s framework) in a region that included numerous complex Indigenous polities.[1] Continue reading

History En Vélo

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By Claire Campbell

Limestone Run (left) and Buffalo Valley Rail-Trail (right), haze from western forest fires (above), July 2021.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started to close in last March, the safest place seemed to be outside. (With all of us at home, I also needed to get out of the house regularly to avoid murdering anyone.) One pandemic resolution was to ride the local rail-trail once a week, and to cycle as much as possible on errands and suchlike. (Not easy to do in small-town Pennsylvania, which toggles between the Ford F-150, the Amish buggy, and far too many soccer-mom SUVs. God bless America.) I am neither an American nor an historian of the United States, and have no desire to become either of these things; but when life hands you a border closure, you adapt. Biking was the only way I could leave town. My current research is about water in Atlantic Canadian cities; Halifax and Charlottetown were two days plus (until recently) a quarantine away. But there are towns along the Susquehanna River that have altered their fresh water routes in ways that echo, on a smaller scale, the urban narrative of the North American Anthropocene. Continue reading

History Slam 191: #BlackinSchool

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By Sean Graham

All across the country, students have either returned, or are gearing up to return, to school. While there is great uncertainty about what the school year will look like and the safety measures being implemented in the midst of the pandemic’s fourth wave. For thousands of young Canadians, they will also be returning to spaces that are hostile and efforts to improve the situation have been rebuffed.

Systemic racism in school is the subject of Habiba Cooper Diallo‘s new book #BlackinSchool. A memoir profiling her experiences in high school, Diallo powerfully documents the systemic racism and stereotypes found in the education system and how she processed and resisted this while in school. A great writer who has won multiple awards, Diallo is able to not only document her experiences, but also elicits a strong response from her readers, who are encouraged to think about educational structures and what we can all do to make the classroom a more welcoming place.

In this episode of the History Slam, I talk with Habiba Cooper Diallo about the book. We discuss her experiences in school, system racism in education, and the impact on racialized students. We also explore how to identify microaggressions, the connection between curriculum and school culture, and how we can work together to eliminate racism in school.

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