Lack of diversity detracts from first Asheville climate conference

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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ClimateCon 2018, billed as the first North Carolina conference dedicated to the climate-related businesses, suffers from a striking lack of diversity.

The conference is being touted for attracting more than 150 attendees and a slate of top-notch speakers. There’s a full slate of workshops and speeches by respected business leaders and government officials, including Paul Walsh, director of weather strategy for IBM Global Business Services and Ed Kearns, chief data officer with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration. There’s a meeting for young people, dubbed a “summit for emerging climate leaders.” There are a series of outside events, including an art exhibition and beer releases, aimed at helping ClimateCon connect with the community.

But the climate conference is frustratingly exclusive. Tickets for the official three day event, which opened today, were initially on sale for $999, a prohibitively expense cost for most people. (The price was dropped to $799.) One-day tickets cost $95.

There are several women speakers, but decidedly few speakers of ethnic diversity. As far as topics of discussion, the conference appears to ignore one of the most important areas of concern: the fact that communities of color and low income communities are often the hardest hit by the effects of the changing climate. Check out the NAACP’s statement on environmental and climate justice, or the Union of Concerned Scientists’ statement here for the smallest of examples of how climate change is affecting people the least well-equipped to deal with it.

The ClimateCon 2018 meet-up is another disappointing example of how some of our most respected civic and business leaders still fail to take into account people of color and their concerns. That’s especially true as the city of Asheville continues to take major steps toward equity and inclusion, while reckoning with stubbornly persistent institutional racial bias.

When ClimateCon’s lack of diversity was called to organizers’ attention on its Facebook page, The Collider’s executive director, Megan Robinson, agreed with the criticism.

“I’m committed to real equity and inclusion. This conference is not reflective of that – and we know it. I recognize the importance of helping support climate solutions that come from the communities that are most impacted by climate change,” Robinson wrote.

That recognition is a great first step, but it begs the question: if Robinson knew the conference fell short, why wasn’t action taken to correct the major weakness?

The ClimateCon goal is to convince more people to locate their businesses, which are built around or connected to climate data, here in Asheville. The hub for those businesses in The Collider, a nonprofit center “focused on catalyzing market-driven climate solutions.” Asheville philanthropist Mack Pearsall founded the center two years ago. It is located in sleekly designed space on the fourth floor of the Wells Fargo Building overlooking Pritchard Park.

If Asheville wants to attract those businesses and be seen as a community on the forefront of dealing with critical issues affecting us all, it must lead by example. And it must lead through the inclusion of everyone.


Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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  1. Denise Bitz March 24, 2018

    And the other very obvious elephant in the room was that nobody spoke about Global Animal Agriculture being the leading cause of climate change! Why not, because that means that acknowledging this means they have to change their dietary habits! Shame on them.

  2. ROBERT FEIRSTEIN March 22, 2018

    Give me a break..its a start…are you happy with the ZINKE/PRUITT MAFIOSO Environmental Policy of O&G return to the stone age thinking?? Perhaps some business leaders will get together after the conference & change thinking in their INDUSTRY…in 1994 we started MOUNTAIN XPRESS @ my house in Montford…XPRESS had helped change ASHEVILLE for the better…YA THINK??

  3. jonathan wainscott March 22, 2018

    Wow, that’s not many people of color for this symposium thinggie. Check out how our Tourism Development Authority is doing in the racial equity area. This agency collects $20,000,000 of tax money a year (and growing)

  4. Lara March 21, 2018

    Thank you, Jason!

  5. Wayne Allen March 20, 2018

    Yes by all means let’s keep destroying the planet because there are not people of color on a fricking panel.

  6. jerry g March 20, 2018

    At least the name of the conference is correct, “ClimateCon” as in con game.
    Blacks are too smart to push this stupid non-scientific narrative design to make people like Algore multi billionaires, at the expense of taxpayers.

  7. Big Al March 19, 2018

    Yet ANOTHER hilarious example of how lefties eat their own, like crabs in a barrel.

    #TreeHuggersSoWhite, anyone?

  8. C Peele March 19, 2018

    Assume the conferance was about climatic change rather than social change.

  9. Melissa March 19, 2018



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