Law Professor and Sustainability Fellow Randall Abate Advocates for Climate Justice

“Climate justice” focuses on the need for equitable responses to the pressing challenge of climate change that is being felt here and now, a problem disproportionately affecting poor and marginalized people internationally.


FAMU Law Professor Randall Abate, who has been awarded one of five Sustainability Institute Faculty Fellowships for the 2016-17 school year, will soon publish a book surveying governance challenges for climate justice in multiple case studies across the world. He explains that the book will help “put a human face on the climate change crisis that we are currently facing in the world, in the U.S., and here in Florida.”

The book is titled, Climate Justice: Case Studies in Global and Regional Governance Challenges, and will be published in December, 2016. Professor Abate will teach a climate justice course at FAMU College of Law in the spring of 2017, drawing on the rich case studies in the book that cover North America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, the United States, and Australia.

The case studies address impacts on affected communities including island nations, indigenous peoples, women in rural areas, South Florida residents, and animals.

The book raises the climate justice challenges that these regions and communities face and proposes legal solutions. During his sabbatical in fall 2016, Abate will travel to the U.K., Switzerland, Kyrgyzstan, Vanuatu, Australia, and three cities in the U.S. to teach courses and deliver lectures related to the book. He delivered lectures in Norway and Canada this summer on atmospheric trust litigation, which is the topic of a chapter that he prepared for this book.

 to rest of world

Many people are being displaced due to rising sea levels.

The regulation of climate change is complex and challenging, as it crosses international boundaries. Climate justice seeks to promote more equitable allocation of the burdens of impacts at local, national, and international levels, Abate says. Climate justice law is founded on international human rights and environmental justice theories.

“Whether we are considering the plight of indigenous peoples in the Arctic or low-lying island nations in the South Pacific, climate change impacts such as sea-level rise and polar melting affect many human rights including the right to health, food, shelter, culture, and life,” he explains.

“Climate justice takes many forms,” he continues, “sometimes in the form of court cases based on environmental and/or human rights-based theories, sometimes in the form of proposed treaty or statutory protections, and sometimes simply in the form of raising awareness of and sensitivity to the vulnerability of marginalized communities to climate change impacts and offering them a right to be heard.”


Agriculture is being greatly affected by climate change. 

Abate’s focus on climate justice is founded on a view of sustainability as a necessary consideration for responsible economic activity. He recognizes that resources should only be used in a way that ensures their availability for future generations. As such, one aspect of climate justice that Abate has been concerned with is atmospheric trust litigation. “This theory involves lawsuits brought by youth plaintiffs against state and federal government entities alleging that the government has a fiduciary duty to

protect the atmosphere for the benefit of current and future generations,” Abate writes. This theory draws on sustainability and its environmental stewardship foundations.

Abate has been a law professor at FAMU’s College of Law in Orlando since 2009. Upon return from his sabbatical, he will begin a three-year term as Associate Dean for Academic Affairs at the College of Law in January, 2017. His body of work focuses on domestic and international environmental law (with an emphasis on climate change law and justice), animal law, ocean law, and constitutional and human rights law. In addition to the forthcoming book, he has published four other books and dozens of articles in law journals.

“Climate change is the greatest environmental, social, legal, and political challenge that the world has ever faced. And embracing the essence of what sustainability means may provide us with an effective response to this daunting challenge,” Abate says. 


Disruptions from flooding are causing economic and social harm.


Student Researcher Investigates Exposure to Red Tide from Seafood

Red tide is an unpleasant but regularly occurring phenomenon along coastlines, including Florida’s Gulf Coast. Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Environmental Science Ph.D. Candidate Krystal Pree is working to find out the extent to which people who harvest fish and shellfish along the coast are aware of and exposed to toxins associated with “red tides.”

taking samples2

Ms. Pree’s work at FAMU is supported under a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s Educational Partnership Program.

Florida red tides occur annually throughout the Gulf of Mexico due to blooms from the particular marine microorganism called Karenia brevis, but it is only one of various types of harmful algal blooms (HABs) that occur in Florida, Pree explains. At high concentrations, red tides can cause the water to become discolored with a red pigmentation, but depending on the type of algae present, the water can also be brown, green or even yellow. K. brevis is one of the most serious HABs in Florida because it produces toxins called brevetoxins that have a detrimental effect on people, fish, shellfish, marine mammals, and birds.

People who are exposed may suffer from skin irritation, burning eyes and respiratory problems. Toxins produced by harmful algal blooms that create red tides do not lose their toxicity when fish or shellfish is cooked, so people who consume contaminated shellfish can experience Neurotoxic Shellfish Poisoning (NSP). Symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, lack of motor coordination, and tingling of fingers or toes.

Ms. Pree’s research seeks to further understanding about how people engaged in recreational fishing and shellfish harvesting become aware of occasions when incidents of red tide take place. Using interviews and surveys, Ms. Pree is looking to discover more about how fishers’ knowledge, beliefs, experiences, purpose for fishing, and characteristics may play a role in their exposure when harmful algal blooms prompt closures of recreational shellfish harvesting areas.

Pree’s research investigates whether NSP is misdiagnosed and under-reported. Her findings could help devise ways to better inform residents and tourists in the future so that they can avoid being sickened. Pree is also researching whether certain population sub-groups may be more at risk to exposure than others. Her research is based in in southwest Florida’s Lee County. sifting samples2

Pree believes that if there are more surveys conducted to understand the interactions between humans and the environment, as well as background knowledge provided to residents, then the risks of exposure could be decreased. Her project fits within a broader desire to focus her talents upon creating healthier environments, especially for low-income and minority communities.

“Ultimately, I’m seeking to improve awareness about environmental contamination and natural resource issues, particularly those affecting low-income and minority communities” Pree explains.

Pree delivered a poster presentation about her work at the Association for Environmental Sciences and Studies (AESS) Conference at American University in Washington, D.C., June 8-11. Her future career goals include environmental consulting, compliance and monitoring as well as teaching and mentoring at the University level.





Viticulture Center Helps Invigorate Muscadine Wine Industry

FAMU’s Viticulture Center is famous for its annual Grape Harvest Festival, taking place this Saturday and open to the community (find out more about the day’s festivities here). This year’s festival features celebrity hosts FAMU President Elmira Mangum and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and marks 38 years of operation for the center. While the fun of stomping grapes captures much attention, the science of what goes into making those grapes is what drives the Viticulture Center’s mission. Work at the center is pioneering tastier versions of table and wine grapes derived from native American muscadine grapes, helping to grow Florida’s growing wine industry and to playing a role in improving sustainability of the wine industry globally.

vit vineyardFormally called the Center for Viticulture and Small Fruits Research, it is the only specialized academic center on grape research in the Southeastern US. It is charged with conducting basic and applied research and providing service to promote the development of a viable viticulture industry in Florida. According to the Florida Wine and Grape Growers Association, there are 24 certified wineries in Florida, covering 500 acres, and producing slightly under 2 million gallons of wine.

Research at the site on the eastern fringes of Tallahassee takes place in the 44-acre vineyard and in a set of well-equipped laboratories. Work includes traditional breeding methods for plant selection along with high-tech biotechnology and in-vitro selection, according to director Dr. Violeta Tsolova. A mix of science and art create variations in grapes and wines that are produced, with a surprising range of flavors. Decisions at various points in the production process lead to variations in tastes.

Mr. Matteo Voltarelli, a wine maker from Italy who has brought his expertise to the center, notes that in wine making in particular, good results come “mostly of decisions, timely decisions!”

grapetastingBesides developing new and improved grape cultivars, work at the center includes devising best management practices for Florida grapes and selected small fruit. The Center maintains a “National Clean Plant Center” for grapes by growing native hybrids free of diseases that could harm crops. Twenty-three varieties of economically important hybrid varieties of muscadine and other native grapes are grown and certified to be free of disease.

In addition to breeding efforts, researchers have their eyes on the potential contributions that disease-tolerant native grapes might have to the global wine industry as a whole. Genetic resources from native grapes including muscadines may be incorporated to boost capacity of conventional grapes for resisting disease and adapting to climate change.

studentsViticultureLabAlready the center has drawn international interest from international partners and exchange faculty and students from China, Brazil, France, Israel, Italy, Austria, and Germany. Students from high school through graduate students also receive hands-on science training at the center, working under the tutelage of research scientists in the lab and in the field. In the past five years, 14 graduate and 22 undergraduate student researchers have taken part, making the center a productive locale for boosting STEM education.




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FAMU Hosts Vice Chancellor from Leading Indian Agricultural University

Dr. N. C. Patel, vice chancellor of Anand Agricultural University, Gujarat, India, spent a day at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University meeting with deans, faculty, and officials to discuss how the two universities can collaborate on research and service to advance solutions for sustainable agriculture. The visit was facilitated by the FAMU Sustainability Institute.

FAMU’s Chief Sustainability Officer and Executive Director of the Sustainability Institute Abena Ojetayo said “we are very pleased with this partnership in India, a nation with great promise in sustainable development. These relations help us share expertise and experiences that lead to real impact at home here in Florida and for communities across the ocean.”

“Ultimately we want to see that the people on the globe have sufficient food, energy, and a clean environment. In the context of that, universities play a strong role,” said Dr. Patel.

The universities are exploring establishing student and faculty exchanges and undertaking collaborative research in areas including crop production, soil science, biotechnology, nanotechnology, climate and meteorological sciences, and renewable energy. Patel’s visit is a component of FAMU’s Memorandum of Understanding with India’s National Council for Climate Change, Sustainable Development and Public Leadership (NCCSD) to promote solutions in sustainability, agriculture, climate change, and other STEM areas.

“We are brainstorming to see how we can solve these global issues together,” said Dr. Odemari Mbuya, faculty director of the Sustainability Institute. Dr. Mbuya, along with FAMU Professor Mehboob Sheikh, Ph.D., had just returned from a similar visit to India to various universities, organizations, and farms to give guest lectures and plan collaboration efforts.

The Dean of CAFS, Dr. Robert Taylor, welcomed Dr. Patel warmly. “We’re very sincere about these initiatives we want to develop with you and we are looking forward to what we can do with you.”

In addition to meeting with faculty members from the College of Agriculture and Food Sciences, Dr. Patel met with University President Dr. Elmira Mangum, Provost Marcella David, Vice President for International Education Dr. William Hyndman, Vice President for Research Dr. Tim Moore, and deans and faculty from other colleges and sschools. Dr. Patel concluded the day’s visit with a tour of the renowned FAMU Center for Viticulture and Small Fruits.

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Sustainability at Florida A&M University is about the teaching, research and application of environmental and resource stewardship so people and planet prosper. The Sustainability Institute serves as the hub of all sustainability-related efforts at the university, bringing students, staff, faculty and the community together around creative collaborations.

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