My name is Georges Alexandre Lenferna (but you can call me Alex). I am a South African Fulbright Scholar pursuing my PhD in Philosophy at the University of Washington (Seattle) specializing in the ethics of climate change and climate justice. All my writing and research is freely available here, and also at the respective links to the left.
I am also currently:
– a part-time research consultant with 350.org, working on fossil fuel divestment and other climate justice advocacy work;
– a fellow with Carbon Washington, a non-profit advocating for a progressive revenue-neutral carbon tax in Washington State;
– a leader of Divest University of Washington, a student campaign to divest the University of Washington of fossil fuels.
– an active member of UAW Local 4121, through which I am part of the King County Workers Climate Caucus.
Academics and Writing
I am a South African Fulbright Scholar pursuing my PhD in Philosophy at the University of Washington. In my current research I attempt to take a philosophically grounded interdisciplinary approach to climate justice, poverty and inequality in a way which hopes to recognize and elucidate the intersections between social, environmental, economic and racial justice. My research has examined a range of related topics including climate change-induced migration, geoengineering, carbon taxes, climate reparations, global poverty, and the rights of nature. Currently, I am researching the ethics and economics of the carbon bubble & fossil fuel divestment movement (which I am turning into a book).
For academic year 2016-17, I will be working as a Research Assistant for the University of Washington’s Program on Values in Society. More typically though, I work as a teaching assistant in the Philosophy Department. I have also been a research associate at the UW’s Program on Ocean Change. I am also busy completing the UW Program on Climate Change‘s Graduate Certificate in Climate Science.
Academically, before coming to the UW, I completed a graduate certificate in Environmental Studies at the University of Kansas while I was a research associate at their National Science Foundation-funded interdisciplinary climate research unit. I also had the privilege of completing a Master of Arts in Philosophy at Rhodes University as a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, with a focus on global poverty and environmental ethics.
In an attempt to reach beyond the walls of academia, I also write and blog for the media, predominately on climate justice issues. My research, media, and opinion pieces are all freely available here.
Climate change is one of the greatest moral challenges of our time, and one that urgently requires action. Thus outside of the ‘ivory tower’ I occupy a number of (predominately unpaid) volunteer roles aimed at actively working towards climate justice. If you are interested in finding out more or getting involved, please do not hesitate to contact me.
I am a fellow with Carbon Washington, a non-profit organization dedicated to environmental tax reform in the State of Washington. We are advocating for a ballot initiative – Initiative 732 – which would put a price on carbon pollution and use that revenue to fund progressive reductions in other taxes, with a particular emphasis on helping low-income families. Independent analysis by the highly respected Sightline Institute concluded that our initiative would give Washington “the continent’s, if not the world’s, most potent, persistent, and comprehensive incentive to move swiftly beyond dirty fossil fuels and to a carbon-free future”. Not only would the policy tackle greenhouse gas pollution and drive the transition to a clean economy, it would also be the most progressive change to the tax system to be passed in Washington since the 1970’s. For more details about our important work, see this great piece by CNN’s John Sutter, or this piece I wrote about why I am supporting I-732.
I am also working as a paid part-time research consultant with 350.org (international) – one of the biggest & most influential grassroots climate advocacy organizations on the planet. I provide research and broader support to a number of their important campaigns including: helping develop the fossil free sleuths program – an international network of researcher-advocates keeping track of and pressuring major fossil fuel companies across the globe on climate change; providing research and media contributions for the 350 Africa team, in particular working with the South African team to develop their divestment work; working on 350’s Iconic Campaigns program to pressure New York City pension funds, and the Clinton Global Initiative to divest from fossil fuels; and helping provide research and strategize on the relative importance of divestment and shareholder advocacy.
I am a leader of Confronting Climate Change, a Seattle based student-group dedicated to the fight for climate justice. We engage policy makers; educate members of the public; and organize the public for grassroots action on climate change. Currently we have a strong focus on fossil fuel divestment, and hence we operate primarily under the moniker of Divest UW. We have been successful in divesting the University of Washington from coal, making us the largest and richest public university to do so at the time. We have also successfully lobbied for 10s of millions worth of investment in clean energy and more.
I also volunteer with 350Seattle, where I am helping their advocacy work on fossil fuel divestment. Thanks to former Mayor Mike McGinn, Seattle was the first city to divest from fossil fuels. Following his departure from office, our advocacy helped secure a unanimous resolution from Seattle City Council to keep the city’s funds divested, and which also urged the Seattle pension fund to divest. We are now working with the pension fund as they consider fossil fuel divestment. Along with being an advocate in the campaign, I was the lead author of the report which aimed to help the Seattle pension fund better understand the risks of the carbon bubble. I was similarly involved in the campaign to the get the Gates Foundation divested from fossil fuels.
I am also an active member of UAW Local 4121, which is the union for Academic Student Employees at the University of Washington. Part of my activities with UAW 4121 include being part of the King County Workers Climate Caucus, which is a a caucus within the Martin Luther King County Labor Council that focuses on labor and climate change.
Last but not least, I am a supporter and volunteer with the Citizens Climate Lobby which lobbies for US national climate legislation in the form of a revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend.
Life Before and After the US
I am a first-generation South African and both sides of my family hail from the small island nation of Mauritius. As a result of the nature of the Fulbright Scholarship and my attachment to southern Africa, my stay in the US is just a temporary stay – a chapter of my life where I traveled to where I thought action on climate change was most urgently and ethically needed. After my PhD is completed I hope to return home to South Africa and the African continent to continue the work I was doing there to help address issues of climate justice and advocate for a more socially and ecologically just form of development.
Before coming to the United States, back home in South Africa, alongside my academic work, I was involved in, co-founded, and/or led a number of primarily youth-driven climate change and sustainable development-focused organizations and campaigns. We worked on a number of projects, including using indigenous amaXhosa knowledge to help low income communities build resilience, an environmental education program working with low-income schools, a campaign to fight against proposed fracking plans in South Africa, a campaign advocating for South Africa to put in place a socially and ecologically just carbon tax, and more. Hopefully upon returning to South Africa (or elsewhere on the African continent) I can continue to work along similar lines, combining research, advocacy, and community-based work to help create a more socially and ecologically just world. Time will only tell, but for now those are my aspirations…
I use social media primarily to disseminate articles and information relevant to issues of environmental, climate and social justice. Although a lot of the content is global in nature, much is particular to the African, South African and North American context. If you’re interested in connecting on social media, follow the widgets on the top right corner of this page.
Please feel free to contact me if you have questions, comments or would like to get in touch. My email address is: alexlenferna [at] gmail dot com