Bezos fund sends USC profs $2.9m to plant trees in poor neighborhoods to tackle 'environmental equity,' climate change

USC Professors John Wilson and Manuel Pastor were awarded a $2.9 million grant from the philanthropic giant, hoping to 'strengthen the voice for climate justice.'

'Ultimately, we want to get the right tools into the hands of changemakers,' said Pastor.

Two sociology professors from the University of Southern California recently received a $2.9 million grant from the Bezos Earth Fund to “narrow existing environmental equity gaps.” 

“Together, we want to strengthen the voice for climate justice and greening cities,” said USC Professor Manuel Pastor.

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The goal of the project is to increase the number of tree canopies in cities, particularly in low-income communities, to reduce urban area land temperatures. 

Pastor and fellow Professor John Wilson will work with Los Angeles officials and USC students to identify the best locations to add new trees within the city, with the ultimate aim of simultaneously fighting both climate change and racial injustice. 

“Tools like ours combined with a strong community voice and advocacy can help people make a case for policies and funds necessary to make a difference in their neighborhoods,” Pastor noted. “Ultimately, we want to get the right tools into the hands of changemakers.”

Through this project, Wilson and Pastor’s teams will have the opportunity to collaborate closely with other Bezos Earth Fund beneficiaries like the Partnership for Southern Equity, whose work includes developing “organizational and leadership capabilities in addressing racial equity and other systems of privilege and oppression.”

“In partnership, this new initiative will support historically underserved communities, supporting their health and well-being,” said Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund.

Launched by billionaire Jeff Bezos in 2020 as part of his $10 billion pledge to fight climate change, the Bezos Earth Fund calls for “[r]adical changes … in the way we live and work” in order to “decouple human progress from our environmental footprint.”

According to his university biography, Professor Wilson serves as the director of the USC Spatial Science Institute, which partnered with other campus organizations in 2021 to support then-Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s Green New Deal plan.

Wilson previously held a visiting appointment at the Beijing-based Chinese Academy of the Sciences, which operates as the “linchpin of China’s drive to explore and harness high technology and the natural sciences for the benefit of China and the world.” 

Director of the USC Equity Research Institute, Professor Pastor lists his preferred pronouns as “he/him/his” on his official university web page. A self-described “racially just research center,” the Equity Research Institute “believes that long-term change is made when historically marginalized communities are empowered, can put forth proposals, and hold decision-makers accountable.”

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Pastor’s Twitter account regularly promotes left-wing content on issues like immigration and the environment. During Joe Biden’s 2023 State of the Union address, Pastor tweeted that it was “Sad” that the president’s speech featured “too much focus on the border.” 

Campus Reform has reached out to all relevant parties for comment; this story will be updated accordingly.

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