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2022 Bullitt Prize Winner Announced – Axcelle Campana

on Tue, Nov 15, 2022 at 10:10 AM

Urban Heat Deaths Are Not Accidents

2022 Bullitt Environmental Prize Winner Focuses on Inequality in Urban Tree Canopy and Heat

SEATTLE – The Bullitt Foundation announced today that it is awarding the 16th annual Bullitt Environmental Prize to Axcelle Campana, a master’s student in Geography entering the PhD program at Portland State University. Campana’s work focuses on strategies to promote urban resilience in the face of climate change, including the relationships between race, income, and tree canopy. The Bullitt Prize recognizes young people who have overcome adversity and demonstrated the ability to become powerful environmental leaders.

Growing up queer and Black in a mostly White community in Rockdale County, GA, Campana learned to question the status quo and find their own sense of purpose and morality. “I have experienced discrimination and misunderstanding simply for being who I am, which naturally led me to embrace social and environmental issues,” Campana noted. “As a survivor of domestic violence, I am passionate about breaking cycles of intergenerational violence, as well as social and environmental justice.” 

For Campana, the natural world was a refuge from turbulence at home and school, and a source of inspiration. In college, Campana moved to the Pacific Northwest where they found purpose in helping people shift their relationships with the natural world and each other. These experiences led to their current work focused on addressing structural causes of inequity in urban greenspace and urban heat in Portland.

“Axcelle is a healer, born to bring people together to tackle long standing injustices,” said Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation. “Their work on ways that race, income, and education predict the distribution of tree canopy in cities across the US especially impressed the judges.”

As climate change makes cities hotter, trees are increasingly in demand for the many benefits they provide, from cool shade to spiritual and psychological benefits. Trees are often planted to create beautiful and hospitable neighborhoods within highly modified and heat-trapping urban environments. However, there are vast inequalities in the distribution of trees within US cities. Neighborhoods with wealthier, more-educated homeowners almost always have far more trees, and hence, cooler ambient temperatures.

To address this inequity, Campana is conducting participatory, community-based research to model stakeholders, government agencies, and policy processes that contribute to tree inequity. Their goal is to promote resilience to climate change by producing more equitable urban environments. At Portland State, they serve as the program coordinator for the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation-Institute for Sustainable Solutions Climate Resilience Internship Program and as a member of the Political Ecology and Resilience Lab.

As a result of the Bullitt Environmental Prize, Campana will be able to shine a light on ways that conversations around urban trees and urban heat are missing the community’s lived experiences and ignoring the impacts of an extractive relationship with land.

The goal of the Bullitt Environmental Prize is to help broaden and diversify the leadership of the environmental movement. It comes with $100,000 awarded over two years. Past winners of the Bullitt Environmental Prize include an amphibian ecologist, advocates for affordable housing and immigrant farmworkers, a soil carbon researcher, a marine biologist, a wildlife conservation leader trying to reduce conflict between wolves and ranchers, a veterinarian with a doctorate in public health who studies zoonotic diseases, a researcher focused on climate change adaptation, and an advocate for organic food security. 

While the Bullitt Foundation has announced plans to sunset its grantmaking at the end of 2024, it is reserving funds to continue awarding the Bullitt Prize in perpetuity.