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ARTICLES ON ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE

Detroiters Find a Way Out of No Way

Former autoworker Rich Feldman began working in Detroit’s auto plants in 1970 with a belief that labor unions were the driving force of revolution in the U.S.  Like other young activists at the time, he joined the factories to organize workers after having been involved in the radical student movement of the 1960s. Today, globalization has decimated the autoworkers. (Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in this decade alone, the number of autoworkers in Michigan has decreased from 320,000 to 109,000.)

At the old abandoned Packard plant just outside downtown Detroit, Feldman reflects: “It’s the end of the economic American dream, which was also very destructive. On one level we have to grieve, but we also have to welcome it. Now we can move on to create another kind of American dream that is based on quality of life versus a standard of living.”

Out of necessity, the people of Detroit are shaping alternatives to the urban wreckage left by the collapse of the auto industry. And new possibilities are emerging across the city: Eastside residents have transformed their neighborhood into an outdoor public art exhibit with waste materials collected from vacant lots.  Just a short drive away, a group has purchased storefronts, planted fruit trees along a few city blocks, and renamed the area “Hope District.” Elsewhere, another group has reclaimed two acres of unused and underutilized land in the city to grow produce that feeds community members. In short, the movement in Detroit is putting forth a model for creating solutions rooted in frontline communities and place-based relationships.  

"Detroit Shall Burn No More!" Incinerator Fight Heats Up

On the final day of the 2010 United States Social Forum scores of local activists and several hundred of their allies from across the country held a series of rallies targeted at the city’s municipal waste incinerator. The Social Forum had chosen Detroit because the city represents all the vast failures of corporate industrialism and immense possibilities for renewal. The closure of the incinerator four months later, temporary though it may be, showed the prescience of the Forum in its choice of target.

Given the wide range of themes discussed at the forum—from immigration to gender to militarism to media justice—and the broad set of issues facing Detroit—from evictions to utility shutoffs to unemployment rates of up to 50 percent—the focus on the waste incinerator for the forum’s closing action was significant.

As the marchers made their way through the nearly vacant neighborhoods of this once thriving metropolis, one chant evoked a complex web of memories. To locals, “Detroit shall burn no more!” brought to mind the 1967 race riots that resulted in thousands of buildings being burned, as well as the inner city arson incidents of the eighties, when property owners would burn down their unmarketable homes for insurance under cover of Devil’s Night (the night before Halloween). This time around, however, the metaphor served to connote the burning of waste and rising global temperatures.

The Urban Bike Movement: Peace Rides to Scraper Bikes

In July 24, 2010, an estimated 300 cyclists took to the streets for the third annual Bikes 4 Life Peace Ride. The approximately 10-mile circuit took the riders through the streets of Oakland—around Lake Merritt, down International Blvd, past the Fruitvale BART station (where a candlelight vigil was held for Oscar Grant), and back to West Oakland. As the cavalcade passed through neighborhoods people cheered and motorists honked. The Peace Ride illustrated some of the best qualities of what has become known as the urban bike movement. It’s one thing to get on a bicycle and go for a ride, and quite another to share that experience with a large group of people from diverse ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds. There is strength in numbers and a palpable power in hundreds of cyclists essentially reclaiming public space while raising awareness about transportation, public safety, social justice, non-violence, and environmental issues.

Annie Loya: My Story

My family is from a small rural town, Pearl Lagoon, in Nicaragua. At the time of our departure from Nicaragua, the country was in deep conflict—fighting the Reagan-backed Contra and Sandinista war. At the root of this war was a country trying to win social equity and maintain its natural wealth vs. the predator who wanted to gain control for its own economic ambitions. All the while, American media spun it as the United States trying to save yet another democratically challenged region.

We moved to East Palo Alto, California. A town that came into being by the driving force of its residents. There was no other city at the time that truly accepted people of color, so they created their own. It was a small start but a grand effort and message of self-determination. East Palo Alto inherited many burdens: a chemical waste plant, a county dump, land that sits on top of a water bed, and power lines over the city that emit electromagnetic waves. East Palo Alto looks very different from the neighboring city of Palo Alto. Palo Alto bears large green trees, smoothly paved streets, many parks and open spaces, grocery stores, and recreational spaces.

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Energy Policy and Inner City Abandonment

Few people realize the price inner cities have paid for our national love affair with the automobile. But the evidence of devastation is not hard to find. White flight to the metropolitan fringe, driven in part by racism, is linked to destruction of human resources in the metropolitan core, to waste of petroleum energy, pollution of air and water, and degradation of urban biological resources. But older urban neighborhoods can help lead the way to more sustainable cities and suburbs...

The increasing concentration of poverty in the nation’s largest metropolitan areas is linked to the practice of investment in suburban sprawl, and divestment from energy-efficient, inner city communities where people of color live. 

Transportation and energy issues are of critical concern to low income neighborhoods and practitioners of community-based economic development, but advocacy systems for energy and transportation issues are almost non-existent. These systems should be developed. Community development corporations in low-income and minority communities are well positioned to provide a new and potentially powerful national leadership in advocating energy- and transportation-efficient patterns for urban neighborhoods.

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Penn Loh: EJ and TJ

Now 2010

Penn Loh is a professor at Tufts University's Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. From 1996 to 2009, he served in various roles, including executive director (since 1999) at Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), a Roxbury-based environmental justice group. He holds an M.S. from the University of California at Berkeley and a B.S. from MIT. Before joining ACE, he was research associate at the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, California.

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Jesse Clarke: What was your involvement with environmental justice in the early ‘90s when you were at the University of California Berkeley?

Penn Loh: I went to UC Berkeley because I realized that much of the work of electrical engineers (I had an undergraduate degree in that field) at that time was really in the military industrial complex. It seemed like the profession, rather than making life better for people, was largely involved in projects supporting war research. So, I started down a different track.

At that time, I saw environment as a secondary concern to other social justice issues. But at U.C.Berkeley I met folks who had just attended the 1991 People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. I got involved with that student group and also took a class with Carl Anthony. Suddenly, light bulbs went off and I realized, “This is what I can do to contribute to something positive and which goes real deep with respect to my own social justice commitment!”

Carbon Fundamentalism vs. Climate Justice

 

Imagine waking up on December 1, 1999, and learning about the World Trade Organization (WTO) for the first time by watching it fall apart. The catalyst? An internationalist “inside-outside” strategy that leveraged people power on the outside to provide political space inside for the Global South and civil society organizations. (A note on the WTO.)

 

The potential for such a political moment is once again upon us, exactly 10 years after the collapse of the WTO in Seattle, Wash. This time, it’s the 15th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark on December 7, 2009, for 12 days to forge a climate policy that will succeed the initial commitments set by the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. The goal is to substantially reduce atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gasses while addressing the consequences of climate disruption already underway. Global warming has already disproportionately impacted the small island states, coastal peoples, indigenous peoples, and the poor throughout the world, particularly in Africa.

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Race Poverty & the Environment Climate Justice Speakers Bureau

As the national journal for social and environmental justice, RP&E aims to provide information and analysis that will strengthen our efforts to win real solutions to the climate crisis—alternatives that will lead to social equity as well as equilibrium between humans and the natural world. RP&E’s online climate justice portal presents research, case studies and “Voices of Climate Change” from across the country. These grassroots perspectives reveal the ways that local organizing against economic, social and gender inequality feed a global movement for climate justice that can challenge the dominant economic order.

The United Nations Climate Change Conference(COP 15) will be held in Copenhagen, December 7-18.

The following speakers and writers are available for press interviews. Some will be on the ground in Copenhagen. Please note that Copenhagen is nine hours ahead of the West Coast of the U.S., so if it is 9 a.m. in Oakland, it will be 6 p.m. in Copenhagen.

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The Economics of Climate Change

Last June, a group of MIT scientists released the results of what they describe as the most comprehensive modeling of how much hotter the Earth’s climate will get in this century. It shows that “without rapid and massive action, the problem will be about twice as severe as previously estimated” a couple of years ago. It could be even worse than that because their model does not fully incorporate positive feedbacks that can occur, such as the melting of permafrost in the Arctic regions caused by the increased temperature. It will release huge amounts of methane, which is worse than carbon dioxide. 

“There’s no way the world can or should take these risks,” says the lead scientist on the project. “The least-cost option to lower the risk is to start now and steadily transform the global energy system over the coming decades to low or zero greenhouse gas-emitting technologies.”

At present there’s very little sign of that happening. Furthermore, while new technologies are essential, the problems go well beyond that. In fact, they go beyond the current technical debates in Congress about how to work out cap-and-trade devices. We have to face something more far-reaching—the need to reverse the huge state-corporate and social engineering projects of the post-Second World War period, which very consciously promoted an energy-wasting and environmentally destructive fossil fuel economy.

U.S. Climate Bill Stalls Real Change in Climate Policy

Earlier this year, the United States House of Representatives passed the first major legislation aimed at addressing climate change—the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES). A 'Frankentree' outside of the U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity in Bonn, Germany. ©2008 Orin Langelle GJEP-GFCInformally known as the Waxman-Markey bill—after Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Edward Markey (D-MA)—the bill faces an uncertain future in the United States Senate. But one thing that is all too likely: the aspects of the bill that address the needs of low-income workers, people of color, and indigenous peoples will be shortchanged.

As currently written, ACES will:

  •  Not protect the poor from price-hikes as the price of carbon gets internalized into our energy bills;
  •  Protect polluting industries by granting them free pollution permits;
  •  Encourage the creation of a huge carbon derivatives market leading to fraud, shell games, and an unprecedented carbon market “bubble” with dire economic consequences for all Americans;
  • Make a mockery of our common understanding of "renewable energy" by favoring dirty smokestacks over truly clean, renewable energy;
  • Strip the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from all power plants, including coal burners, under the Clean Air Act.
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