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ARTICLES ON ENVIRONMENTAL AND CLIMATE JUSTICE

National Council of Churches Calls for Climate Action

Cassandra Carmichael - Voices for Climate JusticeVoices of Climate JusticeBy Cassandra Carmichael

The impending crisis of global climate change represents a moral failure on our part to be stewards of the Earth and harbingers of justice.

Climate change impacts and poverty are intricately connected. Studies indicate that people in poverty around the world will be the least able to deal with the effects of climate change. Increased drought, flooding, and disease will only exasperate the already dire conditions of those living in poverty.

By 2080, 1.8 billion people could be living in a water-scarce environment. Up to 330 million people could be displaced by flooding and 220-400 million people could be exposed to malaria. By 2020, crop yields will likely decline by 50 percent in Africa, further exacerbating an already dire situation. With increased drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, the UN Development Program predicts up to 600 million more people will face malnutrition.

In Ethiopia and Kenya, two of the world’s most drought-prone countries, children age five and under are 36-50 percent more likely to be malnourished if they were born during a drought. In Ethiopia, an additional two million children were malnourished in 2005.

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Lisa Gray Garcia, a.k.a. Tiny—Voices of Climate Justice

Voices of Climate JusticeBy Lisa Gray Garcia, a.k.a. Tiny Lisa Gray Garcia and Tiburcio - Voices for Climate Justice

In the wake of endless corporate media reports on whether or not climate change is real and how many polar ice caps are melting, a 48-page classified report created by Homeland Security was released last year at a special house subcommittee hearing chaired by Representative Anna Eschu on the "security impact of global climate change." This briefing confirmed what many of us poor people already suspected: climate change is likely to result in the ratcheting up of a police state to “control” us, the crowded masses, as we riot for food, water, and land.

It’s no mystery, what will happen to our poor in a future crisis. Look at what’s already happened to low-income communities in the past. From Haiti to New Orleans—in extreme cold, we have frozen to death; in extreme heat and drought, we’ve died of thirst, hunger, and exposure—with no more crops, livestock, or land.

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SB 375 and Racism

Voices of Climate Justice

“White Flight” to the suburbs and redlining housing policies have shaped the way our communities are today. Kisasi Brooks - Voices for Climate JusticeUntil these issues of racism and discrimination are brought front and center, real solutions and equity will not be forthcoming. For decades, driving and development patterns favoring suburbanites have polluted poor communities and destroyed the environment

While SB375 seems to make sense in theory, its implementation may fall short on long term equity due to unfunded mandates and unspoken racism. Getting the public to buy into the idea of living in compact urban developments rather than sprawling suburban subdivisions miles away from urban problems will not be an easy sell.

Suburban communities have reaped the benefits born from the economic and environmental exploitation of poor communities. They still don’t see how conserving the environment and driving less will benefit them economically.

The health and economic well-being of people living in polluted urban communities has been ignored for decades at the local, state, and federal levels. Cities like Pleasanton have long refused to comply with existing state requirements to zone for affordable housing.

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Unnatural Commodities: Who Owns Nature?

Climate change has provided the perfect “disaster capitalism” storm: an excuse for expanding corporate ownership and control over the commons. The offset provisions embodied in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES) are symptomatic of a much larger, insidious trend that, in essence, “commodifies” all of life and thus seriously threatens every living being. In addition to the impacts of warming itself, low-income people and communities of color will also shoulder the burden of false solutions if the climate legislation currently in the United States Congress becomes climate policy.

The scale of this trend is little appreciated. Most of us envision renewable energy supports going to wind turbines and solar installations, but in fact the bulk of the research and development funding is being directed toward finding biomass/ plant-based substitutes for virtually everything that is now achieved with fossil fuels.

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Central Valley Water Woes By Amy Vanderwarker

Jessica Sanchez first learned that her tap water was toxic from a flier sent to her home in East Orosi, Tulare County by the local water provider. The tap water, she learned, violates the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) health standards for nitrates, which cause cancer and blue baby syndrome.

Surrounded by orange, peach, nectarine, and grape fields, East Orosi (population 500) has an irrigation canal that runs down its main street. Synthetic fertilizers applied to neighboring farms have seeped into its drinking water.

“[The water board] said they would control it, but they put a chemical in the water [that] made it worse. And we still have nitrates,” says Sanchez, and adds: “A lot of us are low-income [but] we buy bottled water... When we run out, we have to be asking our neighbors for rides. Sometimes people even take their gallons and walk a mile to the next town.”

Jessica and her family are not alone. Tens of thousands of San Joaquin Valley residents lack clean, affordable drinking water, and climate change threatens to exacerbate the crisis.

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Reinventing Food Systems

The entire history of agriculture—humanity’s grandest enterprise—occurred during the last 10,000 years; a mere blink of an eye in geological terms. As hunter-gatherers, we were dependent upon each other in a system that demanded social equity for survival. But by producing surplus food, agriculture opened the door to division of labor and the possibility of socially stratified societies in which farmers lost control of what they produced. As farming shifted from subsistence to commodity production in large parts of the world, gargantuan agribusiness corporations came to dominate a global system in which those who produce the food and work the hardest profit the least.

Humans developed farming in an exceptionally wet, warm, and stable period in Earth’s climate history. All of our current knowledge of seed saving, plant selection, sowing, planting, growing, and harvesting has relied on predictable seasons and weather patterns. How do we cope in an age of climate change? By the end of this century, climate scientists warn, average temperatures could rise by 4° Celsius (9° Farenheit)––a forecast that likely underestimates the impacts of dangerous feedback loops that are not included in most climate models. Weather patterns are predicted to become increasingly volatile with droughts, floods, and temperature extremes within seasons.

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AB32: Energy Retrofits

Voices of Climate Justice

AB32: Energy Retrofits for Low-Income Households

California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32) aims to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent, bringing them back down to 1990 levels by 2020.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB), an 11-member body appointed by the governor, is the lead agency for implementing the legislation. After Gov. Schwarzenegger signed the bill in 2006, CARB spent two years working on a “Scoping Plan” that details the means for meeting the measure’s ambitious emissions-reduction targets. The recommendations in the plan will be fashioned into regulations subject to the agency’s usual rule-making process.

CARB focused on market-based mechanisms, explaining that “The development of a California cap-and-trade program that links with other Western Climate Initiative partner programs to create a regional market system is a central feature of the overall recommendation.”[1] But its plan also included recommendations for green buildings, which opens the door to local projects that can increase social equity as well as reduce emissions. These projects will be competing against those that benefit larger, better-funded stakeholders—with decisions made by an agency that is not readily held accountable to diverse communities.

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A Trust Fund for California’s Poor Communities

Voices of Climate Justice

By Evelyn Marcelina Rangel-Medina

Detail from an Oakland Climate Action Coalition flyer for a Climate Justice event. © 2009 Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

The Green-Collar Jobs Campaign housed at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights—a strategy action center for justice, peace, and opportunity—is working to transform the current unsustainable economy into a green economy founded upon eco-equity. The Center focuses its statewide policy efforts on generating green collar jobs, ameliorating poverty, combating climate change, and ensuring the equitable implementation of AB32, the 2006 Global Warming Solutions Act.

Under our current system, low-income and communities of color disproportionately suffer from loss of land and food security, economic and cultural displacement, and health impacts. (Five of the smoggiest cities in California have the highest densities of low-income and communities of color.[1]) With AB 32, the state government made a commitment to combat climate change and protect California's most impacted communities in the efforts to regulate and reduce greenhouse gases. This is a great opportunity to place low-income people and communities of color at the core of the emerging green economy.

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Sustainable Planning under SB 375

The Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act (SB375), also known as the California Anti-Sprawl Bill, embodies the simple idea that bringing housing and jobs closer together and improving public transit will cut car commutes—and thus help meet the statewide targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions set by AB32.

“Land use-related climate change policies have the potential to be among the most cost-effective and efficient ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” writes Rebecca Carter in her report on climate policies in western states. (See page 59.)

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