Getting Ready for Change: Green Economics and Climate Justice


Ben Jesse Clarke, Editor

Climate change threatens all forms of life on planet Earth, but when it comes to human life, it is the poor communities that will be hit first, and hardest. Human-caused climate change is now accepted as a reality, even by the mainstream media. But the effects of climate change on our communities are still covered only intermittently; and ideas about how we can organize for positive change are almost never covered at all.

In this issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment we strive to draw a picture of the imminent challenges we face from global warming, and sketch some routes toward survival, justice, and health, using the principles of green economics.We are joined in this effort by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which is pioneering a new project called Reclaim the Future...more

Introduction to Getting Ready for Change


Vol. 13-1, Creators and Credits

Race, Poverty & the Environment
Summer 2006

Editors Emeritus

Carl Anthony
Luke Cole

Juliet Ellis and Van Jones

Ben Jesse Clarke

Contributing Editor

Joshua Abraham

Layout and Design

Ben Jesse Clarke and Guillermo Prado

Copy Editing and Proofreading
Merula Furtado, Preeti Shekar, and Tiffany Batac

Race, Poverty & the Environment is published twice annually.  © 2006 by the individual creators and Urban Habitat.  For specific reprint information, please email  

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RP&E was first published in 1990 by Urban Habitat Program and the California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation’s Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment.  Urban Habitat receives general operating support from the Ford Foundation. This issue of RP&E is co-produced with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights.  The views reflected in RP&E are not necessarily those of the editors, Urban Habitat, or its funders.

Urban Habitat Board of Directors

Joe Brooks (Chair)

Fred Blackwell (Vice-Chair)
S.F. Mayor's Office of Community Development

Tamar Dorfman (Treasurer)
S.F. Mayor's Office of Community Development

Romel Pascual
Mayor's Office, City of Los Angeles

Arnold Perkins
Alameda Public Health Department

Gabriela Sandoval
Department of Sociiology, U.C. Santa Cruz

Omowale Satterwhite
Community Development Institute

Tim Thomas
East Bay Habitat for Humanity

Organizations are listed for identification purposes only.

About this issue

Climate change threatens all forms of life on planet Earth, but when it comes to human life, it is the poor communities that will be hit first, and hardest. Human-caused climate change is now accepted as a reality, even by the mainstream media. But the effects of climate change on our communities are still covered only intermittently; and ideas about how we can organize for positive change are almost never covered at all.

In this issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment we strive to draw a picture of the imminent challenges we face from global warming, and sketch some routes toward survival, justice, and health, using the principles of green economics. We are joined in this effort by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, which is pioneering a new project called Reclaim the Future. The project seeks to create green job opportunities for the urban America that is constantly kept out of economic recoveries.

The impacts of Hurricane Katrina paint an all too vivid portrait of how the response to weather disasters by government and corporate actors aggravates the already disastrous challenges faced by urban communities of color in the United States. The negligence and profiteering directed at our most vulnerable communities is yielding a harvest of wealth for the few, while increasing the suffering of many. The lesson from New Orleans is stark: unless we act in defense of our own communities now, the rising tide of global warming is more likely to drown us than to lift our boats on a new wave of economic activity.

In order to advance this defense, we publish adaptations of two papers that contain core findings on climate change: Winona LaDuke's examination of indigenous power and J. Andrew Hoerner's synthesis of numerous climate impact studies undertaken by Redefining Progress. Jihan Gearon weighs in on youth organizing.

From New Orleans and Gulf Coast studies, we publish a synopsis of a major paper, sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation, detailing the racial basis of the ongoing human environmental crisis. We also offer an excerpt from Eric Mann's new book, Katrina's Legacy: White Racism and Black Reconstruction in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, an analysis of structural racism by Maya Wiley, and a call for green reconstruction aid by the People's Hurricane Fund. Rita King examines the role of corporate contractors in the toxic clean-up.

We also present a roundtable discussion with members of the Sustainable Metropolitan Communities Network, a group coordinated by Earth House and convened by Carl Anthony of the Ford Foundation. Robert Bullard, Manuel Pastor, Don Chen, Paul Epstein, Michel Gelobter, John Talberth, and Lynn Wolf describe the tensions in reconstructing New Orleans as a sustainable, equitable community.

While clear-cut solutions are in short supply for the Gulf Coast, other areas of the country are taking actions that could begin to turn the situation around.

Two of the pieces we present here are based on a Solutions Salon held by the Ella Baker Center to spur positive thinking about Oakland's future: Economic theorist Paul Hawken examines the economic watershed that is a city and suggests ways we can plug the leaks; and Majora Carter, who heads Sustainable South Bronx, looks at one real city—New York—and the attempt to shift it toward sustainability.

We also share case studies of green economic projects from Venezuela, Berkeley, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Oakland, Richmond, New York, Minneapolis, and American Indian reservations. And on a cautionary note, we present a profile of one solution that no longer looks truly green—corn-based ethanol.

Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Corporation is one of the many that have been capitalizing on the desire to find fuel alternatives for existing internal combustion vehicles.  Not surprisingly, beneath the apparent green sheen of ethanol is the darker hued green of money: billions of dollars in subsidies are being given to this well-connected agribusiness giant.

Even as rational capitalists turn their attention to the challenge of building a "green" economy, we find that popular organizing at all levels, from city neighborhoods to the United Nations, is the real solution to problems of equity and racism. And we hope that this issue can play a small part in that solution. ?


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 Getting Ready for Change: Green Economics and Climate Justice      |      Vol. 13 No. 1    |       Summer 2006      |      Credits

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From the Director's Desk

A central challenge for the environmental justice movement, and for advocates of equitable development, is to move beyond the criticism into solutions. The toll of destruction in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast cries out for positive, pro-active transformation.Earlier this year, the City of Richmond, California, in collaboration with Urban Habitat, crafted a resolution to formally establish Richmond’s commitment to green economic development. The resolution states, that “economic opportunity, environmental integrity, and societal equity are the foundation upon which sustainable cities can build a better quality of life for its residents.”

Unlike traditional forms of economic development, green economic development, if practiced equitably, is uniquely positioned to present solutions for some of the conditions that disproportionately impact low-income communities: environmental and human degradation, lack of quality jobs, and economic decline. In other words, equitable green economic development offers the potential for living-wage jobs in non-polluting industries that provide a clear career ladder for low-income residents.

If we can mobilize this “green wave” opportunity effectively, we can move toward a society where all people live in economically and environmentally healthy neighborhoods, and clean air, land, and water are recognized as fundamental human rights. We envision a world where leaders of the most impacted communities mobilize an inspired, well-informed, and politically engaged constituency to hold decision-makers accountable to the principles of economic, environmental, and social justice, because it is these communities that are best positioned to frame the terms of the green economic development debate so that its true potential is fully realized. 

We realize that green economic development is not a guaranteed solution for Richmond or any city facing the multiple challenges of growing unemployment, diminishing affordable housing stock, and a high crime rate, nor should it be viewed as the only solution. But if done right, green economic development can be one piece of the solution. It is up to the cities to proactively and explicitly prioritize and encourage the leadership and participation of its low-income communities of color in its economic development plans, so that the outcomes are equitable for all classes of residents.?


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 Getting Ready for Change: Green Economics and Climate Justice      |      Vol. 13 No. 1    |       Summer 2006      |      Credits

Letter from Van Jones, Co-publisher

The "green economy" is now exploding into a billion-dollar sector—with more growth predicted. Before we find ourselves left behind and left out, those of us working to uplift urban America see now as a good time to ask: who is going to benefit from this massive economic growth? And how can we ensure that the job, wealth, and health benefits of the green economy do go to those in our society who need them the most? The green pie is huge—and rapidly growing. In the area of clean technology alone, investors poured $520 million into research and development for things like alternative fuels, solar power, and hybrid vehicles in 2004. Driven by fears of global warming and rising oil costs, these investments made clean technology the sixth largest investment category in the United States.

By 2009, that figure could climb to $3.4 billion. Internet billionaires Bill Gates, John Doerr, and Steve Case are jumping on the bandwagon. And the "greentech" numbers don't even include the exploding business in green construction, energy-conserving retrofits, and other eco-friendly businesses.

But we believe that the green economy can do more than create business opportunities for the rich. We believe that it can also create job opportunities for the poor. While curbing global warming and oil dependence, we know that we can also create good jobs, safer streets, and healthier communities for urban America. We see it as the chief moral obligation in the 21st century: to build a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty. We dream of seeing kids who are now fodder for the prisons instead creating zero-pollution products, healing the land, and harvesting the sun. We dream of a day when struggling communities in Watts, Detroit, and Newark blossom as Silicon Valleys of green capital and enterprise.

We imagine Green Technology Training Centers in all public high schools, with youth being trained to install solar panels on their grandparents' rooftops. We dream of clear skies and clean air over our major port cities (Los Angeles, Oakland, Seattle, New Orleans). Where idling ships once fouled the air, we see solar-powered energy stations that let docking sea vessels power up cleanly. We imagine big trucks purchasing cleaner biodiesel blends, to take the fair trade goods off the ships without polluting the neighborhood.

We dream of broad support for groups, such as the Oakland-based People's Grocery, a market-on-wheels providing organic produce to low-income residents. We envision rooftop gardening and urban farming in every barrio and housing project, ensuring food access and cutting the amount of fuel burned to import food into cities. We see all that healthy, abundant food driving down rates of urban obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease. We envision eco-industrial parks on land once blighted by prisons.

We see community leaders understanding that cities can create good jobs, safer streets, and healthier communities for ourselves—while showing the country how to curb global warming and oil dependence.

We dream of a multi-ethnic, grassroots movement transforming urban America by creating jobs, reducing violence, and honoring the Earth.

Some will call this unrealistic and advise urban America to keep its dreams small. But that cynicism is the problem in our country, not the solution.

We want to ensure that those communities who were locked out of the last century's pollution-based economy will be locked into the new, clean and green economy.

This issue of Race, Poverty & the Environment is another step along the journey to that outcome.?

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Climate Justice (Getting Ready for Change)

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Indigenous Power: A New Energy Economy

Graphic: Camille LaCapa. Courtesy of Honor the Earth

The U.S. is the wealthiest and most dominant country in the world, yet it can’t keep the lights on in New York City, nor can it provide power in “liberated” Baghdad. Centralized power production based on fossil fuel and nuclear resources has served to centralize political power, to disconnect communities from responsibility and control over energy, and to create a vast wasteful system. We need to recover democracy. And one key element is democratizing power production.

Let’s face it, we are energy junkies. The U.S. is the largest energy market in the world, and we consume one third of the world’s energy resources with five percent of the population. We are undeniably addicted—our economy is based on the burning of dinosaurs and on wasteful production systems. In other words, oil. Ninety-seven percent of the total world oil consumption has been in the past 70 years.

We even slather oil-based fertilizers and herbicides on our food crops. We have allowed our addictions to overtake our common sense and a good portion of our decency. We live in a country with the largest disparity between rich and poor of any industrialized country in the world. And, we live where economic power is clearly translated into political power.

Energy Addiction is Changing the Climate
America’s fossil fuel habit and the government’s response plunge us further into serious challenges that grow worse with every year. In the last 200 years, we have caused the amount of carbon dioxide gases in the atmosphere to grow by almost one-third—more than in the last 20 million years.
Indigenous Peoples, Pacific Islanders, and local land-based communities are the first to experience the devastating consequences of climate change due to its effects on hunting, fishing, and gathering rights; the loss of land and food security; respiratory illnesses and infectious diseases; and economic and cultural displacement. Climate change is clearly a human rights issue.

Global Climate Change: The Evidence

  • According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), 2005 was one of the hottest years in more than a century.
  • Greenland ice is melting faster than anyone thought possible. Fifty-three cubic miles entered the sea in 2005, compared to 22 cubic miles in 1996. A cubic mile of water is about five times the amount Los Angeles uses in a year.
  • Those who live in the Arctic are experiencing shorter winters that disrupt the lifecycles of plants and animals that they depend on.

Dramatic fluctuations in water levels and warmer temperatures of lake waters have affected fish and insect populations, resulting in fish kills from growing dead zones in lakes, and severe infestations of disease-spreading insects, like mosquitoes. Ironically, even as native communities are being hit hard by climate change, some of the largest carbon dioxide emitters on the continent are located within Native communities.[1] A 2000 Environmental Protection Agency report revealed that two power plants and their coal mines in San Juan County, New Mexico released 13 million pounds of chemical toxins in the Four Corners area in one year alone.[2]

Evidence of human induced climate change is abundant. The earth’s snow cover has decreased by 10 percent since the late 1960s; and since the 1990s, the thickness of arctic sea ice from late summer to early autumn has decreased by 40 percent. Ice melt has made sea levels rise—0.2 meters overall—resulting in an explosion of water- and airborne diseases. Moreover, insects that devour trees are now able to reproduce prolifically. At least 4.2 million acres of the Alaskan forest are dying off from the spruce beetle infestation, an insect that, due to the mild weather, is now able to “clutch” (i.e. lay eggs) twice during a year and has laid to waste a good portion of the spruce forests. New vector-borne diseases are also on the rise. The West Nile Virus is thriving and spreading along the East Coast and the Great Plains.The potential impacts of climate change on our communities are far reaching. From the loss of habitat, to a rise in diseases, to the devastation of large areas of land, climate change is literally transforming our ways of living. For example, according to Robert Gough, attorney for the Rosebud Sioux tribe, “The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that global warming will likely cause collapses of some fisheries and expansions of others. This impact will involve territorial shifts of fishery stock and may bring about changes in present species. The level of impact will vary widely, depending upon the nature and complexity of each ecosystem.”[3]

Native communities depend on marine fisheries for subsistence use and for commercial and tourist industries. Many of these fisheries rely on spawning grounds located in the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountains, the Great Plains, the Great Lakes, the Eastern Seaboard, and along the Gulf Coast. Tribal communities are consequently concerned about the combined and simultaneous effect of climate change and over-fishing. Climate changes can exacerbate the effects of over-fishing at a time of inherent instability in world fisheries.

Indigenous Peoples on a worldwide scale have been quite concerned about these impacts. The Native Peoples/Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop (l998) and the Second Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (2000), led to international dialogue on the issue. The Indigenous representatives were unanimous in their recommendations contained in the Hague Declaration. The series of procedural and substantive recommendations include:

Full participation in negotiations related to climate change, and decision-making with relevance to Indigenous Peoples;

Restoration of habitat previously devastated by national and international development; n Creation of a fund to deal with climate impacts in accordance with traditional cultures and lifestyles;

Increased application of renewable energy technologies in the developed and developing worlds. The Intertribal Council On Utility Policy (Intertribal COUP) is taking the lead and plans to challenge the Bush administration on global climate change. By not signing the Kyoto Protocol, the U.S. created a huge deficit in the international goal for decreased carbon emissions. “Tribal wind energy production could entirely enable the U.S. to reach the levels expected in the Kyoto Accords, and tribes could just do it,” suggests Gough. Intertribal COUP is soon launching a “March Forth!” initiative aimed at matching cities seeking partners in green house gas reduction with renewable energy producing tribes.

Energy: Problems and Solutions
“Energy is the biggest business in the world; there just isn’t any other industry that begins to compare,”[5] says Lee Raymond, Chairman of the Board and CEO of ExxonMobil, the largest oil company in the world.[6] Energy is, indeed, an immense business. Turnover in the world’s energy markets is at a whopping $l.7 trillion a year. This number will only continue to grow as more and more countries and communities become electrified (one-third of the world’s population is currently without electricity).

The potential for renewable energy in Indian country is now well understood. In the summer of 2000, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson announced the release of a new report on Indian Energy Consumption and Renewable Energy Development Potential on Indian lands. The study noted that “sixty-one Indian reservations appear to have renewable resources that might be developed for power generation at a cost of less than two cents per kilowatt-hours above regional wholesale prices.”[7] In other words, cleaner renewable energy resources might prove more lucrative for Indian Country than the non-renewable sources that presently dominate tribal economies.

Tribes have historically played a large role in the “big business” of U.S. energy production. In fact, even a conservative estimate will find at least 10 percent of the U.S. energy market and its reserves dependant on tribal resources. Therefore, even if the U.S. energy market is valued at $280 billion (a highly conservative estimate), then at least $28 billion should be going to tribes. Yet, in 2000, tribes received only $750 million for their resources—far below the market value. By the same token, however, the U.S. energy industry has played a major role within tribal relations. Although tribes have generally received a pittance in return for their resources, this still represents a significant portion of tribal treasuries. For instance, the Navajo Nation received the majority of its annual $100 million operating budget from royalties, leases, and taxes generated from coal, oil, and gas in the year 2000. Those revenues provided for basic infrastructure and the salaries of the entire tribal government employees and officials.[8] Indian Country relies on energy revenues for many of its basic needs. This has often come at the expense of the health of the land and the people, but there is potential for these revenues to continue and in a way that is healthier for tribal communities.

Photo: Solarpanelinstallation Courtesy: Native American Photovoltaics

Wind Solutions
Wind energy is now the fastest-growing renewable energy source across the country. There was 35 percent more wind generation capacity in 1998 than in 1997, or enough to power more than one million households in the U.S. alone.9 Attorney Gough says it all, when he says, “We can either give you coal, or we can give you wind.”10 We stand on the cusp of something important. It is our choice to determine the legacy we leave for future generations.
Alternative energy represents an incredible social and political reconstruction opportunity and one that has the potential for peace, justice, equity, and some recovery of our national dignity. Renewable energy makes economic sense.
The European Union estimates that there will be 2.77 jobs in wind for every megawatt produced, 7.24 jobs per megawatt in solar, and 5.67 jobs per megawatt in geothermal. Or, in short, l000 megawatts of alternative energy power averages 6000 jobs, or 60 times more high paying jobs than in fossil fuels and nuclear power. It is our choice. We can either create jobs and economic stability in Indian Country, or we can continue to line the pockets of utilities and energy companies.
Some of us believe that instead of nuclear waste going to Yucca Mountain, there should be solar panels. And we know that the wind blows endlessly on Pine Ridge, where we believe that, in the poorest county in the country, there should be wind turbines. We must be about democracy and about justice. We must put the power back into the hands of the people where it truly belongs.

Excerpted from Indigenous Peoples Power and Politics, A renewable Future for the Seventh Generation, an Honor the Earth Publication. Order copies online at:

1 Of the top 11 emitters of air pollution in New Mexico, most are on or near the reservation: Four Corners Power Plant (Arizona Public Service Company), San Juan Generating Station, BHP San Juan Coal Mine, BHP Navajo Coal Mine, Giant Refining Ciniza Refinery, and San Juan Refining Company.
2 Norrell, Brenda 2000. "Four Corners Power Plant Fouling Navajo Air," Indian Country Today, June 14 , 2000.
3 Gough, Robert 1999. "Stress on Stress: Global Warming and Aquatic Resource Depletion." Native Americas. 16, nos. 3 & 4 (1999): 46-48.
4 Gough, Robert 2002. Personal Interview with Winona LaDuke, February 5, 2002.
5 The Economist, February 10 , 2001.
6 “The World's 100 Largest Public Companies," The Wall Street Journal, 22 September 22, 2003.
7 Norrell, Brenda 2000. "Four Corners Power Plant Fouling Navajo Air," Indian Country Today, June 14 , 2000.
8 Gough, Robert 2002. Interview, February 5, 2002.
10 American Wind Energy Association,

Winona La Duke is a member of the Mississippi Band of Anishinaabeg. She is the program director of Honor the Earth and the founding director of White Earth Land Recovery Project. Her books include All Our Relations and Recovering the Sacred.

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"Cleaner renewable energy resources might prove more lucrative for Indian Country than the non-renewable sources that presently dominate tribal economies."

Toward a Just Climate Policy

Khalil Bendib cartoon © 2006

By J.Andrew Hoerner

Climate change plays favorites. Not by malice or calculation, but without question. This is the lesson of hurricane Katrina. Global warming makes the entire climate system more energetic. As the planet heats up, you see more extreme events of every kind—rainstorms, droughts, hurricanes and tornados, forest fires, and heat waves of deadly intensity. Warming is forecast to cause massive species loss and the death of traditional lifestyles that are closely allied with nature, from the Arctic tundra to the tropics. The 10 hottest years in history have all occurred in the last decade and a half. Global warming and the greenhouse gases that cause it are already outside the bounds of the last 600,000 years of earth history, and the further we move into uncharted territory, the more likely we are to see sudden, drastic, and unpredictable changes in the basic climate pattern of the world.And who pays the greatest price for this climatic destruction? Blacks, Latinos, low-income households, and indigenous peoples. They are communities who cannot afford air conditioning to combat heat waves or property insurance to cover against hurricane and tornado damage; people who spend the most on basic necessities and who have no access to health care when tropical diseases become more widespread. While it’s true that “working people everywhere” are increasingly being affected by the same problems, the reality is that specific communities are still the first and the hardest to be hit.
Can We Stop Global Warming?

Yes, but it will not be easy. Global warming is an unavoidable by-product of burning all fossil fuels: coal, oil, and natural gas; and unlike past pollutants, these cannot be filtered out, except at tremendous cost. To halt global warming, we would have to stop using fossil fuels completely for the next 40 years. This will require a complete redesign of our entire energy system and the replacement of fossil fuels with plant biomass and power from the sun, wind, and tides.
With sufficient effort, we should be able to halt further warming and begin a return to the pre-warming state within the lifetime of those now being born. Global warming will continue to worsen under any realistic policy scenario during our lifetimes. The climate system is huge, and has immense inertia. It took more than a century for a serious warming trend to start and it will take at least another century for it to stop. Famines and other disasters caused by climate change can only be ameliorated with the help of strong international organizations, backed by genuinely committed industrial nations.

When Race Matters in Global Warming
Research shows that Blacks in the U.S., while at greater risk from the problems of global warming, are less responsible for it than Whites. The emission of greenhouse gases from the consumption of all goods is 20 percent lower for Blacks than for non-Hispanic white households, primarily because lower average income causes lower average purchases of energy.

At the same time, Blacks at all income levels appear to spend a greater proportion of their total household budget on energy. This is especially true for households at the bottom 10 percent of the income scale, which spend 60 percent more of their budget on energy. Some evidence suggests that higher home energy use—mainly for heating—is a consequence of poor quality housing.

Latinos also spend a higher proportion of their budget on energy than non-Hispanic whites at all levels, especially at the lower end of the scale. However, home energy use for Latino households is more similar to that of whites, while motor fuel expenditure is considerably higher.

Global Warming Katrina Photo Courtesy: NOAAAll Justice is Climate Justice
We believe that all struggles for economic justice—the right to a decent education and affordable healthcare for all, the right to a living wage or better unemployment and Social Security benefits, the fight to build stronger unions and worker rights organizations—are also struggles to reduce the harmful effects of global warming. We are convinced that global warming will multiply the effects of existing injustices and the only way to avoid disaster for our communities and our nation, is through policies that reflect solidarity among all working people.

Extensive economic modeling within the U.S. has shown that policies that hurt the economy hurt the vulnerable communities first and most, while policies that help the economy also help these very communities most. This is best illustrated by trends in unemployment: Blacks closely track whites, but at about twice the amplitude, and are helped more when unemployment goes down.

What is the difference between policies that weaken the economy and those that strengthen it? Just a few key decisions.

“Polluters Pay” vs. Corporate Welfare
Ultimately, we are going to pay more for gasoline and other fossil-based fuels. Fossil energy, especially oil and gas, will be more expensive, because it is running out. And it should be more expensive, because of its harmful effects. But we do have an important choice: we can pay that higher price to ourselves, in the form of pollution costs that finance programs to save energy, manage the transition to new clean sources of power, and provide assistance to households and companies that are most affected. Or we can pay the same money to OPEC and the big energy companies.

There are basically three ways to limit greenhouse gas emissions using market incentives. Under the first two systems, fossil fuel producers are required to have a permit for each ton of carbon dioxide released into the air by their fuels. The existing system issues free permits based on how much a company has polluted in the past. Under this system, consumers pay higher fuel prices to the companies that pollute the most. The alternative to this system is to auction the permits to the polluters, so the higher fuel prices will actually have the effect of going to the government for public use. A third system is to have pollution fees or taxes, which would have nearly the same economic effect as auctioned permits.

Some environmental justice advocates believe that the real problem lies with permit trading—a view that’s confirmed by our study. Trading systems, such as RECLAIM in Los Angeles, and the offset market under the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism, have been severely corrupted and abused.

Trading permits per se does not appear to affect the economic outcome as much as the system of giving away permits to historic polluters. If the polluter is made to pay for the permit at an auction or through taxes and fees, and the funds are used wisely, the entire economy can benefit.

Energy Efficiency: The Other 20 Percent Solution
When it comes to environmentally sound economics, offsetting the energy burden goes hand-in-hand with promoting energy efficiency. Although poorer households spend a higher percentage of their income on energy, they still spend less in absolute terms. So, it is possible to fully offset the average energy burden on the bottom 40 percent of all households (through programs like the earned income tax credit) with only 20 percent of the revenues from a permit fee or tax on global warming pollution.

In addition, it is possible to fully offset the burden of a global warming pollution charge on all households by investing a small portion of the revenue on energy efficiency measures, which would have people spending less on energy, even when prices go up. A review of the literature suggests that on average, one can offset all of the additional energy costs by investing only 20 percent of the revenues in energy efficiency.

In effect, then, the average burden on low-income households is offset twice—through direct credits and through energy efficiency. The net result is a strengthening of local economies through the transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars to communities that have been historically affected by environmentally irresponsible policy, with 60 percent of the revenues still left over for other public spending.

When Emissions Follow Trade, Equity Happens
In putting a climate policy in place, there is always the risk of driving energy-intensive production out of state. And since global warming pollution has the same effect, regardless of where it is generated, a state or nation with a policy can hurt its own economy without getting any environmental benefit. Environmentalists call this problem “leakage.”
One solution would be to treat the emissions as if they were following the goods. Importers would be required to pay a pollution fee or buy emissions permits, just as if the goods were produced in state, and exporters would get a rebate for permit costs or emission charges associated with the exports.

This policy, sometimes called border adjustment, is a feature of consumption taxes, like the excise and sales taxes, and is allowed under the GATT/WTO rules. It completely eliminates the incentive to move production out of state, thus saving local jobs, preserving competitiveness, and from an environmental point of view, ending “leakage.”

Next Steps: What’s to be Done?
We can safely say that low-income, non-white communities, while not primarily responsible for the pollutants that cause climate change, certainly bear the brunt of its effects. Some of the costs to these communities can be offset by revenues from pollution permit charges and pollution tariffs on imports, and investment in energy-efficient and clean energy technologies. However, to put in place some of these policies for climate justice, we would first have to spell out a comprehensive political program. The following list of obvious next steps is a start in that direction:

  • Recognize the enormous role race plays in the consequences of global warming.
  • Work with groups like the Environmental Justice and Climate Change initiative,, and also with mainstream racial and ethnic justice groups to include climate justice on their platforms.
  • Learn the 10 principles for a just U.S. climate policy:
  • Demand that all state and federal climate legislation include studies of environmental justice concerns, and that all climate plans include programs that address the special needs of vulnerable communities and are progressive in their overall impact.
  • Work for full funding for programs that promote community development through energy efficiency, like the low-income home weatherization program, and support innovative development strategies, like the Ella Baker Center’s Green Jobs Not Jails campaign.
  • Get involved with climate initiatives at the state level. If your state is among those currently developing a comprehensive climate plan with ambitious goals (California, New Mexico, and some New England states), get involved in the planning process, or at the least, demand to know how your elected officials will support the creation of such a plan.
  • Work with labor/environmental alliances like the Apollo Alliance and the Blue/Green Alliance to draw the connections between racial, workplace, and climate justice.
  • Reduce your own global warming activities by using tools like the Ecological Footprint Calculator, Ask your school or place of work about their plans for reducing global warming pollution, and support effective policies.
  • If you belong to a church, ask your church to take a public stand in support of an effective global warming policy, and send a delegation to your local elected officials to communicate that stand.


    This article is based on three detailed analyses done by Redefining Progress, one of which is an unreleased study on climate impacts on Latinos.

    You can read the other studies online: African Americans And Climate Change: An Unequal Burden, a report prepared for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation;

    Climate Change In California: Health, Economic and Equity Impacts, a report prepared for the California Air Resources Board.

    Andrew Hoerner is director of research for Redefining Progress (


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    Youth Organize for Planetary Survival

    Climate Justice Corps and EJCC Members © 2005 Ansje Miller

    The fight for climate justice is a classic fight between good and evil, complete with global catastrophe, seemingly unstoppable villains, unlikely heroes, and the threat to life as we know it on this planet. The mythological scale of the issue makes it unlike any other we have ever faced, and adds to the difficulty of organizing around it to make any real change. It is a fight that cannot and will not be won overnight. It will take the continued hard work, dedication, and faith of generations of people. For this reason, today’s youth and future generations play a critical role in the fight for climate justice. Luckily, many of us are taking up the challenge.

    “Climate change is the big daddy of environmental justice problems,” explains Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network. “It is the most critical issue in terms of the number of people impacted.”

    In the not too distant future, we can expect to see an increase in the number of extreme weather events, such as floods, hurricanes, droughts, and tornados; the creation of deserts; the flooding of coastal towns and island nations; the spread of infectious diseases; wars over food, water, and land; the displacement of people; and the extinction of cultures, species, and ecosystems. This is an issue that will, without a doubt, affect every single living being on the planet in a very profound way.

    Despite the seriousness and urgency of the problem, communities are slow to act on it, in large part because the global nature of the climate change issue is not easy to grasp. According to Jill Johnston of the Southwest Workers Union (SWU), “With environmental justice fights, you are taking on an enemy that’s right there in your community, but with climate change, it’s harder for people to see that direct connection, even if it exists. Most work on climate [justice] is at the national or international level, which is separate from the people.”

    Adds Diana Abellera of Redefining Progress, of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, “The climate justice movement links… the fossil fuel industry, globalization, toxic facilities, and climate science to deeply rooted systems of oppression, such as racism, colonialism, and capitalism. Understanding how these systems have led to our dependency on fossil fuels requires a somewhat complex and thorough analysis of modern American society, so combining these abstract concepts can be challenging.”

    This unique challenge, however, can also be turned into an advantage for those working on the issue—in unprecedented ways.

    “Climate justice isn’t just about reducing fossil fuels, improving agricultural processes, or changing urban design. It’s about changing the consciousness of society, changing the things we value, especially in the United States,” says Clayton Thomas-Muller.

    Without a doubt, our current way of life is unsustainable, but because those with power in the world have given in to greed, we are now at a point of no return. Even if we were to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by the necessary amount today, we would still face more hurricanes and droughts, the mass extinction of species, and the displacement of large populations. We, the youth, are fully aware of   this as we step up to take on the fight for climate justice.

    Listen to Youth… for a Change
    In the Gulf Coast region, last year’s hurricanes have spurred the organization of several events to educate the general public about the connection between the hurricanes, climate change, and fossil fuels. Next September, we will see the culmination of two years of work done by youth, with the bi-national Gulf Coast Conference, hosted by the SWU. The conference aims to bring together grassroots communities and workers in the U.S. and Mexico,  to strategize and discuss the future of energy in the Gulf Coast.

    Indigenous youth in the Southwest are experimenting with some innovative sustainable practices, explains Wahleah Johns of the Black Mesa Water Coalition. “Here, in Arizona, we are taking a pro-active approach to solving climate change. Youth are making connections with people in the community to develop projects around energy-efficient building and growing food, so that we’re not dependent on outside resources. In re-learning and practicing our traditional techniques, we are creating long-term sustainability at the local level.”

    As part of a nationwide Campus Climate Challenge campaign, Indigenous Environmental Network, the Black Mesa Water Coalition, and the EJCC are reaching out to colleges and universities that largely serve Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous populations, to get students involved in the fight for climate justice. In addition to educating youth on renewable energy matters, these organizations will facilitate the development of relationships between students and community leaders.

    This fall marks the launch of the EJCC’s Climate Justice Institute, a program developed to build young leaders who are prepared for a long-term fight for climate justice. The Institute will serve to train and motivate youth leaders from communities disproportionately affected by climate change, through workshops and internships, and other resources necessary to effectively engage in the fight for climate justice.

    Youth are also making an impact at the international level. In December 2005, the EJCC was able to include 10 youth in its delegation to the 11th Conference of the Parties and First Meeting of the Parties on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Montreal, Canada. These youth facilitated workshops and organized events; spoke on climate justice and youth leadership panels; and participated in and led the daily strategy meetings of international youth. The result is, the International Youth Declaration: Our Climate, Our Challenge, Our Future, which advocates a human rights-based approach to tackling climate change.

    As I see it, we, the youth of today, have little choice. Faced with a future full of disasters, wars, disease, and destruction, rather than be scared or depressed, some of us have chosen to fight back. We are putting our faith in our own abilities to make a better future for ourselves. We understand the urgency of the issue and know that it will not be an easy fight. We know that it will require breaking down the old barriers of race and geography. We also realize that we are the underdogs. But as Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world: indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  

    Jihan Gearon works at Redefining Progress where she is the Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative program associate. 

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    Climate Justice in New Orleans

    Climate Justice New Orleans © 2006 Scott Braley

    Climate Justice for Black New Orleans

    Katrina survivors demand rights from FEMA in Oakland, California © 2006 Scott Braley

    Was Hurricane Katrina the worst “natural” disaster in American history? Or was it man-made?   The documentary film, “Rising Waters: Global Warming and the Fate of the Pacific Islands”[1] illustrates some of the key impacts of global warming in what the Alliance of Small Island States calls “extreme weather events.” Nations and peoples that have anticipated and controlled flooding for thousands of years are now experiencing uncontrollable super-sized floods, hurricanes, and tornados. Island and coastal nations that previously had effective mechanisms to protect themselves from terrible but predictable weather events are now overwhelmed, as coral reefs—those natural levees against flooding—are being destroyed by warmer ocean temperatures. These torrential winds, rains, and floods go beyond any definition of “normal,” yet the system tries to pass them off as natural disasters.

    “The total amount of energy the hurricanes release—a figure calculated from wind speed and duration—has increased over the last 50 years by somewhere between 50 to 80 percent,” says Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and author of “Divine Wind: The History and Science of Hurricanes.”  

    In a recent article in the journal Science, Peter J. Webster of the Georgia Institute of Technology, and colleagues write that the past 15 years have seen nearly twice as many category four and five (on the Saffir-Simpson scale) hurricanes around the world as in the period between 1975 and 1989.[2]

    Dr. Paul Epstein of Harvard’s School of Public Health, points out that Third World countries in particular are vulnerable to epidemics provoked by global warming because they already lack good nutrition, secure housing, and proper medical care.[3] Decaying cities in the United States are just as vulnerable to category five hurricanes provoked by global warming.  

    Barry Commoner has argued that the development of the massive horsepower car, the proliferation of diesel and other fossil fuel-based transportation, and the use of chemicals to tackle problems previously resolved in eco-friendly ways, has increased toxic emissions since World War II to unprecedented levels in the history of the world. The auto, oil, and highway industries contribute to the production of greenhouse gases that generate global warming and climate change, which in turn cause the extreme weather events that are imposed on vulnerable peoples, resulting in illness, dislocation, homelessness, despondency, and death.

    Entire communities, mostly poor and of color, are thus being destroyed by global warming.Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami—the most deadly earthquake and flood in recorded history—several Third World commentators observed that we should specifically say that the tsunami killed between 170,000 to 250,000 “poor” people. Because, by and large, with the exception of some unfortunate tourists, it was the poorest of the native populations, living in the most vulnerable areas, that absorbed most of the tsunami’s impacts. And that’s how it is throughout the world. The disenfranchised people end up as human sacrifices to the Western god of profit.  

    While most of the post-Katrina discussion has been on the fragile condition of the levees, the under-funding of levee repairs, and the fiasco of the Bush dismantling of FEMA, in a paper entitled, “Unnatural Disaster: Louisiana’s Crisis in Policy and Planning,” authors Brian Azcona and Jason Neville focus instead on how the destruction of the wetlands through corporate development has undermined one of nature’s ways of mitigating the impact of hurricanes:  “…In the last century, over 1.2 million acres of land have disappeared, in large part as a consequence of land misuse—that includes oil, gas, and timber extraction; industrial, commercial, agricultural, and residential development.” Economic development reduced the absorbent capacity of the region, while simultaneously increasing runoff and toxicity.A climate justice approach to the matter should begin with a demand for: (a) regulation of corporations and their “individual choice” to pollute; (b) mandated increases in auto fuel efficiencies; (c) reductions in the use of toxic substances; (d) expansion of public transportation systems; and (e) transparency about the chemicals and greenhouse gases produced by corporations and institutions.  

    Translating this sentiment into action, we would like the ‘reconstructed’ New Orleans to have many auto-free zones and auto-free days. We envision a comprehensive, federally-funded, clean-fuel bus, jitney, bicycle, and pedestrian-centered city with a public transportation system that would not contribute to global warming and combat transit racism.   

    Climate justice proponents should demand dramatic reductions in emissions from Louisiana’s oil refineries in Cancer Alley, the 85-mile stretch on I-10 between New Orleans and Baton Rouge, and from the grain elevators and steel plants. They should call for the preservation of the wetlands, and a moratorium on highway expansion, coastal development, and gambling boats that come inland to set up coastal enclaves.  

    As a matter of fact, in its most progressive manifestation, this ‘green’ reconstruction effort would create a city in which people, particularly low-income black people, and not the autos, the highways, and the chemical plants, are prioritized.  

    A Clarion Call for “Effective Right of Return”
     A central tactical demand that has united the black and progressive movements across the Gulf Coast and throughout the United States, is the “right of return” for the 350,000 black residents of New Orleans and of other Gulf Coast cities. If the black evacuees are not aided in their return, there will be no material base for black power and no political base to challenge the racist institutions in New Orleans, in Louisiana, and in Washington D.C. Areas with a black majority population are critical to any possible reversal of policies that contribute to racism and oppression and they must be fought for, as if all of our lives depended on it.  

    Without a plan to prioritize the return of black people to New Orleans, relocation has taken the form of mass kidnapping and the forced dispersal of refugees. As Beverly Wright of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice, observed: “We need to [look] beyond ‘right of return’ to ‘effective right of return.’ We need plane tickets, bus tickets, housing, and a job, or at least government benefits waiting for us when we do return. We cannot allow the Bush Administration and the Louisiana white Democrats to support the forced dispersal of New Orleans and Gulf Coast evacuees to ‘new homes’ in Houston, Boston, Los Angeles, and Utah, which effectively cements their disenfranchisement. Black evacuees must, every one of them, be allowed to return home![4]

    President Bush claims that New Orleans will “rise again,” but who will live in it? And who is reaping the benefits of the rebuilding process? The massive reconstruction project currently underway to address the engineering problems of a city below sea level is already characterized by government bailouts and pork barrel projects for the corporate elite. And while the poorest sections of New Orleans are expected to take years to rebuild, many of the more affluent and white sections already have basic services and will most likely form the core of the reconstructed city’s population. The only people of color in this new, white majority New Orleans, will likely be the working class Blacks and Latinos who clean people’s houses or work at WalMart.

    At the moment, it looks as if the prediction of Beverly Wright, Saladin Muhammad, and other Gulf Coast organizers is all set to come true and New Orleans is well on its way to being “whitewashed.” It will take a unified multiracial movement with a strong, progressive black leadership, and a solid plan to reconstruct New Orleans from the bottom up,[5] to reverse the trend.  

    Fortunately, the movement to challenge the current racist redevelopment plan is already in motion. The People’s Hurricane Relief Fund is demanding that the federal government “provide funds for all displaced families to be reunited.” The fight for a Black Reconstruction must involve the guarantee that New Orleans will be rebuilt as a black-majority city and returned to its pre-Katrina population of 500,000. And there should be a thoughtful debate on a future urban plan that goes beyond merely rebuilding the levees and waiting for the next hurricane season. ?


    1    Produced by Andrea Torrice (Oley, PA: Bullfrog Films, 2000).
    2    Brownstein, Ronald. “Hard Choices Blow in the Winds of Katrina, and Now Rita,” Los Angeles Times, September 26, 2005.
    3    Epstein, Paul R. “Is Global Warming Harmful to Health?” Scientific American, August 2000.
    4    Wright, Beverly.  interview with Eric Mann and Damon Azali, Voices from the Frontlines, KPFK 90.7 FM, Los Angeles, September 16, 2005.
    5    Mann, Eric, et al. Reconstructing Los Angeles, and U.S. Cities, from the Bottom Up (Los Angeles: Labor/Community Strategy Center, 1993). Available at

    Eric Mann is director of the Labor / Community Strategy Center in Los Angeles


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    Environment, Disaster, and Race After Katrina

    Photo: Gulf Coast Bayou home, September 2005. ©  2005 Scott Braley

    The southern United States has a long history of coping with weather-related disasters and a legacy of institutionalized racism against African Americans. Hurricane Katrina hit the region in a particularly vulnerable place, pushing right up against an industrial corridor running from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, popularly known as “Cancer Alley,” a place that is host to both numerous petrochemical complexes and many poor African American communities that have long complained of environmental disparities. It is no coincidence that the storm’s most dramatic effects were felt in a city where black reliance on public transit was four times higher than that of whites, and where the public plans for evacuation were tragically deficient.
    How consequential is racial inequality in environmental conditions?  A Southern California study estimating lifetime cancer risk from air toxins shows, for example, that risk declines as income rises, but is still around 50 percent higher at all income levels for African Americans, Latinos, and Asians. And lead poisoning, commonly triggered by conditions in older housing, is five times more common among black children than white children.

    Disaster Vulnerability and Environmental Justice
    The social dynamics that underlie the disproportionate environmental hazards faced by low-income communities and minorities also play out in the arena of disaster prevention, mitigation, and recovery. In a sense, environmental justice is about slow-motion disasters—and disasters reveal environmental injustice in a fast-forward mode. Both revolve around the axes of disparities of wealth and power.

    Lack of wealth heightens the risks that individuals and communities face, for three reasons. First, it translates into a lack of purchasing power to secure private alternatives to public provision of a clean and safe environment for all. Second, it translates into less ability to withstand shocks (such as health bills and property damage) that wealth would cushion. Third, it translates through the “shadow prices” of cost-benefit analysis into public policies that place a lower priority on protecting “less valuable” people and their assets.  In the aftermath of Katrina, there is an added risk that transfers could turn New Orleans into little more than a theme park for affluent tourists. In the vicious circle of disaster vulnerability, those with less wealth face greater risks, and when disaster strikes, their wealth is further sapped.
    But risk is not just about money; even middle-class African Americans, Latinos, and Asians face elevated environmental risks.

    This reflects systematic differences in power and the legacy of racial discrimination. Power also shows up in private decisions by firms choosing where to site hazards and how much to invest in environmental protection; their choices are constrained not only by government regulations, but also by informal governance exercised by mobilized communities, civil society, and the press (see Pargal, et al. 1997; Boyce 2004). In both public and private arenas, then, power disparities drive outcome disparities—and the resulting patterns reflect race and ethnicity, as well as wealth.1

    Land, Markets, and Power
    The power explanation suggests that low-income people and communities of color are systematically disadvantaged in the political decision-making process. This argument can incorporate the other explanations. What seems to be rational land use, after all, may be predetermined by political processes that designate disenfranchised communities as sacrifice zones (see Pulido 2000; Boone and Modarres 1999; Wright 2005). Indeed, land use decisions often build on accumulated disadvantage.

    In the largely Latino community of Kettleman City in California’s Central Valley, for example, an effort to place a toxic waste incinerator in a landfill already proximate to the city was viewed as building on existing dis-amenities but added insult to injury for an already overburdened community (Cole and Foster 2001). Likewise, income is a marker of political power, as well as of market strength.

    The interplay of land use, income, and power means that certain variables used in statistical analyses—such as zoning and household wealth—carry multiple explanations. To demonstrate convincingly that power is behind siting decisions requires the inclusion of some variables that are directly and irrefutably connected to power differentials.

    The most important of these variables is race.2 Disparate patterns by race, particularly when one has controlled for income and other variables involved in the land use and market dynamics explanations, most clearly point to the role of unequal influence and racial discrimination. Racially disparate outcomes are also important in their own right. They can result from processes that are not so much a direct exercise of power as essentially embedded in the nature of our urban form, including housing segregation and real estate steering, informal methods that exclude communities from decision-making processes (including less provision of information regarding health risks), the past placement of hazards (which justifies new hazards as rational land use), and other forms of less direct “institutionalized” or “structural” racism (see Feagin and Feagin 1986; Institute on Race and Poverty 2002). And it is precisely racialized risk that has galvanized a movement for environmental equity rooted in civil rights law and activism. Race and racism therefore are at the heart of the evidentiary debate. 

      Race and Ethnicity
     • Damaged areas were 45.8 percent African American, undamaged areas, only 26.4 percent. For the city of New Orleans alone, these figures were 75 percent and 46.2 percent, respectively.
    • Before Katrina, the city had 475,000 people with about 67 percent African American. Current estimates indicate that soon the population will be only 350,000 with only 35 to 40 percent Black.
    • Approximately 24,000 legal permanent residents, 72,000 legal temporary residents, and an estimated 20,000 to 35,000 undocumented immigrants may have been affected by Katrina (Woods and Lewis 2005, 8).
    • Around the time of Katrina, poor Blacks were much less likely to have access to cars than even poor Whites, 53 versus 17 percent (Dyson 2006, 145).

    Damaged areas had 20.9 percent of households living below the federal poverty line, undamaged areas only 15.3 percent. For the city of New Orleans alone, these figures were 29.2 percent and 24.7 percent, respectively.
    • In the city of New Orleans, before Katrina hit, women had much higher poverty rates than men, with 2004 figures of 25.9 percent and 20 percent (Gault, et al. 2005).
    • Damaged areas had 45.7 percent renter-occupied households, undamaged areas, only 30.9 percent.

    Relief and Recovery: It’s Not Just Hazards:
    Environmental and transportation justice are at the heart of emergency preparedness and emergency response. The former provides a guidepost to who is most likely to be vulnerable to the disaster itself, and the latter provides information about who will need the most help when disaster strikes. It is to the intersection of disaster vulnerability with race, income, and other social characteristics that we now turn.

    The inequities before and during a disaster are often played out further in the period after a disaster. Many minorities and the poor have had greater difficulties recovering from disasters due to less insurance, lower incomes, fewer savings, more unemployment, less access to communication channels and information, and the intensification of existing poverty (Bolin and Bolton 1986; Bolin and Stanford 1998; Cooper and Laughy 1994; Hewitt 1997; Peacock, et al. 1997; Tierney 1988). For example, after Hurricane Andrew (which struck Florida and Lousiana in 1992) Blacks and non–Cuban Hispanics were more likely than Whites to receive inadequate settlement amounts, and black neighborhoods were less likely to have insurance with major companies, a fact that may have been connected to redlining (Peacock and Girard 1997).3

    Studies have also addressed racial, class, and ethnic differences in who receives disaster recovery assistance. Bolin and Bolton (1986) concluded that the Blacks, who had lower income than Whites in their study, needed multiple aid sources to deal with large losses because they did not receive enough support from fewer sources. Blacks were also less likely than Whites to receive Small Business Administration (SBA) loans, more likely to use interfaith disaster services, and tended to recover economically more slowly. Following the 1997 Grand Forks flood in North Dakota, flood relief was geared away from migrant workers, hurting primarily Hispanic single mothers (Enarson and Fordham 2001).

    Upper middle-class victims in several disasters have been more likely to receive assistance than minorities and the poor because they knew how to navigate the relief system, fill out the forms, and work within the government bureaucracy (Aptekar 1990; Fothergill 2004; Rovai 1994). In addition, poorer victims had more trouble making trips to the disaster assistance centers following Hurricane Andrew because of transportation, child care, and work difficulties (Dash, et al.1997). Furthermore, the traditional nuclear family model used by some relief programs left poor, minority women at a disadvantage (Morrow and Enarson 1996).

    Housing continues to be a significant issue for low-income and minority disaster victims in the recovery period. Past research has found that housing assistance favors middle-class victims, particularly homeowners. Of course, helping homeowners is important and may be especially critical for  middleclass black and Latino families. Such families have much lower homeownership rates but, as noted earlier, tend to have more of their net worth tied up in home equity than their white counterparts do. Still, including renters prominently in the relief mix is part of a more racially equitable approach.

    Legal residency is another critical issue in disaster recovery. Following disasters, many undocumented immigrants, unsure about the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) policy, avoid recovery assistance for fear of deportation (Subervi-Velez, et al. 1992; Bolin 1993; Cooper and Laughy 1994; Yelvington 1997). Muñiz (2006) offers anecdotal evidence that this was an issue in Katrina as well. She also shows how the occasional assumption that Latino residents were undocumented rather than legal residents sometimes led FEMA to fail to offer appropriate information about housing assistance to eligible individuals.4

    In addition, the non-traditional family structures of immigrant households can be a challenge for disaster officials. Following Hurricane Andrew, FEMA was not prepared for some of south Florida’s family structures, particularly Haitian families, who often had several families in one household—FEMA’s temporary assistance was set up for nuclear families with one head of household (Morrow 1997).

    Post-Katrina events have done little to stir new confidence among those fenceline communities that have been subject to pollution releases from nearby chemical facilities, or living near the potentially dangerous transit corridors discussed.

    Preventing a “Second Disaster”
    The amount of debris left behind by Katrina—an estimated 22 million tons—is staggering (Griggs 2005, 12A). More than half, 12 million tons, is in Orleans Parish. In addition to wood debris, EPA and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality officials estimate that from 140,000 to 160,000 homes in Louisiana may need to be demolished and disposed  of (EPA and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality 2005). These homes include over one million pieces of “white goods”—such as refrigerators, stoves, and freezers—that require disposal.

    An additional 350,000 automobiles must be drained of oil and gasoline and then recycled; 60,000 boats must be staged and maybe destroyed; and 300,000 underground fuel tanks and 42,000 tons of hazardous waste must be collected and properly disposed of (Varney and Moller 2005).

    Hurricane Katrina exposed for the entire nation the legacy of a discriminatory system and its consequences. Yet, it also raised opportunities for civil rights, environmental, labor, and environmental justice organizations to advocate for processes of relief, recovery, and rebuilding that could address the socioeconomic and environmental inequalities that have plagued the region. Put simply, the aftermath of Katrina can become a time of important change for Americans—if we confront the contradictions between our democratic ideals and the injustices that Katrina laid bare.

    Sadly, this opportunity is in danger of being lost. The risks are no surprise: without good government, disaster opens the door to predators. In coastal Thailand, for example, land grabbers quickly arrived on the scene in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami to take advantage of the local residents’ weakened circumstances. There is a distinct risk in New Orleans that asset transfers could turn the city into little more than a theme park for affluent tourists, and many in the low-income neighborhoods ravaged by the hurricane worry that federal, state, and local officials will not prioritize their neighborhoods for clean-up and reconstruction.

    Beyond Katrina
    The failure to learn from past experience is also at work elsewhere in the system. For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development responded to the Northridge quake by developing a very effective program that quickly provided vouchers for permanent housing to the poorest victims and allowed these to be used anywhere in the state; but this effort, curiously enough, was not duplicated in the Katrina case.  

    Moreover, ongoing policy seems headed in the wrong direction.  The EPA, for example, has reversed course from the two previous administrations by seeking to take the focus off race in regulatory enforcement activities and to diminish the annual collection of pollution emission data that researchers, communities, and industries use to monitor firm-level environmental performance. Katrina opened a window on a dark side of America—the economic and environmental vulnerability of low-income people and communities of color.  We can close that window, or we can use the new view to chart a better, healthier, and more equitable future for us all.  ?

    Manuel Pastor is co-director of the Center for Justice, Tolerance, and Community at the University of California, Santa Cruz.  Robert D. Bullard is Ware Professor of Sociology and director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University.  James K. Boyce is professor of economics at the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  Alice Fothergill is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Vermont.  Rachel Morello-Frosch is Carney Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine at Brown University.  Beverly Wright is professor of sociology and director of the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice at Dillard University. This article is based on a report sponsored by the Russell Sage Foundation of New York.
    The complete report can be accessed at


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    Equity and the Environment: Rebuilding Green - Rebuilding Black

    New Orleans Devastation1 ©2005 Scott Braley

    B. Jesse Clarke:  New Orleans stands as an all-too-powerful example of what the future may hold if we fail to advance progressive alternatives to the ongoing planned disaster of current models of economic development. In looking at global economic situations, it is clear that we need to promote green economic development as a significant part of the solution, both for climate change and rebuilding, in the wake of disasters. But how can this solution be integrated with historic equity challenges faced by low-income people in communities of color in the distribution of public and private resources?


    This round table interview was organized with the support of Paloma Pavel from Earth House and is part of an ongoing Sustainable Metropolitan Communities Network (see convened by Carl Anthony of the Ford Foundation to promote equity in metropolitan areas across the U.S.

    Robert Bullard, director of the Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University
    Don Chen, executive director of Smart Growth America
    Ben Jesse Clarke, editor of Race, Poverty and the Environment
    Juliet Ellis, executive director of Urban Habitat
    Paul Epstein, associate director of Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School
    Michel Gelobter, executive director of Redefining Progress
    Manuel Pastor, co-director of the Center for Justice, Power and Community at U.C. Santa Cruz
    Paloma Pavel, Earth House (moderator, co-host)
    John Talberth, director of the Sustainability Indicators Project at Redefining Progress
    Lynn Wolf, advocacy coordinator with the Center for Social Inclusion

    Manuel Pastor: Katrina ripped the veil on environmental inequity and differential responses in terms of disaster-readiness and recovery. While many people were surprised by the images on their television screens of people left stranded by a government that didn’t seem to care, there was one group that was not at all surprised, both by the disaster, and by the lack of access to transit that had left people behind.  

    Environmental justice advocates, for years, had been looking at who was exposed to chronic risk, especially the kind of acute risk that comes with disasters, and what the differential responses of the government were.We detailed that extensively in our report.1 Because really, there are a set of small-scale Katrinas happening daily in many of our neighborhoods and communities around the country.

    When Katrina happened, and the nation seemed shocked and surprised, it was an opportune moment to see whether something can be done on the issues of environmental equity, poverty reduction, and an eco-social approach to rebuilding.

    Robert Bullard: The first disaster was the lethargic response from FEMA and the federal government. The second, more slow-moving disaster is the lack of interest in addressing the institutional inequities. The reconstruction and recovery programs seem to be on a trajectory to repeat and compound the inequities and disparities that existed pre-Katrina.  


    When I started looking at how grants and SBA loans were being awarded, and insurance claims being settled (wind vs. water damage); and the reconstruction process itself, in terms of which neighborhoods were being targeted for rebuilding and which areas—formerly residential—were being designated as potential green spaces or allowed to revert to swamps, I could see clear discriminatory patterns.  


    This is not rocket science. “Low-lying areas” was code for areas that were inhabited largely by African Americans and poor people. Restrictions on the subsidies that would be available to people on fixed and low incomes, and the  whole idea of promoting a smaller and upscale New Orleans is code for a whiter New Orleans.

    The studies coming from the New York Times, the Rand Corporation and others, verify a lot of these things that I had predicted back in December in the   article “Katrina and the Second Disaster: A Twenty-Point Plan to Destroy Black New Orleans,” and it’s even more apparent now.[2]

    Katrina Survivor in Oakland2 ©2006 Scott Braley

    When we look at the history of urban renewal or community development or eminent domain, in terms of slum clearance, it’s clear that these things have never been race- or class-neutral in this country.  History has taught us that it repeats itself in a very negative way when it comes to people of color.

    So we started to ask the question: To what extent will the new plans build on past inequities?  In other words, people that were victims of discrimination and racial redlining before Katrina, will most likely be disproportionately impacted when these “plans” go into place.

    Juliet Ellis: Do you see a racial divide in environmentalist responses to Katrina? 
    Bullard: A couple of the notions being bantered about were “green” building codes and “green” economics. Many of us, including myself, support this concept. We need to make sure that we create greener buildings and healthier communities. But at many of these “green” conferences called after Katrina, there were hardly any people of color. And when other people speak for us, they generally get it wrong.  

    Post-Katrina New Orleans has been described as the mother of all toxic clean-ups. But there is no comprehensive clean-up plan for neighborhoods that were impacted by the contamination and there is no repopulation plan in terms of low-income and public housing, and even owner-occupied housing that was destroyed.  

    This is made possible by a political structure that was basically set up to disenfranchise black people.  It’s about money and political power. By taking away the redevelopment money from the city and the elected officials, and routing it through the Louisiana Redevelopment Recovery Authority—an unelected, external body—they have taken away home rule and the sovereignty of the city.

    Lynn Wolf: Look at what the EPA has said to these communities about the serious environmental risks from the soil. That it was bad before and they weren’t dealing with it then, so they’re not going to deal with it now. There’s also some level of denial as to neighborhoods needing clean-up.  They’re saying, ‘It’s safe to go back, but we wouldn’t send our own children back there.’

    Paul Epstein: Just a quick point on the soil. It’s full of fungus, toxins, and oil. Floods foster fungi. Toxins are all over from the petrochemicals. And there’s an oil spill the size of the Exxon Valdez—about 11 million gallons. And it’s all in the wetlands and soils.

    Pastor: Regarding the racial divide, I think this was yet another tremendous opportunity for the mainstream environmental movement to build alliances with the environmental justice movement. But there have not been as many close coalitions based on common interests as would be desirable.New Orleans Devastation 2 © Scott Braley 2005

    Ellis: Many advocates see a long-range solution to climate change in a green economy. It can simultaneously reduce greenhouse gases and provide a just transition for workers in petroleum-based industries. Do you see a way for low-income and communities of color to participate in this economy? 

    Epstein: The cost of disasters is now up to $225 billion, which is way more than the four billion dollars that disasters were costing in the 1980s. The pace and magnitude of recent climate disasters have moved the financial community—I’m talking Goldman Sachs and J. P. Morgan Swiss Re—and they are looking for opportunities and the right political way forward. So we have some interesting friends to think about. Perhaps this can help to unite a movement of the Big Ten environmental organizations, and the environmental justice movement, and some parts of the economy that are scared shitless right now.

    Pastor: Most progressives react to economic changes with notions of distribution and justice: “Can we get our share and make sure that it doesn’t pollute too much?” This is good, but a major shift that needs to occur in our paradigm is thinking about the production side. We need to really develop an economic strategy that generates wealth and well being, and that is also environmentally sustainable. The hope of this discussion is that the move to a green economy actually create an economy that works, with basics like job training programs, transportation connections, and the whole equity agenda. The Apollo project is quite interesting in this regard, and we need more alternative economic models like that.

    Epstein: Green job creation, and the economic stimulation it could bring, is being blocked by the oil industry. General Motors and Ford need to make some moves. Job creation, the climate, and fuel independence are all interrelated.

    Bullard: Sixty percent of the energy we use in this country is tied to transportation. Environmental justice, climate justice, and transportation equity are converging with the wider movements for social justice. We reject the idea of sending more of our people to fight wars for oil. Increasing numbers of people are ignoring the army recruiters.

    New Orleans Relief  © Scott Braley 2005

    Clarke: Many advocates for rational urban planning in the redevelopment of New Orleans support mixed-income housing (for example, Smart Growth America’s proposal states, “redevelopment policies must avoid the continued or further concentration of poverty”). How can mixed income housing policies be carried out without strengthening the hand of those who seek to decrease the concentration of black political power in New Orleans and other urban centers?

    Don Chen:  I’m not sure if I have the answer to that question because it’s a very complex one. Katrina showed us a place where poverty was incredibly concentrated, not by natural forces but by a federal policy towards recipients of housing aid. What can we do to change that?

    One response has been a bill currently before the legislature, which makes inclusionary housing policies an option for local jurisdictions. But because Louisiana limits municipal powers to those explicitly granted by the state (the Dillon rule), the cities have to have permission from the state to implement inclusionary housing.

    I regard the inclusionary housing law as a positive development because without it there’s really no guarantee that African Americans and low-income people will be able to get into those units. Another positive development was Mayor Nagen’s announcement that the city will open up the sale process for the 2,500 or so abandoned properties currently in its control. We would like to talk to them about working with nonprofit developers. However, the way the RFP is written allows developers to kind of pick the properties that they want to develop. It’s more like a land rush.

    Wolf: Part of what’s helpful is to pull back a little and think, not so much about mixed-income housing, but about what it means to create opportunities that give people choices. What structures need to be in place to ensure that excluded communities are connected to opportunities and have meaningful choices about where and how to live, in terms of schools, jobs, and access to public transportation?

    Mixed-income housing is probably one of those ingredients, but it’s obviously not the only thing. As Bob has mentioned, we can look back in history and see how those policies have often failed, because we haven’t had in place the other structures to ensure that the policies actually benefit the intended people.
    For example, we have to prevent the creation of eligibility barriers to newly redeveloped housing. People shouldn’t be forced into mixed-income housing but be given an informed choice. What’s more, mixed-income housing needs to be provided in communities that are rich in opportunities.

    Ellis: Low-lying areas of New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast are likely to be some of the first lands that will be submerged in the event that climate change continues to raise sea levels and increase storm strength. How can equity advocates best defend the rights of poor, predominantly black communities, to resettle where they choose to, without exposing them to another round of contamination, disaster, and displacement?

    New Orleans Abandoned Shoe © 2005 Scott Braley

    Bullard: I think a lot of the solutions really lie in addressing centuries of institutionalized discrimination as it plays out in housing and school locations, land use decisions, industrial facility siting, etc. And I think we could resolve some of the environmental and land use issues overnight, without really addressing the other institutional barriers that often make certain populations vulnerable. When we talk about shoring up the levies and storm-proofing and hurricane-proofing, we must ensure that the benefit accrues through to all of the residents of those areas, and not only to those who happen to live on high ground.

    This is a tall order, but these are communities that historically have not been counted. The solution is to make sure that there are no throw-away communities or sacrifice zones. And the only way to do that is to eliminate the discrimination and the racial redlining by insurance companies and banking and lending institutions.  Even when you solve the environmental problem, it is still possible for communities to be left behind economically, because businesses and jobs and other amenities don’t go into areas that are considered undesirable, even when they are not contaminated.  All these things have to be worked into the framework beyond the sole notion of toxic contamination, because racism is toxic.

    John Talberth: Let’s take a look on those high ground areas, the exclusionary housing zones, to see the willingness of those people to move towards mixed-use housing. Given that people have really been touched by this tragedy, I think there’s potential for responsible infill, mixed-use in some of the wealthier areas. It should be a first-choice for potential resettlement options, instead of being taken off the table right now.  

    Pastor: If past public policy had been focused on reducing the disparities in “Cancer Alley” in Louisiana, the government might have been treated with less suspicion when it said that the low-lying areas shouldn’t be resettled for environmental reasons. The government has shown little evidence of caring about the environmental conditions of those who were living in those areas before. Why is it different now? That legacy of distrust can get in the way of rational planning.New Orleans Dead End © 2005 Scott Braley

    Epstein: This issue of climate change has the potential to unite interests across race and class. It’s about getting off fossil fuels, and all of the life cycle issues raised by the mining, refining, transport, and combustion of that fuel.  This is an opportunity to collectively deal with some very powerful toxic interests that are preventing us from getting to a healthier society.

    Wolf: A really important next step that some groups are working on is to try to better align resources for local groups; to establish long-term partnerships between groups that are working on these issues at a national level, and to make the resources available to local groups. We are trying to help people across disciplines, and with different agendas, understand the broader framework around health and environmental justice, and hopefully, to lay the foundation for connecting local groups with national groups that can really provide the support they need for the outcomes they want.

    Bullard: The city of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will be rebuilt. The hardest part will be rebuilding the communities and the social networks that were totally destroyed when the churches and other  community organizations were destroyed. And that’s where the groups are coming together, bringing back the faith-based community networks and providing mental health counseling, not with funding from any government agency but through volunteers and people’s hearts. And that, to me, is the most important thing that’s happening.

    Michel Gelobter:  The central thing we have to do is to make the struggle both local and national.  The only hope for equitable rebuilding is through local and community leadership, for two important reasons. One, obviously, is that it is their community, so it is their right to take leadership. And two, in the face of a political message machine that is aiming to kill New Orleans—or at least, black New Orleans—their voices should be heard, not just locally, but regionally and nationally, speaking of the injustices that are being perpetrated. So, we have to raise the local leadership. Of course, given the post-Katrina displacement, the biggest challenge is reconstituting the local leadership.

    Katrina was our 9/11. It was the call to action for a just and sustainable country.  The voices of the people of New Orleans have got to be raised in a cry to action. That means not just local organizing, but thinking about media strategies. The images of post-Katrina New Orleans need to be re-projected onto the national psyche. Because New Orleans is not just about New Orleans. As Bush’s ally, Grover Norquist, said, “I want a government small enough to drown in a bathtub.”  Well, he found one.  And he’s killing it.  n

    1 Pastor, M., et al.  In the Wake of the Storm: Environment, Disaster, and Race After Katrina, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 2006
    2 Bullard, Robert D., “Katrina and the Second Disaster: A Twenty-Point Plan to Destroy Black New Orleans” Environmental Justice Recource Center, Clark Atlanta University.  /

    This interview was conducted by Ben Jesse Clarke and Juliet Ellis on June 1, 2006;  transcription from audio recording was done by Natalie R. ; editing by Ben Jesse Clarke, and Merula Furtado. 


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    Green Housing, Jobs and Justice in New Orleans

    Weltands Restoration Project © Erik Zobrist, NOAA Restoration Center

    The two primary causes of Katrina’s devastation are: the subjugation and institutional oppression of African Americans, Native Americans, Chicanos, and other national minorities; and global warming. If these two dynamics are not addressed, inevitably, the social and ecological crisis revealed by Hurricane Katrina will only continue to deepen and spread. If anything, the structural neglect and disregard for the African American survivors has only intensified since September, 2005. The government has done virtually nothing to address the long term needs of the survivors, or provided any incentive for them to return and rebuild their homes and lives in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

    Fundamentally, the Bush government and the private sector are treating the devastation of the Gulf Coast as if it were merely a development opportunity, and not as the profound social and ecological crisis that it is. If one takes into account the broad environmental and social implications of the devastation in the Gulf Coast, including the massive loss of its coastal wetlands, their salinization by the encroaching sea, and the wholesale toxicity of the region caused by decades of industrial pollution and environmental racism, it becomes clear that a profoundly different approach is needed than the one being promoted by Bush and the private sector. Acknowledging global warming and engaging international initiatives and embracing treaties like the Kyoto Protocol would be a start. However, in the absence of this engagement by the United States government, the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast must proceed to employ sustainable development principles and practices within a framework of survivor self-determination and racial justice to guide the reconstruction process.

    The Framework
    The principles and framework encouraged by the Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition (PHRF/OC) are:

  •  An anti-racist and anti-oppression approach to policy and planning. Failure to address and challenge the underlying and historic racial inequities will not resolve this crisis.
  •  Human rights and human development perspectives that emphasize the dignity of all human beings, and include cultural, economic, social, and political rights.
  • Equity planning that is premised on the right of equal access and opportunity to rebuild, as well as the equality of the outcomes of rebuilding strategies. This position recognizes that different needs exist for different neighborhoods and regions—some deserving more attention than others. Many of the areas that were the products of racial segregation and historically underserved by governmental and economic institutions were also the areas to suffer the greatest devastation from the failure of poorly constructed levees. Equitable development focuses redevelopment around policies and strategies that protect human rights and reduce racial, ethnic, national, and gender inequities.

  • From Principles to Actions
    In addition to political organizing, to demonstrate sustainable ways in which to address the root causes of the crisis, PHRF is launching a sustainable reconstruction project centered on New Orleans called Green Housing, Jobs, and Justice Campaign. The aims of this campaign are to: 

  • Fight the gentrification and proposed ethnic-cleansing of New Orleans.
  • Make environmental justice and sustainable development central to the Gulf Coast reconstruction project and process. 
  • The Program
    Job Training and Unionization: We are seeking partnerships with unions and highly skilled tradespersons to ensure that African American residents receive some of the numerous reconstruction jobs currently available in New Orleans and the region. The long-term goals are to ensure that there are quality unionized jobs in the region and that the region is rebuilt according to green principles. By involving unions in training a pool of construction workers with the skills and political support for sustainable reconstruction, we will promote the implementation of both, social justice and sustainability.
    Green Housing: The housing rehabilitation program  provides a living example of how a standard policy requiring that newly constructed housing be Green housing could benefit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The  demonstration project will rehabilitate two square blocks in a predominantly African American high impact neighborhood using locally grown, water proof, sustainable materials and techniques. An integrated solar powered grid will will interlink these homes and substantially reduce their carbon-based energy consumption.

    The Community Workers Center: A quality grocery store, community market, cultural complex, and job-training center will meet diverse infrastructure and cultural needs voiced by survivors. Designed by survivors and built by members of our job-training program according to Green principles,  the Center will help strengthen the voice of people demanding a sustainable and equitable framework for the reconstruction.

    Human rights activist and actor, Danny Glover  best described the reality of oppression of African American people in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast when he stated, “When the hurricane struck the Gulf and the floodwaters rose and tore through New Orleans, plunging its remaining population into a carnival of misery, it did not turn the region into a Third World country—as it has been disparagingly implied in the media—it revealed one. It revealed the disaster within the disaster: grueling poverty rose to the surface like a bruise to our skin.”

    This fight and the various initiatives that compose it need broad political and financial support in order to be successful. We are making the widest appeal for help.

    Some concrete things you can do are: join our coalition, endorse and participate in one or more of its campaigns and activities, and help build broad support for the goals of these campaign initiatives in your area and networks. At present we are seeking to raise $600,000 for the Green Housing, Jobs, and Justice Campaign. ?

    Kali Akuno is the national outreach coordinator of the Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund and Oversight Coalition.
    To make a tax-deductible contribution to the fund, make checks payable to: PHRF and send C/O Vanguard Public Foundation
    383 Rhode Island Street, Suite 301, San Francisco, CA 94102. For more information on the PHRF, visit


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    Overcoming Structural Racism

    Katrina Survivor © 2006 Scott Braley

    Last winter, the ground never froze in Brooklyn, New York. In January, I was digging up dandelions that had taken over my yard and preparing new flowerbeds.  Climate change is hitting close to home. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted eight to 10 hurricanes in the North Atlantic Ocean this season—about half-a-dozen of them expected to be at least a category three. Katrina was a category three hurricane. So, New York could be the next New Orleans. One thing climate change makes clear: what happens to one community can happen to all—across neighborhoods, across cities, across countries. 

    But we can stop the tragedy of New Orleans from repeating itself. We can even turn New Orleans’ tragedy into an opportunity to understand better the human landscape that for so long has been sowed with the poisonous seeds of racism. By understanding and addressing the inequities brought on by structural racism, we can and will improve our environment in every possible way, including socially and economically.

    Often, when we talk about global warming, issues of racial inequity are left out. We focus on “dirty” energy, our government’s failure to regulate corporate polluting and reluctance to create incentives for clean and renewable energy alternatives. We criticize our consumer culture with its insatiable appetite for SUVs, and our preference for suburban living with its long commutes. All of these are, of course, important factors in creating and perpetuating a climate crisis that is finally being acknowledged in the U.S., thanks to the hard work of environmental activists. While no one can say for sure that global warming caused hurricane Katrina, the science strongly suggests that storms are getting fiercer and more destructive because of carbon emissions. 1

    A Hurricane’s Eye View of Global Warming
    New Orleans has given us an opportunity to understand and address the racial causes and consequences of global warming. The broken levees are a metaphor for a weakened and fragmented government. Over the last four years alone, the US Congress has aggressively cut the revenue sources that enable government at all levels to invest in communities. Tax cuts of over a trillion dollars for the wealthiest five percent (annual income over $300,000) has meant severe cutbacks for disaster relief and a safety net.2 Consider, for example, President Bush’s proposed $708 million cut to the Army Corps of Engineers budget. A whopping $71.2 million of that money was earmarked for hurricane and flood prevention in New Orleans. Unfortunately, such budget cuts have become common and are part of a larger attack on federal responsibility for a social safety net.3

    Public willingness to accept the notion of a small, limited federal government developed in the historical context of slavery. The more powerful slaveholding families used these concepts to oppose abolition. 

    The Republican Party’s infamous “Southern Strategy” of using racism to win the ideological fight for corporate prerogatives and limited social investments began in earnest in 1928.4 The limited government, self-help ideology translated into the explicit exclusion of Black people from the New Deal social safety net policies, like Social Security and unemployment benefits. Post-World War II government policies that created and preserved racially segregated white suburbs and the white middle class, intentionally excluded African Americans in particular, and people of color in general. (One of the many consequences of these policies has been the environmental degradation brought on by an increased dependency on automobiles to commute from suburbs to job centers.) It is still the case that public support for social safety net programs, like welfare, decreases if the perceived beneficiaries of such programs are African American.5

    New Orleans (and the U.S.) by Numbers
    In 1970, 54 percent of the New Orleans metropolitan regional population lived in the city, was much more racially integrated, and had fewer neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.6 By 2000, the city had only 36 percent of the region’s population—over two-thirds of which was Black7—indicating a loss of both jobs and revenues for New Orleans. In fact, between 1970 and 2000, the city saw a shocking 24 percent decline in jobs.

    National and international studies show that fairer, more equitable countries and states have better environmental quality. Fairness and equality are measured by such indicators as income distribution, political rights, civil liberties, level of education, and access to healthcare.8 When we look at the major structural impediments to improving income distribution, political rights, and other indicators of a vibrant and healthy democracy in the U.S., we have to look at the policies affecting communities of color.

    When entire communities of color are marginalized and excluded from a region’s civic and political life, they become invisible to the white communities. Whites will fight tooth and nail against the location of a waste treatment facility or an incinerator in their own neighborhoods, but accept their location in the “invisible” poor neighborhoods. (One example of an environmental insult is the attempt to create a landfill in the East New Orleans wetlands, strongly opposed by the Black and Vietnamese communities who wish to rebuild their homes there.)9  These privileged communities are thus able to avoid the questions raised by their unbridled consumerism and its effect on the environment.

    On the other hand, if the government works to reduce poverty in urban communities of color, it has the effect of creating more jobs and reducing poverty in surrounding regions.10  When communities of color are able to participate in civic and political life, they are better able to attract investments to build and strengthen local economies and defend themselves against environmental insults. 

    Racialized Poverty and Global Warming
    At a recent conference on the racial and socio-economic implications of the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast, Laurie David, a Hollywood producer and tireless anti-global warming activist, spoke passionately about the climate crisis we face and the importance of U.S. leadership on carbon emissions reduction. When asked about the role of racialized poverty in New Orleans, David responded that the reality of global warming was such that a lot of people will get hurt. David is certainly right, and we all have to care about climate change. But we also need to have a better answer to the question of race and poverty in global warming.

    The floodwaters of Lake Ponchartrain washed away any illusions of a racially equitable society. Although about 28 percent of New Orleans’ population was poor, there were many more poor African Americans (35 percent) than poor Whites (11.5 percent).11 And  of all city dwellers, nearly one-third of all Black households did not have access to a car while only 10 percent of White households lacked auto access.13 While there were no evacuation plans for the poor, the elderly, and the disabled either, it was common knowledge that the lowest ground in New Orleans was occupied by communities of color, which made up nearly 80 percent of the population in these flooded neighborhoods.14 It is no wonder then that most of the faces in the Superdome were Black.

    Racialized poverty puts the poor communities of color at the frontlines of our war with our planet. They are, as Professor Lani Guinier points out, our miner’s canaries. Their vulnerabilities shine a light on everyone’s vulnerabilities and we should pay careful attention to them when dealing with our public resources.

    How do our Gardens Grow?
    The environmental justice community understands that racial inequity is one of the biggest barriers to healthy communities and a healthy nation.15 Nature is not bound by governmental jurisdiction. It may, however, be influenced by race and political privilege. So it is up to the privileged, the resourced, and the included, to work with communities of color, and not  just for them. It requires funders to resource communities of color for civic engagement. It also requires us to build a public will for a government that will strengthen the social safety net for our most vulnerable communities and rein in corporate prerogative.

    Our gardens all grow on the same soil. When we fortify the soil that has been starved of essential nutrients, we benefit all of our gardens. 


    1    S. Rahmstorf, M. Mann, R. Benestad, G. Schmidt, W. Connolley, “Hurricanes and Global Warming—Is There a Connection?” Real Climate, Sept. 2, 2005,
    2    David Sirota, ”How the Katrina Catastrophe Proves That Conservatives’ Tax Cut Zealotry Has Left America Vulnerable to Disaster“ In These Times, Oct. 24, 2005. 16-21.
    3    G. Feldman, ”Ugly Roots: Race, Emotion and the Rise of the Modern Republican Party in Alabama and the South, “in Before Brown: Civil Rights and White Backlash in the Modern South, (G. Feldman, ed., University of Alabama Press, 2004): 302.
    4    Ibid.
    5    Lawrence Bobo and James R. Kluegel, Opposition to Race –-Targeting: Self- Interest, Stratification Ideology, or Racial Attitudes?, 58 American Sociological Review: 445, 1993.
    6    The Brookings Institution, Special Analysis by the Brookings Institutions Metropolitan Policy Program, New Orleans after the Storm: Lessons from the Past, a Plan for the Future, (Oct. 5-6 2005),
    7    Ibid.
    8    Torras, Boyce, Income, Inequality, and Pollution: A Reassessment of the Environmental Kuznets Curve, Ecological Economics 25:147-160.  1998;
    Boyce, Kemer, Templer & Willis, Power distribution , the environment and public health: A State Level Analysis,” Ecological Review 29:127-140, 1999.
    9    Eaton, Katrina Landfill Angers Neighbors, Environmentalists: Emergency Powers Allowed Dump Site, New York Times News Service, May 8, 2006.
    10    M. Pastor,. et. al., “Growing Together: Linking Regional and Community Development in a Changing Economy,” Shelterforce Online January/February 1998.
    11    The Brookings Institution, Special Analysis by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, New Orleans after the Storm: Lessons from the Past, a Plan for the Future, (Oct. 4 2005),
    12    Alan Berube and Stephen Raphael, Access to Cars in New Orleans, prepared for the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program Katrina Index (using data from the U.S. Census of Population and Housing, five percent Public Use Microdata  Sample, 2000), at
    13    Ibid.
    14    M. Pastor, R. Bullard, J. Boyce, A. Fothergill, R. Morello-Frosch, B. Wright, In the Wake of the Storm: Environment, Disaster, and Race After Katrina, Russell Sage Foundation, New York, 2006, pgs. 7-8.

    Maya Wiley is the director of the Center for Social Inclusion


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    Racialized poverty puts the poor communities of color at the frontlines of our war with our planet.

    Contaminated Contracting in Post-Katrina New Orleans

    How is it possible that soil samples from St. Bernard Parish in New Orleans have been found to reveal a serious health threat by countless environmental groups, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to insist that the area is safe, despite massive spills of oil and toxic chemicals?

    “The first step in solving any problem is admitting that you have one, but the government is pretending there’s no problem,” says Anne Rolfes, executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (LABB), a non-profit that measures air and soil quality for residents near Exxon Mobil’s Chalmette power plant. After Katrina, LABB empowered residents to measure the contamination stemming from the toxic stew of chemicals and oil saturating the parish from 44 spills and Murphy Oil’s Meraux refinery.

    A Toxic Recipe for a Toxic Situation
    At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the EPA took soil samples from the temporary housing areas and found a roster of toxic substances—arsenic, benzene, the pesticide Dieldrin, diesel, organic chemicals, and thallium, used in pesticides—in volumes exceeding standards set by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality’s Risk Evaluation / Corrective Action Program (RECAP). So, it’s curious why the EPA website says exposure to each of the substances in such doses increases an individual’s lifetime risk of getting cancer—but at rates which “the EPA has found acceptable in other contexts.”

    A FEMA employee who works in the field of recovery support and requested anonymity because “others have been fired for speaking on the record,” stated that the post-Katrina leadership has been nothing but “dog and pony shows.” In the end, it is poor people who are paying the price of the Army Corps of Engineers’ negligence that led to the flooding, the anonymous FEMA informant noted.

    In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, poor and working-class neighborhoods were covered in a poisonous gumbo of petrochemical by-products and debris. The executive director of the Center for Corporate Policy, Charlie Cray, told Race Poverty & the Environment (RP&E) that this problem is doubly devastating for the poor because firstly, those who grow their own food out of economic necessity can no longer do so because of the soil’s high toxicity; and secondly, the toxic condition of the soil can be “used politically” to keep poor people from returning to their homes. “The contamination issue is an important one,” Cray said, “but just as important is the long term issue of restoring the wetlands. There are more hurricanes coming down the road.”

    May 30, 2006 was the last day to “opt out” of a class action lawsuit for those living in the Murphy Oil spill area of St. Bernard Parish. Though the company has been making settlements of up to $30,000 on average, affected property owners say the amount is not nearly enough.

    Soil samples from St. Bernard Parish taken by LABB, Natural Resources Defense Council, other environmental entities, and various universities indicate the presence of arsenic, heavy metals, pesticides, diesel, benzene, and other toxic compounds. Ten of the 14 soil samples taken by LABB have been found to contain benzene, arsenic, and chromium.  

    “People need information to make decisions about their lives,” says Rolfes, who feels that the EPA has failed to consolidate data in a user-friendly format and draws parallels between the EPA’s current attitude and its post 9/11 attitude when it declared the air quality in downtown Manhattan safe.  

    A Free-for-all That’s Costly for Some
    According to the current president of the Esplanade Ridge Neighborhood Association, Pam Dashiel, New Orleans has become a “free-for-all for corporations.”

    “The big money, as usual, is reserved for the big corporations,” says Dashiel, 58, a resident of the Ninth Ward. “The usual suspects, including Halliburton and the Shaw group, are getting the big contracts from FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers.”

    Other companies that have scored contracts for various aspects of debris removal, hauling, and other interim measures, include Ashbritt, Phillips & Jordan, CERES Environmental Services, Inc., Environmental Chemical Corp, Bechtel, CH2M Hill Inc., Fluor Group, and Kellogg, Brown and Root (a Halliburton subsidiary). The corporations turn around and subcontract the work to smaller outfits, many of which then do the same. The actual workers and small companies executing the jobs are paid very little in comparison to the corporations doing the subcontracting, according to Dashiel, who lost her house after the storm..

    The “most egregious situation” she found was the indiscriminate hauling of debris with hazardous materials. Dashiel once watched haulers scoop up the gutted remains of a house, without separating out the asbestos tiles and paint cans from the structure.

    While the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA are free to dish out funds to their own roster of subcontractors, the FBI was quick to investigate the hiring of the Unified Recovery Group (URG) by St. Bernard Parish—which, along with Plaquemines Parish, found its own haulers—five days after Katrina. Controversy ensued over the no-bid contract, so 11 firms were later invited to bid for the job, but URG was ultimately awarded the staged re-bid at $369.7 million.

    Following the council’s vote, Lamont “Whip” Murphy, owner of Murphy Construction and one of the local bidders, filed a protest with the parish, claiming URG’s bid was nearly $150 million higher than Murphy’s. URG officials dispute the figure and the Times Picayune of March 30, reports that in “a parish analysis of the two offers that considers the volume of debris to be collected, URG’s initial offer amounted to $806.6 million, while Murphy’s totaled $426.5 million.” The cost estimates for the work were later lowered.

    Last December, Murphy filed a complaint with U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu, D-La., stating, “It is criminal to allow FEMA and St. Bernard Parish to spend over $137 million, far more than is required to clean up the storm debris in St. Bernard Parish. With money being so tight in Washington, these millions could be a windfall for the residents of St. Bernard.”

    This started FEMA quibbling over costs and on March 11, with arrears amounting to nearly $70 million, URG’s work ground to a halt. The state of Louisiana then jump-started the process by offering to pick up the tab on a portion of the work.

    The Red Badge of Irresponsibility
    Some of the debris removal required specialized skills. An icon of the storm, a massive red barge mired in the Lower Ninth Ward, had to be torched and removed in pieces. Obscene graffiti had been painted on the side of the vessel, but that was the least of the controversies surrounding its presence in that decimated neighborhood.

    Although chartered by Lafarge North America, the barge was owned by Ingram, a company that had filed a civil action suit to be exonerated of all responsibility, despite claims that the barge had been abandoned and may have breached the levee.
    As time goes by, the people of New Orleans hope for the best, but fear the worst, especially the notion that developers are planning to remake the city into a den of casinos and luxury digs. The word “Disneyland” is often used to describe the city’s possible future, even as poor residents are discouraged from returning to their water-logged homes in contaminated neighborhoods without basic services that are in danger of being lost.

    “This damage,” Dashiel told RP&E a day after it was announced that the levees have been restored to ‘pre-Katrina’ levels, “is the result of 25 years of pleas to fix the coastal wetlands being ignored. The erosion of the Mississippi Gulf River outlet and the poor design of the levees are to blame for the destruction of all these peoples’ lives.” ?

    Rita J. King ( is authoring a report for about post-Katrina corporate profiteering.  


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    Green Economics

    Green Economics Collage

    Green Visions

    The "green economy" is now exploding into a billion-dollar sector—with more growth predicted. Before we find ourselves left behind and left out, those of us working to uplift urban America see now as a good time to ask: who is going to benefit from this massive economic growth?
    Van Jones

    The fact is, grassroots movements are emerging in this country and all over the world. The only way we can restore the earth and green the economy is from the bottom-up. It’s the way the body organizes. It’s the way nature organizes, it’s the only way we can organize something that will sustain and endure. The only way we can do it is through connectivity of small groups that are on the ground, that care. That is the source of renaissance.
    Paul Hawken

    The bioeconomic model of development is a strategic response to the dependent and unsustainable model that imperialism would otherwise impose on the population….
    Clifton Ross

    My experience and my knowledge of history have taught me that social change comes when people from all walks of life unite and fight.  What we are trying to achieve here in Los Angeles is not just the creation of professional jobs, but a working-class solution to poverty. There are no shortcuts or mysteries to achieving this vision. A progressive political alternative is possible by involving communities most impacted by poverty… unions that represent working families in Los Angeles, organizations advocating for a healthier environment, and socially responsible business leaders.
    Oreatha  Ensley

    Because Berkeley’s solid waste operation is locally based, the jobs generated by the city’s waste stream remain local. The city has its own fleet and unionized crew, as does the Ecology Center and the Community Conservation Centers (CCC). A model “green-blue” partnership, ours is an environmental endeavor that provides local, well-paying, green-collar jobs.
    Martin Bourque and Amy Kiser

    What is Green Economics?

    Windmills © PhotoDisc

    Green economics is the economics of the real world—the world of work, human needs, the Earth’s materials, and how they mesh together most harmoniously. It is primarily about “use value,” not “exchange value” or money. It is about quality, not quantity, for the sake of it. It is about regeneration—of individuals, communities, and ecosystems—not about accumulation, of either money or material.

    The industrial or capitalist definition of wealth has always been about the accumulation of money and matter. Any use values generated (i.e. social needs met) have been secondary—a side-effect, by-product, spin-off, or trickle-down—to the primary goal of monetary accumulation. For two centuries, the quest to accumulate money or capital drove a powerful industrialization process that actually did spin off many human benefits, however unfairly distributed. But blind material and monetary growth has reached a threshold where it is generating more destruction than real wealth. A post-industrial world requires an economics of quality, where both money and matter are returned to a status of means to an end. Green economics means a direct focus on meeting human and environmental needs.

    Tinkering with money, interest rates, or even state regulation is insufficient in creating sensible economies. One can scarcely imagine a more inefficient, irrational and wasteful way to organize any sector of the economy than what we actually have right now. Both the form and the content of sustainable agriculture, of green manufacturing, of soft energy, etc., are diametrically opposed to their current industrial counterparts, which are intrinsically wasteful. There is no justifiable rationale to be producing vast quantities of toxic materials, or generating more deskilled than skilled labor, or displacing labor rather than resources from production, or extending giant wasteful loops of production and consumption through globalization. These are economic inefficiencies, economic irrationalities that can only be righted by starting from scratch—to look at the most elegant and efficient ways of doing everything. As green economist Paul Hawken writes, our social and environmental crises are not problems of management, but of design. We need a system overhaul.

    Green economics is not just about the environment. Certainly we must move to harmonize with natural systems, to make our economies flow benignly like sailboats in the wind of ecosystem processes. But doing this requires great human creativity, tremendous knowledge, and the widespread participation of everyone. Human beings and human workers can no longer serve as cogs in the machine of accumulation, be it capitalistic or socialistic. Ecological development requires an unleashing of human development and an extension of democracy. Social and ecological transformation go hand in hand.

    Green economics and green politics both emphasize the creation of positive alternatives in all areas of life and every sector of the economy. Green economics does not prioritize support for either the “public” or the “private” sector. It argues that both sectors must be transformed so that markets express social and ecological values, and the state becomes merged with grassroots networks of community innovation. For this to happen, new economic processes must be designed, and new rules of the game written, so that incentives for ecological conduct are built into everyday economic life. The state can then function less as a policeman and more as a coordinator.

    This is a very different kind of “self-regulation” than current profit- and power-driven market forces. The basis for self-regulation in a green economy would be community and intelligent design, which provides incentives for the right things.

    Ten Principles of a Green Economy:
    1. The Primacy of Use Value, Intrinsic Value, and Quality: This is the fundamental principle of the green economy as a service economy, focused on end-use, or human and environmental needs. Matter is a means to the end of satisfying real need, and can be radically conserved. Money similarly must be returned to a status as a means to facilitate regenerative exchanges, rather than an end in itself. When this is done in even a significant portion of the economy, it can undercut the totalitarian power of money in the entire economy.

    2. Following Natural Flows: The economy moves like a proverbial sailboat in the wind of natural processes by flowing not only with solar, renewable, and “negawatt” energy, but also with natural hydrological cycles, with regional vegetation and food webs, and with local materials. As society becomes more ecological, political and economic boundaries tend to coincide with ecosystem boundaries. That is, it becomes bioregional.

    3. Waste Equals Food: In nature there is no waste, as every process output is an input for some other process. This principle implies not only a high degree of organizational complementarity, but also that outputs and by-products are nutritious and non-toxic enough to be food for something.

    4. Elegance and Multifunctionality: Complex food webs are implied by the previous principle—integrated relationships which are antithetical to industrial society’s segmentation and fragmentation. What Roberts and Brandum (1995) call “economics with peripheral vision,” this elegance features “problem-solving strategies that develop multiple wins and positive side-effects from any one set of actions.” [1]

    5. Appropriate Scale/Linked Scale: This does not simply mean “small is beautiful,” but that every regenerative activity has its most appropriate scale of operation. Even the smallest activities have larger impacts, however, and truly ecological activity “integrates design across multiple scales,” reflecting influence of larger on smaller and smaller on larger (Van der Ryn & Cowan, 1996).2

    6. Diversity: In a world of constant flux, health and stability seem to depend on diversity. This applies to all levels (diversity of species, of ecosystems, of regions), and to social, as well as ecological organization.

    7. Self-Reliance, Self-Organization, Self-Design: Complex systems necessarily rely on “nested hierarchies” of intelligence, which coordinate among themselves in a kind of resonant dance. These hierarchies are built from the bottom up, and—in contrast to civilization’s social hierarchies—the base levels are the most important. In an economy which moves with ecosystem processes, tremendous scope for local response, design, and adaptation must be provided, although these local and regional domains must be attuned to larger processes. Self-reliance is not self-sufficiency, but facilitates a more flexible and holistic interdependence.

    8. Participation and Direct Democracy: To enable flexibility and resilience, ecological economic design features a high “eyes to acres” ratio (Van der Ryn & Cowan, 1996): lots of local observation and participation.[2] Conversely, ecological organization and new information/communications technologies can pro-vide the means for deeper levels of participation in the decisions that count in society.

    9. Human Creativity and Development: Displacing resources from production and tuning into the spontaneous productivity of nature requires tremendous creativity. It requires all-round human development that entails great qualities of nurture. These are qualities of giving and real service that have been suppressed (especially in men) by the social and psychological conditioning of the industrial order. In green change, the personal and political, the social and ecological, go hand in hand. Social, aesthetic, and spiritual capacities become central to attaining economic efficiency, and become important goals in themselves.

    10. The Strategic Role of the Built Environment, the Landscape, and Spatial Design: As Permaculturalist Bill Mollison has emphasized, the greatest efficiency gains can often be achieved by a simple spatial rearrangement of system components. Elegant, mixed-use, integrated design that moves with nature is place-based. In addition, our buildings, in one way or another, absorb around 40 percent of materials and energy throughput in North America. Thus, conservation and efficiency improvements in this sector impact tremendously on the entire economy. Green economic conversion must be radical, but it must also be incremental and organic. How is this possible? Rodale cites the need for a kind of economic succession which mimics ecological landscape change. We need “pioneer enterprises” that can thrive in today’s hostile economic landscape, but also prepare the ground for more ecological and egalitarian enterprises to come. A vision of what each sector of the economy would look like in an ecological economy—based on the specifics of each place—is a starting point. This vision must be coupled with practical action in each of these sectors, gradually moving toward this vision. Enough practical activity can eventually generate the impetus for state action to level the playing field for ecological alternatives. 


    1 Roberts, Wayne & Susan Brandum, GET A LIFE! How To Make a Good Buck, Dance around the Dinosaurs, and Save the World While You’re at It, Get A Life Publishing, 1995.
    2 Van der Ryn, Sim & Stuart Cowan, Ecological Design, Island Press, 1996.

    Brian Milani is the author of Designing the Green Economy, a member of the Coalition for a Green Economy, and an instructor at York University in Toronto, Canada. This article first appeared in Synthesis/Regeneration 37, Spring 2005.


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    Economic Watersheds

    A Parking Lot in Chattanooga, Tennessee Photo Courtesy: Guillermo Prado

    My grandmother told me that when she was a girl in Santa Clara Valley, she would walk nine miles to the convent to go to school and between her house and the convent there was only one other house. So the Bay Area, like the entire continent, has gone through an amazing amount of change in a very short period of time.

    Take a look back.  Within one hundred and thirty years of Columbus’ arrival in 1492, ninety-five million people who were the indigenous inhabitants, who had learned to make this an incredible North American, South American and Meso-American landscape, were gone. They died due to violence, slavery, and disease.

    And because they killed off the first set of people, the European settlers went to Africa to bring another indigenous people in to do their work. We forget all that. People say, “Ah well, it was back then.”
    It is not back then. It is now, because the same mindset that informed that conquest is present today. It’s subtler, now. Majora Carter from Sustainable South Bronx calls it the top-down mentality.  

    When we look at communities like the South Bronx, or when we look at cities like Oakland, we are seeing a long historical trail. The social dislocation and injustice didn’t just happen after the Second World War and it didn’t happen by accident. It wasn’t neighborhoods that were redlined. Whole communities were redlined.

    And we are doing it right now in Ecuador, Bolivia, and the Amazon.  Texaco, Chevron, Occidental have gone there and destroyed people’s homes and uprooted them. It is the same pattern that has occurred for five hundred years. With oil prices at $70 a barrel, with copper at a thirty-year high, gold at a thirty-year high, corporations are going to the last untouched places of the earth. Indigenous people control 19 percent of the landmass of the earth. And that’s where the companies are going.

    Two Different Watersheds
    What we see, both in urban North America and South America, is a consistent pattern of capitalization and decapitalization. A small group of people goes into a place, a land, a region and extracts the capital out of it, leaving a larger group of people who are decapitalized. That is to say, their water, their homes, their land, their resources are polluted, or they are poisoned. This happens consistently, again and again.

    When you look at an American city, you see the world. You have one group of individuals and businesses that are concentrating financial capital: they have good lives, nice homes, nice neighborhoods, and good cars. They tend to elect the politicians, they tend to have control of the PACs, they tend to influence legislation, they tend to write the laws, they tend to get the earmarks in Congress that are passed in the budget. And then you have another group of people who experience being redlined in every sense of the word. They lead lives where money is taken out of their

    community, and sometimes the best and brightest people are removed from the community.

    What you are seeing in America is two different watersheds. And what you see in the poor sections of American cities is what I call unhealthy economic watersheds. A healthy watershed—what does it do? It absorbs water quickly and releases it slowly into the environment. The retention of moisture, streams, and lakes in an environment maintains and creates the conditions for life. And what is a sick watershed? It’s a clear cut.  It absorbs water very slowly, and it runs off very rapidly. You see exactly the same economic phenomenon in cities.  Cities have become unhealthy economic watersheds. The money comes in, it’s gone. If you go shop at a big box retailer, 95percent of the money is in London the same night. The rest of it goes to staff and employees. And it is not just Wal-Mart. It is every big box retailer, every small national retailer too. In/out. Bye. See you later.

    Green Cities
    When we are talking about re-imagining a green city we are actually talking of making it a healthy economic watershed. What is it that we can do so the money that comes in stays for a while? A healthy city plugs the leaks and closes the loops. It has to map what’s coming in and what’s going out. What’s coming in isn’t just goods and services. Molecular garbage is coming in. Disease is coming in. Pollution is coming in. All sorts of things are coming in. And where is it going? When does it leave?  

    Each city has its unique character and challenges, but there is one fact that remains consistent. What you’ll find are huge sections of each town being decapitalized. What green cities offer is a way to start to change that.

    Chattanooga Parking Lots
    The city of Chattanooga faced a situation where they were polluting the Tennessee River and violating clean water standards.  The solution on the table was an $80 million dollar federally mandated secondary wastewater treatment plant.  The city turned to a group of people knowledgeable about green issues and asked them what they could do.

    A little background: Chattanooga is like a lot of cities. The planners went in the 1960s and tore down old historic buildings and put in parking lots in the hope that more people would come. To the contrary, it destroyed the downtown and people moved to the suburbs because the city became unsafe at night with virtually nobody there.  

    About this time there was going to be a re-development project where the city was going to take a brownfield site and turn it into a botanical garden in an industrial part of the city. To pay for the plant, the city was going to charge companies a tax based on the square footage of their roofs and parking lots. It was a difficult situation because the city wanted to attract business, not push it away with higher taxes. The group of consultants came up with a different solution, suggesting that businesses be taxed by the gallon of runoff. That kind of tax would provide an incentive for companies to control their runoff.

    They suggested that the city should take all the parking lots and turn them into Park-ing lots. Instead of having the water run off into the street, put in permeable paving so that the water goes where it is supposed to go—into the ground. Then, take the most botanically diverse place in the United States—Tennessee, and plant and make the parking lots the botanical gardens of the city.

    In the medians, put in trees to cover the cars so that you don’t have the sun soaking into the hoods and pavement and the macadam acting as heat islands. Instead of spending $80 million on secondary wastewater treatment plants, digging up all these streets and putting in PVC pipes, float a $12 million dollar bond issue. Take income from that, and pay disadvantaged youth to maintain the parking lots and in the process learn to care for their native flora.

    It was calculated that making the parking lots into parks for cars would lower the downtown temperature in Chattanooga during the summer. Downtown building owners would save $4-5 million a year in utility costs. Meanwhile, the second wastewater treatment plant that would have cost $5 million a year in energy to process the water wouldn’t have to be  built at all. That’s a net saving of close to $10 million a year in energy costs.

    Even though this didn’t get implemented in Chattanooga, (although something similar was done in Canada) it demonstrates the kind of thinking we need to do.   Do you create a secondary water treatment plant, or make more parks?  Who benefits? Do you send money to Fluor or Bechtel, in which case, you employ 12 people, you spend a lot of money on energy, and the city is no better off?  Or do you go green and create hundreds of jobs, new parks, pleasant cityscapes, less energy use, and clean water?

    Plugging the Leaks
    You’ve got to start thinking of all these flows as resources, even the ones you don’t want. Basically Oakland is leaking, the Bronx is leaking. It’s leaking energy, leaking money and resources. Those resources belong to Oakland. They don’t belong to transnational corporations. They don’t belong in the Bay. They don’t belong to the rich. I remember a friend of mine who ran a school for so-called “children at risk” and I asked him how they did.  He replied that they do well, but that his biggest problem was that many of the students didn’t want to be there. I assumed he meant they didn’t want to be at school, but he said no, they don’t want to be here. Here... on earth. They want to leave. Essentially we have an economic system that is telling a lot of young people in this country and all over the world that their only value is as a consumer. Otherwise they don’t have any value. And we wonder why they act that out.

    What a green economy does is give families dignified, respectful jobs. And that’s going to do more than anything you can possibly give in terms of social welfare programs. This earth needs to be restored, and the people who have caused the harm—it’s time for them to step aside.  I’m glad when a corporation becomes responsible, but it’s too late. Big institutions have had their time; they have had their stage. They have failed us.

    I don’t believe that much in capitalism, but I do believe in people doing business. Commerce is ancient. And as Gorbachev said once, commerce is an invention of civilization. Corporations were an invention of an oligarchy. Big difference.

    The fact is grassroots movements are emerging in this country and all over the world. The only way we can restore the earth and green the economy is from the bottom-up. It’s the way the body organizes, it’s the way nature organizes, it’s the only way we can organize something that will sustain and endure. The only way we can do it is through connectivity of small groups that are on the ground that care. That is the source of renaissance.  ?

    Paul Hawken is the author of numerous books, including  Natural Capitalism and The Ecology of Commerce. 


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    Green is the New Black

    Four Views of the South Bronx © 2006 James Burling Chase

    In 1999, our small part of New York city handled 40 percent of the entire city’s commercial waste, a sewage treatment plant, a sewage sludge pelletizing plant, four power plants, the world’s largest food distribution center, and other industries which bring in more than 55,000 diesel trucks to the area each week. Four power plants and another 5,000 diesel truck trips were on the way. 

    Not surprisingly, the area also has one of the lowest ratios of parks to people in the city. So, when I was contacted by the parks department about a $10,000 seed grant to develop waterfront projects, I thought they were well meaning but a bit naïve. I had lived in this area all my life and knew that you could not get to the river because of all the facilities there.

    Then, while jogging with my dog one morning, she pulled me into what I thought was just another illegal garbage dump. There were weeds, piles of garbage, tires, and all kinds of waste, but she kept dragging me. And lo and behold, at the end of this lot, was the river. I knew that this forgotten little street end, abandoned like the dog that brought me there, was worth saving. This was the humble beginning of the community-led revitalization of the new South Bronx.  The Hunts Point Riverside Park became the first waterfront park we’ve had in the South Bronx in sixty years, and the $10,000 seed grant has leveraged more than 300 times into a $3 million project.

    Linking Environmental and Racial Justice
    Environmental Justice, for those who may be unfamiliar with the term, goes something like this:  no community should be saddled with more environmental burdens and less environmental benefits than any other.  Unfortunately, race and class are reliable indicators as to where one might find the good stuff, like parks and trees, and the bad stuff, like power plants and waste facilities.

    As a black person in America, I am twice as likely as a white person to live in an area where air pollution poses the greatest risk to my health; I am five times more likely to live within walking distance from a power plant or chemical facility, which I do.
    These land-use decisions create the hostile conditions that lead to problems like obesity, diabetes, and asthma. Why would someone leave their home to go for a brisk walk in a toxic neighborhood? Our 27 percent obesity rate is high even for this country, and diabetes comes with it. One out of four south Bronx children is diagnosed with asthma symptoms, seven times higher than the national average. These impacts come in everyone’s way, and we all pay for solid waste costs, health problems associated with pollution, including high rates of incarceration of Black people and Latinos.

    Fifty percent of South Bronx residents live at or below the poverty line; 25 percent are unemployed.  Low-income citizens often use emergency room visits as primary health care.  This comes at a high cost and produces no proportional benefits: poor people are not only still poor, they remain less healthy.

    Growing up in the Bronx
    To understand how things got the way they did for the South Bronx, it is important to know its history. I can use my family as an example. In the late 1940s, my father, a Pullman porter, son of a slave, bought a house in the Hunts Point section of the South Bronx, and married my mom. At the time, the community was a mostly white, working class neighborhood.  My dad was not alone and even as others like him pursued this American Dream, “White Flight” became common in the South Bronx and in many cities across the country.

    Banks “redlined,” certain sections of the city, including ours, deeming them off limits to any sort of investment.  Many landlords believed that it was more profitable to torch their buildings and collect insurance, than to sell under these conditions. Hunts Point was formerly a walk-to-work community; but now many residents had neither work nor home to walk to.

    A national highway construction boom added to our problems. In New York state, Robert Moses, one of the key builders of New York City, spearheaded an aggressive highway expansion campaign. One of its primary goals was to make it easier for residents of wealthy communities to travel by car between Westchester County and Manhattan. The South Bronx, which lies between the two, didn’t stand a chance. Residents were often given less than a month’s notice before their buildings were razed— about 600,000 people were displaced by this project.

    Antiquated zoning and land use regulations are still used to justify putting polluting facilities in my politically vulnerable community. Are these factors taken into consideration when land use policy is decided?  What costs are associated with these decisions, and who pays?  Who profits? Does anything justify what the local community goes through?  This was “planning” that did not have our best interests in mind. Once we realized that, we decided to do our own planning.Why is this story important? Because from a planning perspective, economic degradation begets environmental degradation and then social degradation. The disinvestment that began in the 60s set the stage for the environmental injustices to come.

    Sustainable Solutions from the South Bronx
    In order to address the economic and environmental degradation that has historically affected the South Bronx, we initiated the Bronx Ecological Stewardship Training (BEST), which provides job training in the fields of ecological restoration and brownfield remediation, so that folks from our community have the skills to compete for well-paying jobs. Little by little, we are seeding the area with a skilled “green collar” workforce that has both a financial, and personal stake in their environment.

    Another project we are working on is the Bronx Recycling Industrial Park. a proposal for an industrial park, where one industry’s waste becomes the raw material for another. The proposed site is a 20-plus acre brownfield and the project could provide between 300-500 jobs. The city currently has plans to build a prison on the site.

    We also built New York City’s first green and cool roof demonstration project on the tops of our offices. Cool roofs are highly reflective surfaces that don’t absorb solar heat and pass it on to the building or the atmosphere.  Green roof materials are soil and living plants. Both can be used instead of petroleum-based roofing that absorbs and radiates considerable heat, and degrades under the sun, adding to urban air pollution.

    Green roofs also retain up to 75 percent of rainfall, so they reduce a city’s need to fund costly “end of pipe” solutions, which usually consist of expanded and/or new sewage treatment facilities, the majority of which are then located in communities like the South Bronx. This demonstration project is a springboard for our own green roof installation business, bringing jobs and sustainable economic activity to the South Bronx. Green is the new black!

    Neither the destruction of New Orleans’ ninth ward nor the Bronx was inevitable.  But we have emerged with valuable lessons about how to lift ourselves up. We are not national symbols of urban blight or problems to be solved by empty presidential campaign promises.

    Prior to Katrina, the South Bronx and New Orleans’s ninth ward had a lot in common. Both were largely populated by poor people of color.  They are both hotbeds of cultural innovation. In the post Katrina era, we have still more in common: our communities were at best ignored—and maligned and abused, by negligent regulatory agencies, pernicious zoning, and lax governmental accountability.  

    Bronx Group Photo © 2006 James Burling Chase
    The Bronx Now
    Sustainable development can produce projects which have the potential to create positive returns for all concerned: the developers, the government, and the community. At present, that is not happening and New York City is operating with a comprehensive urban planning deficit. For example: A parade of government subsidies is going to proposed big-box and stadium developments in the South Bronx, but there is scant coordination between city agencies on how to handle the cumulative effects of the increased traffic, pollution, solid waste, and the impacts on open space.  Never mind local economic and job development that these projects could adversely affect.

    What is missing from the larger debate is a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis between not fixing an unhealthy, environmentally challenged community, versus incorporating sustainable structural changes.  I am not “anti-development.” We do live in a city, not a wilderness preserve. Sustainable, community-friendly development can still be profitable for developers. I do have a problem with developments that hyper-exploit politically vulnerable communities for profit.

    What We Can Do
    We are all blessed with the gift of influence, if we choose to use it to collectively influence decision-makers and not fight amongst ourselves.  Use your influence in support of comprehensive sustainable change everywhere. Don’t just talk about it amongst yourselves.  We are trying to build a nationwide policy agenda. As you all know, politics are personal.
    Help me fight for environmental and economic justice: support investments/developments with a triple bottom line return. Help democratize sustainability by bringing everyone to the table, and insisting that comprehensive planning be addressed everywhere.

    Peace. ?

    Majora Carter is a MacArthur Award recipient and director of Sustainable South Bronx


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    The Greening Economy

    In municipalities across the country, an unusual phenomenon is gaining momentum. It is the merger of two ideas traditionally believed to be opposites of each other—economic development and environmental protection—to create  strategies for “green economic development,” or “sustainable development.” The creation of a “sustainable economy” is an attempt to find effective solutions to our country’s dependency on fossil fuels, while simultaneously boosting local economies through job creation. Now investors and policy-makers everywhere are pleasantly surprised to discover that green economic development promotes both, environmental protection and production performance.

      Minneapolis: 20 “Clean” Megawatts, 220 Possible Jobs

    In Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Green Institute, a non-profit organization, is leading the city towards developing community-based clean energy, thus addressing both, the supply and demand sides of the energy equation. Specifically, the Community Energy Program generates solar and biomass heat and power (supply) while concurrently promoting conservation and energy-efficiency (demand).  
    The Green Institute’s Phillips Biomass Community Energy Project is employing biomass technology to achieve sustainable energy production for Minneapolis residents. The Project will use urban tree trimmings and agricultural residues to generate 20 megawatts of energy and heat—approximately one percent of the energy demand in Minneapolis. (One megawatt would supply enough energy for 1,000 homes.) The electricity will be sold to the electric grid, and the heat will be used for a Phillips-area community heating system. 

    Most importantly, it is estimated that the Phillips Biomass Project will create 20 long-term, full-time jobs, half of which are likely to be filled by personnel trained at an existing apprenticeship program with a partnering community college. Additionally, nearly 200 construction jobs and other indirect jobs for wood waste generators, farmers, and those in the transport sector are forecasted. As evidence to its commitment to local economic development, the Green Institute also pledges to hire locally and pay its employees a living wage—a minimum of over $15/hour. 

    Critical to the Green Institute’s success has been its ongoing partnership with city and county governments. Recognizing early the ways in which the Green Institute’s work supports their goals of reducing waste and diverting storm water into productive uses, Hennepin County provided financial support to the organization, while the city of Minneapolis granted a variance to an existing building code.

    Green Economic Development 

    There is no universally agreed upon definition of green economic development, but the concept usually encompases the three tenets of sustainability—environment, economy, and equity—viewed within a continuum, whereby meeting the needs of the present does not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.[1]  In other words, green economic development integrates economic development—tax base expansion, wealth creation, and job creation—with the values of sustainability.

    The City of Toronto, Canada, states that, “green economic activity promotes healthy environments, vital economies, and social equity.” [2]  A healthy environment is brought about by lowering greenhouse gas emissions through a reduction in resource input and waste output;  a vital economy increases a city’s global competitive advantage; and social equity provides a healthy working environment, preserves and creates gainful jobs, and plans for a community’s future quality of life.

    Implicit here is the idea that financial profitability and social and ecological responsibility are mutually reinforcing goals. [3]  An idea whose credibility is borne out by research that shows greater cost efficiencies and better performance in green economies.

    Green economic development, as practiced across the U.S., may include: green building (the use of energy efficient technologies and recycled materials in construction); green procurement (purchasing supplies and equipment made from recycled or renewable resources); and waste reduction (devising means to recycle output streams). The Green Guide to Healthcare, for example, purports to be a toolkit for “integrating enhanced environmental and health principles and practices into the planning, design, construction, operations and maintenance of [medical] facilities.” [4]

    Policy-makers have also been looking at clean technology to develop a greener, “high performance” economy.  In a 2004 report by Clean Edge produced in partnership with San Francisco’s Department of the Environment, clean technology is described as “an emerging sector that comprises a diverse range of products, services, and processes that harnesses renewable materials and energy sources, dramatically reduces the use of natural resources, and cuts or eliminates pollution and toxic wastes.” [5] It includes, but is not limited to, solar photo voltaics (PV), wind power, hybrid electric vehicles, fuel cells, bio-based materials, and advanced water filtration. The report outlines a 10-step plan for attracting new jobs and businesses into San Francisco while concurrently reducing its resource dependency. 

    The Economic and Policy Outlook
    In recent years, investment in clean technology industries has increased dramatically at the national and global levels, proving that environmental reasons apart, “going green” is also a sound economic strategy. 

    Last year, State Treasurer Phil Angelides, announced his commitment to California’s environmental future with his Green Waves Initiative, a robust pension-backed investment program, which would channel approximately $500 million dollars into the green technology sector. A 2004 study co-authored by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2), shows 29 percent ($339 million) of the North American venture capital investment in new “clean” technologies occurring in California, and projects the creation of up to 114,000 jobs in “cleantech” start-ups in the next five years. 

    Recent research by the Renewable Energy Policy Project also forecasts that the state is especially poised to benefit from the expected growth in renewable energy industries. In the PV industry alone, California could gain approximately 6,800 jobs in manufacturing and 3,500 jobs in construction and installation of PV components.[6]  Similarly in the wind turbine industry, California could add nearly 13,000 new manufacturing jobs, totaling over $4.2 billion in investments.[7] Furthermore, even firms that do not currently work within these industries could incorporate PV and wind turbine development in future production, thus benefiting from these renewable, clean tech industries.

    Last January, the California Public Utilities Commission, passed a $2.9 billion California Solar Initiative to create incentives for commercial and residential customers to install 3,000 megawatts of solar energy before 2017. As state and local policies like these begin to prioritize clean technologies, the demand for them will go farther and deeper and encourage greater participation in green economic development.
    Evaluating the Current Definition
    As green economic development gains legitimacy and momentum in the public and private sectors, it is important to assess its criteria for success and identify the true beneficiaries of green policies and practices, before the current mode of operation becomes the norm.  Specifically, to what extent are low-income, and communities of color benefiting from green economic development?  Do the policies explicitly include marginalized populations?

    As currently defined, green development aims for the three goals of traditional economic development—generate revenue, create wealth, create jobs—with the additional goals of social equity and a healthy environment.  However, even the City of Toronto’s definition of social equity falls short of talking about it in individual, human terms.

    Some Recommendations with a Clean Edge
    The 2004 Clean Edge report for San Francisco prioritizes the creation of a vision for a clean tech future, communicated and implemented by a clean-tech manager. It emphasizes the importance of marketing San Francisco as a “ready and willing” place for clean tech industries and of creating partnerships with and providing financial incentives to business. All steps clearly useful in establishing a warm climate for launching a greener economy but obviously biased towards business rather than the community. The plan provides no assurance that job creation for residents with varied backgrounds is a key aspect of green economic development.

    In recent years, attracting biotechnology firms has been a popular economic development strategy. Small and large cities alike have developed incentives for biotechnology firms to locate in their jurisdictions. Biotech jobs, however, tend to be in research and development, requiring levels of education that are bound to exclude the lower income segments of the population. Such mismatches between job opportunities and the skills of the local workforce will force residents to either travel out of the city for appropriate jobs or stay and work at low-paying jobs with no career prospects.

    What sets green industries apart from biotechnology and software industries, is that they present an unique opportunity to develop a range of well-paying skilled jobs locally. In addition to manufacturing wind turbines, for example, there are installation, maintenance, and operation jobs to be had.

    However, cities have to proactively encourage the development of jobs across all skill sets, in order to achieve equitable outcomes for residents.Embedded within the concept of equitable outcomes in green economic development, is the process by which such outcomes are achieved and decisions made. Full and fair participation by affected communities should be incorporated into the crafting of workfore development programs that meet the needs of all stakeholders. This is especially important as green economic development matures, otherwise the success of the strategy will be compromised. In summary, any definition of green economic development should include a commitment to social equity and make explicit its beneficiaries. To achieve the goals of equitable green economic development, policies should create incentives that not only attract new business but also create new jobs that are accessible to and evenly distributed among city residents with different skill sets.  In short, green economic development should ensure that “individuals and families in all communities can participate in and benefit from economic growth and activity” [8] and have access to quality jobs.   ?

    1    World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED). Our common future.
    2    City of Toronto, Canada. The Green Economy Plan. 
    3    Pamela Lippe  and Nixon, James. “Building the Sustainable Economy I” quoted in:
    4    Green Guide for Health Care.
    5    Ron Pernick, Joel Makower, and Arthur de Cordova.  “Harnessing San Francisco’s Clean-tech Future, A Plan for Attracting Businesses and Creating Jobs.”
    6     These figures are based on the PV Industry Roadmap, which balances likely trends with industry objectives.  California is projected to have installed 9,600 MW of PV energy by 2015 from its current capacity of 340 MW.
    7    Job and investment figures assumes development of 50,000 MW of wind energy.
    8    Policy Link. Equitable Development.

    Jackie Tsou was an HUD Community Development Fellow at Urban Habitat. She now works at Seifel Consulting Inc., analyzing economic developments for local governments and other client. 


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    "To what extent are low-income, and communities of color benefiting from green economic development? "

    Richmond Turns Green with Economic Possibilities


    In the early 1940s, Richmond, California, was one of the most productive ship building centers of the nation. More recently, a lack of employment opportunities, diminishing affordable housing stock, and a high crime rate experienced by segments of the city’s population have seriously impacted the entire city. Realizing that innovative approaches are needed to address these problems, the city looked to green economic development for a way to concurrently revitalize itseconomy and clean up its environment.  
    In November 2003, a collaborative made up of Urban Habitat, Contra Costa Faith Works, and the Richmond Improvement Association, among others, began to look at economic development issues as one component of a larger equitable development initiative. Two years later, the city was presented with a unique opportunity to take advantage of the Green Waves Initiative, an investment program offered by the California State Treasurer’s Office, for industries in the emerging green technology sector.
    Today, as Richmond approaches a new wave of development, it is faced with a truly unique opportunity to employ equitable green policies that can address the deep-rooted social ills that have impeded the city’s economic growth. And some recent government-led actions seem to signal that Richmond is on its way to becoming a greener city.'

    In October 2005, Mayor Irma Anderson joined 187 mayors, representing nearly 40 million Americans, to sign the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, which seeks to meet or surpass the Kyoto Protocol in local municipalities through various strategies.  More recently, city council members have initiated efforts to adopt a green building ordinance that the Richmond Planning Department is charged with spearheading.

    In February 2006, Richmond crafted a resolution (No.11-06) in collaboration with Urban Habitat, formally establishing the position that “economic opportunity, environmental integrity and societal equity are the foundation upon which sustainable cities can build a better quality of life for their residents.” The resolution detailed the elements of a sustainable community as:

    Ecological Integrity: including satisfying basic human needs, such as clean air and water; protecting ecosystems and biodiversity; pollution prevention strategies%alt.

    Economic Security: including local reinvestment; meaningful employment opportunities; local business ownership; job training and education.

    Empowerment and Responsibility: including respect and tolerance for diverse views and values; a viable non-government sector; equal opportunity to participate in decision-making; access to government.

    Social Well-Being: including a reliable local food supply; quality health housing, and educational services; creative expression through the arts; safety from crime and aggression; respect for public spaces and historic resources

    Currently, Richmond is home to a number of businesses and services, which promote green practices. MBA Polymers, Inc., a plastics recycling company, won the World Economic Forum’s 2006 Technology Pioneers Award for its innovative recycling process, which can produce plastics with 95% less energy than required when using petrochemicals. CytoCulture International, Inc., an environmental biotechnology firm, specializes in bioremediation services, as well as bio-fuels manufacturing. The West Contra Costa Landfill is also employing a methane conversion process to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Clearly, these businesses have realized the benefits of locating in Richmond—abundant industrial land, a strong Bay Area market, and access to transportation infrastructure. A coordinated effort to market Richmond as a green business-friendly city would undoubtedly encourage many other businesses.




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    Organizing for Green Industries in Los Angeles

    Oreatha Ensley1 Photo Courtesy SCOPE

    "Will you sign our petition calling on the Mayor to “re-energize our communities with Green?” asks Oreatha Ensley, as she walks door to door in the South Los Angeles neighborhood where she has lived for over 38 years.

    Ensley and a cadre of predominately African-American and Latino community leaders are initiating a community-led effort for Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE), a Los Angeles-based grassroots organization. They are collecting signatures from black, Latino, Asian, and white working class families throughout Los Angeles’ inner city neighborhoods for a petition to create a sustainable, equitable, and clean energy economy that will bring quality jobs to their communities, create a healthier and safer environment, and promote community-based land use planning and economic development. They apparently have struck a chord with the community.

    The Long and Bumpy Road to Apollo
    When she came to Los Angeles in pursuit of a better quality of life, Ensley already had a history of fighting for rights in the workplace and in the community. Growing up, she had participated in the Civil Rights Movement in her hometown of Moultier, Georgia; and her participation in a statewide teachers’ strike for higher wages and more teaching materials cost her first teaching job in Tampa, Florida. In 1968, Ensley migrated to Los Angeles, where she taught Biology and Physical Education and became active on educational issues. Today, Ensley represents her South Los Angeles community on the Los Angeles Apollo Alliance Steering Committee along with representatives from 20 other progressive community, environmental and labor organizations.

    The Apollo Alliance is a national initiative of diverse sectors united behind a vision of shifting the nation’s energy dependency from fossil fuels to renewable and sustainable energy sources and practices. The Alliance brings together non-traditional allies—community organizations, environmental advocates, construction and electrical workers, and progressive businesses—around a shared agenda of shaping the development of a green industry to address the needs and interests of each sector.

    “In South Los Angeles, disinvestment of resources and jobs has crippled the community,” says Ensley, a mother and grandmother. “I wasn’t sure what my community’s response would be to an initiative that puts jobs, training, and improving the environment together as top priority solutions to the poverty that our families experience everyday. I expected some folks to tell me that jobs are number one and cleaning our environment is just a nice wish. Instead, they told me that it’s about time we reinvest in our community, because we are slipping away further into poverty and getting sicker because of it.”

    The sentiment is echoed by most inner city, working class families of South Los Angeles who have experienced over 30 years of declining manufacturing and union jobs, disinvestments, and environmental decay in their communities. As a matter of fact, it’s an economic and environmental trend that is quite familiar to poor communities of color in many American cities.

    Global Thinking at Local Cost
    With a redeveloped downtown designed to attract the affluent to the inner city, and an upgraded infrastructure to facilitate the movement of goods through the region Los Angeles is positioning itself in the global economy.  Meanwhile its low-income communities of color remain firmly on the sidelines. As rents and property values skyrocket, about one-third of the households in the Los Angeles area are struggling to make ends meet. One in four Latinos and African-Americans live in poverty [1], and a single parent with two children needs to earn over $45,000 to be self-sufficient.[2]

    Furthermore, Latinos (66 percent) and African Americans (50 percent) are more likely to live near hazardous waste sites than whites.3 Pollution and degrading environmental conditions are contributing to high rates of asthma, cancer, diabetes, and other health problems among communities of color.In fact, globalization appears to have made some trends systemic to both, the established African-American communities like Ensley’s, and the more recent immigrant communities:

    • High-wage, long-term, union jobs being replaced by tens of thousands of new jobs offering low-wages, temporary or part-time status, and few, if any, benefits;
    • Cutbacks and roll backs of almost every major social policy or public benefit established in the last 50 years;  
    • Increasing divisions along geographic, racial, and income lines, leading to mounting conflicts among urban communities of color, and intensified battles between these communities and the predominantly white suburbs over shrinking public resources. 


    Oreatha Ensley2 Photo Courtesy SCOPE

    All Signals Synchronized to Green
    After 13 years of grassroots organizing and policy campaigns in Los Angeles, the ground is ripe for seeding a new green regional economy. SCOPE initiated and convened the Los Angeles Apollo Alliance in February 2006, in recognition of the strategic opportunity to win larger-scale, long-lasting systemic policies that can significantly impact regional trends and conditions.

    “My experience and my knowledge of history have taught me that social change comes when people from all walks of life unite and fight,” says Ensley. “No one person, organization, or constituency can do it alone. We have to build multiracial and dynamic alliances. In Los Angeles, we have been working overtime and reaching out to non-traditional partners… we believe that we can find common ground, strategize, and shape a progressive ‘green economic development’ agenda. We can share our expertise, build our collective capacity and vision, and develop the necessary political trust with one another to achieve systemic change.”

    In the current political landscape, under the leadership of Mayor Villaraigosa, a liberal-leaning City Council and forward-thinking Commissioners have articulated a bold vision to make Los Angeles a national leader in the transition to a sustainable, equitable, clean energy economy. The L.A. Apollo Alliance hopes to make a substantial contribution towards this vision by organizing a new progressive majority.

    “What we are trying to achieve here in Los Angeles is not just the creation of professional jobs, but a working-class solution to poverty. There are no shortcuts or mysteries to achieving this vision. A progressive political alternative is possible by involving communities most impacted by poverty… unions that represent working families in Los Angeles, organizations advocating for a healthier environment, and socially responsible business leaders,” asserts Ensley.

    A Seven-tiered Approach to Greening
    The LA Apollo Alliance plan is to develop and implement a Green Industry Campaign, based on the following achievements over the next three- to five-year period:

    • Citywide policies to stimulate regional demand for new and incumbent workers in the green building industry, and for the local manufacture of green building materials and services.
    • A commitment to job creation, job training, and environmental standards from the Mayor and City Council of Los Angeles.
    • Implementation of a pilot program to retrofit 100 city-owned buildings with energy and water conservation technologies.
    • Establishment of a Green Building Careers Program as a pipeline to move 2,000 residents from low-income neighborhoods to jobs in the public and private sectors.
    • Partnerships with progressive regional academic and research institutions to develop short- and long-term public policy proposals for leveraging public and private investment in job creation for low-income residents.
    • A viable investment strategy to fund building retrofits and to support the development of a skilled workforce.
    • Establishment of a Green Jobs Taskforce to develop policy recommendations for shaping a new equitable green economy.

    In addition, the Los Angeles Apollo Alliance hopes to count among its members, at least 25 community-based organizations, unions, environmental advocates, and progressive businesses with a shared trust and a collective capacity to develop and win initiatives that move towards systemic change.  Also, SCOPE’s contribution hopes to build a network of 100 Neighborhood Education Teams responsible for educating and mobilizing 10,000 neighbors as part of a strategy to increase participation of low-income communities of color in the public policy-making process.

    Building Strength with Numbers
    In recent years, the progressive movement in Los Angeles has largely been on the defensive, constantly fighting new battles just to meet the basic needs of poor and working class communities of color. The recent legislation that undermines immigrant rights and the on-going cuts in wages and benefits by corporations are just two examples. Apollo hopes to make the progressive voice louder and harder to ignore by building strategic alliances.

    Says Ensley, “When we are united in our efforts, we are stronger, and not in danger of being played off against one another.”

    Also, the fact that Apollo’s anchor organization, SCOPE, has led other multi-sector alliances and successfully influenced policymaking with a grassroots agenda in the past, gives hope to this new strategic initiative. 

    1    US Census Bureau, PCT15A, Census 2000 Summary File 3.
    2    Pearce, Diana and Rachel Cassidy, “Overlooked & Undercounted” prepared for Wider Opportunities for Women and Californians for Family Economic Self-Sufficiency, 2003.
    3    Communities for a Better Environment, “Building a Regional Voice for Environmental Justice,” September 2004.


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    Greening Affordable Housing

    Photo: Convenient Location, key to success; Courtesy: Victoria Transit Policy Institute

    In the past, the environmental community has sometimes been criticized for not paying enough attention to the problems of the underprivileged,” says Kaid Benfield, senior attorney and director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Smart Growth Initiative. At the same time, “the housing community has been criticized for ignoring the environmental impacts of its projects.” But now, Benfield and others see an opportunity to address both concerns at once—with green affordable housing.

    Megan Sandel, a pediatrician at Boston University Medical Center who studies the connections between housing and health, believes the goals are inseparable. “We have to work harder at not viewing housing as a one-dimensional issue… as only green, or healthy, or affordable. We must look at green affordable housing as something possible and necessary.”  

    After all, the goals of green building and affordable housing overlap to a large degree, making the latter well suited to green strategies

    The Green Communities Initiative

    In September 2004, the Enterprise Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), along with the American Institute of Architects, the American Planning Association, and several other corporate, financial, and nonprofit partners, launched the Green Communities Initiative, a $550 million fund to build more than 8,500 environmentally friendly affordable housing units over the next five years. The aim of the program, however, extends beyond this, explains Greg Kats of Capital E, who has been involved in the program’s development. “The intent is really to transform low-income housing so that [energy] efficient and healthy housing becomes the norm.”
    Through this Initiative, the Enterprise Foundation and NRDC will work with community development corporations and homebuilders to provide grants, loans, equity, training, and technical assistance to encourage housing developers to incorporate green design into their work. The Initiative will also target federal, state, and local government agencies, and encourage states to dedicate some of their federal housing tax credits to green projects.

    Current projects include:


    Azotea Senior Apartments is a new construction of 60 units in Alamogordo, New Mexico. The development features 14 one- and two- story buildings containing 24 one bedroom and 36 two-bedroom apartments.  Azotea Senior Apartments will incorporate various green elements into the design and construction of the development including: passive solar gain to maximize energy efficiency; "green" non-toxic building materials such as locally produced recycled finger-jointed framing studs, recycled carpet and  tile, water-based natural paints, non-formaldehyde wheat-based plywood, and recycled cotton insulation. The site's landscape design will utilize native or drought resistant plants, shrubs, ground cover and trees.  The buildings are designed in conjunction with the landscape design to harvest rainwater from the roofs and provide irrigation to the native plantings.


    New Shiloh Village is the new construction of 80 units of quality aff%altordable rental housing for very-low, low and moderate-income seniors. The location of the project, formerly a church parking lot, is in West Baltimore. The four story building will consist of 65 one-bedroom and 15 two bedroom units. The project is part of a much larger redevelopment undertaken by New Shiloh Baptist Church and will include a child care facility and the renovation of a warehouse into multi-purpose retail and office space. New Shiloh Village is designed with: energy efficient windows, water conserving plumbing fixtures, energy-saving appliances, recycling of drywall scraps, highly efficient split-system heating and air conditioning system, energy saving light fixtures, re-use of perimeter fencing, and water permeable walkways and parking areas. For more information, visit

    Green Affordable Housing: The Main Considerations

    Although the unique conditions of each situation determine which strategies are most appropriate, the broad considerations outlined here apply to all affordable housing: a convenient location, low initial costs, affordable operations and maintenance costs, a healthy and safe environment, and, last but not the least, the comfort and pride of the occupants.

    Convenient location: If a house is not located within walking distance of amenities, including public transportation, it’s neither green nor affordable, says Jim Hackler, of the U.S. Green Building Council. “The goal is to have a home in a place that allows the family to move forward. You want it to have easy access to jobs, daycare, and continuing education—to have easy access to opportunity.”  

    Finding housing and work near one another is often a challenge, and, for too many Americans, simply impossible. Commuting by automobile is expensive, what with the cost of gas, insurance, and auto maintenance. Daycare costs also go up when parents spend more time away from home. Plus, time away from home means less time with family, less time to prepare healthy meals, and less time for rest and relaxation. Long commutes also mean less time for exercise and more stress, both of which can have serious health implications.

    Some mortgages are now enabling and encouraging low- and middle-income Americans to move to more convenient neighborhoods. Two such examples are Fannie Mae’s Smart Commute Initiative and the Institute for Location Efficiency. Fannie Mae—a federally funded mortgage company—reports that reducing transportation costs by half saves the average family $2,200 each year. Treating these savings as additional income enables more people to become homeowners while qualifying others for larger mortgages. The benefits of these mortgages extend beyond their recipients and encourage mixed-income neighborhoods, support local businesses, and reduce automobile use, thereby reducing energy consumption and improving air quality.

    Certain communities now require new housing developments to include some affordable housing, subsidized by the developer. But such policies remain exceptions to the rule, and working class Americans are frequently priced out of the very communities they serve.

    Low initial costs: Keeping construction and renovation costs low should be an imperative for any affordable housing project. In cases where government entities or nonprofit organizations subsidize construction, the occupants may not be directly affected by the initial construction cost, but higher first costs reduce the number of affordable housing units completed.

    Affordable maintenance costs:
    For most residents of affordable housing, purchasing a home is just the beginning. After the rent or mortgage, utility bills represent the largest housing-related expense. The inability to pay utility bills is often the reason why low-income people lose their homes and why renters are evicted.

    All for Green, and Green for All
    According to the Enterprise Foundation, a quarter of the people in this country face housing problems ranging from unaffordable utility bills to overcrowding to homelessness. As we try to devise solutions to this crisis, we have a great opportunity to set the standard for affordable housing in the future. By making smart green choices now, we can not only reduce costs but also achieve significant environmental benefits within typical budget constraints.

    Energy efficiency: The most efficient way to lower operating costs is to reduce energy costs, which is done in part by insulating well and installing energy-efficient lighting and appliances. “We believe that one should push [for] the lowering of operating costs,” says Betsy Pettit, president of Building Science Corporation (BSC) in Westford, Massachusetts. She supports any improvement that will pay for itself through lower operating costs over five to 10 years.

    Recognizing the importance of energy efficiency in affordable housing, Fannie Mae offers Energy Efficient Mortgages (EEMs), which allow homeowners to finance 100 percent of approved, cost-effective energy efficiency strategies—up to five percent of the total value of the home for new construction and 15 percent for renovations or upgrades. With EEMs, the projected monthly energy savings are treated as additional income, allowing borrowers to qualify for larger mortgages.

    Water efficiency: Water bills can also be expensive, especially in the drier parts of the country. But for a small upfront cost, in fact sometimes for no additional cost, installing water-saving faucet aerators, showerheads, and toilets can save a tremendous volume of water. Fixing leaks also can save a lot of money. In addition, landscaping with native, drought-tolerant species and irrigating with rainwater can often eliminate the use of expensive potable water. Finally, reducing the amount of hot water used saves both water and energy.

    Looking at the history of green building so far, there appears to be a tendency for it to become a rich person’s game.

    But in principle, focusing on the affordability of green building can give us our best chance of creating truly sustainable living spaces for all. In fact, green design promises a spectrum of benefits to affordable housing that may prove the critical testing ground for its applicability everywhere.  ?

    Jessica Boehland is the managing editor of Environmental Building News at
    This article is adapted from an article first published in Environmental Building News, Volume 14, Number 3, March 2005.  Reprinted with permission.


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    A Blueprint for Greener Buildings

    "Green building" movement to construct offices and homes that use less energy, less water, and more environmentally-friendly materials

     Ask a group of friends to name top sources of energy waste and pollution, and odds are good that no one would answer "my house" or "the place where I work." Yet the fact is that the nation's 5 million commercial facilities and 76 million residential buildings consume more than two-fifths of all our energy. They also account for just over one-third of the nation's carbon dioxide emissions (a chief culprit in climate change), about one-half of sulfur dioxide emissions, one-quarter of nitrous oxide emissions, and one-tenth of particulate emissions (all major contributors to smog and acid rain). The current construction boom is expected to add 38 million new buildings by the end of the decade, compounding the nation's air, waste, and water quality problems. Construction and demolition already generates 136 million tons of waste annually.

    Clearly, architects, builders, and their customers can play a huge role in overcoming some of our biggest environmental challenges. In the past, many have shunned environmentally conscious design and construction on the assumption that "green" buildings cost a lot more greenbacks. But in a positive development, a growing number of Americans are discovering that green buildings can yield significant cost savings over the long haul even as they help protect the environment.

    As the name implies, green buildings use power and other natural resources far more efficiently and generate less pollution than buildings simply constructed to code. They also create a safer indoor environment by harnessing more natural lighting and using materials that make indoor air healthier to breathe.

    "If all commercial buildings in the U.S. were as efficient as our Southern California office, the country would achieve 70 percent of its Kyoto Protocol obligation."

    -- NRDC senior scientist Rob Watson

    A cutting-edge example of environmentally friendly industrial design is now taking shape just west of Detroit in Dearborn, Mich., the world headquarters of Ford Motor Co. Under the leadership of its chairman, Bill Ford, the company has hired world renowned environmental architect William A. McDonough to redesign Ford's historic 600-acre Rouge complex.

    The 84-year-old collection of foundries, factories, and mills was considered the epitome of world industry in the early 20th century (and inspired Mexican muralist Diego Rivera's 1932 masterpiece, "Detroit Industry"). But the Rouge's then-innovative industrial model of unloading raw materials at one end of the site, processing them in the middle, and driving new cars out the other wreaked major environmental harm over the years. The adjacent Rouge River that gave the complex its name essentially died. The soil became contaminated and the air grew fetid.

    The centerpiece of the $2 billion redesign project is a new, 750,000-square-foot assembly plant -- constructed not on a sylvan "greenfield" but on one of the bleakest urban "brownfields" imaginable. In June 2003, workers completed the installation of a 10.4-acre "living roof" on the $1 billion building. Composed of drought-resistant sedum, it is the largest such roof in the world. Virtually maintenance-free, it can absorb up to 4 million gallons of rainwater annually and is part of a broader storm-water runoff management system. In addition to absorbing water and the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, the sedum roof produces oxygen and provides natural overhead insulation for the building, thereby reducing its energy costs. It is also expected to last twice as long as a traditional roof.

    In addition to the living roof, the broader redesign effort features sunflowers and other plants throughout the grounds to rid soil of contaminants, vines to shade buildings, porous paving that filters water through underground beds of crushed stone, plant-lined "swales" to further improve stormwater management, and the planting of more than 1,000 trees. A new paint shop on the Rouge site that opened in September 2000 generates one-third less emissions from paint than the one it replaced. In the future, renewable energy sources such as fuel cells and solar arrays will augment the complex's power grid.

    A $222 million package of tax breaks and incentives from local, county, and state government is helping fund the transformation. "Ford has taken a progressive stance on environmental issues and with our redevelopment of the Rouge Center we are putting our words into action," says company vice president Tim O'Brien, who is leading the project. "The roof and other environmental initiatives we're implementing are cost effective. Year after year they will save us money as well as conserve resources."

    "As you look into the future, the trend will be to ask industrial sites to be cleaner and cleaner," lead architect McDonough noted in a November 2000 interview with The Detroit News. "If we meet or exceed the standards, there's less need for regulatory oversight. What we're essentially doing is converting buildings built for machines and now designing them to produce oxygen and offer a habitat for hummingbirds."

    Elsewhere, environmental organizations including the National Audubon Society, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and World Resources Institute have commissioned many such green structures. For instance, in January 2004 actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Hollywood environmental activist Laurie David unveiled NRDC's new regional headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., a facility called the Redford Building, which they helped finance.

    Located in a building that once housed an acupuncture school, the Redford Building uses 60 percent to 75 percent less electricity by maximizing natural light and using photo sensors to dim lamps when sunlight is bright enough to read by. It also uses 60 percent less water by filtering and disinfecting water reclaimed from rain gutters, sinks, and showers to flush toilets. Based on these and other attributes, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) awarded the building its highest possible "platinum" rating, making it the "greenest building" in America.

    Meanwhile, the newly-constructed Audubon Center near downtown Los Angeles (also platinum-rated by USGBC) is the first in the city to be entirely powered by on-site solar systems -- functioning completely "off the grid." According to the Los Angeles Times, the facility also is "off the sewer system" -- using live cultures in sophisticated membranes to sanitize bathroom waste to a point of such purity that filtered water is able to percolate back into the ground.

    As the Ford example shows, the green building movement is also gaining momentum beyond the nonprofit sector. Companies including Toyota, Steelcase, Herman Miller, and IBM have recently broken ground or completed construction on green buildings. For instance, Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. recently completed a 624,000-square foot headquarters expansion that costs less than the average rental space Toyota previously paid to house its 2,500 sales-division employees.

    The USGBC recently gave the new facility its second-highest "gold" rating for features, such as one of the largest commercial solar rooftop electric systems in North America, which is expected to provide up to 20 percent of the building's energy requirements. The building uses wood harvested from sustainable forests for construction and interior finishes as well as steel recycled from automobiles to form the building's structural beams and columns. More than 90 percent of the waste from construction and demolition is being recycled, some of it onsite as pavers in the facility's state-of-the art Xeriscape garden (see the "PPI Xeriscape Play"). Toyota's South Campus facility is furnished with recycled and recyclable carpets and work stations. Even the products used by janitors to clean the facility are non-toxic -- a benefit to the environment and for people who use them.

    In addition to the private sector, states including Pennsylvania, California, Oregon, New York, and Maryland have adopted green building policies. At the federal level, the U.S. Department of Energy's Federal Energy Management Program provides resources on best building practices.

    To promote a common set of green building standards and spur their construction, USGBC created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. Established in 1993, the USGBC is comprised of 3000 organizations, including architectural and engineering firms, product developers, financial institutions, and representatives from state and local government.

    The nonprofit organization established the LEED rating system in 1994 and updated its standard in 2000 and 2002 to reflect refinements in green building construction and materials. The rating system may be applied to new and existing commercial, institutional, and high-rise residential buildings based on their environmental attributes. The system is comprised of 34 criteria, or "credits," as well as seven prerequisites across six broad categories: site selection, water efficiency, energy use, materials selection, indoor air quality, and design. Building scores determine LEED's four rating levels: platinum, gold, silver, and certified.

    As of 2003, approximately 100 million square feet of buildings were undergoing LEED certification, according to a recent study commissioned by California's Sustainable Building Task Force. The Golden State leads the country in the number of LEED certified buildings (140). On a project per-capita basis and project per-state domestic product basis, however, California is rivaled by states including Pennsylvania, Oregon, and Washington, each of which have well-established programs to encourage green construction.

    Although the green building movement clearly is gaining momentum, the perception that such structures are too costly and unproven persists, according to the California task force study. To help dispel such notions, the group set out to quantify the costs and benefits of green buildings. Estimation is complicated by the fact that most green buildings are too new to deliver cost-savings data, which typically are realized over a building's 20-year average life. Another problem is that green buildings lack "controls" or non-green counterparts simply built to code, which would permit accurate cost comparison.

    Such measurement challenges notwithstanding, the task force studied 33 LEED-registered projects to develop data on the costs and benefits of green construction. It concluded that while upfront green building construction costs are about 2 percent higher than buildings simply constructed to code, green buildings generate about 20 percent in savings of initial construction costs over their lifetimes. In other words, an upfront investment of $100,000 in green-building features into a $5 million dollar project would result in about $1 million worth of savings in today's dollars over the average 20-year life of the building. Most of the higher upfront cost is for the additional time architects and engineers need to design cleaner, greener building features.

    Much of the savings come in the form of lower energy and water bills. But features such as improved natural lighting and cleaner indoor air also improve productivity and result in fewer lost workdays and worker's compensation claims. More important, environmentalists say, green buildings have the potential to improve the nation's energy independence.

    "Operating commercial and residential buildings consumes over 40 percent of the country's energy -- twice as much as passenger cars and trucks," says NRDC senior scientist Rob Watson, a driving force behind NRDC's new Santa Monica facility.

    Even more promising, perhaps, is the fact that such savings are possible today without passing a single new law or resorting to existing mandates. Although states such as New York have passed tax incentive programs to encourage green building development, the movement for the most part is voluntary -- illustrating the tremendous potential of the building sector to pave the way for a cleaner, more sustainable future.

    Resources For Action

    Progressive Policy Institute's State Environment Exchange

    U.S. Green Building Council

    California Sustainable Building Task Force

    "The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings: A Report to California's Sustainable Building Task Force," October 2003

    California Governor's Executive Order D-16-00 establishing state sustainable building goal

    Pennsylvania Governor's Green Government Council's

    Ford Rouge Center Landscape Master Plan, William McDonough & Partners

    "Toyota campus expansion is a showcase of green building practices," Toyota Environmental Update, March 2003

    "Greener By Design: NRDC's Santa Monica Office," Natural Resources Defense Council

    "Audubon Nature Center is Certified as Nation's Most Environmentally Friendly Building," National Audubon Society

    Smart Communities Network, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Network (EREN), A Project of the U.S. Department of Energy

    Additional Reading

    Miguel Bustillo, "Building on Green Principles: Los Angeles Boasts Two of the Most Ecologically Advanced Structures in the Country," Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2004


    Pegi Shriver
    Vice President for Marketing and Fund Development
    U.S. Green Building Council
    1015 18th Street, NW, Suite 805
    Washington, DC 20036
    (202) 82-USGBC or 828-7422, Ext: 145
    (202) 828-5110 (fax) for general USGBC inquiries for LEED inquiries for membership inquiries

    Uchenna Bright
    Program Assistant
    Natural Resources Defense Council
    40 West 20th Street
    New York, NY 10011
    (212) 727-4532
    (212) 727-1773 Fax

    Mark Yamauchi
    Facilities Operations Manager
    Real Estate and Facilities
    Toyota Motor Sales, USA Inc.
    19001 S. Western Avenue
    Torrance, CA 90501
    (310) 468-6263

    Jan Mazurek
    Center for Innovation & the Environment
    Progressive Policy Institute
    600 Pennsylvania Ave. SE Suite 400
    Washington, D.C. 20003
    (202) 544-5014 (fax)

    PPI Green Building Play

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    Debunking False Solutions

    Graphic: Detail from an ADM Brochure on Ethanol

    Earlier this year, U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel W. Bodman visited agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland’s Decatur, Illinois, headquarters to tout its part in President Bush’s Biofuels Initiative. The secretary posed for photos with then Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Chair G. Allen Andreas and announced that the Department of Energy would offer up to $160 million for the construction of three bio-refineries to expand U.S. ethanol production.

    "Partnerships with industries like these will lead to new innovation and discovery that will usher in an era of reduced dependence on foreign sources of oil, while strengthening our economy at home,” Secretary Bodman said from ADM’s trade floor. Given the absence of conditions imposed by the Department of Energy, the three bio-refineries could well be partially coal-powered. ADM already operates coal-fired plants at its company base in Decatur, Illinois, and Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and is currently adding another coal-powered facility at its Clinton, Iowa ethanol plant and planning another coal fired plant in the town of Columbus, Nebraska.


    Archer Daniels Midland is the largest U.S. producer of ethanol, which it makes by distilling corn. Ironically, it turns out that ADM’s clean and green biofuels program is heavily reliant on coal-fired energy plants, one of the dirtiest forms of energy. When burned, coal emits carcinogenic pollutants and high levels of the greenhouse gases linked to global warming.  

    That’s not all. “[Ethanol] plants themselves—not even the part producing the energy—produce a lot of air pollution,” says Mike Ewall, director of the Energy Justice Network. “The EPA (the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) has cracked down in recent years on a lot of Midwestern ethanol plants for excessive levels of carbon monoxide, methanol, toluene, and volatile organic compounds, some of which are known to cause cancer.”

    Given all the energy inputs needed to make it, latest estimates show that corn-based ethanol reduces green house gas emissions by only 13 percent compared to conventional gasoline.

    A single ADM corn processing plant in Clinton, Iowa, generated nearly 20,000 tons of pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds in 2004, according to federal records. The EPA considers an ethanol plant as a “major source” of pollution if it produces more than 100 tons of any one pollutant per year, although it has recently proposed increasing that cap to 250 tons.

    Sulfur dioxide is classified by the EPA as a contributor to respiratory and heart disease and the generation of acid rain. Nitrogen oxides produce ozone and a wide variety of toxic chemicals as well as contributing to global warming, according to the EPA, while many volatile organic compounds are cancer-causing. Last year, Environmental Defense, a national environmental group, ranked the Clinton plant as the 26th largest emitter of carcinogenic compounds in the U.S.

    For years, ADM promoted itself as the “supermarket to the world” on major U.S. radio and television networks like NPR, CBS, NBC, and PBS, where it underwrites influential programs such as the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Now, as it actively promotes its ethanol business forays, ADM has rolled out its new eco-friendly slogan, “Resourceful by Nature,” which “reinforces our role as an essential link between farmers and consumers.”

    Despite the company’s attempts at green packaging, ADM is ranked as the tenth worst corporate air polluter, on the “Toxic 100” list of the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts. The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency have charged the company with violations of the Clean Air Act in hundreds of processing units, covering 52 plants in 16 states. In 2003, the two agencies reached a $351 million settlement with the company. Three years earlier, ADM was fined $1.5 million by the Department of Justice and $1.1 million by the State of Illinois for pollution related to ethanol production and distribution. Currently, the corporation is involved in approximately 25 federal and state administrative and judicial proceedings regarding the environmental clean-up of sites contaminated by ADM operations.

    Friends in High Places
    Environmentalists have cried foul, but they are up against the 56th largest company in the United States, as ranked by revenue in Fortune Magazine. ADM has more than 25,000 employees, netted sales last year of $35.9 billion, with $1 billion in profits, as well as a recent 29 percent profit increase in the last quarter.

    ADM has another resource at its disposal: the considerable clout it has built up over decades of courting and lobbying Washington’s power brokers. Despite a history of price fixing scandals and monopolistic misdeeds, the Andreas family, which has headed up the publicly-traded company for decades, has cultivated bipartisan support through generous donations to both Republicans and Democrats. Since the 2000 election cycle, ADM has given more than $3 million in political contributions, according to the Center for Responsive Politics: $1.2 million to Democrats and $1.85 million to Republicans. These donations may have helped sustain a multitude of government subsidies to ADM, including ethanol tax credits, tariffs against foreign ethanol competitors, and federally mandated ethanol additive standards.

    Recent legislation has further greased the tracks of the ethanol gravy train. The Energy Policy Act of 2005’s Renewable Fuel Standard stipulates that gasoline sold in the US must include a certain percentage of ethanol or biodiesel, starting at four billion gallons this year and rising to 7.5 billion gallons by 2012. ADM got another boost when the federal government mandated that oil companies replace MTBE, a cancer-causing gasoline additive, with ethanol. Forty-five states have adopted policies to encourage the production and use of the fuel. ADM has responded with plans to increase its output of ethanol by 42 percent over the next three years.

    When Corn is King
    Subsidies and tax incentives might make public policy sense even when they flow into the coffers of a Fortune 500 company with mega-profits but only if corn ethanol delivers on the promise that its boosters claim: to significantly cut greenhouse emissions, protect the environment, and slow global warming.

    Debate has raged for years over whether ethanol made from corn generates more energy than the amount of fossil fuel that is used to produce it. UC Berkeley’s Alexander Farrell recently co-authored a comprehensive study, published in Science, on the energy and greenhouse gas output of various sources of ethanol. His group found that corn ethanol reduces greenhouse gases by only 13 percent, which compares unfavorably with ethanol made from vegetable cellulose, such as switch grass.

    Yet the enormous amounts of corn that ADM and other ethanol processors buy from Midwestern farmers wreak damage on the environment in numerous ways. Modern corn hybrids require more nitrogen fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides than any other crop, while causing the most extensive erosion of top soil. Pesticide and fertilizer runoff from the vast expanses of corn in the U.S. prairies bleed into groundwater and rivers as far as the Gulf of Mexico. The nitrogen runoff flowing into the Mississippi River has fostered a vast bloom of dead algae in the Gulf that starves fish and other aquatic life of oxygen.

    The hidden costs of corn-based ethanol thus include “the huge, monstrous costs of cleaning up polluted water in the Mississippi River drainage basin and also trying to remedy the negative effects of poisoning the Gulf of Mexico,” says Tad Patzek of the University of California’s Civil and Environmental Engineering department.

    “These are not abstract environmental effects,” Patzek asserts, “these are effects that impact the drinking water all over the Corn Belt, that impact also the poison that people ingest when they eat their food, from the various pesticides and herbicides.” Corn farming substantially tops all crops in total application of pesticides according to the US Department of Agriculture, and is the crop most likely to leach pesticides into drinking water.

    Atrazine, a carcinogenic herbicide used primarily in cornfields has been banned by the European Union but the US Geological Survey has found midwestern streams to contain atrazine upto 224 parts per billion and about 2,300 parts per billion in Corn Belt irrigation reservoirs—well over the EPA’s three parts-per-billion as the maximum safe level for this carcinogen.

    Then there is the question of how practical it is to replace petroleum with corn-based ethanol. “There are conflicting figures on how much land would be needed to meet all of our petroleum demand from ethanol,” says Energy Justice Network’s Ewall, “and those range from some portion of what we currently have as available crop land to as much as five times as the amount of crop land in the US.”

    “No one who’s looked at this issue [from an environmental perspective] talks about using corn kernels as the only, or even major component, of the long term solution,” counters Nathanael Greene, senior policy analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Everyone assumes we’ll evolve the industry from its current technology to the advanced technologies.”

    If they do move away from corn, it will be a marked reversal of many decades of government policy, in support of Archer Daniels Midland and the company may well wonder what it’s getting for its unceasingly ample gifts to both political parties. But with the “full-throated support of the Bush Administration,” in the words of the Renewable Fuels Association, a corn ethanol-dominated, ADM-led trade group, that day doesn’t seem to be approaching any time soon.  ?

    Sasha Lilley is a writer for CorpWatch and producer of the program, Against the Grain on Pacifica Radio.
    This story was first published on


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    The hidden costs of corn-based ethanol thus include cleaning up polluted water in the Mississippi River drainage basin and the poisoning the Gulf of Mexico.

    Green Jobs

    Ecology Center Group Photo © 2006 Ecology Center DC Greenworks Student in action Courtesy: DC GreenworksCo-op Kitchen Photo © 2006 Clifton Ross







    Green Collar Jobs

    Workers on Remediation of a Brownfield

    Over the next decade, the potential for green collar jobs, which I define as blue-collar work force opportunities created by firms and organizations whose mission is to improve environmental quality, could be very large.1 This is because, despite what is happening at the federal level, many San Francisco Bay Area cities, and the state of California, are proposing and passing policies and programs designed to improve environmental quality. These include policies related to zero waste, energy and water conservation, residential solar energy, whole home performance, local procurement, open space, and strengthening local food systems. In addition, the number of San Francisco Bay Area residents choosing to use their money to buy goods and services from firms and organizations that are improving environmental quality is increasing rapidly. Over time, this combination of factors should result in a significant expansion of local green collar jobs in the area. In order to find out what are the characteristics of green collar jobs? And What factors contribute to the growth and vibrancy of these sectors? I have been interviewing employers who provide green collar jobs to workers in more than 100 local firms/institutions which are producing jobs in 22 specific sectors:
    • Bicycle repair and bike delivery services
    • Car and truck mechanic jobs, production jobs, and gas-station jobs related to biodiesel
    • Energy retrofits to increase energy efficiency and conservation
    • Green building
    • Green waste composting on a large scale
    • Hauling and reuse of construction materials and debris (C&D)
    • Hazardous materials clean-up
    • Landscaping
    • Manufacturing jobs related to large scale production of appropriate technologies (i.e. solar panels, bike cargo systems, green waste bins, etc.)
    • Materials reuse
    • Non-toxic household cleaning in residential and commercial buildings
    • Parks and open space expansion and maintenance
    • Printing with non-toxic inks and dyes
    • Public transit jobs related to driving, maintenance, and repair
    • Recycling and reuse
    • Small businesses producing products from recycled materials
    • Solar installation
    • Tree cutting and pruning
    • Peri-urban and urban agriculture
    • Water retrofits to increase water efficiency and conservation
    • Whole home performance, including attic insulation, weatherization, etc.

    It is very clear that moving away from polluting work and towards environmentally restorative work will bring significant changes and immediate benefits to workers, communities, and society at large. We need to develop a clearer understanding of what kinds of policies and programs can ensure that green collar jobs are made available to workers with limited initial education and skills, and that these jobs are stable, living wage jobs that provide benefits to workers and their families. Do green collar jobs, in and of themselves, offer workers a supportive work experience that contributes to improvements in quality of life?

    Recent research on sustainable agriculture in the U.S. has revealed that although crops are being grown with less toxic inputs, on many of these farms ,workers continue to be terribly exploited. Similarly, some manufacturers producing processed food made with organic ingredients, and some supermarkets known for selling healthy organic food, offer workers part-time work employment in order to avoid providing benefits to workers and, have been involved in union busting. A job designed to improve environmental quality is not guaranteed to be a stable living wage job that provides workers with essential benefits. It is unclear if local green collar jobs will benefit low-income people and families in the Bay Area.

    If current employment patterns are any indicator, we should all be concerned about this. Currently, unemployment rates for African American adults and teenagers are more than double the rates for Whites and Asians. Among Latinos, unemployment is worsening among second-generation Latinos.

    Although the overall employment rate for Latinos is equal to Whites and Asians, the unemployment rate among native born Latinos is almost twice as high as Whites. Although Asians have lower unemployment rates, Asian workers are concentrated in low-paying manufacturing and service jobs and, like African Americans and Latinos, their rates of poverty are significantly higher than Whites.

    What is clear is that people of color and high school graduates are the least advantaged groups in the current labor market. In order to reduce the potential for social inequalities and injustices in the emerging green economy, we need to develop strategies and programs to ensure that workers with limited initial education and skills have access to local green collar jobs. The information I am gathering will be helpful as we take on this challenge.

    My preliminary research findings reveal the following: There are many local firms/organizations that offer green collar jobs in the Bay Area. The vast majority of local green collar jobs do not require high levels of education. The majority of workers holding green collar jobs in these 22 sectors obtained their skills on the job or through training paid for by their employers. Employers describe basic work skills of being responsible, being on time, having good communication skills, etc. as the most critical skills for the green jobs they offer. Employers are willing to hire workers with limited initial education and skills.

    Public policies are the most important factor contributing to the health and vibrancy of firms/organizations with missions to improve environmental quality. While it is too early to draw definitive conclusions from these preliminary findings, it is possible to make the following generalizations: First, to ensure that green collar jobs provide workers with stable living-wage jobs and benefits, we will need to support living-wage ordinances, long-term hiring contracts, and unionization options. Second, to ensure that green collar jobs are offered to workers with limited initial education and skills, we will need local hiring requirements, training for green collar jobs in high schools, work force training programs, certification programs, matching programs, and employer incentives. Third, if we want green collar jobs, we must support policies designed to improve environmental restoration, quality, and justice.

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    Clean and Green Co-op

    Ana Lila © 2006 WAGES

    In the current wave of community action for immigrant rights, a wider public is learning about the realities of life for immigrant workers in the U.S., undocumented and documented. Since the passage in 1994 of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the number of immigrants from Mexico has increased dramatically. Hundreds of thousands of displaced rural Mexicans could no longer support themselves in an agricultural economy distorted by an unrestricted flood of subsidized, bio-engineered U.S. grain.  

    While most immigrants work for large corporations (growers, meat processors, construction firms and hotel chains), there are many examples of alternative employment for immigrant workers—even opportunities for “green” business ownership at the grassroots. These alternatives seek economic returns while also pursuing environmentally-sustainable business practices. In California’s Central Valley, Oregon, and Washington State, for example, the fastest growing sector in farming operations is Latino immigrants who purchase or lease land, many of whom use sustainable methods that reflect generations of indigenous knowledge, as well as the newest techniques in organic agriculture.

    In the Bay Area, immigrant women have taken control of their work life by creating worker-owned green cooperatives that provide non-toxic house-cleaning services. For the past ten years, WAGES (Women’s Action to Gain Economic Security) has been incubating Latina-owned cooperatives by providing training and start up funds to help the women learn the skills to sustain a viable business over the long-term. WAGES also recently helped the Spanish Speaking Unity Council incubate an environmentally-friendly landscaping cooperative in Oakland, and is training members of  an  immigrant advocacy group from  Los Angeles to open their eco-friendly cleaning cooperative.

    So, what does it take to build these green jobs at the grassroots?  WAGES has found that it takes a vision of the power of worker-ownership, a commitment to high-quality products and services, and a lot of slow deliberate work on team building and communication skills.  It also takes an investment of start-up funding, which can be hard to raise in the current climate. WAGES gets support from private foundations and individual donors who are convinced that the WAGES model is worth supporting because of the high quality of the jobs.

    This investment compares favorably with many other job creation programs: welfare-to-work programs and micro-enterprise business training programs cost from $5,000-25,000 per person, but usually only lead to part-time, minimum wage employment.  The advantage of the WAGES model is that the jobs are full-time; co-op members earn $11-13 an hour and have health care, disability insurance and other benefits—in fact, family incomes go up by about 40 percent within two years; and they have greater control over co-op management and working conditions. Plus, the eco-friendly cleaning techniques (EFC™) prevent about 4,000 pounds of toxic chemicals from entering the environment each year, and improve worker and client health conditions.

    Profile of Cooperative Business Creation

    Ana Maria Alvarez © 2006 WAGES

    A WAGES cooperative begins with a market study to identify the most promising location for eco-friendly cleaning services. WAGES then starts community outreach through grassroots organizations, churches, adult schools, and the ethnic media, to recruit women who are interested in the long-term commitment of building a cooperative business. For every 100 women that come to an orientation, a third will enter the training program, during which they receive a $150 training stipend and free child care.  Of those that enter the training, about 85 percent  actually decide to put up the $400 equity stake and become cooperative worker-owners.  The founding co-op members choose a name, and collectively sign on to a start-up loan provided by Lenders for Community Development, an economic development agency in the South Bay.  

    Over the first three to four years, WAGES accompanies the cooperative as it matures, constantly improving the eco-friendly cleaning techniques to keep the cooperative competitive in the cleaning market; providing ongoing training to the governance board; and funding the General Manager position until the cooperative builds its business to a level that can sustain the personnel costs of a full-time manager, typically when it reaches about 20 cooperative members.  When the co-op “graduates” from WAGES, it joins a network of other cooperatives for mutual support, joint marketing, and ongoing technical assistance.

    Hundreds of women have worked for WAGES cooperatives around the San Francisco Bay Area over the last 10 years, and about 50 women are currently owners, with good jobs and business equity that grows over time.  The WAGES model has the potential to be replicated across the country, combining the community ties built from grassroots empowerment with the prospect for economic stability for immigrant families.  ?

    For more information on WAGES visit:, or call (510) 532-5465.
    Margi Clarke is a community activist and non-profit consultant. Contact her at

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    The Berkeley Model: Less Waste - More Jobs

    Ecology Center Group Photo © 2006 Ecology Center

    On the first day of spring in 2005, Berkeley’s city council unanimously approved a zero waste resolution—one of the first in the nation. The resolution officially adopts a 75 percent waste reduction goal for 2010, and establishes a zero waste goal for 2020.

    What Does Zero Waste Mean?
    If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled, or com-posted, then it should be restricted, redesigned, or removed from production. The goal is to combine aggressive resource recovery and industrial redesign to eliminate the very concept of waste. Eventually, the community’s resource-use system will emulate natural cyclical processes, where no waste exists. While zero waste may seem like an ambitious aim, Berkeley’s history is full of people taking chances on new ideas. The idealism that thrives here has produced many tangible demonstration projects that have helped spawn programs in cities across the globe. For example, over thirty years ago, the Ecology Center pioneered curbside  residential recycling. Much has changed since those early days, when a single flatbed truck roamed the streets collecting bundled newspapers. Today, Berkeley’s recycling programs (residential, commercial, and drop-off) are a multimillion-dollar enterprise providing over 40 green collar jobs and saving nearly 20,000 tons of resource-rich material from the landfill. Curbside recycling has gone from a “crazy” vision to an environmentally sane, mainstream service offered across the country.

    What Makes Berkeley Different?
    Unlike many cities across the United States, Berkeley possesses its own recycling and solid waste facility, which is operated by the city and three local nonprofits—the Ecology Center, Community Conservation Centers, and Urban Ore. This unique situation offers many important benefits. Local control allows for higher environmental standards and greater efficiency, as well as familiarity with our own waste stream. Costs for these services are kept low, and good green collar jobs remain in the city rather than being sent elsewhere or automated out of existence. Other East Bay cities contract their solid waste programs out to corporate waste haulers, who transport their garbage and recyclables to large-scale regional facilities, where little is known about what actually happens to it. Because Berkeley’s solid waste program is in-house, we get to decide what happens with our materials.

    As an example of local control, Berkeley voters mandated that collected recyclable materials be put to their “highest and best use.” This is why we sort glass into three color camps—green, brown, and clear—while many other recyclers have eliminated this step. The bottles we collect are melted down and turned into bottles again at a regional foundry. Some end up back in Berkeley at Pyramid Brewery, a local ale manufacturing company. The energy and resources that went into making the glass in the first place are conserved. When glass of different colors is mixed and melted, a murky color results that is unfit for new bottles. Mixed glass can be “down-cycled” into asphalt or fiberglass insulation, but it is often used instead of dirt as “alternative daily coverage,” with the sandy covering heaped over trash at the landfill every day, to keep flies and odors down. But when Berkeley’s residents place glass bottles in their recycling bins, they can be sure those bottles actually get recycled and don’t end up in the dump.

    For-Profit vs. Non-Profit
    In 2001, the Ecology Center transitioned its fleet of recycling trucks to run on biodiesel, an alternative fuel made from recycled restaurant grease. Later, Berkeley’s garbage trucks, school buses, heavy equipment, and fire trucks also made the switch to biodiesel. This significantly lowered asthma and cancer causing emissions released by our fleets as well as the city’s dependence on foreign oil. Had Berkeley’s recycling program been handled by corporate haulers, such a forward-thinking initiative would never have gotten off the ground. Unlike the Ecology Center, corporate waste haulers are rarely proactive on issues unrelated to their bottom line, such as air quality and vehicle emissions. Furthermore, for-profit solid waste companies, such as Waste Management, Inc., own landfills. They charge per ton for every scrap of waste that goes to the landfill; therefore they have a financial interest in communities continuing to generate large quantities of garbage. It is a core part of their business. They also offer recycling services because most cities demand it, but minimizing waste is not their mission.

    Jobs and Revenue Stay in Berkeley
    Because Berkeley’s solid waste operation is locally based, the jobs generated by the city’s waste stream remain local. The city has its own fleet and unionized crew, as does the Ecology Center and the Community Conservation Centers. A model “green-blue” partnership, recycling is an environmental endeavor that provides local, well-paying, green-collar jobs. Recycling helps support the local nonprofits, businesses, and community agencies that partner with the city to handle discards.  Even with all the extra steps required—sorting, baling, cleaning, and selling of those bottles, cans, and papers—recycling remains a cheaper alternative than paying landfill fees, thanks to the income generated by selling the materials. Recycling contradicts the myth that communities must choose between jobs and the environment. Recycling creates jobs while costing the residents less.
    Between the Ecology Center and CCC, Berkeley’s institutional recycling programs constitute a multi-million dollar industry. This money stays here; it doesn’t leave in the form of shareholder profits or CEO bonuses.

    Moving forward toward the zero-waste goal, even more jobs, more reusable materials and more revenue will strengthen the local economy.  ?

    For more information about Berkley’s pioneering recycling programs, visit
    This article is excerpted from Recycled Content, a publication of the Ecology Center. Executive Director Martin Bourque and Development Director Amy Kiser work at the Ecology Center.

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    Green Jobs Cleaning Brownfields

    Brownfield Remediation2 ; Photo Courtesy: Remediation Services

    Well before socially responsible businesses became fashionable, Olin Webb and Allen Edson transformed their environmental contracting business, Remediation Services, Inc. (RSI), into a community-based enterprise, employing workers from the very communities they work in.  Their organization has a triple impact on local communities. They reduce toxic exposure by removing contamination. They strengthen the local economy by hiring and training community members for the work. They help create long term economic health by establishing new sites for economic development within formerly blighted communities.

    Since 2002, RSI has been a specialist in environmental field services in the San Francisco Bay Area, with services ranging from soil and groundwater remediation, hazardous waste removal and transportation, and restoration of disposal sites.RSI evolved from the environmental advocacy work of Webb, who hails from Bay View Hunters Point, and Oakland-based Edson. Webb and Edson have been environmental justice advocates since the early 1990s, and have played a pioneering role in the redevelopment of brownfields, which are derelict sites contaminated by  toxic chemicals. These sites disproportionately impact working class, low-income, and people of color communities, who typically live close to such sites.

    Webb and Edson realized that although brownfield restoration  projects enabled hazardous sites to be cleaned up and developed, millions of dollars were being paid to external remediation contractors who had no ties or responsibility to the community. They decided  that there was no reason for money to leave their already impoverished communities.  To accomplish this goal, their organization began to train and hire workers from the communities where the clean-up work was occurring.

    As members of the National Black Environmental Justice Network and the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists (CBTU), Edson and Webb have always been passionate about rebuilding communities holistically. “Conventional redevelopment models reflect the inherent racism in the way projects are set up,” noted Webb. “So we wanted to make a positive, long term impact in the communities we worked in.” And that’s precisely what they have been doing, by training local community members to be skilled workers, including the 40-hour training to be able to work with hazardous material.

    RSI has successfully reached out to undereducated, underutilized black youth—especially people who have been through the criminal justice system. RSI has also teamed up with Young Community Developers (YCD), a community-based job-training agency in Bay View Hunters Point, to regularly hire disadvantaged workers for community projects. RSI’s wages are on par with industry pay, averaging $25 per hour, in addition to vacation, and medical benefits.

    One of its long term goals is to hire and sustain workers in San Francisco, Oakland, and Richmond—cities that are slated to experience rapid development in the coming years with major brownfields grants lined up.

    RSI’s business model is best summed up by co-owner Edson: “We started out on a risky venture but it’s one that has paid off both to the business and to the communities.”   ?

    For more information, visit
    Preeti Shekar is the program and development associate at Urban Habitat and a producer with KPFA radio’s Women’s Magazine. 


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    Green Landscapes in Washington D.C

    DC Greenworks Student in action Courtesy: DC Greenworks

    In 2004, D.C. Greenworks— a non-profit that seeks to resolve urban environmental and economic problems by fostering local expertise, job training, and community stewardship—joined forces with the Coalition for the Homeless and the 14th and U Main Street Initiative to form the Green Team, a group of men and women charged with maintaining clean, green, and safe streets in the Shaw commercial corridor of Washington D.C. In addition to handling litter and graffiti removal, the Green Team is also responsible for tree box landscaping and maintenance, and provides employment and training opportunities for Shaw’s homeless population. By creating a well-maintained commercial district, it has stimulated investment in vacant properties and supports tourism by disseminating heritage and hospitality information about the neighborhood and its attractions.

     D.C. Greenworks’ Green Collar Job Training programs are a successful marriage of ecology and economy, a living demonstration of how employment and natural resource conservation can support and sustain one another. Its programs address the need for both, clean and green communities, and for education, job training, and employment. Greenworks offers horticultural, arboricultural, and low-impact development training programs to meet the needs of volunteer service corps, parks departments, nurseries, and landscaping businesses.

    Washington D.C. is among a growing number of cities that are beginning to explore the viability of urban green infrastructure as an ecological resource. The Trans-Agency Resources for Environmental and Economic Sustainability Project in Los Angeles, for example, estimates that it could create more than 50,000 jobs in environmental infrastructure management. Effective urban ecosystem management can create thousands of jobs and save millions of dollars for communities around the country. In fact, research shows that communities that actively protect their environment have higher rates of job growth, fairer taxes, lower energy costs, better than average public health, a more equitable distribution of wealth, greater democratic participation, and a better quality of life overall. (See Greenworks offers training for jobs in landscaping, tree service, low-impact development, park maintenance, and nurseries. With every training program, we work directly with employers, social services, and youth advocacy agencies to find viable placements for its graduates. Since 2000, we have partnered with the Earth Conservation Corps, the D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation, Covenant House Washington, and the Coalition for the Homeless, among others, to place over 80 people in good jobs.DC Greenworks Students in Action 1; Photo Courtesy: DC Greenworks

    Programs that Adapt to Communities
    All of D.C. Greenworks’ programs strive to be mindful of and relevant to the lives of the poor, multi-ethnic, urban communities they serve. Whether hiring urban youth to build a greenroof in a wealthy suburb, or presenting a tree care workshop in a gentrifying neighborhood, or designing a job-training program for the homeless, D.C. Greenworks looks a little different in each community.

    In striving to understand the historical economic and cultural contexts for the attitudes and aspirations of each community, D.C. Greenworks has learned that each cultural group has its unique way of relating to the shared environment. People who have lived most of their lives within concrete-and-asphalt inner city neighborhoods are more likely to give low priority to issues of access and care of green spaces. The organization also recognizes that race and class can, and do inhibit job opportunities for inner city residents. Not owning a car, for example, can present a major obstacle to getting landscaping and construction jobs, most of which are based in the suburbs.

    Using the Art of Applied Science
     Green education works best when program participants are involved in hands-on projects. Such an approach is well suited for people who have an interest in green skills, but to whom existing horticultural programs may be unavailable, inaccessible, or delivered in inappropriate formats. Inner-city residents tend to not have easy access to transportation or computers and often lack well-developed literacy skills. For such a population, hands-on learning—in effect, applied science—is far more effective and enjoyable.

    Teaching skills in an applied context puts a greater burden on the instructor because the classes are harder to organize. Typically, they involve a lot more site-assessment and project planning, in addition to needing resources, such as trees, plants, tools, and mulch, to create a lasting and beautiful product.Fortunately for D.C. Greenworks, the city has a chronic shortage of landscaping and tree-planting services. The Urban Forestry Administration and the Department of Parks and Recreation have a huge backlog of requests for tree planting and pruning, dead tree removal, and stump grinding. In fulfilling these needs, D.C. Greenworks finds an expedient way to provide on-the-job training for its program participants. 

    DC Greenworks Students in Action 2; Photo Courtesy: DC Greenworks

    Combating Green Stereotypes
    The Greenworks educational program is constantly striving to overcome two contradictory stereotypes: (1) Protection of the environment is largely the prerogative of wealthy white communities (granted, they make up a majority of the volunteer-based environmental organizations); and (2) Taking care of the environment is actually an unimportant and menial job requiring no special knowledge.

    Urban forests, parks, and private green land are a crucial part of what makes a city livable. In spite of that, jobs in the green industry tend to be underpaid and undervalued, utilizing unskilled (and often undocumented) labor, which leads to a low standard of worker safety and poor work product, further exacerbating the social, environmental, and economic problems in urban areas.

    In Washington D.C., one often sees trees that are planted and mulched too deeply, or pruned poorly by untrained workers wearing little or no safety gear. As a result, the average lifespan of a tree in D.C. is seven years, costing the city millions in complaint management, disease treatment, tree removal, and replanting.

    Moreover, the city’s air quality may soon fail to meet federally mandated standards. As a result, D.C. may lose over $115 million per year in Federal Highway Administration funds, which currently pay for road repairs and other transportation infrastructure expenses. In 2002, the District reported 31 days of poor air quality, and currently boasts the highest asthma rate in the nation. More than one in 20 D.C. residents suffer from asthma, including over 10,000 children, a rate that far surpasses the national average of one in 50.

    That trees greatly reduce flooding by allowing rain to seep naturally into the ground is a well-known fact. 1973 to 1997 saw a 64 percent reduction in tree cover in D.C., resulting in a 34 percent increase in storm water runoff. Since much of the runoff is collected in sewage pipes, the city has seen an increase in the number of sewer backups, sewer overflows into rivers, and basement floodings. The costs, in terms of property damage, worker productivity, healthcare, and clean up, are staggering.

    Every day, thousands of working class people of all colors are charged with taking care of their local environment, whether it’s mowing lawns, tending gardens, planting trees, or building greenroofs. While D.C. Greenworks supports and encourages these activities, especially those jobs that can provide a living wage such as certified arborists, greenroof builders, and landscape specialists. We recognize the need for a more comprehensive and long term strategy for restoring and maintaining the urban environment. We hope to foster a paradigm shift, where care of the environment and use of knowledge-dependent best practices—regular and preventive maintenance, arboriculture, organic cultivation practices, integrated pest management, and low-impact development—becomes the norm, and jobs in the field are valued and well compensated.  ?

    Dawn Gifford is the executive director of D.C. Greenworks. 


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    We Make the Path by Walking

    Co-op Kitchen Photo © 2006 Clifton Ross


    In the shadow of one of the great environmental and social injustices of Latin America, Cerro Rico, Bolivia, a green coop stands as a hopeful sign that Bolivians can begin to restore their land and their lives after centuries of exploitation. Cerro Rico (Hill of Riches) was once known as Sumaj Orko, the sacred “Majestic Mountain” of the indigenous people of Potosì, Bolivia.

    Today, the mountain is on the verge of collapsing because of the warren of mines crisscrossing its center, and every rainfall causes rivulets of toxic effluence to flow down its surface, endangering the health of the local population—over 75 percent of whom are considered poor and 45 percent, “extremely poor,” according to El Potosì, the local newspaper.

    The ruining of this landscape also cost the lives of about eight million indigenous Americans and African slave laborers, according to Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.  Why? 

    In brief, the Spanish discovered that the mountain contained over 300,000 tons of silver (valued at $114 trillion U.S., in today’s market), and large amounts of lead, zinc, tin, and other metals, the extraction of which is believed to have financed the growth of the Spanish empire, the building of the British Navy, the conquests of Napoleon, and the first two World Wars.

    Green Business Salves the Wound
    Such stories abound all over Bolivia and all of Central and South America. So, it may come as a surprise that within this atmosphere of poverty and oppression, many are turning to “green” and “cooperative” business—both considered by some to be the trappings of left-leaning conclaves of more affluent societies—as models for their future economies. Locals, however, see this process as a recuperation of ancient ways.

    Consider, for example, Mama Naturaleza, a family-run cafe in the tourist district of Bolivia's capital, La Paz. Manager Gabriela Gemio believes that with this “green” enterprise, she is doing what she can to restrain, if not reverse, the cycle of exploitation and environmental destruction. The furniture in the café is all made of regional pine wood, the interior is lit with low-energy light bulbs, and most of the food is organically grown on the Gemio family farm of Ventilla, in the hills above La Paz. All other foods and products are purchased locally in the market.

    On the farm, Gabriela is helped by Hector, who learned agriculture from his elders growing up in Los Yungas, a semi-tropical region east of La Paz and populated by the descendents of escaped African slaves brought over to work the mines of Potosí. In Los Yungas he learned to make insecticides from tobacco and llama manure, both of which are freely available at Ventilla.

    Hector grows lettuce and spinach at 12,000 feet above sea level in greenhouses (called “walipinis”) covered with clear plastic, which maintain a relatively warm temperature even during the cold nights. To protect the plants from the intense mid-day sun, Hector has improvised a screen made up of a thin layer of dirt laid over the plastic, which is easily rinsed off when needed. Other crops requiring higher temperatures are grown in underground greenhouses, called “sayari.”

    Running a truly green business in a Third World country is not easy, admits Gemio. There are many obstacles, some created by international economics and others relating to the local culture. For instance, cardboard containers for packaging food are not made in Bolivia and have to be imported at a cost that Gemio cannot afford. There is also the local custom of using plastic straws with drinks.
    “I hate to use plastic,” admits Gemio. But at the moment, she feels she has no other choice.

    Green: The New Color of Socialism
    In neighboring Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez wants to revive Bolivar's dream of a united and independent Latin America. The key, he believes, lies in “bioeconomics”, an economic development system that respects the regional (and global) ecosystems. One significant component of Chavez's grand plan for the “socialism of the 21st century” is the formation of green co-ops.

    Chavez maintains that cooperatives are a step away from the “capitalism of Judas,” towards the “socialism of Jesus.” And since his election in 1998, the number of co-ops in Venezuela has grown exponentially, from around 1,000 to over 120,000, largely funded by the sale of oil though an approach they call “sembrando el petroleo” (sowing of the oil). Chavez regularly calls on the cooperatives to share their profits with the most needy in their communities, but such calls to altruism have never really worked in any other context to effectively eliminate poverty and are unlikely to produce results even in Venezuela. Still, cooperatives based on sustainable development and an economic orientation that works with, rather than against, nature can only be seen as an improvement over what existed before.

    Núcleos de Desarrollo Endógeno (NUDES)
    Literally, “endogenous development nuclei,” is an unwieldy but universally known and understood organizational phrase for co-ops in Chavez's Venezuela. “Endogenous development” simply means internal, self-sustaining development, and is defined by the Ministry of Popular Economy as, “an economic model in which the communities develop their own proposals,” and where both the leadership and the decisions come from within the community itself.

    This localized approach is predicated on the fact that communities know best what they need and what they can produce, and so are best equipped to determine which projects have the greatest chance for success. For instance, campesinos in the state of Guárico know that corn is the optimal crop for their region. They also know that by sharing equipment and knowledge with others, they can be more productive. Their neighbors, in anticipation of a large crop of corn, can begin to organize a mill and to set up a production facility to make “arepas,” the thick corn cakes that Venezuela is known for. Secondary cooperatives can similarly be formed around the primary agricultural cooperative. What results is the nucleus of endogenous development, in which something is grown, processed, sold, and consumed locally. Any surplus is sold to bring in cash for other necessities.

    Such a bioeconomic model of development is a strategic response to the dependent and unsustainable model of resource exploitation that imperialism would otherwise impose on the population—at least, on paper. Treading an unmarked path is always a challenge and critics contend that up to 30 percent of the co-ops may not be legitimate. Still, by any measure, the remaining co-ops have to be considered a stunning success because they most affect those long neglected sectors of Venezuelan society: women, minorities, and the poor.

    In Merida, Aguilas Blancas Learns to Fly
    My friend Juan and I lunch at the Cooperativa Cinco Aguilas Blancas (Cooperative of the Five White Eagles) in Merida. Fifteen women started this cooperative restaurant/Internet center, named after the five snow-covered mountain peaks that surround Merida. They learned skills in Misión Vuelvan Caras, the Bolivarian government's job-training program, then got a loan from Banmujer, the Venezuelan women's bank. They keep the café open seven days a week with two shifts of workers per day. (Each member gets one day off per week.) Still, profits from the café have been elusive, and Sabrina de Suarez, president of the co-op, admits that most of their income comes from the Internet center. She pulls out the ledger to show us that they currently gross only about $150 U.S. per day and pay about $300 U.S. in rent each month. In the end, each co-op member makes less than $10 U.S. per day.

    Trouble in Co-op Paradise?
    Chavez's Bolivar-inspired co-op revolution is not without critics. Camila Piñeiro Harnecker, who has done a significant amount of field research on Venezuelan co-ops, puts forth the argument of the traditional cooperatives: “The government's promotion of cooperatives is irresponsible and opportunistic because they have made it too easy to create a cooperative [the requirement of proving feasibility was eliminated] and they are being used for political agendas. Most new cooperatives are doomed to failure… because they are dependent on state resources and lack management and administrative skills. They also… create cooperatives with members who don't share the proper values and corrupt them by providing easy credit and too much paternalistic aid.” [1]

    The situation does beg the question: Does generous government funding of cooperatives help or hinder the consolidation of worker-ownership? If financing comes too easily, if the struggle to construct the cooperative is won in a day of paperwork, is there a danger that the members might devalue the organization and not give themselves entirely to the struggle to build a worker-owned and controlled business? Anyone who has ever worked in a cooperative recognizes the crucial importance of “worker buy-in.” Balancing this with external assistance can be a challenging task.

    Otto Fernandez, an organizer and facilitator from Chiguará, talks about the need for Venezuelans to break with a paternalistic culture developed over many years. “We're used to a Daddy government stepping in to do things for us, but we need to learn to take the initiative ourselves.”

    Another Venezuelan put it more bluntly: “You can't expect to build an enduring cooperative movement by throwing money at it. A moth has to struggle to get out of its cocoon… if you help it, it will die, because it is only through the struggle that it generates the energy and liberates the chemicals necessary for survival. I think the same thing is true for those of us working in the [Venezuelan] cooperatives.”

    Ana, from Cooperativa Cinco Aguilas Blancas, disagrees with the moth analogy. They have enough of a struggle to keep their doors open each day, she feels, and “without the loans from the government and Banmujer, we wouldn't be here.”

    Indeed, it is difficult to imagine 15 working class Venezuelan women being able to put together the roughly $30,000 U.S. dollars they needed to start the cafe. The “easy credit” provided at low or no interest has meant that each of the women had only to invest an initial (largely symbolic) amount of 10,000 bolivares, or about $5.00 U.S.

    A Path Strewn with Contradictions
    The race to build a cooperative green future using the petroleum wealth of Venezuela, even as it feeds the North American imperial economy and fuels the climate change that makes the challenges of survival even greater, is a remarkable one. Whether it will provide long-term solutions for the poor and working class people of Venezuela is something only time will tell. Although President Chavez has said that the cooperatives only represent one step toward the “socialism of the 21st century,” he has yet to indicate what that socialism will be.

    For now, the words of poet Antonio Machado seem to express perfectly the creative ambiguity within which Latin America is currently constructing its future: “There is no path; we make the path by walking.” ?

    1 Camila  Piñeiro Harnecker , “The New Cooperative Movement in Venezuela’s Bolivarian Process” 

     Clifton Ross is a freelance writer living and working in Venezuela. He has been writing about Latin America for over 20 years.


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    Want Environmental Justice? Fire Your Boss

    A promise that corporations always make when they are trying to site a polluting facility is that it will bring jobs to that community. The number of low-income communities that bought into that argument and watched their neighborhoods turn into dumping grounds for power plants, refineries, and waste disposal businesses are too numerous to count. Their experience shows that few of the jobs promised by polluters ever materialize. What’s more, even fewer go to local residents. When community members do get jobs at these facilities, they usually are the most dangerous, or temporary, with no benefits. Unfortunately, as long as our communities remain desperate for work, they will remain prime targets for this bait-and-switch technique. The desperation is a result of the exodus of blue-collar manufacturing jobs from the United States in the past decades. While the mainstream environmental movement has historically been bogged down in the “jobs vs. environment” debate, the environmental justice movement has clearly defined its support for job creation in our communities: Yes, we want jobs; just not jobs that kill us!

    Creating Work Where There Was None
    In response to growing environmental awareness, the past few decades have also seen the development of greener ways of doing things. Innovations in energy production and building techniques have created new opportunities to phase out practices that wreaked havoc on the planet, especially on the low-income communities of color, which have always borne the brunt of pollution. These innovations could potentially lead to the creation of new jobs on a large enough scale for the people who need them the most. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, for every one job in waste disposal, the recycling, manufacturing from recyclables, and reuse industries, have the potential to generate 10 to 250 jobs. These jobs cut across traditional blue-collar/white-collar distinctions, and have come to be known as “green-collar” jobs. 

    It would be a mistake, however, to assume that these jobs would automatically go to those who most need them, or that communities that have borne the greatest burden of pollution would actually benefit from the latest eco-innovations and green businesses. In truth, new employment sectors are typically developed by those with access to capital, and filled by those with appropriate skills and connections. Thus, communities with insufficient capital, skilled labor, and connections, will end up being the last to benefit, if at all. If history is to be our guide, without early intervention, profits generated by green businesses will primarily enrich the predominantly white, middle- and upper-middle class communities that own them.

    Blazing A Green Job Trail of our Own
    The South Bronx, with one of the highest unemployment rates in all of New York City—upwards of 27percent in some areas—is just one of many places in the U.S. hit by de-industrialization. So, a little less than three years ago, we decided to create our own green businesses, owned and operated by the workers, and capable of improving environmental conditions in the South Bronx. We believe that getting to the root of environmental racism and economic inequality requires new economic structures that promote environmental protection, demand accountability to local communities, and empower workers.

    We did not have to look far for ideas. As with many other dumping grounds, one of the big issues facing the South Bronx is waste. New York City produces approximately 50,000 tons of trash each day. Approximately 37 percent of that moves through waste transfer stations in the South Bronx, before being exported to distant landfills and incinerators—which also happen to be in low-income and communities of color. Much of that waste, about 13,500 tons a day, is made up of building materials, such as kitchen cabinets, doors, sinks, and hardwood floors that are smashed to bits by a demolition crew and run over by a tractor. Waste disposal not being labor intensive, the only “benefit” we receive from these companies is the exhaust from their diesel trucks. As an alternative to this senseless waste, we decided to focus on incubating a retail warehouse for salvaged and surplus building materials that could be reused. While there are hundreds of similar reuse stores across the country, each creating wealth from what most still treat as waste, our store will be the first worker cooperative when it opens in 2007.

    Worker Co-ops: Alien, Yet Alluring
    For most people in the U.S., the idea of workers owning and managing their workplace is a completely alien concept. Most of us have learned to accept that a worker’s place is to serve at the whim of their employer; that workers can never be owners; and that workers are innately inferior beings incapable of governing themselves. Despite these common assumptions, however, we are attracted to the worker co-op model as a means of taking control of our local economy and environment. Here are some reasons why:

  • Worker co-ops retain more wealth in their communities. Unlike companies with remote shareholders and non-locally owned businesses, co-op owners are more likely to live near where they work. As a result, more of a worker co-op’s profits circulate within the community for longer periods of time.
  • Barring a major catastrophe, people rarely pick up and move en masse. So, worker co-ops are not likely to relocate to another town, state, or country.
  • Worker co-op owners live in their communities, hence are more accountable to their communities and not inclined to pollute them. As the environmental justice movement has long pointed out, if a business is truly green, its owners ought to be comfortable putting it in their own backyard.
  • Worker cooperatives teach democracy. Despite the rhetoric, few people in this country can say that they truly experience democracy in their daily lives. How can we expect accountability from our elected officials, or demand a voice in government, when we don’t even have a voice at our workplace where we spend most of our time?
  • The Solution from Inside Out
    Since its beginnings, the environmental justice movement has been about people taking control of their own communities—ensuring that those most impacted by a problem are also the ones leading the hunt for a solution. We need to think along similar lines when we enter into discussions about job creation and economic development. Instead of assuming the position of supplicants, we ought to develop our own job creation strategies that embody the movement’s principles of community control and self-determination. If we fail to do this, we enable the continuation of the same patterns of exploitation for generations to come.

    Worker co-ops have achieved substantial successes in other parts of the world. Most notable are the Mondragon Cooperatives in the Basque region of northern Spain, and the co-ops of the Emilia-Romagna region of Italy. In recent years, laid-off workers in Argentina have taken over scores of defunct factories all over the country. In the U.S., there is a small but growing movement of worker cooperatives that is being united by the newly formed U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives. If you are interested in learning more or are interested in attending the Federation’s Second National Worker Co-op Conference this October (13-15) in New York City, visit  ?

    Omar Freilla is the founder of Green Worker Cooperative, an organization dedicated to bringing worker-owned and eco-friendly manufacturing jobs to the South Bronx.


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