Table of Contents— Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe?

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Introduction: Catalyst or Catastrophe?

Climate Change Cover image
From the Editor
By B. Jesse Clarke

I started this issue as a skeptic of climate change. I didn’t doubt its reality, the human contribution to it, or the threat it represents to the ecological health of the planet but I doubted that this crisis created an organizing moment that could benefit low-income people and communities of color. When Race, Poverty and the Environment covered this topic in 2006, [Clarke] efforts within the United States to organize in response to climate change were scattered and largely led by white environmentalists. We had to turn to a Canadian author to find a succinct description of a framework for green economics. [Milani]

Since then the global crisis has become more apparent and we have seen the development of a much broader engagement in climate justice organizing. Judging from the wide-ranging responses we received to our call for submissions, a movement is emerging.

In this issue, we share the voices of over fifty environmentally engaged advocates rooted in the concerns of their communities. [Contributor List]  In thirty articles and a dozen “voices of climate justice” segments, we have endeavored to present a cross-section of diverse elements acting at the municipal, regional, state, national, and international levels. [Table of contents]  They are far too numerous to cite individually here. (Our online readers can follow the inline links to the individual articles.) I’m deeply grateful to these many contributors for sharing their analysis with me and with our readers.

The devastating and disparate impact of climate change makes itself felt across the spectrum of issues and organizations. Non-governmental organizations,  [Hoerner and Robinson] unions, [Ellis-Lamkins and Moody] faith-based communities, [Carmichael] and international agencies are all wrestling with this critical challenge, whether they are dealing with jobs, [Jobs] transportation, [Porchas] land-use, [SB375] housing  [T. Nguyen] or food. [Food and Agriculture] Historical and current projects offer lessons that we need to take into account to strengthen these efforts. And if we can learn these lessons, an opening exists for a grand coalition of the peoples of the Global South with the grassroots movements within the United States. [Dayaneni]

The intersection of the movement for racial justice and environmentalism led to the evolution of the environmental justice movement and two decades of mobilization, organizing and policy advocacy to shift the balance of the burdens and benefits of the impacts of the fossil fuel industries. [The Toxic Environment]

The major environmental justice fights of the past have dealt with fossil fuels and their by-products: coal, oil and gas; pesticides, fertilizers and mechanized agriculture; transport in the form of tankers, ports, freeways; and the consequent spills, emissions and pollution of water, ground, and air. [Porchas, C. Harvey] And these battles over power generation, [Arce] extraction, refining, [Choy & Orozco] workers’ health and safety, [Davis] disposal, [V. Nguyen] and incineration [Wysham 2] are also central to the battle for climate justice.

But for the emerging movement to be effective, it must now advance beyond the fusion of environmentalism and racial justice to a more direct consideration of economic justice. [Chomsky] The ecological crisis is rooted in an economic system that requires growth, inequality, and the exploitation of humans and nature itself. Changing course on climate will require fundamental change in our ways of doing business and the power relations that sustain them. [Movement Generation, Swan]  Re-organizing where and how we work, reside, play, educate and celebrate our lives will mean simultaneous change in many areas. The economy is the central mediator on all these fronts.

State-corporate collaboration has created the conditions for this crisis and cannot solve it. The technocratic vision of a commoditized carbon cycle with new layers of profit and speculation and high-tech solutions, like genetically modified plants to be used as fuel stocks, will not work. [Smolker]

Nor will vast industrial plants building solar panels with the same old exploitative employment relationships and unfair international trade arrangements. [Davis] Building a coalition that can effectively energize worker organizing is a crucial part of the task before us. We need to build a movement that defines the word “environment” to include the work environment and defines a “green economy” as one that is just and sustainable, not a green-washed capitalism. [Shekar]

Though the climate bill currently before the U.S. Senate contains some notable advances in the creation of green jobs, it codifies business as usual. [Wysham, Ellis-Lamkins] Turning cap and trade over to the financial sector and the oil, coal and utility companies that have brought us to this deep state of disequilibrium with nature is no solution at all. [Chomsky]

The fate of Van Jones, who resigned under fire as the presidential advisor on green jobs, points up the importance of cohesive, coherent, consistent organizing at the base to advance our own solutions. [Crowfoot, Weinrub] Lacking this, the placement of a few spokespersons at a national level only provides a pulpit from which to deliver message. An effective movement needs to do more than elevate spokespeople. It needs the ability to take power at the level of city councils, local water boards, planning and utility commissions, metropolitan transportation organizations, state legislatures and throughout the political process. [Ellis, Carter, Rangel-Medina, Marchant]

Input and participation without power are futile exercises that end up disillusioning and demobilizing popular organization. For this reason so called resiliency organizing, which increases the capacity of communities to control their own economic and social resources, can make a difference politically across a whole host of interrelated issues, including climate. [Movement Generation, Brown]

This sort of radical restructuring won’t be easy. It may be as large as the shift of human societies from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists.[Fujita,] But a species-level response is required. It will require not only a shift in our way of living, but in our way of thinking. We will need to understand that the market is no substitute for democratic decision-making and human “superiority” over nature is a dangerous fiction. This is well understood by indigenous people who are taking leadership in the movement stirring in the Global South and within the United States. [Weng, Trask,  Goldtooth] As in previous battles for justice, the impetus can only come from the dispossessed.

The emerging movement for climate justice provides an new platform to mobilize for age-old principles of social justice. Because of the planetary parameters of the problem this movement has a unifying potential for the species as a whole. Climate change respects no borders and neither can our organizing. Emissions reductions in one country is not an option. Climate change must be solved, locally, regionally and globally. It’s a tough test, but one that we can pass—or fail.

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

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Voices of Climate Justice

Some of the voices raised for climate justice in this issue.

"The climate bill, unfortunately, has been co-opted by the oil and coal industry."
Tom Goldtooth

"My number one inspiration right now is not an organization or a person or an event, it’s the city of Detroit."
Adrienne Maree Brown

"Climate change has provided the perfect “disaster capitalism” storm: an excuse for expanding corporate ownership and control over the commons."
Rachel Smolker

"Too often, environmental grant makers shirk their responsibility to address the issues affecting these communities, which are disproportionately impacted by issues of pollution and waste, food access and quality of life, and employment and sustainability."
Carmen Rojas

"It’s the responsibility of local community organizations to provide models for the federal government to follow. I don’t think the solutions are going to come from the top down."
Emily Kirsch

"if we go back to where we were, the situation will only get worse. There will be very few rich people, plenty of poor people, and a lot more dead people."
Donal Mahon

"Do we build sustainability or do we focus on profits?"
Margaret Gordon

"What the nonprofit system has done is influence groups to take on single issues. But our communities and our lives are not single issues."
Mari Rose Taruc

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

"The surprising thing is, we already know a lot about how to reorganize our economies for moving from “surviving” to “thriving.” Indigenous and poor people have long known that sharing resources with each other, practicing interdependence, and building real community are the best route to independence."
—Lisa Gray-Garcia

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

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

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Race Poverty & the Environment Climate Justice Speakers Bureau

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

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

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

Gopal Dayaneni
Available in Copenhagen: December
12-21. Available in the U.S. prior to the conference.
Movement Generation Justice and Ecology Project, International Accountability Project, Ruckus Society and Progressive Communicators Network.

Dayanei has been fighting for social, economic, environmental and racial justice through organizing, campaigning, teaching, writing, speaking and direct action since the late 1980s. Dayaneni will speak in Copenhagen on the disproportionate impacts of climate disruption on communities in the US, the failure of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change, the importance of social movements, the role of the U.S. in promoting false solutions, and the intersections between climate, war, and corporate globalization.

Ellen Choy
Available in Copenhagen: December 14-18, Available in the U.S. prior to the conference.
Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Environmental Service Learning Initiative (ESLI) in San Francisco, CA, Adult Leader of the ESLI Youth Delegation to Copenhagen.

Choy works as a lead organizer for the West Coast Mobilization for Climate Justice, building street heat in the Bay Area to protest corporate roadblocks to community-based, just climate solutions. She is also the Youth Engagement Coordinator for the Environmental Service Learning Initiative (ESLI), acting as co-director of ESLI’s Youth Advisory Board, supporting youth-of-color-led projects for sustainability and environmental justice. She previously worked as the director of the Climate Literacy Training Program with the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative (EJCC).

Students from three San Francisco public high schools may also be available for interviews: Gier Hernandez, Burton High School, Class of 2010; De’Anthony Jones, Mission High School, Class of 2010, and Lupita Troncoso, Lincoln High School, Class of 2011. The three are traveling to Copenhagen as members of the Youth Delegation.

Adrienne Maree Brown
Available in the U.S. throughout the conference period.
Executive Director, The Ruckus Society

The Ruckus Society brings nonviolent direct action training and action support to communities impacted by economic, environmental and social oppression. In addition to her work as executive director of there, Brown sits on the boards of Allied Media Projects and the Center for Media Justice and participates in “Somatics and Social Justice.” She facilitates development of organizations throughout the movement. Most recently, she has worked with the Young Women’s Empowerment Project, New Orleans Parents Organizing Network, and Detroit Summer. She is a co-founder of the League of Pissed Off/Young Voters and graduate of the Art of Leadership and Art of Change yearlong trainings.

Mateo Nube
Available in the U.S. throughout the conference period.
Director and co-founder, Movement Generation Justice & Ecology Project

Nube was born and grew up in La Paz, Bolivia.  Since moving to the San Francisco Bay Area, he has worked in the labor, environmental justice and international solidarity movements.  He has spent the last decade integrating concepts of popular education into his movement work.

Prior to joining Movement Generation, Nube designed and facilitated political education trainings and conducted staff development workshops for grassroots and community organizations interested in building their organizing, advocacy, and leadership capacities. He also served as the director of Urban Habitat’s Leadership Institute and the Northwest Coordinator of the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute.  Nube is a member of the musical band Los Nadies.

Mari Rose Taruc
Available in Copenhagen: December
12-21. Available in the U.S. prior to the conference.
State organizing director for
APEN (Asian Pacific Environmental Network)
Taruc is a mother working for environmental justice (EJ) for nearly 15 years. Since making a deep connection to EJ from home-- growing up in a Filipino immigrant family working in contaminated grape fields of Delano, CA and learning about the rich organizing history of Filipinos with the UFW—she’s learned to value its principles and vision as her own path to making social change. She’s been involved in teaching youth EJ classes at UC Berkeley, developing regional EJ strategies as a former co-chair of SNEEJ (Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice), and currently building a climate justice base of low-income Asian Pacific Americans in California for APEN (Asian Pacific Environmental Network), as its State Organizing Director.

Jihan Gearon
Available in Copenhagen: December 3-23
Part of the “New Voices on Climate Change” Global Justice Ecology Project Delegation to Copenhagen; Native Energy Organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Gearon is Diné (Navajo) and African American; she is Tódích'ií'nii (Bitter Water) clan, and her maternal grandfather is Tl'ashchí'í (Red Bottom People) clan. She graduated from Stanford University with a BS in Earth Systems and a focus in Energy Science and Technology. In her position at the Indigenous Environmental Network, Gearon works to build the capacity of communities throughout the U.S. and Canada who are impacted by energy development and climate change. She serves on the Steering Committee of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative and the Coordinating Committee of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance.

Jacqueline Patterson
Available in Copenhagen: December 6-20
Part of the “New Voices on Climate Change” Global Justice Ecology Project Delegation to Copenhagen; working with the Women of Color for Climate Justice Road Tour.

Patterson’s father immigrated to Chicago from Jamaica; her mother, an African American, moved there from Mississippi.  Patterson was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago and has worked as a trainer, organizer, researcher, program manager, and policy analyst on international and domestic issues and social justice movements with organizations including the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Baltimore City Healthy Start, IMA World Health, United for a Fair Economy, ActionAid, NAACP, Health GAP, and the organization she co-founded, Women of Color United (WOCU).

Patterson is now engaged in the Women of Color for Climate Justice Road Tour, which grew out of WOCU’s participation in a Movement Generation Ecology Justice Retreat and its partnership with the Women's Environment and Development Organization on the From Katrina to Copenhagen Initiative.  The Women of Color for Climate Justice Road Tour uplifts stories of differential impact, community self-reliance, and community resistance by women of color and communities of color.

Andrew Hoerner
Available in the U.S. throughout the conference period.
Policy Director, Urban Habitat

Hoerner is the Policy Director at Urban Habitat. He was most recently the director of the Sustainable Economics Program at Redefining Progress where he was co-author with Nia Robinson, Director of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, of "Climate of Change: African Americans, Global Warming, and a Just Climate Policy for the U.S." Hoerner was co-author of Clean Energy and Jobs, the first U.S. national climate plan to be endorsed by major labor unions, and was an architect of the California Global Warming Solutions Act (A.B. 32) the first comprehensive cap on global warming pollution to pass in the U.S. (A list of relevant publications is available)

Hoerner's work focuses on the use of tax and market-based instruments to better harmonize economic, environmental and social justice goals. He has been Director of Research at the Center for a Sustainable Economy, Director of Tax Policy at the Center for Global Change at the University of Maryland College Park, and editor of Natural Resources Tax Review. He has done research on environmental economics and policy on behalf of the governments of Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and the United States. Andrew received his B.A. in Economics from Cornell University, Masters from the U. of Maryland College Park, and a J.D. from Case Western Reserve School of Law.

Thomas Assefa 
Available in the U.S. throughout the conference period.
Senior Organizer, Mothers on the Move

Assefa works for Mothers on the Move (MOM), a grassroots community-based social justice organization in the South Bronx. As a senior organizer he supports the leadership of South Bronx residents in leading environmental and economic justice campaigns. The South Bronx experiences the highest rates of asthma as a result of environmental injustices and is the poorest congressional district in the United States. MOM is a member of Right to the City, a national alliance of nearly 40 low-income and people of color community organizations that are building a united response to gentrification and drastic changes imposed on our cities. Thomas co-leads the environmental justice workgroup of the Right to the City Alliance, which is working to transform our cities into just, sustainable, healthy places to live.

Michael Leon Guerrero
Available in Copenhagen: December 12-21. Available in the U.S. prior to the conference.
Director, Grassroots Global Justice Alliance

Guerrero has been the Coordinator of the Grassroots Global Justice Alliance since April of 2004. Previous to that he worked for 17 years at the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP) where he served as a community organizer, Lead Organizer and Executive Director, supervising organizing efforts in low-income communities throughout New Mexico and organizing campaigns on issues of environmental justice, corporate accountability and globalization. Guerrero is Chamoru (from Guam), and is a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley. He studied at the National Autonomous University and the National Visual Arts School of Mexico City. He was an intern with the Minority Activist Apprenticeship program of the Center for Third World Organizing in 1987 and a Youth Action Fellow in 1988. Currently he serves on the national board of directors of Jobs with Justice, the New World Foundation, and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. He is based in San Pedro, CA.

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Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits


This issue is dedicated to Luke W. Cole (1962-2009). Founding co-editor of the journal Race Poverty & the Environment and founder of the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment.

Editor Emeritus
Carl Anthony

Juliet Ellis

B. Jesse Clarke

Design and Layout
B. Jesse Clarke

Editorial Assistance
Merula Furtado

Publishing Assistant
Christine Joy Ferrer

Copyediting and
Merula Furtado, Marcy Rein
Christine Joy Ferrer

Urban Habitat Board of Directors

Joe Brooks (Chair)

Romel Pascual (Vice-Chair)   
Mayor's Office, City of Los Angeles

Tamar Dorfman (Treasurer)
San Francisco Mayor's Office of
Community Development

Carl Anthony
Cofounder, Urban Habitat

Malo Andre Hutson

Department of City and Regional Planning
University of California,?Berkeley

Felicia Marcus
Natural Resources Defense Council

Arnold Perkins

Alameda Public Health Department (retired)

Deborah Johnson
San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

Wade Crowfoot
Environmental Defense Fund

Organizations are listed
for identification purposes only.

Subscribe to RP&E
Annual subscriptions are $20 for groups and individuals;
$40 for institutions. (Free for grassroots groups upon request.) Send subscription checks to:
RP&E, 436 14th Street, #1205, Oakland, CA 94612.

Subscribe online at

© 2009 by the individual creators and Urban Habitat.
For specific reprint information, queries or submissions, please email

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. In the interest of dialogue, RP&E publishes diverse views. Opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the editors, Urban Habitat, or its funders.


Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

Contributor List RP&E 16-2

Carl Anthony
Joshua Arce
Eric Arnold
Kisasi Brooks
Adrienne Maree Brown
Cassandra Carmichael
Rebecca Carter
Noam Chomsky
Ellen Choy
B. Jesse Clarke
Wade Crowfoot
Sheila Davis
Gopal Dayaneni
Juliet Ellis
Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins
Orin Langelle
Christine Joy Ferrer
Marty Fujita
Tom Goldtooth
Margaret Gordon
Kathryn Goulding
Lisa Gray Garcia
Carol Harvey
Dana Harvey
J. Andrew Hoerner
Emily Kirsch
Donal Mahon
Tara Marchant
M. Mascarenhas-Swan
Leslie Moody
Tram Nguyen
Vu-Bang Nguyen
Mateo Nube
Ana Orozco
Francisca Porchas
Evelyn Rangel-Medina
Maryam Roberts
Nia Robinson
Carmen Rojas
Clifton Ross
Rachel Smolker
Mililani Trask
Mari Rose Taruc
Pam Tau Lee
Amy Vanderwarker
Al Weinrub
Sottolin Weng
Daphne Wysham

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

From the Director's Desk

In 2006, Race, Poverty & the Environment co-published a special issue of the journal entitled “Getting Ready for Change: Green Economics and Climate Justice” with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. People like Van Jones and Majora Carter had just begun to talk of “green jobs” and to develop an inspiring vision of the green economy as a vehicle for achieving greater social equity.

Since then, many organizations have formed to advance this work. Legislation has passed at all levels, such as the federal Green Jobs Act, California’s landmark climate change bills (AB32 and SB375), and green building ordinances in local jurisdictions all over the country.

The current climate change landscape strongly resembles the state of transportation advocacy when I joined Urban Habitat in 2001. I remember being surprised then by the absence of organizations that represented those most impacted by poor transit policy and funding decisions—low-income communities and the transit dependent. Urban Habitat developed its transportation justice project to address this lack.

Our commitment to movement building grounded that work, as it does our current climate change strategy. At the state level, we will be coordinating with our allies throughout California to create a network of organizations working on climate justice. We aim to bring together organizations focused on ensuring that green jobs are available and accessible to low-income residents and communities of color; groups concerned about the environmental health implications of the growing solar industry; and those, like Urban Habitat, who are trying to influence the implementation of legislation such as AB32 and SB375. This network will provide a forum for like-minded organizations to share information and strategies, and the opportunity to exercise political and policy-making power withour having to be experts in all areas.

At the regional and local levels, Urban Habitat will also focus on implementation of SB375. We are studying the equity implications of elements of the legislation such as CEQA reform and pricing mechanisms. Utilizing our education and training program, we will develop learning opportunities that can help low-income communities of color engage effectively.

Urban Habitat Turns Twenty

In developing strategy for climate change work, Urban Habitat has two decades of experience in land-use, transportation, and planning to draw on. This year marks the organization’s twentieth anniversary, and we have a lot to be proud of. As one of the few social and environmental justice organizations working on a regional scale, we have been able to take on some of the larger decision-makers that perpetuate systemic and institutional racism. In this fight, our journal, Race, Poverty & the Environment, provides one of our most important tools for shining the light on disparities and promoting effective models for advancing equity. RP&E was started in 1990 in collaboration with our dear friend and ally, Luke Cole.

As many of you know, Luke was killed in a car accident this past summer. It was a huge shock to those of us who knew him and an enormous loss for the environmental justice movement. When people read the newspaper reports of Luke’s death, many people were surprised to learn that he was only 46 years old—not because he looked older, but because he accomplished so much during his lifetime. (See stories.)

In this issue of the journal we want to honor Luke’s contributions to the environmental and social justice movements. Luke did not need to experience injustice first-hand to join and often lead the fight. We are blessed to have had the opportunity to work with Luke on producing RP&E and we are committed to continuing his vision of a magazine that brings forward a framework for achieving racial and social justice.



Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

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Carbon Fundamentalism vs. Climate Justice

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

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

As Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) observes, “In the U.S. and across the globe, the movement for climate justice has been steadily growing; not simply demanding action on climate, but demanding rights-based and justice-based action on climate that confronts false solutions, root causes of climate change, and amplifies the voices of those least responsible and most directly impacted. Not only are we the frontline of impacts, we are the frontline of survival....”

UNFCCC should not be thought of as being just about climate change, nor should climate change be thought of as simply setting targets for reducing atmospheric concentrations of carbon. These negotiations are about everything: international trade; forests; food and agriculture; the rights of the indigenous and forest peoples; resource privatization; international finance (private and public); development rights; oceans; rivers; technology; intellectual property; migration, displacement and refugees; and biodiversity, to name a few. The reduction of emissions is only one part of the negotiations.

The Framework Treaty itself mandates that we “protect the climate system for the benefit of present and future generations of humankind, on the basis of equity and in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.” How we implement, calculate, and pay for it all is the heart of the matter.

The Battle of Seattle
At the third WTO Ministerial Conference in 1999, negotiations were stopped in their tracks by massive street protests outside the convention center and by concerted resistance from the governments of the Global South who were represented inside. The scale and breadth of the coalition against ever more inequitable trade agreements is a landmark in progressive organizing. Labor, environmentalists, faith-based organizations, and non-governmental groups of all sorts made common cause with the demands of the Global South. Despite six Ministerial discussions which have been organized since 1999, the WTO still has not been able to reach substantial new agreements and looks likely to miss its newest deadline in 2010.—Ed.

Inside the Outside
We all have a lot at stake. Ruling elites and corporations are exercising disproportionate pressure on climate policy both domestically and internationally to ensure that their interests—continued industrial exploitation of land and people in the service of growth and profit, and the commodification of atmospheric space through carbon trading—are preserved. Whereas, social movements like Via Campesina, Third World Network, the indigneous peoples’ movement, and international labor organizations, together with the African Union, a few Latin American countries, and the Association of Small Island States are working to create the political space for a rights-based, justice-based approach to ecological sustainability that addresses the historic causes of climate change and its disproportionate impacts.

In the United States, the Environmental Justice movement has given rise to the Climate Justice movement, which has fought to raise the voices of those communities least responsible but most severely impacted—viz., poor people of color and indigenous peoples—and demands a climate policy that redresses existing economic and environmental inequality. According to Nia Robinson, director of the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, “The successful creation of climate policy cannot happen without the input of communities that have suffered as a result of the United States’ fossil fuel addiction. Our government must begin to recognize these communities as experts or run the risk of creating policies that will do as much harm, if not more, than climate change itself.”

But Orin Langelle, co-director of the Global Justice Ecology Project believes that, "The Copenhagen climate talks have been hijacked. Copenhagen is becoming no more than a CorporateHaven for trade talks by corporations." The best we can hope for then is to stop some of the worst policies from taking hold and create the political space needed for social movements to pressure governments into responding to the needs of the people and the biosphere. If we can weaken the influence of corporations directly or through their proxy states, most notably the United States, we may be able to put the brakes on their attempted land, air, and water grab.

Carbon Fundamentalism: False Framing
The current focus on climate change provides an unprecedented opportunity to make much needed deep systemic alterations necessary to achieve greater equity, justice, and democracy as we weather the unavoidable transition. Unfortunately, the narrow focus on “carbon reduction” only serves to exacerbate the root causes of inequity.
Protest during the UNFCCC climate negotiations. © 2007 Anne Peterman GGJEP-GFCThe view that the problem is a technical one, which can be addressed through narrow technological or policy solutions, is a strategic construct of the center-right.

The dominant framin
g of the problem is that we must stabilize the amount of carbon in the atmosphere at 450 ppm, or more aggressively, at 350 ppm by 2050, to avoid a mean atmospheric temperature rise of 2° Celsius. Getting national governments to agree to such targets is considered better than nothing. Granted, the atmospheric carbon concentration levels are an indicator of the problem and must be addressed, but such a narrow framing hides the larger ecological context and the inequitable economic system that got us here.

The technical framing of popular films, such as “An Inconvenient Truth,” which detail the growth and consequences of atmospheric concentrations of carbon, including some doomsday predictions, only reveal the tip of the melting iceberg. Such films have been used to promote solutions that seem “practical” because they are politically “viable” and considered “reasonable” under the current system. In truth, many of these proposals—such as, the large-scale shifting of arable land use from food production to agro-fuel production, carbon trading regimes, and synthetic biology—have huge negative consequences for poverty, food security, water security, human rights, and biological and cultural diversity. Nor do they resolve the carbon problem.

As Anne Petermann of the Global Justice Ecology Project puts it, "Carbon Fundamentalism corrupts the science, ignores the interrelationships of the biosphere, and ignores human rights and equity by encouraging the continuation of over-production for over-consumption, entrenching the consolidation of profit and power."
Without a holistic, integrated approach to the ecological crisis that is grounded in science but predicated on justice and equity, we will simply shift the problem around, make it worse, and further compromise our survival.

    Tom Goldtooth - Voices for Climate Change
Tom Goldtooth

The climate bill, unfortunately, has been co-opted by the oil and coal industry. It’s a situation where we again have politics over science. And for our network and our constituency on the frontline of unsustainable energy policy, from Alaska to the tip of Argentina, to the indigenous people in Nigeria, it’s business as usual. We don’t see democracy in the process of decisions being made around climate policy, whether it’s domestically, like the Waxman-Markey bill, or globally. It’s business as usual. We had high hopes, and we still do, but it’s going to take the political will of the people, [not] discussions behind closed doors. That’s something that’s really a big concern for us here as American Indian and Alaska natives. Our communities and many of the people in America have been locked out of the process that’s happening between the big environmental organizations and big industry.

We are part of the 350 million indigenous peoples throughout the world. The [U.N. meetings concerning the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples] mark the first time that 400 indigenous peoples came together from every region in the world to discuss the impacts of climate change.

We all agreed that we are at the frontlines with disproportionate impacts. There has to be a human rights framework to address this issue. We came out of this meeting in consensus: we’ve got to have aggressive emission targets. We agreed that we need to push the industrialized countries like America and Canada to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 45 percent by 2020 using 1990 levels, and 95 to 100 percent by 2050. We have the technology to do that.

A well-financed and very powerful oil and coal industry is [in negotiations] with these large environmental organizations that don’t have constituencies. I think [support for the current climate bill] is a sellout position. I think the people of America are smarter than that. But America needs to have more understanding of where we’re at with climate change and what market-based solutions the government and corporations are developing.

Tom Goldtooth is the co-director of the Indigenous Environmental Network headquartered at Bemidji, Minnesota. This interview is excerpted from a transcript courtesy of Democracy Now. Photo courtesy of the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Dirt Behind the Clean Development Mechanism
One clear example of deliberate deception by the Industrialized North is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) established at the first round of the Kyoto Protocol. It is a system created to manage carbon “offsets” and give polluters the appearance of reducing their overall carbon emissions by funding purported “low-carbon” development in the Global South. Under this scheme, the European Union, for example, can increase the number of cars on its road but balance its carbon budget by paying a developing country to protect its own forests or use more efficient energy technologies. Not surprisingly, opponents of the scheme call it, “trying to lose weight by paying someone else to go on a diet.”

David Victor, a Stanford University Law Professor who coauthored a study of the CDM reveals that, "Between one- and two-thirds of all CDM offsets do not represent actual emission cuts." Another study by the non-governmental organization International Rivers, shows that nearly three-quarters of all CDM-funded projects were already complete at the time of their approval, hence not dependent on the funding. According to Payal Parekh, an oceanographer and climate scientist who works with International Rivers, “Ultimately, you cannot really prove or disprove whether a project is truly ‘additional,’ because it requires one to know what would have happened [without the funding]. Without the aid of a fortune teller's crystal ball, this is simply impossible.”

Clearly, CDMs provide little, if any, protection for poor communities and communities of color impacted by existing dirty industry and destructive offsets. The narrowly focused “offsets” often finance such ecologically destructive projects as mega dams, plantation forests, and industrial agro-fuels—projects which invariably result in the displacement of peoples and a violation of their rights. Yet, CDMs represent one of the primary financing mechanisms advanced by the rich countries and corporations.

On the other hand, several peoples’ movements around the world and nations, such as Bolivia and the entire African Union, are calling for “Ecological Debt” as a fair financing mechanism for mitigation and adaptation. Ecological Debt is the debt owed by the Industrialized North to the Global South for the “historical and current resource-plundering, environmental degradation, and dumping of greenhouse gases and toxic wastes,” according to Acción Ecologica, an environmental rights organization based in Quito, Ecuador. It is a reparations approach favored by impacted nations, as opposed to the “offset and obfuscate” approach supported by the United States and the European Union.

As Patrick Bond, director of the Centre for Civil Society in Durban frames it, there are basically two ways for the Global North to pay back the hard-hit Global South for the climate crisis: “Through complicated, corrupt, controversial [CDM] projects with plenty of damaging side effects to communities, or… through other mechanisms that must provide financing quickly, transparently, and decisively, to achieve genuine income compensation plus renewable energy to the masses.”

The Tipping Point
A recent poll by The Guardian of London revealed that almost nine out of 10 climate scientists do not believe political efforts to restrict global warming to 2° Celsius will succeed. “Given soaring carbon emissions and political constraints, an average rise of four to five degrees Celsius by the end of this century is more likely,” they say. Such a rise in temperature will almost certainly be catastrophic for life on this planet.

Additionally, a synthesis report on climate science issued in June this year warns that climate change will proceed faster than predicted over the next five years, and that we are running a very high risk of breaching some tipping points, including the melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

The scale and pace of the crisis demands immediate, forceful, and systemic action. We must fully appreciate and understand that we are in the throes of a climate crisis and that change is inevitable. What matters most now is how that change occurs and who leads the transition. History teaches that when societies and economies go through major transitions, the balance of social forces is incredibly important. The degree to which our new future embodies equity, justice, and democracy as we move through these economic and ecologic changes depends entirely on how well we position popular social movements to take control of the transition.

Road to Copenhagen Paved with Opportunities
Copenhagen is a strategic opportunity to further build a trans-local movement that integrates ecological sustainability and economic justice and coordinates the power of social movements to build the capacity of communities to weather the transition. Beyond Copenhagen, we must set our sights on the United States Social Forum in Detroit in 2010.
We’ve already seen the West Coast climate action against Chevron link the local impacts of fossil fuels in Richmond, Calif. to the global impacts of climate change. The Mobilization for Climate Justice ( is a national coalition that has anchored several actions in recent months, including ones at the launch of the United Nations meeting in New York and the G-20 meeting in Pittsburgh in September. It has actions planned to mark the 10th anniversary of the Seattle WTO.

Even as the United States Congress is poised to pass a climate bill that will commodify atmospheric space and give the worst industries the right to pollute, an explosion of local solutions are emerging across the country.
The time to act is now, while we still have room to breathe.

Gopal Dayaneni is on the planning committee of Movement Generation: Justice and Ecology Project and is a climate justice researcher for the Funders Network on Trade and Globalization. Active in movement organizing since the 1980s, he has worked with the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, the Design Action Collective, and Project Underground.

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Not only are we the frontline of impacts, we are the frontline of survival.

The Economics of Climate Change

By Noam Chomsky

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

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

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

The Conspiracy that Shaped Our Economy
The state-corporate program began with a conspiracy by General Motors, Firestone Rubber, and Standard Oil of California to buy up and destroy efficient electric transportation systems in Los Angeles and dozens of other cities. They were actually convicted of criminal conspiracy but given a mere rap on the wrist with a $5,000 fine. The federal government then took over—relocating infrastructure and capital stock to suburban areas and creating a huge interstate highway system under the (usual) pretext of defense. Railroads were displaced by government-financed motor and air transport.

The public played almost no role, apart from choosing within the narrowly structured framework of options designed by state-corporate managers, who were supported by vast campaigns to “fabricate” consumers with “created wants,” to borrow a term from Thorstein Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class.[1] These efforts grew out of the recognition—over a century ago—that democratic achievements have to be curtailed by shaping attitudes and beliefs towards the superficial things of life, such as fashionable consumption. It was necessary to ensure that the opulent minority are protected from the ignorant and meddlesome populace. A direct result was the atomization of society and the entrapment of isolated individuals with huge debts.

While state-corporate power was vigorously promoting the privatization of life and maximal waste of energy, it was also undermining the efficient choices that the market cannot or does not provide. To put it in concrete terms, if I want to get home from work in the evening, the market does allow me a choice between, a Ford and a Toyota, but it doesn’t allow me a choice between a car and a subway, which would be much more efficient. Even if everybody wants it—and that’s a social decision—the market doesn’t allow that choice. Now, in a democratic society, it would be the decision of an organized public, but that’s just what the elite attack on democracy seeks to undermine.

Retooling the Future: The D-I-Y Approach
The consequences of our state-corporate decisions are now before us in ways that are sometimes surreal. A couple of weeks ago, a Wall Street Journal article reported that the United States Transportation Secretary was in Spain to meet with high-speed rail suppliers. Europe’s engineering and rail companies are lining up for some potentially lucrative contracts for high-speed rail projects. At stake is $13 billion in stimulus funds that the Obama administration is allocating to upgrade existing rail lines and build new ones that would one day rival Europe’s.

Consider this: European countries are hoping to get United States taxpayer funding to build high-speed rail and related infrastructure, even as Washington is busy dismantling leading sectors of United States industry and in the process, ruining the lives and communities of workers who could easily do the work themselves. You couldn’t conjure up a more damning indictment of the economic system that’s been constructed by state-corporate managers.

Surely, the auto industry could be reconstructed and its highly skilled workforce used to produce what the country needs. It’s been done before. During World War II, we had a semi-command, government-organized economy. Industry was reconstructed for the purpose of war. It not only ended the Great Depression, it initiated the most spectacular period of growth in economic history. In just four years, industrial production just about quadrupled, laying the basis for the Golden Age that followed.

Warnings about the purposeful destruction of United States’ productive capacity have been made for decades. The late Seymour Melman[2] was among those who pointed the way to a sensible way to reverse the process. Even if the state-corporate leadership has different priorities, there’s no reason for passivity on the part of the public. With enough popular support, the so-called stakeholders—workers and community—could just take over the plants and carry out the task of reconstruction themselves.

One of the standard texts on corporations in economics literature points out that “Nowhere… is it written in stone that the short-term interests of corporate shareholders in the United States deserve a higher priority than… all other corporate stakeholders”—that is, the workers and community. In other words, state-corporate decisions are not determined by economic theory.

It’s also important to remind ourselves that the notion of workers’ control is as American as apple pie. In the early days of the Industrial Revolution, working people in New England just took it for granted that those who work in the mills should own them. They also regarded wage labor as being different from slavery, in that it was temporary—a view shared by Abraham Lincoln. There have been immense efforts to drive such thoughts out of people’s heads, to win what the business world calls “the everlasting battle for the minds of men.” On the surface, these efforts appear to have succeeded, but the ideas are latent in the American psyche and they can be revived.

For instance, about 30 years ago in Youngstown, Ohio, when United States Steel prepared to shut down a major facility that was at the heart of this steel town, there were substantial protests from the workforce and the community. There was an effort led by Staughton Lynd[3], albeit unsuccessful, to bring to the courts the principle that [worker and community] stakeholders should have the highest priority. With enough popular support, such efforts could succeed, and right now is a propitious time to revive those efforts. But first, it would be necessary to overcome the effects of the concentrated campaign to drive our own history and culture out of our minds.

Forgetting the Past
There was a very dramatic illustration of the success of this campaign just a few months ago. In February, President Obama went to Illinois to give a talk at a factory to show his solidarity with the working people. The factory he chose—over the strong objections of church groups, peace activists, and human rights groups—belonged to Caterpillar, a corporation known for its role in providing (what amount to) weapons of mass destruction to the Israeli occupied territories.

Apparently forgotten was Caterpillar’s decision in the 1980s—following Reagan’s dismantling of the air traffic controllers’ union—to rescind their labor contract with the United Auto Workers (UAW) and bring in scabs to break a strike. It was the first such occurrence in generations and a practice that was illegal in other industrial countries, apart from South Africa, at the time.

Obama was a civil rights lawyer in Chicago at that time and he certainly must have read the Chicago Tribune, which ran quite a good study of the events. They reported that the union was stunned to find that unemployed workers crossed the picket line with no remorse and Caterpillar workers found little moral support in their community. This is one of the many communities where the union had lifted the standard of living. Wiping out these memories is another victory in the relentless campaign to destroy workers’ rights and democracy, which is constantly waged by the business classes.
Unfortunately, even the union leadership failed to understand the campaign. It was only in 1978 that UAW president Doug Fraser recognized what was happening and criticized the leaders of the business community for waging a “one-sided class war… against working people, the unemployed, the poor, the minorities, the very young and the very old, and even many in the middle class of our society,” and for having “broken and discarded the fragile, unwritten compact previously existing during a period of growth and progress.”

In fact, placing one’s faith in a compact with owners and managers is a suicide pact. The UAW is discovering that right now, as the state-corporate leadership proceeds to eliminate the hard-fought gains of working people by dismantling the productive core of the economy, while at the same time, sending the Transportation Secretary to Spain for help—at taxpayer expense—to do what American workers could do themselves.

Strategies for a Functioning Democracy
The importance of short- and long-term strategies to build—in part, resurrect—the foundations of a functioning democratic society cannot be overstated. One vital short-term goal should be to revive a strong and independent labor movement. In its heyday, it was a critical base for advancing democracy and human and civil rights—the primary reason why it has been subjected to such unremitting attacks in policy and propaganda. Another immediate goal is to pressure Congress to permit organizing rights with the long promised Employee Free Choice Act legislation.

A longer-term goal is to win the educational and cultural battle that’s been waged with such bitterness in the one-sided class war. It means tearing down the enormous edifice of delusions about markets, free trade, and democracy that’s been assiduously constructed over many years, and to overcome the marginalization and atomization of the public.
Of all the crises that afflict us, the growing deficit of democracy may be the most severe and unless it is reversed, Arundhati Roy’s forecast might prove accurate in the not-so-distant future. The conversion of democracy to a performance in which the public are only spectators might very well lead inexorably to what she calls the “endgame for the human race.”

1.    First published in 1899, Theory of the Leisure Class was the first detailed critique of consumerism.
2.    Author of The Permanent War Economy and Pentagon Capitalism, Melman was a professor of industrial engineering and operations research at Columbia University, who wrote extensively on "economic conversion."
3.    The son of sociologists Robert Staughton Lynd and Helen Lynd, Lynd is a historian, professor, author, and lawyer who, during the 1960s and 70s earned a reputation as conscientious objector, tax resister, and civil rights activist.

Noam Chomsky is a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, political activist, and author of over a hundred books. He is also professor emeritus of linguistics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This article is based on a transcript produced by Democracy Now! of a speech given by Chomsky at Riverside Church in New York on June 12, 2009 at an event sponsored by the Brecht Forum.

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State-corporate power [is] vigorously promoting the privatization of life and maximal waste of energy, it was also undermining the efficient choices that the market cannot or does not provide.

Resilient Cities: Building Community Control

Oil is the life-blood of globalization. Along with its sister coal, it has made industrial capitalism hum at a feverish pace for the past 200 years. Globalization is the force that is pushing our ecological and economic systems to the brink. Should we choose to stay the current course, the planet’s health will face some serious and catastrophic tipping points.

The most common face of the crisis is climate chaos, but this is only one of several interconnected and mutually reinforcing problems: Toxic waste poisons our land, air, and water; a shortage of fresh water has left growing numbers of humanity without access to clean potable water; a food and agriculture crisis has resulted from land being industrially consumed and depleted to produce export crops; biological and cultural diversity are facing extraordinary rates of extinction; and indigenous communities are facing cultural and physical genocide. It’s apparent that our addiction to fossil fuels and a fixation on market-based ‘economic growth’ have placed the planet’s life-systems in a precarious situation.

Adrienne Maree Brown - Voices for Climate JusticeAdrienne Maree Brown

What inspires you to work for change?
My number one inspiration right now is not an organization or a person or an event, it’s the city of Detroit. I first went there a couple of years ago to do organizational development, and later for direct action trainings with Detroit Summer, which was founded by Grace Lee Boggs and her partner Jimmy Boggs. Their key lesson is, ‘Transform yourself to transform the world. It’s time to grow our soul’s capacity to deal with the world we’re living in.’

The tangible solutions that are now coming out of Detroit blow my mind. It’s not just young folks getting excited about these ideas and trying to implement revolutions. It’s the 30- to 50-year-old black men coming out of prison or unemployed, gardening and farming. It’s not about getting a job and being a cog in someone else’s system. It’s about liberated work, where you are playing a useful role in your community. Interview more

“Reclaiming democratic control over our food and water and our ecological survival is the necessary project for our freedom,” says Vandana Shiva, the celebrated author and physicist. To meet this challenge we need a well prepared and forward-thinking social justice movement that can help envision and build a post-globalized world based on local living democracies—deeply rooted in a sense of ecological place and centered on meeting its residents’ needs in an equitable way. “A global economy which takes ecological limits into account must necessarily localize production to reduce wasting both natural resources and people,” she writes.[1]

Modern industrial society’s failure to recognize this has led us to an untenable situation. As journalist George Monbiot points out, “If our economy grows at three percent between now and 2040, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those consumed since humans first stood on two legs.”[2]

Critical Political Opportunity for Urban Centers
From a grassroots perspective, building community resilience and higher degrees of material self-sufficiency will be critical towards ensuring that communities of color weather coming ecological transitions. The basic needs of urban communities of color—such as access to potable water, healthy food, and mass transit—will otherwise be at stake in an era of heightened ecological stress.

“The key to truly addressing ecological crisis [is not] buying more hybrid cars but collective action towards systemic change,” says Claire Tran, the national organizer at Right To The City Alliance. “That’s what’s needed if we want to achieve community resilience in this period of ecological transition.”

A useful bellwether for the future of urban centers in the United States may be the current situation in Detroit, Mich. Responding to decades of deindustrialization, capital flight, and governmental neglect, an intergenerational grassroots movement known as Detroit Summer has taken self-reliance to heart and built a citywide network of over 700 community gardens. As legendary civil rights activist Grace Lee Boggs recently wrote, “Detroit’s local foods movement has been a catalyst in the [r]evolution that is rebirthing Detroit as a city of Hope… The city’s early devastation by deindustrialization provided us with the space to start anew… it challenged us to make a paradigm shift in our thinking about social justice.”[3]

This paradigm shift has intertwined the concepts of community control and sustainable agriculture and is crafting an innovative path for other urban communities of color to emulate across the country. Adrienne Maree Brown, director of the Ruckus Society points out that, “It’s not young, white activists doing the gardening in Detroit [but] 30-, 40-, 50-year old black men coming out of prison, who are gardening and farming. And it’s no longer about getting a job and being a cog in someone else’s system. It’s about liberated work where you are actually playing a useful role in your community… Out of necessity, people have started sharing food and thinking of food as a central way to be in community with each other.” (See interview below.)

A New Kind of Positive Regionalism
The creation of local community resilience will require us to have a reflective and responsive relationship to our ecosystem. We must first learn to read a place if we are to establish a sustainable relationship to it. In turn, the creation of such resiliency will hinge upon the establishment of democratic control over decisions that affect our daily life and the places we live in. The primary function of renewed local and regional place-based economies will be the shared, equitable management of common resources—namely air, water, land, food, energy and labor—for the benefit of all. But in order to re-position rights to shared resources, we must first decommodify the resources or, as in the case of the right to pollute the atmosphere, refuse to commodify at all.

So, the chief arenas of struggle for the implementation of climate justice will increasingly be local and regional zoning boards and land-use policies, regional transportation policies, and regional water boards, to name a few. Understanding and managing ‘regional’ foodsheds, watersheds, smart growth plans, and transportation plans are key to implementing a vision for urban racial justice that is rooted in ecological place.

In San Francisco, for example, a community organization called POWER (People Organizing to Win Employment Rights) has initiated a partnership with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD)—the largest landholder in the city—to create community gardens, farmers markets, and flea markets on idle school district land. The use of these properties for free or at low cost supports community resiliency and self-reliance through the low-cost production of food and the creation of barter networks within the community. Such a collaboration also advances the concept of a public commons: idle land previously considered ‘private property’ and beyond the community’s control, is now treated as public property to be used for the common good.

Alicia Garza, the co-director of POWER, connects this campaign to a climate justice lens in the following way: “Community control has always been at the center of our political work as community organizers, but it’s become that much more important in this new period of global ecological transition… In this context, resilience—adapting to climate change from a grassroots perspective—must mean taking control of what this transition is going to look like in our communities. We are standing at the threshold of a new political moment.”

Community-Based Solutions
Building community food security and designing equitable, healthy regional “foodsheds” may mean different things to different regions as each has distinct watersheds, agricultural surroundings, climate patterns, as well as distinct power dynamics at play. But the concept of “community resiliency” opens up incredible opportunities for organizers to generate innovative strategies for linking our intrinsic rights to natural resources (that have been historically denied), to creative, participatory projects and campaigns that build community power. Done right, the process can dramatically lower carbon footprints at the local and regional level, rebuild the health of local and regional ecosystems, and institute new systems of governance rooted in equity, justice, and self-determination.
Furthermore, as we build our capacity for self-governance by asserting ourselves in existing political arenas where policy is set, we must also build the transcendent institutions that we will need to better manage our commons. Democratic worker cooperatives, urban food security projects, regional exchanges, local micro-lending systems, publicly run water management entities, decentralized energy systems—all of these will be necessary in a socially just post-carbon society.

As the examples from Detroit and San Francisco illustrate, elegant solutions are waiting for our implementation. “I feel extremely empowered and extremely hopeful with the emergence of these new movements shaping a new ecological paradigm and a new earth democracy,” says Vandana Shiva.

1.    Shiva, Vandana. Earth Democracy, South End Press, 2005, pg. 5.
2.    Monbiot, George, The Guardian, December 4, 2007.
3.    Boggs, Grace Lee. “Detroit's 'Quiet Revolution,’” The Nation, September 2009

Mateo Nube, the lead author of this article, is also the director of the Movement Generation (MG) Justice and Ecology Project, which provides in-depth analysis and information about the global ecological crisis and facilitates strategic planning for action among leading Bay Area organizers working for economic and racial justice in communities of color.

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Interview with Adrienne Maree Brown—Voices of Climate Justice

Adrienne Maree Brown - Voices for Climate JusticeVoices of Climate JusticeWhat inspires you to work for change?
My number one inspiration right now is not an organization or a person or an event, it’s the city of Detroit. I first went there a couple of years ago to do organizational development, and later for direct action trainings with Detroit Summer, which was founded by Grace Lee Boggs and her partner Jimmy Boggs. Their key lesson is, ‘Transform yourself to transform the world. It’s time to grow our soul’s capacity to deal with the world we’re living in.’

The tangible solutions that are now coming out of Detroit blow my mind. It’s not just young folks getting excited about these ideas and trying to implement revolutions. It’s the 30- to 50-year-old black men coming out of prison or unemployed, gardening and farming. It’s not about getting a job and being a cog in someone else’s system. It’s about liberated work, where you are playing a useful role in your community.

Watching “The Greening of Cuba” reminds me of Detroit. Detroit has had an economic crisis for decades. The auto companies have divested, now it’s this urban rural city. Detroit’s population is less than half what it was. Out of necessity, people have had to start community gardens and urban farming. Music and food are being used to organize people. Potlucks provide a communal place to talk about issues and eat together.

Detroit has the highest statistics in terms of crime, unemployment, and drop out rates. Those are the symptoms of an unhealthy society. Those negative aspects can create a real darkness and depression. But that darkness can be the womb from which our new societies are born, where we can create the world we want to see.

Detroit is full of ‘midwives.’ They say, ‘We’re birthing it. We have to do love. We have to transform ourselves.’ In all of our cities, we have to begin to live the world we want to see. Our actions have to be towards the world we want. We need to be guerilla gardening and turning people’s heat and water on. We need to be the guerillas putting up solar panels in the hood. That’s what Detroit has taught me, and what I’m trying to bring into my leadership in Ruckus.

How is Ruckus integrating climate justice with its work?
The over-arching vision of Ruckus is that all communities acheive self-determination and sustainability. We prioritize directly impacted communities—folks who are impacted by economic and environmental injustice and are angry about their situation. We help them determine how to strategically take action, so they can reorient themselves to the long-term vision of self- determination and sustainability.

People often try isolated organizing. It’s regular for a community group to tell us, ‘We really need help to stop this coal fire power plant from being built,’ or 'We need help to stop water contamination.’ But we have to start seeing isolated issues in the larger context of ecological justice for all. There are many false solutions out there. For example, carbon trading—a long-term, comprehensive lens shows that that's not a compromise we can make. We don’t want to perform an action as a compromise, or a reaction. We want action taken towards a real solution.

How are you organizing?
At Ruckus, we train people in nonviolent direct action and civil disobedience. All of the circumstances relating to the ecological crisis—waste and toxins, food and agriculture, water—are changing the quality of life for communities today. We provide training and support to groups facing these problems. And at our camps we often see folks working on several of those issues and learning together. From our work within the Indigenous People's Power Project, and now learning with Movement Generation, it's clear that those issues naturally intersect. They are all community resiliency issues. We prioritize communities with long-term visions to build community strength.
Detroit Community Garden
How does direct action fit into your view of how social movements make change?
As a non-negotiable component for success. Direct action is where escalation happens, where people can play an active role in advancing a negotiation, where we see and feel each other's solidarity. At its best, direct action is where we advance the frontline of our movement work by visualizing the change we seek. Direct action is how we first saw images of blacks and whites at lunch counters together in the south. Today, guerilla gardens are one example of a way to show that we know how to live more sustainably and we will push our leaders to catch up with us.

It's about framing the issue in a way that inspires people to act, not just react. I think the key need of our movements today is visionary voices and actors who are living a viable future and making it accessible to our communities.

What sort of organizing and consciousness raising do you see as crucial to building an effective international movement that is rooted in local concerns?
I think we need movements where folks practice what they preach. We need movements that aren't centered on what the powers that be can grant us, but rather on what we can build and practice together. We need urban-rural relationships that are based on shared water and food sources. We need movements that show that everyone must change—not just policies, or rich folks or poor folks or middle class folks.

What’s the difference between liberated work and green market economy?
The green jobs frame seems to be shifting people from low-income jobs that aren’t environmentally focused to jobs that are “sustainable.” It's great to train folks to install solar panels, but if those solar panels are not going to be in Bayview or West Oakland, if those solar panels are going to be in the wealthier parts of San Francisco, in Marin, and in places outside of their communities, what is really changing in the long run? The essential inequalities of a market-driven society aren't challenged.

Liberated work is when we are practicing solutions that benefit and liberate all communities. A 'green economy' doesn’t mean we are liberated from the concept of jobs where we toil for the benefit of others. Let us use our minds and our hearts and exist as human beings, not fit into someone’s assembly line and make things for the class above us. To be liberated is to be free to work for our own communities, to thrive, to be in symbiotic relationships based on our needs and our dreams.

In terms of sustainability, I don’t believe we can have a green future or any future, unless we understand that we have to change the power dynamics based on race, class, and gender. We have to invert the power structure. We must pour our resources and relations into those who are the most impacted and have the most need—that means our children, our elders, those who are sick and dying. They should become the recipients of our energy. That’s where our wisdom comes from; and our future. A truly sustainable society takes care of itself. You may be driving a Prius but if you don’t know how to talk to your family or connect with your community and land, it’s not going to be sustainable no matter how much you call it green.



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Our actions have to be towards the world we want. We need to be guerilla gardening and turning people’s heat and water on. We need to be the guerillas putting up solar panels in the hood.

The Federal Legislative Agenda

Climate justice protestors arrested in Richmond, California. ©2009  Brooke Anderson

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

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

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

As currently written, ACES will:

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

Cap and Trade Rewards Utilities and Wall Street
President Barack Obama campaigned against free allocations and for a 100 percent auction of permits as the only approach to “cap and trade” that’s fair to consumers. Despite this pledge, the ACES bill awards upwards of 85 percent of pollution allowances—many of them good until 2030—free to the electricity sector. Consequently, little to none of the revenue from this "cap and trade" scheme will be used to protect low- and moderate-income households from energy price increases, as envisioned by Obama.

Wall Street investors, on the other hand, are guaranteed a five percent (plus inflation) rate of return per year for all carbon credits they purchase. This is likely to create an artificial market in carbon that could balloon in value to about $2 trillion by 2020 and even lead to an out-of-control carbon derivatives market that could generate volatility in energy prices. The end result might very well be a reprise of the Enron debacle in California, where speculators profited immensely from sudden spikes in energy prices brought on by artificial shortages, while the average household, hospital, school, and business suffered.

Furthermore, the ACES bill opens up a staggering two billion tons of "sub-prime” carbon offsets—half from developing countries and half from domestic sources—which represent almost 30 percent of all United States greenhouse gas emissions. (Carbon offsets take place when industries claim emissions reductions by investing in projects around the world that, in theory, reduce greenhouse gas emissions.)

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) claims it's virtually impossible to verify whether carbon offsets represent real emissions reductions. Numerous other studies have found that carbon offsets in developing countries often subsidize business-as-usual projects, such as hundreds of large hydropower dams in China. In other cases they are creating perverse incentives for dirty industries to dislocate the poorest from their land or their livelihoods.

Domestically, it is estimated that most carbon offsets would reward the agricultural sector for implementing such “climate-friendly” practices as “no-till” agriculture. Under ACES, over 80 percent of California farms would receive “carbon credits” worth billions of dollars for no-till practices that they—like most American farmers—already have in place. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Energy Information Administration estimates the market for agricultural offsets to go up $24 billion per year, dwarfing all other United States farm subsidies combined. While domestic farmers may be happy with the short-term payment for no change in the status quo, farmers everywhere will continue to suffer as the climate spins more rapidly out of control.

Duplicity on Renewable Energy

The ACES bill sets a target of 20 percent by 2020 for renewable energy, but up to eight percent of that target can be met with efficiency measures. Moreover, the ACES definition of "renewable energy" makes this target all but meaningless because instead of focusing on windmills, solar panels, and geothermal plants, it duplicitously recasts municipal solid waste incinerators as "waste to energy" projects. This waste could be recycled—generating 10 times as many green jobs as an incinerator, according to the Teamsters—or composted, providing rich fertilizer. In developing countries, such “waste to energy” schemes qualify as carbon offsets under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol and result in thousands of poor people being dislocated from their land and their livelihoods. Within the United States such incinerators are usually situated in poor communities where their release of toxic byproducts are often blamed for high rates of cancer and other illnesses among the populations.

Finally, in an attempt to gain support from industry for the bill, lawmakers have agreed to strip the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from all power plants, including coal burners, under the Clean Air Act. This tradeoff, no doubt, is a result of the EPA’s announcement on February 17, 2009, that it would take a fresh look at a Bush administration memo, which prevented the regulation of CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants and other sources. As a result, 17 coal-fired power plants, which would have produced roughly 12,000 megawatts of power—enough to meet the needs of 3.6 million homes—were put on hold. They would also have generated and released about 84 million tons of CO2 per year, along with sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, mercury and other pollutants linked to high rates of asthma, lung disease, and developmental defects in children.

Subsidies for Fossil Fuel Economy
There is absolutely no reason to invest taxpayer dollars on subsidies to the very oil, gas, and coal companies that are the number one cause of climate change, especially when scientists are warning us that our climate is changing faster than envisioned in the worst case scenarios. Yet, the ACES bill offers subsidies in the form of tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry for the very costly and unproven technology of “carbon capture and storage.”

A recent study by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) in partnership with the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars estimates that the subsidies for non-renwables are two-and-a-half times more than those for renewable energy. (The study found that more than half the subsidies for renewables—$16.8 billion—are attributable to corn-based ethanol, which is widely disputed for its climate benefits and for causing food prices to spike in developing countries.)
Institutions like the World Bank, the United States Export-Import Bank, and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation must cease financing fossil fuels. Private finance will follow suit once these public institutions stop sending the signal that such investment is in the public interest. There is no shortage of low-carbon energy options, but there is a shortage of money for investing in those options. Short- and medium-term government resources should be directed at creating an efficient, renewable, and clean energy system, which includes solar, thermal, and photovoltaic electricity, plug-in hybrids and electric cars, a smart grid, vehicle to grid technology, and public transportation.

Overcoming a Crisis of Debt and Greed
The climate crisis is driven by debt, which in turn is driven by greed. Debt forces countries to remove environmental and social protections to allow for free trade and to roll back regulations that protect their forests. It forces them to extract oil, gas, and coal for export or to readily accept outsourcing of energy-intensive industries to their shores. In short, debt gives developing countries little choice but to get on the carbon-trading bandwagon, further expanding foreign control over their resources.

Within the United States, the current recession gives poor communities little choice but to trade away their rights to good-paying jobs, housing, health care, and a clean environment. These choices all have climate consequences.
An expanded green jobs program for Americans and a policy to adequately help adversely affected displaced workers can help us shift toward a green economy and restore some of the rights we have forfeited. But green jobs will not get us far unless we simultaneously put in place strong financial regulation—driving Wall Street away from speculation on issues as sacred as human health and planetary survival—to help us solve the climate crisis.  

Daphne Wysham is co-director of the Sustainable Energy and Economy Network at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington D.C.

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Unnatural Commodities: Who Owns Nature?

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

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

This “bioeconomy” vision seeks to have us burn, refine, or otherwise process all manner of plant matter—from woodchips and grasses, to corn and vegetable oils—for heat and power, for transportation fuels, for bioplastics, biochemicals, biomaterials and bioproducts. The study sponsored by the Department of Energy promotes a world where virtually anything currently made from petroleum can be produced in “integrated biorefineries.” While the promise of this vision is to replace the oil refineries of today with somethinggreener and cleaner, in fact the production of “feedstock” and its byproducts will directly impact the same sorts of communities already burdened by extraction, refining, and delivery of fossil fuels.

These technologies all depend very heavily on advances in biotechnology, including new GMO varieties (i.e. corn that is more amenable to being converted to ethanol, or trees with reduced “lignin,” a structural material that interferes with processing) and GMO and synthetic microbes for processing.
All agricultural products, forests, in fact, virtually anything living of remotely biological origin (and the underlying soil and water resources needed for their production) are increasingly assigned a price tag as somebody’s “sink” (offset for dirty emissions) or source of “renewable energy.” The resulting scramble over access to land, soils, food, and water is already resulting in human rights abuses, land grabs, and hunger.

Food is likely to be the touchpoint. We have already seen the beginnings with corn ethanol impacts on food prices forcing more of humanity into starvation. Urban communities, largely reliant on the distant “food system,” with little developed capacity to grow their own, and lacking resources to pay premium prices, will rapidly suffer the effects.

Unfortunately, policy measures like ACES have restricted themselves to consideration only of “solutions” that embrace market fundamentalism. Now, the ultimate commodities are up for sale: carbon—a fundamental element of all living things—plants, animals, soils, the entire biosphere and the atmosphere. If ACES becomes the basis for United States climate policy, access and control over these new markets and their financial flows will not likely land in the hands of the world’s poor and marginalized communities, who most likely will be left hungry and choking on the dust.

Rachel Smolker is a researcher and campaigner with Climate S.O.S. and the Global Forest Coalition.

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Ensuring a Clean Energy Economy for All

The fight to pass the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) through the House of Representatives this summer saw unprecedented leadership from communities of color. That left more than a few people bewildered. Green For All, Partnership for Working Families, the AFL-CIO Building Trades, the NAACP, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and other civil rights, labor, community, social justice, and environmental groups formed a broad coalition that successfully helped strengthen and pass the bill with the support of representatives Bobby Rush, Emmanuel Cleaver, Ben Ray Luján, and other members of the Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucuses.

Why were low-income communities taking such a strong leadership role in climate and energy legislation? Quite simply because a clean energy economy has enormous potential to bring better health, new jobs, and economic opportunity to low-income communities and communities of color—provided some inclusionary practices are written into the very foundation of such an economy. The coalition helped strengthen the legislation so that it provides broader access to and more opportunity for all of America’s communities.

Clean Energy = Jobs
In September 2009, President Obama said, “I firmly believe that the nation that leads the clean-energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy." According to a recent report from Green For All, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Political Economy Research Institute, a $150 billion investment in clean energy is projected to create 1.7 million jobs. That’s three times the number of jobs a similar investment in fossil fuels would produce! But what do these broad economic strokes mean locally? And how will low-income and communities of color benefit from them?

Two provisions that made it into the House bill at the eleventh hour because of the coalition’s efforts ensure that low-income communities and local workers will get training for and have access to quality jobs in the clean energy economy. They are, funding for the Green Jobs Act and the Green Construction Careers Demonstration Project. Both provisions are based on the successes of local efforts around the country to assure quality standards and hiring provisions to benefit low-income communities.

Quality jobs in construction—an industry that is central to the country’s transition to clean energy—have been declining for years. Low-income communities have seen enormous negative impacts from a lack of investment and job loss. To combat these trends, building trades unions and community-based organizations across the country are working together to make construction careers a reality for low-income people. This is no small challenge.

Real Workers Win Quality Jobs
To successfully target and employ low-income workers requires outreach and recruitment in low-income communities, orientations to the industry and the rigors of a job site, access to pre-apprenticeship training, and policies for publicly funded and subsidized construction projects that create demand for new workers. Across the country, local coalitions are working to pass such policies, and to create the recruitment and training programs needed to make them successful.

Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) provide an effective and proven tool for improving job quality in construction and giving low-income workers access to the jobs. At the Port of Oakland, for example, a PLA signed in 2001 outlined an ambitious set of goals for assigning work hours: 50 percent to residents of the local business area and 20 percent to apprentices from low-income communities surrounding the port. Ultimately, residents of targeted neighborhoods worked 31 percent of all construction hours associated with a modernization project that took almost nine years to complete and provided a significant number of low-income job seekers an entry into construction careers through the apprenticeship program.

Real workers see real benefits from such an approach. John Harriel is an electrician from Los Angeles who lived through some tough times—including a stint in prison—before finding a career through a union apprenticeship. He is now a home-owner who made about $100,000 in 2008. While the community labor agreements have been successfully implemented at a local and regional level, the Green Construction Careers Demonstration Project in the clean energy bill marks their introduction into federal law.

A Gateway to the Middle Class
The Green Construction Careers provision of ACES allows the Secretaries of Labor and Energy to target employment and training opportunities with high-road contractors in the building trades towards workers and communities that traditionally lack access to middle class type, career-track jobs. On large projects, the proposal allows enactment of community workforce agreements similar to the ones successfully negotiated in Los Angeles and at the Port of Oakland.

The second key provision in ACES—nearly $1 billion in funding for green jobs training under the Green Jobs Act—creates another necessary opportunity for workers from low-income communities to access jobs. This “pathway out of poverty” training is essential for people without high levels of formal education, who have suffered the worst effects of recession and pollution, to enter America’s clean energy workforce and find middle-class careers in the green economy.

Battle Ahead
Although the two provisions have been won in the House of Representatives, we are still a long way from seeing the bill signed into law. While the Senate fights over the clean energy legislation, it is up to us—the low-income communities and communities of color—to join forces and continue to lead the way for an inclusive clean energy economy.

Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins is chief executive officer of Green For All and Leslie Moody is executive director of Partnership for Working Families. Green For All is a national organization dedicated to improving the lives of all Americans through a clean-energy economy ( The Partnership for Working Families is dedicated to building power and reshaping the economy and urban environment for workers and communities (

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Urban Solutions

Green for All backs the

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

San Francisco’s Climate Plan

By Wade Crowfoot

The frightening consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly familiar to Americans: rising sea levels, severe and unpredictable weather, frequent storms and droughts, and less reliable water supplies. Less familiar, perhaps, is the scale of the impact of climate change on poorer communities, typically located in environmentally sensitive areas, but with fewer resources to adapt to the changing conditions. If you can imagine a series of Hurricane Katrinas occurring in slow motion among poor communities across America, you get the picture.

Consider, for example, San Francisco’s southeast sector, home to the Bayview and Hunter’s Point neighborhoods, as well as to the city’s largest waste treatment plant. Projections of probable sea level rise predict that entire portions of the sector may be underwater in the coming decades. When it happens, the poor infrastructure and substandard housing typical of the neighborhoods will have little chance of holding up against the expected flooding.

Such a nightmarish scenario is not meant to scare, but rather to drive home the point that environmental and social justice advocates have a clear stake in fighting climate change in American cities. The price of not engaging in the effort is simply too great.

Cities as First Responders
The story of urban leadership on the climate crisis begins amidst the lost years of the Bush administration, when mayors across the country united in action even as President Bush and his functionaries denied the existence of human-made climate change. In 2005, several hundred mayors signed the United States Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement. Spearheaded by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, the Agreement committed signatory cities to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to Kyoto Protocol levels—that is, seven percent below 1990 levels. To date, 997 cities are party to this agreement.

This public commitment from a wide range of United States cities to fight climate change—from New York City to Shishmaresh, Alaska—has spawned a series of actions and strategies to reduce greenhouse gas pollution: from the highly symbolic (placing solar panels on city halls) to the deeply fundamental (investing in public transportation).

San Francisco was an early leader in the movement, and the results of these efforts are both promising and instructive. In 2004, Mayor Gavin Newsom and the Board of Supervisors adopted an ambitious Climate Action Plan centered on reducing greenhouse gas pollution 20 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2012. No city, at that point, had set itself such an ambitious goal. The first part of the plan called for calculating San Francisco’s communitywide carbon footprint, followed by several active recommendations on how to reduce that footprint—from improving non-auto transportation options to making residential homes more energy efficient to finding “greener” ways to dispose of waste.

San Francisco Leads with its Heart
San Francisco’s Climate Action Plan also helped envigorate efforts started by Mayor Willie Brown and continued in earnest by Mayor Newsom, to pursue environmental justice in the city’s southeast sector by closing down two major fossil fuel burning power plants. In fact, many of the actions targeted in the plan—if realized—had the potential to improve the lives of the most vulnerable San Franciscans.

In the last five years, climate protection has framed some of the city’s most important environmental projects—such as, improvements to Muni, the city’s public transit system. Given that 54 percent of San Francisco’s emissions come from car use, getting more people out of their cars and onto Muni buses and rails (or riding bikes and walking) was seen as the single best way to tackle the problem. But first, city leaders recognized, they would need to make Muni transport reliable, quick, and safe and funding within Muni’s budget was reprioritized accordingly to focus on improving the system. If the city succeeds in achieving this goal, the result should be a more reliable transit system for those who depend on public transportation.

Building more housing within transit-rich San Francisco is another critical part of the Bay Area effort to accommodate future housing demand without increasing the regional carbon footprint through sprawl development. Mayor Newsom set a specific goal of developing 15,000 units in five years, which is well on its way to fulfillment. The challenge for San Francisco, however, is to keep the new housing affordable. Despite having the nation’s strongest inclusionary housing requirements, San Francisco residents continue to leave the city for more affordable housing.

Environmental progress in San Francisco, galvanized by its climate action plan, is undeniable. A recent update of the city’s carbon footprint revealed a six percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels—among the highest in urban America. The city has also achieved a 72 percent recycling and composting rate and the number of solar panels installed on residential and commercial rooftops each month has tripled. Other goals, such as efforts to shift commuters from autos to public transportation, remain works in progress.

Social Justice and a Plan for Adaptation

San Francisco’s 2004 Climate Action Plan broke new ground with its vision of what a city could do to combat global climate change. It also helped San Francisco advance some key goals of environmental and social justice: equitable transportation options; decreased energy costs for residents; and lessened auto emissions. However, what is less clear from the plan is the specific impact the new policies will have on the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Since San Francisco did it, there’s been a wholesale evolution of climate planning in American cities to specifically prioritize environmental and social justice benefits from climate action. New plans across the country focus on creating green collar jobs for citizens excluded from the traditional economy, prioritize energy projects that help low-income residents, and seek to ensure the active inclusion of community groups in urban climate planning. The city of Oakland recently adopted such a plan and San Francisco is in the process of updating its climate goals in partnership with community groups.

In recent years, there has also been a movement in San Francisco and other cities toward “adaptation planning,” in recognition of the fact that even if we are successful in reducing emissions now and in the future, certain irreversible but significant impacts from the climate change already underway are inevitable. The goal of adaptation planning is to ensure that we make long-term decisions now to avoid the more pernicious impacts on our vulnerable communities.

In summary, San Francisco’s relatively long experience with combating climate change carries three important lessons: First, real progress toward reducing greenhouse gas pollution in cities is achievable. Second, actions taken to reduce pollution frequently overlap key environmental and social justice goals. Third, the involvement of justice advocates in climate action and adaptation planning ensures that such efforts result in better living conditions for all urban residents, including vulnerable populations who, like the victims of Hurricane Katrina, stand to lose the most from climate change. 

Wade Crowfoot is the west coast political director of the Environmental Defense Fund. He most recently served as director of climate protection initiatives for the city and county of San Francisco and is now a member of the board of directors of Urban Habitat.

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Carmen Rojas—Voices of Climate Justice

Voices of Climate Justice

As we see a concerted push by local service providers, community organizers, and think tanks to link their work to larger efforts that impact city, state, and national climate change policy, it is crucial that foundations step up as partners and allies in this work. In city after city, it is clear that movement building for policy change builds the power of low-income communities of color to have a stake and a voice in the political and economic processes that shape their lives. Too often, environmental grant makers shirk their responsibility to address the issues affecting these communities, which are disproportionately impacted by issues of pollution and waste, food access and quality of life, and employment and sustainability. This is a call for a new moment in grant making and charitable giving. centered on partnership, solidarity, and movement building.

As someone new to the field of philanthropy, I am consistently disappointed by the often cited issue of capacity used to explain why certain grantees are funded while others remain under resourced. Capacity has come to replace the concept of risky and is overwhelmingly used to describe community-based organizations working in low-income communities and communities of color and led by committed leaders of color. If there is a capacity issue with an organization in one of our communities, the Mitchell Kapor Foundation understands that it is our responsibility to step up and provide the necessary resources to these organizations and work in partnership with them to make the change we hope to see in the world.

Organizations working to engage low-income communities of color in the climate change debate are invaluable resources to these communities and to the issues we hope to address through our grant making. They are able to build local awareness of the issue of climate change and how it impacts our communities and the globe. They are the vehicle through which our community members feel empowered and engaged in the battle for green jobs, clean air, and healthy food. They are able to collect the stories of how these issues impact everyday people and use them as a jumping point for policy transformation. I would not only like to recognize this work, but also call foundations to support this work and join as partners in pushing for racially and economically equitable solutions for climate change.

The Mitchell Kapor Foundation, along with our partner social and racial justice foundations and affiliation groups like Bay Area Blacks In Philanthropy (BABIP) and the Social Justice Infrastructure Funders Group (SJIF) are at the forefront of prioritizing building relationships and movements with our nonprofit partners. Whether we are supporting organizations to participate in the Environmental Justice Advisory Committee, which is meant to inform the scoping plan of AB32 on behalf of low-income communities of color, or funding the work of Communities for a Better Environment, Asian Pacific Environmental Network, or Brightline Defense Fund to actively engage in actions to halt the expansion and development of high polluting industries in these communities, we are committed to funding for the sake of movement building, for the sake of empowering and engaging community members, and for the sake of giving individuals and families an opportunity to reimagine and rebuild their neighborhoods, cities, and regions.

Carmen Rojas is the grants officer for the Green Access program at the Mitchell Kapor Foundation.

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Oakland Coalition Charts New Course on Climate Strategy

In the wake of the recent debate over national climate legislation and the disastrous outcome of the House Bill, 380 different organizations sent a letter to California Senator Barbara Boxer, head of the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, urging her to draft a Senate bill “that provides the transformational change and greenhouse emissions reductions required to avert catastrophic climate impacts.”[1] But the efforts of these organizations to argue for meaningful legislation have for the most part been ignored.

Emily Kirsch

The current economic model that we’ve been following for decades is failing us. Through our policies, the coalition is suggesting an alternative model that can address inequities that are pervasive in the current economic system and its environmental impact.
What we can influence is local politics, local initiatives, and local legislation. If we can get what we want via our local government, then the City of Oakland sits in a position where it can set regulations on polluting industry, institute carbon fees that can benefit the community, create a revolving loan fund for solar installations or energy efficiency retrofits, or develop gray water systems, all specifically for low-income people.
Often, we’re told the city doesn’t have any money, which in a sense is true, but we are spending so much money to put people in prison and to wage war in the Middle East. Rather than subsidizing oil companies, let’s subsidize local green businesses that are providing green collar jobs. It’s the responsibility of local community organizations to provide models for the federal government to follow. I don’t think the solutions are going to come from the top down. They must start from the bottom up. Then we can show the world that the solutions we’ve created are not just for the upper class, but for everybody.
Kirsch is convener of the Oakland Climate Action Coalition and works at the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

Despite the fundamental failure of the national legilsative effort, new climate organizing initiatives are taking place. One of these, the Oakland Climate Action Coalition, represents a promising new strategic approach.

The Coalition was formed in April, 2009 to promote a strong Energy and Climate Action Plan for the city of Oakland, Calif. Pulled together by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, the Coalition represents an unusual alliance of forces made up of about 35 local organizations, including environmental and environmental justice groups, green businesses, labor unions, community-based organizations, and advocates for green jobs and sustainable development.

“What draws these unlikely partners together is the goal of a just and equitable energy and climate plan for the city,” says Ella Baker Center’s Emily Kirsch. “Whether you are a green enterprise looking to grow your business in a green and sustainable way; or a labor union looking to ensure jobs in a new economy for your members; or an environmental group that has done the research to know the catastrophic effects of global warming; or a community organizer who sees the effects of poverty on your constituents—all of us have a stake in making sure that this Energy and Climate Action Plan is done right for the City of Oakland.”

The coalition is pushing for a climate plan that not only reduces greenhouse gas emissions, but also promotes local sustainability. It is advocating policies that concern building and energy use; transportation and land use; consumption and solid waste; food, water, and urban agriculture; community engagement; and adaptation to climate change.

A central emphasis for the Coalition is creating local green-collar jobs in fields, such as energy efficiency retrofits, home weatherization, green construction, public transportation, recycling and materials reuse, and urban agriculture. The idea is to ensure full access to such jobs for communities facing the highest unemployment and poverty rates, and to provide job training and other community benefits. “We don’t need any more pathways into prison for Oakland’s youth,” says Kirsch. “What we do need are pathways into green-collar jobs.”

Another focus is on the health and economic impacts of global warming. “Global warming is going to have the biggest impact on working people and poor people,” says Donal Mahon, business agent for International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6. “These people are going to be the least able to afford the impact of what happens; the costs are going to hit them the hardest.”

Margaret Gordon

Ten years ago, no one was talking about sustainability. The sustainability part of the Oakland Climate Action Coalition’s program is what has been missing from the conversation, not only amongst progressives, but among elected officials and other stakeholders. We’ve got to make sure that our policy makers, our elected officials, have a disaster plan for their constituents and look at other economic models.

Do we build sustainability or do we focus on profits? Can sustainability have as much staying power as profit? Will status quo economics force out sustainability, adaptation, and all the things basic to our survival?

If you look at the auto industry, the banks, and Wall Street, the trickle down process does not work. The auto workers sided with the auto industry against cleaner auto emission standards, thinking that it would guarantee their jobs. Now they don’t have either clean air or their jobs.

The government has got to be in the place where it’s not about the “I” but about the “we.” If we are in the place of sustainability instead of this old profit curve, then we have something different: we have people who have consciousness and think long range, not just about a $200,000 salary, but about influencing something that is sustainable.

Gordon is an Oakland Port Commisioner and codirector of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project.


The integration of energy, food, transportation, air and water quality, and new jobs is meant to create a livable community and sustainable economy that will benefit Oakland residents, especially its most vulnerable communities. “The Coalition is bringing many different sectors and interests to the table to talk about how we are going to improve our city. It’s comprehensive and multisector, with the principle of justice grounding it,” says Mari Rose Taruc, state organizing director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN).

The Coalition is also distinctive for its explicit efforts to organize low-income families and communities of color around an integrated sustainable development program, which involves mobilizing the people to demand policies, programs, and resources that are economically sustainable and benefit the community. “The local policy and grassroots organizing work that we are doing,” says Kirsch, “is always in the context of how we can redirect funds from a system that is inequitable and failing, to one that is just—working to strengthen our communities.”

“If we are successful in our community engagement strategy,” says Taruc, “it actually builds movement that is beyond the most immediate goals of the Coalition.”

The Coalition’s emphasis on vulnerable communities and their need for sustainable economic development mirrors the unfolding worldwide struggle for climate justice. “The Oakland Energy and Climate Action Plan is not just about energy use or greenhouse gas emissions,” says Kirsch, “but about climate justice.”

An Equitable Solution and its Implications
Given that the United States alone is responsible for about 30 percent of the cumulative greenhouse gases in the atmosphere[2] and also has the most wealth of any country in the world (33 percent of family wealth),[3] it has by far the greatest obligation to solve the climate crisis.The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework, a broadly recognized basis for establishing equitable obligations, estimates the United States’ share to be about one-third of world obligations.[4]

It is time that the United States shouldered its responsibility and put forth an equitable solution to global warming that would encompass the following points:

  • Drastic emissions reductions and a timely shift to renewable energy sources.
  • Transition to a sustainable economy with distributed energy, waste reduction, efficient public transportation, and sustainable agriculture, among other things.
  • Demilitarization (no wars for oil or other resources) and international cooperation.
  • Funding of renewable energy technology and adaptation assistance for developing nations.

Implementing such a comprehensive program would require a massive struggle against powerful ruling class interests in the United States. Nevertheless, if we cannot carry out such a program, there is little likelihood that the climate crisis can be averted or that climate justice can be achieved.


Mari Rose Taruc

Mari Rose Taruc
What the nonprofit system has done is influence groups to take on single issues. But our communities and our lives are not single issues. The environment is where we live, work, and play, and we have to be true to the multiple facets of our lives and communities.

Our coalition is conducting workshops in the flatlands neighborhoods, the community organizations and the work they are doing in the community about climate change—how it threatens lives the plans being conducted to make sure that the people are taken care of. We’ve seen how community, economic, and redevelopment projects in the past have been ways to gentrify our neighborhoods. We’ve seen low-income communities of color get pushed out.

One of the things we are learning about in the coalition is how to promote local businesses so that folks who live in a community can actually serve the community, allowing money to circulate back into it. Hiring locally leads to smaller developments in tune with the needs of the neighborhood. The Coalition would like buildings in Oakland powered locally instead of relying on solar farms out in the Palm Springs desert. When we improve the lives of people of color and low -income communities, it improves the lives of folks in the hills too.

Taruc is the State Organizing Director, Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN)

What the program requires is a long-term, sustained, and uncompromised effort to democratize energy, to rationalize production and distribution based on human needs rather than on maximizing profits, to dismantle the United States military establishment, and to reclaim the wealth of the super-rich to pay the climate debt.

Political Shortcomings and Challenges
The climate program outlined above is a very formidable one indeed.
It challenges the climate movement to devise strategies for building a stable national political power base. It also requires the movement to contend with the massive political and economic power of the ruling elite, which makes up one percent of the population but exercises almost absolute political control at the national level.[5] Creating a viable climate movement obviously has a long and arduous road ahead.

For one thing, the greater part of the movement has no political program independent of the Democratic Party (which itself has no program). As Ted Glick, long-time climate leader and policy director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network puts it, “We need people who can help the climate movement avoid the trap of blindly following Democrats who say one thing but, once in power, are willing to settle for something very different… [We need] people who understand the way in which corporate power operates.”[6]

So far, the Oakland Climate Action Coalition (OCAC) has charted a promising new course. First, by focusing on that sector of the population which has contributed the least to global warming but has the most to lose from its impact, the Coalition has aligned itself with the billions of people in the developing world. Second, the Coalition is struggling for a sustainable economic development model based on greenhouse gas reductions, community planning, and local green job development. Third, it has brought together a broad group of forces representing a variety of class interests and is pursuing a community engagement effort to contest for political power at the municipal level.

Beyond the Fight in the Street
The approach of the Coalition extends and deepens the efforts of other organizations struggling for climate justice.
A number of these organizations, represented by the United States Mobilization for Climate Justice (MCJ), see themselves as internationalist and explicitly anti-capitalist: “Urgent action to solve the climate crisis must include a complete transformation away from the dominant economic model of incessant and unsustainable growth, oppression and injustice,” says the MCJ?manifesto.[7]

Donal Mahon

West Oakland is already the most polluted neighborhood in the state of California. The Fruitvale district is among the worst five. If you live in the flatlands, you’re going to live 10 years less than the people who live in the Oakland hills.

The impacts of global warming happen incrementally. People don’t see how it is going to have an effect on them. Some are worried: we need economic recovery, we need work, we’re losing our houses and our cars. Others would like things back to where they were. However, if we go back to where we were, the situation will only get worse. There will be very few rich people, plenty of poor people, and a lot more dead people. We must reconnect and support each other, and maybe then we will generate a new movement.

When people don’t participate, the few with money make the rules. We can’t fight them with money. That means we have to fight them with people. We must mobilize people who don’t ordinarily vote or participate, to get fired up about their future to get out in front and change what is going on.
Our goal as a coalition is to encourage people in the flatlands to become more aware, more involved, and more active. To change the way they are living, they have to step in and be part of the movement, and be part of the leadership of the movement. Once they start having an effect and seeing that they can change their community, it won’t matter how much money Chevron has.

Mahon is the business agent for International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 6.


This part of the movement employs mass mobilization tactics and street heat, targeting specific “greenhouse gangster” corporations, environmental hotspots, such as mountaintop removal, and meetings of international financial or ministerial bodies (such as the December 2009 round of climate negotiations in Copenhagen). Over the last several years, it has brought hundreds of thousands of mostly young people into its fold and its energy and dynamism continues to put a spotlight on global warming. However, reflecting on this aspect of the movement, David Schweickart remarks that “it will [have to] do much more than disrupt high-profile gatherings of the world’s elite. It will [have to] involve itself in the patient, difficult labor of contesting structural evil locally as well as globally, and of building counter-institutions.”[8]
In other words, climate justice forces have to develop a more comprehensive strategy for building a stable base of political power if they want the movement to mature.

The OCAC’s strategic approach has the potential of building a stable and significant power base that, if successful, could be replicated in cities across the United States. With a political constituency of this type, we could envision a climate movement that could begin to exercise influence where it matters—at the national level.

1.    Letter to Barbara Boxer, August 26, 2009.
2.    Table 6.3, Cumulative CO2 Emissions: Comparison of Different Time Periods. Climate Analysis Indicators Tool. []
3.    World Distribution of Household Wealth, United Nations University, World Institute for Development Economics Research. []
4.    Table ES1, page 19, The Greenhouse Development Rights Framework, Revised Second Edition, November, 2008. []
5.    Domhoff, William G. Wealth, Income, and Power: Who Rules America. May, 2009. []
6.    Glick, Ted. If You Want a Revolution, Start With a Clean Energy One., July 11, 2009. []
7.    Open Letter to the Grassroots: Help Organize for Urgent Action on Climate Change, Mobilization for Climate Justice.
8.    Schweikart, David. After Capitalism. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2002, page 5

Al Weinrub is a San Francisco Bay Area activist and writer active within the scientific community and labor movement. He is the former chair of the National Writers Union, UAW Local 1981. He also created the photos for this story.

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Racial and Gender Justice

New Orleans Montage

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

Just Climate Policy —Just Racial Policy

Everywhere we turn, the issues and impacts of climate change confront us. One of the most serious environmental threats facing the world today, climate change, has moved from the realm of scientists and environmentalists to the mainstream. Though the media is dominated by images of polar bears, melting glaciers, flooded lands, and arid deserts, there is a human face to this story as well.

Climate change is not only an issue of the environment; it is also an issue of justice and human rights, one that dangerously intersects race and class. This article focuses on the impacts on African Americans living in the United States. But a similar analysis can be made for many similar communities across the world.

In all cases, people of color, indigenous peoples, and low-income communities bear disproportionate burdens from climate change itself, from ill-designed policies to prevent it, and from the side effects of energy systems that cause it.

African American Condition Predicts Outcomes
Widespread economic and environmental impacts tend to have concentrated or amplified effects on African Americans. Over a broad range of policy options, the policies that are best for African Americans are also best for the majority of people living in the United States. An effective policy to address the challenges of global warming cannot be crafted until race and equity are part of the discussion from the outset and an integral part of the solution.

African Americans are 13 percent of the United States population and on average emit nearly 20 percent less greenhouse gases than non-Hispanic whites per capita. Though far less responsible for climate change, African Americans are significantly more vulnerable to its effects than non-Hispanic whites. Health, housing, economic well-being, culture, and social stability are harmed from such manifestations of climate change as storms, foods, and climate variability. African Americans are also more vulnerable to higher energy bills, unemployment, recessions caused by global energy price shocks, and a greater economic burden from military operations designed to protect the flow of oil to the United States.

Storms, Heat Waves, and Health
The six states with the highest African American population are all in the Atlantic hurricane zone and are expected to experience more intense storms resembling Katrina and Rita in the future.[1] Global warming is expected to increase the frequency and intensity of heat waves or extreme heat events.[2] African Americans su?er heat death at 150 to 200 hundred percent of the rate for non-Hispanic whites.[3, 4]

Seventy-one percent of African Americans live in counties in violation of federal air pollution standards, as compared to 57 percent of the white population.[5] Asthma has strong associations with air pollution, and African Americans have a 36 percent higher rate of incidents of asthma than whites. [6]

A 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gases would reduce infant mortality by at least two percent, asthma by at least 16 percent, and mortality from particulates by at least 6,000 deaths per year. [7] Other estimates run as high as 33,000 fewer deaths per year.[8]

Insurance and Relief
In 2006, 20 percent of African Americans had no health insurance, including 14 percent of African American children—nearly twice the rate of non-Hispanic whites.[9] In the absence of insurance, disasters and illness (which will increase with global warming) can be cushioned by income and accumulated wealth. However, the average income of African American households is 57 percent that of non-Hispanic whites, and median wealth is only one-tenth that of non-Hispanic whites.[10]

Racist stereotypes have been shown to reduce aid donations and impede service delivery to African Americans in the wake of hurricanes, floods, fires and other climate-related disasters as compared to non-Hispanic whites in similar circumstances.[11]

Energy Price Shocks
African Americans spend 30 percent more of their income on energy than non-Hispanic whites. Energy price increases have contributed to 70 to 80 percent of recent recessions. The increase in unemployment of African Americans during energy-caused recessions is twice that of non-Hispanic whites, costing the community an average of one percent of income every year.[12] Reducing economic dependence on energy will alleviate the frequency and severity of recessions and the economic disparities they generate.

Cost of Wars for Oil
Oil company profits in excess of the normal rate of pro?t for United States industries cost the average household $611 in 2006 alone and is still rising. The total cost of war in Iraq borne by African Americans will be $29,000 per household if the resulting deficit is financed by tax increases, and $32,000 if the debt is repaid by spending cuts.[13] This is more than three times the median assets of African American households.

A Clean Energy Future Creates More Jobs
Fossil fuel extraction industries employ a far lower proportion of African Americans on average compared to other industries. Conversely, renewable electricity generation employs three to five times as many people as comparable electricity generation from fossil fuels, a higher proportion of whom are African American.

Switching just one percent of total electricity generating capacity per year from conventional to renewable sources would result in an additional 61,000 to 84,000 jobs for African Americans by 2030.[14] A well-designed comprehensive climate plan achieving emission reductions comparable to the Kyoto Protocol would create over 430,000 jobs for African Americans by 2030,15 reducing the African American unemployment rate by 1.8 percentage points and raising the average African American income by three to four percent.[16]

Combat Racism for Health and Efficiency
Racism, both institutionalized and individual, is a driver of sprawl, inefficient housing, and irrational transportation policy.
The senseless and wasteful energy, transportation, and housing policies that drive up energy use and greenhouse gas emissions also damage the physical, environmental and economic health of the African American community. Because racism causes bad climate policy, the two problems cannot be solved separately. Historically and currently, struggles of relatively powerless people to be free from environmental burdens have been catalysts for essential breakthroughs in environmental policy that benefit everyone.

Climate Justice: The Time is Now
Ultimately, accomplishing climate justice will require that new alliances be forged and traditional movements be transformed. Global warming amplifies nearly all existing inequalities and injustices that are already unsustainable become catastrophic. Thus, it is essential to recognize that all justice is climate justice and that the struggle for racial and economic justice is an unavoidable part of the fight to halt global warming. Sound global warming policy is also economic and racial justice policy. Successfully adopting a sound global warming policy will do as much to strengthen the economies of low-income communities and communities of color as any other currently plausible stride toward economic justice.

Domestic reductions in global warming pollution and support for such reductions in developing nations financed by “polluter pays” principles provide the greatest benefit to African Americans, the peoples of Africa, and people across the Global South.

Currently, legislation is being drafted, proposed, and considered without any significant input from the communities most affected. Special interests are represented by powerful lobbies, while traditional environmentalists often fail to engage people of color, indigenous peoples, and low-income communities until after the political playing field has been de?ned and limited to conventional environmental goals.

A strong focus on equity is essential to the success of the environmental cause, but equity issues cannot be adequately addressed by isolating the voices of communities that are disproportionately impacted. Engagement in climate change policy must be moved from the White House and the halls of Congress to social circles, classrooms, kitchens, and congregations.

The time is now for those disproportionately affected to assume leadership in the climate change debate, to speak truth to power, and to assert rights to social, environmental, and economic justice. Taken together, these actions affirm a vital truth that will bring communities together: Climate Justice is Common Justice.

1.    U.S. Census Bureau.“The Black Population: 2000,” Census 2000 Brief, August 2001.
2.    Patz, J., et al. “The Potential Health Impacts of Climate Variability and Change for the United States: Executive Summary of the Report of the Health Sector of the U.S. National Assessment,” Environmental Health Perspectives 108, No. 4 (2000). U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey.
3.    Whitman, S., et al. “Mortality in Chicago Attributed to the July 1995 Heat Wave,” American Journal of Public Health 87, No. 9 (1997): 1515-18; 2001.
4.    McGeehin, M. and Mirabelli, M., “The Potential Impacts of Climate Variability and Change on Temperature-Related Morbidity and Mortality in the United States,” Environmental Health Perspectives 109 (2001): 185-189.
5.    Keating, M. and Davis, F. “Air of Injustice: African Americans and Power Plant Pollution” (Washington, DC: Clear the Air, 2002).
6.    National Center for Health Statistics: National Health Interview Survey, 2004; Chen, J., et al. “Different Slopes for Different Folks: Socioeconomic and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Asthma and Hay Fever among 173,859 U.S. Men and Women,” Environmental Health Perspectives 110 (2002): 211-21; Mannino, D., et al. “Surveillance for Asthma—United States: 1980-1999,” CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 51(2002):1-16.
7.    Hoerner, Andrew J. and Robinson, Ni. “A Climate of Change: African Americans, Global Warming, and a Just Climate Policy for the U.S.”(Oakland: Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative and Redefining Progress, 2008), 13.
8.    Davis, D. et al., “Short-Term Improvements in Public Health from Global Climate Policies on Fossil-Fuel Combustion: An Interim Report from the Working Group on Public Health and Fossil-Fuel Combustion.” Lancet 350 (1997): 1341-49.
9.    U.S. Census Bureau, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2006,” Current Population Reports 60-233 (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, August 2007).
10.    Wolf, Edward N. “Recent Trends in Household Wealth in the United States: Rising Debt and the Middle-Class Squeeze,” Levy Economics Institute of Bard College, Working Paper No. 502 (June 2007).
11.    Hoerner and Robinson, “A Climate of Change,” 14.
12.    Hoerner and Robinson, “A Climate of Change,” 22.
13.    Hoerner and Robinson, “A Climate of Change,” 28.
14.    Hoerner and Robinson, “A Climate of Change,” 30.
15.    Hoerner and Robinson, “A Climate of Change,” 30.
16.    Hoerner and Robinson, “A Climate of Change,” 35.

This article is excerpted from a comprehensive report written by J. Andrew Hoerner and Nia Robinson enitled “A Climate of Change” published by the EJCC Initiative and available in full at their website,

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National Council of Churches Calls for Climate Action

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

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

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

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

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

If rain-fed agriculture yields are reduced by 50 percent, 263 million people will be negatively affected. Seventy percent of Africa’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. Economists suggest that crop revenues could drop by 90 percent by the year 2100 as a result of climate change.
Global climate change will also be keenly felt by United States communities of color. For instance, asthma will increase and will disproportionately impact African Americans, who are nearly three times as likely to be hospitalized or killed by asthma than whites.

African Americans are also disproportionately impacted by deaths during heat waves and from worsened air pollution. Future heat waves will be most lethal in the inner cities of the northern half of the country, such as New York City, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia, where many African American communities are located.

Unemployment and economic hardship associated with climate change will fall most heavily on the African American community. According to a report from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, reducing emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels would mitigate these adverse health effects of climate change, while concomitantly decreasing air pollution related mortality, saving an estimated 10,000 African American lives per year by 2020.

If we have a commitment to moral vision and justice, the reality of the growing global climate change crisis calls for us to respond with speed, justice, and proper stewardship.

This article was adapted from the National Council of Churches’ Climate and Church report. Carmichael is the eco-justice program director at the National Council of Churches.

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Mililani Trask: Indigenous Views

Mililani B. Trask is a native Hawaiian attorney and expert in international human rights law. She is a founding member of the Indigenous Womens Network and has been a guest lecturer at the University of Hawaii and the International Training Center for Indigenous Peoples, in Greenland. She is one of the primary drafters of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which passed the UN General Assembly in 2007, and served as the Pacific Indigenous Representative to the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. She served two four-year terms as Kia Aina (Prime Minister) of Ka Lahui Hawaii, the Sovereign Hawaiian Nation. 

How do you see climate change impacting indigenous island peoples’ subsistence and health?
Indigenous peoples' livelihoods and their cultural survival are being directly threatened. For example, the Pacific island states are experiencing significant increases in the frequency of cyclones and storm surges, which destroy housing, roads, hospitals, and telecommunications systems. They are causing countless deaths and people go missing and are never found. In the past two years, Samoa, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, [and the Philippines] have all declared national disasters. In Fiji, the total sugarcane crop was lost and major damage done to schools and hospitals. The vast majority of people in the Pacific basin live within 1.5 kilometers of the ocean. 

We’ve also seen a corresponding increase in problems of drought. For instance, when we go back to the last significant El Niño event, the drought in Fiji wiped out two-thirds of their crops. Lower rainfall is also one of the problems that occur when you have a severe El Niño. In 1997 and 1998, 40 of the atolls in the Federated States of Micronesia had no drinking water, and the government had to introduce water rationing, requesting that the United States government bring in desalination equipment.

We must also look at the significant impact on the Pacific island fisheries. We know that tuna, a major fish for protein as well as trade in the Pacific, is a pelagic fish that moves based on water temperature. If the temperature becomes warmer, the migration patterns and the migration timing change. Consequently, during the peak migration period, the Samoans are not able to catch tuna for months. This impacts the people’s ability to survive from day to day in the Pacific Islands because, as the Pacific people say, “The ocean is our refrigerator.” And because 70 percent of the world’s tuna catch comes from the Pacific, representing 2.5 billion New Zealand and Australian dollars, it negatively affects the global economy, as well as our health.

Maintaining the fish population requires healthy coral. Coral bleaching was, at one time, limited to a very small area in the Pacific. It is now evident in the Hawaiian archipelago, in Tahiti, French Polynesia, in Palau, and in parts of Melanesia. The corals depend upon a certain algae for survival. When the temperature rises, the algae is prematurely released. And if the temperature remains at a high level, the corals will die. This threatens the lowest rung on the food chain, not just for pelagic fish, but for all of the other edibles that the indigenous peoples of the Pacific rely upon.

With the increase in temperature there has been a major increase in mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria and dengue fever. Hawaii has seen its only instances of dengue fever in the last few years. How significant is it?

It’s life threatening. In the case of Papua New Guinea, in their Western Highland province, the number of malaria cases reported in the year 2000 was 638. Five years later, there was an 800 percent increase in the number of malaria cases.

We are also seeing some efforts to adapt. Right now in Fiji, there is a major plan underway to try to protect the water resources along the shorelines. The indigenous people are trying to build walls to relocate populations from the coastline areas to the highlands. This is occurring in Fiji, Solomon Islands, Papua, the Marshall Islands, and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Indigenous peoples of the Pacific are trying to do what they can to change their reliance on traditional food crops. In Fiji, there is an effort to look for and cultivate salt-resistant staple crops because of the tidal surges and their impact on soil quality. They are trying to plant mangroves and looking for grasses that can halt erosion and tolerate salt water. But the truth is, their efforts have not been as successful as they had hoped simply because they do not have the financing, or the availability of land. When we talk about moving populations so we can plant mangrove, we are actually taking away land that is badly needed for subsistence agriculture. Even as you move to mitigate the damage, you are losing the ability to be self-sustaining in other ways.

What do you see as the most positive possible outcome of the climate convention in Copenhagen?

Twenty-two percent of the governments in the world that have signed onto the UN Climate Change Convention are actually small island states, including 14 independent Pacific states. They are very strong in holding the line for more responsible emissions standards to be met. However, 22 percent is a minority. I'm concerned that when the votes are called on the final language, they may not have the numbers. However, the wheel is still in spin and many things can happen before the December Copenhagen meeting.

I have to confess that I have a great deal of concern about how positive an impact we can expect. We have already reviewed the report of the G-7 countries for 2009. It's very clear that they have no interest in taking an aggressive approach to climate change. It's very clear that they do not want to set strong and enforceable caps for emissions.
We will have some very strong voices of indigenous leadership there, but I'm concerned that those voices may be drowned out by voices of other indigenous leaders who are being selected to participate, by such organizations as the United Nations Program for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN REDD).

We see evidence of it when we look at what occurred in Anchorage, Alaska,* where every effort was made to prevent the real Pacific voices from participating. Instead, the steering committee brought in employees of the United States. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Agency in Honolulu sent their entire office as Pacific representatives, but did not provide funding for the real indigenous leaders of the Pacific who have tracked this issue for years to attend. This tells us that a real effort is being made to subvert the true voices of the Pacific.

You refered to the UN REDD. Could you explain briefly what that is and what it does?
The UN REDD was a directional initiative that came out of the Climate Change Convention. The initiative was supposed to provide an incentive to polluting states, mostly the industrialized states of the North, to cut down on their emissions. They were allowed to set targets and balance their continuing practices of pollution by purchasing and trading carbon credits. Another facet of the REDD initiative was that polluting states could reforest areas in the South in an attempt to boost the planet's ability to cope with the carbon emissions with replanted forests.

The REDD initiative has not really been positive because its definition of “forest” is not really about natural forest. Their definition of forest is, “a collection of trees.” This means that all over the world, especially in places like Indonesia, what you are seeing is not the replanting of endemic forest, which indigenous peoples need for cultural survival, but thousands of acres of biofuel cultivation and monocropping. The oil palm plantation phenomenon has resulted in massive human rights violations: indigenous peoples being evicted from their traditional lands so that millions of oil palms can be planted—plants that are foreign to the indigenous cultures, that will not feed them, nor heal them, but will result in their eviction from traditional lands.

One the things that upsets me the most is the built-in bias: north versus south. Rich versus poor. The developed countries versus the underdeveloped countries. This kind of categorization simply doesn't work when you talk about climate change because the Earth is an integrated system. The native forests in the United States, which were primarily on American Indian land, have all been decimated by industrialization. The companies responsible for that overdevelopment in America should be able to rebuild, to work with indigenous native Americans to put back those endemic forests. But under the carbon trading plan, the American companies have to go through Guatemala or Africa to invest in reforestation in order to have the benefit.

What are the climate change implications of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was passed in 2007?
From the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People [UNDRIP], it is clear that indigenous peoples' human rights are somewhat different in that they have a right to the integrity of the environment, to live in a cultural way, to access their traditional food staples, to gather their traditional medicines, and to participate freely and in an informed way in the decision-making that is going to impact their lives. All of these rights are clearly defined.  So, when we look at the negative impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples, we have to frame climate issues in terms of human rights violations.

The G-7 states, the larger industrialized states, even some in the Global South, like India and China, are saying that the requirement that they leave fossil fuels and develop renewable energy violates their right to economic development. Well, the truth is that states don't have a human right to economic development. Human rights are for humans, not for political institutions. With the passage of this Declaration we can now clearly define the human rights violations against indigenous peoples.

I am concerned when I see the outcome document of what was billed as the Anchorage Global Summit because it presents two options that are diametrically opposed. You cannot say that anyone has an absolute right of economic development because it is balanced against the rights of others. You may have a human right to pursue economic development, but you cannot pursue it to the extent that it tramples upon and violates the human rights of others. That can no longer be tolerated with the passage of the Declaration. I believe that we will see claims filed with the UN human rights treaty bodies. It’s going to change the complexion of the debate.

* The deliberations of the Anchorage Summit concluded with a resolution proposing two options: 1. The phase-out of fossil fuel development and a moratorium on new fossil fuel developments on or near Indigenous lands and territories. 2. A process that works towards the eventual phase out of fossil fuels, without infringing on the right to development of Indigenous nations.

Sottolin Weng is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, California.

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War, Climate, and Women

By Maryam Roberts

War, militarism, and climate change are destroying countless communities worldwide and women, particularly women of color in the Global South, are paying the highest price. “It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern conflict,” says Major General Patrick Cammaert, a former United Nations peacekeeping operation commander in Africa.[1] And to be a poor woman, even outside the theater of war, is to be at risk for starvation and displacement.

Of the approximately 50 million people displaced from their homelands, about 80 percent are women and children.[2] Of the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1 a day, 70 percent are women. Among the chronically hungry people in the world, 60 percent are women. Climate change will only exacerbate these numbers.
Although rarely responsible for the conflicts or the greenhouse gas emissions creating this global climate crisis, women are the first to feel the impacts—whether through sexual violence at the hands of male soldiers (including women in the military themselves), or displacement (along with children) by war and occupation. Women also are often left alone to head households when their husbands, fathers, and brothers are killed in combat. And the very normalization of militarism and violence in our communities supports domestic violence.

The Cycle of War and Consumption
The resource wars foreseen in the Pentagon’s much ballyhooed study of climate change are already underway in Iraq and Afghanistan.[3] “The U.S. military is the greatest user of oil in the world,” says Gwyn Kirk of Women for Genuine Security. “They’re fighting a war in Iraq so that they can carry on using oil.”
This self-reinforcing cycle of militaristic acquisition and inequitable use of natural resources aggravates green house gas emissions, causing greater climate instability and a further depletion of resources, which in turn leads to more wars of acquisition and even greater climate instability.
Since former President Bush declared the War on Terror eight years ago, military spending and the consequent greenhouse emissions have surpassed all previous levels. In 2000, the United States military spent just under $300 billion; in 2008, it spent over $700 billion.[4]
For 2004, military fuel consumption increased 27 percent over the average annual peacetime usage of 100 million barrels.[5] In just three weeks of combat in Iraq, the Army burned 40 million gallons of fuel—or almost two million gallons per day—an amount equivalent to the combined gasoline consumption of all Allied armies during the four years of World War I.

Women: Most Affected but Least Responsible
During these years of the so-called War on Terror, over 50 percent of the national budget priorities have been given to the military, while education and health care are given just over six percent.[6] One tangible side effect of taking away resources from healthcare and education—industries dominated by women in our society—has been the displacement of women from viable employment.

“The oppression of women is a key piece in the hierarchy of the military,” says Kirk. “It parallels racial hierarchy, and the hierarchy of people abusing the environment. Colonization, militarism, and racism interlock and what links them together is this hierarchy of power, respect, and value.”

In Syria, where more than 1.2 million Iraqi refugees now live as a result of the United States occupation of Iraq, the women and girls who bear the brunt of supporting their families are forced to turn to prostitution to make a living.[7]
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the largest climate-spawned disaster to hit the United States, 180,000 people in Louisiana lost their livelihood. Of these, 103,000 were women. Health, education, and hospitality, all women-dominated industries, were hit hardest. Also, households headed by low-income single mothers in New Orleans has dropped from 18,000 in 2005 to 3,000, indicating a significant displacement of these women and their children.[8] Every time war and climate change erode the lives and rights of women, they further damage the fabric of our families, our culture, and our societies.

No Conclusion without Inclusion of Gender Justice
To effectively end the compounded impacts of climate change and militarism on women domestically and globally, it is imperative that we view the issue through a gender and racial justice lens and look to women’s everyday lives for inspiration.

“Justice has a history [of] recognizing that women bring their forces to the table, and they bring their own solutions,” noted Michael Dorsey, assistant professor in Dartmouth College’s Faculty of Science, at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poland last year. “…justice isn’t technical, justice is not in the realm of experts only, it’s in the realm of everyday activities of women on the ground.”[9]

Another delegate to the UNFCCC, climate change activist Rose Mary Enie, who represented Ghana and Cameroon, pointed out that in Africa today, three million people lack access to clean and safe water. Now climate change is adding to their existing problems. Enie was part of the delegation from Gender CC—a network of women from the most impacted areas of the Global South who are working to ensure a gender perspective to climate justice.[10]

“Most of the women in rural communities depend on water from a river or stream,” explained Enie. “With the droughts that are happening in some parts of Africa today, the rivers are [dry]. These women have to walk longer distance[s]. So you can imagine how much time is wasted by these women just [to] get water for cooking… for taking their bath… for washing their clothes. The woman is the caretaker of the home, so you can imagine what impact climate change has made on the woman.”[11]

Obviously, the problem cannot be resolved by focusing on the symptoms—drought and hurricanes, war and displacement—of climate change and militarism. We need to tackle the causes, which require a drastic shift in our patterns of resource consumption. And that cannot happen unless women are given a place at the table and a voice in the proceedings.

Copenhagen 2009 through a Feminist Lens
The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 must keep social justice and gender equity at its core. Without consideration of those two issues, any strategies for resistance and survival will be meaningless.

It was a point Sharmind Neelormi of Bangladesh was trying to make at the UNFCCC in Poland, when she said, “We are trying to integrate more intensely the gender aspects of climate change into the policy. We are trying to lobby our parties, our government negotiators, and the UNFCCC process to be much more sensitive on gender issues.”[12]
Gender CC was a step in that direction. As co-founder Ulrike Roehr explains, “We try to provide a space where we [can connect] to each other, and discuss and share all our thoughts, and try to enable people to create a new community and make a shift in communicating [with] each other. Our vision is to have a lively and colorful network.”[13]
Closer to home, in the Bay Area, members of Mobilization for Climate Justice West—a coalition of 35 organizations— which subscribe to the core principles of climate justice. David Solnit, a volunteer organizer says “That means making space for the most impacted folks, domestically and globally, and looking to local and people-based solutions rather than corporate and market-based solutions.”

1.    Worsnip, P. “U.N. categorizes rape as a war tactic.” Reuters. 2008.
2    “The World of Refugee Women at a Glance.” Refugees Magazine. Issue 126. United Nations High Commission for Refugees. 2002.
3.    “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.” Military Advisory Board. The CNA Corporation. 2007.
4.    Sharp, Travis. “Growth in U.S. Defense Spending Over the Last Decade.” Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. February 26, 2009.
5.    Martinot, Steve. “Militarism and Global Warming.” Synthesis/Regeneration. Winter 2007.
6.    Hellman, Christopher and Sharp, Travis. “The FY 2009 Pentagon Spending Request—Discretionary.” The Center for Arms Conrol and Non-Proliferation. February 4, 2008.
7.    Zoepf, Katherine. “Desperate Iraqi Refugees Turn to Sex Trade in Syria.” New York Times, May 29, 2007.
8.    Ginn, Dana, et al. “Looking Both Ways: Women’s Lives at the Crossroads of Reproductive Justice and Climate Justice.” Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, 2009, p. 5.
9.    Van Meygaarden, Jacqueline. “Gender Justice in Times of a Changing Climate.” Gender CC, 2008.
10.    Ibid.
11.    “Women’s Voices on Climate Change.” Gender CC. 2008.
12.    Van Meygaarden, “Gender Justice.”
13.    Ibid.

Maryam Roberts is the former Peace and Solidarity program director at the Women of Color Resource Center in Oakland, California.

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

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

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

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

A forecast of the what’s to come can be seen in Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s infamous jail for immigrants. “Poor people have been dying of thirst with no access to water or air conditioning in the heat,” reports Michael Woodard, poverty scholar and Poor News Network correspondent.

In essence, that’s the risk that climate change poses. Poor people can’t just move to higher ground, purchase imported foods, or upgrade their roofing, windows, and foundation to keep from being displaced by the next hurricane.

“We are forced to live in poor neighborhoods near poisonous industries that already are killing us. If you add increased heat and decrease of land to the sick soup—we wont last long in a global warming reality,” says Ingrid De Leon, with Voces de Immigrantes en Resistencia.

The surprising thing is, we already know a lot about how to reorganize our economies for moving from “surviving” to “thriving.” Indigenous and poor people have long known that sharing resources with each other, practicing interdependence, and building real community are the best route to independence.
POOR is an indigenous and poor people-led organization of revolutionary poets, art-makers, multimedia producers, educators, and poverty scholars (as we call ourselves) who see the urgent need to be producing and educating so we can stop being talked about, researched, reported on, criminalized, and legislated against.

We have launched an equity campaign for a project we call “homefulness,” a sweat-equity cohousing model for landless families, which includes a community garden for localizing and producing our own healthy food, and several micro-business projects to build sustainable economic support for all of us. So far we have established a social justice and arts café, a family-friendly project-based school, and a community media teaching and production center.

My mother, Mama Dee as she was called, died from complications of her smog-related asthma and heart condition. As I was growing up she and I talked constantly about how to get away from the poisonous environments where we were forced to live—near power plants, freeways, and factories. In the end, Mama Dee succumbed to the illnesses our poverty caused. But her spirit of resistance lives on in our community and in the mobilizations to work for climate justice across the planet.

Lisa Gray-Garcia a.k.a. Tiny is a de-colonized Taina poverty scholar, the single mother of her son Tiburcio, the daughter of Dee, and coeditor of POOR Magazine.

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Solar installers at work. Courtesy of

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

Green Jobs Platform for Solar Energy

When you see a solar panel installer on a roof you probably think, “green job.” After all, the solar panel will help reduce climate change impacts and provide a renewable source of energy. You assume that the worker is receiving a living wage and health benefits and has an opportunity for advancement.

The job looks safe and the product looks green. But what if the worker in China, India, or Mexico who made the solar panel was exposed to toxic chemicals, could not afford healthcare, and was denied a living wage and basic labor rights?

As of now, there is no definition for a “green job” that includes consideration for the environmental justice and health impacts on workers, or for the communities where solar products are made or recycled. And without consideration of these issues, the “green job” concept, which has been an important vision for a change from “business as usual,” risks becoming a form of “green wash.”

In the Footsteps of Silicon Giants
The solar industry’s production processes and materials are taken directly from the computer and semiconductor industry. The silicon-based solar panels require the same processes as microchips, and many of the thin film solar manufacturers use equipment and processes similar to those used in making flat panel televisions.

Unfortunately, despite its image as a “clean” technology, the computer industry has never been “green.” Santa Clara County—the birthplace of the personal computer, located in the heart of Silicon Valley—has had significant experience with the environmental impacts of the microchip industry brought on by the industry’s lack of environmental planning and oversight. Widespread toxic chemical pollution has caused injury and death in local communities and around the world. Now brand name electronic companies like Sanyo, Sharp, Samsung, and IBM—not exactly known for their “green” practices—are making solar panels.

Santa Clara County also has two large Superfund sites resulting from chemical spills and toxic leaks from computer manufacturing facilities in the 1980s that are still being cleaned up. In 1982, more than 60,000 gallons of Trichloroethane (TCE)—known to cause birth defects, cancer, and death—contaminated the drinking water of bordering communities.

Most of the electronics manufacturers—including IBM and Hewlett Packard—have since left Silicon Valley and moved their production facilities to locations in China, Malaysia, Mexico, and India where labor is cheaper, environmental regulations poorly enforced, and workers’ rights not fully protected. The manufacturers rarely share information about their component parts suppliers or the locations of their facilities and the working conditions there, deeming such information to be proprietary. Needless to say, green jobs and clean technology are not part of the industry’s legacy. Now, as the solar industry scales up to meet the demand for renewable energy, it must address these issues immediately, or risk repeating the mistakes of the microelectronics industry.

If It’s Not Just, It’s Not Green
The nascent solar industry has a unique opportunity to incorporate the principles of social and environmental justice into its supply, production, and recycling operations around the world by proactively creating and implementing systems to (a) monitor chemical use and exposure at its sites, (b) care for worker health and safety, and (c) enforce labor and environmental laws.

With this belief in hand, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), which advocates for environmental and social justice in the high tech industry, has launched a campaign to get solar companies to make an early commitment to reducing toxic chemical exposures, developing programs to responsibly recycle their panels, and adopting a “green jobs” platform.

Sheila Davis is the executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

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The Case for Holistic Economic Transformation

Marta Castillo has been a worker-owner of Natural Home Cleaning (NHC) for three years and served on its Board of Directors for two years. In addition to the hours she puts in cleaning houses with non-toxic cleaning products, she spends time with the other worker-owners coordinating the worker and owner aspects of the business. This work has provided much more than a stable income for Castillo who lost her daughter to an illness shortly after coming to this country from Guatemala. “I was in a depression,” she says. “Becoming a member of the NHC cooperative helped me to keep busy and to recover.”

Castillo and the other women of the coop are creating meaningful work for themselves out of one of the lowest-paid, most isolating, and often dangerous industries by using nontoxic cleaning supplies and improving worker control over working conditions. This sort of holistic transformation of everyday work on a planetary scale will be the key to overcoming the ecological crisis that now confronts our species because of our ever-expanding industrial extraction, production, and waste generation. Humanity needs to channel its growth not toward increasing material consumption but toward core human values.

A transition to a more sustainable economy will require people living in more cooperative ways in denser urban neighborhoods rather than in suburbia. It calls for local generation/harvesting of power, water saving, urban farming, and collective kitchens. We need to prioritize the reclamation, rehabilitation, and transformation of existing resources. Despite study after climate study, which says “it’s worse than we thought,” we continue to seek technological fixes like carbon capture or solar panels, rather than holistic solutions that seek to transform the system that got us into this crisis.

To be truly transformative we need to work toward filling the spiritual void left by an economy based on individualism, consumption, and exploitative waged labor. We can do this by learning to live more cooperatively and setting our focus on “roles” rather than “jobs” in seeking social progress over growth.

Some of the more important emerging “roles” in a more socially conscious future will include renewable energy technicians, deconstruction and adaptation/ re-use experts, and greywater and water catchment builders.

“Greywater is a simple and effective source of irrigation water that can help reduce water demand by 15 to 50 percent in an average home,” says Laura Allen of Greywater Action. A new state building code supports simple, low cost systems, opening up a whole new market for greywater installers. Allen says intallers could save “800 million gallons per week, just by reusing water from washing machines to irrigate.” Amidst water shortages and droughts, this could be a major source of water for food security and healthy landscapes in California.

An Age for Living More Compactly
Restoration of soil, water, air, and habitat requires understanding our ecological limits and finding ways to live within them. As people begin to live more compactly and cooperatively we will need more peer counselors, facilitators, organizers, mediators, and educators to help reweave the fabric of our communities by restoring our ability to communicate and work together. We will need the capacity to relate to each other, organize ourselves, make the decisions that affect our lives and our world, and work together to get things done. For instance, it makes much more sense for adjoining buildings to share washing machines, water tanks, even solar hot tubs, than for each to buy their own. Working through conflicts that arise when sharing is a social skill that many of us have lost. Shifting the debate to focus on meeting people’s real needs—materially as well as socially and emotionally—will be critical to winning a just transition.

Rahula Janowski, a volunteer mediator with Community Boards, makes the point that: “Through conciliation-oriented mediation, we don't just come up with solutions to the specific conflict, but work to repair and strengthen relationships, while modeling the kinds of skills we all need to develop to better manage the conflicts that arise when we work and live together.”

Women currently do much of the under paid or unpaid labor in these arenas. “Women’s work” and the skills that women bring to reproductive and community labor are keys to an economic and ecological transformation of society.

Deb Goldberg, general manager of the NHC cooperative says, “I surveyed the members on what they value most about the work. The responses were: 1) Salud, or health; 2) Convivencia or community, and 3) Respaldo or knowing someone has your back. Income [was] usually not even in the top three!”

Learning to work together on a shared project can help people develop self esteem and the respect of their peers—both critical human needs. The women of NHC play many roles—as house cleaners, trainers, facilitators, decision-makers, and members of a team that learn together and support one another. Such a cooperative approach will be key to transforming our communities.

Why “Green” Is Not Green Enough
Mainstream advocacy for creating “Green Jobs” by expanding targeted manufacturing and service industries plays into the belief that increasing economic growth or gross domestic product is the only way to meet people’s needs. It is time for climate advocates to accept the idea that reducing material economic output has to be part of the solution to the ecological crisis.

Maria Mies, sociologist and co-author of Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labour, says "The idea that industrial society and industrial monoculture are the most productive systems continues to dominate... That's why [women's work and urban and rural subsistence farming] isn't included in the gross national product; only [that which] can be measured monetarily… Biodiversity—the symbiosis between animals, plants, and people, all living together in a certain area, [creating] livelihood and [a] good life—you can't achieve that by putting together as many monocultures as you like.”*

Historically, capitalism has pushed people into waged work—whether off the land or out of the home—in order to survive. This patriarchal process excludes most social labor from the realm of so called “real work” that is given monetary value. In other words, the work of mothering does not show up in the GDP, nor can a woman use it on her resume when seeking employment after raising children.

Clearly, “real” work is not just done under hard hats but around kitchen tables. A shift in focus from hard hats—even “green” hard hats—to aprons will help us shift from “growth” as the driver to social well-being.

* Mies, Maria. Adapted from a translation by Lisa Rosenblatt. Transcribed from video by O. Ressler: The Subsistence Perspective. (2005)

Michelle Mascarenhas-Swan was most recently co-director of the School of Unity and Liberation in Oakland, California. She co-founded the Center for Food and Justice in Los Angeles and is currently a strategic consultant to Movement Generation in Oakland.

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The Toxic Environment

Chevron Refinery in Richmond. © 2007 Scott Braley

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

Chevron in Richmond

By Ellen Choy and Ana Orozco

As oil reserves dwindle across the planet, the oil industry is seeking to exploit energy-intensive, dirtier, ‘bottom-of-the-barrel’ crude oil, such as can be found in the Alberta Tar Sands of Canada and the Orinoco Belt in Venezuela. Rather than shifting to renewable energy and conservation, the industry is pushing to “retrofit” 33 existing refineries, construct five new ones, and build thousands of miles of new pipeline in the United States. The Chevron refinery in Richmond, California is one of the battlegrounds in this global struggle.

The 3,000-acre refinery, visible from the hills of San Francisco, has polluted the city of Richmond and the Bay Area for decades, despite being located in one of the centers of environmental activism.[1] Since 2006, Chevron has been in “high priority violation” of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) air compliance standards,[2] and in 2007, the EPA reported over 900,000 pounds of toxic waste from the refinery.[3] And yet, Chevron has proposed a project to expand the Richmond refinery to process heavier, dirtier crude oil.

“Refineries are located in communities of color and low-income communities that have already been disproportionately impacted by a host of [toxic] industries,” says Denny Larson, a long-time refinery reform community organizer at Global Community Monitor. “These expansions could be the final nail in the coffin.”

Although the future of oil is in jeopardy, the industry seems determined to tap a heavy oil and tar sands resource that could last hundreds of years.[4,5] This would create another wave of environmental injustice; this time culminating in catastrophic climate change. To reverse this trend, “we need a paradigm shift that empowers sophisticated, multi-pronged strategies of litigation, direct action, and advocacy,” asserts Clayton Thomas-Muller of the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Tar Sands Campaign.

But first, there has to be a commitment at both the local and national levels, “To a sustained dialogue, and recognition that these communities need jobs—they need green jobs,” says Larson. Richmond provides a good case study of just how such an approach can unite communities in the effort to reduce local and global impacts of the fossil fuel economy.

The Richmond Campaign
Richmond is home to over 100,000 people, approximately 82 percent of whom are listed as minorities by the United States Census. Seventeen thousand people live within just three miles of the [Chevron] refinery—some of them in the two housing projects located there. The majority are low-income people of color.

Last summer, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) conducted a health survey of 440 adults and 282 children from Richmond and found that 46 percent of the adults and 17 percent of the children surveyed suffer from asthma.[6] The longer a person lived in Richmond, the greater the likelihood that they would suffer from asthma.[7] Local community organizations, as well as individuals, have come to recognize the link between the community’s health problems and the high level of pollution in the area. In March, 2008 a coalition of groups shut down the front entrance to Chevron’s Richmond refinery; 24 were arrested. Also, since 2007, protests have been held at every annual shareholder meeting at Chevron’s headquarters in San Ramon against injustices committed in communities around the world.

In September 2008, CBE, West County Toxics Coalition, and the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN) brought a lawsuit against Chevron and the City of Richmond to stop the refinery’s expansion project, which was in violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Chevron’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to the city was not comprehensive enough to disclose that the expansion would enable the refining of heavier and more contaminated oil. Yet, the City of Richmond granted permits for this project, despite the consequences and the community’s “right to know.”

According to CBE’s head scientist Greg Karras, “Mercury, selenium, arsenic, corrosive acids, nickel, nitrogen, sulfur, vanadium and/or other pollutants can be drastically higher [with the refinement of heavier, dirtier oil].” Karras also points out that to refine heavier, dirtier crude, the refinery will have to burn more fossil fuels to generate the extra energy needed for the process. This is in direct contradiction to Chevron’s claims that the intention of the project is to modernize and renew the refinery in order to lower emissions.

The case was brought before Judge Zuniga of the Superior Court of Contra Costa County, who ruled in favor of the environmental justice organizations and Richmond residents. Then, in November 2008, the voters of Richmond passed ballot Measure T, “A fair share for Richmond,” which would increase the business license fee for large manufacturers based on the value of their raw materials. Measure T would generate at least $16 million per year (or more, based on profits) for the City of Richmond, from Chevron. Richmond resident Rev. Kenneth Davis says that “this money could be used to generate Green Jobs and more in the community. Chevron brags that they give $61 million dollars to the community of Richmond through grants to different Richmond non-profits. Measure T, over the years would generate much more money for Richmond, and this would be money for the city to determine how to use, free of Chevron’s restrictions and guidelines.”

Chevron is appealing the Superior Court’s decision and has tied up the new fee in other litigation. The company is also trying to drive a wedge between environmental justice and community groups and some very important labor groups by claiming that many jobs were lost because of the halt on the expansion project. Of course, if Chevron had the will, it could start working on actually upgrading and improving the refinery in order to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, thus creating new green jobs for Richmond residents. Or at the least, it could sign an agreement not to bring in heavier, dirtier oil for refinement.

Dr, Henry Clark, executive director of the West County Toxics Coalition, says “Greenhouse Gangsters like Chevron need to stop polluting our communities, and respect the human rights of residents that are being bombarded by toxic chemicals, greenhouse gas, flaring, fires, and explosions.”

Clark says that his organization will take a delegation to the climate talks in Copenhagen, Denmark “to ensure that Chevron and associates voices are not the only voices heard. We will help put a face on who’s on the frontline of the climate change effects.”

Real Power vs. Grassroots Power
The campaign against the refinery expansion in Richmond is a notable grassroots victory, which has used organizing, direct action, a ballot referendum, public research, and legal action to protect the community and reign in the company. But Richmond is also a dire reminder of the unjust power dynamics of many fenceline communities.
The Obama administration has not proved supportive of efforts to fight oil dominance. Last August, the State Department approved the construction of major pipelines from the Alberta Tar Sands to refineries in the United States. Obama has also gained notoriety amongst the environmental justice community for actively endorsing market-based solutions and a stringent advocacy of clean coal technology.

“We have to understand the complex political and economic overlays between U.S. energy security and the reliance that America has on Canada’s resource extraction-based economy,” cautions Thomas-Muller. “They are inextricably linked. Even under Obama’s platform of sustainability, of promoting the notion of green jobs, we know that a lot is probably rhetoric.”

Meanwhile, a global oil switch threatens to lock in worst-case future climate impacts. Processing dirtier oil has already increased greenhouse gas emissions from some refineries by more than 50 percent, and a full-blown switch to heavy oil and tar sands could double or triple the GHG emissions from making each gallon of gasoline.[8, 9]

Refinery towns, like other oil-affected communities, are classic battlegrounds for corporate control and environmental justice. The Richmond activists’ legal victory and the ongoing struggle to create a just transition that benefits workers and community by reducing refinery pollution and catastrophic risk is being closely watched by other refinery towns in California, Delaware, Indiana, and Michigan. A huge challenge for organizers opposing fossil fuel dominance in these communities is the fact that just about every political, economic, and social sector has a stake—from labor and housing organizers to environmentalists and public health departments.

“What we’re left with is business as usual in a top-to-bottom approach that isn’t working [and] hasn’t for 20 years,” laments Thomas-Muller. “We’re left with the need for profound social movements from all sectors, including labor, to come together in a justice-based framework to converge people power.”

Community-based networks, such as the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative, of which the Indigenous Environmental Network is an active member, have been organizing low-income communities of color around coal and oil battlegrounds and translating it to community-based policy advocacy through their unique framing of climate change issues. But ultimately, points out Thomas-Muller, “Economics will determine the future of the 33 refineries, and of the tar sands, because money ultimately equals political power. As activists we face the stark reality that we have to stop that flow of money to the pockets of investors. We have to make [oil] an unattractive investment, and [instead] make it attractive to invest in this $30 billion new energy economy.”

Creating Hope through Solidarity
The Mobilization for Climate Justice, a newly-formed national grassroots coalition, recently staged a mass public action against the Chevron refinery in solidarity with Richmond-based organizations, demonstrating how diverse social organizations can link arms within this increasingly strategic framework of climate and energy.

At the rally, Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, who opposed the refinery expansion and supported the manufacturer fee, had this to say: “In Richmond, we want nothing short of fairness from this major oil company. [Chevron] made 24 billion dollars in profit last year, while Richmond residents struggle to support their families. There has been a widening economic gap throughout our nation. Richmond, with this mega-billion dollar corporation, is a clear-cut example of this injustice.”[10]

Clayton Thomas-Muller argues that social movements to fight the fossil fuel regime should still be at a greater and louder capacity, as these industries include some of the richest and most powerful entities in the world. “We, in the EJ movement, have a profound responsibility to bring fires across the continent and link them together... Change is happening, but we don’t have the organization and the financing to say that there’s a movement. We need to get a lot more sophisticated and cause fundamental shift in where power sits in U.S. and Canadian social movements. We need to escalate things to a whole new level.”


1.    Juhasz, Antonia. The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report. May 2009.
3.    EPA Toxic Release Inventory: 2007 California Report.
4.    U.S. Geological Survey, 2007. USGS Open File Report 2007-1084. “Worldwide Refineries—Capacities as of January 1, 2009.” Oil & Gas Journal, 2009.
5.    Juhasz, Antonia. The True Cost of Chevron, 2009.
7.    Those who have resided in Richmond for 15 years or more had the highest percentage of asthma: Richmond Health Survey Report. Communities for a Better Environment. June 2009.
8.    Refinery GHG emissions from dirty crude. Communities for a Better Environment. April 2009.
9.    Brandt, Adam R. and Farrell, Alexander E. Climatic Change (2007) 84: 241-263.

Ellen Choy is a former staff person at the Environmental justice and Climate Initiative and an organizer with the West Coast Mobilization for Climate Justice. Ana Orozco is a community organizer at Communities for a Better Environment.

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Closing Bayview-Hunters Point Power Plants

Espanola Jackson has lived in San Francisco’s Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood since 1948 and seen both the growth and the decline of what has become San Francisco’s most endangered community. An activist and community organizer for over 60 years, Ms. Jackson proudly witnessed the shutting down in 2006 of the Hunters Point Power Plant, which had been a major source of environmental pollution in the low-income southeast section of San Francisco. Just over a year later, however, Ms. Jackson was at the center of a movement to stop four brand new fossil fuel-burning power plants from being set up in her community.

“We don’t need them in Bayview-Hunters Point”[1] — Espanola Jackson, July 2007
On July 24, 2007 the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) voted 3-1 to enter into negotiations for a $273 million contract to build four new natural gas-fired power plants to replace Mirant Corporation’s Potrero Power Plant, just a stone’s throw north of the Hunters Point Power Plant.

The California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO), a quasi-regulatory body charged with maintaining reliability of the state’s electrical grid, had opined that the 362-megawatt gas-burning Potrero Plant could not shut down unless San Francisco built 200 megawatts of new gas power plants to replace it.

Potrero Hill and Bayview-Hunters Point had for decades been locked in a sort of power plant symbiosis, with each neighborhood’s plant dumping pollution on both areas. Now, three of the proposed four power plants were to be nestled between the two communities.

An unexpected nuance at the July 24 power plant debate was SFPUC member Adam Werbach’s lone dissenting vote on the basis of his opinion that the city was swapping “one dirty fossil fuel” power plant for another.

“A green wave has lifted our expectations”[2] —Van Jones, October 2007
The Potrero Plant operates in anticipation of that rare instance when not one, but two power lines may go out on an extremely hot day. Pursuant to Cal-ISO’s 2004 Action Plan, policymakers understood that some degree of conventional power plant generation was required to prepare for this contingency.

Ms. Jackson, on the other hand, asserted that one day, “many years ago,” a representative of the Cal-ISO had told her that if San Francisco ever built a new power line into the city, the Potrero Plant could shut down without replacement. When a new power line into San Francisco was indeed proposed, environmental organizations like the Sierra Club and the Green Party, community groups like Greenaction and the A. Philip Randolph Institute, and civil rights advocates Brightline Defense Project soon joined Ms. Jackson in her campaign for “no new power plants.”

As Sierra Club Political Director John Rizzo put it: “…global warming cannot wait, the Bayview and Potrero cannot wait.”
But despite protests from the community and objections from two SFPUC Commissioners, a power plant contract was approved on October 31, 2007.

“Not convinced the city has done its due diligence”[3] —Ross Mirkarimi, May 2008
In early 2008, Jackson and her growing circle of advocates turned their campaign’s focus on finding San Francisco Supervisors who would vote against the contract. Sophie Maxwell,whose district includes Potrero Hill and Bayview-Hunter’s Point, had come to accept that a power plant-free solution would not be forthcoming.

Supervisors Michela Alioto-Pier, Ross Mirkarimi, Chris Daly, and Tom Ammiano—though not typically united on policy issues—found common ground on the subject of power plants and their impact on vulnerable communities and the environment.

In April 2008, Alioto-Pier introduced legislation calling for a study of power plant alternatives after San Francisco Planning and Urban Research published a memorandum which laid out a litany of changes that had occurred since the ISO’s 2004 Action Plan. Most importantly, in 2007 San Francisco had approved a new underwater power line, the Trans Bay Cable, to bring 400 megawatts of electricity from the East Bay city of Pittsburg, starting in early 2010.

On May 5, Mirkarimi spoke at a City Hall rally alongside Ms. Jackson and over 100 environmentalists and activists. Daly, who also recalled the statement from Cal-ISO about a new power line making the Potrero plant redundant, pledged to forever vote “no” on new power plants.

In the course of a grueling 10-hour hearing that followed the rally, Mirkarimi and Alioto-Pier uncovered that Cal-ISO’s 2004 assumptions had not been revisited for nearly four years, that the city had never formally requested that the Trans Bay Cable be factored into the city’s power needs, and that the only person in San Francisco procedurally able to put these questions to the Cal-ISO was Mayor Gavin Newsom.

“I don’t want to live to regret this decision.”[4] —Gavin Newsom, May 2008

Ms. Jackson’s firm recollection that a single power line, such as the proposed Trans Bay Cable, would change the whole power plant debate had now been embraced by a wide range of groups. San Francisco policymakers were asked to justify why one of the city’s primary environmental justice objectives—the shutting down of the Potrero Power Plant—could only be achieved by building new power plants that would burn fossil fuels for at least 2,000 hours per year for the next 30 years.

At a May 22 meeting with environmental and community activists, Mayor Newsom pledged to request an update to the 2004 Cal-ISO Action Plan—one that would evaluate the impact of the Trans Bay Cable project. On June 2, Cal-ISO Chief Executive Officer Yakout Mansour wrote to Newsom that the Trans Bay Cable did indeed reduce the need for in-city electrical generation from 200 megawatts to 150 megawatts.

Cal-ISO indicated that at a minimum, most of the Potrero Plant could start shutting down upon completion of the Trans Bay Cable in the spring of 2010, without new power plants having to replace it. Advocates were free to focus on closing the rest of Potrero and increasing the Trans Bay Cable’s draw from the Rio Vista Wind Farm and other renewable resources in the East Bay. On July 22, the SFPUC led by Commissioners Richard Sklar, David Hochschild, and Dennis Normandy, voted to rescind and tear up the $273 million power plant contract it had approved in 2007.

“If there’s anything Cal-ISO responds to, it’s community pressure.”[5] —Eric Brooks, September 2009
The question remained of how to close the 150-megawatt “gap” and some decision-makers were willing to compromise by building fewer power plants or using different locations. Mayor Newsom, however, categorically stated that he would “…veto any legislation to build new power plants.”

One of the chief lessons of the San Francisco power plant experience is that underlying data assumptions should be constantly revisited. Fossil fuel power plants have historically taken the path of least resistance—situating in and around low-income communities of color least able to resist politically. As San Francisco Green Party’s Eric Brooks and longtime power plant opponent Marie Harrison have noted, community pressure against Cal-ISO and requests from city officials have kept ISO regulators constantly monitoring San Francisco’s power plant needs. By May 2009, Cal-ISO found that San Francisco will actually need just a scant 25 megawatts of generation when the Trans Bay Cable comes online, and in August, City Attorney Dennis Herrera announced an agreement to shut the entire power plant by the end of 2010.

Appropriately enough, at the September 11, 2009 Cal-ISO meeting where the framework for closing the Potrero Plant (beginning spring 2010) was laid out, Director of Regional Transmission Gary DeShazo began his presentation by saying that Espanola Jackson had called him the night before to make sure that he told just the facts when he spoke about the power plant.

1.    Jackson, Espanola. Public Testimony before San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, July 24, 2007.
2.    Arce, Joshua and Jones, Van. “On San Francisco’s Energy Future,” San Francisco Chronicle Op-Ed, October 23, 2007.
3.    Mirkarimi, Ross. “Peaker Plan Moving Forward,” San Francisco Bay Guardian Politics Blog, May 6, 2008.
4.    Newsom, Mayor Gavin, “Decision on Potrero power plant delayed,” San Francisco Examiner, May 13, 2008.
5.    Brooks, Eric, September 14, 2009. Interview

Joshua Arce is the executive director of Brightline Defense Project in San Francisco, California.

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

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Climate Change Could Bring Toxic Deluge to Bayview

By Carol Harvey

Walking the site of a planned condo development in Bayview’s Candlestick Point, Marie Harrison observes, “There’s more water when the tide rolls in.” Harrison lives in Bayview-Hunter’s Point and works with Greenaction, seeking ways to include low-income people of color in the global warming/climate justice debate. The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) predicts that sea levels will rise 16 inches by mid-century and cover coastal lands like Candlestick.[1]

The Bayview’s wetlands and landfills straddle the Hayward and San Andreas faults. If they were slammed by an earthquake and diluted by flooding, their loose-packed, sandy soil could produce intensifying shock waves and then liquefy, undermining San Francisco’s infrastructure, says Dr. Raymond Tompkins, a biochemist at San Francisco State University and toxic-cleanup expert.

Rising waters and earthquakes could also shake loose buried toxic and irradiated materials. The former United States Naval Shipyard—now a Superfund Site—was contaminated by depleted uranium abandoned after atomic bomb “Little Boy” was assembled there. The 46-acre industrial landfill at Parcel E contains radium dials, irradiated animal carcasses and other unknown carcinogenic contaminants, Dr. Tompkins says.

Development poses dangers as well. “There is a very real prospect that redevelopment on radiation-contaminated parcels at D and E will generate airborne and soil releases of contaminants that contain low-level radiological materials,” says Dr. Ahimsa Sumchai, a local environmental health expert . San Francisco intends to accept parts of parcel D as early as 2010, without complete cleanup, and build homes, a park, and a green tech center there, Sumchai says.

Green Center at Toxic Epicenter
In July 2009, Mayor Gavin Newsom proposed a $20 million United Nations Global Compact Center to be constructed in 2012 by master developer Lennar Corporation on Parcel C, adjacent to the Bayview Superfund site. The Center would include “an incubator to foster green tech start-ups, a conference center... office space for academics and scientists,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported.[2]

The proposal draws its name from the “Global Compact” concept launched in 2000 by U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. The Compact sets standards of corporate conduct that include respect for human rights and use of green technologies.

Little information on the toxic dangers reaches the neighborhood through the corporate media, so Harrison holds informal “table meetings” to educate residents. People are asking the right questions, she says, despite their focus on the struggle to survive.

To those looking for green jobs at the U.N. Global Compact building, she says, “How long have they been promising our community jobs? (Do) you think every black person is so stuck on stupid they’re going to believe that garbage—they are going to literally get 35 percent of these jobs?”

“You can’t throw in a building about green research and sidestep the substantive issues affecting the neighborhood,” says Jaron Browne, Bayview organizer for POWER (People Organized to Win Employment Rights). “The rush to transfer the land before it’s clean, or cap it and build on top of it, is driven by developer rather than community interests,” he says.

1.    San Francisco Bay Scenarios for Sea Level Rise Index Map. San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission.
2.    Knight, Heather. “S.F., U.N. Partner on Global Warming Center,” San Francisco Chronicle, July 30, 2009.

Carol Harvey is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist and videographer covering human rights, civil rights and poverty issues.

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Youth Group Shuts Down Toxic Waste Facility

Charisse Domingo, 35-year-old associate director of Youth United for Community Action (YUCA) in East Palo Alto, California has worked with the organization since she was 21. The youth-based non-profit operates out of a one-story house on a residential street in this tiny (2.6 sq. mile) Silicon Valley city of about 30,000 people, 94 percent of whom are people of color. This community of mostly small single-family homes has recently been (literally) overshadowed by new multi-story condominium buildings and big-box retail giants. The location of Romic Environmental Technologies—a hazardous materials recycling firm—in East Palo Alto was in stark contrast to the Facebook and Hewlett Packard campuses of neighboring upscale Palo Alto. It was a sobering reminder of the city’s 19 percent poverty rate. But residents of East Palo Alto organized to shut down the plant and to fight gentrification. In 2007, the Department of Toxic Substances Control ordered Romic to cease handling hazardous wastes.

How did YUCA get involved with the battle against Romic?
YUCA started out in 1994 as an internship program for youth. Young people of color were put into different environmental justice programs throughout California, including the Bay Area and Los Angeles. At the time, the Ujima Security Council, an environmental justice neighborhood group from East Palo Alto, was fighting Romic and YUCA brought some young people into the campaign. YUCA’s first public involvement occurred after Rodrigo Cruz, a Romic employee, was injured while cleaning a toxic tank because of a hole in his chemical suit.

Cruz was not trained to do that job but was filling in for someone else that day. When he told his supervisor what had happened, they wrapped him up in 72 inches of duct tape, which caused him to pass out and receive permanent brain damage. Romic wouldn’t take responsibility and initially, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health (Cal/OSHA) just wanted to fine Romic $5,000—not a penny of which would have gone to Cruz. YUCA and the community wanted to get some accountability from Romic and fair compensation for Cruz’s injury.

What’s noticeably different about East Palo Alto now that Romic has shut down its site?

For one, East Palo Alto no longer has those towers next to the Bay spewing out chemicals. Romic was located adjacent to a walking trail that completed the “Emerald Necklace” Bay Trail, ruining the view with its obtrusive towers. Now the towers are not there anymore! Previously, East Palo Alto residents used to say, “We don’t have a grocery store, we don’t have a high school, we don’t have basic resources. what we do have is a toxic waste plant and a concrete batch plant.” People can’t say that anymore. That’s the difference.

The work that YUCA and folks in the community did gives people a chance to re-imagine what this area should be about. We can get caught up in technical terms like “land use” and stuff, but the basic conversation goes: “What does our community mean, and what can it look like?” That conversation is a lot more meaningful and has to be owned by the community because ultimately, it was the community that shut Romic down.

How does your work relate to the larger issues of environmental and climate justice?
Our understanding of the work was always grounded in the question: “What is environmental justice and what does environmental racism look like in our community?” We looked at what was in our community: A toxic waste plant. Why was it there? Then we began to see the big picture. If there are 53 toxic waste plants in California and 52 of them are located among communities of color… there is a problem. Our work was not about connecting theory to groundwork, but the other way around. If the issue wasn’t direct—in our own back yard—it would not have entered our minds.

Now that the battle with Romic is won, how do you see YUCA’s work?
YUCA is owned by the community. The elders here are a part of the process, too, even though our identity is with the youth. Back in 2000, when we were still fighting Romic, it wasn’t a question of “Should we fight against something because we are only involved with Environmental Justice?” The youth felt that if we were shutting down the toxic waste plant only to have other developments come in and wipe out our community, we were fighting this in vain. So, I think, YUCA is always going to be about East Palo Alto first. However, we know that we are linked to the larger Environmental Justice movement in the Bay Area and to the youth-based Environmental Justice networks in the Central Valley. But we are also working on gentrification, immigration, and education issues.

Tell us about YUCA’s “Toxic Tours.”
We have had many different groups—community, youth, and students in Environmental Justice classes—come on the tours. But the tours are not just an outreach tool. They are also about education, because we always end with the question: “Given all these issues [that] we have been dealing with, why do people choose to stay here in their own community?”

Was it difficult to get local leaders to support the community over the tax revenue-generating Romic?
Until voters passed Measure R, Romic was just paying a regular business tax. But the debate about Romic wasn’t just about generating tax revenue or employment. (Of the 200 employees, only seven were from East Palo Alto.) It had a lot to do with people questioning Romic’s contribution to the health of the community. As we went door-to-door, people started talking about [the incidences of] cancer in the community. And they were making a link between that and the toxic waste plant right there in their backyard. There was the moral question of why this toxic waste plant was even located here.

Of course, Romic called itself a “recycling business” even though it was doing the exact same thing it did in the 1950s. Because it was “recycling” all these toxic chemicals—and included the word in its name—Romic could be categorized as a “green” business creating “green” jobs. But when it came down to it, they were just another negligent toxic waste facility that put not only their workers at risk, but also the community. And the government allowed them to do it even though they had been operating on an expired permit since 1991.

As a result of this negligence, people got hurt. Besides Rodrigo Cruz, there was Froilan Chan-Liongco, who received second- and third-degree burns in an incident that occurred after the permit hearing was held.

For two years after the permit hearing, no decision was made! The community was really fed up with it all and I think the campaign shows that if a community just persists, it can win. It was only after the changes in the City Council that things began to take a different direction. Instead of giving in to the environmental racism, which said that East Palo Alto had to carry the burden for San Mateo County’s industries, the City Council, along with the community, began to ask: Why? 

Vu-Bang Nguyen is a program coordinator at Urban Habitat. He works with the Great Communities Collaborative project in East Palo Alto.

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Incinerators in Delhi Threaten Waste-Pickers

The waste-pickers of Delhi may soon rank among the world’s endangered species if carbon markets continue their rise. Now numbering in the tens if not hundreds of thousands, waste-pickers have plied the garbage of Delhi’s streets for decades. A disturbing spectacle, often including women and children in their ranks, they nonetheless provide a vital service: recycling. In a country like India, paper, plastic, and metals are an increasingly valuable commodity. And for slum-dwellers, this may be their only source of income.

And so they join the cows and dogs in a daily forage through garbage by the side of road, searching for plastic, paper, metals—anything that can be turned into cash.

Bharati Chaturvedi, director and co-founder of Chintan, a small non-governmental organization (NGO) servicing India’s waste-pickers, claims that more than one percent of Delhi’s population is engaged in waste-picking—a significant source of revenue for the poorest—and that they recycle nine percent to 59 percent of all of the waste generated in the city. “These waste-pickers are providing a public service—for free,” Chaturvedi says.

But a waste incinerator now proposed in Timarpur, a suburb of Delhi, may change all that. Like other incinerators, this one will generate cancer-causing dioxins, mercury, and other heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants. What’s new and different about this particular waste incinerator: It will generate carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM).

The CDM was originally established under the Kyoto Protocol, the climate change treaty, to address the need to provide new aid to developing countries to acquire and implement new clean energy technologies and projects. Its intent was also to provide a vehicle for development. However, critics say, the CDM is rapidly devolving into a subsidy for some of the dirtiest industries in the Global South and an excuse for inaction in cutting the significant greenhouse gas emissions by developed countries. Dirty industries and banks are growing rich on the schemes. The World Bank, for example, is becoming a major broker of many of them, charging a 13-percent commission on all of the carbon trades it brokers.

Gopal Krishna, a public health researcher at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, had succeeded in dissuading government officials from accepting other proposals from Australian and Danish incinerator companies in Delhi, based on public health concerns.

“We had managed to stop half a dozen of these dubious projects in the past,” Krishna adds. “But this time around, in the name of carbon credits, fraudulent claims are being made with impunity.”

Left over incinerator ash flies everywhere. “I’ve been all over India,” says Patricia Costner, science adviser to Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA) and the International Persistant Organic Pollutants (POPS) Elimination Network. “I know what happens to incinerator ash. Most of it ends up by the side of the road. There are no engineered landfills in India.”

Waste-pickers are being harassed by dump managers and actively denied access to the dry, high-calorie items the incinerator will devour. They’re also denied access to the waste stream.

“Instead, they go through the ash looking for metal, the only substance to survive incineration intact,” says GAIA’s Neil Tangri. “I’ve seen people picking through thigh deep incinerator ash for metals. You’re using the human body as a toxic absorber—you’re basically spoon-feeding it to these people.”

Today, with an incinerator contract looming on the horizon, and with it the potential for millions of dollars in revenue from the global carbon market, the political dynamic has changed. “They are effectively denying a livelihood to the poorest of the poor in setting up this incinerator,” says Chaturvedi. “To take that miserable existence away, it’s criminal. And now we’re seeing skyrocketing food prices in India. Huge local skills in recycling are now being wiped out, skills essential for a sustainable society. What will these people do?”

Based on an article published in Multinational Monitor. Photo: Sudder St. Calcutta, India. 2006 Juicyrai

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Transportation, Housing and Land-Use

This Los Angeles demonstration was part of a national day of action on July 22, 2009. ©2009 BRU/Labor Community Strategy Center

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

Federal Transportation Act

A Battle for Climate Justice

It was a historic moment for the United States when President Barack Obama stood before 100 world leaders at a high level United Nations Climate Change summit and admitted the historical responsibility of the United States in the climate crisis. He went so far as to say that the largest economies have “a responsibility to provide the financial and technical assistance needed to help [developing] nations adapt to the impacts of climate change and pursue low-carbon development.”

This is a significant breakthrough since the issue of global warming hit the international stage in the late 1970s. The Clinton/Gore years saw the capitulation of the administration to the oil industry, while the Bush administration went into outright denial—questioning the science and shamelessly walking out of the Kyoto Protocol talks. Nonetheless, the question remains: Now that we have publicly acknowledged our responsibility as a polluting imperialist power—what are we going to do about it? What is our tactical plan?

The Climate Bill: An EJ Nightmare
The American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) proposed by the Obama administration essentially gives billions of dollars in incentives to corporations and creates massive human rights violations in communities of color and third world countries. Many within the climate justice movement consider this legislation an environmental justice nightmare.

Sponsored by Congress members Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Ed Markey (D-MA), ACES is the first legislation approved by the House of Representatives meant to curb the heat trapping gases scientists have linked to climate change. But the bill only reduces emissions levels to four percent below 1990 levels by 2020, whereas, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change requires at least a 40 percent reduction by 2020.

As one of the world’s largest emitters of green house gases—historically and at present—the United States should actually be reducing its emissions to 90 percent below 1999 levels by the year 2020. At least, that’s the consensus among climate scientists.

Even as the environmental justice movement struggles to bring relevance to the climate bill debate, conversations are underway about another major piece of climate legislation that could have serious climate repercussions for centuries. Its the Federal Surface Transportation Act (FSTA), currently in its first draft in the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Transit Riders at Center of Environmental Policy
Transit Riders for Public Transportation (TRPT) is a national campaign to reframe the debate by demanding that it place scientific reality about the climate crisis front and center. It is just not possible to achieve the necessary emissions cuts without the radical step of changing the current funding formula for the transportation bill from 80 percent for roads and highways to 20 percent, and allocating the rest for public transit.

The next $500 billion Federal Surface Transportation Act must be discussed and developed within the context of climate change given that the United States with its automobile culture produces almost half of the world’s automotive emissions. As scholar and environmentalist Bill McKibben points out, “We're in a desperate race. Politics is chasing reality, and the gap between them isn't closing nearly fast enough.”

The FSTA—which has its roots in the Eisenhower Era and the interstate highway bill of the 1950s—is reauthorized every six years, at times representing up to one-third of the budget for metropolitan transit agencies. For the past decade, many of us have been struggling in the courts, inside transit agency board rooms, and in the streets against fare increases, transit service cuts, and regressive sales taxes to make up a budget deficit created by massive highway and rail expansion projects. Most importantly, as organizations we have also been drafting our own vision for urban transportation and climate change policy and our national campaign program is a reflection of that.
TRPT National Demands
- A flip-flop of the current funding formula to drastically reduce highway funding while dramatically increasing public transit funding. Continuing federal support for a private auto system is a global warming disaster and will massively expand greenhouse gas emissions.
- A federal requirement to greatly reduce automobile use in all metro centers and the encouragement to use federal and state funds to create auto free zones, auto free rush hours, auto free days, bus only lanes on surface streets and freeways, and ensured viable transportation in rural areas and for the disabled.
- The allocation of at least 50 percent of the FSTA funding towards operational costs for transit systems with at least half of it restricted to bus operations. It would help stop the massive fare increases and service cuts and allow for more bus and rail service on existing lines. It would also encourage 24x7 transit service and through block grants, reduce all transit fares by 50 percent.
- Prioritization of capital preservation over expansion, with at least half of all capital funds restricted to bus fleets. Bus is the most cost effective way to move people in large urban and rural areas but has historically been short-changed by powerful rail lobbyists, which has led to the deterioration and bankrupting of our bus systems.
- Establishment of a Title VI provision that would prohibit racial discrimination, allowing private parties, such as civil rights and community groups, to bring discrimination complaints against any federally funded projects based on "disparate impacts."
- A mandate to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and air pollution on all federally funded projects. Each project must be able to demonstrate at least a 25 percent reduction in GHG and air toxin emissions before they are funded. The Federal Transportation Authority and the Environmental Protection Agency should be allowed to receive complaints and given the power to stop projects.

A Campaign from the Ground Up
Over 16 organizations across the country have come together to lead the grassroots and legislative campaign initiated by The Labor/Community Strategy Center and Bus Riders Union in Los Angeles to influence the FSTA. “These are real people who are on the buses and trains, this is our leadership from our community coming out and speaking up for themselves,” says Kimberly Wasserman, coordinator for the Little Village for Environmental Justice organization in Chicago, explaining why she joined TRPT.

“Single mothers, the disabled, low income workers who have to travel two hours to get to their jobs—this campaign brings their demands, their transit vision to the same federal table where cement, auto, and construction have sat for decades,” says Manuel Criollo, organizer with the Bus Riders Union.

Riders in Los Angeles, Atlanta, San Francisco, and other cities throughout the country who negotiate their lives around public transit are also suffering from respiratory diseases, cancer, leukemia, diabetes, arthritis, and high blood pressure, exacerbated by air pollution and global warming. So, “Public transit is not a stepchild in the transportation mix. It is our key to fighting poverty, racism, and climate change,” explains Cecil Corbin-Mark, deputy director of WEACT for Environmental Justice and a TRPT member.

What “We the People” Want

WEACT for Environmental Justice of Harlem, Little Village for Environmental Justice Organization of Chicago, Advocates for Environmental Human Rights of New Orleans, and Urban Habitat of Oakland, among others, have been meeting with Congressional leaders for the past eight months to advocate for the following:

Our strategy is to focus on organizing bus riders, public health providers, community organizations, unions, and environmentalists across cities to pose a challenge to Congressional representatives within their own districts. Our outreach focuses on key leaders, including Senator Barbara Boxer, Chair of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, and House Committee members, Charles Rangel of the Ways and Means Committee, John Lipinski of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, and Congressional Black and Hispanic Caucus Leaders, Barbara Lee, John Lewis, John Conyers, Luis Gutierrez, Lidia Velazquez, and others.

Building a New Environmental Movement
While we can go on debating the growing gap between the climate crisis and the current Congressional proposals, it is ultimately up to us to build a movement that demands solutions commensurate with the scope of the problem.
People of every political bent—conservative, liberal, radical—can become allies in a movement of intellectual honesty that lets science, human rights, and the future of the planet lead. The new movement may have begun with scientists, urban planners, organizers, activists, and elected officials who are already focused on the environment, but it must reach out to peers in every “non-environmental” social field. It is a Herculean task but for those of us in the movement, it is also our job.

Farncisca Porchas is the lead organizer for the Clean Air, Clean Lungs, Clean Buses Campaign of the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union.

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Planning for Climate Change

Land use planners have long had a hand in shaping the communities of the western United States—particularly in recent decades, as the region’s population has exploded, the economy has changed, and limited resources, such as water, energy, and open space have had to be shared among more residents. Now a new challenge, global climate change, is adding another dimension to the role of land use planners in determining the future.

The need for rapid implementation of effective land use-related climate action policies is particularly urgent in the western United States, where projected population growth means continued rapid development of housing, commercial, and service buildings; and transportation, water, and energy systems. Land-use planners in this region have a unique opportunity to determine the region’s future in a changing climate.

Land use-related climate change policies have the potential to be among the most cost-effective and efficient ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if the land-use planning-related policies contained in Western state climate action plans were fully implemented, it could reduce current total greenhouse gas emissions by approximately 20 percent and result in cost savings for many communities.

Land Use-Related Climate Change Policies
The phrase “land use-related climate change policies” is a bit cumbersome, but it accurately describes a specific set of policies primarily intended to mitigate further climate change (although many of these measures have adaptation value as well). Implementation of these policies is within the purview of land-use planners and other local decision makers. In fact, although state climate action plans include many such policies, they cannot be effectively implemented without the support and initiative of local city and county governments.

These policies include:

  • Green/energy-efficient buildings—municipal, industrial, commercial, residential.
  • Reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT) through smart growth principles, such as walkable communities, and mixed  use, high-density development.
  • Increases in mass transit.
  • Transit-oriented development.
  • Alternative energy—distributed generation and combined heat and power within urban areas.
  • Open space conservation.
  • Urban forestry.
  • Wild land-urban interface fire management.

Analysis of Western State Climate Action Plans
Despite the lack of federal action to curb climate change, western states are leading the way in enacting policies to accomplish this goal. When this research was conducted in Fall 2007, eight of the 11 western states had produced climate action plans. Five of these plans had sufficiently quantified both the potential emissions reduction effectiveness, and the cost-effectiveness of various policies such that they could be analyzed. Each of the state plans we analyzed was created using a similar methodology with the assistance of the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS), a non-profit organization. This implies a degree of consistency between state plans and provides a basis for comparison of the greenhouse gas reduction potential and cost-effectiveness of different policies.

By providing comparisons of various land use-related strategies, this analysis paves the way for communities to select a locally-appropriate mix of policies and create an effective implementation plan. Of course, since this is an analysis of state-level policies, the results will apply to different degrees at the local scale, depending on local circumstances. Perhaps more important than the exact figures, therefore, is the insight they provide for comparison and prioritization among policies.

The five state climate action plans were analyzed to separate out land use-related policies, compare each policy’s carbon reduction potential and cost-effectiveness, and calculate the proportion of total greenhouse gas emissions goals that could be achieved if such policies were fully implemented.

Twenty Percent of Reduction Goals Achievable
Table 1 shows the total number of policies included in each plan, as well as the potential greenhouse gas emissions reduction that could be achieved if all polices were fully implemented. It also shows how many of the policies were considered to be land use planning-related, how much emissions could be reduced if they were fully implemented, and what percentage of each state’s total greenhouse gas reduction goal could be achieved.

The percentage of greenhouse gas reductions that could be achieved is near 20 percent for Arizona, California, and New Mexico, and near 25 percent for Washington. The percentage for Montana is considerably lower, at approximately 10 percent, because a larger proportion of this state’s emission reductions could be achieved through policies related to agriculture and coal consumption than is true for other states. While land use-related policies alone are not the “silver bullet” many are searching for to solve the climate crisis, they are an important component of the “silver buckshot” of solutions that is required to confront the issue.

Some Policies More Effective
Although climate action policies for each state vary somewhat in their specifications, we were able to calculate average effectiveness of the primary types of land use-related policies described in the five plans analyzed, both in terms of the percentage of the state’s total desired greenhouse gas emissions reductions each policy could account for, and for cost effectiveness.

Figure 1 shows that green building and other building energy efficiency policies are expected to be the most effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for about six percent of total emissions reductions needed.

Figure 2 illustrates that such policies would also be among the most cost effective, providing savings of nearly $20 for every metric ton of CO2 avoided.

Improved transportation and land-use policies, most related to smart growth, would also be among the most effective land use-related polices to implement and would result in a slight cost savings.

Support for combined heat and power, which involves the development and dissemination of more efficient building power systems, would be an effective policy in terms of emissions reduction potential and cost savings. On the other hand, policies to preserve open space and agricultural land from development would be less effective and more costly, although they would provide other benefits, such as open space protection and species habitat.

The range of policies included in state-level climate action plans highlight the vital role that land- use planners have to play in determining how effectively the West can control its greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to the changing climate. These policies can therefore be more fully implemented—and sooner—if local land-use planners and other decision makers play an active role.

Despite political, educational, and fiscal challenges, local climate action planners and other local decision makers can use the information in the state climate action plans to better understand which policies make the most sense in their specific context. Based on this knowledge, they can adopt policies that are the most cost-effective, have the greatest potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, provide additional benefits, and promote adaptation.

Increasing the ability of land-use planners to act on climate change immediately is crucial, especially in the Intermountain West, a rapidly changing region that has not embraced voluntary measures to the same degree as other regions in the United States. The form that the current explosive growth and development in the West takes, be it sprawling or compact, will largely determine the region’s future ability to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change. Land-use planners have a key role to play in determining the future of the West in a changing climate.

Arizona Climate Advisory Group. August 2006. Arizona Climate Action Plan. Arizona Department of Environmental Quality.
California Climate Action Team. March 2006. California Climate Action Team Report. California Environmental Protection Agency.
California Climate Action Team. 2007. Updated Macroeconomic Analysis of Climate Strategies Presented in the March 2006 Climate Action Team Report. California Environmental Protection Agency.
Governor’s Climate Change Advisory Committee. November 2007. Montana Climate Change Action Plan. Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
New Mexico Climate Change Advisory Group. December 2006. Final Report. New Mexico Environment Department.
Washington Climate Advisory Team Technical Working Group (Agriculture; Energy Supply; Forestry; Residential, Commercial, and Industrial; and Transportation). December 2007. Final Draft Priority Documents. State of Washington Department of Ecology.

Rebecca Carter is the former climate change analyst for the Sonoran Institute-Lincoln Institute of Land Policy Joint Venture for whom she wrote this report. This article is based on a longer version published by

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Sustainable Planning under SB 375

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

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

SB375 integrates land-use, housing, and transportation planning on a regional level for the first time. It provides a new tool to build sustainability, though it puts that tool in the hands of appointed regional planning bodies that have a poor track record on investing in social equity.

At present, cities and counties adopt general plans for development. These include housing elements, which are guided by the state’s “Regional Housing Needs Allocation.” Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) produce regional transit plans. Local elected officials appoint the members of the MPOs.

SB375 requires each MPO to add a broader vision for growth, called a “Sustainable Communities Strategy” (SCS), to its transportation plan. The SCS must lay out a plan to meet the region’s transportation, housing, economic, and environmental needs in a way that enables the area to meet the greenhouse gas emission, reduction targets set by the California Air Resources Board under AB32.

Nothing in SB375 forces cities or regions to comply with the SCS, nor does it provide direct funding. Instead, the legislation relies on incentives. Funding for new transportation projects will hinge on the projects’ fitting into the SCS. Some small residential and mixed-use projects located very near transit will be exempt from the entire environmental review process under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). Other residential or mixed-use projects that match the SCS criteria will have a streamlined permitting process. If a city can’t meet the goals of the SCS, it has the option of adopting an Alternative Planning Strategy that outlines the steps needed to meet the SCS targets.

As transportation justice advocates have learned, the MPOs at the heart of the SB375 planning process don’t reflect the demographics of their areas and often fail to address the needs of low-income residents.* The Metropolitan Transportation Commission, for example, which functions as the MPO for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area, gives smaller counties like Napa, with just 136,000 people, half the votes of Alameda County, with over 1.5 million people. As a result, the MTC has consistently slighted bus service in favor of rail, and has failed to address multibillion dollar operating shortfalls in bus systems that low-income urban residents depend on.

“We haven’t seen the MTC advance an equity agenda,” says Urban Habitat Transportation Program Director Bob Allen. The new legislation raises the stakes for democratizing the regional planning bodies and reforming their governance to reflect equity. Such changes would allow for social as well as environmental gains under the new legislation.

“SB375 could give us an opportunity to use the SCS to advance not only sustainability but also social equity by prioritizing investment in high-quality, adequately funded bus systems,” says Allen.

* Sanchez, Thomas W., “An Equity Analysis of Transportation Funding,” Race, Poverty and the Environment, V. 15, No. 2, Fall 2008.

Urban Habitat has been building power with low-income people and commmunities of color since 1989. Vu-Bang Nguyen, Mary Small and Marcy Rein contributed to this article.

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A Trust Fund for California’s Poor Communities

Voices of Climate Justice

By Evelyn Marcelina Rangel-Medina

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

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

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

Nidia Bautista, policy director of Coalition for Clean Air, says we “must invest in a climate solution that combats unhealthful air quality and greenhouse gases simultaneously… though climate change is a global phenomenon, our solutions should be geared to provide benefits locally.”[2]

Bautista is leading the legislative effort to create a Community Benefits Fund through the passage of AB1405, which will direct a minimum of 30 percent of the revenues generated from the implementation of AB32 to the most impacted and disadvantaged communities in California—that is, neighborhoods identified as most affected by air pollution, hence most vulnerable to climate change.

The Ella Baker Center, along with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) is sponsoring SB31—introduced by Senator Fran Pavley—to create a Carbon Trust Fund for revenues collected from AB32. The fund will be directed toward investing in (a) renewable energy and energy efficiency programs, particularly those focusing on low-income consumers; (b) technologies that provide pollution reduction benefits; and (c) creating green jobs development and training.[3]

SB31 and AB1405 represent a groundbreaking opportunity to restructure the purpose of monies raised through market-mechanisms to reduce greenhouse gases. The carbon funds that currently exist in Europe and Asia focus on financial gain and energy efficiency investments, but no attention is given to returning resources to communities that need green pathways out of poverty. Through the Carbon Trust Fund and the Community Benefits Fund, we will enact proactive policies that can create systemic change by getting our communities back to work today, while at the same time safeguarding their tomorrows.

Both bills are currently parked at the California State Legislature and will be voted upon during the next legislative cycle in 2010. We hope you can join us in becoming a partner and advocate for these policies.

1.     Morello-Frosch, R., Pastor, M, Sadd, J., and Shonkoff, S. B. “The Climate Gap: Inequalities in How Climate Change Hurts Americans & How to Close the Gap.” June 2009.
2.    Bautista, Nidia. “Climate benefits, community safeguards can come together.” Capitol Weekly, August 20, 2009.
3.    Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. October 2009.

Evelyn Marcelina Rangel-Medina is Ella Baker Center’s Green-Collar Jobs Campaign policy director. 

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AB32: Energy Retrofits

Voices of Climate Justice

AB32: Energy Retrofits for Low-Income Households

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

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

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

If present usage patterns continue, California will emit 596 million metric tons of carbon by 2020. To meet its AB32 targets, the state will have to reduce its emissions by 174 million metric tons of carbon.

CARB compiles a “Greenhouse Gas Inventory,” pooling data from several sources to determine how many tons of the main greenhouse gases are emitted by various economic sectors and activities.[2] One million metric tons of carbon is the equivalent of 193,000 households’ average electricity use. It is also the equivalent of replacing 1.5 million energy inefficient (non-Energy Star) refrigerators or eliminating 216,000 passenger automobiles from road use for one year.

Energy retrofits on 335,000 low-income households could also cut one million metric tons of carbon, according to the Greenlining Institute. The Institute used carbon calculators available online through Home Energy Saver of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, PG&E, Energy Star, and the EPA, to gauge the impact of weatherizing homes and upgrading appliances to energy-efficient models.[3]

Pulling in private investors, federal and state subsidies, local non-profits, minority contractors, utility auditors, and other important stakeholders, an effort to retrofit 335,000 homes would not only boost the local economies, but provide valued training and certification skills, energy savings, and health co-benefits. It could produce jobs and build green assets for the community. A small subset of the retrofits could be monitored several years later to verify the retrofitting impact and gain insights for strengthening the process.

Demanding economic set-asides for communities burdened by pollution and climate change is gaining traction. A targeted weatherization program can help reduce both greenhouse gas emissions, and inequality at the same time.

1.    California Air Resources Board, “Climate Change Scoping Plan: A Framework for Change,” December 2008.
2.    See for details.
3.    Marchant, Tara and Bukirin, Zara. “Greening our Neighborhoods,” Summer Associates’ project for the Greenlining Institute, August 2009.

Tara Marchant is a program manager at the Greenlining Institute.

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Lake Merritt-Chinatown

The Lake Merritt BART station is tantalizingly close to several of Oakland’s busiest corridors—downtown, Chinatown, and Lake Merritt itself. Yet, the area surrounding the BART station is surprisingly low-key, characterized by quiet apartment buildings, several parking structures, some sparse foot traffic, and a small, usually deserted park where APEN members at a Bay Area protest for clean air, healthy jobs, and climate justice. © 2009 APENAsian seniors can be seen practicing tai-chi early in the morning. BART riders come and go but don’t linger. This neighborhood, though, is slated to become a “transit-oriented development” in a few years—one of several throughout the Bay Area.

TODs, as they are called, are neighborhoods planned within a half-mile radius of a transit hub. The idea is to incorporate mixed-use development—housing, small businesses, and services—within walking and biking distance of a major transit stop. The reduced car traffic, coupled with the increased public transit ridership, makes the transit system more efficient overall.

Transforming Transit
Last year, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) awarded 20 grants totaling $7.6 million to Bay Area cities and counties to develop plans linking land use and transportation—a legacy, advocates say, of California’s two recently enacted laws addressing the climate crisis. The laws, though still in the early stages of implementation, are being closely watched around the country as cutting edge approaches to reducing greenhouse gases through land use and transportation planning. AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, establishes a statewide cap on greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. Its companion SB375, requires local planning organizations across the state to show that their land use policies result in carbon reduction.

TransForm, the statewide transportation policy advocacy coalition, has been deeply involved in the new transit projects with the goal of making sure that local communities usually left out of planning decisions—low-income workers and people of color—are included in shaping the development process.

“We’ve got to get people involved early [because] there’s a huge learning curve [before] the community [can] identify its needs and address them in the planning process,” says Joel Ramos, TransForm’s community planner, adding that they hope “to grow this model [and] shift the whole paradigm of planning.”

The Development Process
Typically, planning processes are set up to meet the needs of the developers and expedite the project, Ramos explains. That kind of inaccessibility, along with the specter of gentrification, makes the challenge of engaging local communities even more important. With the Lake Merritt BART Station Area project, local groups and advocates have begun organizing and participating at the front end of a two-year long planning process.

“We see an opportunity here to assert a strong vision and set of policies for how a transition to green communities can and must advance racial and economic justice,” says Mimi Ho, program director for the Asian Pacific Environmental Network (APEN). “We need to show how narrow green policies can be, and how they can lead to racial inequities and further polarization of wealth. We want to put forward a platform for green, healthy, and just communities that’s grounded in the needs and hopes of our grassroots base.”

APEN is part of the Great Communities Collaborative coordinated by TransForm to organize local stakeholders, identify community needs and concerns, and ensure democratic participation in the planning and decision-making. Local stakeholders for the Lake Merritt Station include Asian Health Services, the Buddhist Church of Oakland, the Oakland Chinatown Chamber of Commerce, Laney College, and BART.

For APEN, with more than 300 active members in the Chinatown and surrounding neighborhoods, the development project is important on multiple levels. It is an opportunity to win concrete improvements to residents’ lives while establishing a model for city planning that creates green jobs, green affordable housing, and sustainable communities. It is also a test for building power with a broad coalition of diverse interests.

“The biggest challenge will be to get our voice across in the decision-making committee,” says Wayne Leung, director of APEN’s Power in Asians Organizing project, which organizes Chinatown. “APEN [occupies] only one of over 50 seats in the steering committee [and] even though we know what we want, it’s really hard to get those ideas across.”

Moving Forward
The planning process, begun in 2008, is now holding regular workshops and orientations for community members, including a series of “charrettes” where developers and stakeholders consult over design models and draft plans. At the end of the two-year process, a blueprint is expected to be submitted to the city council for approval.

Community groups have been busy trying to engage their bases—despite a wide range of interests and perspectives among stakeholder groups—to develop a consensus for the project’s vision and advocate for a real place at the decision-making table. Now coalition members have begun to realize that they need to come together to pull more weight with the city council and big institutions like BART and Peralta Community College.

“It’s been really important to develop a close relationship with the city staff who are implementing the project,” says Julia Liou, planning and development manager with Asian Health Services, “and also to agitate for an infrastructure by which the community can voice their concerns—not just through community meetings, but at the table [so that] decisions [made] address the needs of the stakeholders.”

In addition to its community clinic and health advocacy work, Asian Health Services also worked with local allies on the “Revive Chinatown” project, which resulted in streetscape improvements, such as four-way crosswalks laid out with elaborate red and gold designs. That history in the neighborhood has helped immeasurably when working on the Lake Merritt project, Liou points out. “There are always hot button issues, but at least we know we can dialogue—we can say, let’s try to figure it out,” she says.

Community Priorities
Last year, stakeholder groups surveyed over 1000 community members to identify needs and priorities. The top three concerns were: public safety, jobs, and affordable housing, which have been incorporated in the general vision.
The redeveloped Lake Merritt BART community will have lots of open, as well as multi-use space to accommodate such diverse local residents as Asian seniors, Chinatown youth, and Laney students. It will have plenty of street lighting, less traffic congestion, and sidewalk improvements to enhance pedestrian safety. There will be green-built affordable housing with ground-level retailers and services that meet the needs of the community. The neighborhood, potentially a vibrant corridor to many of Oakland’s central destinations, will no longer be “the hole in the doughnut,” as Ramos puts it.

According to Leung, the project has energized APEN’s base-building, because “People feel like it’s a great opportunity to raise the community voice.” And, he adds: “It’s a good way to get them engaged in environmental justice and climate change issues in a real world context. They can see how EJ works and how they can be a part of it. Sometimes, when we talk about climate justice, it’s all the way up in the air. This is something we can pull down to the ground.”

Tram Nguyen is the media coordinator of the California Reinvestment Coalition. She was formerly executive editor of Colorlines.

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SB 375 and Racism

Voices of Climate Justice

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

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

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

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

People of color and poor people are not the ones who need to be convinced to drive less and embrace urban living. Although a growing number of low-income people of color are moving to the outer suburbs for cheaper housing, the majority already live in or near urban centers and are transit dependent. So, even if successful, SB375 could simply increase gentrification pressures rather than improve the quality of life in low-income communities of color.

Of course, communities planned with the priorities of keeping emissions low, driving less, and encouraging more walking provide opportunities for informal social interaction and greater relationships between neighbors. Incorporating more trees and other green infrastructure throughout communities can remove or trap lung-damaging dust, ash, pollen, and smoke from the air, while also providing shade and conserving energy. Inner city residents would love to see some of these benefits.

However, the bill lacks positive funding mechanisms and real restrictions on sprawl. We have a Governor who claims to be a champion of the environment, but will not support tax policies that raise the necessary funds to make SB375 a success. In the 2009 legislative session, he vetoed SB391, SB406, and AB338, all bills that would have strengthened SB375 or provided financing.

Finally, while SB375 encourages developments in urban centers near transit, it does not take into account the need to make improvements to urban schools, bring down the crime rate, or provide jobs. Creating complete, functioning communities cannot be done in silos, with education or employment being discussed separately from crime prevention, land-use, housing, and transit policy. Until real issues like racism and discrimination are addressed in the planning process, equity will remain out of reach.

Kisasi Brooks was a field representative for former Assemblymember and now State Senator, Loni Hancock.

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Manufacturing Affordable Housing

Garry “Bear” Salois and his granddaughter April Flores are the proud occupants of a 2004 Cavalier-manufactured home with three bedrooms and a small porch where Bear likes to relax after work with his dogs Rain and Storm. “I always thought I wasn’t rich enough to afford my own home,” says Bear, a bona fide member of the Salish-Kootenai tribe who grew up on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. “But now I’m voluntarily paying over three times the required monthly payment of $120 in order to be in good shape to retire at age 65.”

High-quality modern manufactured homes can provide affordable housing solutions, improved financial security, and increased energy efficiency comparable to site-built homes. When coupled with responsible financing and long-term control over the land on which they sit, these homes can also provide wealth-building opportunities. Over 17 million Americans live in manufactured housing.

After a lifetime of hard work in jobs ranging from tree planter to his current post at a tribal mail facility, in his mid-50s Bear found himself living in a junky old trailer. “I didn’t mind living in [it], but it kept falling apart and was too expensive to fix,” he says. With a falling-in roof, holes in the floor, failing plumbing, and a broken furnace, his living conditions were not state-approved. This kept him from providing a home for Flores, who was under state care at the time.

Salish-Kootenai Housing Authority, a partner of NeighborWorks Montana, has replaced several homes on the Flathead Reservation. With the help of Authority home ownership counselors, Bear signed up to receive a 15-year mortgage through the tribe’s credit program.

The improved energy efficiency of modern manufactured housing can have the most impact for homeowners who are currently living in pre-1976 homes. While some of these homes have been well maintained by their owners, others present significant health, safety, and environmental concerns. Replacing such homes with a new, Energy Star-qualified home can make a world of difference in terms of energy consumption and financial stability.

Bear’s utility bills have decreased from $120 a month to approximately $40 a month, even after running the air conditioning during this year’s hot summer. Flores appreciates having a comfortable place to live in while she is going to school. “It’s a nice place to wake up to, which means you start your day better, and you end your day better,” she says.
Along with more opportunities for asset appreciation, today’s manufactured housing increasingly offers environmental benefits, too. By taking advantage of factory production efficiencies, manufactured homes generate 35-40 percent less waste than site-built construction.

“The industry has launched CertifiedGreen, a green building program that leverages the inherently green qualities of building homes off-site, such as resource efficiencies and engineered framing,” explains Emanuel Levy of the Systems Built Research Alliance.

Federal climate change legislation offers an opportunity to expand such programs to a national scale. A provision in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, passed by the United States House of Representatives in June, includes a $7,500 rebate for homeowners at 200 percent or less of the poverty line to replace pre-1976 mobile homes with Energy Star-qualified manufactured homes. As of late August, the Senate version of climate change legislation also funded a grant program to increase energy efficiency in manufactured housing, including rebates to homeowners replacing pre-1976 homes.

Kathryn Goulding is a program director for the Corporation for Enterprise Development (

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Food and Agriculture

West Oakland Youth Standing Empowered (WYSE) choose plants for their parks project. © 2008 Mandela MarketPlace

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

Reinventing Food Systems

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

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

Although scientists are unable to predict the effect on any particular region, the warming is already altering growing zones, raising the prospect that the production of corn and soy, now centered in the Midwest, may shift northward into Canada. Rainfall patterns are changing as well. Farmers in the Northeast are experiencing wetter conditions and more intense rains, while California and the Southwest face long-term drought. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has warned of an ominous future: “Where there’s no more agriculture in California.”

The Consequences for Global Food Security
Soaring temperatures pose yet another threat to world food supply. The most important grains—corn, wheat, and rice—are extremely sensitive to higher temperatures and are already being grown near the highest tolerable temperatures in the tropics and subtropics. A recent study examining 23 global climate models indicates that by 2100, growing temperatures in the tropics and subtropics will exceed the most extreme seasonal temperatures in recent history.[1] In other regions, valuable crops with narrow growth parameters, such as wine grapes, will be especially susceptible. Farmers will also struggle with a loss of pollinating insects and greater numbers of invasive weeds and insect pests that adapt more quickly than domesticated plants. As sea levels rise, salt water intrusion into wells will compromise irrigation systems on coastal farms.

In the near future, agricultural productivity is expected to rise as plants respond to increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, but continuing climate instability will eventually decrease yields by 30 to 46 percent, by some estimates. In the later decades of this century, climate change will increase the number of people at risk of hunger, taking its greatest toll on the poor and most vulnerable.[2]

The current form of industrial agriculture, though highly productive, is very problematic because the large amounts of fossil fuels, fertilizers, and pesticides it requires produce CO2 and the more potent greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide, which represent 20 percent of the heat-trapping emissions driving climate change. Furthermore, the profits of large agribusiness corporations come at the expense of underpaid farm laborers around the world. There is ample evidence that farm workers already suffer disproportionately from pesticide poisoning (about three to four million severe cases each year), heat-related death (they are twice as likely to die at work), and food insecurity, compared to other labor sectors.[3]

“Agriculture is a way of life for farm workers. If climate change is affecting agriculture, then it also affects farm workers and their survival,” says Yissel Barajas, manager of strategic labor initiatives for Reiter Affiliated Companies, one of the largest berry producers with farms in California, Oregon, and Florida. When strawberry production in Ventura County suffered after a prolonged winter and an excessively hot summer, farm workers, usually paid ‘by the piece,’ saw their wages decrease.

In Fresno County, located in the semi-arid south of California’s Central Valley, climate change-induced drought is already taking its toll. According to Edie Jessup, a food policy advocate who was born in a farm labor camp and grew up in the area, “Climate change and over-use of resources is impacting low-income people and their ability to feed themselves. It is tearing communities apart.” The arid Central Valley should never have been developed for high water-use crops, she feels. “But once big investments have been made and associated systems created around it, it wants to be self-perpetuating… that means government subsidies. We made choices as a community that are no longer sustainable, and now we are suffering the consequences,” Jessup explains. “We need to re-regionalize our food and work systems [even if it means] a huge amount of social upheaval in the interim.”

Reinventing Agriculture, the Old-Fashioned Way
Clearly, we must reinvent the way we farm to make it not only less vulnerable to climate change, but also economically, environmentally, and socially viable. The new system must be regionally semi-independent, flexible, resilient, and able to adapt relatively quickly to changing conditions. It must minimize dependence on external pesticide and fertilizer inputs, especially fossil fuels, and employ farming methods that integrate intercropping and rotational practices and water, soil, and nutrient conservation. It’s likely that regionalized food and agricultural systems would have to be comprised of smaller individual farms growing a greater variety of genetically robust and diverse crops. Such a system will, of necessity, be more labor intensive, requiring an experienced, knowledgeable, and higher-paid permanent labor force, thus inculcating a more socially equitable system.[4] Also, regional agriculture must be situated in areas that possess the richest soils and have the best long-term access to reliable water sources.

Regionalized agriculture will require land reform, access to markets, and international, national, state, and local policies that level the playing field among large and small producers and retailers.[5] The current massive subsidies to agribusiness monocultures will have to be reprogrammed to finance research and development of drought, flood, temperature, and pest resistant crop varieties in small and medium-sized farms.

Maricela Morales, associate executive director for the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, a nonprofit with a mission to build grassroots power to realize social, economic, and environmental justice in California’s Central Coast region, says that concern for climate change has finally led to concrete investments of money and policies to create a “green economy.” However, “initial investments and policies have focused on energy (science, technology, efficiencies, manufacturing) and physical infrastructure (green buildings, retrofits, rehabilitation),” she says. “Federal, state, county, and city green economy investments and policies are needed to sustain agriculture and also develop ‘green’ agriculture that restores and protects the environment,” she emphasizes, “and provides safe working conditions and living wage jobs with career pathways for all food producers, particularly farm workers.”

Such a scenario is not impossible. Cuba went through a similar transition when its oil, fertilizer, and pesticide supply were cut off by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Today, Cuba is largely food self-sufficient and has developed one of the world’s most extensive knowledge bases for organic and sustainable farming methods.

Towards a “Foodshed” Moment in Agriculture
In the United States and other countries, a new food movement that advocates for change is gaining strength. The proliferation of farmers markets, which decrease the links in the food chain as well as the “food miles” from producer to consumer, attest to this. So also does the growing interest in home, urban, and community gardens, farm-to-table programs, and locally-grown produce and artisanal food products. There is even a new term—“foodshed”—to describe a semi-autonomous, geographically designated food and agricultural area.

The transition from the current unsustainable agribusiness-dominated system to a regionalized food and agricultural system that is environmentally conscious, socially just, economically viable, and climate resilient, will not occur without painful consequences. It may already be too late to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate changes already underway, and the poorest and most vulnerable will undoubtedly suffer the most. Food shortages may cause mass migrations of people, as well as social and political upheaval. The relocation of growing areas may bring about a redistribution of resources, commerce, and population centers. But if we do not focus on mitigative and adaptive strategies, the severity of the outcomes may be even more extreme.

1.    Battisti, David S. and Naylor, Rosamond. “Historical warnings of future food insecurity with unprecedented seasonal heat.” Science. 323: 240-244. 2009.
2.    Ibid. Also, Schmidhuber, Josef and Tubiello, Francesco N. “Global food security under climate change.” PNAS. 104(50): 19703-8. 2007.
3.    United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), 2008; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2008.
4.     Heinberg, Richard. “50 Million Farmers” (Lecture Text). Energy Bulletin 22584. 2006. Howden, Mark, et al. “Adapting agriculture to climate change.” Proceedings of National Academy of Science. 104(50:19691-19696). 2007.
5.    Scherr, Sara J. and Sthapit, Sajal. “Mitigating climate change through food and land use.” WorldWatch Report 179. Washington, D.C. 2009.

Marty Fujita is a freelance writer and evolutionary ecologist who has developed international environmental programs in the United States. 

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Central Valley Water Woes By Amy Vanderwarker

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

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

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

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

Water in the San Joaquin Valley

The San Joaquin Valley—comprised of San Joaquin, Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Stanislaus, Merced, and Tulare counties—is one of the most agriculturally productive areas of the United States. The entire Central Valley of California, from Mount Shasta in the north to the Tehachapi Mountains in the south, generates 13 percent of all farm sales in the country, of which over two-thirds comes from the San Joaquin Valley.[1]

The Valley’s hot summers are ideal for growing, if you can secure a water source. The farms import irrigation water from over 400 miles away through a series of canals and aqueducts fed by the Sacramento Delta—an expansive estuary where waters from Northern California rivers, the San Francisco Bay, and the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers meet. It is estimated that agriculture consumes 80 percent of all water used in California.

The federal government spent billions of tax dollars to build the dams, canals, and pumps required to transport the water (most of which goes to large, corporate farming enterprises 2) that farmers receive at reduced rates. According to the Environmental Working Group, growers in the San Joaquin Valley receive an estimated $416 million per year in subsidies. The state has also borrowed millions of public dollars to provide drinking water for urban areas in semi-arid climates.
California’s vast water infrastructure has caused extensive, ongoing environmental damage: the diversion of rivers, such as the Trinity and the San Joaquin, has harmed wildlife dependent on the rivers; and the large quantities of water pumped out of the Delta have caused its ecosystem to crash. Recent federal court decisions seek to limit water flow out of the Delta to protect smelt and other endangered species.

Water for Farms, not for People
Over 90 percent of communities in the San Joaquin Valley rely on groundwater—vast, underground lakes—for their daily needs, but this water has been contaminated by agriculture and dairy operations throughout the valley. The U.S. Geological Survey found nitrates—attributable to “human activity”[3]—in virtually all the groundwater wells in the San Joaquin Valley, and about a quarter of them exceeded health standards.

In fact, over half of all drinking water health violations in California occur in the Central Valley, exposing around 400,000 people to a variety of illnesses. Common contaminants include arsenic, a naturally occurring carcinogen, and the banned pesticide DBCP, which forced the City of Fresno to shut down several municipal wells.

It is nearly impossible to identify a single source of the pollution. The majority comes from pesticide- and fertilizer-laced water run-off from farm fields and dairies. These fertilizers are virtually unregulated, and only a handful of pesticides have health standards. Yet, California is the only state in the country, besides Texas, lacking in comprehensive groundwater protections.

As Susana De Anda, codirector and cofounder of the Community Water Center of Tulare County, which works to ensure equitable access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water for all communities, points out: “Even if you can treat the water, if you rely on groundwater as a source of drinking water and the polluting entities around you are not regulated, you are pretty much waiting to get contaminated again.”

The largely Latino and immigrant Valley residents—over a fifth of whom live in poverty with a per capita income that is 26 percent lower than in the rest of the state[4]—are forced to buy water filters and bottled water to safeguard their health.

Bearing an Even Larger Burden
By the end of this century, temperatures in California are expected to increase three to 10 degrees. This does not bode well for the residents of towns like East Orosi in the Central Valley who may expect the number of extreme heat days to increase from less than 20 per year to at least 40, with a resultant doubling or tripling of heat-related deaths. Health surveys indicate that over 20 percent of farm workers lack drinking water in the fields[5] and the United Farm Workers have already documented a rise in heat-related deaths because of a recent drought.

The rise in temperatures is also expected to shrink up to 70 percent of the “reservoir” of the Sierra Nevada snow pack, which feeds the Northern California rivers, causing agriculture to lose 20 percent of its irrigation water.[6] This could make growers more reliant on pumping groundwater, further reducing water access for communities while increasing contamination—especially if growers increase pesticide and fertilizer use to address changes in crops and seasons. The expected cutbacks in farming operations would also result in job losses among farm workers.

Furthermore, changes in the way the snow pack melts are expected to increase the intensity of spring runoffs, leading to an increased risk of flooding, which in turn will be exacerbated by the projected seven- to 35-inch rise in the sea level.[7]
A rise in the sea level would also threaten more than 1,000 miles of aging levees in the Delta and could result in massive flooding. The levees protect dozens of islands—harboring agriculture and communities—from tidal flooding. Many islands have already sunk as a result of extensive alterations to the ecosystem, some lying as much as 15 feet below sea level.[8] Low-income residents are more likely not to have in place either the structural barriers to protect their homes or flood insurance. The result could be another disaster like Hurricane Katrina, which starkly demonstrated the disparities between government disaster assistance to the white middle class and poor people of color.[9]

Farce as Policy
A series of recent farces around California’s water politics highlight the need for a radical change in direction. Conservative politicians, ranging from San Joaquin Valley mayors to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, have revived the tired old debate of environment vs. jobs, without addressing the pressing health concerns of communities like East Orosi.

During the summer of 2009, conservative talk show host Sean Hannity filmed dramatic rallies in the midst of fallow San Joaquin Valley fields. With teasers, like “California farmers left high and dry after government picks fish over people,” Hannity publicized the need for the federal government to continue supplying irrigation water for agriculture in the Central Valley, after recent efforts to cut back water deliveries and protect the Delta ecosystem. Hannity featured the California Latino Water Coalition, which purports to represent farm workers left jobless by radical environmentalists but is actually comprised of large water districts and valley politicians operating under the guidance of a public relations firm—the same one that represents Blackwater, the military contractors.

The film does not reveal that many farm workers holding signs at the rallies were paid to attend by growers—the same growers who have failed to negotiate with the United Farm Workers over providing drinking water in the fields and who pay their labor force the lowest rates in the state. While pushing for more funds to offset water shortages, these growers have yet to adopt basic water conservation and efficiency measures, which would create substantial water savings.

“Industry and many policy makers want to maintain the status quo and use the same old strategies, like dams and canals, that have got us into this mess today. Politics as usual is not even sufficient for our problems now, much less for a future with climate change,” says Debbie Davis, a legislative analyst with the Environmental Justice Coalition for Water (EJCW). The EJCW and other organizations have successfully fought off two multi-billion dollar bond proposals and several water bills that would have perpetuated California’s unsustainable and inequitable water policies.

AGUA Fights for Clean Water

Despite the potentially disastrous impacts of climate change, the crisis also represents an opportunity to move toward environment-friendly programs with the potential to mitigate long-standing injustices, such as green water-treatment technologies and vegetation buffers to promote the replenishment of groundwater and reduce contaminants.

Down in the Valley, Jessica Sanchez and her mother have helped start a grassroots coalition of communities fighting for safe drinking water, called Asociación de Gente Unida por el Agua, or AGUA. They, along with 17 other communities, have been organizing residents around the issues of contamination and regulation and working to provide solutions for communities that don’t currently have clean drinking water. Change is in the water for California climate politics.

1.    “Assessing the Region Via Indicators: The Economy, 1994-2004.” The State of the Great Central Valley. Great Valley Center. 2005.
2.    Sharp, Renee. California Water Subsidies. Environmental Working Group. 2004. Available online at: Accessed September 20, 2009.
3.    Dubrovsky, N.M., Kratzer, C.R., Brown, L.R., Gronberg, J.M., and Burow, K.R. “Water Quality in the San Joaquin-Tulare Basins, California, 1992-95.” U.S. Geolgoical Survey Circular 1159. 1998.
4.    “Assessing the Region Via Indicators: The Economy, 1994-2004.” The State of the Great Central Valley. Great Valley Center. 2005.
5.    Fougeres, Dorian. “Climate Change, Environmental Justice, and Human Rights in California’s Central Valley: A Case Study.” Center for International Law. Available online at: Accessed September 20, 2009.
6.    Luers, Amy L., Cayan, Daniel R., Franco, G., Haneman, M., and Croes, B. “Our Changing Climate: Assessing the Risks to California.” California Climate Change Center. 2009.
7.    Luers, Amy L., et al. “Our Changing Climate.” 2009.
8.    Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Overview. Department of Water Resources. 2008. Available online at: Accessed September 20, 2009.
9.    Heberger, M., Cooley, H., Herrera, P., Gleick, P., and Moore, E. “The Impacts of Sea Level Rise on the California Coast.” California Climate Change Center. 2009.

Amy Vanderwarker is a consultant who works on environmental justice and water issues. 

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The Second Green Revolution

By Clifton Ross

It may seem hard to believe that the process that brought the head of lettuce to your salad—and all the other delicious components of your organic meal, like the baked potato and the grilled free-range chicken breast—are all a major cause of climate change. According to the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, “Approximately one-third of greenhouse gas emissions are produced by agriculture and land-use changes, with 18 percent of the overall total coming from livestock alone.”[1] While organic, free-range, or better yet, vegetarian diets are steps in the right direction, the steps are still circumscribed by a system that guarantees climate change, even in its “greenest” sectors.

Part of the problem is the amount of energy (inputs) required by standard agriculture to produce the world’s food: in the United States 7.3 calories of energy go into delivering one calorie of food.[2] From the tractors that break the ground for planting, then return to do the planting and harvesting, to the transport and processing, to the further transport to the supermarket, and all the way to your drive to make the purchase (unless you bicycle and cut a calorie or two off the process), energy is used and carbon produced.

The United States government’s agricultural policies reward large, capital-intensive corporations and leave small, labor-intensive farmers in the dust. In 2007, as a result of heightened public interest in food production and policy, the Federal Farm Bill became an issue for popular debate. But despite grassroots activist efforts, the bill passed without serious policy changes. It was agribusiness as usual. While factory farms continue to receive huge subsidies, alternatives—such as organic production—receive only limited support, mostly in the form of research grants.

Organically produced food represents only 3.5 percent of the United States food market, nonetheless it’s a growing segment.[3] This is certainly a step forward, at least in theory. But while very small organic farms might qualify as “agroecological” by producing their own fertilizers, diversifying and rotating crops, using cover crops, and practicing ecological pest management, very few of the larger farms meet this ideal. Julie Guthman, author of Agrarian Dreams: The Paradox of Organic Farming in California warns that, “In practice, few farms meet the ideal of on-farm composting” and “large-scale mixed growers are particularly inclined to rely on input substitution. Few plant cover crops because of the expense; instead, they use the controversial sodium (or Chilean) nitrate and other purchased fertility inputs.”[4]

As the demand for organic food grows, so does the likelihood that big corporations of agribusiness will step in to fill the void once they’ve put the small producers out of business. As Eric Holt-Gimenez of the Institute for Food and Development Policy puts it, “Given the system we have today, and given the corporate dominance… it’s perfectly imaginable that the largest organic producer would become Monsanto and that the largest distributor would become Walmart.” And it’s also perfectly imaginable that the new “organic” foods would leave the same carbon footprint and require the same 7.3 calories of energy for one calorie of organic food.

Latin American Experiments in Change
This discussion isn’t taking place only in the United States. In fact, the entire world—most notably many nations of Latin America—is facing the crisis that agribusiness drags behind it like a plow cutting through the earth. Activists of the social movements of the region are convinced that the transformation of agriculture to address the problems of global warming will require a new economic system. So far, most of the “left” governments elected across South and Central America continue to follow an extractive model of development, but pressure from below, the rising cost of food on international markets, and the financial collapse of the past year are increasing pressure for radical change.
In Venezuela, agroecology is a key component of anti-imperialist, socialist strategy. President Hugo Chavez, whose nation of Venezuela imports two thirds of its food—one half of that from the United States—has hoped to dramatically reduce imports through the development of ecological agriculture and agricultural cooperatives. Coops, like Mistajá in the state of Mérida, have made it possible for many campesinos to work the land without the “patron” (boss) for the first time in their lives. But Mistajá produces only two crops: roses and potatoes, both conventionally grown with the usual chemical inputs. Moreover, like most other cooperatives, they lack the managerial training and the skills for collective processes needed for success. With upwards of 150,000 cooperatives founded since Chavez came to power, the Bolivarian State has a mixed record on support in that area. Worse still, it’s universally acknowledged in Venezuela that a large number of these collective enterprises are “ghost collectives” formed by enlisting family for the sole purpose of obtaining “loans” from the government, which will never be paid back.

Although the programs the Venezuelan government has designed and implemented have been riddled with incompetence and corruption, the objective remains crucial, since it’s obvious that people who can’t govern themselves on a day-to-day basis, or a nation that can’t feed itself, can’t be free and sovereign.

Miguel Angel Nuñez, founder of the Institute for Production and Research in Tropical Agriculture, works as an adviser on agriculture and agroecology for the Chavez government. He says the Venezuelan debate has gone from food security to food sovereignty. “Food security is about having access to food, a concept which doesn’t necessarily question where food comes from, who produces it, or how it is produced. In contrast, food sovereignty implies a commitment to fostering self-sufficiency through land reform, community participation, ecologically-sound methods, and socially accountable research and policy agendas.”[5] [Story continues below, after sidebar.]

 The First Green Revolution
The origins of today’s international monocropping industrial agricultural system began when food shortages swept Mexico in the 1930s. Norman Borlaug, an agronomist who had been working for DuPont, was recruited to help develop a high-yield, disease-resistant dwarf wheat, which proved so successful that by 1963 Mexico became a net exporter of wheat. The development of high-yield, disease-resistant monocultures cultivated with chemical fertilizer and pesticides allowed India and Pakistan to nearly double their wheat yields between 1965 and 1970.

In 1968, William Gaud, then USAID director, said that “These and other developments in the field of agriculture contain the makings of a new revolution. It is not a violent Red Revolution like that of the Soviets, nor is it a White Revolution like that of the Shah of Iran. I call it the Green Revolution.”[1]

It was this directly political dimension of the Green Revolution, which caused a later generation of critics to see it as a central element in the United States strategy to maintain control of the developing world by subverting attempts at agrarian reform through increased crop yields. Kenny Ausubel described it this way:

“Fearing global upheaval, the developed nations initiated a deliberate strategy to supply cheap, abundant food to prevent political unrest. The Green Revolution seeds were, however, part of a larger package, conditioned to grow only within the narrow tolerances of costly petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides. The program also required expensive heavy equipment and massive high-tech irrigation. While initially the “miracle high-yielding” seeds did produce bigger crops, this gain proved to be at the expense of the environment and small farmers.”[2]

Formerly hungry campesinos were given a piece of bread rather than a piece of the field. They were eventually driven by necessity into the city to work in low-wage jobs in order to buy the bread they could no longer hope to produce from their own fields.
The environmental problems with the Green Revolution proved to be enormous. Pollution from pesticides and the runoff from the chemical fertilizers caused, and continue to cause, a cancer epidemic throughout the world. The enormous “dead zones” growing in our oceans are the result, in large part, of this same run-off. The fish and frogs that once thrived in the rice fields of Asia and Latin America have also fallen victim to the chemicals used in the “miracle” of massive crop production.

The small farmers who survived the centralization of production became dependent on the use of fertilizers and pesticides, which had to be imported from the United States and Japan—an enormous financial burden on their marginal resources. Furthermore, as food production was transformed from the work of people whose cultural and spiritual roots were in the land to a commodity for export and import, untold consequences of alienation emerged.

Vandana Shiva has detailed the connections between the Green Revolution and the destruction of social life in India in her book, The Violence of the Green Revolution. The inter-communal violence in the Punjab and elsewhere, Shiva maintains, is the direct responsibility of the changes brought by the Green Revolution. “Instead of abundance, Punjab has been left with diseased soils, pest-infested crops, water-logged deserts and indebted and discontented farmers,” she writes.[3]

As the Green Revolution progressed, entire countries, particularly in Central America, were made into enormous monocultural plantations. At first, resistance to the new methods of agriculture was virtually nil. But as the former indigenous farmers were reduced to serfs and as plantations were gradually mechanized, thrown out of work, conflict grew. As the land from which industrial crops like bananas, corn, cotton, sugar cane, and soy began to die and blow away, the hunger, poverty, and rage grew, feeding revolutionary insurgencies that were suppressed by brutal dictatorships.

Nationalist movements attempted land reform in numerous countries around the world. But even the successful ones like Cuba implemented farming practices based on a centralized, industrialized monoculture. Well into the 1970s, the Green Revolution was upheld as the best model for agriculture not only by the United States and its Western allies, but also by those nationalist movements which challenged the United States’ hegemony. —CR

2.    Ausubel, Kenny. Restoring the Earth. H.J.Kramer Inc. 1997.
3.    Shiva, V. Green Revolution. Zed Books. 1993 p. 12.



The switch to organic food production to reduce total energy consumption and global warming needs to be part of a larger shift in food production. Peter Rosset, who has been researching alternative agricultural approaches for the past 20 years, links redistributive land reform, locally oriented production, and organic growing practices in an analysis that shows that these interlinked practices are ecologically and economically sustainable.[6]

He says that while the government of President Chávez has made clear its commitment to agrarian reform, a number of factors have so far conspired to restrain progress. “These include the resistance of landlords and bureaucrats and the relative lack of organization of the peasantry into an actor, or at least an active subject, to push land reform.”[7] On the other hand, Cuba continues to be in the lead in Latin America and the world in its agricultural transformation.

Following the dramatic reduction of petroleum imports after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Cuba made profound changes in its agricultural model. They moved from a centralized socialist state system that mirrored international agribusiness to community-based agriculture. In the countryside, peasant-run cooperatives took over the massive state farms. And in cities, empty lots became gardens. The fields were plowed and fertilized by oxen. The 2006 film, “The Power of Community,” reveals how this change in policy drew the country back from the brink of starvation and made the island nearly self-sufficient in food production.[8]

Rosset writes that “as Cuba re-oriented its agricultural sector, becoming a world-class case of ecological agriculture along the way, it rebounded to show the best performance in all of Latin America and the Caribbean, a remarkable rate of 4.2 percent annual growth in per capita food production from 1996 through 2005 (the most recent year for which statistics are available),[9,10] a period in which the regional average growth rate was zero percent.”

Rosset has observed that to effectively sustain agricultural growth without returning to fertilizer and pesticides, agricultural workers must be re-linked to their own land.[11] The ideological, socio-political, and economic implications of this transition are still being absorbed on the island, but Medardo Naranjo Valdés of the Alamar Vivero nursery in Havana sees the move as a return to ancestral traditions that have broadened and deepened his perspective on socialism. “We have to figure out how to work within the agroecological system because we’re convinced that all creatures in this biological chain of being on our planet have a right to live.”

1.    Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report. New York, NY. Cambridge University Press. Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future.
2.    “The Food and Farming Transition: Toward a Post-Carbon Food System.” 2009. Post Carbon Institute.
4.    Guthman, Julie. Agrarian Dreams. University of California Press, 2004, 49-50.
5.    Kerssen, Tanya. Report on Nuñez remarks at Center for Latin American Studies, University of California Berkeley. October 2007.
6.    Rosset, Peter. “Fixing our Global Food System: Food Sovereignty and Redistributive Land Reform.” Monthly Review, July-August 2009.
7.     Wilpert, Gregory. “Land for People Not for Profit in Venezuela,” In Promised Land, Rosset, P., Patel, R., and Courville,M., eds., 249-264.
9.    “Moving Forward,” in Peter Rosset, Raj Patel, and Michael Courville, eds., Promised Land: Competing Visions of Agrarian Reform (Oakland: Food First Books, 2006), 301-21
10.    Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The State of Food and Agriculture 2006 (Rome: FAO, 2006).
11.    Rosset, Peter. Cuba: A Successful Case Study of Sustainable Agriculture. Monthly Review Press, 2000.

Clifton Ross is the author of Translations from Silence (2009, Freedom Voices Publications) and director of “Venezuela: Revolution from the Inside Out” (2008, PM Press). Portions of this article first appeared in Left Curve, #33, 2009.

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Urban Food Co-op Tackles Economic Empowerment

The green jobs conversation most often centers on industrialized sectors that require millions of dollars in capital—from high-tech clean energy to biodiesel. However, the world’s basic natural resources—land, water, and farming—are the essential building blocks for combating climate change and can provide immediate avenues to build an equitable green economy. Sustainable agriculture, urban food production, and environmentally sound distribution systems provide opportunity for economic revitalization through true local ownership. Urban planning and policy in the United States should embrace locally-owned sustainable food enterprises as essential to all economic development efforts.

Mandela MarketPlace is a leader in development, application, and assessment of food systems. The organization evolved over the last eight years, first as a project of the Environmental Justice Institute and Tides Center, and then as a nonprofit in 2006 with a mission to strengthen community health, integrity, and identity by providing economic opportunity and empowerment for inner-city Oakland residents and businesses, and local family farms. “We support our community by providing healthy, locally grown produce and educating them about organic and pesticide free food,” says Yuro Chavez, West Oakland Youth Standing Empowered (WYSE) team member and Mandela Food Cooperative worker-owner.

West Oakland is a dynamic community that experiences disproportionate burdens of environmental pollution, social and racial discrimination, economic disenfranchisement, and health disparity gaps. Residents rally, work, organize, and protest in order to improve equity and quality of life for themselves, families, and neighbors. When the Cypress Freeway fell in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, residents organized to re-route the freeway around the residential areas and lobbied for job training and local hiring on the re-construction efforts. When Red Star Yeast was spewing acetaldehyde into the community, residents spent over 15 years working to clean it up or shut it down. They were finally successful in removing the third largest air polluter in California from their community. Even with such a vital and vocal residential base, West Oakland continues to battle ever-increasing disparities especially, when it comes to their health and wealth.

Mandela MarketPlace, which works directly with low-income Oakland community residents, local, state and federal agencies, nonprofits, small business owners, and minority farmers to meet food needs and create economic opportunities is part of a growing movement that considers the environmental and socio-physical impacts of farming.
“Sustainable agriculture and organic and diverse urban food production hold the key to local economic revitalization and job creation, while drastically reducing our society’s energy consumption that sends food thousands of miles from farmer to plate. Using grassroots organizing principles and permaculture design, it’s possible to train and pay people to produce food safely and sustainably where they live, with minimal capital and infrastructure.”[1]

The Cooperative Approach   
From an idea born of community health assessments, Mandela Foods Cooperative (MFC) is the result of a unique community collaboration responding to food security concerns. A recurring theme throughout the process of community meetings and surveys was the need for individual economic empowerment, and the cooperative opened in June of 2009 in response.

Serving 300-400 customers daily, the 2,500 square foot co-op is retaining revenue in the local economy that exceeds its sales projections while providing eight resident worker-owners with income, long-term asset-building, and extensive training as community health educators.

At the store, eight local worker-owners are personally invested in the successful operation of a well-stocked grocery venue dedicated to improving the nutritional behaviors of their families, friends and neighbors. With support from Mandela MarketPlace, these social entrepreneurs are developing a nutrition education curriculum, establishing relevant daily in-store tastings and cooking demonstrations, and creating meaningful relationships with customers that will lead to healthy changes in their lives.

“Everyone who has gone through [Mandela Foods] walks away knowing its importance and holding respect for healthy food and community,” says community activist Monica Monterroso.

Sustainable Agriculture and Distribution
Farms are important stakeholders in the global climate picture. Locally based sustainable agriculture will reduce the green house gas emissions involved in planting, harvesting and transporting crops.

“The most efficient way to reduce air pollution from farms is to reduce the size and increase the number of farms. In other words, many small farms scattered throughout the country will have less of an impact on air quality than conventional factory farms do. Sustainable livestock farms depend less on cheap feed and fuel-guzzling machinery, because natural pasture systems rely on the animal’s own energy to harvest feed and spread manure. Because of this, sustainable farming offers a viable opportunity to reduce farm-related air pollution. As consumers, we can use our economic power to support farms that supply sustainably-produced fruits and vegetables, meat, eggs, and dairy products.”[2]

“As long as we’re buying produce from other countries and other parts of the United States, we are subject to the costs of shipping, fuel-consuming boats and cars, and pesticides,” says James Berk, a MFC worker-owner. “It’s in our best interest to buy locally and support sustainable growing practices, and that is what we are doing through Mandela MarketPlace.”

Across the nation, primary root causes of urban food insecurity are poverty and inequitable distribution. In the small and sustainable farming sector, farmers face increasing pressure from agribusiness and large producers who garner 60 percent of agricultural subsidies and undercut small farmers’ ability to make a living. Large-scale farming practices not only put farmers at risk but are stressing the environment, contributing to global warming, and perpetuating food instability.

Full Spectrum Community Involvement
In addition to the Mandela Foods Cooperative, Mandela MarketPlace supports the young members of WYSE in building the foundations for a just and sustainable Oakland. These youth are on the streets learning the importance of transportation, environmental justice, public health, and economic empowerment through action. Their projects include WYSE Streets, Healthy Neighborhood Stores Alliance, and the Burbank Garden.

In partnership with Alameda County Public Health, WYSE members collected over 300 surveys for a CALTRANS Environmental Justice Transportation Planning project. They formed an alliance with Urban Habitat to advocate and pass Measure VV to maintain affordable fares for AC Transit riders through direct lobbying of local officials. WYSE has facilitated new crosswalks, stoplights, trash containers, and improvements to local parks and public spaces. They have studied the conditions of parks and the prevalent advertising messages of fast food chains on billboards, particularly within 1,000 feet of schools. Recently, the WYSE team surveyed 28 neighborhood stores and their environmental conditions. WYSE campaigns for healthier product selections in corner stores near McClymonds High School.

Moving forward with the Healthy Neighborhood Stores Alliance, WYSE is developing a national model for increasing access to healthy and affordable foods, while supporting minority and disadvantaged farmers from the local area. Their next undertaking is to open a corner store produce service business.

Using the Mandela MarketPlace model, it’s possible to shift the social and environmental conditions that gave rise to the ecological disparities and challenges faced by inner-city communities across the United States. Working from a systems view and making these connections between public health, urban and rural environmental health, and economic development creates a shift in social conditions that have allowed the disparities and challenges faced by inner-city communities—starting from the ground up.

1    Raders, Gavin and Zandi, Haleh. “Planting Justice: Create Green Jobs.” October 2009.
2    Lappé, Anna. “The Climate Crisis at the End of Your Fork.” Sustainable Table. October 2009.

Dana Harvey is the executive director of Mandela MarketPlace and as a part-time faculty member, designed an environmental justice curriculum for Merritt College. She holds a Master of Science degree from the University of California, Berkeley

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Youth in Action: Greening Hip Hop

The Greening of Hip-Hop: Urban Youth Address Climate Change and Sustainability

By Eric Arnold

Twenty-year-old aspiring rapper Tre Pound was born in San Francisco’s Hunters Point, a predominantly low-income community of color with the dubious distinction of housing the two most toxic Superfund sites in the United States, as well as power and sewage treatment plants. Asthma, cancer, and diabetes rates in that area are all disproportionately higher than in other parts of the Bay Area. “I kinda knew where I was living wasn’t environmentally safe,” says Pound, but the public school he attended provided little information about industrial pollution or climate change.

Pound says he frequently incorporates socially-aware themes into his music, but he had never made an environmentally-aware rap song until he signed up to compete in Grind for the Green’s (G4G) Eco-Rap battle. He ended up winning the competition, earning a $1000 prize and studio time, by outpacing several other contestants with his eco-friendly flow during G4G’s second annual free concert at the Yerba Buena Gardens in San Francisco.

Pound is just one voice in the growing number of youth voices engaged in community organizing for social change. Millions of young people around the world participate in social activism. According to Wiretap Magazine, there are more than 600 youth-led community organizations currently creating green jobs, removing toxic waste, combating corporate pollution, and fighting against violence in their communities.

The undeniable reality of climate change speaks to the need for greater awareness and eco-sustainability among inner-city residents and people of color. Green has become the new face of youth activism, and today’s urban eco-activists use hip-hop as their medium.

Powered entirely by solar panels, the G4G event attracted hundreds of youth, their parents, community members, hip-hop fans, and members of other environmental activism groups, like Green for All, Alliance for Climate Education, and BayLocalize.

G4G Executive Director Zakiya Harris says she is utilizing hip-hop to focus young people’s attention on environmental issues. “We have to make it culturally relevant and engaging,” she explains. According to of dead prez, who headlined the concert, the green hip-hop movement is about empowerment, information, and economics—allowing people to “stop being just consumers and victims of corporations,” while “producing and providing those alternative resources that we need.”

During the concert, Oakland rapper Mistah F.A.B. showcased his community-minded side with material like “If ‘If’ Was a Fifth”—in which he muses, “What if poverty was gone and there was no more war and hunger?” At the conclusion of his performance, he announced that he was donating his $3,500 performance fee to the upcoming Green Youth Media Center, a joint project between G4G, Art in Action, Weapons of Mass Expression, and other progressive non-profit organizations.

The first of its kind in California, the Green Youth Media Center symbolizes the hope of green hip-hop activists like G4G’s Harris and Ambessa Cantave and Art in Action’s Galen Peterson, who envision similar centers opening up all over the United States.

The center, which opened its doors in October 2009, is a green building offering vocational, arts, and new media training; music production; youth leadership and violence prevention training; and green jobs education; as well as creating green revenue streams by selling art, music, and merchandise produced by its participants.

In order to teach urban youngsters about climate change, “We literally have to change their climate… their social climate,” Cantave explains. “We’ve related [climate change] to their health. It goes back to telling the story of something they already know; where they’re from.”

The emergence of green hip-hop activism represents the latest development in the ongoing movement to mobilize young people—a line connecting Mother Jones’ 1908 march of 100,000 child laborers from rural Pennsylvanian coal mines to Washington D.C., to the Student Nonviolence Coordinating Committee’s organizing around civil rights issues in the 1960s, to the Books Not Bars’ fight against the juvenile justice system in the early 2000s. These days, young people are organizing around community-sustainable platforms combining social justice with a burgeoning environmental awareness.

“You can’t start out talking about three million parts per billion of carbon,” Cantave says. “It’s not just something about polar bears.” Inner-city kids like Pound “have an innate sense of justice,” he says, “but haven’t yet connected that to the need for environmental justice.”

Eric K. Arnold is a writer and photographer based in Oakland, California who has been documenting emerging hip-hop and youth activist movements in the Bay Area since 1994.

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In Memoriam

This issue is dedicated to Luke W. Cole (1962-2009).
Founding co-editor of the journal Race Poverty & the Environment and
founder of the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment.

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

Luke Cole: An Undying Legacy

A tragic car accident in Uganda on June 6, 2009 led to the death of Luke Cole, co-founder and editor emeritus of Race, Poverty, and the Environment journal. Two days before the fatal incident, Luke Cole and his wife, Nancy Shelby, witnessed a wild leopard appear on the side of the road in Uganda. The leopard began walking towards their vehicle. Luke turned the ignition off. A little nervous, they wondered if they should roll their car windows up. The leopard sauntered past. They marveled at their first sight of such a magnificent creature.

“Our life together was an adventure,” says Shelby. “He expanded my boundaries, opened my eyes to things, places, and ideals I would have never otherwise seen or known. And he did the same for all the hundreds of lives he’s touched.”

Luke was an outstanding environmental justice lawyer who won many cases, set precedent, and built the environmental justice movement. He litigated on behalf of farm workers in the Central Valley who dealt with toxic plumes of pesticides blowing off the fields into their homes; and for an impoverished New Jersey black community suffering from high levels of exposure to dangerous pollutants. His legal victories shut down California’s dairy farm industry until it figured out a better way to dispose of its wastes; stopped the construction of toxic waste incinerators; and more recently, ended the pollution of an Alaskan village’s drinking water. He sued ExxonMobil, Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell, and over a dozen power and coal companies for contributing to global warming.

He founded and directed the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE)—where he provided legal and technical assistance to attorneys and community groups involved in environmental justice struggles worldwide.

Angela Harris Remembers Luke Cole
Luke lived by the mantra, “On tap, not on top,” recounts Angela Harris, the board chair of CRPE.1 Luke acknowledged a lawyer’s rightful place as servant and his methods empowered communities to mobilize for their own rights.

“Luke started the conversation about how you lawyer for the environmental justice movement,” said Harris at one of his memorial services. “He recognized how environmental hazards do not affect everyone equally, taught environmental justice practices, and brought together two fields that had always been understood as totally separate and unrelated—environmental law and civil rights law.” 

“He’d say that because we have our professional degrees and have ‘macho law brains,’ we lawyers think we should be up there in front of the struggle, filing lawsuits and saving everybody. But it’s not our job to run everything. It’s our job to help communities help themselves,” said Harris.

“He told young lawyers not to take action until they could convincingly answer: Does [the solution] educate? Does it build the movement? Does it get to the root of the problem?” Harris recounts, remembering Luke’s lectures. “People of color and poor people always get the short end of the stick, not because we need more laws, but because our capitalist system with its history of racial exploitation is structured that way.”

Carl Anthony Remembers Luke Cole

The image of Luke educating a classroom of students, also resonates strongly with longtime environmental justice advocate and founder of Urban Habitat, Carl Anthony. He remembers Luke describing his experience with the Kettleman City Law Suit, in which he litigated on behalf of a small farm-worker town against the largest toxic waste company in the United States and won.

“Luke explained how poor communities are targeted for dump sites because those in power believe they have no voice,” says Anthony. “‘The struggle for environmental justice is not primarily a legal struggle, or a technical struggle. It is a political struggle. Most important of all, vulnerable communities must organize, learn to tell their own stories, and speak for themselves. When they do—like El Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpio (People for Clean Air and Water)—they can win.’”

Memorial Services
At Luke’s San Francisco memorial service at the Cowell Theatre on October 25, spoken word, reflections, and renditions of “De Colores” and “Hallelujah” filled the auditorium. A gallery showcased hundreds of Luke’s collectibles, from miniature airplanes to bubbleheads and root beer paraphernalia. Honoring his love of chocolate, samples from Brazil,
Madagascar, and France were shared with loved ones, friends, and colleagues. 

A sea of 500 plus guests overflowed into the theatre’s lobby. The service was one of several held across the country over the past few months. People were inspired again to tell their stories.

Enoch Adams, representing the community of Kivalina, Alaska, spoke of Luke’s unwavering determination.

“We sought help from representatives in the state of Alaska, but they refused to touch the issue. Luke was the first one to step up and help us when the contaminants flowed into our drinking water,” said Adams. “We sued and we won. For the first time, our people can drink water.”

The six-year legal battle was settled right before Luke’s death.

Brent Newell, CRPE’s legal director said,“Please stand up if Luke helped you become who you are today.” When more than three-fourths of the audience stood up he added, “Just look around you. Luke’s energy, passion, and wisdom live on.”

Although his legal victories and accomplishments were numerous and his name known internationally, Luke was a husband and father first and foremost. He leaves behind his wife Nancy and son, Zane.

Recalling the leopard she saw with Luke shortly before he died, Nancy reflected on another key moment in their life together when in the fall of 1992, shortly after they met, Luke had whisked her away to lunch at a little Italian restaurant called Meza Luna in San Francisco. He surprised her with a birthday gift of a wooden sculpture of a leopard by Howard Finster.

“It was his brightness that I was drawn to, his intelligence and engagement with life, his desire to do good work, and his sincerity,” Nancy explains, describing her visionary husband. “He had a gift for seeing the strength in people that they didn’t realize they had, and encouraged them to find their own power and authority.”

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Tribute to Luke Cole

What is it that you most remember about Luke Cole?
It is strange to me that one of the strongest images I have of Luke Cole is of him giving one of the most brilliant lectures I ever heard on environmental justice, to my class on race and poverty at the University of California, Berkeley. When Luke presented his case to a classroom filled with African American, Asian American, Latino, Native American, Pacific Islander, and a small group of white students, was it nothing short of breathtaking.

I say it is strange, because I also have so many images of Luke at public rallies, in his modest apartment in the mission, in poor people’s homes, in gathering places, and in small towns in the San Joaquin Valley. I remember clearly attending his wedding reception at a beautiful home on a vineyard in the Central Valley. As the sun went down over the family spread, his family, the well off folks, and the farm workers with mud on their boots were all there, celebrating his marriage with Nancy. Even his mentor friend from Harvard Law School, the famous African American attorney, Derrick Bell, was there. It‘s as if his life’s work was to use his privilege to put his family and community in order.

Yet, this image of Luke as a teacher in the classroom is the most poignant. Luke taught hundreds of students of color, many the first in their families to go to college, what they truly needed to know. Luke described the David and Goliath struggle of the small farm worker town, Kettleman City, against the largest toxic waste dumping company in the United States. “Poor communities are targeted for dump sites because those in power believe they have no voice.” Eloquently building his argument, Luke laid out the facts of the Kettleman City to my class. “But the struggle for environmental justice is not primarily a legal struggle. It is not a technical struggle. It is a political struggle. Most important of all, vulnerable communities must organize, learn to tell their own stories, and speak for themselves. When they do, like El Pueblo para el Aire y Agua Limpio (People for Clean Air and Water), they can win.”

What do you believe are some of his greatest achievements? And how did his work coincide with the mission and goals of Urban Habitat and the Journal?
Luke Cole was a giant in the environmental justice movement. The most militant of environmental justice advocates, as well as those with impeccable academic credentials respected him. His organizing and support of the Kettlemen City Law Suit was a turning point in the early environmental justice movement. His book, From the Ground Up, Environmental Racism and the Rise of the Environmental Justice Movement, is a classic in the field. Throughout history, people who live in cities have ignored those outside the city walls, oblivious to the exploitation of rural populations.

Tell me about his work with Urban Habitat. How and why did you decide to collaborate and produce Race, Poverty & the Environment Journal?
I first met Luke Cole in March of 1990. The year before, I had been talking with a few of my friends about issues of the environment and race, and a few of us, Karl Linn, Arthur Monroe, Victor Lewis, Eleanor Walden, the late Chapelle Hayes, Amhara Hicks at the Forest Service, Ellie Goodwin at NRDC, and Cordell Reagon of SNCC, formed a loose core group of the Urban Habitat Program. The collapse of the Cypress freeway in West Oakland riveted worldwide attention on rebuilding inner city transportation. I wrote an essay, “Why African Americans Should be Environmentalists,” and sent it to a dozen of my friends. On February 1, 1990, The New York Times reported that members of a number of civil rights groups and other communities of color, had written to the eight largest civil rights organizations in the country accusing them of racist hiring. As a result of these events, I was invited by NRDC to make a presentation at a panel on urban justice and ecology at the Public Interest Law Conference on Land, Air and Water, in Eugene, Oregon on March 1, 1990.

I posted my name on several bulletin boards seeking a ride from the San Francisco Bay Area to the conference, and ended up in a car with Luke and two other people. About halfway up to Oregon, after the ice was broken, Luke and I got talking and it turned out that I knew Luke’s Dad, Skip Cole. He had given a lecture on ceremonial houses in Eastern Nigeria, at a class I was teaching in the School of Architecture at U.C. Berkeley. From then on, Luke and I hit it off pretty well.

Our panel, with Felicia Marcus, Juan Soto, and the now famous architect, William McDonough, was a little odd. No one in the environmental movement was talking about cities in those days. As I recall, about 20 people showed up.

After the panel, I told Luke that I had felt a little weird participating in a conference about the environment with a thousand lawyers, and besides Juan Soto and myself, there were no other people of color. Luke agreed and drew up a flier calling for an impromptu caucus meeting. About 30 people came. As we went around the room we learned that people of color were fighting environmental justice battles all across the country. We agreed to collect their stories and publish them. Luke came up with the name, Race, Poverty, and the Environment (RPE), A Newsletter for Social and Environmental Justice. The first issue was published on April 22, Earth Day 1990.

Carl Anthony co-founded Urban Habitat in 1989 and RP&E in 1990. He currently serves on Urban Habitat’s board of directors.

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

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Resources on Climate Change

Asian Pacific Environmental Network
310 8th Street, Suite 309
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 834-8920

Brightline Defense Project
P.O. Box 420250
San Francisco, CA 94142
(415) 837-0600

Center for Food and Justice
Urban & Environmental Policy Institute
Occidental College
1600 Campus Road MS M-1
Los Angeles, CA 90041
(323) 341-5099

Coalition for Clean Air
1107 9th Street, Suite 830
Sacramento, CA 95814
(916) 498-1560

Communities for a Better Environment
1440 Broadway, Suite 701
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 302-0430

Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative
1904 Franklin Street, Suite 600
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 444-3041 x305

Funders Network on Trade and
3401 Folsom Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 642-6022

Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA)
1958 University Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94704 USA
(510) 883-9490

Green for All
1611 Telegraph Avenue, Suite 600
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 663-6500

Greenlining Institute
1918 University Avenue, 2nd Floor
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 926-4001

Institute of the Environment
Climate Assessment for the Southwest
P.O. Box 210156
Tucson, AZ 85721
(520) 792-8712

International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN)
1962 University Ave., Suite 4
Berkeley, CA 94704
United States
(510) 704 1962

International Institute for Sustainable Development
161 Portage Avenue East, 6th Floor
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada R3B 0Y4
(204) 958-7700

Mandela MarketPlace
1357 5th Street, Suite B
Oakland, CA 94607
(510) 433-0993

Movement Generation
1611 Telegraph Avenue, Suite 510
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 444-0640

Mitchell Kapor Foundation
543 Howard Street, 5th Floor
San Francisco, CA 94105
(415) 946-3025

Oakland Climate Action Coalition
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
344 40th Street
Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 428-3939

Ruckus Society
P.O. Box 28741
Oakland, CA 94604
(510) 931-6339

Sustainable Energy and Economy Network
Institute for Policy Studies
1112 16th Street NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 234-9382

West Oakland Environmental
Indicators Project
Pacific Institute
654 13th Street
Preservation Park
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 251-1600

Selected policy reports on climate change.

Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

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Community Jobs in the Green Economy

Community Jobs in the Green Economy,  is a reflection of our shared belief in the potential of the “green economy” to generate quality jobs in our nation’s low-income commun%altities and communities of color. We believe that America and the Bay Area can move toward energy independence while simultaneously creating high-skill and high-wage jobs for residents of low-income urban communities – residents who have not historically benefited from economic development strategies. Our goal is to provide a roadmap for community organizers, economic development practitioners, labor representatives, and city managers who wish to learn about and create high quality, green jobs in their communities. 


Global temperatures are on the rise, and our local communities – largely low income people and people of color— stand on the front lines of environmental, economic, and social crisis. At the same time, the emerging green economy holds great opportunity for America’s cities, and especially for our low-income, heavily minority urban communities.

Every aspect of clean energy development, from manufacturing to construction to operating and maintenance, can create good jobs, clean up the air and water, and save saving consumers money on their energy bills. Every city and community in the United States has some potential to capitalize on this new economy, whether through good wind or solar resources or through retrofit programs to bring old, dilapidated buildings up to energy efficiency codes.

Community Jobs in the Green Economy features:
• Descriptions of Jobs related to:
Energy Efficiency
Green Building
Solar PV
Wind Power
Geothermal Energy
• Profiles of Workers and Career Pathways
• Policy Guidance for Creating New, High-Quality Jobs
• Examples of Successful Workforce Development Partnership

The Apollo Alliance and Urban Habitat are committed to fighting for a clean energy future that benefits not only businesses and the environment, but also workers and low-income communities. We hope this report serves as a framework for states, cities and neighborhoods invested in these same fundamental ideals.

Download the PDF (860 KB)

"Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe?" Release Party Dec. 9, 6 p.m.

Climate Change Cover image


Celebrate the release of

the latest issue of

Race, Poverty & the Environment


"Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe?"

Vol. 16, No. 2


Release Party

Wednesday, December 9th @ 6 p.m.

Somar Bar and Lounge

1727 Telegraph Avenue and 18th St.

Oakland, California.

Enjoy the music, mingle, nibble on hors d'œuvres, receive a free copy of the latest  RP&E, and enjoy refreshments from the bar.

RSVP or for more information call (510) 839-9510 or email


This issue is dedicated to Luke W. Cole (1962-2009). Founding co-editor of the journal Race, Poverty & the Environment and founder of the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment. 


Climate Change: Catalyst or Catastrophe? | Vol. 16, No. 2 | Fall 2009 | Credits

Climate Justice and Green Economics Author List